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A Pillar of Tablas Creek Gets his Due: John Morris

By Ian Consoli

On May 23rd of this year, our longtime Tasting Room Manager, John Morris, received the 2024 Hospitality & Tourism Award for Visitor Experience in the wine category presented by Travel Paso. The award noted John's long-term commitment to "creating guest experiences that are above and beyond expectation." This award followed John's recent feature in Tasting Panel Magazine and an invite to speak at the Tasting and Tap Room Expo in May. The award and recognition are long overdue. As the Tasting Room Manager at Tablas Creek for over 17 years, John has been responsible for the positive experience of our guests through the training and development of our tasting room staff. Congratulations, John!


When John Morris started as the tasting room manager at Tablas Creek in 2007, he had no idea what an impact it would have on his life. He knew the brand, was familiar with the wines, and was excited for the new opportunity. I asked him recently if he thought he'd be here 17 years later. “Not necessarily,” he noted, “but I do recall a particular moment in my first month here. Everyone had left for the day, and I was enjoying a glass of wine, looking out across the parking lot at the rolling hills of Tablas Creek, and thought to myself, you made it."

Indeed you did, John.

He fully embraced the opportunity, developing a system for hiring and training tasting room employees that would create a unique tasting experience that best represented Tablas Creek. Those types of experiences are what bring guests back to our tasting room time and time again. From the nomination anonymously submitted by John's peers in the Paso Robles community:

"John Morris has run a successful tasting room for Tablas Creek Vineyard for nearly two decades. His ability to educate, train, and motivate his employees has helped make the Tablas Creek tasting room a staple on any "best wineries to visit" list. Visitor experiences continue to rate highly on Yelp, Google, Trip Advisor, and various other visitation sites. He has made a significant impact on Paso Robles tourism with his emphasis on positive customer experience."

It is safe to say that he interviewed, hired, and managed hundreds of people over his tenure. Some got their start in wine here, and others used their experience as a stepping-stone. We’re proud to have seen some of our longest-tenured employees come through his hiring process. Some remained in the tasting room, and others went on to work in other departments at Tablas Creek, such as the vineyard, winery, wine club, and marketing (that's me!). Whatever their situation, for 17 years and counting, John Morris was the first face people saw when they wanted Tablas Creek to be a part of their wine career journey.

John had this thought when receiving his award:

"I’ve been in hospitality, customer service, whatever you want to call it most of my life. I think customer service is hospitality and vice versa. Every place I’ve been there’s been someone saying ‘I can’t wait to get out of customer service.’ I’ve always thought to myself, ‘I like this. I really like this.’ So for those who are just passing through hospitality on your way to another career, that’s fantastic. Enjoy the ride. For those of you who this is your work, be proud. It’s good work, legitimate work, and it’s fun work. I am grateful to be where I am. Thank you all so much.”


A decadent pairing: Moussaka and 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel

One of my favorite cookbooks is the classic (and sadly now out of print) Mediterranean Cooking by Paula Wolfert. There are probably a dozen recipes in it that we’ve made multiple times, and one of them has become a family favorite that we return to at least a few times each year. The original page is marked up with a half-dozen annotations and additions, and the book, binding long gone, opens to it as soon as you set it down on the counter. That recipe is the Greek classic moussaka. If you're unfamiliar with it, it's the ultimate in comfort food. There's a layer of sautéed potatoes at the bottom. On top of that is a rich lamb-based meat sauce with warm spices. Above that is slices of broiled eggplant. And on top is a layer of creamy béchamel sauce. There are, of course, many variations of this ancient dish. In fact, Wolfert herself suggests a variation where the top layer is a yogurt sauce rather than béchamel. But as with any recipe that you make enough, we feel like it's become, over the years, ours.

Moussaka recipe

With Eli, our 19-year-old, home from college for the summer, we've been cycling through some of our favorite family recipes, and last week made moussaka. It was glorious, as it always is, and we decided to up the ante on the unapologetically luxurious dish by pairing it with perhaps the most hedonistic wine we've ever made at Tablas Creek, the 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel. From a warm, low-yielding year, it's always been a wine built to impress. There's a sweetness to the fruit (though it's a dry wine) that's both a reflection of that year and of that era of our winemaking, when we were leaning a little more into lushness. It received some of the highest scores we've ever gotten, including a 95-97 point rating from Robert Parker that resulted in us selling out about six months before we expected, and our highest-ever placement (#33) in the Wine Spectator's year-end Top 100.

