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July 2019

Tasting the Wines in the Fall 2019 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. Today, 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.

Neil and Chelsea with Fall 2019 VINsider wines

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. But there's a lot more to this fall's shipment than these two wines. We have a couple of (we think, really terrific) varietal whites, and two other smaller-production blends, one each red and white. We think it's one of the most compelling shipments we've ever put together. I'm excited to get them in our members' hands soon.  

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Classic Fall 2019 Shipment

2018 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: The relatively cool 2018 growing season produced Grenache Blanc with exceptional brightness and pronounced minerality. Yields were down slightly from 2017, but still slightly above average, a sign that our Grenache Blanc blocks were healthy. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for brightness) and foudre (for roundness), blended them in April 2019 and bottled the finished wine under screwcap to preserve its brightness in June 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Grenache Blanc nose of lemon pith, green apple peel, anise, and briny minerality. On the palate, very bright at first, with a burst of lemon on the attack, then sweeter flavors of sarsaparilla and tarragon, while the grape's richness comes out on the finish, leaving on a long sweet/tart lemon drop note. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1470 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2018 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Viognier is always the lead grape in our Cotes Blanc, and we balance Viognier's lushness with the elegance of Marsanne and the brightness of Grenache Blanc. In 2018, the Viognier (39%) already had nice elegance, so we chose to use more Grenache Blanc (36%) top bring vibrancy, and a relatively low percentage of Marsanne (19%), leaving more Marsanne for a varietal bottling. 6% Roussanne rounds out the blend and provides structure. The selected lots were blended in April 2019, and the wine was bottled in June 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: An elegant nose of apricots cut with lemon, Asian spices, and crushed rock. The mouth is balanced right between Viognier and Grenache Blanc character, with flavors of nectarine and lemon verbena. A clean, fresh, and elegant finish rounds out the wine, leaving a lingering impression of sea spray minerality. Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1840 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2017 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: We celebrated the classic 2017 vintage by incorporating two of our newest white grapes into the Esprit Blanc blend for the first time. Of course, Roussanne (68%, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages) still takes pride of place, but the different higher-acid, more mineral varieties (17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Clairette Blanche, and 4% Picardan) all add citrusy acidity and saline freshness. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in April 2018 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2018 and letting it rest an additional 9 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: A spicy, deep Roussanne nose of wildflower honey, cedar spice, jasmine, and Asian pear. The mouth shows flavors of baked pear, cinnamon stick, and brioche, all deepened by a little sweet oak. The wine's rich texture is balanced by nice acids and a saline mineral note on the finish. A powerful Esprit Blanc that we expect to go out two decades, gaining additional nuttiness and complexity over the years.
  • Production: 2250 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2017 MOURVEDRE

  • 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.  Mourvedre, more than any other red, suffered during our drought, and the 43+ inches of rainfall we received in 2017 resulted in Mourvedre with deeper color, richer texture, and more intense dark red fruit than we've seen in years. All our Mourvedre lots were fermented in large wooden tanks and moved it to neutral barrels to await blending. The chosen lots were blended in the spring of 2018, then aged in foudre until bottling in April of 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A dense red fruit nose of boysenberry, blackcurrant, new leather, and licorice. The mouth is lush without being heavy, with flavors of plum, Chinese five spice, and Mourvedre's signature roasted meat drippings. The finish shows sweet spices and youthful tannins that suggest some time in the cellar will be well rewarded. Drink any time over the next 15 years.
  • Production: 950 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2017 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our tenth 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. These lots tend to show more elegance and minerality than our closer-spaced irrigated blocks, although in 2017 the wine shows plenty of power and density. We chose a blend of 38% Mourvedre, 34% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 11% Tannat, and 6% Counoise. In this luscious vintage, we chose a higher-than-usual Tannat percentage for its chalky tannins and deep flavors. The wine was blended in June of 2018, aged in foudre and bottled in April 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep and appealing nose of black raspberry, aged ribeye, black pepper, and soy. The mouth is dense with powerful fruit, with cracked peppercorn and licorice giving relief. A granite mineral note comes out on the finish, along with a touch of Tannat's signature tannins that promise decades ahead. Wait six months if you can, and then drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 820 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

