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March 2014

Tasting the wines in the spring 2014 VINsider Club shipment

Every six months, we send out a six-bottle shipment of wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  While the fall shipment showcases our signature wines, and includes our Esprit and our Esprit Blanc, the spring shipment is more eclectic, highlighted by the Panoplie, our elite wine made in the image of Beaucastel's iconic Hommage à Jacques Perrin.  Beyond that we include wines we're particularly excited about.  This year, we chose five wines from the luscious 2012 vintage: the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, highlighting our best-ever Viognier vintage, the mineral-laced Grenache Blanc and powerful Roussanne, and two red blends: the Patelin de Tablas that shows off Syrah and the Cotes de Tablas that is based on Grenache.

Yesterday I opened the wines to taste with my dad and Winemaker Neil Collins to write the tasting notes that will be included in the package, and thought that readers of the blog might like an advance peek.  The lineup:

14 Spring Shipment for Blog


  • Production Notes: 2012 was a banner year for Grenache Blanc, both in quantity and quality, with the year's strengths (generous fruit and good acidity) playing to the grape's natural strengths. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), then blended and bottled in the summer of 2013.
  • Tasting notes: A classic Grenache Blanc nose of preserved lemon and wet rocks, with a sweeter (mandarin orange?) citrus coming out with air.  The mouth follows through with the citrus promised on the nose, with marmalade and citrus leaf, chalky minerality and a little sweet anise spice at the end.  Fully dry on the long, rich finish.  Drink now and for the next three years.
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60


  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas Blanc is our showcase for the floral, lush fruit of Viognier, and the 2012 vintage was our best ever for this tricky grape. The result was Viognier with an appealing creamy lushness but great balance, and the additions of the mineral, high-acid Grenache Blanc and the gentle elegance of Marsanne served to polish the Viognier rather than change its character. The resulting blend is 34% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc, 30% Marsanne and 6% Roussanne, all aged in stainless steel.
  • Tasting notes: An immediately appealing nose of honey, pear, tarragon, jasmine and peach.  In the mouth it is luscious with flavors of peaches and cream, a hint of gingery spice, and then finishing clean and fresh, with those classic Grenache Blanc acids coming out at the end. Drink now and for the next five years.
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60


  • Production Notes: 2012’s generosity was kind to the powerful and sometimes austere Roussanne grape, bringing lushness and openness to complement its characteristic structured profile. We fermented the Roussanne lots that were selected for our varietal bottling roughly 50% in foudre, 35% in small, older neutral oak barrels, and 15% in new demi-muids. The selected lots were blended in April 2013 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling in February 2014.
  • Tasting notes: A wonderful nose of honey, nuts, dried, spiced pineapple and lemon zest: think baklava. In the mouth, it's characteristically Roussanne, with honey, pears and a kiss of sweet oak, but friendler than normal at this stage, with an appealing saline note coming out on the finish. Drink over the next 3-4 years, or wait until 2020 and drink over the next decade.
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28


  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our wine sourced from our many great neighborhood Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah, with Grenache providing juiciness and freshness, Mourvedre structure, and just a dash of Counoise. Fermented in a mix of upright oak fermenters and stainless steel tanks and aged in foudre and stainless steel, it was bottled in August 2013 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
  • Tasting notes: An exuberantly pretty nose of tangy berries, like raspberries marinated in balsamic vinegar, with an appealing foresty note, pepper spice and a gentle floral character. The mouth is complex, medium bodied, spicy, with juniper and sage notes, marinade and dark fruit.  The finish is clean and mineral-laced. Drink now and for the next five to seven years.
  • List Price: $20 VINsider Price: $16
  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our take on a more traditional Chateauneuf du Pape blend, heavier on Grenache and Syrah and lighter on Mourvedre than our Esprit de Beaucastel. 2012's long hangtime and gradual ripening were excellent for both Grenache and Syrah, whose complementary flavors balance juiciness and freshness with structure and spice. The components were harvested separately, then blended in June 2013 and aged in foudre until its bottling in February 2014.
  • Tasting notes: A deeper and more assertive nose than the Patelin, lush, with dark red plum and currant fruit, cola and licorice, very Grenache.  The mouth shows an initial sweet Grenache attack, with strawberry confiture and sweet spice, then the Syrah asserts control, with steely tannins.  Notes of leather and aged saucisson come out on the long, rich finish. Drink now or for the next fifteen years.
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28


  • Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always heaviest on Mourvedre's rich meatiness and firm structure. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2012.  The wine was bottled in August 2013 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.  The blend is 60% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache and 10% Syrah.
  • Tasting notes: On the nose, deep and complex, rich and spicy, with black raspberry, sandalwood, leather and grilled meat dripping notes. The mouth shows brooding dark fruit and plush tannins: absolutely luscious without being sweet or simple in any way. The finish is long and complex, with beautiful balance. We expect it to drink well for another year or two, then tighten up for a few years before reopening around 2019 and drinking well for two to three decades.
  • List Price: $95 VINsider Price: $76

More details on the shipment, including shipping dates, press on the wines, and information about the spring shipment tasting party on Sunday, April 13th, is available on our VINsider News Page.

Celebrating "The New California Wine" with an old California wine

By Robert Haas

The New California Wine, by San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor Jon Bonné and subtitled A guide to the Producers and Wines Behind a Revolution in Taste, is an ode to wineries that are producing wines of place, whether single varieties or blends, often working with organic or biodynamic vineyards; wines that are of moderate alcohol levels and speak to their origin.  It is a reminder that there is a growing wave of journalists, sommeliers and wine lovers pushing back against what Jon terms “big flavor wine.” Big flavor wines are, in Jon’s parlance, generally highly extracted, high alcohol, low acid, often oaky and slightly sweet on the palate.  Many of them have a cult following. 


I welcome Jon’s suggestions and enjoyed reading his book.  I will search out several of the producers he introduced me to.  But in reading the book I kept thinking that what Jon terms a revolution is really a move back to a classic norm.

The advent of boutique wineries such as Joseph Heitz, Freemark Abbey, Chappellet, Joseph Phelps, Clos du Val, Stags Leap, Spring Mountain, and even Robert Mondavi, among others, in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s brought California, and particularly the Napa Valley, to the international wine community's attention.  Their wines were from specific vineyards, mostly their own, farmed for moderate yields, made in classic style and dimensions.  They took their lead from Beaulieu and Inglenook, estate producers before World War II, and looked toward France for inspiration.  Their wines were mostly in the 12.5% alcohol range. 

From back in the days when my company, Vineyard Brands, represented them, I still have Cabernets from Spring Mountain, Clos du Val and Chappellet from the 1970s, and some Pine Ridge from the 1980s.  They have aged beautifully.   Their tannins have softened and they are elegantly balanced with plenty of red and black fruit.  I recently opened a bottle of Chappellet 1974 Cabernet (12.7% alcohol) and was struck by its mature dark color with no oxidation.  It was powerful and densely structured, even still a little reticent with its blueberry fruit.  I had the feeling that it had reached a plateau of maturity (at 40 years old!) and would be enjoyable for some time to come.


The “big flavor” wines are really a phenomenon of the last 20 years. As such, they are actually the new kids on the block.  Will they continue to dominate the paradigm or are they just a blip on the long-term chart of wine consumption?  I welcome the debate, and look forward to seeing whether a majority of vintners will continue to take advantage of the brilliant California climate to harvest ripe, high brix, low pH grapes and focus on lushness and power, or whether more will farm their vineyards to produce phenologically ripe grapes at lower Brix and make wines that focus more on terroir and elegance. Of course, there will be more than one "answer" to this question.

