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December 2020

Wine Shipping State of the Union, 2021 Edition

Six years ago, I wrote my own State of the Union, Wine Shipping Edition, breaking down the 50 states and one district into tiers based on how expensive and difficult it was for us to send wine into each. Casual wine lovers might be surprised to know that not only are there some states to which we are prohibited from shipping wine, but that each state to which we can ship has its own laws, permits, fees, and reporting requirements. Managing this morass takes specialized software and still a big chunk time for one of the members of our accounting team, so it's far from the uniform, frictionless open market that Section 8 of the US Constitution promises:

"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;"

I mentioned in my post from 2015 that diving into the arcane details of these state laws only highlights the wisdom of the founding fathers and generations of Supreme Court justices in prioritizing the Commerce Clause, which protects the federal government's exclusive role in regulating interstate commerce. The 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in 1933, as a side-effect sheltered states from the Commerce Clause's requirement to maintain an open, fair market for all players. This means that the wine market provides a glimpse into what a world absent the Commerce Clause might look like. We should all be thankful that most products we might want to buy don't have to face a similar regulatory nightmare. Our current map:

Where_We_Ship 2021

Below you can find an updated summary of what the world of wine shipping looks like, from a winery's perspective, as we enter 2021, with states broken down into tiers based on the cost and ease of doing business there.

One thing that has changed since 2015 is that the playing field has been made harder to summarize by the rise of "economic nexus" statutes, driven by the 2018 Supreme Court ruling South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. This ruling said that states could require out-of-state companies to collect and remit sales taxes, whereas previous law had held that they only could from companies with a physical location (a "nexus") in that state. In practice, this has meant that states have begin to implement transaction thresholds, above which wineries have had to remit state (and sometimes local) taxes, but below which they don't. That annual threshold has tended to be somewhere around 200 shipments or $100,000. For us, we're over that threshold in places like Colorado, Illinois, and of course California, but not in Iowa, DC, or Minnesota (though we're getting close). So, the numbers below reflect the conditions for a winery of our basic size and profile. I've noted the states with current or upcoming economic nexus laws with asterisks (*) below, with some explanatory notes.  

Tier I: The no-brainers (AK, DC*, MN*, MO*)

  • Right now, there are three states and the District of Columbia that have neither permit fees nor significant reporting requirements. Thank goodness for them! But, 4 of 51 isn't a great percentage. All of the others make it more difficult or expensive to ship wine to customers who want it. It's also worth noting that the permit-free status of these states is a holdover from pre-Granholm conditions and it's unclear that continuing without required permits is constitutional. DC and Minnesota are "economic nexus" destinations. If you're large enough to trigger those thresholds, bump them up to Tier II. Missouri will join them as a nexus state next year.
  • Total percentage of US population: 4.02%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 2
  • Total permit fees: $0

Tier II: Inexpensive and/or fairly easy (CA*, FL, ID, IA*, KS, MA, ME, MD, MI, MT, NC, ND, NY, OH, OR, WA, WI)

  • There are an additional seventeen states with permit fees of $200/year or less and modest reporting requirements (0-24 times per year). These states include some big ones like our home state of California, Florida, New York, Oregon, and Washington, but even for the smaller ones, the number of orders that a winery would need to fill in order to pay for the annual investment is very reasonable. You'll notice that most of the major wine-producing states fall into this tier. The two states with potential nexus-triggered reporting include Iowa (a small enough market that most wineries won't hit the nexus threshold) and California (where wineries who are based here likely already have the infrastructure in place). If you're an out-of-California winery selling here, or a winery big enough to trigger Iowa's nexus status, they'd both probably move to Tier III. 
  • Total percentage of US population: 46.93%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 178 (10.5/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $1,225 ($72/state avg.)

Tier III: Moderate expense or requirements (AZ, CO*, GA, IL*, IN, NV, NH, NM, PA, TX, VT, VA)

  • Once you get to the next tier of twelve, a small winery would be excused for starting to run cost-benefit analyses before springing for the permits.  Some permits start to get expensive in this tier, like Illinois' $350/year or Vermont's $330/year. Others are less expensive, but have difficult reporting requirements, like Georgia and Nevada (36 reports/year each). Colorado would be in Tier II except for the nexus requirements, which are pretty arcane. If you're small enough not to trigger the statute, move it down a tier. Illinois is probably Tier III even if you don't trigger the nexus, with separate excise tax reporting required for the city of Chicago. But even with their added challenges and expense, there are some pretty large-population states in this tier, and most wineries choose to ship to all or nearly all of them.
  • Total percentage of US population: 30.72%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 289 (24/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $2,063 ($172/state avg.)

