As I have done the last few years, I asked our team to share a wine that stuck with them from all the ones they'd tried in 2021, and why. In the rush of the holidays -- and with some key members of our team out with new babies -- there were some familiar faces who didn't send in an entry this year. But still, this was one of my favorite blogs to put together. I love seeing the breadth of wine interests of the Tablas Creek team. More than that, I love seeing what inspired them. In a year with as many ups and downs as 2021, it's not surprising that it was the moments or memories that a special bottle of wine marked that stood out. It was a great reminder of how wine brings people together, whatever the times or the challenges.
Here's everyone's submission, in their own words and only very lightly edited, in alphabetical order (except mine, which is at the end):
Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant
Sometimes the most memorable wine is not just because of the wine, but because of the moment. My family lost a wonderful man in January, but we were fortunate to spend the last few weeks with my father-in-law at his home. He deeply appreciated my cooking and always loved the wines I offered him. In his last days he requested braised lamb shank (said with his English accent) that he had a “hankering” for it. I had been saving my oldest vintage of Panoplie in my collection for the perfect moment, and this was indeed the perfect moment. It was the last wine I was ever able to share with him, but I will never forget his response as he enjoyed every sip; “Janelle, this is excellent!” He passed a few days later but that moment lives on, and that 2015 Panoplie will always remind me of him.
Cheers to a New Year, may everyone be Happy, Healthy, and Humble.
Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
Rather than a single bottle I would like to share a wine experience that I found particularly inspiring. Marci, Boo and myself were heading to Portland to meet up with Jordan and Amanda, we were about to hike the Mount Hood Timberline trail, another tale altogether. I have been intrigued by the farming practices of Antiquum Farm for some time so took this opportunity to go and pay them a visit. At Antiquum they farm using many species in an intense grazing program, having set up the vineyard to be able to graze all year round. We were lucky enough to sit and taste with Stephen Hagan the owner and farmer, as well as spending time with Andrew the wine maker and apparently many wearer of many other hats. The whole experience was really a treat. Stephen is passionate and articulates that passion with an ease that is rare. The wines were unique and excellent across the board. The Pinot Noirs really display a character that speaks of the place and the people and creatures who tirelessly farm the land and make the wines. If you can you should go, if you cannot, buy some wines and read their story. Happy New Year to you all!!!! Neil..
Ian Consoli, Director of Marketing
This year, I existed in two worlds that exposed me to incredible wines. The first was when I started attending school at Sonoma State University, which has allowed me to connect with wine professionals in both the Napa and Sonoma regions and, through them, their wines. The most memorable wine thus far has been a Chardonnay from Hanzell Vineyards. It was a wine that stopped everything around me and demanded my focus. I think about that moment often.
The second world is as the producer of our Facebook Live show, Tasting with Neil. Sitting alongside Winemaker Neil Collins while he opens bottles from legendary producers all over California exposed me to some incredible wines. In April, Randall Graham joined the show, and I got to share one of the first wines ever produced from his Popelouchum project. It was a Grenache, picked from vines that only produced one cluster per vine, fermented in a food-safe 15-gallon garbage can, and aged in a 15-gallon barrel. That was the wine’s entire production! It was unique, with beautiful red fruit and an earthiness reminiscent of the old world. [If you missed the conversation, you can watch it on YouTube by clicking the image below.]
Terrence Crowe, Tasting Room
The years just keep on flying by and yet another one bites the dust. One of the pure joys of working at Tablas Creek involves consuming unabashedly obscure ‘varieties‘ (Morris, 2021) like Terret Noir, Bourboulenc, Picardan and Vaccarese in unfettered 100% format. Where else can you find a pristine example of these rare gem stones? Precisely. Then there is the 2021 love affair with my girl Marcie. Marcie, also known as Marsanne 2019 to those in the know has become my favorite everyday drinking companion. As 2022 approaches she will soon vanish forevermore like dust in the wind so let her know how you feel while that flame still burns bright. Thanks for the memories.
Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
One morning during harvest, I added a couple cases of wine to my humble Morro Bay storage space at Toobs Bodyboards. I pulled an aged gem from the foam covered stash and headed to the winery to host an afternoon tour. I put the bottle of 2010 Domaine Gros Noré Bandol Rouge in my computer bag to save it from the heat of my parked car, and as I waltzed up the crush pad, I noticed the winemaking team doing their celebratory harvest lunch with wines. Neil Collins saw me and barked “What’s in the bag?” Turns out it was everyone’s lucky day, and after nine years at Tablas Creek, I was finally offered a seat at the holy production table, beneath the sweating destemmer, and I revealed the bounty. Neil has been to Gros Noré, and on first whiff he proclaimed “I feel like I’m there. Right now.” In this era of limited travel, it’s a blessing how great wines can transport you to a far off place through your senses. As a collector, cracking this Mourvédre based red at 11 years of age caught this once tannic beast at a moment of resolved, concentrated greatness.
