After a year on the road selling Tablas Creek to many of America's coolest restaurants, it's time to sift through the photos of the most memorable feasts I've faced and my bloodwork analysis from the local laboratory. The bar for well orchestrated and flavorful cuisine continues to be lifted no matter which part of the US you're in, but I must confess I did not work the Dakotas in 2019. Some of the restaurants I featured in last year's post were worthy of a return, but I wanted to highlight some new tasty terrain. As much as I love the extravagant plate I'm also a fan of casual simplicity, and thanks to the array of wines we produce, there's a bottle for everything in that spectrum, be it a boot-scooting steakhouse, ramen bar, or raw oysters at home. Warning: this will cause both hunger and thirst.
Mamanoko, San Francisco
Remember when most American sushi restaurants had the most generic wine offerings (and massive corkage fees)? In San Francisco, this Marina-district gem has been flowing through Patelin de Tablas Rouge and some bright minerally European whites on their glass list for a refreshing change of pace. Our California distributor Regal introduced me to Mamanoko early in 2019, and the least I could do was open a bottle of Esprit de Tablas Blanc 2014 for the group to go with fresh simple sushi courses and crunchy rolls like these, as well as lightly seared albacore tataki. I looked around the crowded dining room and most tables were having wine instead of sake. (Warning: the chocolate chip cookie dough roll on the dessert menu was the best dessert I've ever encountered).
Cotogna, San FranciscoHoly Ravioli! Use the base of the wine glass in the upper right of the frame to size this monster up. Part of the Quince group, which has featured our wines on their Biblical wine list for years, their North Beach sister kitchen is churning out some classic and fun comfort food like this. I could've used this ravioli as a pillow halfway through it.
ETTO Pastificio, Paso Robles
Speaking of ravioli... Not only do I represent our wines, I work alongside our spirited shepherd Nathan Stuart to sell our biodynamic lamb to chefs, including the boutique pasta maker Etto in Paso Robles Tin City neighborhood. On social media I saw that Etto was handcrafting a limited batch of Lamb and Mint raviolis, so I rushed down and picked up one of the last bags in stock. Intended to feed four of us, my five year old daughter and I crushed the entire bag standing in the kitchen, just while tasting to see if they were ready or not! They needed nothing more than a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Humboldt County Wine Guild
A platter of just plucked and shucked Kumamoto Oysters was how the Humboldt County Wine Guild welcomed me to their Monday night blind tasting group in April. There was a back up cooler that got devoured too, mostly while paired with Vermentino and Patelin de Tablas Blanc. Simple, saline and perfect.
Bibi Ji, Santa Barbara
In February we joined the owners of Ember in Arroyo Grande for dinner at Bibi Ji in downtown Santa Barbara. With a cool India-meets-Santa Barbara menu and a wine bar aesthetic, we lucked into an older Grand Cru Alsatian Riesling for a relative steal, to pair with their notorious Uni Fried Rice.
Prince's Hot Chicken, Nashvillle TN
My friends and family know that I can't do spice. So when our Nashville Vineyard Brands rep Melissa Wilkinson and I were killing time before an incredible ten course Tablas Creek wine dinner at Tailor Nashville, she drove me to Prince's Hot Chicken for lunch, which was profiled in a wild New Yorker article this year. Going with the flow so to speak, I asked Mel which option to go with. There was no spice, mild, spicy, or hot, and rumor has it the next level off menu spice option required a note from your doctor (for real) to even order. This pictured here was mild, and the flavor was so radical, so perfect in salt, heat and all things red, that I soldiered through it in awe, respect, and disbelief that I was even digesting such a thing.
Amuse, Ashland, OR
I ended my year of travel in beautiful Ashland, Oregon, home to many of the vines we sold out of our nursery. Southern Oregon has done an incredible job growing Rhone varietals, and at this dinner at Amuse many local winemakers and industry turned up in gratitude for what Tablas Creek has provided to their wine country. We had sent an entire lamb up the week before to chef Erik Brown for the event, and this particular dish, listed as "Charcoal Grilled Tablas Creek Lamb Sausage, Kohlrabi-Tabouleh and Spiced Yogurt" was the digestible highlight of my year. Paired with Patelin de Tablas Rouge, it vanished within a minute's time.
Hungrily looking forward to what 2020 will bring. Happy New Year!
I am a fan of Thanksgiving. It's a holiday that's mostly about eating, drinking, and family. It's still relatively uncommercialized. And it's about giving thanks, which I feel like puts a celebration into the right perspective.
Thanksgiving meals can be motley, usually involving a range of flavors and sweetnesses, and a group of participants whose interest in wine is likely to not all be acute. So I think it's good that most of the criticism I read about Thanksgiving wine pairing suggests first that you not stress too much about it, and second that you offer guests a range of choices. I was reminded recently of the 2016 piece on W. Blake Gray's blog where he set up a simple 5-question quiz to answer the question "is this wine good for Thanksgiving". I'm sure I haven't gone through every possible combination, but I've never gotten any answer other than "yes". And that's an approach it's hard to argue with.