Tier IV: Difficult or expensive enough to be a real question (HI, NE, SC, WV)

  • At this point, we get to four small states with difficult requirements, to the point that it's not worth it for many wineries to bother. Permits cost as much as $500/year (Nebraska) and $600/two years (South Carolina). West Virginia charges $250/year and requires the submission of 36 reports. And Hawaii requires you to get separate annual permits from each county, at a total cost of $324, and to submit 25 reports. With limited rewards, these costs tend to feel disproportionate.
  • Total percentage of the US population: 3.14%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 78 (19.5/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $1374 ($344/state avg.)

Tier V: Compliance Headaches (KY, OK, SD, TN, WY)

  • This next tier of five states aren't hugely expensive, but each has at least one unusual requirement. These include South Dakota's requirement that you register every label you're planning to ship into the state at a cost of $25/label/year, Oklahoma's prohibition from using fulfillment houses (so everything must be shipped from the winery location), and very low per-person or per-household import limits: 1 case/month and 3 cases/year maximum per person in Tennessee, and 4 cases/year per household in Wyoming. I could have added Minnesota in here as well, with its 2 cases/customer/year limit, but it's otherwise so easy (no permit, no reporting) that I left it in Tier I. Kentucky is the newest state to pass a direct-shipping law, and is still working out the kinks. It will probably end up in Tier II, but for now, it's like Oklahoma and not allowing wineries to use fulfillment houses, instead requiring that they ship only from their winery. A headache. 
  • Total percentage of the US population: 5.10%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 68 (13.6/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $550 ($110/state avg.)

Tier VI: Extremely Difficult/Expensive (CT, LA, NJ)

  • Connecticut is a shipping state for many wineries, but its expenses and challenges are significant. First, it's a costly permit, at $315/year, and requires 36 reports to be filed annually. Second, you must register each label you propose to sell in the state at a cost of $200/label, renewable every 3 years. At Tablas Creek, we sold 28 different wines direct last year (different wines, not different vintages). That would require a $5600 investment, adding $1866 to the already-considerable annual $1295 cost of permit and reporting. And finally, you can't have different label registrants for wholesale and direct sales. So, if you're like us and sell our wines to our Connecticut distributor through an agent (ours is Vineyard Brands) we couldn't register the same wines ourselves for direct sale.
  • Louisiana, at $400 and 36 reports/year, would be the most expensive state in Tier IV even if it didn't add the extra hurdle of requiring you to choose between selling a wine direct and selling it through wholesale. But it does, and that pushes it over the edge for us. There used to be more states with "distributor exclusivity" requirements like this, but Louisiana is the last one left.
  • How does New Jersey make direct shipping difficult? Let me count the ways. The permit is the country's most expensive at $938 and there are 29 reports to submit annually. There is a significant bond wineries have to post. There are registration fees of $150 per partner per year, an issue for a winery like ours owned by two families, each with several owners. Receiving a permit means that we have established a nexus with the state of NJ and are liable for paying an annual corporate income tax of at least $500. Plus there's a capacity cap of 250,000 gallons (around 100,000 cases) to ship that we fall under, but many wineries don't.
  • Total percentage of the US population: 5.18%
  • Total number of reports required annually: 101 (33.7/state avg.)
  • Total permit fees: $1653 ($551/state avg.)