If I’m in harmony with the old standards, I know that the riper styles have their own passionate advocates as well.  But Jon’s book is a reflection of a conversation that it is important that the California winemaking community have. This discussion includes advocates of elegance -- both the newer producers he highlights and some established ones such as Calera and Ridge -- and those more exuberant producers, many of whose wines I see also preserving tremendous concentration while moving gradually away from excessive ripeness and new oak.  Perhaps this is California’s true strength: that winemakers with well-placed vineyards can, according to their beliefs, make compelling wines across the spectrum of ripeness.  In either case, greater diversity in the styles of California wine and the innovation fostered by the conversation itself will make the community stronger.  What do you think?

Dusk in the Vineyard: Moonrise at Sunset

Followers of the Tablas Creek Facebook page have likely noticed a burst of sunset beauty shots in recent weeks.  That's partly a function of the early winter sunsets, when I'm around more often to take photos, but equally a function of the winter weather patterns, with a mix of clouds and clear skies that gives the setting sun something interesting to reflect and refract its rays.  It is also, less happily, a function of this year's drought, where we've recently been on the southern fringes of serious precipitation, leading to bands of clouds overhead but nothing thick enough to make it overcast and gloomy.

Last night, we got the additional treat of having the full moon rising at sunset, providing competing shows in the eastern and western skies.  I spent a half-hour or so out in the vineyard, and the photos below are some of my favorites.  First, the geometry of the vines at dusk, with bright sky darkening the landscape:

Vineyard rows

The moon was rising, bright and full:

Moon between oaks

The contrast between the rising moon and the silhouetted unpruned grapevines was dramatic.  Call this "moon over mourvedre".  I was amazed at how detailed the moon was through the good zoom lens (click the photo for a larger version):

Moon over Mourvedre

The sunset to the west was equally pretty, in a more conventionally thrilling pallette:

Bands of color

Finally, as I was leaving, I got a great shot of the moon rising through a wisp of cloud turned red by the sunset.  I'm not sure how often this happens (full moon rising at sunset) but it can't be more than a few times per year:

Moonrise at sunset

A small aesthetic reward for being at work late!

Photo essay: After the Rain

Yesterday, we got about half an inch of rain.  That may not seem like much, but it was most welcome, and along with a similar storm last weekend provided a marked change from the weeks of sun and warmth that preceded them.  We're still securely in a serious drought (the two storms roughly doubled the amount of rain we've received this winter to 2.7 inches, but we're still at only about 20% of normal) but the last week has felt dramatically different: the soil is dark, not dusty; the sky has been stormy, even when it's not raining; and the color palette has shifted to a more wintery hue.  There have even been a few sightings of green coming up on the sides of the roads.  The next week is forecast to be more of the same, as we sit on the southern fringes of an "atmospheric river" of moisture aimed squarely at the Bay Area.  They're looking at several inches of rain, and while we're hoping for some noteworthy showers to continue to chip away at our deficit, it's more likely that we'll continue to see clouds and occasional drizzle.  At least it's not warmth and sun!

After the rain let up yesterday, I walked around the vineyard to get a sense of the changed landscape.  The clouds were doing their theatrical best, still hanging heavily to the west, though shafts of sun poked through from time to time:

Theatrical sky

Each time a cloudburst would pass, the vineyard, still largely unpruned, would sparkle anew:

Drips on Roussanne canes

In those brief sunny interludes, the contrast between the honey-colored vines and the dark clouds was beautiful:


You can see the impact of our early-season watering.  We've known that given the drought, we need to be getting water into the soil now if we hope to be able to keep the vines going through harvest.  What's more, watering now and letting the water saturate down into the calcarous clay will allow us to not have to irrigate (or at least, not have to irrigate as much) in the summer, when we'd like the vines to be self-sufficient, and when you also lose more of the water you put on a vineyard to evaporation.  It is that area, under the irrigation lines and among the grapevines, which is showing significant signs of green:


With the rain we've gotten recently the hillsides should (finally!) be in for a dramatic change in the next few weeks.  It can't happen soon enough.

