In November of 2005 I kicked off the Tablas Creek blog with a brief post that included a pretty autumn vineyard scene and a plan: that we'd "share thoughts and insights on the state of Paso Robles, Rhone varietals, California, and the wine business in general." I would not have given you very good odds that I'd still have been working on the blog seventeen years later. And probably even longer odds that we'd make it to 1,000 posts or over one million lifetime page views. But when I logged on to the blog earlier this week, this is what greeted me:
In celebration, I thought I'd do a little looking back: at posts that were milestones for one reason or another, and at a few of the lessons I feel like we've learned from doing this one (ulp) thousand times. In chronological order:
First post that I'd be proud to publish today: Corks and Screwcaps: Not an open and shut case (July 2007)
It took me a while to find my footing as a blog writer. Some of that was stylistic (You need to write in first person. You need to be conversational.) but just as much was finding topics worth diving in deep on. Sure, the seasonal pieces about what's going on in the vineyard and winery are the bread and butter for a reader who wants to feel like they're inside our world. But those pieces are also ephemeral, and beyond a "hey good luck with the coming heat wave" or similar wish, don't elicit a lot of comments or have much value to revisit. With this 2007 blog on the cork-screwcap debate, I hit on a model that would prove to be one I'd come back to again. Take a discussion going on in wine circles, share the results that we'd seen based on our in-house experiments, and try to come to a more nuanced conclusion than what I'd been reading out in the blogosphere. The result was a post that got picked up in an Eric Asimov New York Times column, accumulated 15 comments (more than double the total number of comments the blog had received to date), and still holds up today.
Blog with the most unexpected and helpful feedback: In Search of a Green(er) Wine Bottle (January 2010)
Using a blog to ask your customers what they want seems like a no-brainer. And so it turned out to be early in 2010 when we had come to the conclusion that our short-lived move to heavy wine bottles had been a mistake. Neil and I thought that what we were looking for was a lighter version of the big, impressive bottle that we'd settled on a few years before. But after sharing our thinking in this blog (and on our social media channels) we realized that we'd been thinking about it backwards and not giving our customers enough credit. I was expecting to get a balance of "we love the look and feel of the bigger bottle" and "please be more environmentally conscious". Instead, the overwhelming feedback we got was some variation of "please just give me a light, straightforward bottle that fits in my wine rack and doesn't give me a hernia when I have to lift a full case". We moved our entire production to one of the lightest Burgundy-shaped bottled on the market and have saved more than a million and a half pounds of glass from being made into bottles over the last dozen years. Thank you, Tablas Creek readers.
Blog with the longest useful life: Investigating an Attempted Wine Scam (June 2011)
Like any other product, wine attracts its share of scammers. But unlike most other products, the shipping rules (particularly international shipping rules) around wine are so convoluted that even a normally skeptical business owner can fall for a scam email and end up out thousands in bogus shipping fees. Rather than just deleting one such email, I decided to publish it, explain what it was hoping to accomplish, and break down what gave it away as a scam. It turned out that I was one of hundreds (or thousands) of wine people to get this email, and I heard from many of them in the comments who'd gotten suspicious and discovered my piece through a Google search. And then something fun happened. Each few years, as the scammers updated their names and approach, people would find the blog and share who the scam emails were purportedly from and post updated language. That continued all the way through 2020, a total of 33 comments, and I still see in the blog traffic data that this post gets hit at least a few times a week. So what began as a blog ended up as a sort of community bulletin board where the wine community banded together to create an anti-scammer resource. So cool.
My favorite story I've ever told: A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek (May 2012)
What are the odds that Cesar Perrin and I, out at dinner together, would discover a bottle of the 1967 wine that marked the first-ever Haas-Perrin collaboration? Well, we did, and I was able to speak with my dad and track it through the years. Just an amazing and lovely coincidence that produced one of my favorite blogs to research, write, share, and re-read.
Best advice to wineries: Nine lessons the Kimpton Hotel Group offers wineries (May 2012)
I think that every writer needs to answer the question, "who am I writing for". It doesn't need to be a single audience; I know for example that we have winery folks, sommeliers, writers, and wine lovers who subscribe to this blog. But I decided pretty early on that writing a series for other winery folks, sharing what we'd learned about everything from grapegrowing to marketing to hospitality and winemaking, was a great way to start conversations and build our relationships in the community. It also offered the wine lovers in our audience a glimpse behind the curtain, so to speak, of winery life, which I found they appreciated. Some of these pieces were narrowly targeted (i.e. Making the most of time in the market or A Winery Blog. Who Needs It?) but I think that the most interesting entries in this series looked outside the world of wine and shared what I had learned from other companies I admired. There's a little nostalgia for me in reading this blog now that Kimpton has been bought by IHG. I stayed at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle earlier this fall, and while they've tried to keep a certain individuality in this and other signature Kimpton properties, it's not the same. Ownership changes matter. And there's a lesson for wineries in that too.
Best advice to consumers: When wine tasting, step away from the carafe (November 2012)
In one of my favorite early entries, on learning how to blog, I suggest that prospective bloggers to use the blog to answer the questions they get every day. I still think that's rock-solid advice, and try to note when I've gotten a particular question from consumers multiple times that it's time to blog about it. Even better is to try to come up with some empirical evidence to support the answer you provide. In this piece, after having consumer after consumer come up to me at a wine tasting after rinsing their glasses out with the chlorinated water pitchers placed around the event space, I decided to try to figure out just how much that residual water was likely to change the experience of the wine. If you haven't read the piece before, I'm guessing you'll be surprised how big the impact can be.
