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July 2022

What we've learned about making box wine, six months and three colors later

Back in February, I published a blog that created a bit of a stir. In it, I made the case that boxes of wine (the cardboard kind normally found on grocery store shelves, not the wooden kind found in fancy cellars) deserved another look from higher-end producers. It had become stigmatized in the market, the container for what people assumed would be cheap plonk. But I asserted that there were compelling reasons to shift certain wines into boxes, most notably that it offered advantages in preservation (it can last weeks in your fridge after being opened), storage space (glass bottles are bulky, and the packaging needed to cushion them takes up yet more space), and portability (a full 3L bag-in-box weighs seven pounds while the same volume in bottles weighs eleven). Plus, and probably most importantly, because glass bottles are heavy and require lots of energy to melt and mold, a 3L wine bag-in-box offers an 84% carbon footprint reduction vs. the four glass bottles that would contain the same wine.

The blog got 54 comments, more than any other we've ever published. It spurred stories in Wine Searcher, Forbes, and even the Robb Report. I was invited to speak about the decision at the WiVi tradeshow and on the XChateau Podcast. More recently, the New York Times published an article in which wine columnist Eric Asimov pointed to our experiments with the wine boxes as a productive step forward for wine producers grappling with the environmental impact of our default package. The initial batch of 324 boxes of our Patelin de Tablas Rosé sold out four hours after we announced their release in an email to our wine club and mailing list. We made more (522 boxes) of the Patelin de Tablas Blanc in June, and despite releasing them in a much less shipping-friendly season sold them out in less than a month. This week, we put our first red into box, the 2021 Patelin de Tablas. We're planning to release it soon, and I expect it to go fast.

Cellar team making Patelin red boxes Chelsea filling Patelin red boxes

The response from our customers has been amazing. I was hoping that we'd sell out of the Patelin Rosé boxes in a month, so being out in four hours was definitely above my wildest aspirations. And the feedback we've seen from customers either directly or online has been terrific. But I've been most gratified to hear from so many other producers who are also looking to explore this lower-carbon package and want to know what we've learned. A few have even jumped in and done it, including Kobayashi Winery, who released their high-end Roussanne/Marsanne blend in a $195 box.

In the spirit of using the blog to answer the questions I get every day, here's a quick summary of what we've learned after six months:

