Previous month:
July 2020
Next month:
September 2020

Harvest 2020 Begins Slowly, After a Record-Short Interval from Veraison

Last week, we brought in our first two lots of Viognier and our first lot of Syrah. It wasn't a furious start to harvest, but it was still a beginning. The cellar smells like honeysuckle and nectarines from the Viognier, there's the energy that always comes from the beginning of the harvest season, and the harvest chalkboard is no longer a literal clean slate:

Harvest Chalkboard August 2020

[Editor's note, congratulations to Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi and her husband Trevor on the arrival of their little girl Bohdi on our second day of harvest!!!]

We typically mark the beginning of harvest as the day the first fruit comes off the estate. So, in 2020 that meant the August 25th arrival of grapes from our oldest Viognier block. In my verasion post last month, I predicted a start time sometime between August 26th and September 5th. These dates are calculated by adding 36 to 48 days from our veraison date (the range we've seen over the last 15 years between first veraison and first harvest). 2020 produced an interval of just 35 days. If you've been following weather reports from California, you can probably guess why. After a moderate summer that had produced just three 100 degree days as of late July, the last month has seen ten days top the century mark and another ten top 90. Nighttime temperatures were warm too. In late July we hadn't had a single day all summer not drop into at least the 50s. Between August 15th and August 24th, we had nine of the ten nights get down only into the 60s.

Happily, the heat wave broke just as harvest was approaching, and since August 22nd we've seen an average high of 90 (with nothing higher than 95) and an average low of 55. The wildfire smoke we saw between August 19th and 22nd has cleared. And the picks we've done so far have been in ideal conditions. I love the photos that Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg took during that night pick, beginning 3am on August 25th. Here are two; you can see the rest on our Instagram feed:

Night Harvest 1 Night Harvest 2

Although we've started harvesting, it's important to remember that most of the vineyard is still some time off. The family of Rhone grapes is diverse enough that we typically figure a two-month stretch for harvest. In fact, there are some grapes that are still only in the middle of veraison (like this Counoise, below) as others are being picked:

Counoise pre-harvest 2020

Looking through our other red grapes shows the range of ripeness levels. Counoise is farthest out, likely six weeks or more, but others still have a ways to go. This Mourvedre is mostly red, but still likely won't be picked for more than a month:

Mourvedre pre-harvest 2020

Grenache is still as much pink as red, with the range of colors and jewel tones characteristic of this, our most beautiful grape. It too is at least a month out.

Grenache pre-harvest 2020

There are grapes that are getting close, most notably Syrah, already dark and starting to soften, and showing its classic conical cluster shape:

Syrah pre-harvest 2020

The other grape that is getting fairly close is Cinsaut. We're only on our second harvest, but one of the reasons why it is more planted than Counoise in France (despite that Counoise is more intense, and they serve similar roles in most blends) is that it ripens a month earlier, before or with Grenache instead of after:

Cinsaut pre-harvest 2020

Finally, Terret Noir, which looks fairly dark at this point but is still quite acidic, and on which we will wait another month or so:

Terret pre-harvest 2020

On the white side, Viognier is obviously first in line. But there are others like Vermentino, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc (pictured below) that are getting close. Vermentino might come as soon as the end of this week, and the other two should arrive sometime in the first half of September.

Grenache Blanc pre-harvest 2020

The weather is supposed to warm up again as we get to the end of this week, but seems unlikely to reach the heights of two weeks ago. That's fine. We're ready. Meanwhile, we'll enjoy the new sights and smells of the cellar as fermentations get going. This lone upright tank (filled with our first Syrah, picked Friday) will soon have plenty of new company.

Syrah in wooden upright Aug 2020


Wineries -- and visitors -- should expect months of recurring periodic closures to tasting rooms

Yesterday, our tasting room was open all day for the first time since Thursday, August 13th. We're open again today, and conditions are lovely. Tomorrow looks pretty safe. After that, well, we'll have to see. At least the heat wave that forced us to close most of last week has moved on, but there are still big fires burning to our north, and whether we'll be able to open will depend on where that smoke goes. 