The wine has aged beautifully, adding lovely meaty, leathery, truffly notes to the currant and sweet spice flavors that it carried from the beginning. The sweeter elements to the wine suggested it might be a good pairing for the moussaka, which includes cinnamon and allspice, as well as the sweetness from three cups of sautéed onions and a cup of tomato puree. And it was glorious:

Moussaka with 2007 Esprit

There are times where you stumble unexpectedly on the perfect wine for a given meal. Those experiences are wonderful. But there are also times where you think a wine will be great for a particular dish, and it is. Those experiences are in some ways even more satisfying. This was one of those cases. I'll share the recipe, as we've evolved to make it, below. It's a fair amount of work, though it can be done in advance and so can be great for a gathering. But there's nothing technically difficult about it, and the rewards are amazing. If you make it and can try it with a bottle of Esprit from the late 2000s, I can promise you it will be mind-bendingly good. But even if you don't have that exact pairing, go ahead and try it. There's a reason why lamb and Mourvedre is such a classic pairing. They're just magical together.


  • 2 large eggplants (about 2 lbs)
  • Salt
  • Olive oil
  • 3 cups minced onions
  • 2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 2 lbs. ground lamb
  • 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup tomato puree
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 5 medium potatoes, about 2 lbs. Red-skinned are ideal, but it's not fussy.
  • 1 stick (8 tbsp) butter
  • 3 1/2 cups milk
  • 6 tbsp. flour
  • ground nutmeg

Note that all four of the layers can be prepared simultaneously, though if this is your first time, my recommendation is that you not try to do anything else while making the béchamel.

For the eggplant layer:

  • Peel eggplants and slice into half-inch rounds
  • Soak those eggplant slices in salted water for a half-hour
  • Preheat a broiler
  • Squeeze extra water out of the eggplants, then pat dry with paper towels 
  • Lightly oil a large baking sheet, lay out the eggplant rounds on the sheet in a single layer, and brush with more olive oil
  • Broil until lightly brown, then flip and broil the other side until lightly browned
  • Allow to cool

For the meat layer:

  • In a large Dutch oven or other enameled pot, heat 6 tbsp. of olive oil on low heat
  • Add the onions and garlic and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until they are soft, about 10 minutes
  • Turn heat to medium and add the lamb and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until browned
  • Stir in the spices, tomato puree, water, parsley, and salt to taste, and bring to a simmer
  • Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until you get a thick sauce, about 30 minutes.

For the potato layer:

  • Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/8-inch rounds
  • Heat 3 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet and add the potato slices
  • Cook, turning and separating so that the slices brown evenly but nothing burns, about 10 minutes
  • Sprinkle with salt and set aside to cool 

For the béchamel layer:

  • Heat milk either on the stove or in a large microwave-safe measuring cup until hot
  • In a medium Dutch oven or cast iron pot over low heat, melt 6 tbsp. butter 
  • Whisk in flour and cook, whisking continuously 2-3 minutes until it just starts to turn golden and smells nutty
  • Whisk in heated milk and cook, whisking very regularly, for about 10 minutes or until it achieves the consistency of a thick cream soup
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a sprinkle of nutmeg

To assemble the moussaka:

  • Butter the bottom and sides of a 10" x 14" x 2" Pyrex or ceramic baking dish
  • Cover the bottom of the baking dish with an overlapping later of potatoes
  • Pour the meat sauce over the potato layer and spread evenly
  • Top the meat layer with a layer of eggplant
  • Pour the béchamel over the eggplant and smooth with a spatula
  • Dot the top of the béchamel with the remaining tbsp. of butter

At this point, you can cover the dish with foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours, or you can cook it. When you're ready to cook:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F
  • Bake until the béchamel is golden brown and the whole thing is bubbling, about 40 minutes if assembled warm or 50 minutes if refrigerated
  • Remove from the oven, let settle 5 minutes, then slice into squares and serve

Moussaka cross-section

2023 Red Blending: Dazzling Wines from a Cool Year... including a Chillable Grenache

Last week we finally got to sit down and taste the eighteen (!) red wines from the 2023 vintage we'd built around the blending table over the past month. The tasting highlighted the incredible combination of vibrancy and depth that we'd all remarked upon during the blending process. From the peppery blood orange and bay-like herbiness of the Terret Noir to the boysenberry, red licorice, and sweet tobacco appeal of Grenache, the soy, melted licorice, black raspberry and graphite umami of the Le Complice, and the pure currant, black plum, and sweet earth depth of the Panoplie, each wine was somehow like itself, but moreso: both deep and expressive, with refinement and lovely high notes. What a pleasure. 2023 was a vintage unlike any that we've seen in a long time, in which we saw record-breaking rains, late budbreak and veraison, the coolest growing season since 2011, and a delayed harvest that didn't finish until mid-November. And unlike the white blending that we finished in April, where yields were still depressed from the residual impacts of 2022's frost, there was good supply of most of our reds, and especially Grenache. So, what a relief that there was such outstanding quality to go with healthy quantities. 