  • The public is more open than they've ever been to alternative packaging. This first hurdle, which I assumed would be the biggest one, turned out to be no big deal. Granted, we have a direct relationship with the customers on our mailing list and in our wine club. But so do other wineries. And based on the number of people who let me know that this was their first-ever purchase of a boxed wine, we weren't dealing with people who were already converts to the package. That's amazing. And it's not just boxes. Writers as on platforms as diverse and distinguished as JancisRobinson.com, SommTV, San Francisco Chronicle, and Wine Enthusiast have recently published pieces in support of lighter-weight, lower-waste wine containers like boxes, cans, kegs, and bottles made from paper, resin, and plastic. 
  • The wholesale market is likely to be slower to adjust. When I published that February blog, I heard from a few independent retailers around the country asking if they could buy some of these boxes. We didn't make enough this first go-around to sell them in the wholesale market, but I put out some feelers with our wholesalers for next year. Although there were a few exceptions, the responses I got were not generally enthusiastic. Most boiled down to some version of, "You want people to spend how much for your box of wine? That won't work with our current box wine outlets." And I get this. A quick search on the shelves at our local Albertsons revealed a decent array of box wines... all selling for between $20 and $35. Doing the math, that translates to between $5 and $8.75 per 750ml. Our Patelin boxes, priced at $95, work out to $23.75 per 750ml bottle. I submit that this is still a great value -- bottles of Patelin sell for $28, after all -- but I could easily imagine the sticker shock of a grocery store customer wondering what this outlier was doing on a shelf at triple the price of the next-most-expensive box. If someone knows and trusts Tablas Creek already, great. That's easy to overcome. But are those people looking in the box wine section of their local retail store? Perhaps not. However, I still think that there is a market for high-end box wines in wholesale. It's just not at the traditional grocery and retail chain outlets. The sweet spot, I think, would be to market this to smaller, independent retailers who talk to their customers and would be excited to share the advantages of boxes. And to hip restaurants who don't have keg systems to pour wine by the glass. After all, the preservation and waste-reduction advantages offered by boxes could prove incredibly valuable at a restaurant level. No more pouring out the oxidized ends of bottles after two days. No more bins full of empty glass.    
  • The infrastructure to support small producers packaging in bag-in-box has a long way to come... but it could happen fast. There is a supply network that allows small- to medium-size wineries to operate with reasonable economies of scale. These include brokers who consolidate the offerings of vendors of bottles, capsules, labels and corks; mobile bottling lines that allow a winery to bottle a few weeks a year without having to invest in a line that costs hundreds of thousands of dollars; and warehouses who ship wine for hundreds of wineries and can negotiate on reasonable footing with common carriers like UPS and FedEx. All those pieces still need to be developed for boxes of wine. We had one off-the-shelf option (thank you AstraPouch!) on the open market for sourcing our boxes and the bags that go inside. That's fine; you don't need to make millions of boxes to contract with a printer to make your own. We're leaning toward doing so for future runs. But if you were wondering why for this year we used the plain craft cardboard box with our label stuck onto it, well, that was the only option available. For the filling, we had a similarly restricted set of options. There are no mobile boxing lines in California. There is one in Oregon, but the minimum commitment to have them drive all the way down here was in the tens of thousands of boxes. There is a custom boxing line in the Central Valley at which you can rent space if you can bring your wine and materials to them, but their minimums were similarly high. So we were left with renting (and eventually buying) a semi-automated bag filler from Torr Industries and building all the boxes ourselves. That's time consuming (see below) and not very scalable. Finally, on the shipping end, we work with the largest fulfillment house in California to ship our wine to our consumers. They didn't have a package for boxes because they'd never done it before. We had to do a bunch of trial and error, and still aren't 100% satisfied with where we ended up. What's more, neither FedEx nor UPS have approved shipping boxes for wine in box, which means they won't take any responsibility that the product arrives intact.
  • It's time consuming doing the box construction and filling yourself. As I mentioned in the last point, because of the lack of availability and prohibitively high minimum quantities for automated box-filling lines, we had to set up a little assembly line and do it ourselves. You can see the process in the pictures at the beginning of the piece. Someone has to attach the bag to the filler, start the fill, then when it's done detach it and repeat. Meanwhile, someone else has to be assembling and taping the top of the boxes, while yet another person puts a bag into that half-assembled box and then closes and tapes up the bottom. Finally, someone has to carefully stick on the label, then put the box into its "master" case box that holds six of the finished 3L packages. Each stage takes time, on average 30 seconds to fill, 20 seconds to assemble the top of the box, 24 seconds to put the bag into the box and tape up the bottom, and 16 seconds to stick on each label. That's 90 seconds per box of labor. To make 400 boxes, as we did Monday, it takes 10 hours of work time, not counting the time it takes to set up and calibrate the machine, unpack the shipments of materials, or close up finished master cases and prepare them for transport. For our cellar team of four, making 400 3L boxes was an afternoon's work. That's a lot slower than bottling using a mobile bottling line. How much slower? We normally can bottle 2000 cases in a full day of work. The 400 3L boxes is equivalent to 133 9L cases. So if we'd done a full day, we might have finished the equivalent of 275 cases... less than 15% of the volume we could have put into bottles in that same time. That's a huge disincentive to scale up a boxed wine program.
  • The package itself is even better than we'd thought. For all the challenges, we're believers in the package. We're now roughly six months out from our first batch of boxes, and the wine is still showing beautifully when we open a new box, indistinguishable from a newly-opened screwcapped bottle. We've tried the wine after having it be open two months and four months in a fridge, and it showed fresh and pure. We'll keep testing and will know more after a year, but as far as the integrity of the wine in the box, we've been happy.

So, where does this leave us? Not all that far from where we began. We think the package is good for the wine and now have confirmation that consumers are willing to give it a try even at a higher price. We have learned that the infrastructure to support smaller producers who want to move to bag-in-box is limited. We have learned that there are lots of other wineries out there who are interested, but that many are stymied by the lack of infrastructure. And we know that the wine press is focused like never before on bigger picture questions on the sustainability of wine and the containers it comes in.

