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September 2019

What it Feels Like to Spend a Day in the Cellar During Harvest

The 2019 harvest will go down in our history as one of the most intense, compressed seasons ever. After a slow beginning, things ramped up the week of September 15th, and they really haven't stopped. We've picked at least 60 tons off of our estate each of the last four weeks, and suddenly, all that's left out there are little clean-up picks. We'll be done sometime this week.

I'll have a more detailed analysis of how the vintage compares to other recent years in my harvest recap blog either next week or the week after. But for now, what I wanted to do was give you a feel for what a day in the cellar feels like, not least because it's suddenly almost done. And harvest feels like that. You wait all year for it to begin, once it starts it feels like it will go on forever, and yet when the end comes, it comes suddenly, and marks the end of the intense camaraderie that comes with long hours, close quarters, and shared goals.

Our talented Shepherd/Videographer Nathan Stuart chronicled one day in the cellar, October 8th, turning in his crook for his GoPro, adding a soundtrack and editing it all down to two minutes. Definitely turn up the volume on this one.

What did we pick that day? Roussanne, Mourvedre, and Grenache. But the sorting, destemming, and pressing of those lots wasn't all that was happening. We were filling barrels and digging out tanks of Grenache and Syrah harvested in previous weeks, punching down and pumping over a cellar full of wine, sampling vineyard lots to schedule upcoming picks, and cleaning. Lots and lots of cleaning. And playing with the winery dogs, sharing one of Marci Collins' famous cellar lunches, keeping the espresso machine humming, and snacking on the leg of jamon in the lab, of course.

It was just one day, one long day, but also one pretty great day. 

Harvest Video October 8th 2019


The Winding Road to Tablas Creek: We Interview our 2019 Harvest Interns, Ryan Brennan and Adrian Garcia

By Ian Consoli

Every year Winemaker Neil Collins hand selects two eager individuals, usually just starting a career in wine, to join our cellar team for harvest and commence the activities of shoveling grape skins, sorting clusters, and washing presses, bins, and barrels. Cellar work is certainly glorified as a romantic, energetic, and gleeful experience in which a community bonds over the long hours and fermenting aromas that fill the cellars, and it is this; however, it's strenuous, with long hours and close quarters with your team. It takes a certain kind of individual to thrive in this environment day in and day out for one, two, even three months at a time. This year we found two of those individuals from opposite sides of the country with both direct and indirect paths to the Tablas Creek cellar. This is Ryan's and Adrian's story.

Wine Harvest Interns Staredown

Who are you?

Ryan Brennan 

Adrian Garcia

Where did you grow up?

R: I grew up mostly in Virginia. My family is from New England, my dad is military so we bounced around quite a bit, but my formative years were in Virginia.

A: I am from Cupertino, but not the city of Cupertino; I live up in the mountains kind of hidden away on Montebello road. I moved there when I was three and spent most of my life up there.

Wine Harvest Intern Happy RyanRyan Brennan smiles while working the sorting table

When and how did you get into wine?

R: I was a history and politics student in school and realized I'd rather make people happy than make people mad so I got out of politics before I even started. I ended up doing some organic farming work with a WOOFing program, which is a pretty cool program. I was in Sweden, my co-WOOFers and I were just WOOFing around doing some stuff and realized we could be making alcohol at the same time so we started fermenting things in our bathtub, with the farmer’s approval of course. We used apples and cherries and all sorts of fun things. We did grow grapes so that was my first exposure to the magic of making alcohol. I spent a little time in restaurants drinking more and tasting more after that.

A: I grew up around it. My dad's been working at Ridge Vineyards since he was 17.

Wine Harvest Intern Tank Hole Adrian   Adrian Garcia crawls out of the bottom of a tank

What experience did you have prior to Tablas Creek?

R: An opportunity opened up for me at a 3 acre vineyard in New Hampshire of all places. We made batches a little over 100 gallons and I thought that was huge. After that initial introduction a much better opportunity came up in Vermont with a winery that had just won the International Cold Climate Winery of the Year competition. Which it doesn’t sound impressive in California but for everywhere else where it gets cold and there are seasons, it’s pretty awesome. I figured if I could learn how to grow grapes and make wine an hour south of the Canadian border I could do it anywhere. After a little stint in Edna Valley I ended up here in Paso.

A: I officially started getting involved with winemaking when I was 18, straight out of high school, doing mostly vineyard work. I did some lab and vineyard work for Ridge Vineyards for a while then I started working in the cellar once I went to Fresno State. I’ve been in their cellar for about 2 years up until I came here.

