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December 2019

One last look back at 30 years of Tablas Creek, with legends

2019 was a year of milestones for us. We celebrated our 30th anniversary with a big party here and tastings around the country. We harvested three new grapes (Cinsaut, Bourboulenc, and Vaccarese) and finally achieved our goal of getting the fourteenth and final Chateauneuf du Pape grape (Muscardin) into the vineyard. One of the coolest experiences that came out of this was the retrospective tasting that we hosted here, where we tasted every vintage of our flagship red wine, from our 1997 Rouge to the 2017 Esprit de Tablas. We invited all the legendary Rhone Rangers winemakers we could contact to join us, and were excited that so many made the trip. And it was great to taste all those wines. But the highlight for me was the conversation in that room, listening to these friends and colleagues, many of whom have been fighting to establish our category for three decades or more, talk about the early days of the Rhone Rangers. It stood out to me that all of them talked about the arrival of Tablas Creek as a game-changing moment in the movement's history. The arrival of two families with such deep and established roots in the world of international wine was different than anything that had yet happened in the American Rhone movement.

After Neil and I had talked about those conversations for a bit, we came up with an idea. We invited a few of these figures to come and sit down with us on camera to talk about what Tablas Creek's arrival meant to them, and to the category that we all share. I'm proud to share the video that resulted. Huge thanks to Patrick Comiskey (Senior Correspondent for Wine&Spirits and author of American Rhone: How Maverick Winemakers Changed the Way Americans Drink), Bob Lindquist (Proprietor, Lindquist Family Wines), Justin Smith (Owner & Winemaker, Saxum Vineyards), and John Munch (Owner, Le Cuvier Winery).

The first thirty years of Tablas Creek were great. Thank you to everyone who helped us celebrate last year. And, if the last twelve months is any indication, what's to come is going to be even more exciting. Stay tuned.

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An Interview with Wine Speak Co-Founders Chuck Furuya, MS and Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins

We are blessed in the Paso Robles area with a remarkable number of world-class wine events. In addition to the three annual events put on by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance, we've been the home to Hospice du Rhone for two decades. WiVi has in the past five years become the state's second-largest trade show. And in the last three years, we've seen another amazing event come to our region. Wine Speak is a bit of a different take on a wine event, equal parts industry education and public showcase, celebration of the region and invitation to the world.

With the 2020 event just one week away, I had the chance to sit down with the event's two founders. Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins is VP of Operations at Ancient Peaks Winery, as well as co-founder of Dream Big Darling, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering the success of women in the wine and spirits industry. She recently appeared on the cover of Wine Enthusiast's "40 Under 40" issue. Master Sommelier Chuck Furuya was just the tenth American to pass the Master Sommelier exam, in 1988. He is a partner in and wine director for D.K. Restaurant Group, is a former Chairman of Education for the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, and writes a monthly wine column for the Honolulu Star Advertiser. 

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How did the two of you come to work together on this?

  • Amanda: In 2017 we were having a conversation about hospitality and the advancement of offering world class service.  Chuck is a big fan of Paso Robles (and many other places) so I asked if during one of his upcoming visits he could dedicate some time to sharing his wisdom with our local wine community.  Hawaii is after all a culture built on hospitality and tourism.  I would never imagine that this one small conversation could lead to so many incredible opportunities for our industry and community.
  • Chuck: From my point of view, I recall Amanda asking me to come to a talk/training on wines for a few people. I then asked can we do more? She said like what? I don't think she realized what she was getting herself into. From that came Wine Speak!

What was the genesis of the idea behind Wine Speak?

  • Amanda: The idea was and still is to elevate our entire wine community by collaborating and sharing.  There is great power in joining forces and teaching the next generation.  We want to see the industry grow and flourish and to create a stage for producers and personalities who have something tremendous to
  • Chuck: Since I had been working with Amanda on a couple of projects previously, I kind of along the way understood that she would be key to the unfolding of the Paso Appellation. She has an innate gift of charm and is very articulate and really good at problem solving. I also think she has a lot of integrity and is very honest. In Hawaii, if it was not 12 chefs on all the islands, Hawaii regional cuisine never would've happened in my opinion   Because it was 12 chefs, it created synergy, camaraderie…… It really was a movement. That is what changed Hawaii culinarily. I believe in each wine region of the world needs a band of like minded winemakers that can create change.  Take for example, the gang of four in Morgon, Beaujolais. So with that in mind, Amanda would be the foundation in Paso, and I would look to source and invite winemakers/professionals from various parts of the New World -- both inside & outside expertise -- looking to share, talk story and learn. This would also bring new faces to the Paso Robles wine region to experience the climate, the soils, the wines and most importantly the people. 

For you, what was the highlight of years 1 and 2?

