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Tasting the Wines in the Spring 2022 VINsider Wine Club Shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club. In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club. In others, the club gets a first look at a wine that may see a later national release. About six weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments. In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling reintroduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming months and years. I always think it's fun to give followers of the blog a first look at these notes. The wines:

Shipment Wines Spring 2022

The shipments that will be going out in March include wines from the 2019, 2020, and 2021 vintages. Tasting three vintages together is a great way to get a handle on their relative personalities, and typically my first chance to do a personality assessment on the newest vintage, which we haven't even started blending trials on yet. My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are these:

  • The 2019s show a lovely combination of density and balance, with concentration reminiscent of a year like 2014 or 2017, but slightly higher acids and more overt minerality than either. It's a vintage that is serious and ageworthy, without being austere. An outstanding years for both reds and whites.
  • I had originally thought that the warm weather that marked the summer and harvest of 2020 might produce wines with a soft, luscious profile, but I don't find that to be true. Instead, there is plenty of plush fruit but also lively acids and excellent balance. The wines are crowd pleasers without the simplicity that this might imply. 
  • Finally, 2021, as much as one can tell from tasting two wines, seems electric. The combination of mouth-filling texture, intense flavors, and bright acids makes tasting the wines a memorable experience. Buckle up.

I'll go through the six wines in the VINsider Classic (Mixed) Shipment, and then move on to the additional wines that we chose to include in the Red Wine Selection and White Wine Selection shipments. I was joined for the tasting by Executive Winemaker Neil Collins, so these notes are a compilation of our thoughts.

The Classic Shipment includes six different wines:


  • Production Notes: Viognier is always the lead grape in our Cotes Blanc, and we balance Viognier's lushness with the elegance of Marsanne and the brightness of Grenache Blanc. Because of the somewhat softer profile of 2020, to the Viognier (38%) we added a higher-than-normal percentage of Grenache Blanc (32%) for brightness and pithy bite, bumping down the percentage of Marsanne (22%, for elegance), and preserving a little more Marsanne for our varietal bottling. 8% Roussanne rounds out the blend and provides structure. The selected lots were blended in May 2021, and the wine was bottled in June 2021.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely nose of peach pit and honeysuckle, fresh apricot and lemongrass . The mouth shows both richness and brightness, with flavors of fresh pear and apple skin and rich texture. Grenache Blanc comes out in the finish, asserting order with bright acids and a little pithy bite, leaving a long finish of gardenia flower and stone fruit. Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1257 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: Roussanne yields were down sharply in 2020, reduced by both the lack of rainfall and the unrelenting summer. But you wouldn't have known it from the Roussanne lots that we tasted during blending, which showed freshness and balance. We chose lots for our varietal bottling that came roughly 55% from foudre, 35% from neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques. The selected lots were blended in April 2021 then aged in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
  • Tasting Notes: An appealing nose of anise, brioche, beeswax, petrichor and jasmine, instantly recognizable as Roussanne. The palate is pretty, showing flavors of ripe pear and chalky minerals, lighter on its feet than many vintages of Roussanne, with a finish of wildflower honey, a sake-like sweet minerality, and a little hint of sweet oak. The wine has only been in bottle for a few months, but it's already drinking well. Drink in the next 3 or 4 years for a pure expression of Roussanne's honey and pear flavors, or hold it for 8-15 years for a flavor profile of caramel, wet rocks, and hazelnut.
  • Production: 940 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32


  • Production Notes: With yields low in 2021, we reduced our production of Dianthus, which opened up an opportunity to share with VINsiders our Patelin Rosé, the Provencal-style dry rosé that we base on Grenache and source primarily from other vineyards with our grapevines in the ground. Always led by Grenache (79% this year), which provides both bright fruit and refreshing acidity, the wine also includes additions of rich, floral Mourvedre (15%) and spicy, electric Counoise (6%). More than 80% of the fruit was direct-pressed upon arrival at the winery, with the balance destemmed and let soak for a single work day, then pressed off after about 12 hours.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty light peach color. On the nose, explosive aromatics of pink grapefruit, fresh nectarine, cherry blossom, and chalky minerals. The mouth is lovely and lively like the nose, with flavors of yellow raspberry and peach juice, vibrant acids, and a mouth-watering finish with notes of passion fruit and white flowers. Electric. Drink now and over the next year.
  • Production: 3300 cases
  • List Price: $28 VINsider Price: $22.40


