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October 2021

What We'll Be Drinking with Thanksgiving 2021

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays. It's brings extended family together for a day of cooking, eating, and reflecting on what we're grateful for. It's still thankfully largely uncommercialized. And it feels like this last year, for all its challenges, has given us plenty to be thankful for. My family has managed to stay safe and healthy. Our boys are back in school. Tablas Creek has emerged from our Covid challenges in good shape. And because vaccines have made a resumption of more-or-less normal life possible, we're going back to a big family gathering this year. For all these reasons, it feels like this is going to be a Thanksgiving celebration in a way last year's wasn't.

Last year's pairings were a little unusual too, because what was a family of four going to do with a turkey, anyway? Still, before diving into specific recommendations, it's worth going over some things that don't change. Try not to stress over your choices. Open a range of wines. Expect each of them to sing with a dish or two, coexist peacefully enough with another, and maybe clash with something. That can be fun, and instructive. Remember, and accept that it's OK, that nothing will pair particularly well with sweet potato casserole or roasted Brussels sprouts. Open a few more wines than you think you'll need, and don't feel bad about having wine leftovers, along with your food. You'll likely learn something, and have fun along the way. Remember that open bottles kept in the fridge should be fine for a week or more. And if you're still stressing after reading all these recommendations, I refer you to the 2016 piece on W. Blake Gray's blog where he set up a simple 5-question quiz to answer the question "is this wine good for Thanksgiving". I'm sure I haven't gone through every possible combination, but I've never gotten any answer other than "yes".

OK, now that I've told you any choice is perfectly fine, it's only fair that I acknowledge my own preferences. After all, there are wines that I tend to steer clear of, like wines that are powerfully tannic (which tend to come off even more so when they're paired with some of the sweeter Thanksgiving dishes), and wines that are high in alcohol (which tend to be fatiguing by the end of what is often a marathon of eating and drinking). But that still leaves you plenty of options. With a traditional turkey dinner, I tend to steer people toward richer whites and rosés, and fruitier reds relatively light in oak and tannin. Plenty of Tablas Creek wines fit these broad criteria, so if you want to stay in the family, you could try anything from Marsanne and Esprit Blanc to Dianthus Rosé to Counoise or Cotes de Tablas. Richer red meat preparations open up a world of Mourvedre-based reds young or old, from Esprit de Tablas to Panoplie to En Gobelet, which just (say it out loud) sounds like something you should be drinking at this time of year.  

But I'm just one person. As I've done the last several years, I reached out to our team to ask them what they were planning on drinking this year. Their responses are below, in their own words, in alphabetical order.

Thanksgiving Capon

Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant
I love Thanksgiving, and I love tradition so my wine choice doesn’t vary all that much from year to year because why change a good thing?!  So, again this year I am opening the Tablas Creek Counoise. It is my Thanksgiving staple and I doubt that will ever change!  If you haven’t had the Counoise with Thanksgiving dinner, you absolutely must.  In addition to the Counoise, I’m bringing a bottle of the 2019 Full Circle Pinot Noir from Tablas…. What a fantastic vintage this Full Circle is… absolutely stellar. For the white wine I’ve decided on a Domaine Weinbach Reisling from Alsace – also a Thanksgiving staple in my house.

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
It is a big one for us as we celebrate our first Thanksgiving with a grandchild, Finnegan Aldous Collins. Now that is something to be thankful for. No doubt we will get the pre-game rolling with the Lone Madrone Pet–Nat of Chenin Blanc, some bubbles to excite. Moving on to a bottle that I have never actually tried, a Reichsgraf Von Kesselatatt, Saar Riesling Kabinet, 2018. There is a bit of a family Riesling thing going on at present so this bottle will be much anticipated. We have been exploring wines of the Jura for many years, they are a family favorite, hence we will indulge that interest with an Arbois Pupillin, Chardonnay ‘la Marcette’ 2019, Cellier Saint Benoit. To keep the Chardonnay company we have another Jura, the Trousseau Grevilliere from Domaine Dugois, Arbois, 2018. After we made a family circumnavigation of mount Hood on the Timberline Trail this year we rewarded ourselves with a visit to the family favorite, Brickhouse, where we tasted and picked up a couple of Magnums of 2018 Ribbon Ridge Gamay Noir with this meal in mind. Lastly (likely not a true statement) we will open a 2017 Cavallotto Barolo, Bricco Boschis. I say likely not true as there is a probability that other bottles will find their way to table, as they do! Oh and there will doubtless be Cider about!!!

