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June 2021

Planting Her Roots Where She Began: An Interview with Tasting Room Lead Elizabeth "Lizzie" Williams

By Ian Consoli

When sitting down with Tasting Room Lead Elizabeth Williams, there is an immediate feeling of contentedness. She has a warm personality that puts everyone around her at ease. We recognized this when she first started at Tablas Creek as she quickly grew into a full-time role and was recently promoted to lead. Lizzie's influence goes beyond the tasting room floor. She coordinates Monday tastings with local wineries, she started a Facebook group for the tasting room staff to improve our communication within the department, and she is bridging the gap between multiple departments by setting up educational outings with members of the vineyard and cellar. We are very fortunate to have her on the team.

In this interview, you will get to know Lizzie, from her time growing up in Templeton to her path to wine and more. Meet Elizabeth "Lizzie" Williams:

Who are you, and what do you do at Tablas Creek?

That's a really deep question! I'm Lizzie Williams, and I am a Tasting Room Lead. I run the check-in station, pour wine, and behind the scenes stuff. I also do most of the Virtual Tastings, which I really enjoy.

Lizzie Williams

Where did you grow up?

I grew up all over the Central Coast, but mainly in Templeton. My best memories are at my grandpa's dairy farm. There was a horse farm next to us, and I remember growing up hanging out with horses, going hunting, and playing in the riverbed.

Do you still go to the dairy farm?

My dad actually sold the property in 2018. The new owners turned it into a vineyard, and they are really nice to me. They'll give me tours every once in a while and show me how everything's changed.

Can you tell us a bit about your family?

It's big! I have eight brothers, one sister, six dogs. These days, I mainly consider my family to be my husband Christian, our dogs, and our landlord, Harold, who treats us like family.

When and how did you get into wine?

I worked at restaurants, and understanding wine helped me do better in that industry, so I started applying at wineries for a part-time job to learn more. I threw a couple of darts on the board and landed at Tablas. When I started, I knew absolutely nothing about wine. Still, I enjoyed working in an environment where I learned every day while hanging out with people on vacation. I totally switched gears from restaurants to wineries and haven't looked back.

And how did you end up working at Tablas Creek?

I was about to sign papers at another winery when I checked my spam box right before going in and realized that I had missed a message from Tablas. I called the other winery and apologized, saying I had to check out this additional opportunity before making any commitments. They asked who the other winery was, and when I told them Tablas, they just said, "good for you! That's a perfect opportunity." That made me feel really confident about exploring what Tablas had to offer.

What do you enjoy most about working at Tablas Creek?

The absolute most… I'd have to say the dogs! [Laughs] I also really enjoy how passionate everybody is about learning. The crew gets along really well, and I'm still learning, so all of it is really fun.

Lizzie Williams 2

What's your ultimate goal in the wine industry?

That's a tough one because I went in so blind that I didn't have any goals established when I started. I have found so many options that I'm open to that I just want to stick around and see where it takes me. I don't have a specific spot. I'm just enjoying the ride.

If a genie says you can work in any winery anywhere in the world, where would you pick and why?

Anywhere in the world, honestly, Creston, where I'm living now. Then I'd have a couple of other things to talk to the genie about.

What's the best bottle of wine you ever had?

I have two that are really memorable. After learning the history of Domaine de Beaucastel, I spent a good chunk on a Chateauneuf-du-Pape from 2015, and that's probably the best wine I've had. I was new in the industry, so I would like to revisit it, knowing what I know now because its complexity was a little over my head then. Secondly, the wine that really made me interested in learning about wine was Seven Oxen's Mourvèdre. That was the first wine that made me realize I wanted to know more about wine, so I'd say that was the most impactful.

If you were stuck on an island, what three things would you bring?

That's a tough one: my husband, my dogs, and tacos.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I have been venturing into a few new hobbies. I like taking old clothes from the thrift store and making them into something I like better. I have a fascination with rocks and soil science, so I have this little rock collection. I also enjoy walking on the property hanging out with the dogs. I just like simple things.

What would you like to be famous for?

I wouldn't like to be famous. That sounds like a lot of anxiety! [Laughs] I just like simple, low-key things.

Would you rather:

Cake or pie? Ice cream cake

 Breathe underwater or fly? Breathe underwater.

 New world wine or old world? Old world.

Winemaker or a viticulturist? A hundred percent viticulturist.

What else do people need to know about Lizzie Williams?

Just that I like learning, and I'm happy to be at Tablas Creek.

