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What We're Drinking with Thanksgiving 2022

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 largely uncommercialized. And it comes at a time of year where those of us who work at wineries are finally able to slow down and relax. After the ten-week sprint that is harvest, that's something to be thankful about indeed.

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.

Charlie Chester, Senior Assistant Tasting Room Manager
This year for Thanksgiving we are going non-traditional and skipping Turkey. We will be having an apple cider brined pork loin. I was thinking of roasting it in the oven but the weather looks too good to pass up some time with the Webber! In addition to the pork, we will have some bacon-roasted Brussels sprouts, a yet-to-be-chosen potato dish, and my sister will bring an undisclosed vegetable dish and dessert of some kind. I am sure Amber mentioned other sides that will be made but I can’t remember them now. A very mysterious menu I know. For the wines I am thinking of opening:

  • My last bottle of the sold-out TCV 2021 Vermentino (while I man the grill)

With dinner:

I am sure we may get excited about and open other wines we have on hand but that will be determined as the day progresses. Happy “Turkey Day” everyone!

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
Jordan instigated Lone Madrone's first Riesling in 2021, dry farmed and head trained, from the Wirz Vineyard, planted in 1964, located in the Cienega Valley. This will be a good place to start. I have a couple of bottles left of 2010 Madeline Cabernet Franc which should be showing wonderfully, coincidentally also from the Cienega Valley. I have been attempting to organize my cellar and have some older Tablas Creek wines to enjoy. Perhaps a 2016 Le Complice and a 2006 Esprit Rouge. As always there will be a Bristols Cider in the mix as it is so perfect for the occasion, currently I am enjoying the NC2. That should be a good line up, but as always we reserve the right to pull wine that feels right at the moment!! Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!!!

Thanksgiving 2022 - Champagnes from Ian's tripIan Consoli, Director of Marketing
I look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving with my mother, father, brother, two neighbors, and my mother’s friend visiting from England. She came out to experience her first American Thanksgiving and enjoys wine, so I am planning an array to choose from. We’ll start the meal with a Champagne I picked up this past May. I traveled to Champagne as part of my EMBA program through Sonoma State. I brought back five favorites from the wineries we visited, and Ayala Brut Majeur feels right for this occasion. We will open an Anderson Valley Chardonnay from FEL, a wine my friend made that happens to be on the same Gayot “13 Best Thanksgiving Wines of 2022” list as our 2020 Esprit Blanc. I still need to decide on the rose, but A Tribute to Grace’s is the frontrunner. I have a few French wines lined up for reds: A Savigny-Les-Beaune 1er Cru Les Narbantons 2017 and Xavier & Agnes Amirault St Nicolas de Bourgueil, Les Clos Le Quarterons VV 2015. Finally, Tablas Creek Counoise completes any Thanksgiving meal. Wishing everyone the best this Thanksgiving!

Terrence Crowe, Tasting Room
This year's Thanksgiving festivities will be elevated by a curated selection of spectacular white wines. The following wines will adorn the table with graceful aplomb:

2016 Maison Les Alexandrins Hermitage Blanc 
2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard Marsanne
2015 Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit De Tablas Blanc

Gobble gobble!

Thanksgiving Darren Delmore WhitethornDarren Delmore, National Sales Manager
After carousing most of America's Southwest for the last three months selling wine, my family is kicking back in Templeton this year. I have one bottle left of the 2020 Roussanne, which I confess nipping on while it was sitting in its French Oak oval during élevage. Autumnal in character, rich but light on its feet, it should be an excellent starting and ending point. My Thanksgiving red was chosen for me, signed on the label actually for Thanksgiving consumption, by the first winemaker I ever worked harvest for. Whitethorn Winery 2007 Pinot Noir Demuth Vineyard Anderson Valley, which should bring the cranberry, cherry, pennyroyal holiday waves. Happy Thanksgiving.

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker
Any time we’re able to get the family together is a cause for celebration, and celebrations beg for bubbles!  We’ll start (and continue…?) the day with a bottle of J. Lassalle Cachet Or Champagne. We’ll be up in Mammoth, so whether it will be opened carefully in the kitchen or sabered out in the snow with a ski is a decision yet to be made.