Have a great day, eat and celebrate family, friends and all that you have to be thankful for. Cheers, the Collins family.

Ian Consoli, Director of Marketing
This year I'll have two Thanksgivings thanks to a fun Friendsgiving this past weekend. To that meal I brought a magnum of 2015 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Meals of 10+ people are the perfect excuse to bring out a magnum! It paired nicely with the turkey, mac, stuffing, and everything else. For Thanksgiving with my family, which will be four of us, I have chosen a nice rose. Mas de Gourgonnier Rose from 2020 is a direct press blend of Grenache, Cabernet, and Mourvedre from the famed organic producer. I'm looking forward to seeing how it pairs.

Terrence Crowe, Tasting Room
Ah the sound of a cracklin’ fire and warm company abound. This Thanksgiving I am proud to say I will be highlighting some outstanding Collector's Edition options for turkey day 2021. Both the 2013 Esprit Rouge and 2015 Esprit Blanc will be thirst quenching table side options. Nothing like two outstanding Tablas Creek bottles with a few years on them. Picardan 2020 will also be holding a place at this years feast. I hope everyone has a wonderful time at their gathering and plenty of thought provoking wine to keep conversations interesting. 

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
The world of wine again proves that there are new discoveries around the world to keep my curiosities alive. I was so late to the Cru Beaujolais game that it's a bit embarrassing. Being a fan of wines that are naturally fermented, artisan in aromas and textures, and full of bright, non-manipulated fruit, it's wild to think that it took until 2021 to discover the village of Morgon. With that said, Domaine Lapierre Morgon 2019, which I've consumed a half a case of easy this year, will be on the table, as will the Tablas Creek Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2014, with its florals and riches on show.  

Eddie Garcia, Logistics
This Thanksgiving is one that I have a lot to be thankful for. I just completed my one year anniversary here at Tablas Creek in September, and cannot be more excited for what is to come. My family continues to be healthy, happy and safe, even with this new round of the pandemic. But most importantly, I’ve been blessed with having a new sibling in my life. My sister Sandy and I met for the first time this summer, and we’ve become close in such a short time. Looking forward to her coming out from Arizona next year for a visit and getting to share with her our amazing Central Coast, and definitely some tastings will be lined up. 

With so much to be thankful for, I’ve held onto a bottle that I cannot wait to open: a 2017 Interpretation from Full Draw. This Tempranillo was amazing when I sampled it a few months ago at the winery, and cannot wait to open and get reacquainted. I’ll also be bringing some of our great Tablas wines, including a 2018 Grenache (my last one!), and 2019 Cotes de Tablas. Hope everyone has a healthy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Jody Gomes, Accounts Payable & Compliance
Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays, not just because of the delicious food but because of the wine pairings. This year, my fiancé and I will be sharing Thanksgiving with his family during the day and with my family in the evening, that means … double the wine! Since the festivities will begin about noon, we will most likely start with a bottle of 2020 Gewurztraminer from our good friends at Tackitt Family Vineyards. During the meal my fiancé and I plan to open a bottle of 2019 grenache that we made together in our home winery aka garage, we like to call it our ‘Garage Grenache’. Thanksgiving round two will start at my parent’s house about 4:00pm, my 95-year-old grandfather will be joining us at the table this year so the house will be filled with laughter and great conversation. The men like to begin every dinner with a glass of Tanqueray over ice while my Mom and I will open a bottle of our favorite sparkling wine from Domaine Carneros, Le Reve Blanc de Blancs. My Mom and I have made it a tradition for the last couple of years to open that bottle on Thanksgiving, we look forward to it all year long! At dinner we like to open a variety of bottles to cater to everyone’s pallets. For the last several years a staple on our table is a bottle of Tablas Creek Counoise, if any wine was made for Thanksgiving, this is the one! For the wine drinkers who like a bolder wine, we usually open a Syrah or Zinfandel. Staying local to Paso Robles, we will open a Syrah from Caliza and a Zinfandel from the Ueberroth Vineyard at Turley. I am certainly thankful to share a beautiful Thanksgiving with family and friends. Cheers!

