Previous month:
January 2021

Paso Robles is Insanely Beautiful Right Now

I took a walk yesterday across Las Tablas Creek and up the section of our property that we're calling Jewel Ridge, named after a great old vineyard dog who we buried there. This is the parcel that we bought a decade ago, knowing that we wouldn't need it for five years at least, because land this good, contiguous with our property, doesn't come on the market according to your schedule. So, we bought it, and have spent the last decade building up the soils, using it as a convenient staging zone for our flock when they can't be in the vineyard, and slowly mapping out the new blocks. A quick panoramic from the top, looking west, will give you an overview:

IMG_7185 2

You can see how green things are getting after the foot of rain we received in late January. This view, looking under one of the walnut trees that we kept (the whole property was a dry-farmed walnut orchard when we bought it) shows it even more clearly. The stakes you see are for us to plant later this winter.

IMG_7182
The ridgetop has spectacular views on three sides, and also looks to us like some of the best vineyard land in the area. We've already planted some Mourvedre and Grenache. The whole property will be head-trained and dry-farmed, following the model that we've loved so much on our Scruffy Hill parcel.

IMG_7192 2

Almost the entire property is steep, with slopes as much as 30%. That's a bit of a challenge for farming, but nothing we haven't figured out already. This view of the east-facing slope of Jewel Ridge is representative. 

IMG_7169

The highlight of the property is a west-facing natural amphitheater. I took the panoramic photo I shared first looking straight west over that bowl, but because of the panoramic distortion it's hard to see the land's curves. This shot of Sadie halfway down the slope maybe shows it more clearly:

IMG_7184

Another perspective, looking south across the top of the bowl, gives you a different slice. You can see some of the vines we planted last year, tied to the stakes in the middle ground. We hope to get our first small crop off this parcel in 2023.

IMG_7207

As I was walking back, I caught this photo of the moon rising over the west slope of Jewel Ridge. The colors at this time of year (deep blue sky, occasional puffy white clouds, cream-colored rocks, dark brown vines, and bright yellow-green cover crop) is my favorite. 

IMG_7213

One of the appeals of the property to us was the lake that the previous owner's father created in the 1950s by damming up Las Tablas Creek. In the long term, we're exploring how we might use this water to frost protect more of the property. In the short term, it's a lovely spot, with ducks swimming on the surface: 

IMG_7219

Finally, maybe my favorite shot of the day, looking up from the creekbed toward our established vineyard, Sadie posing pastorally:

IMG_7225

We're excited that we've been able to start welcoming guests back to our tasting patio in the last month. If you're planning a trip to Paso Robles in the coming weeks, you're in for a treat.


Tasting the Wines in the Spring 2021 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 a wine that may see a later national release.  About six weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments. In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling reintroduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming months and years. I always think it's fun to give followers of the blog a first look at these notes.

The shipments that will be going out in March include wines from the 2018, 2019, and 2020 vintages. Tasting three vintages together is a great way to get a handle on their relative personalities, and typically my first chance to do a personality assessment on the newest vintage, which we haven't even started blending trials on yet. My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are these:

  • 2018 is noteworthy for its vibrancy. It's a vintage where we knew the whites would be great, with lovely freshness and minerality. We're coming to realize that this profile is just as valuable for the reds, emphasizing the purity of the fruit and producing elegant, balanced wines with beautiful varietal expressiveness.
  • The 2019s show a lovely combination of density and balance, with concentration reminiscent of a year like 2014 or 2017, but slightly higher acids and more overt minerality than either. It's a vintage that offers something for everyone, and seems likely to go down as one of our best-ever years.
  • Finally, 2020, as much as one can tell from tasting two wines, seems to turn up the textural volume even a little on 2019, but without sacrificing either freshness or varietal purity.

I'll start with the classic mixed shipment, and then move on to the additional wines available in the red wine selection and white wine selection shipments. I was joined for the tasting by most of our cellar team: Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm, and Cellar Assistants Austin Collins and Amanda Weaver.

Spring 2021 Shipment Tasting Group

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

2020 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our nineteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottled in January, under screwcap.
  • Tasting Notes: An absolutely classic Vermentino nose of lime zest and the ocean, with sweeter notes of honeydew and white flowers underneath. The palate shows a somewhat richer texture than normal at this very young stage, with flavors of lemon drop and key lime pie, and briny sea spray minerality. A sweet, tangy lemongrass note lingers on the long, textured finish. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1350 cases.