  • Production Notes: Our eighteenth bottling of this traditional grape from South-West France, famous for its intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging. Tannat is known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Easy to grow and ferment, we mostly put Tannat in open-top fermenters to keep it exposed to oxygen and soften it somewhat. We then moved the wine to neutral oak foudre and aged it for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2021, and then aged it another 10 months in bottle before release. 
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely juicy blackcurrant and sweet licorice nose, given lift and definition with spicy juniper and alpine forest notes. On the palate, mouth-filling flavors of black cherry, sweet tobacco, and dark chocolate, lots of chalky tannic structure but the friendliness and fruit to carry that even in its youth. A long, plushly tannic finish of bittersweet chocolate and brambly blackberry completes the experience. A Tannat to make new friends and converts for the grape. Drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 1179 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36


  • Production Notes: Just the fourth vintage of our newest red blend, which celebrates the kinship between whole cluster Syrah (67%) and the wildly interesting grape Terret Noir (6%). Le Complice means, roughly, "partner in crime". Although Syrah is dark and Terret light, both share wild herby black spice, and Terret's high acids bolster Syrah's tendency toward stolidity. We added some Grenache (27%) for mid-palate richness. The wine was blended in June of 2020, aged in foudre, bottled in April 2021, and has been aging in our cellars since.
  • Tasting Notes: A savory, umami-rich nose of iodine, soy, wintergreen, and graphite. The mouth is juicier than the nose suggests, with sweeter-toned flavors of licorice, star anise, baking chocolate, plum skin, and bay. The finish is more generous yet, with the predominant notes being Chinese five spice and loamy earth. Plenty of tannic richness. A wine to pair in its youth with rich, flavorful meats, which we suspect will age for two decades or more.
  • Production: 793 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44


  • Production Notes: Panoplie is selected from the top 3% of the year's lots, chosen for their richness, concentration and balance, giving pride of place to Mourvedre's lovely dark red fruit and distinctive combination of loam, earthiness, and meat. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2020. Mourvedre, as always, represents the largest percentage (62%) of Panoplie. In this year when all our major red grapes excelled, we chose a relatively equal proportion of Syrah (22%, for black fruit, density, and tannic richness) and Grenache (16%, for sweet spice and vibrancy). The wine was bottled in July 2021 and has been aging in our cellars since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty nose, just hinting at what's to come, with aromas of sweet loam and redcurrant, milk chocolate and new leather. The mouth is a blockbuster, with both red (raspberry) and black (cherry) fruit, a teriyaki-like umami element, then a wash of serious tannins that promise decades of fascinating evolution. The finish, like the rest of the wine, vibrates between red and black (licorice, in this case), sweet earth, and savory herbs. A serious wine to wait on for a year or two, if you possibly can, then to enjoy over two decades or more.
  • Production: 820 cases
  • List Price: $95 VINsider Price: $76

Four additional wines (2021 Vermentino, 2020 Marsanne, and two library selections, the 2017 Roussanne and 2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc) will join the 2020 Cotes de Tablas Blanc and 2020 Roussanne in the White Wine Selection shipment:


  • Production Notes: Our twentieth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottled it young in January 2022 under screwcap. Vermentino yields in 2021 were painfully low (off by half compared to most recent years) but the fruit we got was classic and showed beautiful balance.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Vermentino nose of all parts of a lime, from leaf to pith to juice, deepened by an herby lemongrass note and briny sea shell-like minerality. The palate is electric and juicy, with key lime and yellow grapefruit notes, sweet white flowers and briny sea spray, and a long, vibrant finish. Tastes like summer at the beach, or like what a gin and tonic wishes it could be. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 537 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24


  • Production Notes: Marsanne is best known from the northern Rhone, particularly the famed appellation of Hermitage, where it produces wines of legendary elegance and ageworthiness. The 2020 vintage, for whatever reason, produced some of our favorite Marsanne ever, which was a bit of a surprise since we think of it as a grape that prefers cooler years. We fermented it in 600-gallon foudres to emphasize its texture and give it a hint of oak, then chose the lots for our varietal bottling and bottled it in June 2021.
  • Tasting Notes: A quintessential Marsanne nose of honeydew melon, honeysuckle, and straw drying in the sun. The mouth is pretty, showing notes of fresh honey, Golden Delicious apple, citrus blossom, and a gentle, chalky minerality. The long, gentle finish shows white flowers and melon, rainwater and dried grass. Moderate acids, but enough to keep things together. Like our 2019, it's so appealing now that I'm guessing a lot of it will get drunk young, but it should evolve in an interesting way for a decade at least.
  • Production: 193 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28