Welcome to 2020. Anyone waiting for things to go back to normal may be waiting quite a while. And I'm just not sure that wine lovers -- or wineries -- have fully realized that this uncertainty is likely to be the norm, rather than the exception, for tasting room operations over the next six months and more. For our part, I'm fully expecting that we'll have to be closed at least one day a week, on average, over the next six months. Why?

First, and most importantly, COVID, which has meant that wineries in California are restricted to outdoor service only. I agree that this is by far the safest way to open. In fact, even when we could have reopened indoors we restricted ourselves to outdoor service only, because the evidence is strong that the risk of COVID transmission is very low in distanced, outdoor settings, and higher in indoor spaces, even with distancing in place. Of course, being outside means you're at the mercy of the weather. But the virus itself is a source of uncertainty; we’ve already had a few instances locally of positive COVID cases at wineries, who have had to close for stretches to make sure their team and their spaces were safe.

It's not bad, most of the time, being outside in California. It's a big reason why people live here. And we got lucky that we had a moderate summer up until the last few weeks. But the climate that allows wine grapes to ripen is sunny and often hot. We do have some control; we installed extra shade, fans, and misters, and have found that with these measures we're able to lower the temperature roughly ten degrees. Plus, we're typically a little cooler than downtown or areas further east. And we do usually get a late afternoon breeze. But still, if it’s over 100, it’s not safe for our team or pleasant for guests. So, we close early and get people on their way before the heat of the day becomes blazing. We've had to do so eight days so far in August, including a six-day stretch between August 14th and 19th. Our average in Paso is a dozen 100+ days each summer. So expect at least a few more heat-related closures before fall.

The heat wave broke late last week. Unfortunately, we’ve got big fires throughout California, producing copious smoke. A few days ago we had the worst air quality in the world. At least with the heat, we could be open in the mornings. We typically took our last appointments at noon each day. That’s a little less than half our capacity, but it’s a lot better than nothing. But with air conditions unsafe, we couldn’t open at all August 20th, 21st, and 22nd. This dramatic satellite image shows the smoke blanketing much of California late last week:

The primary culprit for our smoke is the River Fire in Monterey County to our north, which has burned some 48,000 acres since it was started by a cluster of lightning strikes a week ago. But there are fires burning all over California right now, with other big ones in Sonoma, Napa, and Santa Cruz. And I think there’s every reason to expect these to be burning for months.

Typically, wildfires in California’s forests burn until they are put out by the onset of the rainy season in early winter. Our state’s remarkable firefighters are mostly tasked with protecting structures and making sure that the fires aren’t endangering communities. Once a big fire gets going, with the accumulated fuel from California’s winter growth and exceptionally low summer humidity, it’s just too much to ask to put a fire out. And that’s true even when there are only a few fires burning. With dozens of big ones spreading resources thin, there’s no chance.

These fires were mostly started by lightning strikes from a rare summer thunderstorm week-before-last. We seem to have dodged the potential for more dry lightning overnight. But we’ve still got months before winter rains will end our fire season. Remember all those terrible California wine country fires in 2017 and 2018? Those were in October and November. It's still August. We've got a very long way to go.

Until then? We’re expecting to make day-by-day calls, informed by the local air quality, as to whether we can open for tasters. Most other California wineries will be the same. So if you’re thinking of going wine tasting, plan to check conditions. We'll be posting updates on our website each morning. If it looks like this, we won't be open. We appreciate your flexibility and patience, and promise you wouldn't want to be tasting here anyway.

Smoky skies over Tannat

The kicker? Once fire and summer heat season are over, it will be because of rain. Gentle rain can be handled with umbrellas and heaters. A Pacific storm, with heavy rain and wind? Wineries will have to close for those too. So get used to thinking about a visit to go wine tasting as like a visit to the beach. Sure, make your plans. But also plan to check local conditions in the morning. Welcome to the new (2020) normal.


“I want to do that” – An Interview with Josie Schneider, Two-Time Tablas Creek Cellar Intern

By Ian Consoli

This upcoming harvest is sure to have a different feel to it, because 2020. And change isn’t always a bad thing. But we were excited to build a little continuity by welcoming 2018’s harvest intern Josie Schneider back to Tablas Creek in a more expanded role. Yes, she’s here for harvest, but she’ll also be helping to fill in for some of the void that will be left while Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi is out on maternity leave. (Congratulations, Chelsea!)