Congratulations to Robert Haas, Rhone Rangers "Lifetime Achievement Award" winner for 2014

This week, The Rhone Rangers announced that Tablas Creek founder (and my dad) Robert Haas will receive the 2014 Rhone Rangers Lifetime Achievement Award, for services to the American Rhone movement.  It's a wonderful honor, just the second-ever lifetime achievement award that the organization has given out. The first went last year, appropriately, to Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard, the original Rhone Ranger.

Robert Haas Seated on Patio

Though my dad's wine career began focused on Burgundy and Bordeaux, his history with the Rhone is a long one.  He made his first buying visit to Chateauneuf-du-Pape in 1967, looking either to find an estate whose wines he could import, or barring that (few estates were even estate bottling at the time, and those few that were had established relationships) to find some bulk Chateauneuf-du-Pape that he could buy and have bottled for the American market.  He visited Beaucastel on that trip, convinced Jacques Perrin to let him taste through the cellar, and selected some barrels he would bottle and market under the "Pierre Perrin" label. [That story, if you haven't heard it, is detailed in the blog post a great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and the wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek, from 2012.]

His connection with the Rhone developed along with his friendship with Jacques Perrin and his two sons, Jean-Pierre and Francois, working together as importer and producer through the 1970's and 1980's.  For an American market still largely unaware of the Rhone Valley, my dad devised a marketing strategy of personalizing Beaucastel, and made dozens of trips around the United States with Jean-Pierre and Francois, promoting both the flagship Chateau de Beaucastel estate and their growing collection of wines under the La Vieille Ferme and Famille Perrin labels.  The brands are still a cornerstone of Vineyard Brands, the importing company he founded.

If the relationship had ended here, his contribution to the Rhone movement in America would still have been significant.  But his friendship with the Perrin brothers and their joint conviction that the Rhone grapes they worked with in France would thrive in California led them in 1985 to begin the search that would culminate in Paso Robles and Tablas Creek.

Several of the places that they looked at seriously (notably Sonoma, El Dorado and Santa Ynez) have become major contributors in the Rhone Ranger movement, but they settled on Paso Robles, which has become its epicenter.  From 1990, when there was negligible acreage of Rhones in the county, there are now more acres of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Syrah and Counoise in San Luis Obispo county than any other, and more acreage of Viognier, Grenache and Mourvedre than any other coastal or mountain county.  The focus that the partners' decision to buy land in Paso Robles brought to the region -- as an area for high quality wine grapes, but more specifically as a great home for Rhone varieties -- was enormous.

Perhaps the most lasting contribution that he (along with the Perrins) had in the American Rhone movement came with their decision to import new grapevine cuttings from France, and then to make them available to other vineyards and wineries, rather than trying to keep this potential competitive advantage proprietary.  More than 600 vineyards and wineries have purchased Tablas Creek stock since we began selling it in 1996.  This new high quality vine material both gave the Rhone movement a direct and dramatic boost and had an indirect effect, spurring the nurseries already in California to build new partnerships to themselves import quality new French clonal material.

Finally, I believe that Tablas Creek's focus on blends has provided an important counterpoint to the varietal paradigm that dominated California for decades.  We're far from the only winery who has tried to make our name on blended wines -- and the paradigm is far from broken -- but the winery's insistence in the early years, when the market was telling us again and again that what it wanted was varietally labeled wines, on sticking with what we felt was the best expression of our grapes, land and place, was one piece in creating space within that paradigm for alternatives.  I sat recently on an industry panel discussing the future of the proprietary blend, and I can't imagine that panel even existing without the work over the last two decades by wineries like Tablas Creek, and stubborn proprietors like my dad.

So, on Saturday, April 5th my dad will be recognized at the Rhone Rangers annual gala in San Francisco.  I'll introduce him.  And I'll know that not only will I be standing where I am because of him, but many of the Rhone producers and enthusiasts around the room will also be there because of what he made possible.