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The Fall 2023 VINsider "Collector's Edition" Shipment: Drought Vintages Shine a Decade Later

Each summer, I taste through library vintages of our Esprit and Esprit Blanc to choose the wines for the upcoming VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition shipment. We created the Collector's Edition version of our VINsider Wine Club back in 2009 to give our biggest fans a chance to see what our flagship wines were like aged in perfect conditions. Members also get a slightly larger allocation of the current release of Esprits to track as they evolve. This club gives us a chance show off our wines' ageworthiness, and it's been a great success, generating a waiting list each year since we started it.

Each of our flagship wines goes through different stages of life. I'll start by giving a quick summary of those phases and where each of the two wines that we'll be sending out this year fit in.

For the Esprit de Tablas Blanc, there are really three (sometimes four) phases each vintage goes through. In its youth, within a few years of bottling, you get lush fruit, medium-body and texture, and tropical notes, with underpinnings of mineral and cedary structure. The current release (our 2020 Esprit Blanc) is showing in that phase, as is the 2021 that we're releasing this fall. After a few years, the tropical, fruity notes mellow into something more honeyed, the texture becomes richer, and the mineral and savory structural notes become more pronounced. This is usually the phase the Esprit Blanc is in when we send it out to Collector's Edition members. Then there's a phase (for some, not all vintages) where the honey flavors caramelize and the color deepens, but the texture is still rich and the structure evident. This is a phase that can be intellectually interesting but isn't usually the most pleasurable because it can come across as a touch oxidative, and we note it on our vintage chart as "Hold - Closed Phase". Then finally the wine emerges out the other side, the texture and color lighten, the oxidative notes resolve into something more like roasted nuts, and the minerality comes to the fore. We've never been able to wait long enough to release an Esprit Blanc to Collector's Edition members in this phase... until this year. Please welcome the 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc. This wine is just at the beginning of its current stage and should sail on another decade or more, gaining nuttiness and complexity with time.

The Esprit de Tablas has a similar multi-stage evolution. Within a few years of release the wines are robust, with lots of fruit, plenty of structure and tannin, and sweet spice notes. Then there's a stage where the fruit calms down, the tannins start to soften, and you start to notice more of the loamy, earthy Mourvedre-driven savoriness as well as the saline minerality that we get from our calcareous soils. That's the stage that the 2015 Esprit de Tablas is in right now. The wine has greater complexity and elegance than it did when it was young, but the primary impression of the fruit is of freshness, not age. There will likely be two more stages to come. First will likely (though not for certain, given the elegance of the 2015 vintage from the get-go) come a point where the wine's fruit becomes secondary to the structural and mineral elements and the wine might come across as a little hard. If I had to guess when this would happen, it would be sometime in 2026-27, but that's just a guess for now. And it might not happen. But whether or not it does, there's sure to be a further stage after where the meaty, leathery side of these grapes comes to the fore, the fruit goes from fresh to more compote, the sweet spice deepens to something like mocha, and the tannins become supple. That can last for another 10-15 years before the wine finally fades.  

While most of our vintages of Esprit go through similar stages, the vintage that creates each wine is unique. The library wines in this year's selection both came from vintages marked by our 2012-2016 drought:

  • 2013 was still in the early stages of the drought, and while the vines set a large crop, we expended a lot of effort reducing crop levels to make sure we didn't overextend the vineyard knowing it had limited water to draw on. That was followed by a classic, warm Californian summer that combined with our reduced yields (2.66 tons/acre in the end) for our earliest-ever finish to harvest on October 7th. [You can read my recap of the 2013 vintage here.]
  • By 2015, the vines were really struggling, and crop levels started low and were further reduced by a very cold May, which led to a very light fruit set in our earlier grape varieties like Viognier and Syrah. The year continued in a whipsaw between significantly warmer-then-normal and cooler-than-normal months, both of which can slow ripening, and despite the low yields and a very warm October we didn't finish picking until October 29th. Our overall yields were some of the lowest we've ever seen at 2.01 tons/acre. [My recap of the 2015 vintage can be found here.]