Tier VII: Almost entirely prohibited (AL, AR, DE, MS, RI, UT)

  • Three states (Arkansas, Delaware, and Rhode Island) allow a winery to ship with few hurdles and minimal reporting requirements if a customer purchases wine at a winery, but won't allow the same customer to order wine by phone or email from home. The logic written into the laws is typically couched in the guise of ensuring that only of-age buyers can purchase, but given that common carriers routinely check ID's in the 40+ states that allow direct shipping, it doesn't pass critical muster and is better understood as local protectionism.
  • Three other states (Alabama, Mississippi, and Utah) allow customers to order wine from a winery, have it shipped to a state-licensed store, where taxes are collected, and then the wine released to the customer. It's slow and expensive, because it requires the customer to request and complete a state "special order" permit before shipping, and while the taxes aren't massive in Alabama, they're a whopping 88% in Utah. Mississippi's permit program is brand new, and may not be workable as initially published. In all three cases, the process is cumbersome enough that the Wine Institute still lists the three states as "prohibited".
  • Total percentage of the US population: 4.92%

Every winery has a different breaking point. For us, it comes in the middle of Tier V. We've decided that 41 states (everything in Tiers I-IV, plus Tennessee and Wyoming) warrant the expense of the annual permits and the reporting. Kentucky will come on line soon to be our 42nd, and I'm going to take another look at South Dakota now that we have a full team in our accounting department. That leaves 8 states that we either can't ship to, or have found that the requirements to do so are unreasonable. At what cost? Shipping to the 43 "shipping" states in Tiers I-V costs a total of $5,212 in permit fees plus the time and expense of preparing and filing 615 reports each year. Figure an hour for each report, at $25/hour ($15,375) for a total expense of $20,587. But for that cost, we can ship to 89.9% of the US population. Available tools (like SOVOS ShipCompliant and Avalara) provide a savings over the labor of preparing the many individual reports and are indispensable for wineries looking to ship to a broad swath of states, but still come with a cost.

Why are there some states that have made it so difficult or expensive that they're choosing to give up the state income that direct shipping would provide? The reasons vary, but mostly fall into one of two camps. Either they're making it difficult for religious or cultural reasons (think the deep south, or Utah) or they've crafted their laws in a way that protects distributors from as much competition as possible. This occurs because alcohol distributors (which are all state-licensed) see direct shipping as a threat to their businesses and are also some of the largest donors to state legislative campaigns.

So, while wine in America is not sold in a free and open market, most of that market is at least accessible to most wineries with some effort and expense. And if we're a long way from the Supreme Court's 1949 ode to the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution in H.P. Hood & Sons vs. Du Mond, the relevant text of which is below, we're at least making incremental progress:

"Our system, fostered by the Commerce Clause, is that every farmer and every craftsman shall be encouraged to produce by the certainty that he will have free access to every market in the Nation… Neither the power to tax nor the police power may be used by the state of destination with the aim and effect of establishing an economic barrier against competition with the products of another state or the labor of its residents."

Notes

  1. If you're interested in diving into the state-by-state regulations, the Wine Institute's Direct Shipping Laws for Wineries page is a great place to start.
  2. Thank you to Jeff Carroll, GM of Avalara for Beverage Alcohol for his feedback on this topic and particularly for his explanation of the growing challenge that economic nexus laws will pose.
  3. If you'd like to get involved in the push for more open direct shipping laws, the nonprofit Free the Grapes, on whose board of directors I serve, has information, resources, and templates for contacting state representatives. 

Looking back at the cold, frost-reduced 2011 vintage with a decade's perspective

2011 was a year unlike any that we'd seen before, and it seems unlikely that we'll see another like it any time soon. It was the second consecutive cold vintage, cooler than any we'd seen since 1998, and much colder than anything we've seen since 2012. It began with devastating frosts on consecutive nights that April 8th and 9th, reducing yields of early-sprouting varieties dramatically. Grenache was off 41%. Syrah and Grenache Blanc were both down 51%. Viognier was down a devastating 71%. Our late-ripening grapes were less affected, but even Mourvedre saw crops reduced 24%. Only Roussanne, always the most frost-resistant grape in the vineyard, saw increased yields over 2010, and our total yields off the estate were down 34%.

The year's challenges didn't end after the frost. Persistent onshore flow meant that we had many more foggy mornings than we're used to, cooler temperatures, and delayed ripening. A heat spike in August was one of our most severe to date, and many vineyards around California, who had pulled leaves because of mildew pressures and worries about slow ripening, saw significant sunburn. Early rain the first week of October came while most of the harvest was still on the vine, and many vineyards saw an explosion of rot. And the frost-delayed beginning to the growing season and the unusually cool summer weather combined to produce one of our latest-ever finishes to harvest, on November 8th, which allowed two more rainstorms to pass through before we were done.

