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Harvest 2021 begins slowly after an unusually cool August stretch

On Monday, we brought in our first purchased grapes, just over nine tons of Viognier from Derby Estate destined for our 2021 Patelin de Tablas Blanc. On Tuesday, we got our first estate fruit, three and a half tons of our own Viognier and (surprise!) half a ton of Roussanne that we cherry-picked off the ripest vines to keep from losing it to birds, squirrels, or raisins. Vineyard Manager David Maduena, starting his 30th harvest here at Tablas Creek, brings in the last few clusters:

David bringing in Viognier clusters

And with that, the 2021 harvest began. No wonder our cellar team was ready to celebrate, first in the winery:

Cellar Crew Celebrating Beginning of Harvest 2021

And later, with our annual beginning-of-harvest sabering and toast:

Toast after Harvest 2021 Sabering

And now, we wait. This feels very different than last year's harvest, even though it started just one day earlier. Unlike 2020, when it got hot in early August and really never cooled down until we were done picking, after six more-or-less average weeks between early July and mid-August, we've eased into a period of more than a week with high temperatures 10 to 20 degrees cooler than average for this time of year:

Daily High Temperatures July-August 2021 vs Normal

I'll share a few photos of the unusual weather. First, one photo of the fog sitting thick above some head-trained, dry-farmed syrah vines in our "Scruffy Hill" block:

Syrah in the Fog on Scruffy Hill

Or this long view looking down through a trellised Mourvedre section, grapes already deep red though we're at least six weeks away from harvesting them:

Long View of Mourvedre on Nipple Flat in Harvest Fog
If you're used to seeing pictures from wine regions more open to the Pacific (think the Sonoma Coast, or Santa Maria Valley, or Carneros) then fog while grapes are ripe on the vine may not seem surprising. But Paso Robles is different. The Santa Lucia Mountains are unbroken to our west at around 3,000 feet, meaning that fog has to travel 100 miles south up the Salinas Valley to even reach town (elevation 700 feet). That happens a few mornings each month. But we're not in town. To get those additional 10 miles west to us, the fog has to either come from town across a 2,000 foot ridge, or be so thick that it just comes over the coastal mountains. That happens just a few days each summer, and typically burns off within a few hours of sunrise. Over the last week, we had two separate days where the marine layer was so thick that it never burned off, and several others where it took until late morning. That is the first time since 2011 that I can remember this happening. One more photo, looking up through the grenache vines on Scruffy Hill: 

Looking up at Grenache in the Fog on Scruffy Hill

Before you start worrying, this cool weather is not going to have any negative impacts on the 2021 harvest. To the contrary, this pause allows the vines to muster strength for the finishing push. It also delays the point at which the vines have been under so much stress that they show signs of virus or other maladies. Now if we thought that it was going to stay like this for another month, we might start to worry. But that's not going to happen. We'll be back into the upper 80s today, and 90s over the weekend before it's forecast to cool back down early next week. All this is a more normal pattern than the unbroken heat that we've seen the last couple of vintages. And it sets the stage for a more spaced-out harvest than we saw in 2020, when we took just six weeks to finish what normally comes in nine. That's something all of us are looking forward to.

Whats next? We're using this time to do a thorough sampling of all our early blocks. It seems like we might get a little more Viognier next week. We'll be looking at Vermentino, the Pinot Noir at my mom's, and maybe even some Syrah, though that's probably not going to start coming in until week-after-next. And we'll be enjoying the lovely harvest aromas of fermenting Viognier in the cellar, and thinking back on this unusual August respite where we had to break out the long sleeves two months before we'd normally expect to. It's just the beginning, but it's been a good beginning.

Owl box in harvest fog

A Maine Summer Dinner and Pairing: Fresh Cod and Esprit Blanc

Earlier this summer, we took an extended vacation to New England. I'm from Vermont, and long-time readers of the blog will know that my parents would always go back for the summer and fall to the 1806-era farmhouse that I grew up in. My mom still does. My sister and her husband converted the barn of that farmhouse (which was in one iteration the office for the importing company my dad founded, Vineyard Brands) into a home for their family to live in. So, this summer trip back is a chance to bask in family, give our boys the chance to spend time with their cousins, and soak up some welcome moisture and green mountainsides in the middle of what always feels like a long, hot, dry summer here. After not being able to travel back last summer, we extended this year's trip to a full month, and created a mini-vacation within that Vermont trip by renting a house on the water in Maine for a week. It was lovely.