Despite their differences, the two vintages manifested in related ways. 2013 was more classic than blockbuster. It produced wines with pure, well-defined flavors, medium density, and lots of spiciness and minerality. 2015 produced some of the most ethereal wines we've made, with noteworthy minerality, high-toned elegance, and intense flavors with no sense of weight. That said, both 2013 Esprit Blanc and 2015 Esprit showed a lovely balance of fruit and mineral, structure and openness, and richness and elegance when we tasted them yesterday. The pair:

Collectors Edition Wines 2023

My tasting notes:

  • 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc: Still a youthful pale gold color. A savory nose of nuts, flinty mineral, lanolin and lemongrass, with sweeter notes of baked apple emerging slowly with time. The mouth is creamy and textural, like salted custard with notes of citrus pith and dried pineapple. Very long on the finish with notes of grilled, salted lemon. Still shows lovely lift and brightness around that savory, textural core. 71% Roussanne, 21% Grenache Blanc, and 8% Picpoul Blanc. Would be amazing with a chicken simply roasted with lemon and herbs.
  • 2015 Esprit de Tablas: An appealing nose of black cherry, cocoa powder, sweet applewood, black pepper, and meat in a soy marinade. The mouth is clean and pure, with vibrant notes of black raspberry and chalky mineral, meat drippings and a salty umami note. The tannins are present and firm but not aggressive. The finish shows notes of boysenberry and salty dark chocolate. 49% Mourvedre, 25% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 5% Counoise. Would shine with anything from a simple roasted rack of lamb to duck to a savory pasta with wild mushrooms.

The complete Collector's Edition shipment is awfully exciting, at least to me, between the combination of the library vintages, all the 2021s -- which I'm convinced will go down among our best vintages ever -- and the debut of a new wine and new program for us, which I'll be sharing information about in a couple of weeks:

  • 2 bottles of 2015 Esprit de Tablas
  • 1 bottle of 2013 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 3 bottles of 2021 Esprit de Tablas
  • 2 bottles of 2021 Esprit de Tablas Blanc
  • 1 bottle of 2021 En Gobelet
  • 1 bottle of 2021 Grenache
  • 1 bottle of 2022 Patelin de Tablas Rosé
  • 1 bottle of 2022 Lignée de Tablas Windfall Farms Grenache Blanc

We will be adding to the Collector's Edition membership, subject to available space, in the next month. If you're on the waiting list, you should be receiving an email with news, one way or the other, of whether you've made it on for this round. We add members, once a year, in the order in which we received applications to the waiting list. If you are currently a VINsider member and interested in getting on the waiting list, you can upgrade to the Collector's Edition online or by giving our wine club office a call. And if you are not currently a member, but would like to be, you can sign up for the VINsider Wine Club Collector's Edition, with all the benefits of VINsider Wine Club membership while you're on the waiting list.

Those of you who are members, I'd love to hear your thoughts.  And thank you, as always, for your patronage. We are grateful, and don't take it for granted.

Summer Solstice Vineyard Tour: Late but Lovely in 2023

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the beginning of June felt like we'd been transported to Santa Barbara for some of their "June Gloom". That unusually cool, overcast weather lasted another week. But the last week has seen things start to feel more summer-like. Not the 100°F temperatures that some associate with summer in Paso Robles, thankfully, but at least sunny and in the upper 70s and low 80s. It's honestly been glorious, and we're feeling lucky that it's this late in the year and we haven't yet seen any oppressive heat.

