Direct Shipping is not a Zero Sum Game
Photos of each Rhone grape as harvest nears, and an updated harvest assessment

Tasting the wines in the Fall 2017 VINsider 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 wines that may see a later national release. Before each shipment, we reintroduce ourselves to these wines (which, in some cases, we may not have tasted since before bottling) by opening the full lineup and writing the notes that will be included with the club shipments. Late last week, I sat down with our winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi and we dove into this fall's collection. For what we found, read on.

We base the fall shipments around the newest releases of the Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc, and this fall's shipment is no exception. In addition, this year we reached back into our library to include not just the newest 2015 Esprit de Tablas, but also a bottle of the 2013 Esprit de Tablas that has been showing so well recently.  I'm excited to hear the feedback that we get.  

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Fall 2017 Classic NC 2


  • Production Notes: Although production levels on Viognier recovered significantly from 2015's record low levels, Marsanne continued to be exceptionally scarce, and all our Marsanne represented only 14% of the wine.  So, while the wine is as always led by Viognier, it is unusually marked by Grenache Blanc: 43% Viognier, 40% Grenache Blanc, 14% Marsanne, and 3% Roussanne. That additional tension and citrus character from Grenache Blanc's acidity is in evidence in the tasting notes.  The selected lots were blended in March 2017, and the wine was bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in June.
  • Tasting Notes: An intense nose of peach pit, wet rocks, white tea and tarragon. The mouth is really nicely balanced, as its initial brightness and flavors of nectarine, preserved lemon, and mineral turn richer on the mid-palate, with sweet spices coming out.  The finish brightens up again with notes of pink grapefruit and lemon verbena.  Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1840 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: Like all our white grapes except Marsanne, 2016 saw yields recover to near-normal levels for Grenache Blanc. But that doesn't mean the fruit lacked for intensity, and we used high percentages of Grenache Blanc in both our Esprit de Tablas Blanc and Cotes de Tablas Blanc in 2016. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), then blended in March and bottled in June, 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose of peppermint, lemon zest, petrichor, and anise... very Grenache Blanc. On the palate, flavors of candied lemon peel and apple skin provide a nice balance of weight and brightness. The grape's characteristic acids build on the finish, with flavors of sweet spice and mineral balanced by a pithy bite. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 715 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: The alternating quite warm and quite cool months during the 2015 ripening cycle produced an exceptionally long and varied Roussanne harvest, with many blocks producing lots with power and lushness, but relatively low acids. This made the vibrant acids of the Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc components particularly critical in 2015. In the end, we maxed out our Picpoul Blanc for the first time since 2009, using every drop of Picpoul in the Esprit Blanc. We used a relatively low proportion of Roussanne (55%, fermented primarily in foudre) for weight and structure, and added high percentages of Grenache Blanc (28%, from foudre and stainless steel) and Picpoul Blanc (17%, from stainless steel) for citrusy acidity and saline freshness. As we have done since 2012, we let the blend age in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in January 2017 and aging it an additional 8 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: Powerfully fruity and floral on the nose, with an exoticism reminiscent to me of Gewurztraminer: ripe melon, honeysuckle, vanilla bean, mace, and a little savory cedar spice. The mouth is rich and powerfully Roussanne despite its relatively low percentage, with flavors of baked pear, creme caramel, and baking spices. The acids build on the finish to a mango-like intensity. A fascinating, structured Esprit Blanc that should be a pleasure to watch evolve in bottle.  Already delicious, it should also go out 15 years or more and gain additional nuttiness and complexity with time.
  • Production: 1700 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36


