As regular readers of the blog (or anyone who's visited Tablas Creek in the last six months) will know, we're in the final stages of expanding our winery and building a new tasting room. The building is done, and we're working on landscaping the outside and finishing and furnishing the inside. Watching the outside appearance take shape has made us more and more excited about the narrative that our setting will tell to visitors, before we even open our mouths.
I'm convinced that many wineries are missing opportunities to use the experience a visitor has in visiting their winery to communicate their core values. Sometimes, that's an unavoidable consequence of a tasting room's location, but just as often it seems to me that it's just a lack of forethought. We've tried hard to make the most of the opportunity we're offered by this fresh start to put forth a story about us that is unique, clear, and compelling.
The first thing that we want to emphasize is that a visitor to Tablas Creek is coming to a working vineyard and winery. This is not a hospitality center. It's not a tasting room with a show vineyard out front. It is the entirety of our operation, where everything from the propagation of our grapevines to the growing of our grapes and the making of our wines takes place. The area we've dedicated to our parking is nestled inside one of the most beautiful vineyard blocks we have, of dry-farmed, head-pruned Mourvedre. Dry-farming is noteworthy for the concentration it brings to wines while retaining elegance. And head-pruning is traditional in Chateauneuf-du-Pape though comparatively rare in California. So in addition to emphasizing that they're at a vineyard, it will start to tell the story of what sort of vineyard they're visiting. The photo to the right was taken in that block, just after pruning.
Next, we to communicate why we chose this place. There were three factors that brought us to Paso Robles in 1989, at a time when the region had essentially no Rhone varieties in the ground and not much of a reputation: a favorable climate, ample winter rainfall, and limestone soils. The climate is implicit to most visitors, and our new patios outside will give guests a great place to relax, picnic and enjoy the sun. The limestone will be more explicit, as we've surrounded the parking area with a dry-laid limestone wall similar to the one around our current parking area. We're also embedding limestone boulders in the concrete of our patios and integrating them into our landscaping. Below on the left is a photo of our mostly-completed limestone wall, and on the right of one of the limestone boulders on our patio.
We're also distinguished by our history, both our association with Beaucastel and our decision to import our grapevines from France in 1989. We have a vintage Beaucastel sign, salvaged from the Beaucastel estate by Neil during his stint in the cellars there, outside our current tasting room, with the distance (and direction) noted. This sign will move to our new front entrance. We'll also be bringing several of the large pots of mother vines up from our grapevine nursery and using them to decorate our patios and landscaping. These vines are the foundation of all our vineyard plantings, as well as those of the hundreds of other vineyards and wineries to whom we've sold cuttings over the last fifteen years. I'm not sure what the American Rhone movement would look like had we not brought over these vines (or had we not made the decision to share them with other growers) but it would surely look far different than it does today. The Beaucastel sign, on the left, and a collection of mother vines, on the right:
In addition, we'd like our visitors to see how we're working in an environmentally responsibile way. It may not be evident that our vineyard is farmed organically, but two of features of our environmental efforts will be apparent to visitors. The new parking area is tucked under solar panels that will be immediately evident upon arrival. Upon departure, visitors will see the wetland that we created to naturally treat our winery wastewater across our driveway from the parking lot entrance. The view of the solar panels, below left, is particularly distinctive in contrast to the ancient technology of the dry-laid stone wall in front of it. The wetlands area is below, right, in a photo taken during a blue heron's visit a couple of summers ago.
So, we hope that visitors will have learned a lot about who we are before they've even stepped through our front door. And once they enter, they'll be greeted by walls of windows that look into the cellar on two sides of the tasting room, and chalkboards updated each day that let visitors know what's going on in the cellar. We'll be installing a bank of foudres (like the one below, left) in one of the two rooms, and placing our upright fermentation tanks (below, right) in the other. These large wooden casks are unusual in California, though traditional in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. They allow us to age our wines without overlaying a heavy oak imprint on the flavors.
Hopefully, before we even open our mouths, a new visitor to Tablas Creek will have a good sense of who we are and what we value. What's that message? Well, if it's something like "you've arrived at a traditional estate winery that has embraced innovative, environmentally responsible techniques to produce rich but mineral-driven wines with a French Rhone heritage" we'll be on the right track.