I was feeling stir-crazy in my office today and with it being so beautiful out I decided to take a ramble around the vineyard. There was enough going on that I thought it would make a fun blog to share with all of you. First, to set the stage, a view looking down through our largest Mourvedre block over the winery and across Las Tablas Creek to Scruffy Hill and Jewel Ridge:

Solstice 2023 - Long View over Winery

We're excited about all the new vineyard blocks that we have going into the ground or coming into production. In addition to everything going into Jewel Ridge (some 25 acres that have been planted in the last couple of years) we've made the decision to pull out a few underperforming blocks on our original property so we can start fresh. One such block, formerly virus-weakened Roussanne, is being replanted to own-rooted Mourvedre on wider spacing, to help reduce the stress levels on this notoriously stress-prone grape. Note the 33% wider spacing compared to the 20-year-old Grenache block on the left, the higher irrigation lines so sheep can graze more easily, and the amazing sky:

Solstice 2023 - New block

Another Mourvedre block that we planted last year (named the Santos Block after one of our long-time and deeply missed late vineyard crew members) is growing well and looking healthy. We won't get a crop off it this year, but next year is looking likely:

Solstice 2023 - Santos block

The Syrah block where we've been experimenting with grapevine layering is looking amazing. Both the mother and child vines have leafy, healthy canopies and are carrying fruit. First, an overview photo of a mother vine (center) with canes buried on either side to produce child vines:

Solstice 2023 - Layering Landscape

And second, a closeup of the cane descending into the ground (foreground) and reemerging thicker and healthy in what had been a missing vine position. You can see the new Syrah clusters hanging down:

Solstice 2023 - Layering Closeup

Speaking of clusters, despite our worries about shatter due to the chilly spring, we've seen a good fruit set this year, though we're something like a month behind where we've been most recent years. Below, see Grenache (left) and Syrah (right). Normally these berries would be pea-size or larger and starting to squish together into clusters:

Solstice 2023 - Grenache

Solstice 2023 - Syrah

There may be some unusual sequencing this year. Counoise (below left) is usually one of the latest grapes to flower. This year it's ahead of the Syrah. And Mourvedre (below right) is just finishing up flowering. If I had to make a prediction, it would be that we're looking at mid-September before we're seriously into harvest, which would be our latest start since 2011.

Solstice 2023 - Counoise

Solstice 2023 - Mourvedre
Once challenge for us this year has been that with all the rain, the cover crops keep re-sprouting even after we've grazed and mowed them. But the flip side of that challenge is that even in our less vigorous blocks we're noting remarkable vigor and vine health. You can see both issues in the below photo looking up our oldest Counoise block:

Solstice 2023 - No Till Counoise

The grapevines and the cover crops aren't the only plants excited about winter rains. The olive trees are as covered with blossoms as any of us can ever remember:

Solstice 2023 - Olive flowering

I'll leave you with one last photo, of one of our handsome head-trained Grenache vines from the western edge of our property. I feel like you can positively see the health of the year bursting out of the vine's pores: 

Solstice 2023 - Head-trained Grenache

So, that's the report from the vineyard, as of mid-June. Late, but looking great. Next stop: veraison.

Deep Roots: Tasting Every Tablas Creek En Gobelet, 2007-2021

There are two ways that we try to work systematically through the collection of wines in our library. At the beginning of each year, we taste every wine we made ten years earlier. These horizontal retrospectives give us an in-depth look at a particular year, and a check-in with how our full range of wines is doing with a decade in bottle. I wrote up the results from our 2013 retrospective tasting back in January. And then each summer we conduct a comprehensive vertical tasting of a single wine, where we open every vintage we've ever made and use that to assess how the wine ages and if we want to adjust our approach in any way. This also serves as a pre-tasting for a public event in August at which we share the highlights.

This year, we decided to dive into our En Gobelet, the wine that we make each year exclusively from our head-trained, dry-farmed vineyard blocks. We created this wine back in the 2007 vintage because we noted something distinctive about the wines that came from these blocks. From the blog in which we announced the new wine:

As we've had a chance to get some of these blocks into production, we're noticing they seem to share an elegance and a complexity which is different from what we see in the rest of the vineyard.  Perhaps it's the areas where they are planted (generally lower-lying, deeper-soil areas).  Perhaps it's the age of the vines and a comparative lack of brute power.  But, whatever the reason, we believe that these lots show our terroir in a unique and powerful way.