Ray King, Tasting Room
This Thanksgiving will be a traditional meal spent with my mother, sisters, and our other close relatives. So for the traditional meal I am bringing three different wines that will fit in perfectly.

1) Txomin Etxaniz,  Rose Txakoli 2019, a fun and refreshing Basque wine.
2) Domaine De Fa, Beaujolais 'En Besset’ 2019. Lovely Gamay is always welcome at a Thanksgiving table.
3) Tablas Creek, Mourvèdre 2019. Simply my current favorite red wine from Tablas Creek and, it too, will be fantastic with a Thanksgiving dinner.

Haydee McMickle, Tasting Room
I’ll start with a Clairette de Die Brut, Domaine Archad-Vincent it’s delightful and a wonderful starter. I like to open several wines for the main meal. Esprit Blanc is a favorite friend , the 2017, or more interesting is the 2015. It goes great with the turkey, the leek & mushroom gratin or the cornbread sausage stuffing. I also like to switch to a light red, this year a Moulin-a-Vent Vielles Vignes Beaujolais Cru, which is tasty with the same foods but goes really well with sweet potatoes. These are engaging with the meal yet keep me light on feet so I can play a family game of Catan or Telestrations.  

Bon Appetit and best wishes to all. 

Monica O'Connor, Direct Sales Manager
Thanksgiving this year is going to be a new experience, and one I am greatly looking forward to. While I’m missing my son and daughter-in-law, I’ll be spending the day with new friends who truly feel like family.  And because one is French, I feel a particular responsibility to make it special for her! So we will toast with a glass of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve, our gratitude for family, friends, health, and all the blessings we enjoy.

I have two special bottles to share with them. The first is a 2014 Nuits-Saint-Georges Village "Les Plateaux", which I’ve come to know as a perfect wine for celebrating a special occasion, and also one to savor and stimulate thought. The other is the beautiful Tablas Creek 2017 Le Complice. It is the definitive balance of earth, fruit, herbs and spice. It has depth and finesse and charm – it will surely integrate all the flavors and textures of our Thanksgiving feast.

All this beauty - family, friends, abundance in kindness and caring at work and at home - is a powerful reminder of all we have to be grateful for.

Lisa Rainey, Tasting Room
In October of 2018 we bought a ten-acre property on Willow Creek Road.  The property contains almost three acres of vines, which had been severely neglected.  We’ve been working since that time on building a new home on the site and bringing the vines back to health.  With AmByth Estates and Tablas Creek Vineyard as role models for farming practices, we have been dry farming and farming using mostly biodynamic practices.  The first wine from our property was released this year, AmByth Rainey Rose.  This year, even though our house isn’t complete, we plan to have our dinner at our new property.  It seems incredibly fitting that we enjoy a bottle of AmByth Rainey Rose.  We also plan to open a Lone Madrone wine, from the Old Oak Vineyard – one of our Willow Creek neighbors. 

Randy Thurman, IT and Facilities Manager
We saved a magnum of 2018 Esprit Blanc to have with some smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, and a rum pumpkin cheesecake while spending time with family.

Amanda Weaver, Cellar Assistant
A slightly more normal Thanksgiving this year, getting to see more of the family and not having as much trepidation. Additionally, there is one big change this year that everyone is excited about…. We have a wee little one!! My boyfriend’s brother and his wife had a sweet little boy a week ago and everyone cannot wait to celebrate with him! That being said, I predict many wines at the table. As far as what I am going to contribute… that is still keeping me up at night. On the chopping block are 2014 Hitching Post Valdiguie, 2019 Story of Soil Sauvignon Blanc, 2019 Tablas Creek Couniose, plus everything that is sitting in the wine fridge that I have yet to raid (I think there are some forgotten gems in there). I also underestimate the lure of popping into the local wine shop for a last minute gander which will surely gain me a few new bottles! Anyhow, I hope everyone has a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving!