  • Production Notes: Our eighth En Gobelet, a non-traditional blend all from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks, and mostly from the 12-acre block we call Scruffy Hill, planted in 2005 and 2006 to be a self-sufficient field blend. We have found that in our drought, our head-trained blocks suffer less than our closer-spaced irrigated blocks, and the wine didn't reflect the vintage's warmer moments, instead showing a darkness and a tension that denote a cooler vintage. We chose a blend of 39% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 11% Counoise and 3% Tannat. As usual, the small addition of head-trained Tannat proved valuable for its chalky tannins and deep flavors. The wine was blended in June of 2016, aged in foudre and bottled in April 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: Spicy and cool on the nose, to me marked by Syrah (or perhaps the cool vintage): black cherry, crushed rock, and meat: the "butter in a butcher shop" description my wife Meghan had the first time she tasted Syrah out of barrel. The palate is vibrant: more cherry, roasted herbs, rare steak, and both the flavor and texture of baker's chocolate. The long finish shows more mineral and a smoky fire-grilled meat dripping character I found immensely appealing. Give this six months, if you can, and then drink for the next two decades.
  • Production: 880 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40


  • Production Notes: The cool, windy weather that impacted flowering in 2015 was largely over by the time Mourvedre bloomed, and it ended up dodging the dramatically reduced yields that impacted most of our other varieties. This gave us comparatively a lot of Mourvedre -- and a lot of really terrific Mourvedre -- when we got to our blending trials in the spring.  In the end, we chose a blend with our highest percentage of Mourvedre (49%) since 2004. To this, we added  25% Grenache for juiciness and acidity, and relatively small portions of Syrah (21%, for structure) and Counoise (5%, for briary spice). The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended in June 2016 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in June 2017. The overall low yields of 2015 made this our smallest-production Esprit since 2009.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose is immensely inviting: warm berry compote, given complexity by sun-drenched bay leaf and newly turned earth.  Mourvedre at its most appealing. The mouth is lush and dense, still quite tannic, with licorice, blackberry, and cedar notes. There is a Mourvedre-driven meatiness, but it's refined too, like a linebacker in a tuxedo. Young and bright on the finish, with lingering flavors of wood smoke, plum skin and spice.  The wine is still unwinding after its recent bottling; we recommend that you hold the 2015 Esprit for a few months, then drink either between 2018 and 2020 or again starting in 2023 any time over the subsequent two decades.
  • Production: 2850 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44


  • Production Notes: Like all the 2013 reds, the Esprit de Tablas shows the results of the vintage's combination of intensity from drought-reduced yields and generosity from the classic Californian vintage.  The comparative lushness of the year convinced us to shift the blend toward the dark, smoky, savoriness of Syrah as opposed to the open juiciness of Grenache.  Still, Esprit is as usual led by the red fruit, earth and mocha of 40% Mourvèdre, with additions of 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache and 10% Counoise. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for the Esprit, blended and aged a year in foudre before bottling in August 2015. In the two-plus years since its bottling, the wine has grown richer, with Mourvedre's saddle leather component coming more to the fore. It still has many years ahead of it.
  • Tasting Notes: The nose is now unfolding and deepening after two-plus years in bottle, with aromas of meat drippings, mint chocolate, plum, sweet spices, and a potpourri/spruce/rose hips brightness that shows Mourvedre's floral side. Chelsea described it as "like shade on a hot day".  The mouth is nicely balanced, with a spicy cherry skin character, leather, and a little figgy, caramelly warmth that reminded me of bread pudding. It's still quite a youthful wine, which should make for very good drinking for the next year or two, then likely shut down for a few years before reopening in 2020 or 2021 and drinking well for another fifteen plus years.
  • Production: 3700 cases
  • List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48

Two additional wines joined the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment:

