Previous month:
May 2011
Next month:
July 2011

Tablas Creek Vintage Reports 1997-2010

New_website We're working on a new Web site, to debut later this summer.  (A screenshot of the home page of the new Web site is to the right.  Click on it to get a bigger view.  Yes, we're excited.)  One of the things that we're looking forward to being able to do more flexibly with this new site is to allow people to browse through the different wines we've made.  Right now, our Wines page has an overview of the different wines we make, and links to current releases, but beyond that you have to look wine by wine to get information.  On the new site, you'll be able to select, for example, all the wines from 2007... or every Rosé we've made... or all whites currently for sale.

We realized that we could make these categories more useful by adding information about the categories, including summaries of each vintage.  Most of this information is out there in pieces, either on individual wines' pages or in a blog piece I wrote a few years back called Ten Years of Vintage Grades: Paso Robles Report Card 1999-2008.  But that last blog piece was not particularly descriptive of the wines, and not specific to Tablas Creek, focusing instead on evaluating Paso Robles as a whole.  Plus, what was here on the blog and what was on the individual wines' pages was not always in perfect harmony.

So, I cleaned everything up, went back and researched our earliest vintages, and wrote vintage summaries for every vintage we've seen here at Tablas Creek.  It occurred to me that this information would be of interest to our blog followers, so here it is.  I've linked recent vintages to the harvest reports that we kept, if you're interested in digging more deeply into them or in seeing photos of what it was really like.