To someone from California, the difference between Vermont and Maine may seem minimal, but it's not. If Vermont is the New England equivalent of Lake Tahoe, Maine is its Mendocino. And nowhere is that distinction so clear as in the food, where Vermont focuses on fresh produce and local cheeses while Maine's specialty is seafood. We did the requisite oceanside lobster rolls, but Maine seafood is more than just lobster. The rocky coasts and cold, clean water make an amazing source for everything from oysters to crab to the New England staple, cod. And it was in searching for a great cod recipe that we stumbled upon one of our trip's culinary highlights: a simple but delicious recipe we found in the New York Times Cooking app for One-Pan Roasted Fish with Cherry Tomatoes

We made a few alterations to the recipe. We found good local slicing tomatoes, which we chopped roughly instead of using cherries. We didn't have any fresh mint to hand, so we used fresh basil. And the starch that we had was some local new potatoes. But the result was delicious. Note the nautical chart placemats, which I think are a required purchase for any guest house on the Atlantic Ocean:

Esprit Blanc and Cod

The recipe calls for a teaspoon of honey, which got me thinking about Roussanne for a pairing. What I had to hand was the 2019 Esprit de Tablas Blanc that we'll be releasing this fall. [For my detailed tasting notes on it, check out my blog from last week about the upcoming Fall 2021 VINsider Wine Club shipments.] I was a little worried that the sweetness of the honey and that of the ripe tomatoes was going to be too much for the wine. I couldn't have been happier to be wrong. The creaminess of the fish, still moist but flaking apart easily, combined with the lightly roasted tomatoes to make an amazing pairing for the rich, textural character of the wine. The saline notes on its finish seemed to speak to both where we were and where the fish had been just a few days before. The honey wasn't noticeable in the food, but it emphasized the honeyed Roussanne character of the wine. We cleaned our plates, finished the bottle, and dredged the potatoes through the sauce it made, wanting more.

There are times where you stumble on the perfect wine, for the perfect meal, in the perfect place. This was one of those dinners. But the recipe was so easy, and would be so adaptable to different fish, different tomatoes, different starches, that it's going to be a regular in our arsenal going forward. If you make it, try it with a bottle of Esprit Blanc. It was magical.

Tasting the Wines in the Fall 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 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 Winemakers Neil Collins and Chelsea Franchi and we dove into this fall's collection.

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 three (we think, really terrific) varietal wines, one red and two white, and our small-production En Gobelet blend, selected entirely from our head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard blocks. We think it's one of the most compelling classic shipments we've ever put together, and I think the additions to the red wine and white wine selections are exciting. I'm excited to get them in our members' hands soon.  

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Fall 2021 VINsider Shipment - Classic


  • Production Notes: Although our overall yields were low in 2020, Grenache and Grenache Blanc were the exception, and we were able to make a bit more of our 100% Grenache Blanc than normal. The warm 2020 growing season gave us a diversity of options between richer, more caramel-tinged lots and brighter citrusy ones. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose to split the stylistic difference, with some lots fermented in stainless steel (for energy) and other from foudre (for roundness). The lots were blended in May 2021 and bottled under screwcap the next month.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely nose of quince, fresh pineapple, wet rocks, and gardenia florality. On the palate, on point between brighter and lusher elements: mouth-filling with flavors of green apple and a hint of butterscotch, with vibrant acids and a Meyer lemon pithy bite keeping the finish precise. Absolutely Grenache Blanc in character and one of our favorite vintages ever. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1074 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: The heat in 2020 didn't really hit until August, and the Viognier lots from that year seemed to reflect the cool June-July more than the very warm harvest season. We noted during blending the unusual vibrancy in Viognier, and love the resulting wine, which balances the grape's classic stone fruit and honey flavors with brighter-than-usual acids. All the Viognier lots were whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then the chosen lots blended in May 2021 and bottled in June. 
  • Tasting Notes: A nose of peaches and pineapple core, sweet green herbs and lemongrass. The palate is nicely balanced, clean and precise, with flavors of nectarine and mandarin and medium body. The finish is long and bright, delicately herby with lingering stone fruit flavors. Just how we like Viognier, with none of the cloying heaviness it can be prone to. Drink now and over the next five years.
  • Production: 693 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28


