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September 2013

Robert Haas comes Full Circle on Pinot Noir

Over the last couple of vintages, word has seeped out that Tablas Creek is making a Pinot Noir.  Why, you might ask?  It's personal.

The person in question is our founder -- and my dad -- Robert Haas.  He made his name as an importer, mostly of French wines, and although his impact on Bordeaux was significant, his love was really Burgundy, and in the years after World War II introduced Americans to an amazing list of classic producers including Ponsot, Mongeard, Sauzet, Matrot, Girardin, Morey, Carillon, Boillot, Gouges, Merode, Trapet, Groffier, Parent, Pernot-Fourrier, Lamarche, Laleur-Piot and d'Angerville.

It was the Perrin family with whom he found the shared interest in making wine in California, but any Burgundy lover also notes the resemblance of our calcareous soils here in Paso Robles to the chalk found there.  And like many wine lovers -- and winemakers, for that matter -- my dad has always been fascinated with Pinot's ability to illustrate, reflect and elaborate the soils in which it is grown.

So when he had the chance to plant a two and a half acre block outside his house in one of the coolest pockets of Templeton, what did he pick?  Pinot Noir.  These vines went in the ground in 2007 and 2008, and we made two barrels of wine from it in 2010.  It was amazing to me how different this wine tasted than the wine we made from the few rows of Pinot vines we planted in our nursery block to propagate the roughly 4000 vines we needed to plant his property. [If you're interested in reading my tasting notes on those two wines, both from the 2010 vintage and from the same clones, grown in the same appellation, you can do so here.]

We decided to call the Pinot from my dad's property "Full Circle", reflecting my dad's journey from Burgundy through the Rhone to California and now bringing a little bit of Burgundy to his world in California.  That first release of Full Circle sold out quickly (there were only 52 cases made) but we're getting ready to release the 2011, and there will be quite a bit more: some 250 cases for us to pour for people in our tasting room and sell.  Still not enough to send out in a wine club shipment, and definitely not enough to put into distribution, but the 3000 bottles we're releasing mean that some significant percentage of our fans will get to try this wine in the next few years.  And the 2011 is delicious: like the 2010 with the volume turned up a bit: a little more texture, a little more fruit, and a little higher acidity.  Vibrant Pinot Noir showing sweet spices, black tea, plum and earth, with loamy minerality and lingering spice on the finish.  Wine club members should look for an announcement of the wine's release next week.

Meanwhile, last week I went on a ramble through my dad's vineyard to see how things were progressing on the 2013 version.  It looked great.  A few of the better photos are below.  First, a check in on veraison: nearly finished, which is unsurprising with the comparatively early-ripening Pinot Noir.  We expect to make our first pass through this vineyard to get the ripest clusters next week.


On the ground were clusters we'd pruned off a few weeks ago to even out the crop loads and ensure that the grapes have good concentration:


The setting sun lit up the canopy and gave a warm tone to everything it touched.


My favorite photo was one where I caught the light just before the sun set, shining through a little gap in the vine rows and lighting up one cluster.  I tasted it after I took the photo, and it was every bit as delicious as it looks.  Full Circle, 2013 vintage, is shaping up well. 


An easy peach preserves recipe (A.K.A. Something to do with the fruits of your biodiversity)

One of the principal tenets of Biodynamics is creating a diverse ecosystem in whatever you're growing.  That means avoiding monoculture, encouraging the growth of native and complementary plants, and reaping the benefits of the complex, healthy soils and resilient, self-sustaining inesct population that result.  Our animal program is the most visible face of our pursuit of biodynamics, but not the only one.

Fruit trees, particularly stone fruits, are classic components of a biodiverse vineyard both because they tend to thrive in the same climate as grapes and because of the many creatures they attract and sustain. What's more, they produce crops that are enjoyable in their own right, and help provide tasty snacks for our field and office crew through the summer.  About 5 years ago, we planted a selection of heirloom peaches, apricots, pears, apples, plums, quince, and cherries, and this year they have started producing fruit in earnest.

If, like us, you are rolling in peaches, we thought you might appreciate a simple peach jam recipe.  This can be canned and stored indefinitely, frozen for several months, or kept in the fridge and eaten within 2-3 weeks.  It divides easily if you don't have as many peaches as we did, and is fun to make with kids.  I did, last night, and we enjoyed the results this morning.