Still, in the end we felt fortunate. We harvested fruit with intense flavors (from the low yields and long ripening cycle) and bright acids (from the cool year). As of mid-October, we were less than one-third complete with harvest, but we were able to harvest everything that was out. Unlike most of Northern California, when the rainstorms passed through Paso they were followed by dry, breezy weather, which meant we didn't have significant fungal issues. And because of our relatively high investment in late-sprouting, late-ripening grapes, we saw lower frost losses than many of our neighbors. I was feeling optimistic enough toward the end of harvest that I wrote a blog with the headline Why Paso Robles Will Make California's Best Wines in 2011.

Still, our options when it came to blending were significantly constrained. We ended up not making many of the wines that we were used to. No varietal Grenache, or Syrah, or Counoise, or Viognier. No dessert wines. Unusual blends of the Cotes de Tablas wines given the scarcity of some of the lead grapes. But we felt at the time that the wines we were making from that year would end up being very ageworthy. The red wines all showed a dark, brooding character that suggested they would age slowly, opening up with time to reveal extra layers of fruit, earth, and spice. The white wines all showed remarkable texture and pronounced salinity. And we've loved the expressiveness of the 2011 vintage in the recent vertical tastings we've done. So it was with great anticipation that we opened all our 2011 wines yesterday. The lineup:

Horizontal Tasting of 2011

My notes on the wines are below. I've noted their closures (SC=screwcap; C=cork) and, for the blends, their varietal breakdown. Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see winemaking details or the tasting notes at bottling. I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, Amanda Weaver, and Austin Collins) as well as by Marketing Coordinator Ian Consoli.