  • The 2010 vintage saw healthy rainfall after three years of drought. The ample early-season groundwater and a lack of spring frosts produced a good fruit set. A very cool summer delayed ripening by roughly three weeks, with harvest not beginning until mid-September and still less than half complete in mid-October. Warm, sunny weather between mid-October and mid-November allowed the later-ripening varieties to reach full maturity. The long hangtime and cool temperatures combined to produce fruit with intense flavors at low alcohol levels. White whites display bright acids, good concentration and intense saline minerality.  Red wines show dark colors, spicy aromatics and granular tannins.
  • The 2009 vintage was our third consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by serious April frosts. Berries and clusters were small, with excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and our harvest largely complete except for about half our Mourvedre at the time of a major rainstorm on October 13th. Crop sizes were 15% smaller than 2008 and 30% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with an appealing combination of richness and depth, and red wines with an great lushness, rich texture and relatively low acid but wonderful chalky tannins.
  • The 2008 vintage was our second consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by spring frosts. Berries and clusters were small, leading to excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and harvest about a week later than normal. Crop sizes were similar to 2007 and about 20% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with good intensity, lower than normal alcohols and an appealing gentle minerality and red wines that were unusually fresh and approachable despite appealing lushness.
  • The 2007 vintage was a blockbuster vintage in Paso Robles. Yields were very low (down between 15% and 30% from 2006, depending on variety) due to a cold and very dry winter, which produced small berries and small clusters. A moderate summer without any significant heat spikes followed, allowing gradual ripening, and producing white wines with deep color and powerful flavors, and red wines with tremendous intensity, excellent freshness and a lushness to the fruit which cloaks tannins that should allow the wines to age as long as any we've made.
  • The 2006 vintage was a study of contrasts, with a cold, wet start, a very hot early summer, a cool late summer and a warm, beautiful fall. Ample rainfall in late winter gave the grapevines ample groundwater, and produced relatively generous crop sizes. The relatively cool late-season temperatures resulted in a delayed but unhurried harvest, wines with lower than normal alcohols, strong varietal character, and good acids.  White wines show freshness and expressive aromatics, while red wines have impeccable balance between fruit, spice, and tannins, and should age into perhaps the most elegant wines we've made.
  • The 2005 vintage was one of nature's lucky breaks, with excellent quality and higher-than-normal yields. The wet winter of '04-'05 gave the grapevines ample groundwater, and a warm period in March got the vines off to an early May flowering. The summer was uniformly sunny but relatively cool, and harvest began (relatively late for us) in the 3rd week of September, giving the grapes nearly a month longer than normal on the vine. The resulting wines, both red and white were intensely mineral, with good structure and powerful aromatics.  Red wines have big but ripe tannins that reward cellaring.
  • The 2004 vintage was our third consecutive drought year, with a very early spring balanced by a long, warm (but rarely hot) summer. These favorable conditions led to a fairly early harvest: most of our whites and all the reds but Mourvèdre were harvested before an early onset of the fall rains on October 14th stopped harvest for a short time. Two weeks of sunny, cool, and breezy temperatures allowed us to harvest the rest of the Mourvèdre.  The extended ripening cycle gave the grapes intense aromatics, pronounced minerality, and good structure that has allowed reds to age gracefully.
  • The 2003 vintage was a second consecutive drought year, though not as dry as 2002. A relatively early flowering, combined with a warm but not overly hot summer to produce a beginning of harvest about two weeks later than normal.  This long hangtime produced grapes with concentrated flavors and a distinct minerality, and beautiful fall weather allowed us to bring in fruit when it was at peak ripeness, and allow other blocks to continue to mature.  White wines showed good richness and classic varietal character, while red wines showed lush fruit balanced by good acids and firm tannins.  Time has brought an unexpected complexity to 2003's red wines that at first showed mostly rich fruit.
  • The 2002 vintage began with a warm, dry winter with the lowest rainfall in five years. Spring remained dry and cool, while June, July and August were very warm.  Moderate temperatures returned in September and weather stayed ideal well into November.  Cool nights prolonged the hangtime of the grapes and produced wines that were concentrated, rich, and ripe, with just enough acidity to balance the richness.  Roussanne-based whites have proven to age remarkably well, and the powerful tannins on 2002’s reds have mellowed into wines with remarkable complexity and years of development left ahead of them.
  • The 2001 vintage began with moderate vigor from average rainfall and cold temperatures.  A warm March led to early budbreak, which allowed a serious frost in mid-April to inflict major damage and dramatically reduce yields by nearly 50%. The summer was hot and sunny, but cool nights preserved the aromatics of the fruit.  Low yields (1.5 - 2.5 tons per acre) produced intense flavors in both reds and whites.  The erratic ripening from the spring frosts and particular challenges with Mourvedre encouraged us not to make an Esprit de Beaucastel red this year, but  and chewy, chalky tannins have allowed 2001's red wines to age very well.
  • The 2000 vintage saw average rainfall, with warm springtime weather, early budbreak and no significant damage from frosts.  Summer daytime temperatures were about normal while cooler than average summer nights helped extend the growing season.  Harvest began two weeks later than normal, but warm harvest weather led to an earlier-than-normal conclusion to harvest.  Both white and red wines had good intensity despite slightly higher than normal yields, and the reds had big tannins that encouraged mid-term cellaring.
  • The 1999 vintage began with slightly below average winter rainfall that reduced yields. Ripening was further accelerated by a warm, dry spring and summer.  Harvest began in mid-August, the earliest date on record at Tablas Creek.  The wines were intense and the red wines tannic when young, with slightly elevated alcohol levels.  The wines needed some time to come into balance, but many have aged magnificently.
  • The 1998 vintage was the coldest, and one of the wettest, on record at Tablas Creek.  After a late budbreak but no damage from frost, the summer remained cool and the harvest did not begin until early October.  A warm, sunny October and November saved the harvest, and produced wines that were fresh and balanced, with low alcohols and gentle tannins.  The white wines were beautiful from the beginning, and the red wines needed a few years to unwind into classic elegance, and continue to drink well today.
  • The 1997 vintage was hot and dry, with early budbreak, low yields and an early onset to harvest in late August.  This vintage saw the first significant contributions from our French clones, and produced wines that were juicy and lush from the start despite serious tannins.  The wines drank well young and have aged better than we could ever have expected given the youth of the vineyard and the heat of the vintage.

Tasting Room, Then and Now

By John Morris 

I recently ran across this photo of our tasting room staff from an outing in December of 2007.  The thing that strikes me most about this shot is the size of our group.  Our entire tasting room staff at the time consisted of 8 people.  Now, 3 and a half years later, we’re 16 strong.  Pictured from left to right are David, Phil, myself, Zach, Sylvia, Brian and Gustavo.  Absent due to a school-related commitment is Chelsea, then a member of our tasting room staff, now our assistant winemaker.  Since that time three of us have gotten married, one has become a father, another a step-father, and two have moved to the east coast.  Tellingly, five of the eight are still employed at Tablas Creek, six if you count the occasional guest appearance by Zach. 

