A True Product of Tablas Creek Vineyard: An Interview with Cellar Assistant Austin Collins

By Ian Consoli

Austin Collins didn’t just grow up with Tablas Creek, he grew up at Tablas Creek. The son of winemaker Neil Collins, who moved with his family to the property when he started in 1998, Austin was here when the Tablas Creek nursery was in full swing. He was here when Tablas Creek harvested its second vintage from the Beaucastel clones and when we harvested the 14th and final of those clones. He was here when Tablas Creek got our organic certification in 2003, our Biodynamic certification in 2016, and the world's first Regenerative Organic Certification in 2020.

Austin joined the Tablas Creek team full-time in 2019 and now lives in that house on the property with his wife Taylor and newborn son Finnegan, who will be the third generation of Collins to live on this property. Now we can look forward to imagining what he will witness.

I sat down with Austin, a friend from my childhood, and asked about his journey, ambitions, and future.

 Who are you?

My name is Austin Collins. I am technically the cellar assistant, but I am more in the vineyard at this point. I am also the property caretaker here at Tablas Creek.

What are some of your daily activities?

I run irrigation right now. Turning on the water, fixing broken lines, and choosing where the water goes each day. Also, just looking at the vineyard, seeing what needs to be done, and making sure it looks good, and all the equipment and tractors are functioning correctly.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up here! At Tablas Creek, in the house right behind me. That's where I live now with my wife and our eight-month-old son.

For those who don't know, how did you end up growing up here?

My dad has been the winemaker here pretty much since the beginning, since 1998. We lived in France at Beaucastel for nine months to a year, then we moved into this house when I was about four.

Austin by his house

When did you really start to get into wine?

I started getting into it in 2015 when I moved back from school. I did a harvest at our family company, Bristols Cider, where I got into fermentation and realized how fun and unique it is. From there, I started drinking wine with friends, coworkers, and mentors. I did my first harvest internship at Linne Calodo here in Paso Robles with Matt Trevisan, and that's where it all started.

Did you always want to work in wine?

No [laughs]. Absolutely not. I thought it was ridiculous for a very long time, to see people drink, sip, and talk about wine. I thought it was madness until about 2015.

What did you want to do before you got into wine?

I went to school to study wildlife biology. I wanted to work in animal behavior studies. Then I got into plants, botany, andrology, and things like that.

Do you utilize any of those studies here?

Definitely, yeah. Biology and plant studies, absolutely.

Other than Linne Calodo, what winery experience did you have before Tablas Creek?

I spent a lot of time in the cellar here when I was a kid during harvest and kind of all year. After Linne Calodo, I interned in Burgundy, in Meursault at Domaine Matrot. Right after that internship, I worked at Beaucastel, which is obviously Tablas's sister winery in Châteauneuf. A few months after working there, I went to New Zealand and worked at a winery called Ata Rangi in Martinborough. Afterward, I returned, worked at Linne Calodo again for another harvest, and started working here in January 2019.

Growing up here on the property and living here currently, what's something you can share about Tablas Creek, this property, this place that not many people would know?

At our tallest point, you can see all of the coastal range through Big Sur. You can actually see Junipero Serra Peak, the tallest peak in Monterey County.

What is your favorite part about working at Tablas Creek?

Definitely the land. I grew up here, so it's the most special place in my world. I've been all over and always come back here thinking it's a special spot. Even the roads you can take from here. Adelaide Road to Klau Mine to Cypress Mountain towards Cambria is probably the best road in the county.

Austin Collins on a quad

I've heard you talk about Grenache flowering. Could you describe that experience?

That is a very nostalgic experience. I mean, this whole industry is a nostalgic experience between working in the cellar and in the vineyard. The flowering of Grenache vines is an incredibly strong smell. I didn't realize what it was until I got into the industry, particularly working in the vineyard. During flowering, like early June, you can just smell this intense perfume smell and it's strongest off the Grenache vines.

If a genie said you could be head winemaker anywhere you wanted, where would you pick?

That's tough. My favorite wineries are very small, so my being there would change them too much. It would be easier for me to answer if it was regional. My favorite wine region to work in would be Jura or Savoie, which are both Eastern France at the foothills of the Alps, between Burgundy and Switzerland.

Best bottle of wine you ever had?