2017 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Although the Esprit is based as always on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (40%), in this vintage where every variety did well, it was a surprise to us when our blending trials ended with Grenache (35%) tied for its highest percentage ever. Syrah (20%) adds dark fruit, powerful structure, and chalky minerality, while Counoise (5%) brings brambly spice. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2018 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A cool wintergreen minty note sets off deeper smoked meat, redcurrant, mocha, and juniper aromas. The mouth shows Grenache's sweet fruit and licorice on that attack, then deepens into notes of black cherry, chocolate, and a chorizo-like meatiness, all with tremendous mouth-coating texture. The long finish, with lingering flavors of wood smoke, roasted meat, plum skin and crushed rock, hints at more rewards to come with cellar aging. Hard to believe this wine had been in bottle only a week when we tasted it; we recommend that you drink either between now and 2022 or again starting in 2025 any time over the subsequent two decades.
  • Production: 4090 cases
  • List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48

One additional wine joined the Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment (we doubled up the Esprit Blanc and Grenache Blanc):

Whites Fall 2019 Shipment

2018 PICPOUL BLANC

  • Production Notes: The 2018 Picpoul Blanc is our eleventh 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, along with a tropical lushness from the generous Paso Robles climate that gives it complexity you'd never see in its homeland.  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 2019, and bottled in June 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: An electric nose of pineapple and lemon, sea spray, and sweet green herbs. The mouth is like biting into a fresh, barely ripe pineapple, with additional lemongrass and mineral notes. The finish is clean, vibrant, and delineated, with a lingering impression of waves breaking over rocks. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 440 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

Two additional reds joined the Mourvedre, En Gobelet and Esprit de Tablas in the red-only shipment:

Reds Fall 2019 Shipment

2017 COUNOISE

  • Production Notes: After no varietal Counoise between 2011 and 2013, this is the fourth consecutive year we've been able to make one, and we feel our most impressive ever, thanks to the vines' remarkable vigor in 2017. Valued as a blending grape in France because of its spiciness, its fresh acidity, and its low alcohol, it's rarely seen on its own. But we love being able to share one, and deploy it much like a Cru Beaujolais: slightly chilled, with charcuterie or as an aperitif. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and neutral oak, aged in foudre, and bottled -- under screwcap, to preserve its brightness -- in April of 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: A darker garnet color than recent years. On the nose, brambly tangy purple fruit that reminded me of elderberries, with additional aromas of meatiness and sweet spice. On the palate, very juicy with intense red cherry flavors and brambly spice, over a medium-bodied frame, with cherry skin and dusting of cocoa powder emerging on the finish. A crowd pleaser, and endlessly flexible with food. Enjoy it any time in the next six to eight years.
  • Production: 530 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2017 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: 2017 is the eighth vintage of our Full Circle Pinot Noir, grown on the small vineyard outside the Haas family's home in Templeton, in the cool (for Paso) Templeton Gap AVA. Its name reflects Robert Haas's 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 10 months, before being blended and bottled in August 2018.  We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty nose of cherry cola, black tea, dried lavender, and a little sweet oak. The mouth is medium-bodied but fresh, with flavors of wild strawberry and sweet herbs. The lightly tannic finish shows cedar spice and a lingering cherry skin note. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 490 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.  2017 is luscious and powerful, with the health of the vineyard coming through clearly in the rich texture of the wines. 2018 is vibrantly expressive, producing wines with electric acids and outgoing personalities. 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 6th.  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 tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


Veraison 2019 Suggests a mid-September Start to Harvest

This year, as both Jordy and I have noted, has been cool. Even the warm stretches have been moderate. And the vineyard has noticed. While in most years I would be posting about veraison in mid-to late-July, this year we didn't see any evidence of color until just a few days ago. And it's still barely started. But now, if you head to one of our Syrah blocks, you don't have to look too hard to find veraison:

Veraison 2019 Syrah 1

Veraison is a physiological stage of grape evolution where the berry stops accumulating mass and starts accumulating sugar. More visibly, red grapes start their color change from green, while white grapes take on more of a yellow tint. Both red and white grapes start to soften. [For more about what's happening chemically, check out this veraison post from the archives.] This landmark comes roughly six weeks before the onset of harvest, and gives us our best estimate for when harvest will begin. The most advanced Syrah cluster I could find has some berries that don't look all that different than they will at harvest:

Veraison 2019 Syrah 3

It's important to note that this cluster is exceptional. Even at the top of the hills, most of the Syrah clusters are green (you can see this in all the other clusters in the above photo). At the bottom of the hills, there's very little color change to be found. And as for the other grapes, I couldn't find any red in any of them. This Mourvedre cluster is just one example; I could have pointed the camera just about anywhere and shown you the same thing:

Veraison 2019 Mourvedre

Although the "first veraison of the season" posts you're likely seeing from your favorite wineries may make it seem like veraison is a moment, like Christmas, it's probably better understood as a continuum, like winter, and first veraison is like first frost, or first snowfall. It will likely be several weeks before even all the Syrah clusters are red, and longer than that until late grapes like Mourvedre and Counoise finish coloring up. 