Our profile on the En Gobelet has changed a couple of times over the years, as we've gotten more dry-farmed blocks (and grapes) in production and as we've had a chance to refine our thinking about how it should fall with respect to our other blends. Because it's not a wine we sell nationally, it's not one I open all that often myself. So it was with anticipation that our winemaking team and I dove into the 14 different En Gobelets we've made to date, from our first-ever 2007 to the 2021 that we just bottled. Note that there was not a 2008, as we didn't see enough differences in the head-trained blocks that year to feel it made sense to make the blend.

En Gobelet Vertical June 2023

My notes on the wines are below, as well as each year's blend. I've linked each wine to its page on our website if you want detailed technical information, professional reviews, or our tasting notes from when the wines were first released.

  • 2007 En Gobelet (48% Mourvedre, 47% Grenache, 5% Tannat): A nose of chocolate and black cherry, notably ripe, but with a nice little spicy, peppery note giving lift. On the palate, milk chocolate with a little minty lift, powerful red fruit, still quite rich and luscious. Tobacco and kirsch on the finish. The ample density and ripeness are signatures both of that year and of an era when we were making riper wines, but it still carried enough freshness to be pleasurable.
  • 2009 En Gobelet (56% Mourvedre, 23% Tannat, 21% Grenache): Blacker on the nose than the 2007, balsamic glaze and teriyaki, pepper, olive tapenade, and roasted meat. The mouth shows nice lift, with cedar and blackberry notes as well as cigar box and graphite. Still quite tannic, with licorice and crushed rock notes coming out on the finish. Definitely leaning harder into Tannat's character compared to previous wines, maybe in retrospect a little more than was necessary in this already-structured year.
  • 2010 En Gobelet (37% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 13% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 10% Tannat): Sweet earth and licorice, bay, mocha and blackberry on the nose. The mouth is similar, with a dusty cocoa character over black raspberry fruit. A nice balance between the friendliness of the 2007 and the cool freshness and tannic grip of the 2009.
  • 2011 En Gobelet (29% Mourvedre, 27% Grenache. 26% Tannat, 18% Syrah): A nose with sweet/savory notes of sarsaparilla, charcuterie, eucalyptus, black olive, and undergrowth. The palate is cool and minty, with sweet tobacco, black plum, and a lovely pencil shaving mineral note. Tannins are rich but not drying, leaving a lingering note of milk chocolate. An outstanding showing from our coolest-ever year.
  • 2012 En Gobelet (63% Grenache, 12% Mourvedre, 11% Syrah, 8% Counoise, 6% Tannat): A quieter, simpler nose than the 2011 but elegant, with a much redder tone to the fruit than any wine since 2007: currant and sour cherry, with a nice loamy earth element. On the palate, pie cherry with an almost piney redwood note, vibrant acids, fine-grained tannins with thyme and baking spice notes coming out on the finish. Pretty and in a good place. This wine was an outlier, from a vintage where Grenache surprised us with its productivity. In that era we were co-fermenting our entire Scruffy Hill block, and ended up with five times as much Grenache as Mourvedre or Syrah despite roughly similar acreages.
  • 2013 En Gobelet (34% Grenache, 31%Mourvedre, 19% Syrah, 11% Counoise, 5% Tannat): A meaty nose of new leather and minty blueberry, with complex notes of chalky minerals, red flowers, and spice. The mouth is full and youthful, with fresh plum and wild strawberry notes, good acids, well-integrated tannins, and a lingering red apple character that lingers on the finish.
  • 2014 En Gobelet (34% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 15% Counoise, 5% Tannat): A nose equally balanced between red and black, with red plum and brambly black raspberry, juniper, potpourri, and the meaty, minerally Syrah character that my wife Meghan once described as "butter in a butcher shop". The mouth is lovely: sweet fruit, chocolate-covered cherry with bright acids and nice tannic grip. The finish showed a meaty fruitiness like duck breast with cherry sauce. One of my favorite vintages, from the first year where we didn't co-ferment Scruffy Hill and instead chose the lots to include in En Gobelet.
  • 2015 En Gobelet (39% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 18% Syrah, 11% Counoise, 3% Tannat): A slightly reductive, very Old World nose of roasted meat, brambly spice, and chaparral. The palate was quite different than the nose in a fun way: lovely focus and lift to crunchy red raspberry fruit, with notes of savory green herbs. Intense without any sense of weight. A great reflection of the unusual 2015 vintage.
  • 2016 En Gobelet (39% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 8% Counoise, 3% Tannat): A deep nose of briny mineral, black olive, grape jelly and fresh fig, with a little minty lift. The mouth is youthful and focused, with great richness and purity to the boysenberry fruit. Notes of new leather, licorice, and chalky minerals add savoriness and depth. Beautiful and a consensus favorite. 