There are wines that I tend to steer clear of, like wines that are powerfully tannic (which tend to come off even more so when they're paired with some of the sweeter Thanksgiving dishes), and wines that are high in alcohol (which tend to be fatiguing by the end of what is often a marathon of eating and drinking). But that still leaves you plenty of options. With a traditional turkey dinner, I tend to steer people toward richer whites and rosés, and fruitier reds relatively light in oak and tannin. There are a lot of Tablas Creek wines that fit these broad criteria, so if you want to stay in the family, you could try anything from Marsanne (one of my absolute favorites right now) and Esprit Blanc to Dianthus Rosé to Counoise or Cotes de Tablas. Richer red meat preparations open up a world of Mourvedre-based reds young or old, from Esprit de Tablas to Panoplie to En Gobelet, which just (say it out loud) sounds like something you should be drinking at this time of year.
To give you a sense of this diversity, I thought it would be fun to ask a broad cross-section of our team what they were planning on drinking this year. Their responses are below, in their own words, in alphabetical order.
Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant This Thanksgiving will be spent with just my little family of five in our quaint town of Templeton. I truly enjoy cooking so I plan to spend my day in the kitchen creating memories with my kids while they help me make the feast. There will be Charlie Brown and the Macy’s parade on the TV for the kids - music playing while we enjoy bubbles and appetizers. For dinner this year, it was a toss-up between Domaine Weinbach Riesling and Tablas Creek Counoise. Given the possibility of rain (yay!!) on Thursday, I opted for a red wine. The Counoise fruit and spice notes pair perfectly with all things Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a wonderful day filled with love, laughter, and lots of good food. Cheers!
Ian Consoli, Marketing Coordinator I like to balance guarantees with experiments in my Thanksgiving wine selections. This year the guarantee is The Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare Rosé. The tart red fruit of Grenache focused roses tend to pair well with the meal every year. My Tablas bottle is a bit of an experiment recommended by a local Somm. During a recent tasting he noted the Viognier focus and balancing Grenache Blanc of our 2017 Cotes de Tablas Blanc would pair nicely with the flavorful feast that fills aThanksgiving table. I’m looking forward to finding out. In a red I shoot for a fruit forward wine. This year I am looking at a Pinot from Alain Gras in Burgundy and an Old Vine Cinsaut from South Africa. There’s only 4-6 people at our table so I’ve been told I can only choose one of the reds. Wish me luck. Happy feasting!
Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Lead My friends Andrea and Michael Dewit are hosting Thanksgiving dinner at their new home this year. The wines I chose are as much about pairing with the traditional meal as to a nod to them.
The first is a 2017 Sattlerhof Gamlitz Sauvignon Blanc from Sudsteiermark, Austria, the town where Andrea grew up. I found it at K&L where an eager staff told me it is light and has good acidity. He assured me it will pair beautifully with the fresh, crunchy endives salad I am bringing. Andrea will appreciate it immensely.
The second is a 2003 Côte-Rôtie from Domaine Patrick Jasmin. My brother gave me the bottle several years ago when I was visiting him in my hometown Lyon. Interestingly, the patriarch, Robert Jasmin was a friend of my dad. Our host Michael previously owned a vineyard (Domaine Maillet) in Vaison-La-Romaine, knows very well the region and is a true connoisseur of Côte-Rôtie. My brother described it as a wine in full maturity, with gentle tannin and moderate acidity. Not the least, a moderate alcohol level. No doubt it will be a great match with the spiciest part of the turkey. I can’t wait to see Michael taking the first sip of it.
Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker My husband’s family is from Orange County, which is around four hours away, and my mom lives in the Sierra Foothills, which is approximately five hours away. This means for the holidays, we normally spend a decent amount of time in the car. This year, however, my family is coming to us! I am feeling incredibly grateful and as such, have taken the time to plan for wines that they will love as a small thank you for the long haul they’re making to spend time with us. We’ll be making our traditional prime rib for Thursday night, so our final wine will need a little more heft and structure than we would be for the more traditional turkey feast. We’ll go through a progressive wine list, starting with light and fruity and making our way up the structure scale. To kick things off while cooking in the kitchen, I typically like to have something with bubbles. It looks like it may be a chilly, rainy afternoon, so instead of the usual bottle of white or rosé sparklers, we’ll have a bottle of Barbolini Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro. It’s bubbly, fruity, and incredibly fun to drink. For dinner, we’ll have dueling glasses of red – one glass that’s a little dancier on the palate and one with a little more heft and weight. Jolie Laide’s 2016 North Coast Syrah will be our wine on the leaner end of the spectrum to pair with the non-meat dishes. For the prime rib, we’ll have a bottle of The Royal Nonesuch Farm 2017 Red. I’m unbelievably excited about opening and enjoying each of these wines, but even more excited to share them with some of the people I love most in the world.