  • Amanda: The highlight of year one was developing the confidence in our concept and seeing the profound need in our community.  Year two was magnificent, we partnered with a new non profit, Dream Big Darling, and offered scholarships to up and coming sommelier’s from around the country.  These young people have become ambassadors for not so many producers they met over the course of the experience.  Watching them light up and discover something new was magnificent.
  • Chuck: For me, year one -- it was seeing Justin Smith of Saxum hanging out for two or three days with Adam Tolmach of Ojai. Two different growing regions, two different generations and two different winemaking approaches getting to know each other, hanging out and talking story. I thought that was magic and it made me proud. For year two -- it was watching an assistant winemaker taste the 2015 Faury Condrieu and seeing that candid sense of wonderment on his face as he switched and switched the wine in his mouth. Seeing the lightbulb go on was something that really affected me.

What new things are in store for 2020?

  • Amanda: 2020 offers a more global perspective and we are excited to host producers from Spain, France and Argentina.  We also enriched our “Grand Tasting” event to include producers from around the globe.  We wanted to make sure that all events were dynamic for our local wine community.  Being from a rural area, many people drink wines they make. However, in order to really stretch and grow we need to expose ourselves to new concepts and ways of thinking.
  • Chuck: First of all, this is the first year that we will be including people from faraway places such as Spain, Argentina and France. It was previously New World-centric. We believe this will add new dimension to insights, the questions, and discussions. Secondly, rather than having panels of two or three all of the time on specifically three of the panels we look to do mano a mano -- specifically with three wine Yodas: Bruce Neyers, long time master Madeline Triffon, and Lionel Faury from Cote Rotie. These three may not be commonplace names which many are familiar with. But for me they are three of the most incredible wine minds I have run across in my 40+ years of doing wines. For example, Madeline was the sixth American to pass the master sommelier examination. She was the first American woman. She was the second woman in the world. I believe that is saying a lot and will hopefully inspire young professionals that attend, whether they are female or male. She is the consummate professional and rose to the top of her field despite all of the challenges. She doesn't typically do on stage interviews like this, but I think we all agree it is an important time for industry to have some of the long-timers with wisdom come and share their thoughts insights and experiences, so that we can all remember what the craft is.

What makes Wine Speak unique as a wine event?

  • Amanda: Wine Speak sets itself apart from other wine events in a number of ways.  For one, it's small, there is enormous access to speakers, panelists and guest interaction.  In addition there aren’t many other events that are engaging; winemakers, distributors, growers, and trade.  We bring several parts of the industry together for a time of learning, and not just about one segment of the business.
  • Chuck: Back in the 1970s, I remember tasting a wine from Cote Rotie and wondering how the heck can man and God create a wine that's beyond grapes, oak barrels or winemaking? And if that is true, why can't we do this in the New World? I believe that through sharing insights, wisdom and experiences we can make a difference. So for the first year we had two Syrah panels. One was entitled "New World Syrah" and featured Bruce Neyers, Andy Peay (Sonoma Coast), Serge Carlei from Australia and Greg Harrington MS from Washington state. And the other was entitled "Central Coast Syrah" featuring Justin Smith (Paso Robles), Matt Dees (Jonata, Ballard Canyon) & Adam Tolmach (Ojai, Santa Maria Valley). It offered quite a scope of what Syrah can be. Year two featured Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Pax Mahle of Pax/Windgap Wines and Jason Drew of Drew Wines (Mendocino Ridge). For 2020, we are taking a whole new approach to Syrah and featuring Lionel Faury from the Rhône Valley of France. So that is a eleven very different perspectives on what the Syrah grape variety can be from eleven very well respected winemakers and from very different places!

If there was one thing that you hope people get out of coming to the event, what would it be?

  • Amanda: New ideas and friendships.  In life, ideas and friends are the most valuable assets.
  • Chuck: A few years back, when I was inducted to the Hawaii Restaurant Association Hall of Fame, it made me think of all of the people who have touched my life to allowing me to be where I am today. In almost all of the cases, they showed me a box. Then they said, "Chuck, look inside the box". After that they then asked imagine the possibilities. That is what I'm hoping Wine Speak can offer. To make people think differently. How can we effect change. How can we nurture sharing, camaraderie and collaboration so that we can move forward and make a difference.

Do you have dreams for future Wine Speak events?

  • Amanda: It’s hard to think about that right now.  As long as there is a need we hope to continue to bring forth an event that helps move our industry forward.
  • Chuck: Right now, we are focused on getting this one up and running in the next two weeks. Every year, we typically wait a couple of months before deciding if we are going to do another. Having said that, of course I have already have some ideas.

Chuck, what was your “a ha” moment that got you excited about Paso Robles?

  • It was a 1988 Cabernet-based red I tasted in San Francisco at a tasting. To me the wine had much more than fruit. It had an underlying minerality that was captivating. I knew then that I had to go see the vineyard.

Amanda, what’s the coolest thing that’s happened to you as a result of being named to (or on the cover of) Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 40 under 40” list?

  • Being named as 40 under 40 and making the cover was really special to me.  It’s incredible that the publication noticed our collective work and choose to highlight it, I am forever grateful and humbled by my team and community which makes it all possible.  I’m blessed to be 4th generation in the Paso Robles region and cattle rancher, I’m glad to carry the spirit of our history with my rope and boots in the picture.