2019 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: Roussanne yields recovered from the exceptionally low levels we saw in 2018, and the 1300 cases we made as a varietal wine was double what we were able to make the year before. But the larger quantity didn't mean that the Roussanne was any less intense; to the contrary, it's some of the best, most classic Roussanne we've seen. We chose lots for our varietal bottling that came roughly 55% from foudre, 35% from neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques. The selected lots were blended in April 2020 then aged in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
  • Tasting Notes: A powerful nose of lacquered wood, new honey, brioche, and pear skin, instantly recognizable as Roussanne. The palate is broad and textured, with flavors of honeycomb and vanilla custard, pineapple core and a slight tropicality like a salted mango. A little sweet oak comes out on the long finish, with a mandarin pith note keeping the classic flavors of honey and pear fresh. The wine has only been in bottle for a few months, but it's already drinking well. Drink in the next 3 or 4 years for a more luscious, fruit-driven experience, or hold it for 8-15 years for a flavor profile of caramel, wet rocks, and hazelnut.
  • Production: 1300 cases

2020 DIANTHUS

  • Production Notes: For our Dianthus rosé, whose name was chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers, we aim for a style between that of Tavel (deeper pink, based on Grenache) and Bandol (less skin contact, based on Mourvedre). This year's blend is 48% Mourvèdre, 37% Grenache and 15% Counoise, bled off or pressed off after 24-36 hours on the skins. Because of the relatively early finish to the 2020 harvest, we were able to get the wine fermented (all in stainless steel) and ready for bottling in late January. This is a deeply colored, flavorful rosé, ideal with complex, powerful foods.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely orange-pink color. The nose shows powerful wild strawberry, mint, and pink peppercorn aromas. The palate shows lush texture, tangy yellow plum, and a powerful rose petal florality characteristic of Mourvedre rosés. It's luscious but also vibrant, with a hint of plum skin tannin keeping control over a finish with intense flavors of yellow raspberries, sweet herbs, and rose hips. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious.  Drink before the end of 2022.
  • Production: 1270 cases

2018 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our seventeenth bottling of this traditional varietal from South-West France, known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Tannat typically has intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging. As we do many years, we blended in our small harvest of Cabernet Sauvignon, making the wine is 97% Tannat and 3% Cabernet. We aged it in one foudre and a mix of new and older smaller barrels for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2020, and then aged it another 10 months in bottle before release. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, black cherry, wood smoke, Worcestershire sauce, sweet licorice and brambly spice. The mouth is dense and savory, with flavors of black licorice and eucalyptus, blackberry, black tea, and dark chocolate truffle. A lovely saline mineral note comes out on the finish with plum skin tannins and cedary spice. Relatively elegant and approachable for a Tannat at this stage. A wine to drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 1280 cases

2018 LE COMPLICE

  • Production Notes: Just the third vintage of our newest red blend, which celebrates the kinship between Syrah (60%) and the wildly interesting grape Terret Noir (15%). Although Syrah is dark and Terret light, both share wild herby black spice, and Terret's high acids bolster Syrah's tendency toward stolidity. Le Complice means, roughly, "partner in crime". We added some Grenache (25%) for mid-palate fleshiness. The wine was blended in June of 2019, aged in foudre, bottled in April 2020, and has been aging in our cellars since.
  • Tasting Notes: A savory, herby dark nose of black pepper, pancetta, sweet tobacco, and sandalwood. On the palate, more vibrant than the nose suggests at this stage, with tangy black raspberry, smoky black tea, bitter chocolate, and a cranberry-like crunchiness that is refreshing and appealing. Good acids and youthful tannins suggest that the wine will drink well for two decades or more.
  • Production: 830 cases

2018 PANOPLIE

  • Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always giving pride of place to Mourvedre's lovely dark red fruit and distinctive combination of loam, earthiness, and meat. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2019. Although Mourvedre as always represents by far the largest percentage (64%) of Panoplie, in this relatively elegant, high-toned vintage, we preferred a relatively high percentage of Syrah (24%) for black fruit, density, and tannic richness and less Grenache (12%) for sweet spice and vibrancy. The wine was bottled in July 2020 and has been aging in our cellars since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep, lovely Beaucastel-like nose of dark red currant fruit, sweet Middle Eastern spices, pomegranate reduction, and a graphite-like minerality. The mouth is luscious but still vibrant, with flavors of dark cherry, blood orange, and chocolate cake with raspberry reduction. The wine has rich texture, with loamy earth, clove spice, and baker's chocolate. The finish lasted a full minute, reverberating between red and black licorice, with sweet spice lingering at the end. A delicious wine with a long life ahead; we predict two decades of life, easily.
  • Production: 850 cases