Few of us have a direct path into wine. Josie is no exception. But from the beginning, she was driven by the simple statement, “I want to do that.”

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Josie and hear her story of growing up in Chile on an abalone farm, her experience in beekeeping, and her journey into the cellars of Paso Robles. Read on to learn more about Josie. I’m sure you’ll enjoy getting to know her a little.

Who are you?

Josie: That’s actually a really deep question to start with. I’m Josie Schneider and I am the intern for the 2020 harvest at Tablas Creek. I worked here for the 2018 harvest, did a year at a different winery, and now I'm back. I'm super excited.

Josie on a barrel

Before we dive deeper into you returning, let's get to know you a little bit more. Where did you grow up?

J: I was born in Santiago, Chile. When I was young we moved to La Serena, a little town north of Santiago, where they started an abalone farm. So I grew up on an abalone farm, helping my dad. I lived there until I was 18 and then moved to California to go to Cuesta College, transferred to Cal Poly [San Luis Obispo], and I've been on the Central Coast for seven years.

How did you go from abalone farm to wine?

J: My dad has been abalone farming for about 30 years in Chile, but I never thought I would do anything with it. So I studied parks and recreation, sports management at Cal Poly. I didn’t know if I wanted to work in that field, but I knew I really liked sports and it was a broad education. While there I had a couple of friends that worked at wineries, and my girlfriend, Megan, was an enology major at Cal poly. What they were doing looked super cool, so I was like, I want to do this.

How did you end up working your first harvest at Tablas Creek?

J: My dad and [Winemaker] Neil [Collins] went to college and lived together in Cayucos, CA. I contacted Neil and told him I wanted to work with cider or wine or any fermentation. He happened to be looking for a harvest intern for Tablas Creek so I did an interview and got the job.

It’s not too common for us to bring an intern back for a second round. How did that come about?

J: The last two years I've gone to Northern Patagonia from December to March to help my dad with his beekeeping program that he started about five years ago. At the end of the honey harvest Neil contacted me and mentioned that [Senior Assistant Winemaker] Chelsea is having a baby and they have a lot of work to do at the winery, and he offered to hire me in June. I was super stoked on the opportunity to learn what happens in the cellar before harvest. I have gotten to do a lot of bottling and kind of prepping for fruit to come in.

Do you have any special rituals during harvest to make it through the long days and the hard work?

J: I do. I wake up pretty early in the morning and make myself a tea or coffee and a big breakfast. I lay in bed for a little bit eating breakfast, drinking tea, looking at the news on my phone. It kind of wakes me up. I get to do everything that I want before I have to rush to work and get the day started. You don't know how long your day is going to be. So I like to have that little time before work to hang out and do my thing.

What is the toughest harvest you have ever participated in?

J: I would say definitely my first harvest. This is only my third so my first harvest was here. Tough in a good way, really challenging. Working harvest here, you really have to use your brain, be fast, and just get things done. Definitely a challenge; overcoming being tired all the time, working long hours, it was like this world that I had never seen before. And it was really, really a great experience.

Here you are back for round three.

J: I love it. I'm addicted.

Josie on a Forklift

What’s your ultimate goal in cellar work? Where do you want it to take you?

J: Just getting comfortable with everything that happens. Not comfortable in a way that you become stagnant, but comfortable in the sense of being sure of what you're doing. Knowing how things work and getting to know the wines better. I want to get that full cycle of like, okay, we do this when this wine is doing this or it's at this stage and really learning how to work with the wine.

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

J: Can I start my own? I would start a winery in Santa Cruz, Chile, one of the bigger wine regions. I would have a really cool organic, maybe biodynamic, vineyard with bees and animals on the property. It's like 40 minutes away from probably the best surf spot in Chile, [redacted]. It’s an incredible coastline with every kind of wave you would want. So being 40 minutes away from the best wave in Chile, which is saying a lot because Chile he has good waves, being able to start a winery, and making wine would be insane. A total dream.

Are there any wineries in Chile that you consider a favorite?

