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November 2010
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January 2011

Happy New Year from the Tablas Creek Team

As we finish up with 2010, we wanted to take a moment to enumerate a few of the things we're feeling thankful for. 

We're thankful for the rain we got last winter, which gave us the healthiest vineyard we've ever seen this year.

We're thankful that in this unusually cool vintage the winter rain held off long enough for us to finish harvest on November 19th, our latest finish to harvest ever.  We're equally thankful that we chose to wait out the end of the season rather than pick when rain first threatened, and were rewarded with some of the most intense flavors we've seen.

We're thankful for the communities we're a part of, both in geography (Paso Robles) and in philosophy (the Rhone Ranger community) for the support, encouragement, and willingness to work together to get our little part of the wine world, and our wonderful category of wines, the recognition they deserve.

We're thankful to our supporters in the wholesale, restaurant, retail and media world, who have helped spread the word on who we are and what we do much wider than we could ever have done it ourselves.

We're thankful for the wonderful team here at Tablas Creek, from the vineyard to the cellar to the office to the tasting room, for their commitment to making -- and representing -- wines of character, individuality and place.

And finally, we are most thankful to all of you who have bought and enjoyed our wines over the last year, even as the economy remains troubled.  We are fortunate to receive regular feedback from our customers, and are humbled by your loyalty, your enthusiasm and your interest.

We wish all of you a wonderful 2011.  May it be happy, productive, and fulfilling for you all... and may it include plenty of great wine, close friends and reason to celebrate.


Happy New Year!


Holiday Wine Suggestions from the Tablas Creek Team

The idea that there is one perfect holiday wine is silly.  There is no one single holiday meal, and no one single holiday group.  But at the same time, it's fun to peek into other worlds and see what people are planning.  I asked several key members of the Tablas Creek team what they'll be drinking at the holidays this year.  There was no requirement that the wine be a Tablas Creek wine, and as you'll see, several non-Tablas suggestions were offered.  But there's a healthy amount of Tablas Creek in the plans, too, which has to be a good sign. 

As usual, I've left the recommendations in the contributors' original words.  In alphabetical order:

Neil Collins, Winemaker and Vineyard Manager
I think for our holiday meal we will begin with a dry Bristol's cider which is always a good fit for the season and the food. With old Tom himself I think I will seek out a demi-sec Vouvray, I suspect that the sweetness will pair well with the turkey coupled with the fact that I am currently intrigued by the Loire Valley wines. And needless to say there will be a bottle of TCV Roussanne on hand, probably the 2002 because that is a sure thing. HAPPY HOLIDAY

Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker
This is going to be a very special holiday season for my family for many reasons, so we’re going to pull out all the stops when it comes to food and wine. Last year, I had the great privilege to sit in on a Panoplie vertical tasting at the winery just before Christmas, and the 2004 Panoplie struck me as a wine my parents would thoroughly enjoy. Its character is deep, lush and ripe with bittersweet chocolate, gorgeous sweet plum and profound fig notes. It certainly carries a “wow” factor upon first impression and only becomes more impressive with time in the glass. Honestly, I don’t think it matters what this wine is paired with – I’m sure it’ll please its audience regardless.

We traditionally kick off our Christmas morning with a few bottles of bubbly to enjoy as we open presents with the whole family. I’m a fan of just about all bubbles, but my favorites are always on the creamy and yeasty end of the spectrum. My choice this year, the Mumm Napa Brut Prestige Extended Tirage, is a wonderful value in my opinion, considering the extended sur lie aging and the use of méthode traditionelle fermentation techniques. I love finding wines that taste more expensive than they really are, and this happens to be one of them.

Nicole Getty, Director of Wine Club, Hospitality and Events
The traditional Christmas feast at my family's house is a standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding. We usually change up the first course every year but last year was such a success, we’re doing it again! We will be pairing seared scallops with drizzled honey and apples served with a 2008 Viognier (Halter Ranch Vineyard) and the 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel with the hearty, rich roast.

Robert Haas, Partner
This year, the family is going seashore for our Christmas dinner with Maine lobsters from Barbara Scully's Oyster Farm located at the mouth of the Damariscotta River.  They will be arriving at our house live on the 24th after less than 24 hours out of the water.  We eschew fancy preparations for simply boiling them in salt water and serving them with lemon and melted butter.  Yum!