All this together seems to me like it will result in changes coming sooner than later that will make it accessible for smaller wineries to offer boxes of their wine to customers. After all, it's a business opportunity, as well as a chance to help move the wine world to a lower-carbon future. Now we wait.

Patelin Red Boxes


Comparing Clusters and Vine Growth in Our Principal Red Rhone Varieties as Harvest 2022 Aproaches

This is a time of year when things move fast in the vineyard. In just the last couple of weeks, we've gone from just starting veraison to more than halfway through. Large swaths of fully-colored grapes don't look much different than they will at harvest, and they're getting tasty. Even better, the vines themselves still look great. Typically, by mid-August some of the lower vigor grapes (I'm looking at you, Mourvedre) start to look a little tired, with some yellowing or browning of the leaves. Not this year. Throughout the vineyard, the vines look deep green and vigorous. That bodes well for their ability to make a strong finishing push.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at our main red grape varieties, both cluster and vine, to get a comparative sense of how they grow and what they look like now. So I took a walk through our Scruffy Hill block, which we planted back in 2005 and 2006 with the idea it would someday be a vineyard block designate, and got representative photos of the four red Rhone varieties we had available to plant in that era. I then went to a new head-trained Cinsaut block to complete the quintet of grapes we think of as our core set. I'll share them in the order in which we expect them to arrive in the cellar, starting with Syrah and finishing with Mourvedre. Without further ado:

Syrah

There are Syrah blocks at the tops of our hills that look like they might only be a couple of weeks from harvest. But our Scruffy Hill section will likely be longer than that; you can see that the cluster I photographed still has a green berry, and there are other green clusters in the background. But overall I'd guess we're 80% of the way through veraison in Syrah. The grapes are characteristically blue-black, and the clusters modest in size and roughly cylindrical. In terms of the vine, you can see its vigor and its sprawling growth pattern, which is why we train it up high. That way the long canes can arc down like an umbrella instead of trailing on the ground. 

Pre-harvest 2022 - Syrah Pre-harvest 2022 - Syrah Vine

Grenache

Grenache has made a lot of progress through veraison in the last few weeks, and I'd estimate it's past the 50% mark vineyard-wide. You can see in the cluster I chose its relatively pale purple color and its tightly bunched, large clusters of fairly large grapes. The vine is also characteristic: stocky and robust, looking twice as old as its 16-year age, with a large number of relatively stiff canes shooting out at a variety of angles and a plentiful supply of grapes. We should see our first Grenache lots in mid-September, but our last lots not until mid-October. 

Pre-harvest 2022 - Grenache Pre-harvest 2022 - Grenache vine

Cinsaut

Cinsaut may actually come in before Grenache, but the only head-trained block that we have is in one of the lowest parts of the vineyard and was impacted by the frosts we saw this spring. So, the vine's progress is a bit behind where it should be, and where the trellised blocks are elsewhere in the vineyard. But the cluster is still coloring up nicely, with a mix of colors between green and medium purple. The range of grape sizes is unusual (it's a condition colorfully known as "hens and chicks") and appears to be a symptom of the difficult weather it had during flowering. The vine, even in its youth, is already showing the long canes characteristic of Cinsaut and the vigor and upright growth pattern that made it so successful in both Mediterranean Europe and old Californian head-trained, dry-farmed vineyards. We expect it to come in roughly in synch with Grenache. 

Pre-harvest 2022 - Cinsaut Pre-harvest 2022 - Cinsaut Vine

Counoise

There are still Counoise blocks where you have to do some hunting around to find purple berries, but the Scruffy Hill block was at about 50%. This cluster shows the large berries that made Counoise a prized table grape before the development of seedless grapes, and its fairly pale color. The vine shows the moderate vigor and upright growth characteristic of Counoise. We don't expect to see our first Counoise grapes in the cellar until early October.