Peach preserves

Makes about 8 pints of preserves.

20 cups fresh peaches, peeled, pitted and quartered
3/4 cup classic pectin (I used RealFruit Classic Pectin by Ball)
1/2 cup lemon juice
8 cups sugar
1 tablespoon butter

To make the preserves (if you're canning, read the next section as well since some of what you'll need to do will happen simultaneously to your cooking the preserves):

  • Place the peaches in a large enameled saucepan on the stovetop and pour the lemon juice over the top.
  • Mash the peaches roughly with a potato masher.
  • Mix 1 cup of the sugar with the pectin and pour it over the peach mixture, then mix well.
  • Add the butter.  This will help keep down the foam that forms during boiling.
  • On high heat, stirring reqularly, bring the peach mixture to a full boil (the point at which it continues to boil rapidly even when stirred).
  • Add the rest of the sugar, all at once, and bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring regularly.  Boil for a couple of minutes, then remove from the heat.
  • Skim off as much of the foam that has formed as possible.

If you're freezing or keeping the preserves in your fridge, you're done... let them cool, choose a storage container, and refrigerate or freeze. 

If you're canning:

  • Choose a large pot, deep enough to cover the tops of whatever jars you're using, add the jars you want to use, and fill it with enough water to cover the jars. 
  • Bring that pot to a simmer while you're making the preserves.
  • For sterilizing the lids, choose a small saucepan, put in the lids you'll be using, cover with a few inches of water, and bring that to a simmer as well.
  • When the preserves are done, use a jar lifter to carefully lift out a jar from the hot water bath, drain the water back into the pot, then fill to within 1/4 inch of the top using a wide-mouth canning funnel.
  • Remove a lid (there are cool magnetic lid lifting wands in most canning kits, or you can use tongs) and place it carefully on top of the filled jar, then screw on a top so that it's on but not super-tight. 
  • Continue until you've filled all your jars.
  • Return the jars to the water, turn it up to a rolling boil, and boil 12 minutes to sterilize your new preserves.
  • Remove the jars from the water bath and let them cool overnight
  • Tighten the screw-on tops, store and enjoy all year.
Voila. A delicious treat that will taste like summer whenever you open it.

Tasting the wines in the Fall 2013 VINsider Club shipment

Every six months, we send out a six-bottle shipment of wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  The fall shipment is the showcase for our signature wines, and is highlighted by the newest vintages of our Esprit and Esprit Blanc.  That's no different this year.  What is different is that the Esprits aren't Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, but Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc.  If you missed the explanation of why we changed the names of our flagship wines, you can read that blog post here.

Joining the 2011 Esprit de Tablas and the 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc in this shipment we chose two varietal whites from the classic 2012 vintage, one (Vermentino) that we make every year and another (Viognier) than we haven't made since 2006.  Finally, we included the remarkable 2011 En Gobelet made entirely from head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard blocks of Mourvedre, Grenache, Tannat and Syrah. Note that there are only five different wines because club members get two bottles of the 2011 Esprit de Tablas.

Winemaker Neil Collins and I opened the shipment's wines on Friday to draft the tasting and production notes that will be included in the shipment, which will leave the winery the week of September 16th. I thought that readers of the blog might enjoy a preview.

VINsider Fall 2013 Shipment


  • Production Notes: Our eleventh bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottle it in screwcap.
  • Tasting Notes: Incredibly pale color, with powerfully mineral aromas of broken rocks, citrus leaf, and peppered citrus peel.  In the mouth, the wine shows vibrant citrus fruit, not at all sweet, suggesting kumquat or yuzu, then turns richer on the finish, peaches and cream and lingering minerality, with great acids. Just 12.5% alcohol: classic Vermentino. Drink now and for the next 2-3 years.
  • Production: 1300 cases
  • Press: 90 points Galloni ("rich, layered and exceptionally beautiful")
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60