White NC


  • Production Notes: The 2016 Picpoul Blanc is our ninth bottling of this traditional Southern Rhône white grape, used in Châteauneuf du Pape as a blending component, and best known from the crisp light green wines of the Pinet region in the Languedoc. On its own, it shows the vibrant acids for which it is valued, balanced by a tropical lushness from the generous Paso Robles climate.  We ferment it in a mix of stainless steel and neutral barrels, and use the majority of our production for our Esprit de Tablas Blanc, while reserving a small quantity for this varietal bottling.  The Picpoul lots were selected in March 2017, and bottled in June 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: A bright nose of mangosteen, passion fruit, key lime, citrus leaf, and a briny, wet rock mineral character. The mouth is richer but still bright: candied lime, lychee, and a little pithy tannic bite like a lemon meringue pie. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 250 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: The productive, consistently high quality 2016 vintage allowed us to produce our first Viognier since 2013. 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 2016 and thrived throughout the growing season. It was whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then blended and bottled in May 2017 in screwcap, to preserve its brightness. 
  • Tasting Notes: An incredibly appealing nose, classic Viognier with a little extra lift: jasmine flowers and peaches and lemon zest, meringue, and mint. The mouth is flavorful but restrained, more peach pit than peaches in syrup, with nice pithy acids and a touch of mintiness to keep things in balance. Just 12.9% alcohol. This should hold for a few years at least, but really, I can't imagine it being any better than it is right now.
  • Production: 175 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

Three additional reds joined the En Gobelet and the two Esprit de Tablas vintages in the red-only shipment:

Red NC


  • Production Notes: After no varietal Counoises between 2011 and 2013, this is the second consecutive year we've been able to make one. In 2015, like Mourvedre, Counoise's late flowering largely protected it from the cold May that produced low yields in our earlier varieties, and the vintage's alternating cool and warm months provided enough substance to balance Counoise's open-knit personality. It was fermented in stainless steel, aged in neutral barrels, and bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in April of 2017. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, red currant and curry spice sit on top of rose petals, watermelon rind and green plum. A similar balance between sweet and savory is found on the palate: elderberry, shiso, tangy acids and salty minerality. Bright cranberry flavors and a garrigue-like spice come out on the finish.  A pretty and intriguing wine: something to explore. You might serve this slightly chilled, as you would a Cru Beaujolais, and enjoy it any time in the next six to eight years.
  • Production: 200 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28


  • Production Notes: Mourvedre is the one red grape that we try to bottle on its own each year, because we think it is a wonderful grape that too few people know, and one we feel worthy of some proselytizing.  Thankfully, Mourvedre was largely spared the 2015 vintage's low yields, and the numerous cool stretches and late harvest gave the grape good time to develop complexity. We fermented it in large wooden fermenters, then moved it to neutral barrels to await blending.  The Mourvedre was blended from selected lots in the spring of 2016, then aged in foudre until bottling in April of 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: Absolutely characteristic of Mourvedre's tension between deeper and more high-toned elements, with aromas balanced between plum and currant fruit, dark chocolate, and a little tarry darkness. The mouth is classically balanced, with Mourvedre's signature cool minty plum, loam, licorice and rare steak. The tannins come out on the finish, with a pithy, floral note that reminded me of orange bitters.  Still a baby.  Open a bottle now, if you'd like, but expect it to really shine between 2020 and 2030.
  • Production: 360 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32


  • Production Notes: 2015 is the sixth 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) 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, half de-stemmed and half with stems for a more savory profile, 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 2017.
  • Tasting Notes: Notably Pinot on the nose: cherry cola, black tea, and a cool graphite-like minerality. The mouth is medium-weight, with sour cherry and baking spices, a little thyme-like herbiness from the stem inclusion, and a lightly tannic finish with nutmeg spice that felt to us like autumn. A wine to break out in front of a fire during the holidays. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 260 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

The tasting was a great way to hone in on the character of our two most recent vintages.  2015 is powerful and savory, with a noteworthy saltiness in the wines, showing the signature of a cooler, lower-yielding vintage. 2016 is sunnier in character, but I feel like we really nailed the picking dates last year, and the whites show good intensity and a vibrancy that is almost electric in its intensity.  I can't wait to get these wines in our club members' hands and find out what they think.

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 fall's party will be on Sunday, October 8th.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join us while there's still a chance to get this fall shipment? Details and how to join are at