Our wine choice is Tablas Creek's Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc 2007: an intense minerally white with ripe, full flavors of stone fruits balanced with bright acidity that goes beautifully with this quite rich shellfish presentation.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
As always, we'll begin Christmas Eve dinner with a fish or shellfish course.  This year we’ll look back to a favorite, Steamed Mussels with Garlic Sabayon, from the Herbfarm Cookbook.  Really, just about any clean, dry white will work.  The Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc loves garlic and would be a great choice, as would our Vermentino.  But a dinner guest promised to bring a favorite Chablis (I don’t know the producer), so we’ll put that front and center and go from there.
For a main course we’ll have a rack of pork coated in herbs, crushed fennel and black pepper, roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary, and braised fennel.  An earthy red wine of medium weight seems to me to be the ticket.  The Tablas Creek 2008 Côtes de Tablas is the obvious choice from our current roster, with its deft texture and fruity, slightly herbal underpinnings.  I’m also going to open our 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel, which was the star of a recent library vertical tasting.  It may be slightly weighty for the pork, but it’s so delicious right now that I really don’t care if it’s the perfect match.  Other wines I would try are an old-school Rioja (read: not over extracted or oaked), or a high-quality, Grenache-based Rhone.

Tommy Oldre, National Sales Manager
It looks like most of the holiday gatherings I will be attending will be in the potluck category and, for me, this equates to bringing our 2008 Cotes de Tablas.  It's versatility and friendly profile make it a great match for many dishes, and many palates, and it's always a nice way to introduce Tablas Creek to any new faces I may meet.  I also plan to have Champagne at the ready.  I'm not sure which producers I will be drinking, but Bonnaire is a safe bet, as is Billecart-Salmon.  I enjoy drinking Champagne for all that it is as a beverage and for all of the celebratory emotion it can inspire.  For me, the chance to celebrate family and friends, and to celebrate with family is friends, is what this time is year is really all about.

Marc Perrin, Partner
Family time. Burgundies and Rhones. Magnum of Beaucastel 62 will be one of the highlights. Also Clos St Denis 96 from Dujac. Amities.

Deanna Ryan, Assistant Tasting Room Manager
We plan on serving an English style prime-rib dinner, with Yorkshire pudding of course, and Trifle for dessert.  At this point, I am thinking of opening an 01 Founders Reserve and the 03 Esprit de Beaucastel.

Recap and Photos from a Deliciously Wet Weekend

Since Thursday night, we've had nearly seven inches of rain at Tablas Creek.  We're up over 11 inches for the year, and ahead of what we'd expect on our average 28-inches-per-year pace.  Even better, this rain has been spread over four days, giving it time to sink in rather than run off.  We're forecast for another dousing tonight, and then it's supposed to be drier though not totally dry through the Christmas weekend.

Looking back through our archives, we don't seem to have a lot of photos of the vineyard in the rain.  Apparently, whoever takes the photos (who is that guy, anyway) hasn't wanted to go out and get wet.  So I braved the last bits of the storm yesterday to go out and see how the vineyard was faring.  First a photo that gives you a feel for the day, from what we call the "New Hill", planted in 2000, looking north down through Grenache Blanc, across head-pruned Tannat and our straw bale barn, and up through our oldest Grenache and Mourvedre blocks:


Though the above photo doesn't show it, our cover crop has been making big strides.  The photo below shows it sprouting in the saturated earth:


We've been ripping the earth in our head-pruned blocks to help encouarage the water to drain in rather than run off.  The next photo shows how well this worked, with the ripped rows all absorbed and the non-ripped rows with puddles:


The net effect of our efforts -- which include year-long work by Neil, Ryan, David and the vineyard team to limit soil compaction and otherwise encourage healthy, water-absorbent soils -- has been that very little water has drained off.  Nearly all of the entire 120-acre vineyard drains into the valley below, at the south-west corner of the property.  Even after 6+ inches of rain, the little trickle is all the runoff there was.


I loved the atmospherics of the misty, grey day.  I got two photos I particularly liked the feel of.  They're below; click on each to get larger even-more-atmospheric versions:

Rainy_tablas_0004 Rainy_tablas_0003

In sections of the vineyard, we've been seeding every other row, and letting the native plants seed the others.  At this time of year, the striped pattern that this creates in the vineyard is beautiful.  Looking up through the Counoise:


As the weather brightened toward the end of my walk, the areas where the native cover crop has already developed significantly felt like they were glowing.  In a Syrah block at the western edge of the property:


I'll leave you with one more photo, of our old vineyard truck parked in front of our straw-bale barn, below the Counoise:


A vertical tasting of Tablas Creek flagship red wines, from 1997 Rouge to 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel

Last week, we had the pleasure of one of Francois Perrin's semi-annual visits to Tabas Creek.  In this immediate post-harvest time, we tasted through the cellar, did our best to evaluate the 2010 components, and took one last look at the 2009 reds before they start to go into bottle.