  • Production Notes: The productive, consistently high quality 2012 vintage allowed us to produce our first Viognier since 2006. Viognier, known more from the northern Rhone than the area around Chateauneuf du Pape, sprouts first of all our grapes, making it the most prone to frost, but was spared in 2012 and thrived in the warm days and cool nights. It was whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then blended and bottled in August 2013 in screwcap, to preserve its brightness. 
  • Tasting Notes: For a Viognier, its nose is more savory than fruit or floral driven at this stage, with peppered mango and preserved lemon, grilled bread and exotic herbs.  In the mouth it's rich, long and broad, with flavors of citrus peel, lemongrass and Chinese five spice.  The richness is held in check by good acidity, and the texture is marvelous. Let this age for a few months if you can, then drink between 2014 and 2018. It's possible it will go longer, too, but with Viognier, you never know.
  • Production: 550 cases
  • Press: 88-90 points Galloni ("hugely promising")
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24
  • Production Notes: Although 2011’s spring frosts largely spared the notoriously late-sprouting Roussanne, yields were still low and these low yields combined with the unusually cool growing season to produce structured Roussanne with good acidity, suitable for aging. We blended 64% Roussanne (fermented primarily in foudre) with 26% Grenache Blanc and 10% Picpoul Blanc to provide floral aromatics and lift on the palate, then finished aging the blend for a year in foudre before bottling in August 2012 and aging it an additional year in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Esprit Blanc, with aromatics dominated by non-fruit descriptors: mineral, sea spray, grilled bread and a hint of non-toasted oak. The mouth is dramatically rich and broad, with the vintage's acidity showing in the front palate, rich Roussanne in the mid-palate, and a hint of tannin from the Grenache Blanc on the long, nutty finish. A fascinating combination of rich and very dry.  Still a baby, this is a serious white to age for up to 15 years or more.
  • Production: 2480 cases
  • Press: 92-95 points Rhone Report ("full-bodied, perfectly balanced"); 92 points, Tanzer's I.W.C
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32


  • Production Notes: 29% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 26% Tannat and 18% Syrah. Our fourth En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill and planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend. We co-fermented the components from Scruffy Hill, then blended in Tannat from our head-trained section near the middle of the vineyard for its dark color, smoky, spicy flavors and firm tannins. It was then aged in foudre, and bottled in May 2013.
  • Tasting Notes: A dramatic, dark nose showing a meaty, iron-like aroma that reminded me of newly-carved, rare grilled steak. This mingles with fruit aromatics that shift between black and red (blackcurrant and black cherry) and a minty, chocolatey note. In the mouth it's rich and robust with meaty flavors darkened by notes of espresso and cocoa bean, and powerful but refined tannins coming out at the end. The finish shows more grilled meat and a hint of saline minerality. Spectacular, and Neil and I thought it our best En Gobelet ever. Drink over the next two decades.
  • Production: 750 cases
  • Press: 92 points Galloni ("fabulous depth and richness"), 91-94 points Rhone Report
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36


  • Production Notes: Like all the 2011 reds, the components that went into the Esprit de Tablas were concentrated by the vintage's spring frosts and then given acidity by one of the coolest years in our history. This results in a medium-weight wine of great intensity of flavor and excellent freshness. Esprit is as usual based on the red fruit, earth and mocha of Mourvèdre (40%), while Grenache (30%) brings rich mouthfeel, glycerin and a refreshing acidity, Syrah (20%) provides black fruit and mineral and Counoise (10%) adds vibrancy and brambly fruit. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended and aged a year in foudre before being bottled in June 2013.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose shows exuberant freshness, with Mourvedre's signature currant, black tea and roasted meat aromas, given lift by a tangy, winey note showing rosemary and mineral. The mouth is long, fine and balanced, lusher than the nose suggests, with flavors of licorice, spice, meat drippings and clove, mid-weight now (relatively soon after bottling) but with every expectation of deepening over coming months.  We recommend that you hold the 2011 Esprit for a few months, then drink either between 2014 and 2016 or 2020-2040.
  • Production: 4000 cases
  • Press: 93-95 points Rhone Report ("beautifully full-bodied and elegant")
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

Counting sheep (and losing sleep)

By Levi Glenn

Most of my mornings start with counting sheep. You herd that right.