In our family, we don’t typically do the traditional Thanksgiving Day turkey, but this year we’re giving it a go.  I’ll be packing a bottle of Domaine Lapierre Morgon in the wine bag, along with the new release of the Carbonic Grenache from our neighbors at Alta Colina.  And no celebration of thanks would be complete without making it clear how much I love my coworkers and job; so a bottle of the 2019 Esprit Blanc will most certainly make an appearance.  Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season!

Eddie Garcia, Logistics
Excited to get together with family this Thanksgiving 2022. Being able to share stories of what we are thankful, enjoy the time together, and being able to share wines we are excited for. My family usually gets together pretty early to start watching the football games. So, I have a couple bottles of 2021 Dianthus Rosé to start the day’s festivities. Who says you can’t Rosé all day, while watching the NFL?

For the dinner table, I  have some pretty diverse palates in my family, so I have a couple bottles that can satisfy. Earlier this year, I managed to “trade” for a 2014 Dry Farmed Cabernet Sauvignon from Venteux Vineyards. I’ve always been a huge fan of this Templeton winery, and am excited to be reacquainted with this varietal from them.  And for those that have a palate for hearty reds, I have a Caliza 2019 Reserve Syrah that checks the box in that category and was very tasty when I did a tasting earlier this year.

Wishing everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving!!

Ray King, Tasting Room
This year’s Thanksgiving will be with my family, of which most live in the area. We celebrate a traditional turkey dinner, of which my mother and three sisters handle in spectacular fashion. I simply bring wine, enjoy family and the holiday. I will be bringing a host of wines to intrigue and enjoy with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. 

To start the evening:
Bristols Cider- Mangelwurzel
Amirault Crémant de loire 

For the meal: 
Tablas Creek 2021 Patelin Rose
Terrassen Gamay Noir 2019 (Finger Lake region)
Tablas Creek 2018 Mourvèdre
Tablas Creek 2017 Esprit Rouge

This is a solid line up for a solid Thanksgiving meal. 

Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving 

Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist (sent in from vacation)
Mezcal margaritas and shrimp tacos in Bacalar Mexico!!

Erin Mason, Regenerative Specialist
Regardless of the holidays, I seek to enjoy wines that feel like they fit into the holistic context of my life. Ones that intrinsically reflect the people and places from which they are born. Eyrie Vineyards in the Willamette Valley is always this for me, and I’ll be opening a bottle of their 2015 Muscat Ottonel this Thanksgiving day. Bone-dry, savory perfection—not your typical Muscat. It’s almost impossible for me NOT to drink Grenache at any occasion and this year I have two to savor. The first, a 2021 Tribute to Grace from the Santa Barbara Highlands and Vie Caprice vineyards in Santa Barbara county—Angela Osborne’s first ever 100% whole cluster creation; the other is a special bottle I acquired while working in the Columbia River Gorge this past winter: a 2019 Tzum Aine from the folks at Hiyu Wine Farm. This was one of the most compelling wines I tasted all year and look forward to the revisit. Of course, the day is not complete without giving thanks for all the amazing experiences I’ve had this year—specifically becoming part of the vineyard team at Tablas Creek—literally a dream come true. I’m opening a 2019 Esprit de Tablas Blanc to celebrate because the whites from this estate have always been exceptional, and the Esprit blend is one of the best examples of them.

Haydee McMickle, Tasting Room
This year about 24 are gathering. Family ages from 90 to 2 years. It will be loud, for the 90-year-old to hear and loud because of the 2-year-olds. It will be a casual all day affair, so we can all catch-up. Some will enjoy Cremant de Loire, others a Paloma cocktail (nephew’s assignment).  The wines for dinner will include a selection:

Esprit Blanc 2018
Terret Noir 2020
En Gobelet 2018

Happy Thanksgiving.