We also took the opportunity to look back, and pulled a bottle from our library of each vintage of our signature red wines.  Of course, when we were first starting, we only had one red wine, but we pulled that anyway.  We were impressed with the life still left in even the oldest of these wines, and thought it would be fun to share our notes on how they are tasting now.  First, a look at the lineup:


At this tasting, in addition to Francois, were me, my dad, Neil, and Chelsea.  Note that we didn't taste a wine from 2001, when we declined to make an Esprit de Beaucastel after spring frosts scrambled up the ripening cycle.  We declassified our entire production into the 2001 Cotes de Tablas (which made it one of the greatest bargains we've ever produced; if you have any, drink up; it's at a great stage but probably won't last much longer).

  • 1997 Tablas Rouge: A nose that shows cherry and eucalyptus, with some of the deeper, slightly balsamic character of age.  Still deep in color, though starting to brick a little.  Quite fresh in the mouth for a wine of this age from such young vines, with good acids framing cherry fruit, and a little drying tannin on the finish.  Not the most polished or concentrated wine we've made, but still totally viable.
  • 1998 Rouge: Aromatics are cool and dark, showing more loam and spice than fruit.  The color is a touch light and shows noticeable bricking.  The wine is a little simple, perhaps, but beautifully balanced, and would be a great dining companion.  Neil called it "Nordic".  Some appealing cocoa notes come out on the finish.  Just 13.8% alcohol, from quite a cool year.
  • 1999 Reserve Cuvee: A pretty, dark, youthful color.  Definitely more marked on the nose by Mourvedre's meatiness, Francois immediately said "more animal".  The mouth has a very nice balance between fruit that is round and lush and structure that is cool and mineral.  Must be pretty close to its peak.  The finish shows perhaps a little rustic, but we all thought it would be tremendous right now with osso bucco or cassoulet.  It opened as we were tasting; try decanting if you're drinking one now.
  • 2000 Esprit de Beaucastel: An animal, meaty, almost gamey nose with plums coming out with some air.  It's nicely rich in the mouth, though showing more signs of age than the 1999.  Still not at all tired, with complex notes of olive and tapenade coming out on the long, slightly drying finish.  This too got better with air; we'd recommend a decant.  And with its notable earthiness, it's always been a great ringer for a lineup of old-school Chateauneuf-du-Papes.
  • 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel: A nice mineral, chalky, dark fruit profile on the nose, much more polished than any of the previous wines.  At 57% Mourvedre, our highest ever, it's perhaps unsurprising that it's still so youthful.  In the mouth, rich, full, mature, deep, and ripe.  Notably lush, and much more like our current releases than the ones that preceded it.  Cocoa and chalky tannins at the back end, with lots of length.  Still years ahead of it.
  • 2003 Esprit de Beaucastel: A bright mint chocolate on the nose, very appealing.  The mouth was rich with sweet dark red currant and plum fruit, but enlivened by great acids.  Quite a long, luscious finish.  This wine had been closed for a while, and even this summer showed well but was overshadowed by the 2002 and 2004.  Not right now; this was perhaps the most impressive wine of the tasting.
  • 2004 Esprit de Beaucastel: A nice, restrained nose.  The mouth is in a good place, with beautiful acids, evident minerality and a long finish of chocolate-covered cherries.  Still very fresh, and pretty.  Not as big a wine as 2003 or 2005, but great balance.  It should continue to age gracefully, and we all expected that it would just be better a year from now.
  • 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel: A rustic nose of grilled meat, licorice and a bright note that Chelsea identified as mandarin.  Great sweet fruit in the mouth but big tannins, too.  The finish is a little disjointed right now, with the tannins and the acids reverberating off each other a bit.  It's going to be a very nice wine, but we'd recommend you forget it for a few years to let it integrate.
  • 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel: Very different from the 2005, pretty, clean, bright purple fruit, nicely mineral.  In the mouth, it's seamless.  Boysenberry and blackberry fruit, medium weight, nicely integrated chewy tannins, and a dark, almost soy-like tone that lends depth.  The acids come out on the long, rich finish.  Very pretty now, and looking forward to a bright future.
  • 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel: A dense black-red.  Powerful but somehow closed on the nose, with more mineral and rocks (and a little alcohol) coming through than fruit.  The mouth shows lots of sweet fruit, very lush, and big but ripe tannins.  There is a texture to the tannins that Neil commented reminded him of melted licorice.  It's impressive now but we'd recommend that you wait if you possibly can, and check back in in a couple of years for more complexity and better integration.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel: An open nose of red fruit, perhaps even strawberry, a lighter red fruit than is typical of Mourvedre.  The nose is given complexity by a balsamic, mineral note.  In the mouth, sweet fruit, medium body, and very open, forward and pure, almost Pinot Noir-like.  Reminiscent of the 2006 at a comparable age; we expect the 2008 to also darken and put on weight with some time in bottle.  Enjoy now for its purity, but wait for depth.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel (from barrel): All of the 2009 reds showed well, but the 2009 Esprit was the star, outpacing even the Panoplie at this stage.  A dark, mineral, blackberry and cocoa nose, with flavors of crushed rock, licorice, lots of spice, and black raspberry.  The texture is wonderful, with great, granular tannins that reminded Neil of powdered sugar.  Francois thought this was the best Esprit he'd ever tasted at this stage.