How did you hear about Tablas Creek?

R: I was in Vermont and I met Dani Archambeault, who used to work in the wine club at Tablas. She said some pretty nice things that got me excited about the Central Coast and the possibility of coming out this way.

A: I've kind of heard the name since a while back and thought Tablas sounded interesting. I started looked more into their farming and I'm like, this is pretty sick.

How did you end up working harvest with us?

R: I got Neil’s contact info from Dani and I just kept bothering him until I got a job.

A: The viticulturist back home, David Gates, asked me what I was going to do after college and I'm like, Mmm I’ll do some internships. Tablas Creek seem like a nice place. He tells me, well they're going to be here [Ridge Vineyards] next week doing a tour if you want to talk to them. That’s where I met Neil, asked if I could be an intern, and he said yes.

How often do you shower?

A: Every single day

R: Every day for my girlfriend.

How is harvest going?

R: Oh, it’s fine laughs

Wine Harvest Intern Working RyanRyan rakes out the leftover grape skins

We recently processed 51 tons in a day, what did you do when you got home that night?

R: I'll be honest with you it wasn't that hard, it was a fine day. We all work together really well. I mean a lot came in and we were on the table for a while sorting things out and running around, but the team works really well together. So I went home, had a beer and went to bed.

A: Same thing it wasn't that bad. It's pretty efficient here. I went home, chilled, listened to music and went to sleep.

What is your ultimate goal in cellar work?

R: This is a cellar rotation as far as I'm concerned. I spent my first couple years doing cellar work just because someone else needed to do it, but my main focus has been on vineyard work. The place I was working in Vermont, Lincoln Peak, was about 13 acres or so. While there I got to see how a small property like that allows you to get involved in all aspects of the production, so I’m looking at a similar idea down the road; a smaller place 13-15 acres max where you can get a lot of time outside and very little inside.

A: I dislike how people say the Central Valley can't produce great wine. It can, I just think if we planted varieties suited for warmer climates we would have greater success. In Madera, or Fresno, or Lodi it's super-hot during the summers, if you had maybe some Rhone and Spanish varieties, which are good for warmer climate, I think you can make some really great wine over there. It's my dream to prove it.

Wine Harvest Intern Tank AdrianAdrian in one of our wooden upright fermentation tanks

If a genie said you could be head winemaker anywhere you wanted, where would you pick?

R: I don't know there's a lot back in Virginia I’d like to be a part of. Linden Vineyards is a pretty extraordinary place, it’s definitely one of the best if not the best places on the East Coast that make tremendous wine.

A: I have some aspirations to be the head winemaker at Ridge Vineyards because that's where I grew up and that’s where my dad has been working a lot so it would be cool to, you know, have the son of a cellar worker be the head boss.

Best bottle of wine you ever had?

R: It's probably not technically the best one I've ever had, but in terms of the best experience drinking a wine... When you're in Sweden the swedes aren't too pretentious, they don't really care about the packaging, they don't care if its cork or screw-top, in this case it was a very high end organic boxed wine out of Argentina. I don't remember the label, but it was incredible wine, it went so well with what we were eating. A picnic table outside the greenhouse picking vegetables next to us for a salad, grilling stuff up on the grill, Midnight Sun, it was 11 and still sunny out. I mean that's the best wine I ever had and it came out of a box and bag. I’d also like to add the best single bottle I can name was a 2016 Stolo Syrah. It was a game changer for me. It tasted like liquid beef jerky and made me want to become a Syrah grower.

A: There is one pretty damn good bottle of wine that comes to mind and I think the situation made it even better. It was an old Ridge Montebello that one of my cousins stole from his dad, my uncle, back when he worked at Ridge and then stored for years. When we finally decided to open it up we were at a typical Mexican Thanksgiving with tons of people, great food, and probably the last place you would expect to see an 81 Montebello Estate from Ridge.  I think 81 or 88, and it was pretty damn good, funny, funny situation.

What’s next for you?

R: Stay in the area. I’m actually looking at a house to rent right now but the job has to come first so if anyone’s looking…

A: Not sure. I could go back home and work in the vineyard. I’ve also been checking out some wineries in the central valley I would like to work at, or I could start doing internships abroad.

Would Your Rather:

Cake or Pie?

Pie, Pie

Breathe underwater or fly?

Fly, Fly

New World or Old World?

Old World, New World

Winemaker or Viticulturist

Viticulturist, Both

Wine Harvest Interns


We welcome Cinsaut (new to Tablas Creek), Bourboulenc (new to Paso Robles) and Vaccarese (new to America) all in one week!