And as for me...
Typically, my choice is to open the largest bottle I have to hand at Thanksgiving gatherings. There's usually a story behind a big bottle, and the randomness of "just open it" adds a certain amount of pleasurable discovery to the gathering, as well as the festivity that large bottles bring. And with a full complement of adults this year, that's a lot more appealing than it would have been for three adults last year. I believe we have a magnum (from the late 1990s) from an old Central Coast Wine Classic "Classic Cuvee" that we did along with Bob Lindquist when he was at Qupe. So, that's one wine. I know we'll also want some Beaujolais, maybe the Clos de la Roilette Fleurie that my mom and I split a case of last year. I'm also itching to open the 2019 Cinsaut, our first-ever from Tablas Creek, which I think will end up being a perfect Thanksgiving partner. For whites, maybe a Semillon from Bedrock Wines that I've been saving. Going with an old-school California blend seems appropriate for this quintessentially American holiday. Plus, it's got both richness and brightness, which a white needs to go with the Thanksgiving meal. And almost certainly some older Roussanne, though I'll have to dig around in my stocks to see what I have. One of the most memorable tastings I had this year was when we opened the first-ever Roussanne, from 2001, as a part of an exploration of the beginnings of our varietal wine program. I'd love to share that experience with the rest of my family. 

Wherever you are, however you're celebrating, please know that we are thankful for you. Thank you for helping get us through the last year. May your celebrations, small or large, be memorable, and the wines you open outstanding.


Wine marketing doesn't look like most consumer marketing... and it shouldn't.

I got involved in one of my more interesting Twitter conversations in a while this week. It began with a post from Robert Joseph, wine producer, writer, critic and consultant, sharing a 2019 Harvard Business Review article that talks about how wine has leveraged education marketing to create lasting connections with consumers. I shared the article with my own thoughts in a Tweet:

The conversation that followed was one of the reasons that I find such value in wine Twitter. Wine experts across borders and roles (including Robert himself) weighed in to give their thoughts on the piece, expand on which sorts of wines benefit from this marketing, and which don't. The consensus of the conversation seemed to be that wineries who have good exposure in the direct-to-consumer world can use this sort of marketing to great effect, but it's harder to leverage for the wines that are sold wholesale, except to the extent which that sort of marketing impacts the opinions of writers and reviewers.

That distinction between direct marketing to consumers (for direct sales and relationships) and "influencing the influencer" marketing for a cumulative impact on harder-to-reach restaurant and retail sales makes intuitive sense to me, probably unsurprising given that it's how we have approached our own marketing at Tablas Creek. One of the first things I realized when I joined my dad out here twenty years ago was that we'd set ourselves a major challenge in making wines that were blends (which didn't have a category in most outlets) from grapes that people didn't know and couldn't pronounce, made in a part of California they'd never heard of, with French names that mostly didn't mean anything to them. That was at least four strikes against us. As I wrote a few years ago here in a piece I titled 30 Years of Tablas Creek: 10 Things We Got Right (and Wrong) we decided that our only viable way forward was to do our best to bring people into our world by pulling the curtain back on our own decision-making. And little by little it worked. We opened our tasting room and took as many people as would join us on tours into the vineyard and winery. We started an educational seminar series here and prioritized outside events where we could be up on stage telling our story. We wrote newsletters with pieces researching the grapes we grow and the way that we grow them. A few years later, I started this blog. Over the last decade, social media has given us ever-more-powerful tools to connect the educational content we've been producing with customers and key people in our distribution chain. 

Fast-forward twenty years. We have gone from struggling with built-up inventory, slow-growing sales, and little market presence to sustained success. We have direct relationships with 11,000 wine club members and another 30,000 mailing list members. Our retention rate in our wine club is somewhere between two- and three-times the industry average. The same wines that were a struggle to sell in wholesale two decades ago (heck, even one decade ago) are easier and easier. And our relationships with the writers, sommeliers, and influencers out in the world have grown with our profile. So, I'm predisposed to agreeing with the sentiment in the article, but it's not just us. We're part of a larger trend, where in just the last decade direct-to-consumer sales, the lifeblood of most smaller wineries, has nearly tripled (graph from the 2021 Sovos DtC Wine Shipping Report):

DTC Sales by Year

The set of characteristics that make wine particularly fertile ground for education marketing are well laid out in the HBR article:

Consumers looking to buy a bottle of wine confront thousands of choices. In fact, many of the shoppers we spoke to described the experience as stressful; they were fearful of making a poor choice and looking ignorant or of missing an opportunity to make an evening more special.