A solid runner up would be the Herve Souhart 2018 La Souteronne, which is a rare Gamay from the Northern Rhone, recommended to me by Patrick at San Diego’s Vino Carta. Like a cool climate, minerally Syrah and bright Gamay combined, I’ve bought this juicy rarity at every shop I’ve since seen it at this year. Happy Holidays!
Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker
Post 2020, nearly every wine we enjoyed with people we love felt overwhelmingly special. But among this year of stand-out experiences, where we’ve learned that it’s always a good time to bring out the good stuff, there were a few moments that rose to the top. Back in March, our friends Dan and Gail treated us to a dinner at Six Test Kitchen here in Paso Robles. Every single moment of that dinner was completely over the top – the company and conversation, the food, the plating, the setting, and of course, the wine. Each pairing that was presented was an absolute delight and an utter experience. The restaurant gained its first Michelin Star a few months ago (none of us can get over how cool it is that we have a Michelin starred restaurant down the street!) and after our incredible evening there spent being treated like honored guests, it’s easy to see why.
In a year like this, where no interactions are taken for granted, it was the time spent with cherished friends that was the centerpiece while incredible wines helped to punctuate the occasion.
Ray King, Tasting Room
For me, there were so many fun and different wine this year. It was a difficult task to come up with the most memorable, but here are a few that were stellar.
Gustavo Prieto, Biodynamic Lead
My wine of the year is a Castell D’Age 100% Grenache, or Garnacha in Spain, with no sulfites added. The wine had a nice earthiness and some brettyness on the nose, dense and a very dark color. Castell D’Age is a special place in the Penedes region of Spain and I had the privilege of visiting the winery a few years ago. In addition to being certified organic and biodynamic, the winery is owned by three generations of women.
Jim Van Haun, Tasting Room
I've had a lot of really nice wines this year but the Tablas Creek 2020 Vermentino stands out. My first experience with Vermentino, called Rolle in France, was on a 3 week vacation to the Rhone in 2015. Vermentino is one of those wines that has bright acidity and crispness that reflects the low PH. The Tablas Creek 2020 version is especially so and reminds me of a perfect Summer day. It's wine's version of a really good limey gin and tonic!
...And As for Me
Most summers, we go back to Vermont to spend at least a few weeks in the house in which I grew up, where my mom still spends half the year, and where my sister and her family live too. 2020 interrupted that tradition, so once we'd gotten ourselves and our boys vaccinated we decided to spend a full month back east in 2021. And there are always rewards. Green grass and forests, nonchlorinated bodies of water for swimming, and the chance to reinforce those connections with family and friends who we didn't get to see the year before. For my family, that means lots of long meals around the dinner table. We always share the cooking and washing up so it's not a chore for anyone, and not every meal is a fancy one. But we do try to pull out all the stops a few times, and decided one afternoon to build a meal for which we could open a couple of legendary wines from the era when my dad was the exclusive American importer for a few of the top Bordeaux houses.
The meal itself was lovely: roasted racks of lamb, gratin dauphinois, sautéed zucchini (the year’s first from the garden) and a tomato salad. The wines were a 1961 Lafite and a 1970 Petrus, and both were in outstanding shape. The Petrus was round and lush, the Lafite a bit more spicy and angular. Tannins were pretty well resolved in both. Just a lovely occasion to taste and appreciate two magical wines that we have a personal connection to, and be thankful for my dad's judgment and foresight. It wasn't an otherwise meaningful day (not a birthday or an anniversary) but the meal made it meaningful. If there's one conclusion I've come to over the pandemic, it's that you've got to make your own celebrations when you have the opportunity.
A few concluding thoughts:
One of the things I appreciate most about the team that I work with at Tablas Creek is the wide range of their interests and experiences. If you don't work at a winery, you might expect that those of us who do spend most of their time drinking their own wines, but in my experience, that's far from the case. Most people who find a career in wine do so because they find it fascinating, and that interest doesn't go away just because they've landed at a particular winery, even a winery that they love. And most people who work at wineries look at exploring other wines as an enjoyable form of continuing education. So it wasn't a surprise to me that while some wines were Tablas Creek, most were not. But whatever the wines that were chosen, it stood out to me how wine can help provide a memory of a person or place, or punctuation for a moment that helps bring connection.
As we settling into our third pandemic year, making the most of these opportunities for connection is one of my own goals. I wish you all memorable food and wine experiences in 2022, and even more than that, new connections and a greater sense of community. May we all find more to celebrate next year.