As usual, we got a visit from Cesar Perrin. Unlike usual, Cesar brought two other members of the Famille Perrin cellar team, Valentin Castaneda and Christian Reboul, which meant that we had that many more perspectives and an additional five decades of blending experience around the blending table. Like the Perrins' own system at Beaucastel, we take the blending process in steps and build consensus rather than relying on one or two lead voices to determine the wines' final profiles. After all, when you have nine family members involved in a multi-generational business, as they do at Beaucastel, it's a good policy and good family relations to make sure everyone is on the same page before you go forward. The same is true with a partnership like Tablas Creek where both founding families have equal ownership. Mornings we would taste. Each afternoon, we'd explore different pieces of what we're working on in the vineyard or cellar:

Christian  Valentin  Cesar  Neil and JasonFrom left, Christian, Valentin, Cesar, Neil, Jason

We try to do most of our tasting in the morning because that's when everyone's palates and brains are freshest. Afternoons are for the aforementioned explorations, or brainstorming, or chances to visit with other local winemakers. We began the week, as we always do, by tasting each of the different red lots in the cellar, which in 2023 numbered a substantial 68. On Monday we tackled Cinsaut, Counoise, Muscardin, Mourvedre, Vaccarese, Syrah, and Tannat. Tuesday we dove into Grenache, which encompassed an amazing 24 lots, and then cleaned up some of the trace varieties, including Terret Noir, Pinot Noir, two co-fermented lots and the blended lots that will become our 2023 Patelin de Tablas and Lignée de Tablas wines. We keep our different harvest lots separate until they've finished fermentation so we can assess their quality and character before we have to decide which wines they fit best in. After all, a Mourvedre lot could potentially go into any of six wines: PanoplieEspritEn GobeletCotesPatelin, or the varietal Mourvedre. So our goal at this first stage of blending is to give each lot a grade that's reflective of its overall quality, and to start to flag lots that we think might be particularly suited to one wine or another. This component tasting is also an opportunity for us to get a sense of which varieties particularly shined or struggled, which helps provide direction as we start to brainstorm about blends.

We grade on a 1-3 scale, with "1" being our top grade (for a deep dive into how we do our blending, check out this blog by Chelsea from a few years back). We also give ourselves the liberty to give intermediate "1/2" or "2/3" grades for lots that are right on the cusp. For context, in a normal year, for every 10 lots we might see three or four "1" grades, five or six "2" grades and one "3" grade. As you can see from my notes, this year we saw a lot of "1" grades and very few "3" grades:

2023 red blending notes

How I graded each variety, in the order in which we tasted them:

  • Cinsaut (2 lots): An outstanding beginning, with two quite different lots of Cinsaut both excellent. One was plush and spicy, with great acids and fruit. The other was deeper, with less acid but more texture. I gave them both "1" grades.
  • Counoise (7 lots): Several of these lots showed the pale, pretty, spicy Gamay-style juiciness that our varietal Counoise bottling typically reflects, but unlike in 2022 there were also richer options, culminating in one stunning lot from our new Jewel Ridge plantings with the darker blueberry fruit and rich texture that we look for in Esprit. I gave out one "1" grade, two "1/2" grades, two "2" grades, and two "2/3" grades for lots I thought were pretty enough, but a little on the thin side.
  • Muscardin (1 lot): Progress! Not only did we have a barrel of 100% Muscardin to taste, but it was delicious: spicy and floral, with flavors of raspberry and green herbs. I gave it a "1/2" and we decided to make it our first-ever varietal Muscardin bottling.
  • Mourvedre (10 lots): If we were pleased by the first three wines, we were blown away by Mourvedre. This was the most structured collection of Mourvedre lots in recent years, but they all also showed a vibrancy and a refinement that was just lovely. Six lots got "1"s from me, with three others getting "1/2", one "2"s and nothing lower than that. The only downside is that quantities were barely improved from the punishingly low levels of 2022, so we were going to be constrained in blending.
  • Vaccarese (2 lots): In this darker, higher-acid year, Vaccarese stood out a little less from the wines around it than it has the past few vintages. Still, the grape showed why we're so excited about it, with candied blackberry fruit and vibrant acids. I gave one lot a "1" and the other, which felt perhaps a touch too tannic for Esprit, a "1/2".
  • Syrah (11 lots): Syrah at this stage is easy to appreciate, with its plush dark fruit, spice, and powerful structure. And the lots we tasted had that in abundance, with my main question being whether lots were too monolithic for Esprit. I gave out five "1"s, two "1/2" grades to lots I thought were more medium-bodied and therefore good candidates for varietal Syrah, and four "2" lots split between two with such big tannins I wanted to keep them out of Esprit, and two that were just a little on the quiet side.
  • Tannat (4 lots): Exuberant, with Tannat's normal density but leavened by acids even more vibrant than usual. We didn't bother grading the lots, since they're all getting blended together, but they were all strong. 