  • 2011 Vermentino (SC): The nose initially showed all of Vermentino's mineral notes (flint, oyster shell) but with just a little time the citrus leaf and grapefruit pith character emerged. On the palate, very young tasting and bright, with preserved lemon flavors, bright acids, plenty of stony minerality, and briny sea spray notes on the finish. Still youthful and bright, though it's a good reminder to let older screwcapped whites breathe a bit before judging them.
  • 2011 Picpoul Blanc (C): None of us were quite sure why we bottled this under cork, when the other aromatic whites were all screwcapped and Picpoul Blanc had been screwcapped the year before. The wine showed a deeper golden color than any of the other whites we opened. On the nose, sweet aromas of toasted marshmallow, creme caramel, chamomile, and wheat kernels. The mouth was viscous and rich, with flavors of lemon meringue, creamy texture, and a long finish of Asian pear and lemongrass. I think we all wished this had been finished in screwcap too, as it would have shown more of the brightness we love about Picpoul.
  • 2011 Grenache Blanc (SC): A nose of peppered citrus and chalky minerality that reminded me of a Chablis with a decade in bottle. On the mouth, the initial impression was a sweet one of spun sugar, then bright acids took over, then rich texture and a pithy bite on the finish helping keep the sweet lychee flavors fresh. Pretty, youthful, and in an excellent place. A terrific showing for this grape that's known to oxidize young.
  • 2011 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 45% Grenache Blanc, 34% Viognier, 18% Roussanne, 3% Marsanne): Our second-ever Patelin Blanc showed very well, with a nose of pineapple skin, apple, and crunchy nectarine. On the palate, sweet fruit, good acids, and surprisingly rich texture, with lemon curd and flan flavors and a fruity, vibrant finish with apple fruit leather and mandarin orange notes. Seems to strike a great balance between Viognier's fleshiness and Grenache Blanc's tension. Really pretty.
  • 2011 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 27% Viognier, 26% Grenache Blanc, 25% Marsanne, 22% Roussanne): An unusual Cotes de Tablas because we had so little Viognier, and therefore decided to leave the Viognier on the skins during fermentation to extract maximum character from the grape. The nose showed sweeter dried peach, white gummy bear and cream soda notes, but also a salty sea spray character. The mouth was spectacular. Rich texture, a pronounced saline note like high quality salted butter, and fruit flavors of dried mango and orange creamsicle. A little skin texture kept things from being too weighty. A highlight for me, and many of us.
  • 2011 Marsanne (SC): Our second-ever varietal Marsanne. A nose like the sea that we all came up with different ways of describing, from kelp forest to sea spray to miso. A little hint of quince... almost sweet but not quite. On the palate, more generous than the nose suggested, with a creamy minerality, egg custard and beeswax notes, and a hint of butterscotch. A little nuttiness (blanched almond) cane out on the long finish. Pretty and elegant.
  • 2011 Roussanne (C): A weird showing for this wine. The color was medium gold, and showed a slight haze. The flavors were a little more reminiscent of a sour beer or cider than typical Roussanne honey and nuts, with coriander, yuzu, and wheaty notes. A hint of retsina-like pine sap and some sweet oak came out on the finish. I'm still hopeful that a little more time in bottle will help this assume a more recognizable form, but for now, it's more interesting than pleasurable.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (C; 64% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 10% Picpoul Blanc): Very Roussanne on the nose, with aromas of pear, pineapple, candied ginger and graham cracker. The mouth is lovely and mouth-watering, with fresh pineapple and sarsaparilla flavors and rich texture that brightens up on the finish leaving lingering notes of roasted nuts and clove. At peak maturity but with plenty left in the tank.
  • 2011 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): Our last Chardonnay bottling, from a vintage that seemed like it should have played to the cool-loving grape's strengths. A creamy nose of marshmallow and sweet oak. The palate showed lots of glycerine texture, and flavors of baked apple and caramel. The finish came off to me a bit sweet-tasting, with notes of chamomile and white tea. Not particularly evocative of Chardonnay to me, and felt a little overripe. Drink up if you've got any left.
  • 2011 Rosé (SC; 58% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 12% Counoise): Still a nice deep pink-orange in the glass. The nose isn't recognizably a rosé nose, or even terribly wine-like at this point. Reminded us of a Negroni, with a spicy wintery nose of mulling spices. The mouth shows sweetness on the attack with candied strawberry flavors and a bitter tinge on the finish like Campari. No one would have intentionally kept this wine this long, but it's at least still interesting. 
  • 2011 Full Circle (C): Our second Full Circle Pinot Noir from my dad's property in the Templeton Gap, and not our favorite showing, to the point that we opened a second bottle because we thought the first might have been oxidized. But the second bottle was the same: a nose of coffee grounds and cocoa hulls, a little oxidized and pruney. The mouth is in a nicer place, showing dark chocolate-covered cherries, saddle leather, and a little seed tannin perhaps from whole cluster fermentations. The finish showed a figgy note. This seems like it could have been impacted by the heat spike, or perhaps we just picked it a little too ripe.
  • 2011 Tannat (C): A cool herby eucalyptus note over sweet/bitter aromas that we variously described as dark chocolate, molasses, and black cherry cola. On the palate, still youthful: unsweetened chocolate and juniper forest, still quite tannic, with a nice smoky black raspberry note coming out on the finish. If you have some of this, I'd recommend you stash it at the back of your cellar for another couple of years.
  • 2011 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 52% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre, 1% Counoise): This wine has always carried a touch of a reductive character from the cool vintage and the high percentage of Syrah, and it still does, with a gunpowdery minerality over iron, black cherry, and meat drippings. Neil compared it to a Loire Cabernet Franc. The mouth is in a nice place, with a sweet minty chocolate note, savory baking spices, and nicely resolved tannins. I'm sure most of this has long been drunk, but if you find a bottle you're in for a treat. We sold this for $20 at the time. 
  • 2011 Cotes de Tablas (C; 49% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): The nose is beautiful, very red fruited in contrast to the darkness of the previous two wines, with notes of cherry and sweet herbs. The mouth is juicy and lively, with beautiful raspberry and sweet tobacco notes. There are still some tannins that keep the juicy finish from being overly sweet. A consensus favorite and absolutely at peak. 
  • 2011 Mourvedre (C): A lovely mature nose of dried cranberry, leather, sweet cola and potpourri. The mouth is fully resolved too with milk chocolate-covered cherries, soft tannins, and a little soy umami note. A hint of oxidation started to come out with a few minutes in the glass, suggesting that while this is very pretty, the clock is ticking. Might be a year or two past peak. Drink up if you've got any.
  • 2011 En Gobelet (C; 29% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache, 26% Tannat, 18% Syrah): With so much Tannat, relatively little Grenache, and no Counoise, it was probably unsurprising that the En Gobelet was so dominated by dark notes and still youthfully tight. The nose was brooding and iron-like, with the other grapes seeming subservient to Tannat. With time, a little minty dark chocolate did come out. On the palate, luscious and mouth-coating like a traditional Black Forest cake made with cherry liqueur. The tannins are still massive, and this wine feels a ways still from its peak.
  • 2011 Esprit de Tablas (C; 40% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 10% Counoise): Initially reserved on the nose, with savory Worcestershire and roasted meat coming out with time. On the palate, in a very nice place, with semi-sweet chocolate, rose petals, and soy marinade flavors and some powdered-sugar tannins maintaining order. The long finish shows all the components of a flourless chocolate cake, with a meaty, salty lingering note. At peak, or nearly so, with plenty of life left.
  • 2011 Panoplie (C; 60% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A powerhouse on the nose, with aromas of sugar plums, Worcestershire sauce, loam, and a little minty lift. On the palate, soft and generous, with sweet Mexican chocolate and fresh blackberry, and meat dripping flavors, and well integrated tannins that glide into a generous finish of baker's chocolate, rose petals, and black tea. At peak, with lots more to come.
  • 2011 Petit Manseng (C): Our second bottling of this classic southwest French grape known for maintaining great acids as it reaches high (and occasionally extremely high) sugar levels, which we make each year in an off-dry style. The nose showed lychee, pineapple, green herbs and petrol, reminiscent of an aged demi-sec Chenin Blanc. The palate was like a lemon bar with powdered sugar, sweet but still bracingly tart, with a long finish of mango and caramel. Fun, unique, and still youthful. 