Raising sheep in an area that borders so much wild land means that we have to keep a close eye on the herd. The predators that populate this area are quite formidable, the most dangerous being the mountain lion, followed by bobcats and coyotes. The current herd consists of 40 sheep, so in the morning, even with the security of our movable electric fence, we must make sure that there are in fact 40 still running about. There are various ways we protect the sheep, the most dissuading being the guard donkeys, Fiona and Dottie. Donkeys are quite protective and have a particular disdain for canines. Five alpacas are a second line of defense, watchful and noisy. When we move the animals to a new area to grazing, the electric fence comes with them, which provides another element of protection: 6,000 volts of electricity is a memorable deterrent. We haven't lost a single sheep (knock on wood) but we know that there are things out here that would love a mutton snack. Coyote predation is one of the main reasons that commercial sheep ranching is becoming a rarity in many areas of California. The herd, Dottie in front, in the vineyard this spring:

Animal herd

As cute as the sheep are, they are here to do a job. Our herd removes the unwanted weeds from underneath the vines and within the vine rows. By having them in the vineyard we get a wealth of benefits. It reduces at least two tractor passes in any given block, so a reduction in biodiesel use, total man hours, and tractor repair costs. As they eat, they are simultaneously fertilizing the vineyard, and that nutrient cycling happens without any human effort, reducing the total amount of compost we have to purchase and the labor to apply it. And the time that we spend with the animals in the vineyard gives us another perspective on what else we need to be paying attention to.

The sheep can only be in the vineyard when the vines aren't growing. This period usually extends from mid-November to mid-April, depending in the growing season and how early the winter rainfall arrives. The herd can graze down two acres of vineyard in one week, so in 4 months they can cover 30-40 acres of vineyard. Doing some math shows that one full grown sheep can eat roughly one acre worth of weeds during that timeframe, and a little more math would suggest that a herd of 100 sheep should be the magic number for us to be able to graze them across the whole vineyard each year.

Since the herd can only be in the vineyard for this time, not only do we need to find somewhere else to put the sheep, but also provide something else for them to eat. Every year we plant cover crop in the vineyard rows, and some of those seed mixes contain more legumes and others more grasses. In spring of 2012 we noticed a block that had a particularly tall barley cover crop growing. We harvested the barley by hand, left it to dry in the field, and tied it up into small bundles. We use this to feed when there is no grass left for grazing. It’s a great example of adhering to the single farm unit and trying to produce as much of what we need from our own property.

Fifteen lambs were born at Tablas Creek this year, ten ewe lambs and five ram lambs. The males are usually castrated a few days after birth, as this is the most humane time for this to be done and avoids the problem of them fighting for dominance when they reach adulthood. These males (called wether lambs) can be kept to grow the herd, or can be sold at auction once they reach market weight. Ewe lambs are more valuable since they will become mothers once they reach sexual maturity. This happens from 6 to 12 months of age. We want them to reach full size (generally over a year old) before they breed to lower pregnancy risks later on. Ewes that came from a twin birth have a higher chance of having twins themselves, which can be valuable as it will help grow the herd faster.

Our first lamb was born in mid-December 2012, a ram lamb named Percy. He will become the patriarch of the herd. He’s grown quite large in the last eight months, now weighing over 100 pounds. Percy will be taking over for his father Gordy, once he has reached full maturity. He is a half Dorper and half Katahdin. Both breeds are hair sheep, meaning they actually don't have wool, but lose their hair in the summer months and grow it back as the weather becomes cooler in the late fall. These breeds are known to have good meat characteristics and are very hardy. One ram is capable of breeding 30-50 ewes. Selection of the ram is quite important since he is essentially 50% of the genetic makeup of the herd. Percy has already shown good qualities as a future ram, with heavy muscling and a small head to he will pass down to his offspring, easing issues during birthing.

Father son

Shawn Dugan introducing Gordy to his son Percy

Young Percy

Young Percy

Percy Today

Percy this week

Molly was our first ewe lamb born, and she has unique markings.  I fed her by hand from when she was a few days old, and she is quite friendly. Her name was crowd-sourced: we started by asking the employees at Tablas Creek for nominations, and put the top choices out to our Facebook followers. I think her name is rather fitting.


Young Molly

The ewe lambs were recently removed from the herd and weaned from their mothers for the first time, to prevent them breeding this year. After a few trying days it seems that these lambs have made the adjustment to their separation and are only concerned with the feed bucket.

Stop Staring

Inside lambing barn this week, Molly on left.