J: It’s kind of hard to taste there. You have to get an appointment, it's expensive, and they're all really huge wineries. I haven't really been to any small wineries. Clos Apalta is a winery that Megan and I went and toured. We went down into the caves and did a little tasting. I'm hoping this year to go tour the area and get to know Author Wineries (Vines de Autor, a category of winery that's really small, family owned and pretty underground). You really need to find them and get to know the people around the area to get a tasting. That’s the goal for this year. So put a pin on that question. When I come back next year, maybe I’ll have some names.

Best bottle of wine you ever had?

J: That's really hard. Oh my gosh. I mean, Tablas Creek is pretty good! Best bottle I had recently was the Seven Springs Chardonnay from Evening Land up in, I think it's an Oregon. Weston from Bristols [Cider] shared that bottle of wine with us. And I was loving it. It was exactly like what I want from a Chardonnay. Nice and bright and delicious.

What’s next for you?

J: Short term, my dad and I have been talking about the honey harvest in Chile. We’re starting to work on our queen rearing program. The apiaries are on an Island, and there weren’t honeybees on the island before we brought them in so we have full control over the hives. By finding our best genetics in all of our apiaries and creating good queens we won't have to buy queens and risk bringing in, disease, Varroa [a parasitic mite that infests bee colonies], or other things that can be harmful to the colony. We don't use pesticides and we want to get to a point where we don't have to treat for disease either.

Josie leaning against a press

Are you doing any bee work with our viticulturist Jordan Lonborg while you are here?

J: Yeah, we have four hives right now and we're just kind of figuring out how we want to organize them. They’re starting to fill up with honey. It's been fun to work with the top bar hives as well. You don't have a foundation so they just layer all of their wax and its super cool to see.

How are you balancing cellar work and bee work?

J: You only check the bees every 10 days and four hives takes about 30 to 45 minutes to check. So whenever we have a little extra time on a Friday or Thursday we check on them.

Would you rather:

 

Cake or pie?

Cake

Breathe under water or fly?

I’m a surfer, so breathe under water. It's just classic.

New world or Old world?

Right now? Old world.

Winemaker or a viticulturist?

Winemaker. Ideally I'd like to do both, but right now that's my main focus; so for now focus on the closer goal, which is wine making.


Introducing Regenerative Organic Certified (ROC): Farming Like the World Depends on It

By Jordan Lonborg

In February of 2019, Tablas Creek was approached by Elizabeth Whitlow (Executive Director of the Regenerative Organic Alliance) to see if we would like to take part in a pilot program of a new approach to farming called Regenerative Organic. It was clear from the organizations behind this effort, including the Rodale Institute, Patagonia, and Dr. Bronner’s, that this was going to be appealing, both inclusive of and yet more comprehensive than organic and biodynamic. I’ll let their Web site explain:

“Regenerative Organic Certified™ was established in 2017 by a group of farmers, business leaders, and experts in soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. Collectively called the Regenerative Organic Alliance (ROA), our mission is to promote regenerative organic farming as the highest standard for agriculture around the world.”

At first, considering the fact that we are already certified organic and biodynamic, juggling a third certification was not the most exciting proposition for me. But as I began to dig through the ROC Framework and its requirements, it became clear that this was a certification that Tablas Creek Vineyard had to get behind and fully support. We accepted the invitation to be the only winery in the pilot and the ball started to roll.

Regenerative farming is a style of farming in which soil health and building that soil is the main focus. It is a term that was developed by Robert Rodale (the son of the legendary organic farmer J.I. Rodale) to “distinguish a kind of farming that goes beyond sustainable.” But as appealing as this sounds, there’s more: regenerative organic builds in requirements that participants also certify the humane treatment of any animals on the farm and that the farming crews are paid living wages, work in safe conditions, and understand their rights. Therefore, this certification incorporates three pillars; soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness.

The heart of Regenerative Organic Certified is the Soil Health Pillar. The property must be certified organic. Various regenerative farming tactics must be employed such as no-till farming (with few exceptions), cover cropping, incorporation of livestock and mob grazing (when animals are given a small area where they can completely graze that area in a short amount of time and then are moved to start the process over again), and creating habitat for pollinators and beneficial insects are a few of the recommended or required practices. Composting on-site is encouraged. Comprehensive soil tests showing that you’re maintaining or building carbon are a requirement, because one of the fundamental tenets of ROC is that farming can be and must be an agent for fighting climate change and reducing the use of nonrenewable resources. After all, their slogan is “Farm like the world depends upon it.”