Pre-harvest 2022 - Counoise Pre-harvest 2022 - Counoise Vine

Mourvedre

We have a lot of Mourvedre blocks, in various stages of ripening.  The Scruffy Hill Mourvedre block is lower down the hillside, and it's relatively early into veraison. But there are hilltop trellised blocks that are nearly done. Still, even when it finishes veraison Mourvedre takes a while to get to ripeness, and we're not likely to see much if any in the cellar until October. The photo below shows the grape's relatively loose clusters, which helps it shrug off early rains, should we be so lucky, and the medium-dark color that the red berries have achieved shows why it produces darker wines than Counoise, Cinsaut, or Grenache. The vine is typical of what we see in the block this year, although as I mentioned in the intro it's unusually green compared to many other years. I would normally expect our Mourvedre vines to look more or less like the Counoise photo above, but this year they have longer canes and more leafy vigor. That's as good a sign as any that the vineyard has unusual vigor and is well positioned for this finishing push.

Pre-harvest 2022 - Mourvedre Pre-harvest 2022 - Mourvedre Vine

A quick note about this year's variability

Although as I noted in a few weeks ago we're likely to challenge our earliest-ever beginning to harvest, I'm starting to believe that it's likely to be quite an extended harvest season. Thanks to the frosts we got in March, April, and May, there's more difference than I'm used to seeing between the tops of the hills (which avoided the frosts and sprouted early) and the bottoms (which either stayed dormant through the frosts or were frozen back when they emerged). And we're used to a long harvest, typically lasting around eight weeks between the arrival of the first and last fruit. This year may be longer.

Still, I'm feeling optimistic about things. We're well set up to handle uneven or delayed ripening, since we give our field crew year-round employment and pick selectively while making multiple passes through our blocks even in a normal year. If we're going to have a 10-week lag between our first and last grapes, it's good to get an early start. And if you were designing perfect ripening weather, what we've gotten the last couple of weeks and what's forecast for next week (days topping out in the upper 80s to upper 90s, with onshore flow and cool nights) would be exactly what you'd wish for.

Let's get this party started.


Tasting the wines in the Fall 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 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 the Esprits. In our classic (mixed) shipment we have two varietal wines, one red and one white, both of which I love, and two blends: the newest (and in my opinion, best-ever) vintage of our "neighborhood" white, the Patelin de Tablas Blanc, 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 the additional wines that will go into the red wine and white wine selections are super cool as well. I'm excited to get them in our members' hands soon.  

The classic shipment includes six different wines:

Fall 2022 Classic Shipment

2021 PATELIN DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas Blanc is our white Rhone-style blend sourced from five great neighboring Rhone vineyards: Derby, Fralich, Castoro, Pomar Junction, and Creston Ridge, with a 7% addition of Tablas Creek fruit. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (54%), with Viognier (29%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, Marsanne (9%) and Roussanne (7%) adding minerality and texture, and for the first time, a little Bourboulenc (1%) for its pithy tropicality. The wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled in screwcap in May 2022 to preserve its freshness.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely Rhone-like nose of peach pit, chalky minerality, and sweet sarsaparilla spice. On the palate, ripe pear and fresh apricot, a pronounced limestone-like minerality, and lovely acids that bring out Grenache Blanc's signature pithy bite on the long, tropical finish. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 2900 cases
  • List Price: $28 VINsider Price: $22.40