  • Production Notes: The more we come to know 2019 the more convinced we are that it will go down as one of our best-ever vintages. That gave us a range of options for the Esprit Blanc during blending. The vintage's power and density was most evident in Roussanne (63%, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages). To that core, we added a little less Grenache Blanc than normal (just 20%) and increased Picpoul (14%) to give extra vibrancy and tropical notes to both nose and palate. 3% Picardan rounds out the blend and emphasizes the minerality. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in May 2020 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2020 and letting it rest an additional 9 months in bottle before release.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely, creamy nose of wildflower honey, sweet baking spices, citrus pith, and briny minerality. The mouth is textured and dry, with both the richness and essence of egg custard, flavors of quince and pear, and a long finish with echoing honey, fresh vanilla bean, and limestone mineral notes. A powerful, textured Esprit Blanc that is drinking well now but which we expect will really shine with time in the cellar. Drink over the next two decades.
  • Production: 2250 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

2019 SYRAH

  • Production Notes: After no varietal Syrah in 2018, when it all got snapped up by our blends to give density and power to the more elegant year, the 2019 vintage's more structured character meant that the blends needed less Syrah and we were able to save enough out to bottle it as a varietal wine. All the lots showed the grape's characteristic black olive, black pepper, blackberry, and smoke aromas, and its plush mouthfeel, with the iron fist of Syrah tannins cloaked in dark fruit. For our varietal bottling we selected a mix of lots from newer and older oak, then blended them in June 2020 and aged the wine together in one 1200-gallon oak foudre and some smaller barrels until bottling in April 2021.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep, brooding nose of blackberry thicket, graphite, teriyaki marinating meat, and iodine. The palate is intensely concentrated without feeling at all heavy: blackcurrant and iron, with plush tannins that provide significant grip. A long finish with lingering flavors of black raspberry and chalky minerality completes the picture. This should drink well for two decades or more.
  • Production: 712 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32


  • Production Notes: Our twelfth 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 2019 the wine shows plenty of power and density. We chose a blend of 37% Grenache, 33% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah, 8% Counoise, and just 2% Tannat, as the wine had enough structure that it didn't need much of Tannat's tannic power. The wine was blended in June of 2020, aged in foudre, and bottled in April 2021.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep red fruit nose with Mourvedre's classic meaty richness deepened by a warm spice reminiscent of Mexican chocolate, all leavened by a juniper savory minty note. On the palate, vibrant with tangy, salty flavors of redcurrant and mocha. The long, red-fruited, richly tannic finish suggests some time in the cellar will be rewarded. Serious and built for the long term; wait six months if you can, and then drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 910 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44


  • Production Notes: As always, the Esprit is based on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (39%). In this blockbuster vintage, we found that a relatively high percentage of the higher-acid Grenache (30%) and Counoise (10%) and a bit less Syrah than normal (21%) produced something both deep and elegant, with warm spices and a lovely loamy earthy umami character. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2020 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2021.
  • Tasting Notes: A deep nose, with brooding aromas of cassis and bay leaf, with sweeter notes of licorice reverberating between black and red coming out with time. On the palate, fresh and vibrant, with fresh fig and raspberry coulis flavors, a salty prosciutto-like savoriness, and lovely rich tannins cloaked by alternating blue and deep red fruit, ending on a sweeter star anise note. A blockbuster that promises more rewards to come with cellar aging. Give it a few months if you can; then drink either before the end of 2024 or again starting in 2027 any time over the subsequent two decades.
  • Production: 3650 cases
  • List Price: $60 VINsider Price: $48

Two additional wines joined the Viognier, Grenache Blanc, and Esprit de Tablas Blanc in the white-only shipment (we doubled up the Esprit Blanc):