  • Production Notes: In a vintage where most grapes showed higher-than-normal yields, Roussanne was the exception. But the year's ample rainfall produced Roussanne fruit with bright acids and vibrant flavors. We fermented the Roussanne lots that were selected for our varietal bottling roughly 55% in foudre, 35% in neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques, blended them in April 2018, returned them to foudre to age another six months, and bottled the wine that December. Because of the vintage's unusual vibrancy, we stashed a couple of pallets for a later release, and have enjoyed watching the deeper, more caramel-tinged flavors emerge over the last few years. 
  • Tasting Notes: A deep, classic Roussanne nose of lacquered wood, vanilla custard, lanolin, and quince. The mouth is still lively, with flavors of graham cracker and tangerine, candied orange peel and melon rind, and a finish that shows a little pithy bite that keeps the developing caramel tones fresh. Drink any time over the next decade.
  • Production: 1050 cases
  • Library Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36


  • Production Notes: In 2017 we incorporated two of our newest white grapes into the Esprit Blanc blend for the first time. Still, Roussanne (68%, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages) was the leading contributor, but the different higher-acid, more mineral varieties (17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Clairette Blanche, and 4% Picardan) all added citrusy acidity and saline freshness. After the blend was chosen and assembled in April 2018 we returned it to foudre to age another six months before bottling it in December 2018. Like with the Roussanne, we stashed some away for a (slightly) later release, when some of its more mature flavors would have developed.  
  • Tasting Notes: A nose balanced between sweeter and more savory elements, candied green apple and Werther's caramel aromas given depth and seriousness by laquered wood and lemongrass notes. On the palate, similarly sweet and savory, with flavors of lemon meringue, chalky mineral, creme brulee and melon rind. Notes of sweet hay and dried herbs tilt the balance toward savory for me, at least right now. The long finish shows pear skin and beeswax, minerality and citrus pith. In the middle of what promises to be a long, interesting life. Drink now or age up to another two decades for additional notes of hazelnuts and butterscotch.
  • Production: 2250 cases
  • Library Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

Two additional reds (the 2020 Counoise and 2020 Cotes de Tablas) join the 2019 Panoplie, 2019 Le Complice, and two bottles of 2019 Tannat in the Red Wine Selection shipment:


  • Production Notes: Valued as a blending grape in France because of its spiciness, its fresh acidity, and its low alcohol, Counoise is rarely seen on its own. But we love being able to share one, and suggest you enjoy it much as you might a Cru Beaujolais: slightly chilled, with charcuterie or as an aperitif. We tend to ferment our Counoise lots in stainless steel to protect it from oxidation, and to age it in neutral oak to avoid weighing down its bright fruit flavors. The lots that we chose for our varietal Counoise were selected and blended in June 2021 and bottled in February 2022, under screwcap to preserve the wine's freshness.   
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely translucent garnet color. Very fresh on the nose, with aromas of raspberry, rose petals, and savory chaparral, spicy and lifted. The palate is juicy, herby, and lively, reminiscent of the whole wild strawberry experience, from fruit to leaves, with sweet sarsaparilla spice, light tannins, and refreshing acids. A pretty and intriguing wine that should be endlessly flexible with food. Enjoy it lightly chilled any time in the next six to eight years.
  • Production: 240 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28


  • Production Notes: Grenache always plays lead in the Cotes de Tablas, and 2020 (where it represents 43%) was no exception. But during our blending trials we realized we had enough top-notch Syrah left to make a more serious, savory Cotes than we often do, and included 33% in the blend. 20% Counoise (for vibrancy and spice) and 4% Mourvedre (for earth and complexity) rounded out the wine, which was blended in June 2021 and aged in 1200-gallon neutral oak foudres until its bottling in February 2022.
  • Tasting Notes: A serious nose of brambly spice, red apple skin, wild grape jelly, and bay. The palate is poised evenly between savory and sweeter elements, with plum skin and cola deepened by dried herbs and cocoa powder. A little chalky minerality comes out along with some fairly substantial tannins on the finish. This will be delicious young, with excellent complexity for this bottling, but should also age gracefully a decade or more.
  • Production: 1200 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