Craig Hamm, Assistant Winemaker We are going to be doing a potluck at my family’s house so my duties are the wines. There will be a sparkling rosé made with some friends, a fully garagiste special: my first vintage of wine, the Paysan Rosé of zinfandel. Then to some white Esprit Blanc, which always goes well at Thanksgiving with the richness it brings. I will also be bringing something I purchased from a great tasting at Kukkula: Vaalea, a blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Viognier. For the reds we will have a Niner Cabernet Franc, Tablas Creek Counoise, and also the Tannat. I hope everyone has a good time with family and friends. Cheers.
Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist Thanksgiving is the best day of the year. Friends, family, food, WINE, and whiskey. I am pulling the trigger this year and opening a magnum of 2013 Esprit de Tablas to share with my Mendocino family branch. On our journey north, this being Alma’s (our 5 month old daughter) first visit to the NorCal coast, we figure we’d expose her to some of the gems Route 128 and Anderson Valley has to offer. Our planned stops for Pinot (and hopefully a few Rhônes) will be Navarro, Husch Vineyards, Toulouse, and lastly, for the bubbles, Roederer... The night will end, or begin, with a bottle of Blanton’s Whiskey!!! Big things to come out of Tablas Creek Vineyard this year! We will keep you all posted! I am truly thankful to be a part of this team! ¡Viva Tablas Creek Vineyard!
John Morris, Tasting Room Manager The thing is, this Thanksgiving I still don’t know what wine we’ll be serving. This is directly and irrefutably related to the fact that we don’t yet know what we’ll be serving for dinner. I know, I know, its Tuesday. We’re going back and forth between a traditional Thanksgiving spread and something more to my liking, like say, lamb chops, or my wife’s amazing Thai cuisine (which is her traditional Thanksgiving dinner). It will be a game time decision, made while grocery shopping Wednesday morning. So I thought I’d pass along some general guidelines that I follow for Thanksgiving. Frankly, you could skip this and check out Eric Asimov’s always excellent Thanksgiving column, which features better writing and the suggestions of a savvy group of wine professionals, as the message is pretty similar.
Keep it light. Wines with low alcohol, tannin and oak work better with a traditional Thanksgiving feast.
Keep it simple. It kills me to see Uncle Lush knock back an expensive and complex wine like he’s taking a shot of cheap tequila. Unless you’re hosting an avid wine crowd, save yourself some stress and money and look for modest bottlings that follow rule #1.
Randy Thurman, Facilities & IT Kirk and Sweeney rum, Port from a winery in Greenfield, and probably English Ales Black Prince Porter and some English Ales Fat Lip. Maybe some English Ales Big Sur Ale as well and might have some fish and chips from their pub on the weekend. My father in law will probably have several bottles of TCV wines open as he has saved a few from his last shipment. My father in law is waiting for the 24 hour apple cider brined rotisserie smothered in herb butter stuffed with veggies and cooked over peach wood turkey on a rotisserie add on for our Weber kettle grills and I use the drippings from the turkey to make the gravy for the mashed potatoes.
Amanda Weaver, Cellar Assistant This Thanksgiving I will be traveling down home with a couple options in my car. I usually go for something to pair with the main dish, TURKEY!!! However, my mom has gone the way of veganism so I’ll have to get a bit more creative with my selections. I’m thinking a couple whites, like Delaporte Sancerre Monts Damnés and Paix Sur Terre Ugni Blanc. Both bring a lot to the table with lovely acidity and lots of texture, they are both pleasurable to drink on their own but can also accompany a meal. As far as reds for the occasion, I like to keep things light seeing as the meal typically brings everyone to the edge of bursting their buttons. Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais Nouveau 2019 is a great light, pleasantly fruity, and easy on the wallet wine to pair with what will probably be a vegetable-heavy meal.
And as for me... Typically, my choice is to open the largest bottle I have to hand at Thanksgiving gatherings. There's usually a story behind a big bottle, and the randomness of "just open it" adds a certain amount of pleasurable discovery to the gathering, as well as the festivity that large bottles bring per force.
The largest bottle I have is a 3-liter of 2005 Robert Mondavi Napa Cabernet, acquired at some silent auction this year (a consequence of attending fundraisers in wine country!). I'm sure that would be amazing. But I'm not feeling like I want to commit four bottles of the same wine to a meal where there will only be eight adults. This is a smaller gathering than some recent ones in our history. If I don't open the big bottle, I may go with a magnum of 2000 Talley Rincon Pinot Noir that I've been saving for the right occasion. I also ordered a case of one of my favorite Beaujolais producers, the 2018 Clos de la Roilette Fleurie, with Thanksgiving in mind.
Whichever way we go, I'm sure that it will be preceded by some Dianthus, and we'll likely break out some whites for those who'd prefer that with their turkey, maybe the 2018 Picardan for something mineral and refreshing. For me, it's an important consideration that none of these wines will demand to be the center of attention: they will be dining companions with which you can have a conversation, to tell (and help you tell) stories around the table. After all, that's what it's all about.