Lizzie Williams 3


Tasting the wines in the 2021 VINsider "Collector's Edition" shipment

Each summer, I taste through library vintages of our Esprit and Esprit Blanc to choose the wines for the upcoming VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment. We created the Collector's Edition version of our VINsider Wine Club back in 2009 to give our biggest fans a chance to see what our flagship wines were like aged in perfect conditions. Members also get a slightly larger allocation of the current release of Esprits to track as they evolve. This club gives us a chance show off our wines' ageworthiness, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

This year, our selections will be the 2013 Esprit de Tablas and the 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Although both vintages were during our recent five-year drought, the growing seasons proceeded quite differently.

2013 was still in the early stages of the drought, and while the vines set a large crop, we expended a lot of effort reducing crop levels to make sure we didn't overextend the vineyard knowing it had limited water to draw on. That was followed by a classic, warm Californian summer that combined with our reduced yields (2.66 tons/acre in the end) for our earliest-ever finish to harvest on October 7th. [You can read my recap of the 2013 vintage here.]

By 2015, the vines were really struggling, and crop levels started low and were further reduced by a very cold May, which led to a very light fruit set in our earlier grape varieties like Viognier and Syrah. The year continued in a whipsaw between significantly warmer-then-normal and cooler-than-normal months, each both of which can slow ripening, and despite the low yields and a very warm October we didn't finish picking until October 29th. Our overall yields were some of the lowest we've ever seen at 2.01 tons/acre. [My recap of the 2015 vintage can be found here.]

So, despite their drought conditions, the two vintages manifested differently. 2013 produced wines with classic flavors, dark colors, good density, and lots of spiciness. 2015 produced some of the most ethereal wines we've made, with noteworthy minerality and high-toned elegance. That said, both 2013 Esprit and 2015 Esprit Blanc showed a lovely balance of fruit and mineral, structure and openness, and richness and elegance when I tasted them today. The pair:

Collectors Edition Wines 2021

My tasting notes:

  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: Still a youthful pale gold. Elegant on the nose, with aromas of white flowers, lemongrass, beeswax, fresh pineapple, and sweet spice. The palate is lovely and translucent, with flavors of creme caramel and mint, intensely flavored but somehow weightless. The finish was clean and minerally with lingering notes of cream soda, lemon zest, and crushed rock. Because of the relatively low acid in our Roussanne lots, we used more Picpoul than we ever have in the Esprit Blanc, and I can feel its presence in the weightless tropicality. 55% Roussanne, 28% Grenache Blanc, and 17% Picpoul Blanc. Delicious now, and seems like an Esprit Blanc vintage that will sail on for decades, gradually deepening in tone with time.
  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas: A nose of graphite, dark berries, leather, and sweet pipe tobacco, with a little wintergreen spice coming out with time in the glass. On the palate, more red fruited than the nose suggested, with flavors of redcurrant and plum skin, loam, baker's chocolate and Chinese five spice. The finish is long, with notes of mocha, black tea, and chalky mineral. The tannins have softened but are still substantial. The Syrah (which we increased in percentage because it showed so well in our blending trials) was really showing today. 40% Mourvedre, 28% Syrah, 22% Grenache, and 10% Counoise. The still-substantial tannins and (to my mind) impeccable balance between fruitier and more savory elements suggest that you'll be happy whether you open it now or lay it down for additional aging.

So how have the wines changed? The flavors in the Esprit Blanc have shifted slightly in tone, deepening from new honey to something more caramelized, while retaining the high notes and weightlessness of the vintage. The flavors in the Esprit have shifted from more red-fruited to something poised between red and black, and the texture has become richer. And yet they're both still youthful enough that anyone who loved them when they were young will feel like they're visiting an old friend. And, of course, they're nowhere near the end of their lives, so collectors who like a fully mature profile can wait another decade easily. 

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is awfully exciting, at least to me, between the combination of the library vintages and the variety of new wines. I'm really loving the lush vibrancy of all the 2019s, and am excited to share some of our first of the outstanding 2020 white wines:

  • 2 bottles of 2013 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2019 Esprit de Tablas
  • 2 bottles of 2019 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2019 En Gobelet
  • 1 bottle of 2019 Syrah
  • 1 bottle of 2020 Viognier
  • 1 bottle of 2020 Grenache Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next few weeks. If you're on the waiting list, you should be receiving an email soon with news, one way or the other, of whether you've made it on for this round. We add members, once a year, in the order in which we received applications to the waiting list. If you are currently a VINsider member and interested in getting on the waiting list, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online or by giving our wine club office a call. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can sign up for the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition, with all the benefits of VINsider Wine Club membership while you're on the waiting list.