It's always valuable having one of the Perrins over at Tablas Creek, and Francois, who has spent the last three decades as the principal architect of Beaucastel's wines, brings a particularly interesting perspective. That he was as impressed as he was with the 2009's bodes very well for their quality.  One more photo, of Francois Perrin and Bob Haas, at the end of the vertical tasting:


From my own perspective, as much fun as the vertical tasting was, I was most pleased by how well the 2010's showed.  It's typically a difficult time to taste, a few months after harvest while wines are just finishing primary fermentation and just starting malolactic fermentation.  But with the exception of Grenache -- which in my experience is always problematic for at least three months after harvest -- all the red varietals showed richness, balance, and a persistent saline character that seems to be a hallmark of the limestone soils here, and which frame the fruit and structural elements in all the wines.  I have never been as impressed with a vintage at this early stage, and am actively looking forward to getting to know the components we have in the cellar as we start the blending process.

A post-harvest round table discussion with Tablas Creek's winemakers

Late last week, with harvest concluded and the winemaking team rested up after a long, grueling harvest, national sales manager Tommy Oldre caught up with them to talk about their 2010 harvest experience.  In the video, you'll see winemakers Neil Collins, Ryan Hebert, and Chelsea Franchi each give their thoughts on what happened, what they're thinking about where we are, and what we learned.  I love the way that their personalities each come through in the ten-minute video. 

Don't miss the special appearance by vineyard dog Millie, who arrives complete with live vole captured in the vineyard around the 2:45 mark!

Putting the Vineyard to Bed for Winter

We're enjoying the warm weather after our first winter storm passed through last night.  It dropped about an inch of rain on the vineyard, and the wind completed the defoliation of the vines begun by the two weeks of frosty nights in late November.  This is a quiet time here, with much of our vineyard crew on vacation back in Mexico and the cellar ticking quietly away.  I love this time of year, both because it's such a change from the hot, dry weather that we typically enjoy during the summer, and because the feel of the place changes so much, so fast, as cover crops begin to grow and the hillsides turn from brown to green in a couple of weeks.  A photo from this morning shows some of the storm's aftermath:


The main tasks in the vineyard at this time of year are to get nutrients back into the ground so that they can be washed deep by the winter rains, to seed the soil with a cover crop that will provide a habitat for beneficial insects, keep down erosion and enrich the soils, and to take more aggressive anti-erosion efforts where we feel it's important.  We're actually most of the way through this work, and expect to be done by next week.

So far, we've cleaned off any fruit that wasn't harvested, typically second-crop clusters that were left on the vines because they weren't ripe, and put that into our compost pile.  Then, we've spread about 550 tons of compost across the vineyard.  This compost is a mix of compost from our own compost pile and organic compost that we buy by the ton.  The addition of a few tons of compost on each acre helps dramatically restoring the balance of nutrients in the soil.

The next addition to the soils will be sea bird guano, which is incredibly rich in nitrogen.  After we apply that this week, we'll go through and disk each vineyard row to begin the process of mixing these new nutrients with the topsoil.

After the soil has been disked, we'll plant what Winemaker and Vineyard Manager Neil Collins describes as "nitrogen-fixing, weed-starving, soil-building" cover crops.  The cover crops we use over most of the property are a mix of peas, oats, vetch and clovers, which fix nitrogen into the soils and whose roots hold the topsoil in place during what can be intense winter rains.  We seed about half the vineyard with our cover crop mix, and let the other half seed naturally from the surrounding flora.  We're also seeding about 10 acres with a proprietary organic "good bug blend" which provides a particularly welcoming habitat for beneficial insects.  More about the cover crops, with some great photos from the spring, can be found here.

Finally, as our last preparations for our winter rains, we'll be ripping the soils across (perpindicular to the slope of) our head-pruned blocks with a yeoman's plow.  The deep furrows that result encourage the soils to absorb any water that may be flowing down the hillsides.  And finally, on areas such as roads where plowing is not practical, we'll lay down straw to help hold the soil in place while the cover crops get established.

One more photo will give you an idea of where the vineyard is now.  This is a Syrah block, and Syrah vines always hold on to their leaves later than most grape varieties.  Still, most of the leaves are off, and you can see the beginnings of the growth of the natural cover crop, tiny patches of green among the fallen leaves.  I'll update this view periodically throughout the winter.


Facebook users can see the complete photo album taken this morning here.