Wherever you are, we wish you a happy, healthy Thanksgiving, and that you be surrounded by good food and great company.
[Editor's Note: With this blog, we're pleased to introduce a new author. Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm has been a vital part of the Tablas Creek team since 2013. He grew up in Templeton, CA, on the Muscat vineyard his father owned. He recently returned from leading the 2019 Tablas Creek cruise, along with Winemaker Neil Collins.]
By Craig Hamm. Photos by Craig Hamm and Annika Sousa.
In June, our Winemaker Neil Collins, his wife Marci, my wife Annika and I shared the truly amazing experience of visiting the southern Rhone and cruising the Mediterranean. Now that a little time has passed and we've begun preparing for the upcoming harvest, I am reflecting back on the trip.
The first part of my trip began before the cruise, and even before the pre-cruise visit which brought guests to Beaucastel. Neil wanted to give me a couple of days to explore the many projects of Famille Perrin, so we arrived in France a few days early. Cesar Perrin met us at the hotel and we headed to Beaucastel. Upon approaching the Chateau we stopped on the side of an overpass looking at a road that split the Beaucastel estate in two. On one side, Chateauneuf du Pape. On the other side, Cotes du Rhone, whose grapes form the Coudoulet de Beaucastel. There were no fences to protect from deer or to delineate boundaries. Cesar pointed out several small cypress trees used as markers for the property line. Not like the Central Coast!
There were tractors running through this rocky soil known as “galets”. I'd seen seen pictures of the vineyards in Chateauneuf, and I knew there were going to be some rocks but in person these things were tough to walk on. I imagine the days of working this land would really strengthen one's ankles.
And yet, a continent away, there were reminders of home. We were able to see bloom taking place on the Grenache vines and remember that same smell that we had just left in Paso Robles, and we stopped to pay our respects to the rows of mother vines from which our vineyard material is derived.
Driving up to the Chateau was an exciting moment. Cesar opened up two grand doors and walked us downstairs to a quiet and dark cellar, lined with red brick floors and large oak casks. As we wound through the cellar, Neil would point to things he remembered using during his stint at Beaucastel in 1997, like sulfuring the bank of concrete tanks we passed, smooth with tiles on the inside. Deeper in the cellar, where the bottles age, we meet up with Cesar's brother Charles and a small group of tasters from Bordeaux. We tasted through different decades of whites and reds then sat together for a family style meal. It was just a hint at the start of what would become a wine lover’s ideal getaway.
After lunch, we visited Le Grand Prebois, the main cellar for the wines of Famille Perrin. This cellar was a mixture of a Gothic Cathedral and Chateau de Beaucastel:
After a short visit, we headed off to the village of Gigondas, at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail ridges. Past the village, up a track traversing a steep mountainside covered with terraced old vines, we found ourselves at the top looking over the entire Rhone Valley. It was patchwork of different shades of green from oaks, pine, and of course grapevines. Walking the vines we were shown some of the spots so precarious that they have to plow the vineyards by horse. Back down the hillside we met back up with the same group we had tasted with earlier that day to enjoy some freshly made pizza along with a selection of 1975, 1985, 1995, 2000, 2005, and 2015 Chateau de Beaucastel whites. Yes, white wines can age. Several other amazing bottles were opened at the table that night, but none as special as a 1974 Chateau de Beaucastel -- the last vintage that family patriarch Jacques Perrin made from start to finish. That's Cesar (left) and Charles (right), with Neil and the vertical of Beaucastel Blanc.
The whirlwind of the first day left me speechless but also grateful for the Perrin family’s hospitality. Day two began with similar intensity with a tour of vineyards, this time led by Claude Gouan (Beaucastel's long-time Oenologist, recently retired, below left, with Neil). First stop was atop a small hill in the parking lot of an old church, with a panoramic view of the Cotes du Rhone, the vineyards a collage of small parcels, each with its own slight difference in row orientation, growth, or age. It was wild to see so many vines with such age. Using passing cars on the road as markers for the property outlines was a fun challenge in itself.
We clambered back into the oversized passenger van that we'd been using and headed north to Vinsobres. Since the van was too big to fit into some of the village's tiny streets, we parked outside the ancient town walls and walked in for lunch. Vinsobres was one of the most fragrant places on the trip with flowering vines and small parcels of lavender fields and wild red poppy flowers dotting the landscape. The soil types ranged from sandy to heavy limestone that mirrors our most western block on the Tablas Creek property. On this site we were able to see 80 year old Grenache vines, still producing great canopies and clusters. Claude turned onto a dusty dirt road with lavender and oak trees neatly lined up. I asked his reason for this in my attempt at broken French, and he replied simply “truffe” -- French for truffles.
Continuing our whirlwind tour of Rhone regions, we crossed the Rhone river and stopped in at Domaine des Carabiners to taste their Lirac and Tavel wines. The fifth-generation producer, Fabien Leperchois, who is married to Claude's daughter Anaïs, achieved organic certification in 1997, and Demeter biodynamic certification in the vineyard as well as the cellar in 2009. The fact that they farm Biodynamically on a similar acreage to Tablas Creek got Neil fired up to see how they set up preparations and the equipment they used. Fabien joined us, we all piled back in the van, and headed to the road (below) that separates Lirac and Tavel.
