Previous month:
January 2015
Next month:
March 2015

Photo Essay: Green, Green, Green

Normally, the sign at the edge of our head-trained Mourvedre vineyard just outside our tasting room is to protect people from a twisted ankle, should they stray off the tarmac. Now, we're worried we might lose them in the cover crop!


The growth in the vineyard's green winter coat over the last month has been amazing to watch. Whether because of the three dry years which preceded this one, or because of the work we've been doing with soil fertility, or because of the year's relative warmth (or some combination) we've never seen a cover crop so lush.  Another view, looking up the hill behind the winery that we call Mt. Mourvedre:

Looking up mt mourvedre

Everything is growing. Yes, the cover crops that we planted are growing fast, but we're seeing lots of native grasses and wildflowers, like the mustards you see below:


The yellow of the mustard isn't the only hue on display.  We're also seeing our sweet peas flowering:

Sweet pea

And this pretty purple wildflower that grows low to the ground:

Purple wildflowe

And it is wet. Although it hasn't rained much since the 3.9" we received the first weekend of February, the soils are still loaded with moisture, as evidenced by the ubiquity of the water-loving plant miner's lettuce, which we barely saw the last two winters:

Miners lettuce

And, if you needed more evidence, either of the wet soils or of the hazards of trekking into the vineyard, check out my shoes after this morning's photography trip:


Now, our chief worry shifts to early budbreak. We've been reading about it from nearby regions, and were frightened to see photographic evidence of it getting nearer from our neighbors at Adelaida Cellars over the weekend.  We're typically a few weeks behind Adelaida and the other less-frosty vineyards at the tops of the hills to the east of us, and are still in a window where a few frosty nights would likely give us a reprieve rather than damage.  But barring a freeze, we're on track for an earlier budbreak than last year, when its mid-March arrival led me to write the blog Why we're dreading the 2014 frost season.

Fingers crossed, please, everyone.

Tasting the wines in the spring 2015 VINsider Wine Club shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club.  In others, the club gets a first look at a wine that may see a later national release.  An important pre-shipment event for us is the in-house tasting that we conduct, about 6 weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, to help us write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments.  This tasting is often our first post-bottling introduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming weeks and months.  This time around, because these shipments include four wines that aren't yet even bottled (they will be next week), I found this get-to-know-you process particularly informative. My main take home message: that the 2013 and 2014 vintages are the best back-to-back vintages we've seen in our history.

This spring's classic shipment is as usual anchored by the Panoplie, our elite wine, dominated by Mourvedre and made from the most compelling, ageworthy lots in the cellar. To that, we've added three varietal wines: two white (2014 Vermentino and 2013 Grenache Blanc) and one red (2012 Tannat), as well as the newest vintage of our rich, vibrant Mourvedre-based Dianthus rosé, and perhaps the most surprising wine of the tasting for me: our 2013 Cotes de Tablas, led by Grenache.

I was joined for the tasting by my dad, and by our winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi.  First, our notes from the classic (mixed) shipment:

Spring 2015 Classic


  • Production Notes: Our thirteenth 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: A classic chalky citrus leaf Vermentino nose, but then surprisingly mouth-filling, long and creamy, but with lots of great savory flavors of citrus pith, saline and wet stone. Great acids on the finish.  Really nice, and classic for the Vermentino grape.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1000 cases.


  • Production Notes: 2013 was a great year for Grenache Blanc, with solid quantity and remarkable quality concentrated by a second year of drought. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), then blended and bottled in the summer of 2014.
  • Tasting Notes: Solid and rich on the nose, with quince, baking spices, crystallized ginger and orange marmalade,  elevated by a nice citrus blossom character. The mouth is broad and rich, with a touch of Grenache Blanc's signature tannin providing structure on the finish. The flavors were rich and broad, then clean: mimosa, lemon peel and anise. My dad called it "bracing" and "bold" which both seemed right on to me.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 700 cases.