That's a mean question. That's so hard. I was thinking about this last night, and I'll just use the first bottle that came to my head because you can go down a rabbit hole of wine bottles that you've had. It was a 1990 Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Frederic Emile. I drank it in France with Francois Perrin and Cesar Perrin at Francois' house for dinner, and it was just stunning. Absolutely amazing.

Was that when you were working at Beaucastel?

Yeah, that's when I was working there. Francois invited me over for dinner, and I got to look at his wine list in his home cellar. He said, "Choose any bottle you would like." That was wild.

What's next for you?

I don't see myself going anywhere anytime soon. So probably just being here at Tablas. Tomorrow.

Could you tell us a little bit about your family life?

I married Taylor, my wife, in 2019, and we had Finnegan this past November. Being a dad changed my life massively. I have been here a lot. Lots of family time, walking around the vineyard, walking around our garden, walking in the creek bed, down and through the trees and the forest. It's grounded me a lot.

What do you do with your free time?

When I have free time? Yeah, there's not a lot of that these days [laughs]. I help run a music venue at our cider house in Atascadero. That's kind of my other job, but most of my free time is spent there. Also, watching live music and going to shows and music festivals anytime I can. Backpacking is my other passion. Anytime I can go out for a couple nights, I go either alone or with a buddy or two.

Would you rather:

Cake or Pie

Cake.

Breathe under water or fly?

Fly because I think if I was breathing underwater, I'd still be really slow at swimming, and I'd probably get eaten by something.

Drink new world or old world wine?

That's tough. Every day is different, you know. Both.

What about today?

Today? New world.

Be a winemaker or a viticulturist?

Both, because being able to do both is so important that I think you have to do both.

Austin Collins


Yes, it does get cold in Paso Robles.

[Editor's note: With this blog, we introduce Austin Collins to the Tablas Creek blog audience. Cellar Assistant here at Tablas Creek since the beginning of 2019, Austin's history here on the property goes much further back than that, as our long-time Winemaker Neil Collins is his dad and he grew up here on property. Now with Neil having moved to town Austin is back living on-site, and I am very excited for you to get to see Tablas Creek through his eyes!]

By Austin Collins

Before I give you what you really want I feel that I am obliged to introduce myself. My name is Austin Collins, but most people refer to me simply as "Boo". While I am officially titled as a Cellar Assistant my role at Tablas Creek Vineyard was graciously expanded last year. I now have the unique honor of living on premises with my growing family as property caretaker. Because of this I get to spend a lot of time walking vine rows and spending some quality time with my Vitis neighbors. 

Most people know the undeniable heat that bears down on the soils of Paso Robles, but that's summer. This is winter. Along with the drop in temperature we have been blessed with a decent start to the rainy season. This week we had our second substantial rain event, which was immediately followed by a hard freeze. This combination transformed the land into a tundra like setting, frost gripping every surface before melting and dropping to the earth with the sun's first rays:

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It may seem like a shocking change for the vines to endure, and it is. But, that's something that makes the Paso Robles AVA so special. The buds for next year's vintage need a certain amount of chilling time to allow a timely and healthy budbreak in the spring:

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While the vines are entering their hibernation phase they are not the only ones out in the cold. Our cover crop, an essential cog in our farming system, is also battling the frost. We use a frost-hardy seed blend to allow plenty of time for our "coworkers", including this pea plant, to do their job for the soil:

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In the rows where cover crop is not seeded, native grasses hold claim. Unlike December of 2020 we already have a substantial growth of these native grasses covering the property:

Grass

With the native grasses and cover crops growing, our thoughts move to the 2022 growing season. But the past harvest still sits fresh in our minds. In fact the vineyard still hangs on as well. A few last second-crop clusters, left unpicked because they were unripe at harvest time, remain clutched to the canes:

Second

For this last photo I bring you to a special spot in the vineyard, one that I always find myself returning to. A lone willow tree that sits in one of the lowest parts of the vineyard. This Salix, a family of trees that thrive in riparian zones, is an indication of the moisture present underground even in our often-arid region:

Willow

Although it is a quiet time for viticulture work in the vineyard we cannot forget the work of the vines themselves. Storing intracellular energy to support the upcoming vintage, these cold times are vital to the wine that ends up on your table. Until spring comes I sit here on my stoop with my wife and newborn son on my lap -- the third Collins generation to live on this property -- enjoying the rain and hoping for more. We care for this land, and it is our purpose to do so.