Those of you who are members, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  And thank you, as always, for your patronage. We are grateful, and don't take it for granted.


Shepherd 2.0: How Dane Jensen became Tablas Creek’s Shepherd

By Ian Consoli

When someone lists "Shepherd" on their business card, you are guaranteed one thing: this will be an interesting person. I've spoken with an abnormal amount of shepherds for a person in the 21st century. In every instance (OK, both instances) I find a common thread of commitment to the land and experimentation. What a strange concept. We have one of the oldest professions in the world, considered archaic if not dead in modern society, currently being held by some of the most innovative land managers at some of the most experimental farms in modern California. Their innovation is rooted in traditions lost to chemical applications, tractor super fleets, and manufactured fertilizers. One could argue that the ancient profession of a shepherd, with their understanding of the benefits of grazing, represents the most viable future of agriculture.

Given my excitement about the shepherd profession, I jumped at the opportunity to interview our newest shepherd at Tablas Creek. In the short time I have spent in conversation with him, I have been impressed. He has immense knowledge of grazing, a deep commitment to the land, and an understanding of how it all ties back to the health of the planet. I can't wait for you to meet him.

World, I would like to introduce you to Tablas Creek's new shepherd: Dane Jensen.

Dane Jensen's face

Please state your name and what you do here at Tablas Creek.

My name is Dane Jensen. I'm the shepherd at Tablas Creek.

 Tell us more about your family life.

My wife, Amy, also works locally in the wine industry. And I have two daughters that are three and six right now, Maebelle and Ottilie, but she goes by Potzey. We have several dogs, goats, and chickens on our little family farm. It's set up as a perfect little way to raise young children. That's been really fun.

What's the best wine you've ever had?

I had the 2019 Cotes de Tablas from Tablas Creek recently. That one really stands out.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in San Diego, California.

Did you know many shepherds growing up in San Diego?

Zero. No shepherds, no sheep until I was 26 years old, and I'm 34 now.

What got you into Shepherding?

In college, I was exposed to farming by one of my best friends. He got me into hunting first, and the meat side of hunting fascinated me. That fascination slowly evolved into farming. Once I grasped on to holistic grazing management, I realized I was super passionate about it.

What was your first exposure to holistic farming?

I had this dream of raising all my own meat and cutting out the need for money. As I dug into the reality of making that happen, I realized it all came down to grass and started to pay more attention to the nature around me. I read tons of books on the topic until I worked up the courage to beg my wife to let us buy our first couple of sheep. With those two and my continued research, I just kind of taught myself.

Were you still in San Diego at that time?

No, I lived in Templeton. We were renting a 10-acre piece of property. I had some grass to play with and I actually started with goats. I had this aspiration with goats for a long time that they would be the answer, but they're tough to work with and don't like eating grass very much. I realized sheep and any grazing animal were the answer. I'm also pretty passionate about cattle but sheep, obviously, play a lot more important role in the vineyard.

What brought you to the Central Coast?

I knew I wanted to get into farming, and being in San Diego just wasn't working. I was working construction while managing a garden, a flock of chickens, anything I could on the little piece of property we had. I had an opportunity to come and visit the Central Coast one day and was hooked. I found an opportunity to work in the cellar at a local winery and jumped on it. During that time, I had little home projects going on with sheep and goats and a couple of cows. I've always had tons of chickens and a pretty big garden, trying to grow as much of my own food as I can for my family.

How did you end up at Tablas Creek?

When we had our first child, we decided it was best if I stayed home while my wife kept working. When it was time to go back to work, I started seeking jobs in agriculture. I started working at an olive ranch with sheep, giving me my first taste of real work in agriculture. From there, I got the ranch manager position at Rangeland wines. That was the bulk of my land management experience as far as grazing sheep and cattle. After a few years, I was offered the shepherd position here at Tablas Creek and took it.

How are you liking the job so far?

I'm loving it. Everybody's really nice. I have the creative freedom to try new things instead of sticking to one conventional view of getting the job done. We're able to experiment, try new things, and they really encourage us to be creative, which is awesome. It's just kind of a blessing.

Dane Jensen 3

What excites you most about what we're doing here at Tablas Creek?