This experimental animal project, now almost two years old, has been a smashing success. I’ve described the more practical reasons for having them around, but what we didn’t expect was the effect it would have on our own employees. Not a day goes by there isn’t someone that wants to go see the animals or wants to share stories of the silly antics of the multi-species herd. It brings people out into the vineyard more often, and gives them a deeper tie and connection to our estate. Our customers have also responded. Not long ago we hosted an event where we had a walking tour of all of our different creatures here at Tablas. Families, some with children, some without, were able to interact with all the sheep, donkeys, pigs, goats, chicken and humans. It even got written up as a blog piece by KCET TV in Los Angeles. This has all shown me how much joy these animals can bring to people of all ages, and it’s something that I get the privilege to experience every day.

Inner barn

Late afternoon light inside lambing barn

Veraison 2013: one week ahead of normal as we turn for the home stretch

Veraison -- the point at which grapes start to turn color and accumulate sugar -- is a visible, easily measurable signpost in the growing season.  There are several of these signposts, including budbreak, flowering, veraison, first harvest and last harvest.  Taken together, they allow us to assess the progress of our vineyard compared to other vintages.  The beginning of veraison also begins a roughly six week countdown to the beginning of harvest, and so is closely watched as the best estimate yet of when the big events will begin.

Viticulturist Levi Glenn found the first evidence of veraison in Syrah on July 17th, and by yesterday it was possible to find veraison in every red variety, though by no means in every cluster.  In my ramble around the vineyard, I'd estimate that we're around 50% complete with veraison in Syrah, 30% complete in Mourvedre, 10% complete in Grenache and 1% complete in Counoise.  This doesn't mean that we'll start our harvest with Syrah and finish with Counoise.  Different grapes take different amounts of time between veraison and harvest, with Syrah and Grenache taking less time -- about 6 weeks -- and Mourvedre notorious for taking more: as much as 10 weeks.

I took some photos that were representative of the clusters that showed veraison (so, I didn't photograph any of the many all-green Counoise or Grenache clusters, however representative they would be).  I'll show them in the order in which we expect to start harvesting them, beginning with Syrah, already showing the characteristic conical clusters and beginning to show the blue-black color that it gives the wines it produces.  We'll expect to start harvesting Syrah at the beginning of September and continue well into the second half of the month:

Veraison 2013 Syrah

Next we'll look at Grenache, never particularly dark in color, and at this early stage still more rose than red. The Grenache vines are looking particularly good this year, and we expect to begin harvesting them in mid-September and continue through early October:

Veraison 2013 Grenache

Next up is Counoise.  I had to climb up to the very top of the Counoise block to find clusters that showed color, and even there it's rare.  Counoise, like Grenache, is relatively light in color even at harvest, and we don't expect to see it come into the cellar until October:

Veraison 2013 Counoise

We'll expect Mourvedre to come into the cellar last, likely beginning the second week of October and continuing through the month, despite its fairly advanced progress through veraison.  You'll note a significant number of bright green berries even in the mostly-veraised cluster below (the clusters partially visible in the background are even more green):

Veraison 2013 Mourvedre

Looking at the date at which we first saw veraison over the last several years, and the date on which harvest began, gives us pretty reliable predictive powers about this year.  The last six years have produced a range of between 39 and 49 days between first signs of veraison and the debut of harvest.  Looking forward 39 and 49 days from July 17th gives us a range of possible harvest start dates between August 25th and September 4th.  Given that our average start date over the last thirteen vintages has been September 7th, it looks like we're almost exactly a week ahead of that average, though we'll be unlikely to threaten our earliest-ever start of August 23rd, in 2004.

Click on the year to link to the blog post I put up that year about veraison, if you want details and photos:

Year First Veraison NotedHarvest Begins
# of Days
2007 July 20 August 28
2008 July 23 September 3
2009 July 20 September 1
July 30 September 16 49
2011 August 5 September 20 47
2012 July 25 September 5 42
2013 July 17 ? ?

The weather over coming weeks will determine whether we're at the shorter or longer range of these dates.  2010 and 2011, which show the longest interval between veraison and harvest, were not coincidentally the two coolest years in our history.  And 2007 and 2012 (at 39 and 42 days, respectively) were our two warmest.

Up until now, we knew the clock was ticking.  We just didn't know how much time was left on the timer.  Now we do.