  • Production Notes: Our estate rosé is now in the third year under its Dianthus name, chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers. A style between that of Tavel (deeper pink, based on Grenache) and Bandol (less skin contact, based on Mourvedre) this year's blend is heavy on Grenache, for us, at 46% Mourvèdre, 41% Grenache and 13% Counoise. The core of the Dianthus comes from a co-fermented lot from our nursery block, planted in 1994, supplemented by saignées (bleedings) from other Mourvèdre and Grenache lots. This is a deeply colored, flavorful rosé that shows the richness of the classic 2014 vintage. After roughly 24 hours on the skins, the fermentation was completed in stainless steel, and bottled in February 2015.
  • Tasting Notes: A gorgeous color, like fresh-pressed strawberry juice. The nose shows strawberries too (maybe that's why I thought of the color), watermelon, plum and rose petal. The mouth is rich, with great acids and a powerful floral jasmine element. The finish is long and clean. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious.  Drink before the end of 2016.
  • Production: 1600 cases


  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our chance to let Grenache shine, as it does in most Chateauneuf du Pape blends. 2013's drought-reduced yields and moderate growing season produced standout Grenache: juicy and powerful, but not sappy or candied. We blended 55% Grenache with 30% Syrah (for firm tannins, minerality and spice), 10% Counoise (for freshness and brambly wildness) and 5% Mourvedre (for earth and ageability). The wine was blended in June 2014 and aged in foudre until its bottling in February 2015.
  • Tasting Notes: We heard murmurs of "oh, boy" when people stuck their noses in this. An explosive minty nose of blueberry, licorice, black plum and pepper. There's powerful fruit on the front palate, then firming up with great tannins on the back. There's a luxurious texture, with nice granular tannins and a minty garrigue cooling and lingering on the finish. Just, wow. Neil declared it "as good a Cotes as we've ever made". I think he's understating things; I think it's the best. It's wonderful now, and I know much of it will be drunk in coming months, but I think it's got a decade of development.
  • Production: 1580 cases


  • 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 2013.  The wine was bottled in August 2014 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.  The blend is 70% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache and 10% Syrah.
  • Tasting Notes: Rich, deep and meaty on the nose, cassis and new leather, with a wonderful note of violets that I found captivating.  The mouth is textured, Mourvedre's signature rare steak character on the front-palate, then elegant and minerally in the mid-palate, showing cocoa powder and loam, with more currants and plums on the finish. A poised and approachable Panoplie, much more so than usual at this stage, more about elegance than sheer power, but that balance and the high percentage of Mourvedre should combine to give it two decades of life.
  • Production: 650 cases


  • Production Notes: our ninth bottling of this traditional varietal from South-West France, known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Tannat typically has intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging, and it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon (in this vintage, 9%) to bring a hint of minty lift. 
  • Tasting Notes: Easily the darkest wine on the table, a luminescent black-red. The aromas are nearly all savory: iron, tobacco, squid ink and wild herbs. Neil called it "the crusty end of a rib roast". On the palate, more bramble and underbrush, iron and dry-aged steak, black fig and baker's chocolate. The finish shows Tannat's signature tannins, smoke and mineral. A wine to watch evolve over decades.
  • Production: 1000 cases

There were three additional wines (joining the Vermentino and Grenache Blanc) in the white-only shipment:

Spring 2015 White


  • Production Notes: The 2013 Tablas Creek Vineyard Marsanne is just our third varietal bottling of Marsanne, the noble white grape of France's Hermitage appellation. We use most of our Marsanne in our Cotes de Tablas Blanc each year. However, in 2013 we felt that the Marsanne was so complete and compelling, and so representative of the Marsanne grape, that we selected out one small lot, fermented in foudre for the first time, for a single-varietal bottling.
  • Tasting Notes: We worried that the often-subtle Marsanne would suffer after tasting the Tannat, but needn't have. The nose showed vibrant aromas of quince paste, clover honey and newly-laid straw. On the palate, an absolutely classic Marsanne, with preserved lemon, wheat, mineral and honeydew melon, great texture and a hint of tannin on the finish. Quite gorgeous, we all thought.  Should drink well for the next five years, maybe longer.
  • Production: 235 cases


  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas Blanc is our showcase for the floral, lush fruit of Viognier, given texture, acidity and restraint by the good acids and citrus of Grenache Blanc, and by the gentle minerality of Marsanne. The resulting blend is 39% Viognier, 29% Grenache Blanc, 20% Marsanne and 12% Roussanne, all aged in stainless steel.
  • Tasting Notes: Open-knit, compared to the Marsanne, with pear and nectarine and minty savory note that we variously identified as tarragon and key lime. The mouth was initially rich: peaches and cream from the Viognier, but bright and with nice minerality on the finish. Clean and compelling.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1250 cases