There are three additional wines (2019 Viognier, 2019 Marsanne, and the 2016 Esprit de Tablas Blanc) as well the 2020 Vermentino and two bottles of 2019 Roussanne in the white wine selection:

2019 MARSANNE

  • Production Notes: Marsanne is best known from the northern Rhone, particularly the famed appellation of Hermitage, where it produces wines of legendary elegance and ageworthiness. The 2019 vintage, for whatever reason, produced our most textured, Hermitage-like Marsanne ever, another indication that it was a tremendous vintage overall. We fermented it in the new 600-gallon foudres for a balance of richness and a little sweet oak, then chose the lots for our varietal bottling, returned it to large wood for a few more months, and bottled it in June 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: An intense Marsanne nose of Charentais melon,, sweet straw, lemongrass and citrus blossom. On the palate, sweet tropical fruit that reminded me of lychee and ripe kiwi. The finish showed white flowers and tropical honey, solid acidity, and lingering tropical fruit. I think this is the best Marsanne we've ever made, with the texture, fruit, and acidity all up a notch from what we normally see. It's so appealing now that I'm guessing a lot of it will get drunk young, but it should evolve in an interesting way for a decade at least.
  • Production: 340 cases

2019 VIOGNIER

  • Production Notes: Viognier, known more from the northern Rhone than the area around Chateauneuf du Pape, tends to thrive in cooler years. So, you might think that the intensity from the relatively warm 2019 vintage would have made Viognier unpleasantly heavy or floral. You would be wrong. Instead, the cool first half of the growing season appears to have emphasized its freshness, and with the grape's characteristic stone fruit and white flowers balanced by an unusual (for Viognier) citrus zest flavor and better-than-usual acids. As usual, we pressed our Viognier grapes whole cluster at harvest and fermented the juice in stainless steel, then selected lots for our varietal bottling in April 2020 and bottled in June 2020 in screwcap, to preserve its brightness.
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, new honey, jasmine, and honeydew melon, held in check by tangier aromas of nectarine and citrus leaf. The mouth shows flavors of white peach and keffir lime, with a lively finish of coconut, chalky minerality, and a hint of citrus zest. Drink now and over the next five years.
  • Production: 480 cases

2016 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: We love Roussanne (and the Roussanne-based Esprit Blanc) with a few years in bottle to let the grape's classic honey flavors to deepen to show more crème brulée and nuttiness, and so stashed a few pallets of our 2016 Esprit Blanc on release for our White Wine Selection club members. The classic 2016 vintage was a tremendous one for Roussanne, and we ended our blending trials tied for the most Roussanne we'd ever used in the Esprit Blanc (75%, fermented and aged in a mix of small newer barrels and neutral foudres). 18% Grenache Blanc and 7% Picpoul Blanc provide citrusy acidity and saline freshness. We returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in April 2017 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2017. It has been aging in bottle since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Esprit Blanc nose of poached pear and honeysuckle, vanilla custard and chalky minerality. The flavors are starting to deepen to crème caramel, lemon meringue, baked apple, and just the first hint of hazelnut complexity. The wine's rich texture is kept in check with a hint of tannin likely from the Grenache Blanc, leaving a finish of honey, saline minerality, and sweet spice. Still young and powerful, but on its way to a future of nuttiness and minerality. Drink over the next few years, or cellar for a wonderful and different experience for up to two decades.
  • Production: 2070 cases

Two additional reds (the 2019 Counoise and 2019 Grenache) join the 2018 Panoplie, 2018 Le Complice, and two bottles of 2018 Tannat in the red wine selection:

2019 COUNOISE

  • Production Notes: Valued as a blending grape in France because of its spiciness, its fresh acidity, and its low alcohol, Counoise is rarely seen on its own. But we love being able to share one, and suggest you enjoy it much as you might a Cru Beaujolais: slightly chilled, with charcuterie or as an aperitif. We tend to ferment our Counoise lots in stainless steel to protect it from oxidation, and to age it in neutral oak to avoid weighing down its bright fruit flavors. The lots that we chose for our varietal Counoise were selected and blended in June 2020 and bottled in February 2021, under screwcap to preserve its freshness.   
  • Tasting Notes: Darker than many vintages of Counoise, the wine shows a nose of cranberry and clove-studded orange, spicy and lifted. The mouth is lively with flavors of raspberry and cherry, a sweet wintergreen note, and bright acids that smooth out into a spicy wild strawberry and red licorice finish. A pretty and intriguing wine that should be endlessly flexible with food. Enjoy it any time in the next six to eight years.
  • Production: 460 cases

2019 GRENACHE

  • Production Notes: Grenache yields were down sharply in 2019 as the grape suffered losses from shatter (incomplete fertilization) from cool, windy weather at flowering. But the Grenache that we received was lovely: intensely fruity but also more structured than it is in many vintages, with good acids and plenty of tannin. 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 2020 and aged in neutral oak until its bottling in February 2021.
  • Tasting Notes: A wild, brambly nose showing raspberry liqueur, potpourri, and a sweet, exotic Chinese five spice note. The mouth shows cassis and fresh cherry, lively acids, and a finish of wild strawberries with notes of sweet red licorice, minty eucalyptus, and star anise. If you prefer your reds crunchy and vibrant, don't feel bad about opening it young. If you prefer to wait for more subtle flavors, drink any time in the next six-to-ten years.
  • Production: 455 cases

If you're a wine club member, you should make your plans to join us for our virtual pickup party. In these times of Covid, we aren't able to safely hold our normal shipment tasting at the winery, but Neil and I will lead people through a live tasting through the shipment the evening of Friday, April 16th. We'll have Chef Jeff Scott join us to share recipes. And we're even planning to offer packs of the six classic shipment wines rebottled into 187ml bottles so you can open the wines and taste along with us. We'll have details 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 up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club

Spring 2021 Shipment Tasting Wines


Revisiting the 2001 Roussanne and the Beginning of the Tablas Creek Varietal Program

2001 Roussanne on Patio

The original model for Tablas Creek was that we were going to make one red wine and one white wine, with the thought that when the vineyard had matured, we might make a reserve-level white and red as well. We named our first wines Tablas Creek Blanc and Tablas Creek Rouge.

Within a few years, we'd come to the conclusion that this simple model was a mistake, for two reasons. First, it didn't give the market much help in figuring out what the wines were. Sure, the Rouge was red. And the Blanc was white. But other than providing elementary French lessons, that didn't help a consumer trying to figure out what was in those wines, or what they would taste like. In an era where blends from California didn't yet have a category on most shelves or wine lists, that was two strikes against us at the start. Second, and more importantly, having just one red and one white didn't give us any flexibility in putting the wines together. If using everything threw off the balance between the varietals, or a lot didn't have the character we wanted, our only option was to sell off those lots. That's a painful choice to make, and although we did it from time to time, usually the blends ended up containing something close to the full production of that color from that year.

Things started to change for us in 1999. We made the decision during the blending of that vintage to pull out a couple of Grenache lots that were juicy but also quite alcoholic and tannic from our main blend, blended them with a little Syrah and Mourvedre, and called the wine "Petite Cuvée". That allowed us to shift our main red blend to be heavier on Mourvedre and feature a richer, lusher profile. We called that "Reserve Cuvée".

The next year, we added a third blend from three remarkable barrels, called it Panoplie, and renamed the two blends we'd made the year before. Petite Cuvée became Cotes de Tablas, referencing the usually Grenache-based wines of Cotes du Rhone, while the Reserve Cuvée became Esprit de Beaucastel, connecting its Mourvedre-driven profile with that of Beaucastel and making our connection with our partners more explicit. And with the 2001 vintage, we applied that same model to the whites, making our first vintage of Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc. We were able to be selective with the Esprit tier, make better wines than before, and get recognition for that from press and collectors. We were able to sell the Cotes tier at a price that restaurants could pour by the glass, and get exposure to new customers. As I wrote last year in my reflections on our 30th anniversary, these changes were a big part of helping us get ourselves established in the marketplace. But as anyone who has counted the 25+ wines that we now make each year will realize, that's not the end of the story.