A few concluding thoughts

2011 is a vintage we're unlikely to ever see the likes of again. In the last decade, the impacts of climate change on California have become much more pronounced, and 2011 was already an unusually cold vintage. I'm not sad about that; this was a tough year for grapegrowers around the state, even though I was pleased with how we handled the year's challenges. In this tasting, the wines were a little more uneven than in a truly great year, with a few reds unexpectedly showing signs of age. I'm not sure whether that is a function of the uneven and sometimes very low yields, the heat spike, or the fact that we still had in the back of our heads the ripeness levels we were used to seeing in the 2005-2009 era, and perhaps left some of the grapes on the vine longer than we would have now. It could be a combination. Still, the best wines were really strong, and the whites overall outstanding.

It was not easy selling the 2011 in the market when they were first released. It was clear that the wines had potential, but the character was darker, denser, and more brooding than the blockbuster, juicy 2009's or the elegant, open-knit 2010's. I feel like I spent a lot of time contextualizing the vintage, explaining why Paso Robles shouldn't be painted with the same brush as Napa/Sonoma in this difficult vintage, and hoping people could look beyond the brooding present to what the wines promised to become. I was only partially successful, and it wasn't until we were ready to release the 2012 reds that the 2011's really started to open up. Oh, well. It meant that we stashed a higher-than-normal quantity of our top wines, and have been able to portion them out to people in recent years. There are worse problems to have.

I asked the team to vote for their favorites, and the wines that received multiple nominations cut across the spectrum that we make: Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Patelin de Tablas, Cotes de Tablas, Mourvedre, and Panoplie. That both Cotes de Tablas wines showed so well is a continuation of what we've seen time and again at these tastings. Although we think of the Cotes wines as ones to drink while we wait for the Esprits to mature, at a decade out both show consistently well. I should remember that and lay more down.

It's worth noting that nearly all of the wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and particularly so with wines that have been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that most older screwcapped whites have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant would have been welcome.

In uneven vintages, the benefits of blending are even more evident. We made less of both Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in 2011 than we did in 2010. Some of that was because there was less wine to work with, and if we'd made an equal amount of Esprit and Esprit Blanc we wouldn't have had many other wines. But more of that was our commitment to only blending the very top lots into the Esprits. And that quality really showed through in the Esprit Blanc, Esprit, and Panoplie. I think we can be proud of the process that produced those wines.

In a normal year, this tasting would be the prelude for a public event at which we would share the highlights of this tasting with wine club members and other guests. Ten years is a great duration to show the rewards of cellaring; it's enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. That's not an option this year, or at least not right now. If things continue to improve, I'm tentatively thinking of hosting our 2011 horizontal tasting this November. Fingers crossed.