While six weeks is a good basic guide for the duration between veraison and harvest, it's not totally constant, and can be influenced by the weather that we get in the interim, as well as by the amount of fruit the vines are carrying.  For example, 2007's first veraison was in mid-July, but relatively light crop levels and a very warm August produced a beginning to harvest before the end of August. By contrast, in 2010 a veraison ten days later than 2007's (July 30th, just like this year) was compounded by a very cool August, and we started harvest after the mid-point of September, three weeks later than we had in 2007. The last dozen years are compiled in the chart below, with each year linked to my blog post about that year's veraison:

Year First Veraison Noted Estate Harvest Begins # of Days
2007 July 20 August 28 39
2008 July 23 September 3 42
2009 July 20 September 1 43
2010 July 30 September 16 49
2011 August 5 September 20 47
2012 July 25 September 5 42
2013 July 17 August 26 40
2014 July 9 August 23 45
2015 July 18 August 26 39
2016 July 13 August 18 36
2017 July 20 August 30 40
2018 July 29 September 101 42
2019 July 30 ? ?

Using the range of durations between first veraison and first harvest (36 to 49 days) we can have good confidence that we'll begin picking sometime between September 4th and September 17th. The weather between now and then will determine where in the range we'll fall. 

What's next for the vineyard? We'll watch the different grapes go through veraison. Syrah will likely be followed by Mourvedre and Grenache soon, and Counoise a bit later. White grapes too stretch out across a continuum; in fact, Viognier has already started veraison, according to Jordy, although the visible changes are subtle enough that a photograph doesn't really show anything. Vermentino and Marsanne will move into veraison on the earlier side, Grenache Blanc and Picpoul in the middle, and Roussanne bringing up the rear, as usual. It's an exciting time, and the view changes daily. We'll be posting regular photos of veraison's progress on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages. In the cellar, we're finishing up the last of the year's bottling, and starting the process of pulling out and cleaning all the tanks, barrels, and equipment we'll be using once harvest begins.

I'm not sure whether veraison really marks the beginning of the end of the growing season. But it does at least seem to mark the end of the beginning. The countdown clock is ticking, and we now know -- roughly -- how much time is on it.

Veraison 2019 Syrah 2

Footnotes:

  1. OK, we picked our first Viognier on August 31st. But we didn't bring in any estate reds off the property until September 10th, so I'm going with that date.

A massive honey harvest from our new Langstroth hives means... a great vintage?

By Jordan Lonborg. Photos by Nathan Stuart.

Could a prolific honey bee year be indicative of a stellar wine grape vintage? I think so!!

Keeping bees in Paso Robles is no easy task. Years of drought, cold winters, and extreme heat are a just a few of the many factors as to why this is true. Nationwide, beekeepers are losing colonies due to pesticide use, Varroa Destructor (a parasitic mite that attaches itself to the thorax of a honeybee and grows large enough so that the bee can no longer fly), and ever changing weather patterns. All that said, if one was to decide to start beekeeping in 2019, on the west side of Paso Robles, it would have seemed easy.

Jordy Lonborg  Suited Up

The rainfall this year was prolific. Not so much the amount of rain received (roughly 35” here at Tablas Creek, which is excellent but was not a record by any means) but the consistent wet weather pattern we were in. As opposed to sporadic, large storms that would dump 3” at a time (there were definitely a few of those) leaving stretches of sunshine in its wake, the weather was regularly wet, with 69 days producing measurable precipitation, the most in the 23 years we've had our weather station. This was great for many reasons. First, the ground was able to become fully saturated before the rain started to run off. This allowed for deep percolation helping to recharge all of our deep aquifers in the area. This fully wetted soil profile in combination with the cold weather (30 days reached below freezing temperature on the property) ensured that any dormant wildflower seeds within the soil profile stayed dormant until soil temps started to rise. It also ensured that the cover crop would have all the water it needed to thrive into early summer. Lastly, it all the moisture meant lots of grass, and we were able to successfully graze our 200+ sheep through the vineyard at least two times, some blocks seeing a third pass. The nutrients provided by the animals broke down in all the wet weather and moved through the soil profile more efficiently.

When the days started to lengthen and the soil temp started to rise, we were rewarded with a cover crop that grew to be seven feet tall in places. The Cayuse Oats in that cover crop mix provided some of the strongest scaffolding for our Purple and Common Vetch I’d ever seen. Our beneficial insectary/nectary plantings throughout the vineyard were an explosion of purples, reds, yellows, oranges, and white flowers. On the banks of Las Tablas Creek were blankets of miner's lettuce. On every hill in the Adelaida you’d see brilliant patches of phacelia, mustard, fiddleneck, lupine, sage, and poppy. In the forests were elderberry trees, madrone and oaks bursting with pollen. In other words, the nectar flow was on!!!