If you're a wine club member, we've got a few different ways you can try these wines. We are planning to host a live, outdoor, in-person pickup party here at the winery on Sunday, March 27th. Neil and I will also be hosting another virtual pickup party the evening of Friday, April 8th, with the opportunity to order 187ml tasting kits from us so you can taste along. And we'll again be offering club members who visit between mid-March and mid-April the opportunity to choose their shipment wines as their tasting flight. 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 up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment? Details and how to join are at

A Picture Worth 1,000 Words, Mid-Winter Edition

We're in week three of sunny January after our rainiest December in nearly two decades, and the vineyard looks amazing. This is peak green for Paso Robles, almost shocking if you're used to it in its summer colors. I've been taking advantage of the sun to get out and take lots of pictures of how things look, and while experimenting with using the panoramic mode on my iPhone vertically, ended up capturing a photo that I feel like tells big chunks of the story of Tablas Creek in one shot. I'll share the photo first, and then break down the story that I see when I look at this picture, starting at the bottom and working my way up to the horizon.  

Winter on Crosshairs
Miner's Lettuce at Ground Level
At the bottom of the photo you can see, nestled among the grasses, spade-shaped leaves of the water-loving California native plant Miner's Lettuce. It thrives in wet soils, and is one of our best indicators that the ground is saturated. It's also very tasty, like a milder, juicier spinach, and was a great source of vitamins for California pioneers (hence its name). I dove into its significance in a blog more than a decade ago, but the take-home is that it's one of my indicators that the soils are saturated.

Native Cover Crop
A little further up, you can see the thick green carpet of grasses and broadleaf plants that are growing around the vines. This isn't a section that we seeded, instead choosing to leave the topsoil undisturbed to allow the plants that summered over to grow naturally. This is not to say that we avoid planting cover crops. We believe in them, and always seed many of our blocks each year with a mix of peas, oats, vetch, clovers, and radishes. But more and more, in the blocks that we believe can support them, we're going to leave sections to seed themselves year after year. And the lush health of this cover crop is a great indication that the goal of building rich, nutrient-dense soils is succeeding.

Head-Trained, Wide-Spaced, Dry-Farmed Grenache Vines Grafted onto St. George Rootstocks
We planted this block in 2012, as a part of our exploration into how we could help the grapes we love thrive without irrigation in our often hot-dry climate. To do this, we looked toward the past, to one of the first rootstocks developed after the phylloxera epidemic, which was widely used in the many California vineyards planted before irrigation became widespread in the 1970s. This is the famously deep-rooting, high vigor St. George rootstock, 100% from vitis rupestris stock, which fell out of favor in irrigated vineyards because of its high vigor, deep root growth, and incompatibility with some wine grapes. But Grenache? Not a problem. It grafts well to any rootstock. The deep root structure? Perfect for our calcareous clay soils, where the top several feet might be dry by late summer. High vigor? Great! Dry-farming grapes in Paso Robles is a naturally high stress endeavor. Giving the vines what they need to survive and thrive is a big piece of our goal each year. And Grenache, the lead grape in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is originally from the hot, dry Spanish plateau, well adapted both for the Rhone's Mediterranean climate and for ours. 

This block is a great example of how we look to the past for our farming models. After all, wine grapes were grown in California for centuries before drip irrigation, and you only have to drive around Paso Robles to see the health of these old vineyards today, nearly a century after they were planted. What do these old vineyards all have in common? Low density (wide spacing). Head-training. Dry-farming. We have high hopes that the vineyards we are planting in this model will be examples to future grapegrowers a century from now, while providing a hedge against near- and medium-term climate change. 

Hilltop Owl Box
At the top of the hill, you can see one of the 43 owl boxes we have scattered around the property. Back when there were just 38 of them, Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg wrote about their value and even shared directions on how to build your own. These boxes, and the families of owls that they support, are a big piece of our ongoing fight against the gophers and ground squirrels that plague our region. When you commit to farming organically, you lose the ability to poison these rodent pests. You can trap gophers, and we do. But families of owls, each of which can eat 500 rodents in a nesting season, provide round-the-clock vigilance against a wider spectrum of rodents, helping maintain and restore the environment's balance. And that balance is the central tenet of Biodynamics, which seeks to turn your farm unit into a complete and naturally resilient ecosystem. Thirty years into our commitment to organics, a decade into our first forays into Biodynamics, and four years into our move toward Regenerative Organics, these owl boxes are maybe the most visible, understandable piece of that effort. 