What a first day. Of the 33 lots we graded, I gave out fifteen "1" grades and nine "1/2"s. That's unprecedented. And it was strong across lighter-bodied and richer grapes. But would it be just as strong in Grenache, when yields had gone up by an amazing 85% compared to 2022? That was the question for Tuesday. It turned out I needn't have worried:

  • Grenache (24 lots): Grenache can be difficult to taste this early in its evolution, as it is slow to finish fermentation and some lots are just rounding into form. And in recent years we've found Grenache tending toward a pale, spicy profile more like Counoise rather than the darker-fruited, more licorice note found in the Rhone. But led by the growing number of head-trained Grenache blocks, we saw plenty of lots with lushness and sweet fruit, and even some with significant structure. I gave eight lots "1" grades, six others "1/2" grades, nine "2"s and one single "2/3" lot that would end up being the only one declassified into Patelin. If you're going to have so much Grenache that you have to figure out what to do with it, it's great that it's delicious! 
  • Terret Noir (1 lot): The year seems to have treated Terret well, with a little extra darkness in this often-pale grape and nice herby grip. I gave it a "2" and thought it would be great for Le Complice
  • Pinot Noir (1 lot): From the small vineyard in the Templeton Gap that my dad planted outside the house he and my mom built in 2007, where my wife Meghan and I live now. It's planted to a mix of different Pinot Noir clones. Unlike in past years, we didn't keep the different clones separate through fermentation. So there wasn't much to discuss, though we very much liked the assembled wine and thought it would make a compelling 2023 Full Circle.
  • Blend Lots (2 lots): These were impossible to generalize, with one blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Counoise outstanding (I gave it a "1") and the other blend of Mourvedre and Grenache pretty and juicy but a little simple. I gave it a "2".

We finished day two with our normal round-table discussion about what we wanted to try in the next day's blending of Panoplie and Esprit and came to the conclusion that given the overall strength of the vintage we should start the blending trials with three test blends, each one leaning a little heavier into one of the big three of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah, and see where that took us. In terms of quantity, the improved yields meant that we felt confident we could bump our Esprit production to around 3500 cases and our Cotes production to around 1500 (an increase of 500 and 300 cases, respectively) while still leaving ourselves room to make some outstanding varietal bottlings. Which ones, and how much, would be determined by the makeup of the blends we chose. 

Wednesday morning was Cesar's last day with us, as he had committed to hosting a dinner that evening in Long Beach and would be returning to France from there, although we got to keep Valentin and Christian for the rest of the week. So we decided to try to come up with some direction for both Panoplie and Esprit while Cesar was here, and then figure we could work out the details later. As always, we tasted our options blind, not knowing what was in each glass.

Panoplie is always overwhelmingly Mourvedre (typically around 60%) and we try to cap the Syrah percentage at no more than about 25%, because Syrah's dominance often threatens to overwhelm the Mourvedre character of the wine. That said, the trial Panoplie with the most Syrah (26%, along with 58% Mourvedre and 16% Grenache) got about 60% of the first-place votes in round one, with the blend that maxed out Mourvedre (66%) and reduced both Grenache (19%) and Syrah (15%) got the other 40% of the first choices. No one preferred the blend with the most Grenache (31%, along with 58% Mourvedre and 11% Syrah). After some discussion, we decided to try a blend which split the difference between the two favorites and ended up with something that everyone loved. Final blend: 61% Mourvedre, 23% Syrah, and 16% Grenache. 

Panoplie decided, we moved on to the Esprit. With the relatively scarce vintage for Mourvedre, we didn't have the option of truly leaning hard (like 50%) into our lead grape. So we tried Mourvedre ranges from 33% to 37%, Syrah ranges from 22% to 31%, and Grenache ranges from 26% to 33%. Somewhat to our surprise, the blend with the most Syrah was again our favorite, with a nice balance of brightness and lushness and youthfully powerful tannins. Unlike the Panoplie, we couldn't think of an obvious way to tweak it to make it better, so we decided we'd table that and come back later to decide which trace varieties we wanted to use. 