The vineyard in January, from four perspectives

Over the roughly ten day break that encompassed Christmas, New Year's, and the weekends on either end, I had what I thought was a good idea for helping provide some structure to our family. At the beginning of the stretch, each of the four of us suggested two indoor activities and two outdoor activities. We then laid these 16 activities out across the vacation, taking into account closures, weather, and giving us room to take a day off if we felt overscheduled. No one got veto power, so if Sebastian (age 13) wanted the whole family to play Mario Kart... that's what we did. If Eli (age 15) wanted to get breakfast burritos in Cambria and take the dog to the beach... that was our plan for a morning. If Meghan wanted the family to watch Queen's Gambit... we did that too. It turned out to be a lot of fun. Everyone got into the spirit of it.

One of the things that I put on the list was to go out and do a photographic exploration of the vineyard. All of us, to one degree or another, enjoy taking pictures. But since we don't live on the property (we live in town) I'm the only one who's regularly out there documenting what things look like. So, on New Year's Day, we headed off around 3pm to catch the low light and the setting sun. I didn't dictate where in the vineyard everyone went, or try to keep us together, because I know that I have a handful of routes I tend to return to when I'm out taking pictures, and I didn't want that to become everyone's default. I also didn't suggest any particular content or narrative, for the same reason.

I thought that what came of the ramble was really fun. Here's a look at three of my favorite photos from each of us that we took that afternoon.

Eli (Age 15)
We'll start with this photo of one of the vineyard oak trees, with the thin wintery sun shining through some clouds behind it. Both Seb and I took very similar photos of this same tree, but I think this one is the best:

Eli - Oak tree in with winter clouds

Next, a photo of Sadie running through the vineyard. Again, I love the wintery quality of the light that Eli captured, and the manic joy of running dog:

Eli - Sadie running

Finally, a photo of a flock of birds that he caught mid-liftoff. I love the framing of this, and the fact that the whole thing, from unpruned vines to birds in flight, feels wild:

Eli - Birds over vines

Sebastian (Age 13)
I could have filled this entire blog with pictures of the dog that Seb took. But I wanted to highlight his vision of the vineyard instead, starting with this photo of one of the oak trees at the top of the property's highest hill. I love the framing of this shot, with (yes) Sadie skulking around the base.

Seb - Oak tree and Sadie

The winter light was a common theme all of us explored, in one way or another. This photo of Seb's focuses on the clouds, olive trees in the foreground reduced to silhouettes:

Seb - Winter sun
And finally a panoramic Seb took looking up from a part of the property I walk past all the time but don't believe I've ever photographed: the base of our old nursery block, where we've recently converted some shade houses to a new wine storage building (one corner of which is barely visible at the far right):

Seb - Panoramic with olive trees

Meghan
It was hard for me to pick just three of Meghan's photos. But it wasn't hard to choose this portrait of Paco the alpaca, set off against the dry-laid stone of our animal enclosure, as one of the three:

Paco January 2021

After that, Meghan mostly took pictures in black and white. I love this one of our old vineyard truck, olive trees and grapevines in the background:

Meghan - Vineyard Truck B&W

I also loved her black and white photo of Sadie, merle swirling patterns on full display, with her one blue eye glowing white as she looks up our "Scruffy Hill" block:

Meghan - Sadie B&W

Me
I tried to take some shots from perspectives I don't usually pursue. This first one is looking north through an old Roussanne block, limestone rock in the foreground, unpruned vines in the late-day sun:

Unpruned Roussanne vines and limestone rock

We've started our vineyard pruning, but that's not the only thing we trim back each winter. Our fruit trees need to be pruned too, and I loved the geometry of this one, surrounded by new Cinsaut vines that I'm also really excited about:

Newly pruned fruit tree

I took a bunch of sunset-related shots on Scruffy Hill, some of which I've already shared to our social media. But this closeup of a Grenache vine with the multi-hued sky behind, was probably my favorite:

Grenache vine on Scruffy Hill at Sunset

I'll leave you with one more photo of Meghan's, looking up the Scruffy Hill block with me and the boys at the top, each looking for our shots.

Meghan - Scruffy with J E and S B&W

Happy new year, everyone!