New Image

David, on the far left, was my first hire, and is perhaps our most energetic, even as he is our oldest.  Everyone else pictured predates me.   Phil recently moved to the Boston area to help with his grandchildren after a lifetime in California.  He exuded an oasis of calm in the tasting room for over five years.  Zach completed training at the fire academy last year as he juggled shifts here, and became a father a few weeks ago.   Sylvia has been our assistant tasting room manager since before I moved to Paso, if that says anything.   Brian joined the Peace Corps and was posted in Morocco after a year-long stint here, and now resides in Washington D.C.   Gustavo (originally from Chile, but commonly mistaken as Frenchman) came aboard just before me, and has been a rock for the last four years.  He spent two months interning in the cellar at Chateau de Beaucastel last fall, and returned even more knowledgeable than before.  Much of the rest of our staff, including Steve, Cindy, Tedde and Mary have been here going on three years.  Deanna worked here some years ago and returned last year.  Recent additions are Alex, Lisa, Joelle, Charlie, Teri and our dynamic new assistant manager, Jennifer.  Austin, our winemaker’s son, now helps out on Saturdays.

A lot has been made of our splendid new tasting room, with good reason.  It’s much roomier, beautiful to look at, quieter, supremely functional, and has been a dream to work in.  The cellar crew loves it because we aren’t setting up tables in their space every weekend.  We love it because we aren’t setting up tables in their space every weekend!  If you haven’t been in, you owe it to yourself to check it out. 

But in even in this striking new space, it still comes back to people.  Behind the gorgeous new bars, reflected in the huge glass windows that allow a glimpse into the cellar, you’ll see most of the same faces you’ve come to know, doing our best to provide welcoming, personal service with an educational twist, pouring wines we never forget we are blessed to work with.  Here’s to my crew.

Getting "Personal" With Tablas Creek Wines

By Chelsea Magnusson

The last time we sat down to go through the 2010 reds in the cellar, winemaker Ryan Hebert commented that the vintage was like a Batman movie.  And the funny thing?  That was a perfect descriptor for what we had tasted and I was blown away at the accuracy of the comparison.  For the most part, the reds in the cellar were dark, deep, sinister, powerful and brooding.  It doesn't hurt that Batman has always been my favorite superhero (as a result, I'm now especially partial to the 2010 vintage...)

This was not the first time we've described our wines using something akin to character traits.  In fact, that's typically how we talk about wines in our cellar - as if they are actually people.  While it may be an endless source of laughter and entertainment for us, when you really get down to it, I'm not actually sure we are joking.  For the most part, we've got most of the varietals (as well as some of the blends) pegged in terms of personification.  However, if asked to describe a wine I'm not familiar with, I'll give the standard response: breaking it down systematically and running through descriptors for mouthfeel, balance, aromatics, flavor profiles, etc.  And how is that any different than describing a good friend versus a casual acquaintance?

My younger brother, who is just getting interested in wines, asked me to describe the Cotes de Tablas Rouge.  Talking wine with someone like him, I would like to keep it on a level that he can relate to, and one thing I want to avoid at all costs when discussing wine is pretension.  So I told him something like this: imagine the Cotes de Tablas as a person.  A girl, in fact.  The perfect girl.  This is a wine that is naturally pretty - no makeup (or oak) is necessary to make it more attractive.  This wine can be effortlessly casual, but can get dressed up and fit into any situation with ease and grace.  This is a wine you'll want to introduce to your parents (and if we're lucky, you'll also introduce it to your friends and coworkers!) 

It's always fun blending or moving wine, too, when the cellar fills with the aromatics of a varietal, which prompts a discussion about "who" that varietal is.  The following is a rundown of some of our most recognizable characters in the cellar:

Grenache Noir

For me, the Grenache in our cellar is the kid in high school who struggled when asked to do the following: sit completely still, focus on what was going on, or understand that sometimes you need to get things done in a timely manner - and yet, that kid was adored because they were extraordinarily affable and full of charisma.  And that's how it goes here, too.  Grenache tends to take its sweet time finishing fermentation (sorry, no pun intended) and has a character that, when young, can be flighty and unfocused.  However when that wine is given time to mature a little (or is blended with the proper mate), the piquancy and friendliness remain, and audacity, depth, soundness and sureness of self emerge that are dazzling and unforgettable.  Imagine meeting that wine at your ten year high school reunion; my, how things can change, eh?

Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge

This wine conjures an image of masculine old Hollywood glamour - always impeccably dressed and charmingly debonair with an air of implied importance, distinction, and eminence.  Yet, there's a glimmer in its eye that hints of something unknown.  The Esprit carries a shadow of divergence from its polished and lush exterior.  This is a wine with secrets - there is not cut and dry, no black and white with this wine.  There's something about this wine that draws me back to it again and again in an effort to unearth whatever that mystery may be.

Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc

This wine, like its red counterpart, conveys a timeless elegance.  The Esprit Blanc personification comes from old money.  Probably from a well-known and established European family, which means it has grace, refinement, and allure running through its veins (and perhaps an enthralling accent?).  I always imagine this wine in a classic Chanel suit and pearls - beautiful, aristocratic, clever and infallible.  And again, like the Esprit Rouge, this wine has the ability to surprise me with something new each time I meet it, giving me an infinite number of reasons to love this wine.

This presentation of our "family" of wines just grazes the surface - the stories and personalities behind the wines are ever evolving and changing.  My only hope is that I was general enough so as not to seem completely crazy.  But keep in mind, winemaking is a creative process.  So I guess this is our normal.  And now you're privy to it; so... welcome to our world.

The Tablas Creek Blog is a finalist at the 2011 Wine Blog Awards!

Wba-winery-finalist-logo We are proud that, for the fourth year in a row, the very Tablas Creek blog that you're reading has been named one of five finalists for "Best Winery Blog" in the 2011 Wine Blog Awards.  We won the award in 2008 (the inaugural year of the awards) and would love to take the prize back from the 2010 winner: the always-worthy Randall Grahm, again a finalist this year.

Finalists were selected from dozens of nominations by a panel of experts.  The award itself is determined 50% by the votes of the public and 50% by the judging panel.  So, we encourage you to vote on the results... your opinions really do matter.  You can vote at

In addition to "Best Winery Blog" the categories are "Best New Blog", "Best Writing", "Best Single Subject", "Best Wine Reviews", "Best Industry Blog", "Best Presentation, Photography, Graphics", and "Best Overall Wine Blog".  And in each category are wine blogs that I read myself at least weekly.  The quality of the writing and of the journalism in the wine blogging world has never been better, and it's an honor to be able to be a part of such an accomplished, creative group of writers.

Whether or not you have been following every post on this blog, I thought that it might be an appropriate time to look back at a few of my own favorites over the past year.  In date order, with some brief notes on why I think each is worth revisiting:

  • The appeal of wine in keg... and an appeal to the restaurants who want it (July 2010).  I couldn't believe how much the infrastructure for selling wine in kegs has improved in the last year.  Evidently we weren't the only wineries looking at the options and asking for help!  Of course, we still haven't figured out how to get the kegs back to us anywhere outside of California...
  • A great idea by the Rhone Rangers: Pneumonia's Last Syrah (September 2010).  Still one of the best marketing ideas I've had the pleasure of being a part of.  This editorial ended up on the back page of Wines&Vines a couple of months later.
  • Biodynamics and dry-farming: repairing the failings of "modern" viticulture (November 2010).  An important step in my own personal journey in understanding why the choices that we make in our viticulture matters in the way that the wines taste.
  • A post-harvest round table discussion with Tablas Creek's winemakers (December 2010).  A great video filmed and edited by Tommy Oldre that captures the personalities of our winemaking team (and our winemaking dog) as succinctly as I can imagine possible.  And it's worth remembering just how unusual 2010 was.  Literally unprecedented in our experience.
  • Zombie legislation: HR 5034 lurches back to life as HR 1161 (March 2011).  I love the occasional times I get to do political or legal analysis.  My belief is that the wholesalers' lobby is going to reintroduce similarly consumer- (and winery-) unfriendly legislation each year until the opposition gets complacent and doesn't raise a hue and cry.  Consider this my contribution to raising the hue and cry for 2011.
  • Blending, blending, blending... and an eventual look at the 2010 whites! (April 2011).  The blending of the 2010 whites was the longest we've ever faced, and provided the clearest example yet of how our process protects us from our own biases.  I lay out all the messiness in this post.
  • The Remarkable Rise of Paso Robles (May 2011).  A reflection on how Paso Robles has come as far as it has, as fast as it has, made more relevant by Stacie Jacob's announcement the next week that she would be leaving the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance after seven years at the helm.
  • Investigating an Attempted Wine Scam (June 2011).  The post which received the most comments over the last year (14 and counting!) and I've heard from dozens of other wineries letting me know that they'd found this post after googling the attempted scam or attempted scammer.  Nice to know that shedding a little light on a problem can provide real help.