After one last lunch together, Cesar headed south and we turned our attention to our remaining wine club blends, starting with En Gobelet. With the easing of the drought and the new production off of Jewel Ridge and other new head-trained blocks, we have more options for this wine than ever before, even after using some of our favorite head-trained lots in Esprit and Panoplie. For the third wine in a row, we chose the blend with the least Grenache (49%) and most Syrah (14%) to go along with 31% Mourvedre and 3% each of Tannat and Counoise. That's still a lot of Grenache, and we felt that the relatively higher percentages of Syrah and Mourvedre gave the pretty sugarplum fruit more density and seriousness. 

For Le Complice, which celebrates the kinship we feel Terret Noir shows with whole cluster Syrah, we dismissed the blend with the most Grenache (41%) and least Syrah (51%) as pretty and luscious but not structured or wild enough, and split between the power of a blend with 65% Syrah, 29% Grenache, and 6% Terret and the herby vibrancy of a blend with 58% Syrah, 29% Grenache, and 13% Terret Noir. As with the Panoplie, splitting the difference made a wine that everyone was happy with: 62% Syrah, 28% Grenache, and 10% Terret. Note that we made less of this (just 360 cases, vs. 750 cases in most recent years) so we can increase the flexibility of what we send out to VINsider club members.

At this point, we'd made four blends and had the following quantities of wine left of our main grapes. Do you notice the outlier?

  • Mourvedre: 1230 gallons
  • Grenache: 9173 gallons
  • Syrah: 2555 gallons
  • Counoise: 2199 gallons

Given those quantities, Friday was going to be a deep dive into Grenache, and it was something of a relief when we convened to taste the Cotes de Tablas first thing in the morning, we had universal consensus that our favorite wine was one that used the most Grenache: 66%, along with 18% Syrah, and 8% each Counoise and Mourvedre. Still, that left us with about 6800 gallons of the grape, enough for nearly 3,000 cases. I have been wanting us to make a more substantial amount of varietal Grenache, enough to release nationally, so I asked Chelsea to blend the best 4800 gallons into what would become a 2,000 case lot for us to taste. We did, and loved it. It was juicy and spicy, with pure cherry and plum fruit, good acids, and appealing sweet spice. It was so good, in fact, that I wondered aloud if adding another 1200 gallons (500 cases) was viable.

We decided that after lunch we would blind taste the 2,000-case varietal Grenache we'd tasted that morning against a potential 2,50o-case Grenache. I went into this expecting that I'd like the smaller lot (with, after all, higher-rated components) and was just hoping that the two blends would be close enough in quality that we'd all be content. Instead, it seemed like the extra lots that we added, which tended to be higher in acid and less ripe, brought out a lovely saline minerality and expressiveness while giving the fruit more focus and taming the little bit of alcoholic heat that we'd been perceiving on the nose. Done, and done. There really is nothing like tasting blind to tell you what the right solution is. 

That left about 1100 gallons of the Grenache that the cellar was calling "the rest". I figured we should taste it so that we'd know, if we were looking to sell it to another winery, what it was like. That happens from time to time. So we did. And while it didn't have the power (or the color) of the 2,500-case varietal Grenache we had just blended, it was pretty, spicy, with a little crushed stone minerality on the nose. The palate showed lovely strawberry fruit and bright acids. We were all admiring it when Chelsea spoke up: "You know, I would love to have a box of this in my fridge this summer." And the last piece fell into place. It turned out that the lots we'd marked down for not being dark or structured enough made the perfect chillable red. We'll have enough to make something like 900 3L boxes to sell here and 65 kegs to sell to restaurants and wine bars around the country to pour on tap. Look for that release (which we're tentatively planning to call Alouette1) in August.

At that point, Christian and Valentin had to return to France, and I had to hit the road for a week of work in Washington DC. When I got back we had a pre-scheduled bottling run, and then a few people had other commitments that kept us from all getting together. So it wasn't until week-before-last that we sat down to put the finishing touches on the Esprit and then taste the full lineup. We'd blocked out, we felt, the right proportions of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah for Esprit, but hadn't been able to dive into the trace varieties to our satisfaction. So back to the blending table we went, and tried three different approaches to fill the 10% of the blend that we'd left for Vaccarese, Cinsaut, and Counoise. And we were grateful that we did. The "baseline" proportion that we'd used in the first round (6% Counoise, 3% Vaccarese, and 1% Cinsaut) turned out to be our least favorite, and the one we liked most maxed out our Cinsaut at 6%, with Vaccarese and Counoise dropping to 2% each. That meant we wouldn't have a varietal Cinsaut, but would have a little more varietal Counoise and Vaccarese. And that's fine. You have to know what your priorities are when you go into blending, and for us, what the Esprit wants, it gets. In this case, what the Esprit got from the additional Cinsaut was more plushness and length, and a touch of licorice-like sweet spice. It felt somehow appropriate that finishing touch on our most important wine came from the first grape that we tasted on the first day of the component trials.