  • 2017 En Gobelet (38% Mourvedre, 34% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 11% Tannat, 6% Counoise): Meaty elements dominate on the nose with notes of soy marinade, bay, and spiced plum. The palate is youthful, luscious, and inviting: dried cherry and new leather, salted caramel and baker's chocolate, licorice and baked apple. Then the tannins kick in, suggesting that the best is yet to come. All the pieces are here for something amazing, but it didn't feel like it had totally come together yet.
  • 2018 En Gobelet (36% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 27% Syrah, 6% Counoise, 3% Tannat): Redder in tone than the 2017 despite its higher percentage of Syrah: cherry, rose petals, mint chocolate, bay flower, and soy. The mouth is inviting with flavors of juniper berry, red licorice, plum skin, and cocoa powder. Crunchy and fresh, with vibrant acids. Almost Pinot Noir-like in its expression; Neil suggested it would be amazing with a piece of grilled salmon and we all agreed.
  • 2019 En Gobelet (37% Grenache, 33% Mourvedre, 20% Syrah, 8% Counoise, 2% Tannat): A dark nose of gunpowder-like mineral and road tar, which blows off to reveal sage, blackberry, and chaparral. The mouth is pure with currant fruit, chalky and powerful tannins, with lingering notes of cedar and graphite, black olive and baker's chocolate. Still quite tight. Hands off for now, though the long-term outlook is exciting. 
  • 2020 En Gobelet (37% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 22% Syrah, 11% Counoise, 5% Tannat): Quiet on the nose right now, with notes of strawberry preserves and leafy thyme spice, and fresh cranberry. On the palate, sweet fruit with lots of youthful tannins. Its red tones suggest it's on a similar track to the 2018, but it needs a couple of years to unwind. 
  • 2021 En Gobelet (39% Grenache, 29% Mourvedre, 16% Syrah, 11% Counoise, 5% Tannat): The nose is lovely, so juicy and fresh with notes of raspberry, balsamic, olive tapenade, and red apple skin. The palate is lovely as well, with flavors of caramel apple, rhubarb compote, sweet baking spices and salty minerals. Nice chalky tannins, but coated by the fruit. Only in bottle for a couple of months, this is on an outstanding track.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • The En Gobelet reflects the character of the vintage maybe more clearly than any other wine we make. Perhaps this is unsurprising. After all, unlike in the Esprit and Panoplie, which are chosen from dozens of lots each year, the En Gobelet has only a handful of possible options. Plus, the dry-farmed blocks have no choice but to reflect the vintage, as we don't have one of our most powerful tools (irrigation) to mitigate a vintage's extremes. So if you want to feel the tannic structure of 2009 or the ethereal character of 2015 or the athletic intensity of 2021, the En Gobelet is a great wine to choose as your mirror. 
  • The overall quality of the wines was exceptionally high. I asked everyone around the table to pick four favorites, and 11 of the 14 vintages got at least one vote. Top vote-getters included 2012 (4), 2015 (4), 2016 (7), and 2021 (5). I was pleased that there were favorites among our oldest and youngest wines, and everything in between.
  • Our choices for what to include in En Gobelet has evolved as we've gotten more dry-farmed blocks in production. At the beginning (2007-2009) we were making En Gobelet out of the few head-trained blocks we had, and it was over half Mourvedre. Next (2011-2013) it became an expression of a single vineyard block, as we decided to co-ferment Scruffy Hill, and because of Grenache's productivity, that meant the wines leaned more heavily into Grenache's high-toned expressiveness. Since 2014 we've been selective about the blocks that are chosen for En Gobelet at the same time as we've had many more choices. Even as we've selected outstanding head-trained, dry-farmed lots for Esprit and Panoplie in recent years, the quality of the En Gobelet has continued to increase. We've settled on a blend that leans slightly heavier into Grenache than Mourvedre or Syrah which we think gives us a balance of redder and darker fruit and lots of the salty mineral character we love in our dry-farmed blocks. 
  • Don't forget the vintage chart. We update this chart several times a year based on the results of tastings like these, wines we open in the normal course of life, and feedback we get from customers and fans. It's there whenever you want it.
  • Sound fun? Join us on August 13th! We will be hosting a version of this event that is open to the public, and Chelsea and I will be leading the discussion and sharing insights into how the wines came to be the way they are. The vintages we have tentatively chosen to share are 2007, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2021. You can read more about the event, and get your tickets, here.