  • Production Notes: 2013’s combination of intensity and juiciness 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 2014 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling in February 2015.
  • Tasting Notes: Not yet bottled, the 2013 Roussanne was the second vintage of our 100% Roussanne that we aged in foudre through the subsequent harvest, and we agreed that like the 2012, this wine showed the benefits of that longer elevage. Aromas of beeswax, lacquered wood, white flowers and yellow pear, with rich, broad flavors of honey and pear, some nicely integrated sweet oak, and a long, rich, slightly spicy finish. Appealing in its youth (moreso than many vintages of our Roussanne) but should also develop over the next decade.
  • Production: 700 cases

Two additional reds joined the Cotes de Tablas, Panoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:

Spring 2015 Red


  • 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 July 2014 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
  • Tasting Notes: An appealing nose of chocolate, cherry, cranberry, mint and graphite, balanced between Syrah's savoriness and Grenache's juiciness. It's fresh, juicy and friendly on the palate, with Grenache's signature purple fruit and Syrah's minerality and spice. Some nice chalky tannins on the finish frame the wine and suggest that for all its approachability, it will develop additional complexity over the next 5+ years.
  • Production: 5900 cases


  • Production Notes: 2012 is the third vintage of our Full Circle Pinot Noir, grown on the small vineyard outside Robert Haas's family home in Templeton, in the cool (for Paso) newly-approved Templeton Gap AVA. Its name reflects his career: from a start introducing America to the greatness of Burgundy, through decades focusing on grapes from the Rhone, he's now growing Pinot at home. The grapes were fermented in one-ton microfermenters, punched down twice daily by hand. After pressing, the wine was moved into year-old Marcel Cadet 60-gallon barrels, for a hint of oak.  The wine stayed on its lees, stirred occasionally, for a year and a half before being blended and bottled in April 2014.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose is smoky red cherry, with leather, milk chocolate, and chaparral. The mouth is dark and compelling (Chelsea called it "sultry" and "jazz lounge") with nice grippy tannins that clean up the richness and suggest a good life ahead. Sun and forest and fresh berries: a great warm climate expression of Pinot Noir. Drink over the coming decade.
  • Production: 350 cases

If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try.  This spring's party will be on Sunday, April 9th.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment?  Details and how to join are at

Another way in which Paso Robles is cooler than you think

This week, fresh on the heels of the wonderful storms that blew through last weekend, headlines from around California have made a quick about-face to resume talking about what has been so far a warm, dry 2015 overall. The LA Times warned of powerful winds and record high temperatures for February. Our local San Luis Obispo Tribune said Record heat forecast in SLO County after weekend storm. Inside Bay Area reported Rains give way to heat wave.  Industry voice Wines & Vines reported that thanks to our continued warmth, California vineyards have been reporting early budbreak.

And yet, with reported temperatures in the 80s around California, our highs here the last few days have topped out in the low-60s.  The local temperature map from Weather Underground from this afternoon illustrates (click to enlarge):

Temperatures feb 2015

Notice the gradient: 80 in Santa Maria. 79 in San Luis Obispo. 77 in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains just south of Monterey.  Heck, it's 73 in Cambria, just over the mountains from us.  But Paso Robles is just 64 degrees.  This pattern -- warm on the coasts and the inland areas open to the Pacific, but cooler in more inland climates like ours -- is normal in the winter, and often overlooked when people discuss the climate here.

This difference, already dramatic enough in the afternoon, is even more pronounced in the nights and early mornings.  We typically see 20-30 frost nights a year here in Paso, while San Luis Obispo sees only a few.  Here, you see apples, grapes, and other crops that benefit from full dormancy planted, while when you go over the mountains to the coast, you see citrus and avocado groves.  It's routine for me to get up into foggy, low-40's winter mornings and drive down to San Luis, where it's in the 60's and sunny.

Why does all this matter for us?  Because the beginning of the grape growing season is determined by the accumulated heat during the winter.  Last year, after a warm start to 2014, regions in more moderated climates (think Edna Valley, or the Santa Lucia Highlands) saw an exceptionally early start to their growing season. This led to a growing cycle that began in February, with veraison in June and harvests that began, in some cases, in July.  Yes, our early 2014 was warm compared to normal, but we didn't see anything like this.  From last year's post Veraison in June? Not so fast, in Paso Robles at least:

How close were we to a similarly early start?  I'd point to the nights of February 4th and 5th, both of which got down to 29 degrees here.  That doesn't sound like much, but it meant that even with the warm weather that followed, our budbreak didn't start until mid-March.  The more coastal regions didn't get a frost after December, and I remember driving through the Santa Maria Valley in the second half of February and marveling that their vines were already showing green.