Those decisions made, all that was left was to taste the full lineup of blends and varietal wines, and to add in the non-estate wines like Patelin de Tablas and Lignée de Tablas. It's important for us to make sure everything is properly differentiated. We don't want, for example, a Grenache-dominated wine like Cotes de Tablas to taste too much like our varietal Grenache, or the Esprit and Panoplie, both of which are based on Mourvedre, to feel too close to each other or our varietal Mourvedre. We also were looking forward to tasting our Syrah against the Lignée de Tablas Shake Ridge Syrah. The wines:

2023 blended reds

My quick notes on each of the eighteen wines we made, and their rough quantities: 

  • Counoise (1015 cases): A juicy brambly nose with notes of wild strawberry, rhubarb, and rose petals. Clean, pure, and bright on the palate with flavors of ripe red raspberry, cranberry and pomegranate, bright acids, and a spicy chaparral note on the finish. Like springtime in the woods.
  • Terret Noir (90 cases): A peppery nose of blood orange, pink peppercorn, and sweetgrass. The palate is tannic and pithy with a bay-like herbiness, black raspberry fruit, and a finish of watermelon rind and sagebrush. Fascinating and fun.
  • Muscardin (25 cases): A nose of aromatic bitters and Aperol, spice cabinet and potpourri. On the palate, like cherry Jolly Rancher, but fully dry with fresh green herbs and a nice saltiness on the finish. I have to believe that this will be most people's first exposure to Muscardin, and it should be memorable and fun.
  • Full Circle (260 cases): A distinctively Pinot nose of cherry cola, milk chocolate, leather, and a little sweet oak. The mouth shows cherry skin, sweet earth, and a little oregano-like herbiness from some well-integrated stems. There's a kiss of oak on the finish.  
  • Vaccarese (250 cases): A nose of dark chocolate, black pepper, mint, and black raspberry. On the palate, black cherry, graphite, and cocoa powder, good acids, and then a finish with black tea and black licorice notes over healthy tannins.
  • Grenache Alouette (1080 gallons): A high-toned nose of peppermint stick, cranberry, and grenadine. On the palate, juicy and appealing with flavors of watermelon, red cherry, and candied orange. Medium-bodied, with gentle tannins and refreshing acidity. Should be delicious lightly chilled.
  • Grenache (2500 cases): A nose of boysenberry, red licorice, and potpourri. The palate is full-bodied with flavors of fresh fig, grape jelly, pipe tobacco, and sweet spice. Good structure, with chalky tannins coming out on the finish. I'm so excited to have so much of this.
  • Cotes de Tablas (1500 cases): An umami-rich nose, especially compared to the Grenaches that preceded it, of grilled portabella, black raspberry, cinnamon bread, and dry autumn leaves. On the palate, like all the parts of a plum, from the sweet juice to the bite of the skin, with additional flavors of luxardo cherry, clove, and cocoa powder. The finish brings out a nice bite of tannin and more sweet, earthy spice.
  • Mourvedre (330 cases): A lovely focused nose of red currant, sugarplum, new leather, and an enticing meaty, herby complexity like a leg of lamb that has been rubbed with bay and thyme. On the palate, currant and milk chocolate, red apple skin, and loamy earth. Pure and lovely.
  • Lignée de Tablas Fenaughty Vineyard (560 cases): This blend of 67% Grenache and 33% Mourvedre is one of two new entries into our Lignée de Tablas program. A savory, classically Sierra Foothills nose of dusty blackberry, juniper, and caramel. On the palate, flavors of sweet cream butter, elderberry, and a licorice note that dances between red and black. The finish becomes more savory again, with notes of flint, iron, and black raspberry. More on this wine soon. 
  • Patelin de Tablas (7000 cases): A pretty, savory nose of black pepper and teriyaki marinade. Lovely on the palate with black fruit and black licorice in front leavened by plum skin acids and a finish with sweet sarsaparilla and smoky oolong tea notes. Somehow both serious and playful, and should be a great introduction for people into the category of California Rhone-style blends. The blend ended up 45% Syrah, 30% Grenache, 23% Mourvedre, and 2% Counoise.
  • Syrah (800 cases): A nose of warm dark leather, baker's chocolate, and dark roast coffee. The mouth is plush with flavors of dark chocolate, blackberry, prosciutto, and black licorice, with rich, powerful tannins, minty spice, and an iron-like mineral note coming out on the finish.
  • Lignee de Tablas Shake Ridge Syrah (350 cases): The second new entry into our Lignée de Tablas program. A higher-toned nose than our Syrah, reflective of the high elevation of the Shake Ridge site, of blackberry preserves, brown sugar, bramble, and pencil shavings. The mouth is lively and herby with black raspberry and toasted walnut flavors, and the finish shows more dark fruit and graphite. More on this wine soon too. 
  • Tannat (980 cases): A generously juicy, minty nose of black cherry, graham cracker, and cocoa powder. The mouth is vibrant too, with a lovely chocolate-covered cherry note, salted butter, and boysenberry pie flavors . The finish shows Tannat's characteristic good acids, grippy tannins, and a lingering floral note like violets.
  • En Gobelet (760 cases): A pretty, refined nose of cinnamon toast and strawberry preserves. On the palate, flavors of strawberry-rhubarb pie, baking spices, sweet earth,  and candied orange. Nice lift on the long, gentle finish. Elegant and expressive.
  • Le Complice (360 cases): A lovely umami nose of soy, crushed rock, mint, sweet tobacco, and melted licorice. On the palate, more translucency than the nose suggested, with flavors of tangy black raspberry and plum skin and a clean mineral note reminiscent of wet stone. The long finish shows both sweet and savory herbs, and tannic grip cloaked in black fruit with a graphite-like mineral impression at the end. Memorable and impressive.
  • Esprit de Tablas (3500 cases): A serious nose of pipe tobacco, both red and black currant, licorice, and a little minty lift. The mouth is on point with flavors of black raspberry, mint chocolate, meat drippings, and loamy earth. Deep and full but structured as well, with fine-grained tannins and a finish of sweet spice and dark red fruit. 
  • Panoplie (800 cases): A deep, pure nose of plum pudding, chocolate mousse, meat drippings, hoisin, and leather. On the palate, the purity of the Mourvedre fruit shines: currant and black plum, sweet earth and duck fat. The finish has chewy tannins and a lovely saline persistence with notes of spun sugar and mocha. This should be a great Panoplie to lay down, though it may be so appealing young that a lot of it won't get that far.   