Nadia Nouri, Marketing Assistant
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and I am grateful that I get to go back to the Bay Area to spend it with my close family and friends. My family hasn’t had the opportunity to try much Tablas Creek wine since I joined the team this year, so it is only fitting to have an array of Tablas wines on the Thanksgiving table. I am looking forward to introducing my family to Picardan, as well as sharing the newest vintage of Esprit de Tablas Blanc and Cotes de Tablas - my tried and true. I’m excited to see how they pair with our Thanksgiving dishes!

Westin Reynolds, Tasting Room
We are very excited to bring a magnum of 2015 Esprit de Tablas to Thanksgiving! It is our first large family gathering since Covid started, so there is a lot to celebrate and magnums are always sure to excite. I also loved the 2015 vintage so I’m excited to see how it has aged. It is currently packed very carefully in a suitcase that we are planning to check, so wish me luck with that! We’ll also be sharing a 2021 Carbonic Grenache from Alta Colina where my wife Ivey works, and a 2022 Pet Nat from our friends in Walla Walla as a celebration of our son Jessee’s first Thanksgiving! 

Amanda Weaver, Cellar Assistant
This year I am looking forward to Martinelli's Sparkling Cider! Hah! Unfortunately/fortunately I will have to abstain from the fun and beautiful bottles that will adorn our Thanksgiving table due to the small human I am growing. However, what I lack in wine consumption I look forward to making up in food consumption! Even though I cannot participate I will be bringing a 2019 Tablas Creek Roussanne, per my mother’s request, and most likely a Cab Franc from the Loire by Domaine Xavier & Agnes Amirault, to keep the husband happy, and possibly a bottle of bubbles to keep everyone refreshed and feeling celebratory! This will be a very thankful Thanksgiving in our home this year! May all your tables be filled with good wine and good company! Happy Thanksgiving Day!

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. But there will only be six of us around the table this year, and only four adults. That means that a big bottle will limit the diversity of what we can open. So we'll stick to little (ok, normal) bottles. One will for sure be our 2020 Marsanne. Marsanne is a quiet grape, gently elegant, with honey and lightly floral aromatics and low alcohol. It won't elbow for attention at the table, and at a table that's so full of assertive flavors, that sounds nice. My mom loves Beaujolais, so we'll crack open a bottle of the Clos de la Roilette Fleurie. I'd love also to open an old-school California field blend, which seems appropriate for this quintessentially American holiday. Maybe one of the Ridge Lytton Springs that I've been saving, or maybe something from Bedrock. I'll have to dig around in my stocks to see what I have. After that, we'll have to see! 

Thanksgiving 2022 - Capon

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

Rhone varieties should be (even more) valuable in a California impacted by climate change

Over the last month, I've had three different wine people ask me some version of the same question, asking me to share what I thought were the right grapes to be planting in California right now, given the near-certainty that they'll mature in a future notably warmer (and probably drier) than today. That question is usually followed by another asking whether we're looking outside of the Rhone family for future plantings, or if we think we've already got the right collection of grapes to allow us to succeed. So, in the spirit of using this blog to answer the questions I get every day, let's dive in.

Casual wine drinkers may not realize the full extent of the diversity within the vitis family. There are 79 accepted species of grapes, of which the species that encompasses all non-hybridized wine grapes (vitis vinifera) is just one. Within vitis vinifera more than 5,000 different varieties have been identified. Of course, not all are used to make wine commercially, but in the authoritative tome Wine Grapes, Jancis Robinson and her co-authors identify 1,368 different grapes worth documenting for their use in wine around the world. That's a mind-boggling number. What's more, at least half of these have proven useful and adaptable enough to have been brought to regions outside where they first evolved. In California alone, Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis has 479 different non-rootstock varieties in their collection for nurseries, growers, and wineries to purchase. 

Yet if you ask most American wine drinkers to name grape varieties they'll probably struggle to rattle off even a dozen or so. The best known grapes come from high-profile regions in France and Italy. A quick look at the best-selling varietal wines in the United States from 2020 begins with Cabernet Sauvignon and end with Malbec, with the "big" grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat/Moscato, Merlot, and Pinot Noir making up the rest of the top tier. There's a huge dropoff after the first few grapes, and a twelve-fold difference between #1 Cabernet and #8 Malbec. 