If you needed more evidence, our winter cool is just another way in which Paso has cool climate aspects as well as warm.  It's warm, in summer (but cold in the winter). It's hot, during the day (but cold at night).  It's exactly this dichotomy that we loved when we settled here: this balance between the elements that bring sweet fruit and rich texture (the California sun, our warm days, and our long growing season) and those that maintain our savory notes and our freshness (the cold nights and winters, and our altitude).

Just when you think you have Paso Robles pigeonholed, it offers something new.  Plan your next trip for winter, if you don't believe me.

Community Roundup: Major Awards for Qupe and L'Aventure, Imminent Rain, Snow in the Rhone, and New Direct Shipping Opportunites

Last year, I debuted a weekly feature on the blog called Weekly Roundup, focusing on interesting news from our communities (Rhone and Paso Robles), fun articles that we'd found on the world of wine, and pieces from other social media channels that we thought would interest a wider audience.

Unfortunately, the series never got a lot of traction.  I didn't hear much feedback about it, we didn't get many comments (1, in all the articles) and it didn't get shared or clicked on all that much when we posted it.  And it was a fair amount of work to do each week, some of which frankly didn't have all that much that was exciting going on in our community.  So, I've decided to rechristen this as a roughly monthly endeavor, and make its focus more explicitly on our community.  So, please welcome the Community Roundup: an occasional foray into what else is going on in our world.  These are things that we think are sufficiently noteworthy and of interest to our audience to be worth sharing, but maybe less than a full post each.

And please continue to share your own feedback on this series in the comments section.  Is it something that you've enjoyed and would like to continue to see?  Are there areas that you'd like to see more of?  Thanks in advance!

Two Awards for Two Iconic Figures
This week, we've been pleased to hear that two industry veterans for whom we have enormous respect are receiving major awards. 

Stephan Asseo CroppedThe first is Stephan Asseo, whose desire to combine the strengths of Bordeaux and the Rhone introduced a new kind of fusion into Paso Robles.  Stephan began making wine in 1982, and for the next 15 years developed a formidable reputation in Bordeaux.  Looking to escape the restrictions of France's appellation controlee system, he came to Paso Robles, where he founded  L'Aventure Winery in 1998.  His work in the seventeen years since has played a major role in establishing Paso Robles as the home for some of the most innovative garagiste winemakers in California, and brought to prominence the "Paso Blend", combining grapes from different Old World traditions into something uniquely Paso.  We are excited to learn that Stephan will be presented with the 2015 Wine Industry Person of the Year award from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.  Photo (right) is from the L'Aventure Facebook page.

Bob Lindquist CroppedThe second award recipient is Bob Lindquist, whose pioneering work at Qupe Winery was one of our inspirations, showing since 1982 that great Rhone varieties could be made in California's Central Coast.  Bob, throughout his time at Qupe, has been a tireless advocate for the wines of the Rhone, and a generous, patient, and humble figure in the movement.  He doesn't ever call attention to himself, which is one of the joys of his receiving only the third-ever Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhone Rangers: that he'll get some richly deserved time in the limelight. My dad received this award last year, and the ceremony was great. If you missed it, I wrote a blog after that includes the amazing tribute video presented at his ceremony. If you're interested in joining for the celebration, you can; Bob's award will be presented at the Rhone Rangers San Francisco Winemaker Dinner. Photo (right) is from the Qupe Web site.

Snow in the Rhone
The Famille Perrin Instagram account is chock-full of great images, but one really stuck out this past week.  Snow isn't exactly a rarity in the Rhone Valley; they get a dusting at some point most years, but heavy snow is.  The photo that they shared of Gigondas under a heavy white blanket was stunning:

Snow in Gigondas

Rain in Paso Robles
At the same time, we're eagerly anticipating the arrival of our first real storm of 2015 tonight.  It looks like it will produce at least a few inches of rain for areas out near us, and I've read a report suggesting that the hills out here might see as many as six inches by Monday.  It's much needed; as my blog post from earlier in the week pointed out, we got less than 5% of normal rainfall in January.  A good head start on February (average rainfall: about 5 inches) would be great.

This rain (and the frost which is scheduled to follow) is particularly important because January was so warm that some California regions are reporting exceptionally early bud break. This isn't something we're worried about in the short term (I wrote about why last summer) but we're still at the point where some cold weather can shift the beginning of our growing season a few weeks later, reducing our risk of frost damage significantly.