As soon as we posted the swarm catchers throughout the vineyard in mid-April, they started getting hits. In total, we caught six swarms this season. Then came the tricky part, putting them in a hive and getting them to stay. Normally, this process isn’t that hard due to the fact that we had been using Langstroth Hives (the square hive body we are all familiar with). The native swarms seem to establish themselves more easily in these hive bodies. It’s hard to pin-point why, but I’ve always had good success. But this year, we decided to try something different: Top Bar hives. For more, check out this short video:

Tablas Creek Beekeeping with Jordy Lonborg from Shepherd's Films on Vimeo.

Top Bar beekeeping is one of the oldest and most commonly used forms of beekeeping on the planet. There is only one long horizontal box in which bars are laid across the top. The bees build their comb off the bottom of these bars, filling the void below. You do not need frames, foundation, or wire for the comb to be built. You do not need an extractor for the honey and there is no heavy lifting of boxes or supers. The bees are less agitated when you work the hive because when inspecting you are only moving one bar at a time as opposed to pulling entire frames or moving entire sections of the box altogether.  Having been the first time I’d ever worked with this style of beekeeping, it took a few tries before I could get a swarm to stay put. Through trial and error, I realized a few things. Always hive a swarm in the evening (just before dark), make sure there is food in the hive (50/50 sugar water mix), and make sure there are large enough entrance/exit holes for the bees to allow for heavy traffic. Of the six swarms we caught, only one took. But it is thriving. Of the 31 top bars, 24 of the have full comb drawn out. Knowing what I know now, we should be able to fill the rest of the hives next year (if we are lucky enough to have similar conditions).

Queen BeeCheck out the queen bee (surrounded by worker bees in the corner of the hive)!

Honey production has been amazing thus far in our Langstroth hives. To date, we have harvested around 72 pounds of honey off of just one hive and it is still coming. Obviously this has been due to the prolific bloom we experienced early in the year. There is another factor at play as well. It wasn’t just the size of the bloom, but the length of the bloom that has been so astounding. In years past we’d start experiencing pretty high temps earlier in the season which causes the bloom to end a bit more abruptly as the ground dries out faster and the sun beats on the flowers. This was one of the coolest springs and early summers I’ve experienced in the Adelaida. We've only seen 3 days reach 100°F, and another 23 reach 90°F. That may sound like a lot, but it's not. The average summer high here is 93°F. And even when our days were warm, it was only for a few hours, as our evenings have been chilly. We received more than an inch of rain in May, which also prolonged that top layer of soil from drying out. There simply was no stress on the plants, allowing them to go through their entire life cycle at their own pace, which in turn allowed the honey bees to continuously harvest pollen and nectar at their own pace. This lack of stress is why I am also predicting an amazing wine grape vintage for Tablas Creek Vineyard. 

Being an older vineyard for the west side of Paso comes with its challenges. Like humans, the longer a vine is alive the more exposure it has to disease and virus. Many of our older blocks at Tablas Creek have some level of trunk disease or virus within them.  When we experience prolonged periods of heat in the vineyard, vines will experience some level of stress. Vines that have trunk disease or virus are stressed even more so. The symptoms and signs of the disease and virus express themselves sooner, thus restricting that vine's ability to set fruit, grow leaves, sustain the crop, and ripen the crop. And even with our last warm 10-day stretch (average high temp: 95°F) the growing season has been a mild one. The vineyard has not been truly stressed, and you can tell. Typically, in our most infected blocks, the signs and symptoms of virus and disease are obvious at this point. That is just simply not the case this year.

To date, I’ve not seen this property so vibrant and green at this point in the season. It is August and we’ve yet turn the water on in any of our irrigated blocks. In most years past, our irrigated blocks had been watered at least once already. This lack of stress is why I am predicting an amazing vintage. All of our vines both healthy and unhealthy have been allowed to go through their natural growth cycle with no hiccups or speed bumps in the road. Obviously, only time will tell what this harvest holds in store for us. But if we continue on this path, it could be a vintage unlike any other.

Farmers use nature’s cues to predict many things on their property. In Paso, we always say that when the Almonds start to bloom, the grapes are two to three weeks behind. I think I may have gained another this year. “If I am pulling 75 lbs. of honey out of one box, we are gonna be making some killer wine this year!”

Fingers crossed….