2021 GRENACHE BLANC

  • Production Notes: The chilly, dry 2020-21 winter produced punishingly low yields for some of our early-sprouting grapes, and Grenache Blanc was no exception, with the harvest down nearly 50%. That meant that we produced our smallest quantity of our 100% Grenache Blanc in more than a decade. But the combination of the low crop levels and the ideal 2021 growing season gave us Grenache Blanc with unusual concentration and rich texture. For the varietal Grenache Blanc, we chose mostly lots fermented in stainless steel (for energy), with a smaller addition from foudre (for roundness). The lots were blended in May 2022 and bottled under screwcap the next month.
  • Tasting Notes: An appealing nose of heirloom red apples and sweet spices. On the palate, on point between brighter and lusher elements: mouth-filling with flavors of fresh apple cider and citrus blossom, sea spray minerality and a hint of butterscotch. Vibrant acids keep order, and lead to a long, pithy finish with a pronounced saline mineral note. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 750 cases.
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2020 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: The challenges of the 2020 vintages included drought, heat, and pandemic, although we were spared the brunt of the state's terrible fires, which stayed well to our north. But Roussanne, at least, thrived, though its yields suffered as the hot harvest season dragged on. In the end, it was down 25% even as our overall yields were up 7%. Roussanne's scarcity, along with its relatively low acids, constrained us a bit in our blending, opening the door for us to use our highest percentage of complementary grapes since our initial Esprit Blanc in 2001. The final blend included 46% Roussanne, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages for power and density, 28% Grenache Blanc for texture and pithy bite, and 14% Picpoul for tropical intensity and bright acids. Rounding out the blend were three of our new white Rhone grapes: 5% Bourboulenc (appearing in Esprit Blanc for the first time) for limestoney, citrusy lift, 4% Clairette Blanche for its clean fruitiness and chalky minerality, and 3% Picardan for a little burst of acid, further emphasizing the mineral notes. As we have done since 2012, we returned the blend to foudre after it was assembled in May 2021 and aged it through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in December 2021. We've been letting it deepen in bottle ever since.
  • Tasting Notes: An immediately appealing nose of poached pear and baked quince, vanilla custard and nutmeg spice. On the palate, lovely and long, with Roussanne-driven flavors of beeswax and preserved lemon, rounded out by just a hint of sweet oak. Fresh and lifted, but long and textured. A charming Esprit Blanc that will be hard to resist young but which should also do beautifully with time in the cellar. Drink over the next two decades.
  • Production: 1880 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

2020 GRENACHE

  • Production Notes: Grenache thrived despite the challenges of the 2020 vintage, with yields up 45% and a lovely spine of tannic bite deepening the juicy appeal that we expect every year from this famously fruity grape. For our varietal bottling we as usual chose lots that emphasized Grenache's freshness and avoided riper lots that tend toward higher alcohols. The lots were blended in June 2021 and aged in neutral oak until its bottling in February 2022.
  • Tasting Notes: A lifted nose of minty, herby wild strawberry over deeper notes of teriyaki and black raspberries. On the palate, redcurrant and red licorice flavors, with tannins like fresh cherry skin providing counterpoint. The long finish shows red fruit, sweet spice, and firm tannic grip. Don't be thrown by the wine's relatively pale color; it packs a ton of flavor. Drink soon to enjoy the crunchy fruit character, or hold for a decade or more for a smoother experience.
  • Production: 1122 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2020 EN GOBELET

  • Production Notes: Our thirteenth 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 2020 the wine shows plenty of complexity. We chose a blend of 37% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 22% Syrah, 11% Counoise, and 5% Tannat, with the higher-than-normal percentages of Syrah and Tannat combining to give dark spice and firm tannins in this warm, luscious year. The wine was blended in June of 2021, aged in foudre, and bottled in April 2022.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely deep red color, darker than many previous years. On the nose, spicy and savory, with notes of chaparral and star anise over wild grapes and brambly black fruit. On the palate, flavors of dark chocolate-covered cherries, juniper spice, and ripe fresh figs. A lovely tannic richness emphasizes salty minerality on the long finish. Deep, complex, and built for the long term. Decant this if you're drinking it now, or wait and drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 906 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

2020 ESPRIT DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: As always, the Esprit is based on the red fruit and meatiness of Mourvedre (40%). 30% Grenache (for sweet spice and bright acids), 21% Syrah (for dark color and savory, tannic richness), and 5% Counoise (for brambly spice and freshness) were in line with most recent years, but in this relatively luscious vintage we found a place for two of our newest grapes for the first time: 3% Vaccarese, for black fruit and minerality, and 1% Cinsaut, for sweet spice and herby wildness. This blend produced something both luscious and weightless, complex and yet pure. The wine's components were fermented separately, then selected for Esprit, blended in June 2021 and aged a year in foudre before bottling in July 2022.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty nose that speaks clearly of Mourvedre in its elderberry and blackcurrant fruit and its eucalyptus and soy marinade umami notes. On the palate, black cherry and musky mulberry fruit, new leather, and a loamy richness that suggests a lovely meaty note will develop with time. The firm but ripe tannins maintain order and lead to a long, spicy finish. This is an Esprit that will drink well young, but don't let this trick you into thinking it won't have the stuffing to age. Enjoy any time in the next 20-25 years.
  • Production: 3480 cases
  • List Price: $65 VINsider Price: $52