What do you notice about those eight grape varieties? One thing that jumps out to me is that they all are best known from regions that we think of, at least in the word of wine, as being either cool (like Burgundy or the Loire) or mid-warmth (like Bordeaux or northern Italy). This is all the more surprising given that all these modern-day regions are cooler than where modern research suggests vitis vinifera was first domesticated in the hot, dry climate of the eastern Mediterranean, somewhere near where modern-day Turkey, Armenia, and Iran meet.

All this is a long way to say that not only is much of California wine made from just a few grapes, but also that those grapes are representative of a narrow, continental European part of the much wider spectrum of grapes used to make wine.

How does California's climate relate to that of, say, France? It's complicated, both because California is big and how hot it is here is determined at least as much by our distance from the ocean as it is by how far north or south we are in the state. But it's still possible to make some general observations. California wine country is quite a lot further south than nearly all of Europe. San Francisco is roughly the same latitude as Seville, in Spain's hot, dry south. There's no part of California that's the same latitude as Burgundy (but Quebec City is). Paso Robles is the same latitude as places in the southern Mediterranean like Tangier and Cyprus and Tripoli. Of course, climate is not determined solely by latitude; California is cooled by the chilly Pacific Ocean, while Europe is warmed by the Gulf Stream. And both regions are subject to the impacts of a warming climate. But when I went to look for the best climate comps to Paso Robles in a blog about our climate from 2017, the closest match wasn't Bordeaux, or Burgundy, or even Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It was the Bekaa Valley, in Lebanon.

My point in diving into all this is that if we were looking just for grapes that would do well in the intense sun and summer heat of a place like Paso Robles, we wouldn't start our search in a region like Bordeaux or the Loire. It would be someplace sunnier and drier, and likely farther south. So how were the grapes that are found here chosen? They were what was in demand in the global wine market (or perhaps they were the grapes the people looking to get into grapegrowing and winemaking were familiar with, which is related). You'll see that the mix in Paso Robles, like much of California, is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon (image from the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance press kit):

Wine Grapes in Paso Robles
It's important to remember that the mix of grapes here wasn't the result of extensive experimentation about what would be best suited for the California climate. So if we were to make the case that Rhone grape varieties might be the right grapes for a California whose climate is already more like that of the Eastern Mediterranean than Continental Europe, and continuing to warm, how would we go about it? We might start with evolution. In just about every case, Rhone grape varieties evolved in hotter climates than grapes like Cabernet, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir. Some, like Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc, and Mourvedre, evolved in Spain. Chateauneuf du Pape is at the northern extent of their viable range. Many others appear to have evolved in the southern Rhone or nearby Languedoc, including Counoise, Cinsaut, Vaccarese, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan, Clairette, and Bourboulenc. That leaves four that research suggests evolved in the northern Rhone: Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne, and Roussanne. You can make the case that the northern Rhone is a similar climate zone to that of Bordeaux or northern Italy. But Aragon, the Spanish homeland of Grenache (known there as Garnacha), and the Levante, the Spanish homeland of Mourvedre, are both significantly warmer and sunnier, as are the areas around and west of Avignon where the bulk of the Rhone grape pantheon evolved.

Ampelography Cover PageLooking at points of origin isn't conclusive evidence. But it's suggestive. Typically a plant is adapted to thrive in the place in which it evolves. That gives us a good clue to where we might look for grapes suited to a warming future California. Another clue is the research that has been done here, particularly in the era before California's wine regions were defined like they are today. Here we're helped by a remarkable 1884 Ampelography of California (cover page featured right) written by Charles Wetmore, the state's first Chief Executive Viticultural Officer. In it, he explicitly tackles the question of the "adaptability to certain locations and uses" of the grapes known at that time in California. Were his conclusions to plant lots of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay? Nope. He saved for his particular praise Zinfandel and Mataro (Mourvedre) of which he said, "the Zinfandel and Mataro, each good bearers, will each become the favorite basis of our red wine vineyards." I wrote back in 2020 about his enthusiasm for Mataro, of which he says "Although this is not as extensively cultivated now as other varieties for red wine, yet its present popularity demands for it a place next to the Zinfandel; indeed, I believe that for the future it will have a wider range of usefulness."