As always, thank you for your support.  It's an honor to have been able to do this for as long as I have.

An accidental 1996-1998 Tablas Creek vertical in Chester, Vermont

In consecutive coincidences this week, a few days after chose to open at home in Chester, Vermont a 1996 Tablas Hills Cuveé Rouge, we were served by our long time friend and neighbor Tory Spater a 1997 Tablas Creek Vineyard Tablas Rouge and a 1998 Tablas Creek Vineyard Rouge at a dinner at her house.  Wow!  I had no idea that she was cellaring those first Tablas Creek releases.

Tablas Creek Vertical

We have been making wines from our vineyard in our Las Tablas/Adelaida district of Paso Robles since 1994 -- three years before we built our own winery in 1997.  It was Jean-Pierre Perrin and I who made the 1996 in space rented at Adelaida Cellars with the help of Neil Collins, then Assistant Winemaker there.  We called the wines made at Adelaida Tablas Hills (and before that Adelaida Hills) because we wanted to save the name Tablas Creek Vineyard for wines that were produced in our own winery.  In retrospect, the name changes muddied the waters to the point that there are still people out in the market who think that these first few vintages were from purchased grapes.  But no, they were from our vineyard.

In 1997 Neil was spending the year at Beaucastel, so Ryan Hebert and I made the ’97 by the seats of our pants in our brand new Tablas Creek winery, finished just a few weeks before our earliest-ever beginning of harvest on August 16th.  We were not even sure that the wines would ferment with only native yeasts in the new space, but they did, and nicely.  A problem we had was that the quantities were so small that we had lots of air on top of the juice in all of the stainless fermenters, increasing the chance of oxidation.  But the sturdy grapes resisted. 

In 1998 Neil was back to take charge of the cellar and greeted by the coldest year in our history, when we didn’t begin our harvest until October 6th.  Pierre Perrin was there and had the unusual experience -- unthinkable in Chateauneuf du Pape -- of seeing the last grapes brought in the week before Thanksgiving.  Quel climat!

All three wines are blends of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, and Counoise.  In 1996 we didn’t yet put the varieties on the label, but had roughly equal portions Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah (Counoise was just getting into production and produced only a few barrels).  In 1997, the blend was 34% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 6% Counoise (remarkably similar to our 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel).  In 1998 we began our move toward the more Mourvedre-heavy blend we used for our flagship wines for most of the last decade, with 44% Mourvedre, 24% Grenache, 21% Syrah and 11% Counoise.  Yet for their differences in composition the Mourvèdre leads the character and style of all three wines, as it does today in our Esprit.  All of the wines were still tasting young and healthy, without a hint of old age, and I thought could be cellared happily for another five to ten years.

Clients often ask us how long our wines will live.  If this week’s experience is an example then the answer is, “A long time.”

Bob Haas

Introducing California's first Petit Manseng

Fans of Tablas Creek on Facebook this week saw something unexpected: a photo of a bottling we've never done before.  In fact, it's a bottling that no one in California has done before, that we know of at least.  It's Petit Manseng, a white grape traditional to France's southwest, which has made admired but not widely disseminated sweet wines for centuries in the region of Jurancon.

Jurancon Jurancon, in the French department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques, is a mountainous region that includes a small stretch of the rocky Atlantic coast and a larger stretch of the Spanish border, high in the Pyrenees mountains.  Culturally, it forms a part of the Basque community that spans the French-Spanish border.  A larger, interactive version of the map at right can be found on Wikipedia.

There are three permitted grapes in Jurancon (Corbu and Gros Manseng, in addition to Petit Manseng) but it is generally agreed that Petit Manseng is the finest of the three, and the most suitable for making the sweet wines that made the region famous.  Gros Manseng, which we also imported but have not yet harvested, is more suited for the dry Jurancon Sec wines, while Petit Manseng achieves sufficient concentration and sugar content to make naturally sweet wines without botrytis.  This character was so valued that Petit Manseng is noted as the only wine used to baptize a king of France: Henry IV, the founder of the Bourbon dynasty, in his native Navarre.

After several decades of disfavor, the sweet wines of Jurancon have returned to fashion since about 1970, and the acreage of Petit Manseng have increased correspondingly, from less than 90 hectares in 1968 (90 hectares was the combined plantings of Petit Manseng and Gros Manseng) to nearly 650 hectares in 2006.  Two images of the grape are below; to the left a lithograph from a 19th Century ampelography and to the right a photo of one of our Petit Manseng mother vines, in a pot on our patio.