So, what does this photo tell me? It tells a story of a healthy, balanced vineyard, planted in to a grape and in a way that aligns it with the growing conditions here. It tells the story of  vineyard practices that make best possible use of the resources that Nature provides us, those resources encouraged and supported by our farming. And it tells the story of a winter that, so far at least, is playing out exactly as we would have wished.

Looking back with a decade's perspective on the sunny, generous 2012 vintage

Though we didn't know it at the time, 2012 was a pivot year for us. Following two cold, wet vintages, 2012 was notably warm, and began what would turn out to be a five-year drought cycle and the first of eight dry years in ten. It also marked a significantly warmer vintage than we'd seen in the past, which turned out to be a preview of conditions we would see regularly over the next decade. Because 2011 was a frost-reduced crop, the vines went into 2012 with plenty of stored up vigor, even though rainfall was just 70% of normal. Budbreak proceeded smoothly at a normal time frame, and the growing season was routine until a major August heat spike gave us eight consecutive days over 100. Most of the vineyard shrugged this off, except for Mourvedre, where we saw significant sunburn. Although we were expecting normal to slightly above normal yields, they turned out to be plentiful in all grapes except Mourvedre, as we saw an average of 3.5 tons per acre. Harvest took place at a normal time frame, beginning the first week of September and finishing the last week of October.

When we got to blending it was a relief to have more options than in our tiny 2011 harvest, when the frost dictated largely what we could and couldn't make. But the higher-than-expected yields had some negatives too, particularly in Grenache, and there were lots that were less intense than we were looking for. Some got declassified into Patelin, which turned out to be terrific that year. Other wines required a higher percentage of Syrah than normal in order to get the color and structure that we wanted. (The vintage was something of a wakeup call for us, and we changed what we had been doing to be more hands-on in both the cellar and the vineyard starting in 2013, in order to keep from being surprised again.) And I was happy after our blending trials; our top wines were outstanding. But the vintage overall always came across to me as more friendly than impressive, sunny and juicy and open-knit, wines to drink and enjoy while other, more structured vintages evolved in the cellar.

So it was with interest that I approached the opportunity to taste through the entire lineup of wines that we made in 2012 last week. This horizontal retrospective tasting is something we do each year, looking at the complete array of wines that we made a decade earlier. We do this for a few reasons. First, it's a chance to take stock on how the wines are evolving, share those notes with our fans who may have them in their cellars, and keep our vintage chart up to date. There are wines (like the Esprits, and Panoplie) that we open fairly regularly, but others that we may not have tasted in six or seven years. Second, it's a chance to evaluate the decisions we made that year, see if they look better (or worse) in hindsight, and use that lens to see if there are any lessons to apply to what we're doing now. And third, it's a chance to put the vintage in perspective. Often, in the immediate aftermath of a harvest and even at blending, we're so close to this most recently completed year that it can be difficult to assess its character impartially. Plus, the full character of a vintage doesn't show itself until the wines have a chance to age a bit. In evaluating these 2012s, I was particularly interested to see the extent to which a decade had deepened that sunny friendliness that I remember from its youth. As you will see, in some cases it did, while in others, not so much. The lineup:

2012 Horizontal Tasting Wines

My notes on the wines are below. I've noted their closures (SC=screwcap; C=cork) and, for the blends, their varietal breakdown. Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see winemaking details or the tasting notes at bottling. I was joined for the tasting by three-fifths of our cellar team (Neil Collins, Amanda Weaver, and Austin Collins) as well as by Neil's older son Jordan and Tasting Room Manager John Morris.