For cooler regions he recommends Trousseau for its "general adaptability and fine qualities." For drier regions he suggests Grenache, which he says "will succeed and flourish in arid places, where Zinfandel would fail." And he expresses interest in future experiments on grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon ("I believe that those who aim at fine wines of a Bordeaux type cannot afford to be without it") and Spanish whites like Verdelho and Palomino ("Our best success may be in those types"). Zinfandel evolved in the warm southern coast of Croatia and thrived in the heel of Italy as Primitivo before coming to California presumably with southern Italian immigrants. Chalk another mark up for looking to warmer parts of Europe for California's vineyards.

Finally, let's look at what we're seeing in our own vineyards. In another blog from 2020, I talked about how the warming climate is making the higher-acid Rhone whites like Picpoul, Picardan, Bourboulenc, and Clairette Blanche more valuable both here and in the Rhone. I would submit that the same things is true for reds like Counoise, Cinsaut, Vaccarese, Terret Noir, and Muscardin. At last night's En Primeur Live broadcast, Chelsea and I were talking about the impact of the newer varieties on the 2021 Esprit de Tablas, which has our entire production of Vaccarese (7%) and Cinsaut (5%) as well as 4% Counoise. My analogy was that adding these grapes, all of which have good acid and in the case of Vaccarese also dark color and tannic grip, was like turning up the contrast on an image, or turning up the bass and treble on a piece of music. They make the wine more dramatic, even as its core character is determined by the mid-palate richness and balance of earth and fruit that Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah provide. We haven't yet found a home in the Mourvedre-based Esprit de Tablas for the even higher-toned, grippier Terret Noir and Muscardin grapes, but they're doing wonderful things to the Syrah that provides the base for our Le Complice bottling.

This is not purely an academic question. There are practical considerations. A widely-shared 2019 article in Wine Business Monthly made the case that within thirty years "many current Napa vineyard locations will be too warm for some Bordeaux varieties to scale luxury-priced wines" and "anyone planting or replanting a vineyard today should be taking climate warming trends and optimum grape-growing temperatures into account." A 2019 study suggested that if global temperatures rose 2°C, grapegrowers in Burgundy and Bordeaux could cut their climate-related losses in half by planting with Mourvedre instead of their current grapes. Just last year, France's Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualite (INAO) approved the use in Bordeaux six new varieties "of interest for adapting to climate change". Closer to home, we're getting more requests through our grapevine nursery for the high-acid grapes in our portfolio -- like the Picardan, below, that we ourselves only first planted in 2013 -- than I can ever remember.

Picardan planting 2013

What the right grapes will be for this warmer, drier California isn't clear yet. But if the rest of the world is looking to the grapes of the Rhone to help mitigate their own climate change concerns, it seems likely that we'll be able to shift within that Rhone family to make sure that even as things get warmer and drier, we'll be able to make great wine. I have faith in the diversity of vitis. And in the blending tradition of Chateauneuf du Pape.

Why this week's early-season storm is the ideal start to our winter season

This week, we had our first serious storm of the winter roll through Paso Robles. It started late Monday night, reached its peak with the passage of a cold front around 8am Tuesday morning, and continued with showers throughout the rest of that day and night. Overall, we got about an inch and three-quarters of rain. Although we did have about a half-inch of rain in mid-September, harvest rain comes with a mix of positive and negative impacts which combine to make it hard to enjoy. Not so the first rain after we've finished picking, which is an unmitigated good. At this point, with the vineyard put to bed for the winter, we're able to sit back and enjoy the show.