Petit Manseng Lithograph   Petit_manseng_vine0002

In addition to its ancestral home in Jurancon and the neighboring Pacherenc, Basque settlers brought Petit Manseng to Uruguay, and it has found homes in the neighboring Languedoc and the more surprising (to me) Virginia, where its resistance to rot is particularly valuable in the often humid climate.

When we decided to bring in Petit Manseng, we had not yet discovered the Vin de Paille process for making dessert wines, and were fresh off a disastrous experiment where we had tried to freeze grapes to make a pseudo-ice wine.  Given the success we'd seen at Tablas Creek with Tannat, another French Basque grape, Petit Manseng seemed a natural extension.  The vines were brought into USDA quarantine in 2003, and released to us in 2006.  The first small vineyard block was planted in 2007.

Petit Manseng is so named for its small, thick-skinned berries (Gros Manseng has larger berries).  It is capable of achieving very high natural sugar content without the benefit of botrytis.  Petit Manseng in France is often left on the vine until December to achieve its high sugars, and its ability to withstand rot is noteworthy.  In Paso Robles, where fall moisture and rot are rare and sun more reliable, its ability to maintain almost inconceivably high acidity is perhaps more valuable.  As an example, our first tiny harvest of Petit Manseng came in 2009.  We had forgotten about the small block and when we rediscovered it in early November and measured the grapes -- three weeks after a 10-inch rainstorm rolled through -- they tipped the scale at an incredible 37° Brix and a pH of 3.3. 

Petit_manseng_0001 In 2010, we picked our Petit Manseng in mid-October at a more manageable 26.2° Brix and a pH of 3.10. We fermented it in a single barrel, and stopped its fermentation when it had about 50 grams/liter of sugar left and sat at an alcohol of 13.5%.  We were stunned that there was so much sugar left at the point where we felt the flavors were in balance.  The very high acidity makes it taste much drier than the sugar reading would suggest.  The wine was aged on its lees in barrel and bottled last week.  We'll make a small amount available through an offering to our wine club members sometime later this summer or fall.

The flavors of Petit Manseng wines are rich but tangy, perfumed and tropical.  It's possible to identify pineapple, mango, papaya and honey, as well as white flowers and spice.  Due to its residual sugar and high acidity, Petit Manseng wines have tremendous ability to age.  For food pairings, the literature nearly always suggests foie gras, which makes sense to me.  Foie gras is hard on dry wines due to its richness, but unless the chef makes some very sweet accompaniment the sweet wines it's typically paired with can be overpowering.  A semi-sweet wine with excellent freshness like Petit Manseng could be a natural fit. I'd also think that it would be a great wine with cheeses, but would need to do some experimentation to have confidence in the right fit.

Where will Petit Manseng take us?  Who knows.  But we're sufficiently intrigued with the grape's capabilities that we're planting another half-acre at the western edge of the estate.  And we may just have to come up with a foie gras-themed event to test the pairing hypothesis of the experts.


Flowering (Finally)

It's no secret that this spring has been cold.  Our average high temperature since April first is just 69.7 degrees.  We've broken 80 just six times, and not recently: our last day over 80 was May 12th.  We haven't hit 90 yet.  Those who know Paso Robles will recognize how unusual this is.   The temperatures have been even colder than last year (which averaged 70.4 as the high over the same period).

Adding to the lateness is the frost of April 8-9, which knocked back the earlier-sprouting varieties like Grenache and Viognier and forced them to resprout more or less in sync with the later ones.  Over all, we figure we're roughly a month behind on the early varieties and a couple of weeks behind on the later ones.

All that said, the vineyard looks great.  All the rain we received last winter (including an amazing 1.6 inches this past weekend) along with the relentless work that Neil, Ryan, David and the vineyard crew have been doing, have allowed the vines to push vigorously despite the chilly weather.  Cluster counts on the frost-impacted varieties look solid, and I'm hopeful that we won't see the roughly 40% decline in yield we expect from frost-damaged blocks.

While I was out in the vineyard this morning, I saw the first signs of flowering, in the Grenache.  Grape flowers are not very exciting to look at; more of a white fuzz on the clusters than anything overt.  But it marks the start of the ripening cycle and always makes me happy.  A Grenache cluster, about half-flowered:


The weather is finally supposed to warm up this week, with a forecast for sun and highs in the 80's.  That would be most welcome, as we try to catch up after a late start.