  • 2012 Vermentino (SC): Initially upon pouring, showed a screwcap-inflected nose of flint, which blew off to show a pithy, kaffir lime leaf note. On the palate, fresh and bright, green apple, citrus oil, salty and briny. Like a gin & tonic with extra lime. A plush mid-palate and then lots of great acid on the finish. In outstanding shape, still youthful, and a good reminder to let older screwcapped whites breathe a bit before judging them.
  • 2012 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A nose of oyster shells, pineapple skin, and blanched almond. The palate came off as rich compared to the Vermentino that preceded it, almost buttery, with flavors of limestone and white tea. The acids come back out at the end, with a finish of melon rind and wet rocks. Not that anyone would intentionally let a Picpoul age this long, but they'd have to be happy if they opened it and this was what they found.
  • 2012 Grenache Blanc (SC): A classic minerally nose that Amanda said "smells like rain". Underneath that mineral petrichor note I got some sweet anise and spicy bay. The palate showed lemon curd, rounder than we were expecting, but then firming up into a classic bite of Grenache Blanc tannins and white grapefruit pith. Finished clean and long, electric and still very much alive. A terrific showing for this grape that's known to oxidize young.
  • 2012 Viognier (SC): The nose was rich but spicy, pink peppercorn and dried apricot. The palate is fresher than the nose, like fresh apricot juice and mineral, orange blossom and Meyer lemon. Excellent acidity for a Viognier, with a finish like rose water and Middle Eastern spices. Exotic without straying into heavy or blowsy territory.
  • 2012 Roussanne (C): The first wine we tasted finished under cork, and clearly marked as such: deeper flavors of honey, peach liqueur, and spiced nuts. The palate showed lanolin, butterscotch, and preserved lemon, rich texture leavened by good acids, and then exotically spiced on the finish: ginger and graham cracker, but dry, with a little tannic bite. Delicious.
  • 2012 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 52% Grenache Blanc, 27% Viognier, 16% Roussanne, 5% Marsanne): A pale color that looked like it could have just been bottled. A nose of sea shells, peppermint, and something meaty that Neil identified as prosciutto. The palate is clean, with kaffir lime and lemongrass flavors. The finish shows notes of chamomile and wet rocks. Fresh and youthful. Like the Picpoul, we're guessing there's very little of this out there still. But if it's been stored well, it's still lovely.
  • 2012 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 34% Viognier, 30% Marsanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 6% Roussanne): Initially the nose was closed and a little reduced, like a struck match. Then it opened to flavors of kiwi and plantain. The palate was lovely, with rich texture and flavors of brioche and peach pit, then brightening under Grenache Blanc's influence to show citrus pith and fresh peach juice. Saline and long. A treat.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (C; 75% Roussanne, 20% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): So, so fresh on the nose, showing less age than the varietal Roussanne. Aromas of honeysuckle, pineapple, golden delicious apple and a little sweet oak. The palate showed honey, sweet herbs, and honeydew melon. A rich texture, but very clean. Candied orange peel and vanilla custard came out on the finish. Just beautiful, and right at peak, but with plenty of life left. John asked, "is 'wow' a flavor"?
  • 2012 Patelin de Tablas Rosé (SC; 75% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise): Our first-ever Patelin Rosé still had a pretty pale color, with a nose of watermelon rind, rose hips, and cherry skin. The palate was pretty, cherry and spicy bay leaf, then drier on the finish with cherry skin, sandalwood, and sweet spices. Maybe not a sipping wine on its own at this point, but seemed to be calling out for a charcuterie plate. No one would have intentionally kept this wine this long, but it's still sound. 
  • 2012 Dianthus (SC; 60% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 15% Counoise): A little rustiness in the color. The nose showed rhubarb and menthol, also showing some age. The palate is nicer, with flavors of plum and sweet tobacco, and a little Aperol-like bitterness. The finish shows strawberry fruit leather and mineral notes. Surprisingly less vibrant than the Patelin Rosé. Interesting at this stage, more than pleasurable. 
  • 2012 Full Circle (C): Our third Full Circle Pinot Noir from my dad's property in the Templeton Gap, and not our favorite showing. The nose had notes of cola and Fernet and baking chocolate and prunes. The palate was chewy, with some bittersweet chocolate, cedar, and root beer notes. Luxardo cherry came out on the finish, which was still fairly tannic. Felt like this might have been impacted by the warmth of the vintage, and that maybe we worked a little too hard on extracting flavors from it in the cellar. This was better when it was younger and had fresher fruit flavors to cloak the tannins.