Mushrooms growing on Compost pile Growth from biochar application


Because of the work we've been doing with biodynamics, there weren't many practices we needed to change or implement here. But the testing that we needed in order to show that we were building carbon content in our soils was tremendous validation that the way that we've been farming really is capturing carbon and building soils that match up well with the highest national and international standards. 

Jordy with AlpacaFor the Animal Welfare Pillar, like the Soil Health Pillar, ROC requires that livestock on the property are to be certified organic under USDA standards. The humane treatment of the livestock in all aspects of their life is a necessity. The health, nutrition, shelter (where applicable), protection, herding methods, handling methods, transport, and slaughter are all evaluated when applying to be Regenerative Organic Certified.

As is true with any pilot program, the goal is to incorporate new standards while providing feedback to help make those standards stronger and more consistent. By this measurement, the pilot program was a huge success. Both Tablas Creek and the ROA learned a great deal about which requirements within the pillars needed adjustments and which didn’t for vineyards. For example, the initial draft of the standards included an ironclad requirement for no-till farming. In the process of trying to achieve the “gold” ROC standard, we picked up a few more certifications along the way. Not only is the herd certified by CCOF, Demeter-USA, and Regenerative Organic, they are also certified by Animal Welfare Approved. I can assure you, this highly decorated flock is extremely proud of themselves at the moment and if you were to see them now you’d swear they looked a bit taller.

Flock of sheep in tall grass

What separates ROC from most other certifications is its Social Welfare Pillar. The dark side of agriculture in today’s world is how farmworkers are treated. This certification addresses that situation head on. It ensures that the farmworkers, whether employed or subcontracted, receive a living wage, that they understand their rights, and that their working conditions are clean and safe. These are just a few examples of what is incorporated in the Social Fairness Pillar.  

We also received a certification from the Equitable Food Initiative. This group ensures the social welfare of the farmworker crews on the property. We all spent a week of intensive training together. These sessions lasted all day long and consisted of physical activities, team building skills, communication skills (both with each other and management), problem solving skills, and education sessions in which they and we together explored in detail their rights as farmworkers both individually and as a group. It was an extremely powerful week.

Vineyard Crew

Not all of the third party certifications that we obtained are necessary for achieving Regenerative Organic Certified. We took these extra steps in an attempt to obtain the highest level of the certification. For anyone who is reading this post and is interested in obtaining this certification for your operation, reach out to the ROA to determine where you are on the path to ROC and what certifications you will need.

Tablas Creek Vineyard has always been extremely proud of our organic and biodynamic certifications. That said, we have never felt that the certifications were ends in and of themselves. And there are pieces of both of those protocols that we think could be improved. Anyway, we farm the way we do because we feel that it is the right thing to do for the land and the people that work here. But this certification is different. It sends a powerful message to the wine industry, consumers, and our local community. It shows them that Tablas Creek is not willing to accept anything less than the very highest standard for our soils, our animals, and the welfare of the people who work here.

We are beyond proud to be the first vineyard in the world to be Regenerative Organic Certified and we fully believe that this certification can and will be the future of farming in all forms of agriculture!!    

A big thanks to the folks at the Rodale Institute, Patagonia, and Dr. Bronner’s for spearheading this movement! Keep farming like the world depends on it!!!


Tasting the Wines in the Fall 2020 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 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. Yesterday I sat down with Winemaker Neil Collins and we dove into this fall's collection. For what we found, read on:

Neil and Jason after shipment tasting

We base each year's 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 wines, one red and one white, and two other smaller-production blends, again 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:

Fall 2020 VINsider Classic Shipment

2019 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: The cool-then-warm 2019 growing season pushed yields a little below average, resulting in unusually small Grenache Blanc grapes that turned out to have both exceptional brightness and rich texture. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose lots that were fermented in stainless steel (for energy) and foudre (for roundness), blended them in May 2020 and bottled the finished wine under screwcap in June 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: An intense Grenache Blanc nose of lemon curd, sweet green herbs, and crushed rock. On the palate, like a lemon meringue pie with the hint of graham cracker underlying the bright, luscious lemon. The finish is lovely and long, with a little pithy Grenache Blanc tannin coming out at the end. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 860 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2019 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 2019, the Viognier (44%) already had nice acidity, so we chose to use more Marsanne (29%) to bring elegance and minerality, and a relatively low percentage of Grenache Blanc (19%), leaving more Grenache Blanc for our varietal bottling in this relatively scarce Grenache Blanc year. 8% Roussanne rounds out the blend and provides structure. The selected lots were blended in May 2020, and the wine was bottled in June 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: An elegant nose, with Marsanne seemingly at the fore right now: nectarines, lemongrass, honeydew, and a rich, wheaty element that Neil described as clean straw. The mouth is lovely, with flavors of peach pit, tangerine, and newly-mown hay drying in the sun. Lovely acids and sweet green herbs come out on the long, balanced finish. Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1540 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2018 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: For the second year in a row we incorporated two of our newest white grapes into the Esprit Blanc blend. Of course, Roussanne (66%, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages) still takes pride of place, but the different higher-acid, more mineral varieties (21% Grenache Blanc, 8% Picpoul Blanc, 3% Picardan and 2% Clairette Blanche) 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 2019 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2019 and letting it rest an additional 9 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: A lifted nose of orange blossom, honeycomb, and spicy pine nut. On the palate, the signature clean, precise elegance of the 2018 vintage, with flavors of baked custard, marmalade, and saline minerality, deepened by a little sweet oak. Then lively and juicy on the finish like biting into a fresh pear, complete with the little hint of pear skin tannin. A balanced, elegant Esprit Blanc that we expect to go out two decades, gaining additional nuttiness and complexity with time in bottle.
  • Production: 2315 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2018 GRENACHE

  • Production Notes: Grenache was one of the stars of the cool 2018 vintage, producing lots with lifted fruit, lots of peppery spice, and a little tannic bite that suggests it will produce wines that can age gracefully. For our varietal bottling we as usual chose lots that emphasized Grenache's freshness and avoided riper lots that tend toward higher alcohols. The lots were blended in June 2019 and aged in neutral 1200-gallon oak foudres until bottling in May 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose of wild strawberry, allspice, brambly briar patch, and sarsaparilla root. The palate is generous with vivid cranberry fruit and all the elements of plum pudding, from creamy richness to the tangy baked plum and the bursts of plum skin tannin. Bright acids and youthful grippy tannins provide balance to the juiciness on the finish. We suggest you wait a few months for the tannins to integrate, then drink in the next few years for a crunchy and vibrant experience or wait six to ten years for a deeper, softer profile.
  • Production: 1160 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2018 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our eleventh 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 2018 the wine shows plenty of power and density. We chose a blend of 36% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 27% Syrah, 6% Counoise, and 3% Tannat. In this lifted, elegant vintage, we chose our highest-ever percentage of Syrah for this blend, giving the wine heft and Syrah's signature creamy, meaty density. The wine was blended in June of 2019, aged in foudre and bottled in May 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: A explosively vibrant nose of boysenberry, blackcurrant, black pepper, and roasted meats. The mouth is juicy but firmly tannic, with flavors of cassis and black cherry, wood smoke, and cracked peppercorn. Syrah's signature creamy dark minerality comes out on the finish. Serious and built for the long term; wait six months if you can, and then drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 860 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

2018 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Although the Esprit is based as always on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (40%), in this vintage noteworthy for its lift and minerality we found that the darkness and density provided by Syrah (27%) was essential and we needed a little less of the bright spiciness of Grenache (23%). Counoise (10%) rounds out the blend with brambly notes and sweet spice. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2019 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep brooding Mourvedre nose of loamy redcurrant and roasted meats, new leather and black plum. The mouth shows spicy licorice and nutmeg lift over baked plums and Mourvedre's signature plum skin tannin maintaining balance with the wine's mouth-coating texture. The long, richly tannic finish, with lingering flavors of wood smoke, roasted meat, and crushed rock, promises more rewards to come with cellar aging. The wine was showing beautifully despite only having been in bottle one week when we tasted it; we recommend that you drink either between now and 2023 or again starting in 2026 any time over the subsequent two decades.
  • Production: 4325 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 (we doubled up the Esprit Blanc):