It turned out that each year there were some lots that were so evocative of an individual grape that it seemed a shame to blend that character away. The first time we acted on this nagging feeling was 2001, when my dad identified two Roussanne barrels while tasting through the cellar in advance of that year's blending. He made the executive decision that we should bottle them alone and we'd be able to figure out how to sell them. It was, after all, only 50 cases. And it turned out that with the opening of our tasting room in 2002, it was valuable having something that was not available in distribution for the people who made the trek out to see us, and even more valuable having a varietal bottling of this grape that was still new to most of our visitors, so they could start to wrap their heads around it. The label has my dad's typically dense, complete description of the selection process on its back:

TCV_2001_Roussanne_RGB_Full
And the wine itself has always been compelling. I have a vivid memory of a dinner I hosted in 2004 or 2005 where, when this 2001 Roussanne was opened on the other side of the room, the whole gathering stopped what they were doing and looked over because the room had filled with the aroma of honeysuckle. But it had been years since I opened one, and so I pulled a bottle out of our library yesterday to check in, and invited our winemaking team to join me. It was amazing.

2001 Roussanne on Limestone Rock

My tasting notes from yesterday:

A lovely gold color in the glass, still tinged with Roussanne's typical hint of green. The nose shows sugar cookies and lemon curd, warm honeycomb and cinnamon stick. On the palate, dense and lush with flavors of spun sugar and candied ginger. Someone around the table called it "liquid flan". And as sweet as all those descriptors make it sound, it was dry, with just enough acid to keep it fresh without taking away from the wine's lushness. The finish had notes of graham cracker, dried straw, and vanilla custard. Neil called it "an exceptional moment for an exceptional bottle".

With this wine as the starting point, we added new varietals most vintages in the 2000's, each time when we found lots that evoked the grape particularly vividly. Syrah, Counoise, Tannat, Grenache Blanc, and Vermentino debuted in 2002. Mourvedre, Viognier, and Picpoul saw their first vintages in 2003. Grenache came on in 2006, and Marsanne completed the list of our original imports in 2010. Once we started getting the obscure Chateauneuf du Pape grapes out of quarantine and into production in the 2010s, those made their debuts as varietal bottlings: Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir in 2013, Picardan in 2016, and Bourboulenc, Vaccarese, and Cinsaut in 2019. These wines have proven to be fascinating for us, and great tools to share the potential and diversity of the Rhone pantheon with our wine club members and other visitors to the winery.

But it all started here, in 2001, with two barrels of Roussanne. To know that two decades later that first-ever Tablas Creek varietal wine is not just still alive but a shining testament to the potential of this grape in this place is pretty darn cool.


After a Foot of Rain, the Green Comes Fast

Normally, early February is already notably green. In a typical year, we'd get our first rain in November sometime, with more every week or two through December and January. By this time, you'd expect it to look something like this photo below, taken in early February of 2019:

Green Scruffy Hill February 2019

Not so much, this year. You can see in the photos that I shared in my blog recapping last week's storm that it was almost entirely brown still in the vineyard. The roughly inch and a half of rain we'd received wasn't enough to germinate either the native seeds or the cover crop we'd planted. But with over a foot of rain last Tuesday through Friday, and mostly sunny weather since, the vineyard's transformation from brown to green is happening fast. Here are a few photos that will give you a sense. First, a shot looking up down and back up between two rows of Grenache Blanc toward the western part of the vineyard:

Crosshairs new Green

A little further west, in a head-trained Grenache block, a similar carpet is appearing:

IMG_6818
On a steeper part of the same vineyard block, you can see how we pull the Yeoman's Plow across the slope to slow the flow of water downhill and encourage absorption rather than surface flow:

Head trained vines with yeomans plow lines
A longer view of that same block shows the new green growth even more clearly:   

Crosshairs head trained new green

Despite our late start, I'm not worried that we'll miss out on a significant amount of the organic matter that the cover crops create. Even in a normal year, December and January aren't great months for cover crop growth, with their regularly below-freezing nights and short days. It's not until late February, as the days get longer and warmer, that the cover crop really gets going. But from here on out, I expect the view to change by the day. Annual plants in California are always in a hurry to take advantage of the rainy season to build root and leaf systems, create carbohydrates, and then go to seed, all before the summer's heat and dry conditions take over. The rain may have come a couple of months late, but the cover crops are going to look like they're trying to make up for lost time. And views like this last one, looking at the setting sun through our olive trees, are only going to get greener by the day.

Sunset Olive Trees and New Green

I look forward to sharing the ongoing transformation with you.