New Direct Shipping Opportunities
FreethegrapesEarlier in January, I wrote a long piece on the state of wine shipping in the United States.  It wasn't really germane to the article -- which dealt more with the levels of expense and regulation within the three-dozen shipping states -- but it seems like there's been a little flurry of opportunity in opening some of the roughly dozen states that still prohibit all wine shipping.  Not only is Massachusetts set to open any day now, but the South Dakota legislature is debating a viable shipping bill, as is Indiana, and I've been hearing rumors that Pennsylvania is likely to move on wine shipping before the end of the year.  As always, the best place to go is Free the Grapes, where you can learn what's being debated and use their built-in templates to write state legislatures.

Drink for Thought: Wine State or Beer State?


I'm a sucker for maps.  There were several interesting ones, including the one above, in the Washington Post's article Do you live in beer country or wine country? These maps will tell you. The take-home message for me was that where there are wineries, there are likely breweries too.  Of course, there are hotspots where one or the other dominates, but fewer than you might think.  This is why I've found the reported worry in some corners of the wine community over the rise of craft beer silly.  In general, the people who love good wine love good beer, and increasingly, vice versa.  And more importantly, the people who love interesting wine look for interesting beer.  Nowhere more so than winery cellars.  The old adage that "it takes lots of good beer to make good wine" is absolutely true, in my experience.  Cheers!

Rainfall whiplash: a less optimistic drought assessment after a record-dry January

In mid-December, we seemed set for a great rainfall winter.  A series of storms had dropped 7.75 inches over three weeks, with measurable rainfall fifteen different days of twenty-two and no more than two consecutive rain-free days.  We were ahead of our annual averages, and the winter felt promising: air laden with moisture, hillsides getting greener by the day, and spectacular sunsets due to the frequent clouds.

Fast-forward to early February, and things look less promising.  January was one of the driest on record throughout California, with no measurable precipitation in San Francisco and not much more on the Central Coast.  At Tablas Creek, we got only 0.23 inches for the month, less than 5% of what we would expect in what's normally the wettest month of the year.  Here's how the year has looked so far:

Rainfall chart winter 2014-2015

(Rainfall averages are 1942-2014 as listed on the Paso Robles City Web site, and extrapolated to our wetter microclimate here west of town. My multiplier was 1.77, the ratio between the 25" of rain that long-time residents out in our Adelaida area report as average and the 14.11" average shown on the Paso city site.)

Even though December's rain didn't include the massive storms that often provide the bulk of coastal California's precipitation, we ended the month at 111% of normal winter-to-date precipitation.  One month later, we're at 69% of normal precipitation and things don't look so good.  We have only to look at the winter of 2012-2013 for an example of a seemingly great beginning to the rainy season that petered out dramatically after January 1st:

Rainfall Chart Winter 2012-2013 - Updated

A more hopeful example is last year. The winter of 2013-2014 saw nearly all our rainfall come late in the season, with January totally dry:

Rainfall Chart Winter 2013-2014

And there is potential relief in sight, with an "atmospheric river" of moisture set to hit Northern California this coming weekend.  Whether it will make it this far south is still an open question, but at least it will hopefully bring a pattern change. As nice as it is to sit outside in the sun while our friends and relatives in the northeast are battered by snowstorms, each day without rain is significant: we have roughly 26 weeks to get our 25 inches of rain.  Each rainless week is nearly 4% of our potential lost, and a rainless January puts us in a 21% hole for the winter.

The vineyard certainly doesn't look at first, or even second, glance like it's suffering from drought.  The cover crop is deep, green and lush, to the point that we're having to deploy our animal herd to crisis points where we need to knock back the greenery.  I took a photo last week of our new puppy nearly lost underneath the growth, and it's only grown deeper since:

Sadie in the Cover Crop

The ground underneath is still wet enough that walking through the vineyard leaves you with soggy shoes.  But despite this veneer of green, the drought is no less real.  There is no water in Tablas Creek, nor in most of the other local watersheds.  The reservoirs have barely budged from their historically low levels of last summer.  And ground water remains diminished, though it's less of an issue at a time of year when few wells are in much demand.  The NOAA has kept much of California, and all of San Luis Obispo County, under its "Exceptional Drought" category, barely budging from the beginning of the rainy season:



The next few weeks will be critical if we hope to climb out of this rainfall deficit we're in. A wet February would build on the base we got in December and if not provide macro-level drought relief, would set the stage for a more or less normal growing season.  A dry February means we're almost certainly into year four of this historic drought.