Fall 2021 VINsider Shipment - White


  • Production Notes: Our second-ever bottling of Bourboulenc, from our second-ever harvest of this relatively obscure Rhone white. Bourboulenc is known in France to make wines with fresh fruit aromatics and a distinctive nutty character, with fairly good acids and relatively low alcohol. After an unusually golden color from our debut vintage in 2019, we were more conscious of protecting the clusters from the sun, and were rewarded by a more classic, tropical result. It was good enough that we included 5% in the 2020 Esprit Blanc, but this 165-case varietal bottling still represents more than 60% of our total harvest. It was blended in May 2021 and bottled in June.
  • Tasting Notes: Classic light gold. A nose of fresh pineapple and chalky minerality, as well as lusher notes of lychee and poached pear. The mouth shows flavors of fresh mango, orange blossom, and limestone minerality. Lovely acids come out on the finish, emphasizing the pineapple fruit and leaving a lingering note of petrichor. Our experience aging Bourboulenc is limited, but we plan to drink ours over the next few years.
  • Production: 165 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: Our ninth 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 28.4° Brix and a pH of 3.13, we fermented it in barrel, and stopped its fermentation when it had about 85 grams/liter of sugar left and sat at an alcohol of 13.2%. This is a little sweeter than we've finished the Petit Manseng in recent years, but as usual 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 2019.
  • Tasting Notes: Medium gold. An exotic nose of citrus leaf, grilled pineapple, and chalky minerality. In the mouth, the wine begins lushly sweet, with flavors of pears in syrup, mango juice, and candied orange peel. Then the acids reassert themselves, suggesting lemon drop with a pithy bite. The very long finish splits the difference, with notes of tropical flowers, grilled citrus, sweet spices, and a spicy pink peppercorn note. 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: 180 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

Two additional reds joined the Syrah, En Gobelet and two bottles of the Esprit de Tablas in the red-only shipment:

Fall 2021 VINsider Shipment - Red


  • Production Notes: The tenth 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 a mix of one-year-old and two-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 2020. We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A spicy nose of cherry cola, black pepper, juniper, and black tea. The mouth is medium-bodied, with flavors of cherry skin, red licorice, milk chocolate, and a little hint of mulling spices. The finish is long and fresh, with flavors of candied orange peel, mocha, and black cherry. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 482 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36


  • 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 classic 2019 vintage produced some of our favorite-ever Mourvedre lots, seemingly equally balanced between Old World-style loamy, meaty elements and the lusher red-fruited, milk chocolate mouth-coating density that we associate with 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 2020, then aged in foudre and smaller neutral barrels until bottling in April 2021.
  • Tasting Notes: An Old World nose, more reminiscent of Bandol than most of our varietal Mourvedres: pine forest and blackberry thicket, juniper, thyme, and wild game. The palate is more generous than the nose suggests, with dark red plum and currant fruit, and deepening elements of loam and cocoa powder. The finish shows plum skin and bittersweet chocolate, mouth-watering and still tasting very young. It seems like six months or so in the cellar will be well rewarded, and then 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. 2019 is a blockbuster vintage, combining noteworthy fruit intensity with good structure and lift. I think several of the 2019 reds are the best we've ever made. 2020 seems just as strong, though we only have the whites to judge so far. The flavors seem both intense and balanced, and the weights of the wines right on point. I can't wait to get these wines in our club members' hands and find out what they think.

Fall 2021 VINsider Shipment Tasting Wines

If you're a wine club member, we've got a range of options for you to try these wines. We are planning to host a live, outdoor, in-person pickup party on Sunday, October 3rd. Neil and I will be hosting another virtual pickup party the evening of Friday, October 15th. And we'll again be offering club members who visit the opportunity to choose the shipment wines as their tasting flight between mid-September and mid-October. Consider this a "save the date"; we will be putting details on all this on our VINsider News & Updates page and announcing them via email soon.

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

Veraison 2021 Sets the Stage for a Coin Flip between a Late August and Early September Start to Harvest

I got back this week from spending most of a month in Vermont to find the vineyard transformed by veraison. From bright green pea-sized berries, the grapes have become full-sized and rainbow shades of purple, red, pink and green. This Grenache cluster is a great example of the diversity of color:

Grenache Head Trained Veraison

Veraison, if you're unfamiliar with the term, is a physiological stage of grape evolution where the berry stops accumulating mass and starts accumulating sugar. More visibly, red grapes start their color change from green, while white grapes take on more of a yellow tint. Both red and white grapes start to soften. [For more about what's happening chemically, check out this veraison post from the archives.] This landmark comes roughly six weeks before the onset of harvest, and gives us our best estimate for when harvest will begin.