Investigating an Attempted Wine Scam

I got the following scam email over the weekend:

From: Tim Ferrone [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Saturday, May 28, 2011 2:44 PM
To: [email protected]
Subject: wine order
I don't know if you got my last e-mail but am resending it again due to the problem i had with my mail account. please respond as to know how to proceed.

Hello, My name is Tim Ferrone an American .I live and work here in Thailand. Actually when I was home last time in NY, I got a bottle of one of your wines from a friend as a gift and I loved it, Since then I have been planning on getting your wines for my wedding coming up soon, here in Thailand ,I got your contact through your website and I want to know if you will be able to supply me some cases of those wines.I will be making my payment via my American based credit card . I am registered with a shipping agency in USA, which has other representatives in USA .So you are not to get the wines shipped but the wines will be picked up at your location by this licensed shipping agency. The shipping agency have all the appropriate exportation documents and permits, Therefore concerning the shipping of the wines , I will refer you to this shipping company that will come for the pick up of the wines in your location once I have made my payment .They have got like items shipped to me here twice without any delay .Kindly get back to me so that I can make my orders.

[email protected]

At first, I was just going to delete the email, but then I thought that I might as well publicize it a bit should other people have received similar letters.  It's actually fairly clever for its kind.

Why it works
The note plays on a winery's desire to believe that their fans are so loyal that they would go to the trouble of securing their own shipping agencies and their own importation permits just to get their wines into a country where the winery doesn't have distribution.  And it's not unheard of; we have had several of our club members arrange to purchase wines for their domestic weddings.  Plus, they offer the apparent security of payment with a US Credit Card.  Wineries might feel comfortable letting the wines go if they thought they had already secured payment.  Finally, the supposed orderer has a nice American name and an American-looking email address.  Who knows... Tim Ferrone might even exist (though he's almost certainly not trying to order wine from us).

Why it's a fake
First, the writing is not quite credible for a native English speaker (and, honestly, who named "Tim" isn't a native English speaker).  Second, there is no mention of the name of the winery in the letter.  If you're going to try to convince Tablas Creek to send wine through an unusual arrangement to a faraway country, wouldn't you talk a little about what it is about Tablas, specifically, that would warrant such an expenditure of effort and money?  That fact suggests that it was sent to hundreds or thousands of California wineries in the hopes that one or more will bite.  On a related note, the "to" address is not to any visible address at Tablas Creek.  The address to which it was sent (visible only when you view the headers) is [email protected], not an address that many people would choose to address a letter like this to.  Fourth, though most people wouldn't be expected to know this, Thailand has such expensive import duties on wine (adding nearly 400% of the wine's cost) that no one imports anything other than the cheapest stuff.  Fifth, there is no Tim Ferrone in our mailing list database.

What would happen if I followed through
If you haven't read it before, there is a wonderful series on Mary Baker's Central Coast Wine Blogs site called Inside a Wine Scam.  Her five-part exposé reads like a detective story, but the gist is that these sorts of wine scams almost all originate in (of all places) Lagos, Nigeria.  The goal is to get wineries to receive payment for the wine on a credit card and then to wire money for shipping fees to a bank account.  As the wines will have to be shipped overseas, the shipping fees are typically in the hundreds of dollars per case.  When the credit card turns out to be stolen and the charges are reversed, the money for the shipping is gone.  An American accomplice has removed the money from the account to which it was wired and (minus a fee) sent the rest off to Nigeria.  Mary, in her piece, reprints the correspondence with the Nigerian scammer and even tracks down the American accomplice in Oklahoma.

It's not just wineries who have been victimized by these scams; wine retailers have been targeted, and as there's nothing specific about wine in the crime, it's easily transferrable to other consumer products.  But shipping laws for wine are sufficiently labrynthine that it's just possible that wineries who are unfamiliar with export protocol will fall for it.  And at a few thousand dollars as the potential payoff and with a fraction of a cent cost for each spam email, it must pay handsomely.  The letter I received reads very much like the letter Mary posts, so it's possible it's even written by the same person, years later.

So, Tim Ferrone, whoever you are, you'll get no wine (or shipping fees) from us.  And hopefully, another winery who might have been taken in will read this and save themselves both headache and money.