  • 2012 Grenache (C): Warm and inviting on the nose, with flavors of strawberry compote, cola, and fig. The palate was soft and ripe, with flavors of milk chocolate and cherry, cedar and sweet spice. Pretty but we thought would have been better a few years ago. Drink up if you've got any.
  • 2012 Mourvedre (C): After the first two reds, both of which we thought were a little over the hill, the wine's cool vibrancy was dramatic. A nose of pine forest and loam, dark chocolate and redcurrant. The palate showed red cherry and plum, cocoa powder and juniper. The freshness just jumped out, with lively acids and still substantial tannins. The finish continued in the same vein, with leather and plum skin and Nordic spice.
  • 2012 Tannat (C): A nose that Neil described as "opaque", meaning that we kept describing it as dark rather than finding individual flavors. Eventually blackberry thicket and baker's chocolate, with both sweet (vanilla bean) and cool (menthol) spice. The palate is mouth-filling, with tobacco and chocolate flavors, a rich texture with plenty of tannin, and an undercurrent of sweet fruit like Medjool dates. Not a sipping wine but would be amazing with a spice-rubbed brisket. Probably right at peak.
  • 2012 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 53% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 18% Mourvedre, 2% Counoise): When we first poured this, showed a little matchstick-like screwcap character, but this blew off to show a lovely Grenache character of olallieberry, cinnamon, and cherry cola. The palate is bright, with raspberry and sarsaparilla notes, and tannins like powdered sugar and a texture like milk chocolate. The finish showed notes of graphite, cedar, and dried cranberry. Fun, in beautiful shape, and a screaming bargain for the $20 we sold it for at the time. 
  • 2012 Cotes de Tablas (C; 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5%Mourvedre): While we usually love the Cotes de Tablas at age 10, we found this a little tired on the nose, with notes of coffee grounds, molasses, and figs. The palate is similar but a little fresher, with black cherry and orange oil notes, loamy and chocolatey. The finish shows its Grenache base with notes of anise and Chinese five spice. Probably a year or two past its peak. 
  • 2012 En Gobelet (C; 63% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 11% Syrah, 8% Counoise, 6% Tannat): Lively on the nose with notes of redwood forest, bittersweet chocolate, marzipan, and potpourri. The palate is lovely with sweet blackberry fruit and wood smoke, substantial tannins, and a long finish of chocolate-covered cherry and star anise. The first Grenache-led wine of the tasting that we really loved, and right at peak.
  • 2012 Esprit de Tablas (C; 40% Mourvedre, 30% Syrah, 21% Grenache, 9% Counoise): A nose of new leather and forest floor, currant and anise. On the palate, fresh and red fruit-dominated, redcurrant, cigar box, and sweet spice. The tannins are largely resolved. The finish shows flavors of licorice and cassis and sweet tobacco, deepened by a little savory Worcestershire note. This might not be one of our longest-lived Esprits, but it's drinking absolutely beautifully right now.
  • 2012 Panoplie (C; 70% Mourvedre, 20% Grenache, 10% Syrah): A vibrant nose of mint chocolate, garrigue, and pancetta that then echoes between red and black fruit. The palate is concentrated without any sense of heaviness, flavors of blackcurrant, licorice, sweet earth and black tea. The tannins are substantial but largely resolved, leaving an impression of lusciousness and refinement. At peak, but no hurry.
  • 2012 Petit Manseng (C): Our third bottling of this classic southwest French grape known for maintaining great acids as it reaches high (and occasionally extremely high) sugar levels, which we make each year in an off-dry style. We tried a sweeter style in 2012, and it wasn't our favorite, with flavors of toasted marshmallow, lychee, and vanilla. The acids come out toward the finish, but it's still sweeter than what we've made in more recent years, and we all missed the bracing acids of those more modern vintages. 
  • 2012 Vin de Paille (C; 100% Roussanne): A treat to end the day. 2012's sunny, reliable harvest weather and plentiful Roussanne vintage allowed us to make our first Vin de Paille since 2006. The nose showed notes of flan and orange marmalade. The palate was very sweet but also showed lovely acids, with flavors of candied orange and chamomile, a luscious texture, and a finish of vanilla bean and orange blossom. Like many of the wines, also right at peak.