Although it's less exciting visually than with reds, white grapes too go through veraison; in fact, Viognier is largely through. Vermentino, Marsanne, and Grenache Blanc will come next, and Picpoul and Roussanne will bring up the rear. You can see the slightly golden tone that these Viognier clusters are starting to pick up:


The 2021 growing season has continued on the somewhat later-than-normal track that started back at budbreak in late March. We've largely avoided extremes so far, as we were on the southern fringes of the big heat spike that impacted the Pacific Northwest in late June and early July. Still, those late-June weeks pushed our degree days well above the month's norms. July (average high 93.4F) has been just about average, historically. The growing season so far:

Degree Days 2021 vs Average

July is typically when the vineyard starts showing signs of the marathon that is the growing season. The relatively moderate conditions have kept the vineyard looking green and vibrant, and the vines making steady progress toward harvest. We didn't see any evidence of color in the vineyard until July 21st, but Syrah is moving fast now, and the others getting started. I thought it would be fun to give you a visual tour. I'll start with Syrah, as usual the first Rhone red to enter version and the fastest to change colors. This cluster is a little ahead of most (which I'd estimate at 50%), mostly red but still with a few green berries finishing up:

Syrah Vertical

Mourvedre, even though it's always late to harvest, is the next-most-advanced, well further into veraison than Grenache. Although this is one of the more advanced clusters, it's probably 25% of the way through overall. Note though that this doesn't mean it's going to be picked any time soon; it often has relatively early veraison and then just spends a long time in this last stage of ripening:


Grenache is the next most advanced. I think it's the most beautiful grape in nearly every season, but in veraison it outdoes itself, with the berries turning jewel-like in the sun. Look for lots more Grenache pictures in the next month, as we get further along than the 10% veraison I'd estimate we have now:

Grenache Head Trained

Cinsaut is a little behind Grenache, at something like 5% of the way into veraison. Note the characteristic large, slightly ovoid berries:


Finally, Counoise. It took some searching to find much color. This cluster, with a few pink-purple berries in a sea of green, is about as advanced as it gets. I'd estimate we're around 1% on Counoise, overall:

It's important to note that while the veraison posts you're likely seeing from your favorite wineries may make it seem like veraison is a moment, like Christmas, it's probably better understood as a continuum, like winter, and first veraison is like first frost, or first snowfall. It will likely be a week or two so before even all the Syrah clusters are red, and more than a month until the last clusters of later grapes like Mourvedre and Counoise have finished coloring up. 

While six weeks is a good basic guide for the duration between veraison and harvest, it's not totally constant, and can be influenced by the weather that we get in the interim, as well as by the amount of fruit the vines are carrying and the inherent tendencies of the different varieties. For example, a consistently cool August in 2018 gave us more than six weeks between veraison and our first harvest on September 10th, while last year's consistent heat gave us just a five week interim. The last decade is compiled in the chart below, with each year linked to my blog post about that year's veraison:

Year First Veraison Noted Estate Harvest Begins # of Days
2011 August 5 September 20 46
2012 July 25 September 5 42
2013 July 17 August 26 40
2014 July 9 August 23 45
2015 July 18 August 26 39
2016 July 13 August 18 36
2017 July 20 August 30 41
2018 July 29 September 10 43
2019 July 30 September 4 36
2020 July 21 August 25 35
2021 July 21 ? ?

Using the range of durations between first veraison and first harvest (35 to 46 days) we can have good confidence that we'll begin picking sometime between August 25th and September 5th. The weather between now and then will determine where in the range we'll fall. I asked Viticulturist Jordy Lonborg for what he was thinking about harvest and he noted the relatively light crop, which he attributed to smaller berries and clusters due likely to some combination of our dry, cold winter and some chilly weather during flowering. The light crop suggests that harvest will likely begin on the earlier end of the range above. But he was excited about the vines' health, and thought that we had everything in place for a harvest in good conditions with concentrated flavors.

What's next for the vineyard? We'll watch the different grapes go through veraison. That progress is already happening fast, and the view in the vineyard is changing daily. We'll be posting regular photos of veraison's progress on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram pages. We'll use that time in the cellar to finish bottling the last of our 2019 reds, refill those barrels and foudres with our newly-blended 2020s, and get started cleaning and checking all the tanks and equipment we'll be using once harvest begins.

So, now we wait. We may not know exactly how much time is on that timer, but we can hear it starting to tick.

Syrah veraison horizontal