Fabian pointed out that the rocky soil contains the same stones from the Rhone River, and Claude tossed me a small “galet” as a souvenir. We tasted their wine on an overlook, above the vineyards in the area. We continued our tour to the little town square of Tavel, where there is an ancient Roman washing station that leads into small personal gardens that are fed by aqueducts, where we tasted a couple more Tavel biodynamic wines. We finished the night around a big family table outside the Gouan family home nestled amongst the vines of Beaucastel for dinner along with more wine.
Our own tour complete, the next morning we headed south to Avignon to meet up with the team of Tablas Creek cruise participants for the wine dinner that kicked off the cruise festivities. From this point we were following the cruise itinerary like all the guests, beginning the next morning with a group tour of the Chateau de Beaucastel vineyard, cellar and library. We got to taste several of the vintages of white and red Beaucastel in the library. There is nothing more you could ask for than sipping Chateauneuf du Pape in the cellar of one of the region's most storied estates. From there we whisked up to Gigondas for a wine paired lunch at Clos des Tourelles with Charles Perrin.
We had a nice walk about the village, then back to the bus and to our next destination Aix-en-Provence, where we checked in to the hotel and had the opportunity to take a guided walk into town, ending at a beautiful Gothic church. When we settled in for the night, we'd earned our good night's sleep.
The next morning, we continued south toward Monaco, where the cruise ship waited for us, stopping on the way at Chateau Font du Broc, a beautiful winery in Provence to taste some Vermentino and of course rosé, enjoy a delicious lunch, and admire the views of vines running down towards the valley and an expansive horse paddock.
This was my first time on a cruise. It was wild to see this 10-story ship that we would call home for the next week.
On embarkment in the evening we got to enjoy some Tablas Creek on our terrace with the lights of Monaco, its sailboats and yachts as our backdrop. Truly a great way to see the city off.
When we awoke the next morning, we were in Italy. Portofino is a picturesque little fishing port that looked to me a movie set, with everything just perfectly placed and lit up by the bright blue sea.
Next stop was Corsica, the Mediterranean island that is a part of France, but with a culture that owes nearly as much to Italy. We were the first American group to visit Domaine San Micheli, owned by the gracious Phélip family. The visit was a family affair, with the grandson opening the wines as the grandmother and grandfather poured the wines, alongside the winemaker. We went through a little geography of the region and continued to try wines from all over the island in a wine-education-style lunch.
Next, on to Sardinia, the larger island south of Corsica that belongs to Italy. In Sardinia Annika and I walked through a church that had been built on ancient Roman baths that were later discovered during renovations. We also walked around the Bastione Saint Remy for the expansive views:
The cruise ship made its next stop on the southern Italian island of Sicily, before turning west toward Spain. In Trapani we had a great day swimming in the Mediterranean to rest our feet, which had covered a lot of cobblestoned kilometers over the last week. The water was clear and shallow for hundreds of yards. Side note: watch out for jellyfish. I got stung.
The next day we spent at sea, making the long trip from Sicily to the Spanish coast. This was the occasion of our winemaker(s) dinner, where we poured magnums of Esprit and Esprit Blanc with the main course. But it wasn't the only on-board wine activity. We had a couple of wine receptions, and Neil and I hosted a seminar where we broke down the blending process, tasting all the components and the final blend. And, of course, wine at dinners. There was plenty of wine on this trip, even on days we weren't visiting wineries.
Finally, we arrived in Spain, the last of the four countries we'd visit on this trip, and where we'd spend the longest. In Almeria (below left), we got to visit a Moorish castle. In Cartagena (below right), we ate enough tapas to feed a small army.
But this being a wine cruise, we continued our education too. At Bodega Mustiguillo, in the Utiel‐Requena region, we dove into Bobal, a grape long thought to be good only for bulk wine that is being rediscovered as a quality wine making grape, used for rosé sparkling and several different blended wines. It was an interesting wine and reminded me of Tannat, in that the goal was to not have the tannins overpower the fruit. We got to try one from 95 plus year old vines. A cool learning experience for me, and a reminder that there are tons of grapes with the ability to make fun and delicious wines.
Our last day excursion was on the Spanish island of Mallorca, to tour a couple more wineries. They were a great contrast, with Bodega Ribas the oldest family owned winery in Spain and Mesquida Mora an up and coming producer, and biodynamic. The wines were amazing.
As good as the wines were on the whole trip, my take home from the cruise was that the company was even better. I started out not knowing a large majority of the guests but in the end after bus rides and shared dinner tables, beaches and of course evenings in Horizons Bar I felt like we were all family. I now know people who champion Tablas Creek from Virginia, Florida, Texas and all sorts of other places. For myself, as a first trip to Europe this is one for the books. Thank you to everyone that made this possible.