A few concluding thoughts

This tasting confirmed my opinion that 2012 was not, by our standards, an aging vintage. Some wines that are usually peaking at around a decade (like Grenache, or Cotes de Tablas) felt already a few years past their primes. Others that tend to still be youthful a decade out (like Tannat, or En Gobelet) felt right at their peaks. It also was not our favorite vintage for Grenache, and as we got toward wines that showed higher percentages of Syrah and Mourvedre, the wines felt firmer and more structured. I think we made a good call with the Esprit that year to displace some Grenache for more Syrah, even though it meant we didn't have any Syrah left to form a varietal bottling.

That said, the whites were across the board excellent. We weren't expecting much from the first three wines, and ended up having to argue over which of them was most deserving to make its place into the public tasting we'll be holding of the highlights in March. And it wasn't just the wines under screwcap; the Roussanne and Esprit de Tablas Blanc were both wonderful. It's worth noting that nearly all of the screwcapped wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and for any wine that has been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that most older screwcapped wines have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant speeds the process.

The tasting also drove home the value of our blending process. The top wines (Esprit, Esprit Blanc, and Panoplie) were all outstanding, and showed the best of the vintage without also carrying its weaknesses. To have the flexibility to reconfigure these wines when the vintage dictates is invaluable, and seeing the results a decade later was affirming. This is why we don't blend to a formula. The raw materials are different each year. I was proud of the process that produced those wines.

We have high hopes that we'll be able to hold an in-person horizontal tasting of the highlights from this tasting. We'd originally scheduled it for Sunday, February 6th, but we pushed it back a month to Sunday, March 6th in the hopes that this will let the surge in Covid Omicron cases subside. If you'd like to join us, we'll be tasting the following 10 wines: Vermentino, Roussanne, Cotes de Tablas Blanc, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Mourvedre, Patelin de Tablas, En Gobelet, Esprit de Tablas, Panoplie, and Vin de Paille. I can't wait. For more information, or to join us, click here

An assessment of winter 2021-22 after our wettest December since 2004

It seemed like a good omen for this winter when we got several inches of rain in late October. Typically, winters where there's significant early rain (like 2004-05, 2009-10, or 2016-17) end up being drought-breakers, the sorts of years where you replenish aquifers and set your vineyard up for at least a couple of vintages. But then we had an almost-entirely-dry November, which combined with the moderate la nina conditions in place this year, suggested below-average rain. So it was with relief that the storm door opened the second week of December and directed a series of weather systems at the California coast. We got measurable rain twelve of the final nineteen days of the month for a total of 11.06 inches. That puts us at something like 175% of normal rainfall to date:

Rainfall by Month Winter 2021-22

With the storm door closed at the moment, it seemed like a good time to step back and take a look at what this rain means for the winter, and more relevantly this upcoming harvest's prospects. After two dry years, it's wonderful to see how incredibly green the vineyard is, grass growing fast now that the sun is out:

Tall grass and animal enclosure

After moving them to shelter during the biggest storm, both for their own safety and so they didn't compress the wet soil too much, the sheep are back in the vineyard enjoying all the new grass:

Sheep in nursery block

The early rain, and the cover crop growth it produced, allowed us to make a full rotation through the vineyard already. It's pretty cool walking through vineyard blocks and seeing the sheep manure from just a few weeks ago already nearly obscured by regrown grass:

Tall grass and sheep manure

The water we received, despite its volume, nearly all soaked in and saturated the absorbent limestone clay layers, with only a tiny fraction percolating into our watershed. Las Tablas Creek is flowing, but it's hardly a raging torrent:

Las Tablas Creek

Evidence of the abundance of moisture at the surface is provided by new growth of water-loving plants like mushrooms (left) and miner's lettuce (right):

Mushrooms Miners Lettuce

A little break of sun is welcome at this point. It will give the recent rain a chance to penetrate deeply and will super-charge the growth of the cover crop. We're hoping to get the sheep through two more full rotations through the vineyard before we have to move them out for budbreak, and it seems likely we'll be able to given the abundance of food.

Even better, this moisture came without any significant negative impacts. Because of the absorbency of our soils, we don't worry much about erosion in the vineyard. But I was pleased to see the impact of the erosion mitigation measures  we took to keep our roads in good shape. The photo below shows one of these: straw bales that we put in drainage areas to divert the water into the vineyard, where it could soak in, rather than continuing down roadsides:

Erosion mitigation

Overall, I'm feeling like we've gotten the beginning of winter we all were hoping for. We're ahead of schedule for water, already having exceeded the full-winter totals we've seen in recent years like 2013-14, 2014-5, and (most importantly) 2020-21, with more than half the rainy season still to come. We've already booked 13 below-freezing nights, which means that the vineyard is fully and truly dormant. The cover crops look like they're in for an outstanding year. 

What would an ideal second half of winter look like? A few weeks of sun, then a resumption of more rain in the second half of January. Continued periodic storms and frosty nights in February and March. And come early April, a smooth transition to more benign weather with no more frost, so budbreak can proceed uninterrupted. Can we do it? Time will tell. But we're off to a great start.