It's been a momentous last week for us here at Tablas Creek. In three days, we added three grapes to our pantheon, bringing our total of Chateauneuf du Pape grapes to 13 and our total of Rhone varieties to 15. See if you can spot the new ones:

New Grapes on Chalkboard

These three grapes are numbers four, five, and six of the seven new varieties that we imported in 2003. All of them took twelve years to be released from quarantine, and we planted them in the vineyard in 2016. This is the first year we've gotten a harvestable crop. As they're all just starting to ferment, we can't say much about what they'll ultimately be like, but I thought it would be interesting to summarize what we know about them so far, and speculate a little on what we expect. Here goes. Historical and planting information are summarized from Jancis Robinson's authoritative "Wine Grapes" (HarperCollins, 2012) and Harry Karis's "The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book" (Kavino, 2009) so planting information may be a few years out of date.

Bourboulenc
The fourth-most planted white grape in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation (after Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Roussanne) at nearly 85 acres, making it roughly 1% of total plantings and 15% of white acreage. It's also found elsewhere in the south of France; Chateauneuf-du-Pape makes up just over 5% of the 1,537 acres reported in France in 2008. Bourboulenc is an ancient grape, first mentioned in the literature in the early 16th century, and from its earliest times identified with the south of France, particularly the area around Avignon. The vines are fairly vigorous, the berries relatively large, and the clusters loose, which makes it resistant to rot. It is known in France to make wines with citrus aromatics and a distinctive smoky character, with fairly good acids and relatively low alcohol.

We picked 2.15 tons of Bourboulenc at 20° Brix (roughly 12.4% potential alcohol), a pH of 3.38, and total acids of 3.53. Unfortunately, it was a night pick and went into the press before anyone remembered to take a photo, but it had a remarkable orange color coming out of the press:

Bourboulenc in beaker

Cinsaut (or Cinsault)
Cinsaut is the fourth-most planted red grape in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation (after Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre) at 205 acres, making it 2.6% of total acreage and 2.8% of reds. Cinsaut (officially spelled without the "l" in American literature, and typically used interchangeably) is grown around the Mediterranean, with more than 51,000 acres in France, and significant plantings in Italy, Spain, Morocco, and South Africa. There are also 82 acres of mostly old vines in California as of 2018. Similar in many ways to Counoise, with large berries and large clusters, producing medium-to-light-bodied wines with floral and spice notes. Although Cinsaut has generally been preferred over Counoise in France because it ripens earlier, the Perrins have long preferred the extra depth and brighter acids that Counoise contributes, which is why in our more reliable climate we chose to focus on Counoise in our original imports, back in 1989.

We picked our Cinsaut (all 0.55 tons of it) at 22° Brix (roughly 13.6% potential alcohol), a pH of 3.64, and total acids of 4.23. You can see the distinctive large berries clearly:

Cinsaut cluster and bin

Vaccarèse
One of the rarest grapes in Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation at just over 10 acres, Vaccarèse accounts for just 0.3% of both total and red acreage. There is little more outside Chateauneuf, with just 30 acres recorded in France and none elsewhere in the world. Also known as Brun Argenté (which translates to "brown silvered") for its dark bark and silvery look of the underside of its leaves. In look and growth it seems similar to Counoise and Cinsaut, with large berries and large clusters. As it's generally not fermented on its own even at Beaucastel, we don't have a ton to go on here.

We picked 2.61 tons of Vaccarèse at 22.4° Brix (roughly 13.8% potential alcohol), a pH of 3.50, and total acids of 4.76. We knew, given that this had never been harvested before in California (or America, or the New World) that we needed to document the milestone, so we got better photos of this than the first two:

Vaccarese Cluster in Bin

Vaccarese Cluster in Hand

So, what next for these new grapes? First, we'll get them through fermentation. There's going to be enough to make roughly five barrels (125 cases) of Bourboulenc and six barrels (150 cases) of Vaccarèse, so our tentative plan is to bottle these both as varietal wines. We prefer to do this, as long as we like them, in early years, so that we can begin the process of wrapping our heads around what the wines are like, and so we can share them with other interested customers and winemakers. With less than two barrels worth of Cinsaut, I'm not sure we'll have enough to keep separate, but we'll see.

In France, these three grapes are all typically blended. In the long run, that might make sense here. But the first step is to guide them through fermentation and get to the point where we can taste and evaluate what we've got. They are well on their way!

Three new grapes