On Friday night, we hosted an industry party to celebrate our 30th anniversary. It was a wonderful evening, with about 350 friends and colleagues, beautiful weather (we got lucky), great food by Chef Jeff Scott, music by the Mark Adams Band, and masterful coordination by Faith Wells. I'll share a few photos, all taken by the talented Heather Daenitz (see more of her work at www.craftandcluster.com). We brought in some chairs and couches, and converted our parking lot to space to sit, mingle, and browse the memorabilia we'd pulled together.
Expanding to the parking lot spread the event out, making sure that no area felt cramped, and gave the event two focuses: the food, near our dry-laid limestone wall, and the wine tables, on our patio.
We decided to open every wine we're currently making, as well as several selections out of our library. We figured if not then, when?
Chef Jeff's menu focused on things that were raised or harvested here at Tablas Creek, including lamb, pork, honey, olive oil, eggs, pea tendrils, and herbs. The egg strata, made from 16 dozen of our eggs and flavored with our olive oil, was one of my favorites:
One of my favorite things that Faith suggested we do was to put together photo walls, each representing a decade of our history. This gave us an excuse to go through our massive photo archives and try to pull out pictures that showed how things had changed.
In the end, though, the event was, as most events are, really about the people who came. We had winemakers from around California, almost the whole current Tablas Creek team and many of the former employees who helped bring us where we are, local restaurateurs and hoteliers, members of the community organizations and charities we support, and even local government officials. Jean-Pierre Perrin (below, left) made the trip from France, and I know it was fun for people who had only heard his name to get to meet the man so responsible for the creation of this enterprise.
The Paso Robles wine community is remarkable for the extent to which it really is a community, made up of people who live here and are involved in the broader local community, from schools to restaurants to youth sports and charities. Getting a large group like this together isn't so much an industry party as it is a gathering of friends. And I couldn't shake the feeling all day that this was like a wedding, with old and new friends arriving from far away, and people stopping me again and again to say, warmly, "congratulations".
It was this aspect of Paso Robles that I'd been intending to highlight in the brief remarks I had planned to give to the group. But I decided in the middle of the event that doing so would have interrupted the event's momentum and turned something that felt like an organic gathering into something more staged and self-centered. And that was the last thing I wanted to do, so I just let the evening take its course.
That said, looking at the photos makes me feel that much more confident in what I had planned to say. The event wasn't the right moment. But I thought I'd share them now. I didn't write it out, but these are, more or less, the remarks I'd planned to share:
Thank you all for being here. It's hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that it's been 30 years since my dad, as well as Francois and Jean-Pierre Perrin (who is with us here tonight) celebrated the purchase of the property with a lunch from KFC on the section of the vineyard that we know call Scruffy Hill. And not just because all the great restaurant folks here this evening are a case in point that the Paso Robles culinary scene has come a long way from those days.
I wrote a blog a couple of weeks ago about 10 things that we got right (and wrong) at the beginning of our project. [Note: that blog can be found here.] Things we got wrong, like that we were only going to make one red and one white wine each year, or that we didn't need a tasting room. And things we got right, like that the climate and soils in this place was going to be great for these varieties, and that if we planted the right grapes, whites could thrive here. But the biggest piece of our success isn't something that we got right or wrong; it's really neither of those things. It wasn't on our radar at all. In my opinion, the biggest thing that has allowed this crazy project to succeed is the wine community that we joined here in Paso Robles. It is this community that has become a destination for wine lovers and for some of the most talented winemakers in the country. It is this community that has embraced Rhone varieties, and blends, both of which were major leaps into the unknown for an American winery 30 years ago. And it's this community which has welcomed us, interlopers from France and Vermont, to be a part of its vibrantly experimental mix.
I often think, when I reflect on the anniversary, that 30 years old is the age at which, in France, they finally start taking a vineyard seriously. I am proud of what we've accomplished, but even more excited about what we're working on now. Thank you for your support over the first generation of Tablas Creek. I look forward to celebrating many future milestones with you.
The idea that for all we've done, we're just getting started, was the inspiration for the party favor we sent people home with: a baby grapevine from our nursery. We may have been here for a generation. But it's really still just the beginning.
So, if you came, thank you for helping us celebrate. If you couldn't come, thank you for helping us make it 30 years. We couldn't have done it without you.
For the last three winters, Meghan and I have brought our boys to Vermont, to spend a week in the house in which I grew up playing with my sister's family, and to experience some real winter. This has meant lots of time sledding (or, in this relatively snow-free year, chilly forest walks), lots of time around a board game or a jigsaw puzzle, and of course lots of time around the dinner (or lunch, or breakfast) table. Our family is notorious for not wanting to get up from one meal without knowing with confidence what the next one will be, and when.