Since when does Paso Robles get "May grey" and "June gloom"? Welcome to 2023.

If you live in California, you're not going to be surprised by this update. But it's been chilly so far this year. Sure, the winter made headlines, with record-breaking rains and cold temperatures. But even since then it hasn't exactly felt like sunny California. After a more-or-less normal April, we've gone back to a weather pattern in much of May and June that feels more like March -- or Mendocino -- than midsummer. Today we've had a heavy overcast as an unusual late-season low pressure system drifts over our area. This is not a sky that you expect to see in conjunction with this landscape:

Looking west June 5

It's not just the lack of sun. Since May 1st, temperatures here averaged nearly 7°F lower than normal, with only 12 days above seasonal highs and 22 below:

Daily High Temps 2023 vs Average

The cool pattern looks likely to persist through at least the middle of the month and perhaps longer, as it's the result of longer-term phenomena (static high pressure systems over the sub-arctic and low-pressure over the sub-tropics off the coast of California). For a more in-depth explanation, I recommend Daniel Swain's Weather West blog and Twitter feed:

The last six weeks or so have been characterized by a deep marine layer and on-shore flow, which has meant that even our warmer days have usually started out foggy. That's not unusual in the early spring here, but it's typically not the case even by early May. And having deep gray clouds over lush green grapevines in early June is even more unusual:

Terret Noir and Stormy Skies June 5

The net result has been that the growing season, which got off to a slow start before catching up a bit in mid-May, has fallen further behind again. We're now something like a couple of weeks behind average, and more like three or four weeks behind most recent years. For a good comparison, check out the blog I published June 3rd, 2022 about fruit set, with pea-size berries in Grenache. By contrast, Grenache is still in mid-flowering today:

Flowering June 5

Our biggest worry right now is that cool, breezy weather isn't ideal for berry fertilization, and raises the risk of shatter. But no one I talk to is particularly concerned. It hasn't been all that windy (the last month has had only one day with a top wind gust over 20mph), we've had warmer days interspersed between the chilly ones, and it hasn't rained. Even if we do get a passing shower tonight or tomorrow, it doesn't look like it will be much, or that it will stick around for long. Plus, everyone is seeing what we are: unusual vigor in the vineyards thanks to all our winter rain, with large clusters and plenty of leaf area. If we lose a small percentage of that crop, we can afford that better than we would have been able to the last few years.

Finally, there's plenty of runway left in the growing season. We've gotten used to starting to pick in August and finishing by mid-October. But in the 2000s it was more normal that we'd start in mid-September and finish in early November. In Paso Robles that's not a huge risk, since the rainy season doesn't usually start in earnest until around Thanksgiving. That's a big part of why we chose this location. So if we need to wait, we wait. There are even benefits to doing so, as the grapes will spend longer on the vines and we're more likely to be picking in cooler weather.

Meanwhile, we'll enjoy the unusual backdrop to our vineyard activities. "May grey" and "June gloom" aren't normal features of Paso Robles weather. But it seems like in 2023 we're getting a taste of both.

Cinsaut and Stormy Skies June 5