A few concluding thoughts. 

  • What a treat to have both Christian and Valentin around the blending table, and to see their excitement with what we were tasting. Christian, who worked for a long stretch at Domaine Tempier in Bandol and has for the last several years overseen the Famille Perrin operations in Gigondas and Vinsobres, is a somewhat intimidating addition to a blending session that's going to dive deep into Mourvedre. But seeing their enthusiasm for the freshness and lift of the wines they had in front of them, and living vicariously through their first visit to this special place we get to grow grapes and make wine, felt like serious validation of our work. During one of the final lunches, Christian stood up to give a toast, in which he roughly said (I'm translating here) "we are excited to learn that there is in fact paradise on Earth, and it's here in Paso Robles."
  • One of my favorites of Neil's sayings is "hang time is great... until it isn't". The 2023 vintage gave us incredibly long hang time, with harvest not starting until mid-September and not finishing until mid-November. That we got that long, slow ripening essentially without a single heat spike is a rare luxury. The consistent depth and intensity of the lots that we tasted was noteworthy. We know that this vintage is likely an climatic outlier, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to glory in what it gave us. I'm not sure I can remember another vintage with such a well-defined character, which is going to make future retrospective tastings a lot of fun.
  • One very interesting facet of this blending was that we've started to get more significant production off of some of our newly replanted (and mostly head-trained, dry-farmed) blocks. Those young vines, which are healthy and as yet unaffected by the virus we know we have in the vineyard, were consistently among our favorite lots. It will be interesting, as we move forward, integrating those juicier, more powerful lots into the more elegant, mineral-driven lots from the older vines. We want to make sure that we maintain the elegance and freshness that we've come to love (and our fans have come to expect) while also incorporating the more robust, juicy lots that we'll get from the young vines.
  • In terms of vintage comps, I'm not sure we have a great one for 2023. (For some examples, look at last year's blog post diving into vintage character.) It seems like 2011, with its dark fruit profile and lovely acids, is likely the closest to what we saw in 2023, but that was a frost year in addition to a cool year, and there's a generosity of fruit in 2023 that I don't find in 2011. There's something of the weightless elegance of 2015 in 2023, but the wines are more structured and Grenache, in particular, is stronger. It will be a pleasure to get to know these wines as they rest in barrel and eventually (or in the case of the Alouette Grenache, pretty soon) make their way to you.
  • Speaking of the Alouette, this blending session really drove home the value of the collaborative approach we use. It's not up to any one person to come up with a solution to the year's challenges. Ideas can come from anyone around that table, and if the blind tastings we do support them, we'll do it. If you'd told me, three years ago, that we'd conclude a blending session with three Famille Perrin members by deciding to add a chillable red -- and one that we'd market solely in box and keg -- to our lineup I'd likely have looked at you like you'd sprouted a second head. But I think it's going to be a gorgeous wine and a lovely addition to our portfolio. I can't wait to share it with you. 