One of the pleasures of this house (and, for that matter, this family) is getting to explore the wine cellar that my dad stocked over the course of his six-decade career. Often that means older Burgundies, Bordeaux, or Rhones, but one of the most fun explorations we did this year was of two vintages of Mourvedre, which we opened with a simple but delicious dinner of pasta with homemade Bolognese, simmered for several hours the day before by my sister Rebecca.
Mourvedre is known for its ageworthiness. But one thing that I've always appreciated about it is that even in its youth it's not usually forbidding or difficult. Its tannins tend to be more chewy than hard, it's got plenty of red fruit, and it has a lovely loamy earthiness, like new leather and pine needles, even when it's young, that just gets more pronounced as the wine ages.
The two vintages that I chose are similar in some ways. Both were overshadowed by blockbuster vintages that followed, and we have underestimated how good the red wines from both 2006 and 2013 really were, with later vertical tastings (like the one we did of Cotes de Tablas just last month) showcasing how well each was showing now. But each vintage is also representative of the era in which we produced it, with 2006 in the middle of a run of vintages where we were pushing for a bit more ripeness than we have in recent years, and 2013 in the shadow of the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages where we were more comfortable picking earlier, and lower sugar levels. And the alcohol on the labels of both wines reflect this, with the 2006 at 14.5%, while the 2013 came in at 13.5%.
Both wines were lovely. My notes on each (brief, since I was taking them in the middle of dinner conversation):
2006 Mourvedre: Chocolatey and generous, with candied raspberry and plum, a little mushroomy earthiness vying with sugarplum and roasted meats on the palate, and a finish of milk chocolate and forest undergrowth. A touch of heat on the finish.
2013 Mourvedre: Savory in contrast to the 2006, showing more darkness on the nose: pepper spice, soy, and roasted meats, with flavors of blackberry, pine forest, and meat drippings, and a lingering graphite-like minerality on the finish.
The opinions around the family table were interesting: most people preferred the 2006 at first taste, for its lusciousness and generosity. That chocolatey character was pretty irresistible, the tannins soft, and the fruit red and unmistakable. But as the meal wound on, I (and most of the rest of the table) kept coming back to the 2013, which seemed to evolve and open up more over the course of the meal, and whose savoriness offered a nice contrasting tone and whose umami-like minerality seemed to play more confidently with the Bolognese.
Of course, the point of pouring two vintages isn't particularly to declare a winner. Both wines were delicious, and I can't imagine anyone opening either of them being disappointed. But the meal was a good affirmation for me of the direction our wines have taken in recent years, still showing plenty of fruit and Paso Robles' characteristic generous sunshine, but preserving more savoriness and minerality to provide balance, contrast, and lift.
I hope that you opened something wonderful over the holidays, and that your new year is full of great food, interesting wines, and outstanding company to enjoy with both.
One of the greatest physical threats of being the National Sales Manager for Tablas Creek is accelerated weight gain from all the killer food being whipped up at restaurants around the country that serve our wines. Here's a shortlist of my heavenly highlights of 2018, which were many. Now, off to find the nearest cool sculpting place, or at least the hotel's treadmill!
In what may have once been a donut store on the eastern outskirts of Vallejo now quietly houses a dynamic husband-and-wife duo serving artistry on a plate, many courses at a time, for a steal. The word isn't entirely out yet, though the culinary cognoscenti that visit Napa Valley are known to Uber out here for one of two seatings a night. Michael and his wife Ali do everything, including washing dishes, and it's a real open performance. Ali is a fan of Tablas Creek whites and the evening I was there served an older vintage of our Grenache Blanc because she loved the petrol notes that arise with some bottle age. This truffle ravioli dish brought me deep into he wet, salty earth, only to come to when the made-before-your-eyes marshmallow ice cream closed out the evening.
My family lives a block away in Templeton from this Paso Robles institution. Ian McPhee, along with Laurent Grangien, were the OG wine country chefs for our aspiring wine region, and I think both chefs have improved with some time in the cellar. During the Hospice du Rhone wine festival in April, my old boss at Two Hands wines in Australia and the winemaker from Staglin wanted to have dinner and share some bottles, so I immediately booked a table and McPhee's did not disappoint. From baby back ribs, grass fed steaks, wood fired flatbreads and more, the locally-sourced fare went gorgeously down the hatch with the velvety match up of 2005 Tablas Creek Panoplie and 2005 Hommage a Jacques Perrin, among other bottled beauties.
I serendipitously stopped by this classic in Buellton on the way back from the Ojai Wine Festival, and lo and behold got sandwiched by the legends themselves Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley. It'd been a while since I'd grabbed a seat at the notorious bar from the film Sideways, which keeps the old school Central Coast steakhouse vibe alive, complete with relish trays. They serve Tablas Creek Vermentino by the glass, along with the complete lineup of Hitching Post Pinot Noir, and I followed Gray's lead with ordering some grilled quail and a small grass fed flat iron steak. The oak-grilled aromas and flavors keeping the barroom -- which that night housed a mix of Cal Trans dudes, a bachelorette party, and other tourists posing out for a selfie or two -- classy.