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

Fall 2022 White Selection Shipment

2021 BOURBOULENC

  • Production Notes: Our third-ever bottling of Bourboulenc, from our third-ever harvest of this relatively obscure Rhone white grape. 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. In just a few years, it's become a favorite here, making it into the Esprit Blanc the last two years. Still, this 209-case varietal bottling is its primary showcase, and represents about 75% of our total harvest. It was blended in May 2022 and bottled in June.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose of sea spray, mandarin, and citrus blossom. On the palate, rich but bright like lemon curd, with additional notes of vanilla shortbread and chalky minerals. Clean and long on the palate, with a lingering finish of preserved lemon and a verbena-like green herb character. Unique and delicious. Our experience aging Bourboulenc is limited, but we plan to drink ours over the next few years.
  • Production: 209 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2019 PETIT MANSENG

  • Production Notes: Our tenth 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 29.4° Brix and a pH of 3.36, we fermented it in barrel, and stopped its fermentation when it had about 90 grams/liter of sugar left. This is a little sweeter than most of our recent Petit Manseng vintages, but acids are high enough that it shows lovely lift to balance the sweetness. The wine was aged on its lees in barrel and bottled in June 2020.
  • Tasting Notes: Medium gold. An exotic nose of honey, citrus leaf, and grilled pineapple. In the mouth, the wine begins lushly sweet, like candied orange peel, then a notes of green shiso-like herbiness, followed by a pithy bite, and finally the acids come out and restore order. Sweet but light on its feet, with a spicy pink peppercorn note coming out on the finish. A little sweeter and more intense than but reminiscent of a demi-sec Vouvray, for anyone with that as a reference point. Would be amazing, we thought, with a salty cheese or lemon olive oil cake or prosciutto and melon. Drink now or age for up to another decade for a nuttier character.
  • Production: 190 cases
  • List Price: $50 VINsider Price: $40

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

Fall 2022 Red Selection Shipment

2020 FULL CIRCLE

  • Production Notes: The eleventh 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 2021. We've aged the wine in bottle for an additional year since then.
  • Tasting Notes: An immediately recognizable Pinot Noir nose of cola, cherry skin, and sweet spice. The palate is juicy, vibrant, and salty, with red fruit deepened by a little smoky oak. The experience brightens back up on the finish, highlighted by bright acids, wild herbs, and sweet mulling spices. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 367 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2017 PATELIN DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Most of our Patelin de Tablas, blended from a selection of local vineyards planted to our clones, is sold in restaurants and wine shops and mostly consumed in the first few years. But in recent years, when we have a vintage we love, we've started stashing a modest quantity in our library to show how it can age. And the blockbuster 2017 vintage produced a Patelin de Tablas worthy of that aging, and more. The blend of 48% Syrah, 32% Grenache, 16% Mourvedre, and 4% Counoise tastes like it has one foot in the old world and one in the new, as well as one foot in the northern Rhone and one in the south. It was blended in May of 2018 and bottled in August of that same year. In the intervening four years, it's developed a lovely meatiness to complement the black fruit and spice it has had since the beginning.
  • Tasting Notes: A meaty nose of pancetta, baker's chocolate, and brambly blackberry. On the palate, juicy black fruit with a salted brown butter richness and a sweet tobacco herbiness. The long finish, with notes of iron and blackberry, still shows the wine's essential youthfulness, with its age coming out in that recurring pancetta note. We recommend you decant this (and any screwcapped red) and enjoy it any time in the next six-to-eight years.
  • Production: 3588 cases
  • Library Price: $38 VINsider Price: $30.40

The tasting was a great way to hone in on the character of our two most recent vintages. 2020 is a vintage that is most noteworthy for its lush fruit, though it has the tannic structure and acids to stand up to it. 2021 is a blockbuster, whose low yields produced wines with excellent concentration and great vibrancy. They are both worthy successors to the classic 2019s, and we can't wait to find out what our members think.

JH NC and CF with fall 2022 shipment 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 in-person pickup party on Sunday, October 16th. Neil and I will be hosting another virtual pickup party the evening of Friday, October 7th. 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 early-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 tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club