While our own experience has convinced me that making an investment in educating your customers and those who might be in a position to reach new customers can work, I'm more interested in what it is about wine that dictates a different sort of marketing from most consumer products. I would submit that it boils down to three things.

Wine Can Be Complicated and Intimidating
Although wine has been a routine part of many societies for millennia, the modern wine world can be daunting. A bottle of wine in a neighborhood wine shop might come from any of 100 regions and 50 grapes in 25 countries. Some wines are named by the place they come from. Others are named by the grapes they contain. Yet others are fanciful names. Wine labels are famously arcane and many of the words foreign. What's more, wine in popular culture (think the "Somm" series of films) often celebrates the competitive, arcane memorization of obscure facts or the remarkable challenge of identifying wines through blind tasting done to achieve wine certifications through the Court of Master Sommeliers or the Master of Wine program. Those feats of deductive logic all paint a picture of wine as something to be mastered through obsessive study, and I would submit make most people less confident in their own judgments. I get wine lovers every week telling me, apologetically, "I just like what I like". Why should this be something you need to apologize for? Giving people a vocabulary to explain what they like, or an understanding of what goes into a wine they love, helps people feel like they have a safe harbor in what can feel like a big, rough ocean of wine. No wonder it's a good way to foster loyalty.

What's more, traditional marketing requires broad penetration into markets. For a winery like Tablas Creek, which does have at least nominal distribution in all 50 states, you might think that advertising or product placement or some other sort of broad approach that might touch hundreds of thousands or millions of people would be effective. It's not. We're not big enough to be on even a small fraction of the 100,000+ restaurant and retail outlets in the country. Last year, for example, we sold wine to about 800 different shops and restaurants around the country. That's less than a 1% penetration of the possible places one might find wine. All but the largest wineries will struggle to be in 10% of the available outlets. Compare that to, say, beer, where a larger brewery might expect to be in most retailers and a decent slice of restaurants. Or to one of the many products (think consumer electronics, or cars, or cereal) where there are perhaps a few dozen options, all of which are distributed pretty much everywhere in the country. And for a small winery, who sells most or all of their production direct from their tasting room or website? Forget about it. That means that small, targeted campaigns that reinforce your existing customers' connection with you -- and put them in a position to recommend you to friends and family with confidence -- are likely to be more rewarding.

While Most American Wine Is Made by Big Wineries, Most American Wineries Are Small
There are more than 10,000 wineries in America now, in all 50 states. Well over 90% of these wineries are our size or smaller. And yet the distribution channels are dominated by a handful of large wine companies; estimates are that the three largest wine conglomerates produce half the wine sold in America each year and the twenty largest firms account for 90% of the market. For these very large wine companies, or at least their largest brands (because it can be a full-time job keeping track of the many, many brands that these large companies make) the marketing choices probably are similar to many other consumer products. But it's a different story for most wineries. The rise of wine country tourism as a regular recreational activity has brought more customers to more wineries than ever before, accounting for 43 million visits from more than 13 million tourists annually. Combine these opportunities with  the challenge of breaking into a national wholesale market dominated by big players, and you give small wineries both the motive and the opportunity to come up with new and creative ways to differentiate themselves. Education is one of the tools, with the winery tasting room an ideal environment to build lasting connections with new customers. Again from the 2021 Sovos DtC Wine Shipping Report:

Wineries by Size 2020

Plus, no winery is in this alone. Wine buying is not zero-sum like car buying, where if someone buys a Mazda they're not also buying a Volkswagen. Most wine lovers don't drink a single brand or single grape, but instead use things they love as gateways into discovering other things they might want to try. Think about it this way. If someone buys a Rhone blend from another California producer, does that make them less likely to buy a bottle of Tablas Creek? No, I would assert that it makes it more likely. If they buy a bottle of wine from a different Paso Robles producer, same thing. So we're not competing with Bonny Doon, or Qupe, or Halter Ranch, or J. Lohr. The community of California Rhone producers works together to establish the category (see: the Rhone Rangers, or Hospice du Rhone). The Paso Robles community works together to establish the region (see: the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance). This changes the incentives for wineries. We're likely to be working alongside other producers in our category to educate people about the category we share. We're happy to recommend other wineries to people who ask, because the success of our neighbors helps ensure our own. These sorts of relationships create a positive feedback loop that builds community but also incentivizes educational approaches because doing so makes your neighbors more likely to recommend their customers to you, because the more you know about the category the more likely you are to return.

Wine Buyers Are Just as Heterogeneous as Wineries
Did you know that Consumer Reports used to review wine? They don't any more. The idea that there is a single "right" style or category of wine feels hopelessly out of date. Some people love lush, oaky Chardonnays. Others prefer aromatic reds, or sweet wines, or funky natural wines that might be bottled cloudy. We each have our own preferences, which is great. But how do we learn which sorts of wines we're likely to love? That's where wineries have some control over what happens next. And it turns out wine is the perfect product for long-tail marketing.

There are something like 77 million regular wine drinkers in the United States. At Tablas Creek, we make around 30,000 cases (360,000 bottles) each year. We don't make enough wine for even 1% of the regular wine drinkers to open once a year. And our true number of customers is surely a lot less than that, given that many of our fans will buy multiple bottles per year. How many fans do we need to be successful? 50,000? 30,000? 11,000 (the number of our wine club members)? Whatever the number is, it's smaller than one tenth of one percent of the American wine drinking population. If we can thrive reaching less than one one-thousandth of American wine drinkers, and most wineries are even smaller than we are, most of us don't need to be chasing the same audience. We just need to be consistent in the style of wines we make and do our best to educate the consumers, trade, and media on who we are so they can help the people who might love us find us. It is for that reason that I think that you don't see smaller wineries chasing the current style or grape varieties that happen to be popular right now. Leave that to the big guys. For the rest of us, just let us find our niche and do everything we can to keep the customers who find us happy.

And the best tool for that? Education.

Rows of Tablas Creek glasses


Paso Robles is (Still) Insanely Beautiful, Fall Edition

Three weeks ago, with the first clouds in the sky and the vineyard starting to change into its autumn colors, I caught some of this new beauty and shared it in a blog. Since then, we've gotten three inches of rain, without a frost. The result has been a new color palette, with green grass growing while the autumn colors deepen to auburn. Because we usually get a hard freeze before we get significant rain, it's rare and beautiful to have this green and golden brown combination:

Newly green vineyard

But that's not the only change. The moisture has meant that we've had a series of lovely foggy mornings out here, water dripping off the vines and settling on the new grass, sunlight softly diffused:

Fog lifting over new planting

I keep coming back to the spot from which I took the final photo in my last session, at the center of the vineyard looking west over a section of head-trained Mourvedre, one of my favorite rock walls, a new area of Biodynamic plantings, and a big oak tree. I particularly love the lines of hills receding toward the horizon:

Sunset over the center of the vineyard

The colors of the vines vary, but Counoise is always some of the most colorful. I love the contrast with the big old live oak that grows in the middle of this block:

Counoise and oak tree in the setting sun

One of the things we've done since we finished harvesting our grapes was complete our one-day olive harvest. I didn't get any photos of that, but the grey-green of the olive leaves makes a great contrast to the brighter colors of the vineyard (in this case, Tannat on the right):

Sunset through olive trees

I'll leave you with one more sunset photo, the late-afternoon light illuminating Syrah's fall colors. 

Sunset over Syrah

How long we'll have with this landscape is an open question. We have more rain forecast for next Tuesday, which will be great. There's a chance of a frost the night before, which would put an end to much of this color, but if we dodge it there's not another one on in the forecast. Could we keep these colors all the way to Thanksgiving? I don't know. But I'm going to enjoy them while they're here. If you're visiting Paso Robles in the next few weeks, you're in for a treat.