I'll let Neil have the last word: "I thought the wines across the board were really strong, with good depth and good structure. It's super exciting to see the new blocks coming on; they're going to be a game changer for us. And, of course, how exciting to have our first-ever Muscardin!"

From all of us, cheers.

Lunch table during 2023 red blending


  1. Alouette, if you're curious, means “lark” in French, with both of its meanings: the songbird but also something done on a whim, or for fun. For us to make a wine we're really excited about, in a category we've never explored, feels like a lark indeed!

To Infinity (Bottling) and Beyond -- a New Era for Tablas Creek Wine Boxes

By Chelsea Franchi

Tablas Creek is well-versed in the meaning of partnership.  After all, in business and practice, we are a partnership ourselves.  This winery was built upon the personal and professional relationship of two esteemed families: the Perrin Family of Chateau de Beaucastel and the Haas Family of Vineyard Brands.  This initial partnership not only shaped our present approach to business but also serves as a guiding principle in nurturing future collaborations.  We take great pride in the work we put forth in the vineyard, the cellar, and the business, so any ancillary associations we forge have some high standards to live up to.

In addition to taking pride in how we conduct ourselves with others, we prioritize sustainability and recognize the profound impact our actions have on the planet.  In 2022, we released our first wine packaged in the bag-in-box format.  This radical decision was driven by several factors, many of which Jason has outlined in previous blog posts (also here, here and here) but at its core was reducing our carbon footprint.  Bag-in-box packaging offers an impressive 84% reduction in carbon emissions compared to traditional glass bottles.  However, venturing into the realm of boxed wine presented challenges due to our smaller production scale.  Dry goods (the bags and boxes) are difficult to source at a reasonable minimum order quantity and companies that have traditionally filled bags for boxed wine are built to run tens of thousands of bags in a day.  We were able to source packaging supplies from a company that works with our scale and we purchased a small semi-automatic filling machine, enabling us to launch our boxed wine program.

After six successful runs during 2022 and 2023 of the three colors of Patelin de Tablas, we decided it was time to increase production so we could send a small number of boxes out into the market (so you may now see them on the shelf of your favorite wine shop!)  This expanded production meant we needed to find a packaging partner with expertise in bottling; as much as we'd like to keep everything in-house, we simply don't have the time to do it all ourselves.

We'd been in close contact with the team at Really Good Boxed Wine - a high-end boxed wine project started in 2021 - and their guidance was an invaluable resource as we navigated our way through this new-to-us world of boxed wine.  Jake, the founder of RGBW, connected us with Infinity Bottling in Napa Valley, as they had recently invested in a bag-in-box filling machine that would be able to accommodate our production amounts.

Infinity ExteriorInfinity Bottling in American Canyon

A few months, some Zoom meetings, phone calls, and countless emails later, we loaded portable tanks of the 2023 Patelin de Tablas Blanc onto a temperature-controlled semi-truck bound for Infinity Bottling.  On the day of the boxing, I drove up to tour the facility, observe the boxing run, and meet the Infinity crew in person.  It was well worth the trip.  The facility is gleaming and maintained with obvious care, the team is small and tight with strong leadership at the helm, and the quality control is continuous, consistent, and robust.  The team's efficiency and expertise ensured a seamless boxing process, giving us peace of mind knowing our wine was in capable, caring hands.  Partnering with Infinity Bottling underscored our commitment to working with companies that share our values of excellence and integrity while simultaneously reflecting our dedication to delivering only the highest quality wines to our customers.

Here's a little of what the process looked like (compare, if you'd like, to what it looked like when we were doing it in-house):

Bags Being Filled at InfinityThe semi-automatic Torr filling machine manned by a bottling expert at Infinity

Close up of Case BoxTablas Creek 3L boxes getting sealed shut

Full Pallet at InfinityFinished 3L boxes are packaged in case boxes and palletized for shipping

This journey has led us to outstanding partners and immersed us in a community of like-minded individuals striving to redefine industry standards.  If you're curious about that community, check out the new Alternative Packaging Alliance, which we and six other brands formed earlier this year to help spread the word on this customer-friendly, low-carbon package.  Whether it's reducing the carbon footprint of packaging, elevating the quality of boxed wine, or maintaining impeccable standards in the packaging process, we're thrilled to be part of this exciting and transformative movement.  We've found some excellent partners, indeed.

2023 Patelin Blanc four bottles and one boxPatelin Blanc in a 3L box and its bottled equivalent