What’s your favorite under-the-radar fact about Paso Robles or the Central Coast?

  • Amanda: The spirit of rugged terrain, a story of the land and people that is still being written, and a community that stands together. 
  • Chuck: The soils AND the people/community!

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Although many of the seminars are sold out, there are still tickets available to the Wines of the World Grand Tasting and some of the industry events. If you haven't checked out this event, you really owe it to yourself to do so. If you attend, I'll see you there, since I'll be speaking on one of the panels this year, as well as pouring wines at the Grand Tasting!


2019's Most Memorable Meals

By Darren Delmore

After a year on the road selling Tablas Creek to many of America's coolest restaurants, it's time to sift through the photos of the most memorable feasts I've faced and my bloodwork analysis from the local laboratory. The bar for well orchestrated and flavorful cuisine continues to be lifted no matter which part of the US you're in, but I must confess I did not work the Dakotas in 2019.  Some of the restaurants I featured in last year's post were worthy of a return, but I wanted to highlight some new tasty terrain. As much as I love the extravagant plate I'm also a fan of casual simplicity, and thanks to the array of wines we produce, there's a bottle for everything in that spectrum, be it a boot-scooting steakhouse, ramen bar, or raw oysters at home. Warning: this will cause both hunger and thirst.  

Mamanoko, San Francisco IMG_1451

Remember when most American sushi restaurants had the most generic wine offerings (and massive corkage fees)? In San Francisco, this Marina-district gem has been flowing through Patelin de Tablas Rouge and some bright minerally European whites on their glass list for a refreshing change of pace. Our California distributor Regal introduced me to Mamanoko early in 2019, and the least I could do was open a bottle of Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2014 for the group to go with fresh simple sushi courses and crunchy rolls like these, as well as lightly seared albacore tataki. I looked around the crowded dining room and most tables were having wine instead of sake. (Warning: the chocolate chip cookie dough roll on the dessert menu was the best dessert I've ever encountered). 

Cotogna, San Francisco IMG_1502Holy Ravioli! Use the base of the wine glass in the upper right of the frame to size this monster up. Part of the Quince group, which has featured our wines on their Biblical wine list for years, their North Beach sister kitchen is churning out some classic and fun comfort food like this. I could've used this ravioli as a pillow halfway through it. 

ETTO Pastificio, Paso Robles

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Speaking of ravioli... Not only do I represent our wines, I work alongside our spirited shepherd Nathan Stuart to sell our biodynamic lamb to chefs, including the boutique pasta maker Etto in Paso Robles Tin City neighborhood. On social media I saw that Etto was handcrafting a limited batch of Lamb and Mint raviolis, so I rushed down and picked up one of the last bags in stock. Intended to feed four of us, my five year old daughter and I crushed the entire bag standing in the kitchen, just while tasting to see if they were ready or not! They needed nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. 

Humboldt County Wine Guild IMG_1672

A platter of just plucked and shucked Kumamoto Oysters was how the Humboldt County Wine Guild welcomed me to their Monday night blind tasting group in April. There was a back up cooler that got devoured too, mostly while paired with Vermentino and Patelin de Tablas Blanc. Simple, saline and perfect.

Bibi Ji, Santa Barbara  IMG_1341

In February we joined the owners of Ember in Arroyo Grande for dinner at Bibi Ji in downtown Santa Barbara. With a cool India-meets-Santa Barbara menu and a wine bar aesthetic, we lucked into an older Grand Cru Alsatian Riesling for a relative steal, to pair with their notorious Uni Fried Rice.

Prince's Hot Chicken, Nashvillle TN

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My friends and family know that I can't do spice. So when our Nashville Vineyard Brands rep Melissa Wilkinson and I were killing time before an incredible ten course Tablas Creek wine dinner at Tailor Nashville, she drove me to Prince's Hot Chicken for lunch, which was profiled in a wild New Yorker article this year. Going with the flow so to speak, I asked Mel which option to go with. There was no spice, mild, spicy, or hot, and rumor has it the next level off menu spice option required a note from your doctor (for real) to even order. This pictured here was mild, and the flavor was so radical, so perfect in salt, heat and all things red, that I soldiered through it in awe, respect, and disbelief that I was even digesting such a thing.  

Amuse, Ashland, OR

AmuseI ended my year of travel in beautiful Ashland, Oregon, home to many of the vines we sold out of our nursery. Southern Oregon has done an incredible job growing Rhone varietals, and at this dinner at Amuse many local winemakers and industry turned up in gratitude for what Tablas Creek has provided to their wine country. We had sent an entire lamb up the week before to chef Erik Brown for the event, and this particular dish, listed as "Charcoal Grilled Tablas Creek Lamb Sausage, Kohlrabi-Tabouleh and Spiced Yogurt" was the digestible highlight of my year. Paired with Patelin de Tablas Rouge, it vanished within a minute's time. 

Hungrily looking forward to what 2020 will bring. Happy New Year!