Best use of a 60-year career in wine: When Terroir Was a Dirty Word (May 2013)
I could have picked any one of a dozen pieces that my dad wrote, sharing his decades of experience in the business of wine as a retailer, wholesaler, importer, and vintner. But this one stood out to me because of how much it upends conventional wisdom. I have a vivid memory of him strolling into my office, eyes twinkling, visibly pleased with himself for having unearthed this tidbit. I hope that I have the same delight in the new discoveries I make when I'm in my mid-80s, and the joy, vision, and health to inspire people as long as he did. On a related note, if you haven't read the appreciation of his life that I wrote after he died in 2018, it's here. I still miss him, and am grateful to have the chance to relive my time with him through the 30+ pieces he wrote.
Best tie-in with current events: State of the Union, Wine Shipping Edition (January 2015)
I always enjoy diving into the intersection of wine and law. Because the 21st Amendment (which repealed Prohibition) gives states wide leeway to regulate alcohol within their borders, there's a wider range of regulatory statues in place than for almost any other product type. Many of these statutes were written by (or with the encouragement of) state-licensed liquor wholesalers, whose interests are usually in protecting themselves from competition. This also makes them relatively fertile ground for "sunshine" journalism, where a little public light shined on a backroom pocket-lining arrangement can have an impact. If you can do it with some humor so much the better. Direct shipping of alcohol is the wine/law intersection that has seen the most interest and the most movement in recent decades. In this piece, I dove into the patchwork of laws regulating winery shipping, dividing up states into tiers and putting numbers on the costs. I even had a hook to tie it to: the impending January 2015 State of the Union Address. I was pleased I was able to make it all work, and know at least in one case where the publication of this piece played a role in the changing of a state's statute.
Favorite rant: Customer Disservice: Nine Lessons from a Terrible Hertz Experience (June 2015)
I appreciate a good rant. But the key to making one valuable, I think, comes with tying more generally applicable lessons to the frustration that made the experience rant-worthy. I was able to turn what felt like the longest 45 minutes of my life into nine lessons that a winery could use to evaluate their own operations. I even managed to incorporate a relevant Seinfeld clip, which it seems I'm physically incapable of not watching each time I revisit the blog.
Prettiest collection of photographs: Paso Robles is Absurdly Beautiful Right Now (January 2019)
A blog is a great place to share pictures of what's going on at the vineyard and winery. I try to do that in every piece, and vineyards are beautiful enough places that 306 of the 1000 posts carry the Pretty Pictures tag. But there are also posts where the photographs, rather than illustrating the text, become the main event. Here in Paso Robles, it seems that it's the moments when we actually have moisture in the air that I find the most beautiful. I'd arrived at the vineyard that morning to find fog lifting over the newly-green vineyard, and still don't think I've ever had a better day taking pictures here.
Best pandemic idea: The vineyard in January, from four perspectives (January 2021)
The pandemic gave me the time and space (and the necessity, given how many other marketing avenues had shut down) to refocus on our blog, and I feel that the roughly year between March 2020 and February 2021 produced the best sustained writing in its history. Nearly a dozen of these dealt directly with the challenges of the pandemic and reopening, and I'm proud of the information that we gathered and shared to help the wine community make good choices. But the forced time in town and at home also produced deep dives into grape histories (explorations of the California trajectories of Syrah and of Mourvedre were two of the hardest blogs to leave out of this highlight list) and this family-focused photo essay. Around the 2021 holidays, with travel off the table, we decided as a family that each member would get to choose four activities, two inside and two outside, for us to do as a group. No one got veto power, so the idea was to get everyone out of their comfort zone a little. One of my choices was to have everyone explore the vineyard and take photos from their perspectives. So in this piece, you get not just my view of Tablas Creek, but that of my wife Meghan and our two boys, Eli (15 at the time) and Sebastian (13). Seeing a familiar place through new eyes is always a treat.
Most impactful blog on our own decision-making: A Winery Carbon Footprint Self-Assessment: Why I Can't Give Us an "A" Despite All Our Progress (May 2021)
I've tried to share our pursuit of greater sustainability on the blog, and to be transparent about where we think we're doing well and where we're struggling. I believe that this transparency is a part of why members of our community look to us as leaders in this space. So when I discovered a 2011 California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance report on the carbon footprint of California wine, I thought that it was important to evaluate how our own operations looked in contrast to that baseline. What stood out to me was how great the impact was of the packaging, with the manufacture and transport of the glass bottle accounting for more than half the carbon footprint of the average California winery: greater than everything a winery does in the vineyard and cellar combined. This realization refocused us on alternative packaging (leading directly to the decision to branch out into wine in box this year) as well as on getting a full greenhouse gas inventory, which is underway now. I look forward to sharing the changes that will come from that.
I've been asked a lot what it is about the blog that keeps me coming back to it. After all, it's work to write and edit, work to go out and take photographs, work to engage with the community and respond to comments, questions, and feedback. I think that in order for a blog to have staying power, you need to want to write. I know that I value the time I get to put words to paper (OK, screen) and feel the lack when I've gone too long without doing so. The opportunity to do so often allows me to work through the questions that I have running through my own head and come to a conclusion I'm happy with. In other words, it's not about promotion -- though I hope that reading these thoughts makes you feel a deeper connection with Tablas Creek -- but instead about processing. But mostly it's the community of writers, winery folks, wine trade and wine lovers who make up the blog's audience who make it feel like it's an endeavor worth investing in. I've met many of the wine people who most inspire me through this effort. Hopefully I've provided a little inspiration in return.
Thank you to Marc Perrin, who suggested I start a blog back in 2005 because it would do great things for our search engine positioning. Neither of us could ever have imagined what this would become. Thank you too to my team, who have written over 150 of those 1000 posts and bring their own fascinating perspectives and experiences to the table each time they do. Finally, though, thank you to the community of readers of this blog, who've given me the space and encouragement to figure out how to do it, and the engagement to make it all feel worthwhile.