The commitment to organic and biodynamic, and all these things that we genuinely believe in. We're not throwing these things to the wayside because they're time-consuming or because they're expensive, or because there's a lack of public interest. Everybody is willing to sacrifice little things and costs to stick with the original plan, the original dream. I've seen so many places start out organic and quickly give up because it seems like too much work. Not Tablas. Tablas has been doing the work for a long time before I got here, and they're going to be doing it for a long time into the future.

What are you most excited about in your new role?

I'm most excited about all the new projects that we can get into. If I really put my creative thoughts to paper, those thoughts will be encouraged. I've got a few things swirling around in my head that I've talked to Neil and Jordy about, and they're always excited to hear it. We're so open to outside-the-box thinking and being those outliers in agriculture, whether it's multi-species grazing, adding new ways of building soil or applying manure in different ways.

Could you share one of your new ideas?

Right now, we're working on our bio-char program. It's really a cool way to capture carbon out of the atmosphere and use it to the soil's benefit. Now we need a way to activate it with nitrogen. That's where my brain starts thinking about animal application. I want to build a chicken coop with a deep bedding of biochar where chickens can lay their manure, creating a nitrogen-rich layer with plenty of micro bacteria ready to be applied in the vineyard. I feel like animal impaction on the land is the quickest, healthiest way to build good organic topsoil.

Closing thoughts?

I think exciting things are going to happen. There are silly things that I would write down in a journal when I was first learning about holistic land management that I had forgotten about while working in conventional environments the past few years. Now, a lot of those ideas are coming back to the surface. Silly ideas from the past that everybody here is like, why wouldn't that work? You know? And, and if it doesn't, who cares? At least we tried. That's really encouraging for the future.

Dane Jensen 1


Obscure Pairings: Terret Noir and Lebanese Meatballs

[Editor’s Note: We would like to introduce Troy Tucker to the Tablas Creek blog audience. Troy has worked in our tasting room for the past year while operating multiple wine endeavors of his own. One of those is as the proprietor of Terroir to You, a wine and pairing service that brings the restaurant pairing experience to your home. He’s always thinking of pairings to share, and we are grateful that these often include Tablas Creek. This is his first contribution in a planned series highlighting food pairings for the varietal bottlings of some of our obscure grapes.]

By Troy Tucker

A couple of weeks ago, I gathered anyone that would listen into the staff kitchen at Tablas Creek for a recipe experiment. I had been pondering a pairing between our 100% Terret Noir and Lebanese lamb meatballs and wanted to test it out on our team. The pairing, and the experience, worked out even better than I had imagined.

A room full of wine people sharing their thoughts on a wine and food pairing is, quite literally, my happy place. I wanted that moment to continue, so I thought I would share how this moment came to be.

It all began during a phone conversation, when a fellow advocate of wine asked me if I needed anything from Whole Foods. He was picking up ingredients to make lamb meatballs. At the time, I happened to be studying Northern Italian wines while drinking a 2018 Nebbiolo from the Langhe – and BOOM! It hit me! The wine nerd/foodie in me took over and I answered my friend, yes please, pick me up an extra pound of ground lamb also.

I began thinking about the structure of Nebbiolo and why it pairs so well with lamb: the wine has acidity that cuts through meat’s richness, tannins that the protein in the meat can attach to, and subtle notes of spice that often plays well with those used in lamb preparations. All I needed now was a way to bridge the fruit. Since Nebbiolo is known for its red-fruited profile, I rummaged through my cabinets for something, anything appropriate. Cranberry sauce was the winner.

I Googled a few lamb meatball recipes, finding this Lebanese style lamb meatballs recipe with cinnamon and allspice (there’s my spice bridge) that sounded delicious. (Author’s note: the recipe calls for 1 whole medium onion, this felt like too much, and in future renditions I stuck to ½ onion). After all was said and done, the pairing turned out to be absolutely incredible!

A few days later, I tasted one of the more obscure varieties from Tablas, the 2019 Tablas Creek Terret Noir. As soon as that wine touched my palate, comparisons to the Nebbiolo and lamb meatballs it paired so perfectly with started flashing through my mind. Like Nebbiolo, Terret Noir is red fruited, high-acid, and floral, with subtle spice and integrated tannin.

I took a bottle home to share and pair with another batch of Lebanese lamb meatballs. It turned out to be a trial with no error. A perfect match! My taste buds were in paradise and before I knew it, I was making another batch in the Tablas Creek kitchen. 😊

Troy Tucker