Puddles Nov 2022

The passage of that frontal boundary between 8am and 9am saw some of the fastest accumulation of rain I can ever remember out here, with nearly three-quarters of an inch coming down in that one hour. I was doing a Zoom call from home, and couldn't believe what I saw when I checked our weather station:

Hourly Rainfall November 8 2022

If you're wondering what it means for a vineyard to be put to bed for winter, there are a few things we always do after we're done picking. The most important of these are planting the seeds for our cover crop and spreading compost so that they have the best chance to thrive. Last year, our first storm came early enough in mid-October that we were only partway done seeding at the time, and then when it dried out enough for us to get back into the vines, it was dry for six weeks and we lost many of the seeds to birds. Not this year; we expect to see shoots of green within a week in blocks like this one:

Newly seeded block Nov 2022

The couple of inches of rain weren't limited to the Paso Robles area. The entire length of California got significant rain, and one of the storm's most important impacts is that it ended the state's fire season. We've been pretty lucky this year, with no major fires impacting California wine. But knowing the state got enough rain to put an end to any worries about future storms is always a relief.

By yesterday afternoon the storm had moved to our east, leaving puffy clouds, plenty of sun, and dark brown earth. I got this picture a little north of us in southern Monterey County, on my way back from a quick trip north. There's not much more beautiful than California after it rains:

Salinas Valley beauty Nov 2022

What has followed in the storm's aftermath has been good too. It dropped below freezing last night, which will push the vines fully into dormancy. That's a good thing. The vineyard this morning showed frost-covered grape leaves under a bright blue sky:

Frosty morning Nov 2022

Of course, we need more rain than this. But November is off to a good start. Our long-term average is 2.48" of rain for November, and at 1.89" we're already more than three-quarters of the way there, with the month only one-third complete. But as we learned last year, a wet beginning to the rainy season isn't enough. The four-month period between December and March account for three-quarters of our annual rainfall, historically. But that's not to say that early rain doesn't matter. It does. And the amount we got is perfect for getting our cover crop to germinate, should extend the season when we can have our flock of sheep grazing the vineyard, and will give the soil's microbial and fungal activity -- which needs moisture to operate -- an instant boost. So while we definitely need more, we're happy we've gotten what we did, when we did. Now let's keep it going.

Rain Nov 2022

Paso Robles is (Still) Insanely Beautiful, Late-Fall Edition

Three weeks ago, with the lower sun angles 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 seen a decisive turn toward early-winter weather. It's been nearly two weeks since a daytime high got out of the 70s. Nights have been routinely in the 30s, but it hasn't frozen yet. We've had a couple of cold fronts push through the area, and the past two days have seen us get a little rain. The result has been one of those rare moments when we have leaves showing fall colors still on the vines, deep, rich brown earth, and clouds in the sky. It's a dramatic, lovely combination:

Syrah terraces and dramatic clouds

Equally impressive have been the sunsets, with the low autumn light warming the fall foliage:

Autumn colors and bright sky

On clearer days, the low sun angles highlight the changing colors, as in this shot that includes both head-trained and trellised Mourvedre blocks:

Autumn colors in Mourvedre

The sunrises have been equally impressive:

Sunrise in Haas Vineyard

The rain, minimal though it's been so far, has been enough to change the color of the soil. That's particularly evident in the sections that we've prepped and seeded with our cover crop mix, like this Vermentino block:

Seeded ground in Vermentino

What makes the soil so rich? Our flock of sheep, mostly, but also the regular additions we make from our compost pile. As I drove by it this morning, it was steaming in the sun, with the contrasting colors of Roussanne and Tannat in the background:

Compost Pile steaming

The low clouds, when there's not sun peeking through, give things a wintery light despite the fall foliage. That's dramatic in this view down through our Vaccarese block: 

Vaccarese and dramatic clouds

When the sun does peek through, the contrast between the foliage and the changing skies is lovely:

Grenache Blanc on Crosshairs

I'll leave you with one more photo, a slightly different view of the same scene I started with: terraces of Syrah rising at the western edge of our property, with more vineyard and dark hills shrouded by tattered clouds behind:

Syrah terraces and dramatic clouds horizontal

This landscape might not last much longer. We're forecast for a hard freeze tonight, which will put an end to the colorful foliage and force the grapevines into dormancy. That's a good thing from a vineyard perspective, but depending on how widespread it is from low valleys to hilltops, it will mean the end of much of this color. More rain is expected next week, which should accelerate the transition to winter's green hillsides and dark brown vines.

That will be lovely too. But these last few weeks have been special.