Fall 2020 VINsider White Shipment

2019 BOURBOULENC

  • Production Notes: Our first ever bottling of Bourboulenc, from our first-ever harvest of this relatively obscure Rhone white. Bourboulenc is known in France to make wines with citrus aromatics and a distinctive smoky character, with fairly good acids and relatively low alcohol. As we have no road map for this wine, never having harvested or fermented it before, we treated it gently, fermenting with our signature native yeasts in a mix of stainless steel and neutral oak barrels. It had a distinctive orange color (not that different from Roussanne) coming out of the press, and while much of that settled out in fermentation, it's still a lovely rich gold. We used our entire production in this 135-case varietal bottling, put into bottle in June 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: Medium gold color. A nose of lychee and wet rocks, lightly floral, with an unusual and appealing fresh almond note. On the palate, richly textured and softly mineral, with pineapple fruit and a little mintiness, pretty and delicate and lovely. We have no idea how this will age, but suggest you drink it over the next few years.
  • Production: 135 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2017 PETIT MANSENG

  • Production Notes: Our eighth bottling of this traditional grape from southwest France, Petit Manseng is best known from the appellation of Jurançon, where it has made admired sweet wines for centuries that you rarely hear about in America. Petit Manseng achieves sufficient concentration and sugar content -- and maintains its acids sufficiently -- to make naturally sweet, balanced wines without botrytis. Harvested at 28° Brix and a pH of 2.99, we fermented it in barrel, and stopped its fermentation when it had about 62 grams/liter of sugar left and sat at an alcohol of 14.4%. The high acidity makes it taste much drier than the sugar reading would suggest. The wine was aged on its lees in barrel and bottled in June 2018.
  • Tasting Notes: Medium gold. An exotic nose of lemon marmalade, briny mineral, citrus leaf, and lemongrass. In the mouth, the wine is a roller-coaster, first sweet like candied orange peel, then lemon drop acids assert themselves, and finally the finish relaxes to a combination of clementine orange, sea spray minerality, and citrus blossom. A little sweeter and more intense than but reminiscent of a demi-sec Vouvray, for anyone with that as a reference point. Drink now or age for up to another decade for a nuttier character.
  • Production: 170 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

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

Fall 2020 VINsider Red Shipment

2018 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: 2018 is the ninth 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, one of his last acts was to plant Pinot at his home and oversee our first few vintages. 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 2019. We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty nose of cherry cola, Chinese five spice, teriyaki, and black tea. The mouth is medium-bodied, soft, and generous, with raspberry fruit, a little sweet oak, and a lightly tannic finish with sarsaparilla and wild strawberry notes. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 475 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2018 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. The cool 2018 vintage produced a very Old World style of Mourvedre, with loamy, meaty elements just as strong as the red-fruited notes we typically see at the fore here in Paso Robles. All our Mourvedre lots were fermented in large wooden tanks and moved to neutral barrels to await blending. The chosen lots were blended in the spring of 2019, then aged in foudre until bottling in May 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: A very Old World style of Mourvedre, with loam at the front, then pie cherries and meaty note reminiscent of a rosemary-rubbed leg of lamb. The mouth is more generously fruited than the nose suggests, with flavors of plum and redcurrant fruit, new leather, and some chewy tannins that come out on the finish and reassert a loamy, juniper forest note. It seems like time in the cellar will be well rewarded, but feel free to drink any time over the next 15 years.
  • Production: 640 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. 2018 shows a cool climate signature with vibrant, expressive, spicy wines with elegance and the potential to age. 2019 is a blockbuster vintage, combining rich textures with lively acidity and powerful varietal characters. 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're probably aware that we're not going to be hosting a traditional wine club pickup party because of COVID, but we've come up with a few ways to give members the chance to experience the wines. These include the option of "shipment flights" should members come for a distanced patio tasting in September and October, a virtual tasting party the evening of Friday, October 15th for which we'll be putting together tasting packs that include half-bottles of the two 2018 Esprit de Tablas wines, and the newest season of Chelsea & the Shepherd, which we'll be debuting around the time the shipment goes out. We have details on all this on our VINsider News & Updates page.

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