In the bustling Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, Chef Todd Humphries continues to turn out wood fired Asian fusion comfort food, and often has Tablas Creek on tap! With only a half hour to burn here in the spring, I ordered (for a second time) the smoked salmon rillettes and crostini. Have a look at the buttery fat layer at the surface, the perfect foil for the bright acidity of Patelin de Tablas Rosé.
A Tablas Creek wine dinner in the balmy heat of the summer while a south swell is raging along the beaches of Laguna? Sign me up. Chef Rick Guzman and owner/sommelier Chris Olsen hosted the sold out five-wine feast, beginning with a wood fired Crab melt and closing out the night lingering over a heritage pork and bean skillet that they matched with multiple vintages of Esprit de Tablas Rouge. We're coming back for more in 2019!
Hailing from a pizzeria family myself, it's incredible what is happening with pizza across the US! And it seems the wines being offered at pizzerias are slowly getting elevated to match the farm-to-table crusty cuisine being churned out city to city. In Arizona, the most talked about chef and restaurateur is arguably Chris Bianco, with his Pizzeria Bianco establishments, Tratto, and now Bar Bianco and its monthly wine dinner series focusing on organic vineyards around the world. I asked to have Tablas Creek be a part of the series way back in 2017, and with some perseverance, we combined forces in October and I got to nerd out with a signed copy of his infamous cookbook. Going hyper seasonal, we started with an Antipasto of Okra, Roasted Gold Peppers, Turnip, Sopressata, and Manchego, and concluded with a Braised Beef Shoulder, pickled winter squash and sweet onion German Potato Salad paired with 2014 Esprit de Tablas Rouge. Chris gave a heartfelt toast about community, how the power of good food and sharing a table can connect us all.
It's ironic that exactly where my rental car was heavily burglarized three years ago now resides a Michelin-star worthy hotspot called Alter. The Wynwood district in Miami is overflowing in beautiful graffiti art, new wave galleries, coffee roasters, and incredible places to eat and drink. It used to certainly be the Patelin of Florida. We hosted a Tablas Creek wine dinner here in November, five courses designed by Chef Brad Kilgore, with each expanding the imagination factor, but the duck breast and Cotes de Tablas Rouge 2016 blew the whole crowd out of their seats.
Longboat Key Club
Off the shimmery shores of Sarasota, Florida, there's an annual celebration of wine and Stone Crab known as Bacchus on the Beach. Our Vineyard Brands contact Freddy Matson and Bob Weil of Longboat Key Club put on a mesmerizing memorial dinner to Robert Haas on the powdery white sands, with an endless array of crustaceans and cuvees from both Tablas Creek and Chateau de Beaucastel. I've conducted dinners comparing the California and French bottling, but this was the first time we did all older vintages of Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and Chateau de Beaucastel. The whites were stunning, spanning from 2005 to 2011, and a lot of VINsiders who turned out raved about the quality of the older whites and how they often don't think to age them. I stumbled away believing there may not be any finer white grape in the world to pair with buttery fresh crab than Roussanne.
After consuming all this brilliance, and as the nights dip into the 30's around Paso Robles, I've learned that the most memorable meals can often be crafted in your own home, shared by loved ones. I'm no chef, but I've been making a fairly wicked French Onion soup from the cookbook of Daniel Boulud for years. Our farmer's market down the street has all the ingredients for this simple but patience-driven dish, and I've always admired that Chef Boulud's wine recommendation for his soup, once it's pulled out of the broiler with melted Comte cheese and the salty, broth-soaked crust below, is Roussanne, and an older one if you can find it. I think I know some people. Happy Holidays!
I have always loved Thanksgiving. It's a holiday that's mostly about eating, drinking, and family. It's still relatively uncommercialized. And it's about giving thanks, which I feel like puts a celebration into the right perspective.
The idea that there is a "right" wine for Thanksgiving seems to be on its way out, and that's just fine. The meal, after all, is diverse, with a panoply of flavors (and participants) that encourages a diverse collection of wines. I do think that there are wines that it's probably good to steer clear of: wines that are powerfully tannic tend to come off even more so when they're paired with some of the sweeter Thanksgiving dishes, and wines that are high in alcohol tend to be fatiguing by the end of what is often a marathon of eating and drinking. But that still leaves you plenty of options. With a traditional turkey dinner, I tend to steer people toward richer whites and rosés, and fruitier reds relatively light in oak and tannin. There are a lot of the wines that we make that fit this broad criteria, so if you want to stay in the Tablas Creek family, you could try anything from Roussanne and Esprit Blanc to Dianthus Rosé to Counoise, Grenache, or Cotes de Tablas. Richer red meat preparations open up a world of Mourvedre-based reds, from Esprit de Tablas to Mourvedre to our Panoplie. But there's a wide world of wines out there, and I know that while our table will likely include a Tablas wine or two, there will be plenty of diversity represented. I thought it would be fun to see what a broad cross-section of our team were looking forward to drinking this year. Their responses are below, in their own words, in alphabetical order.
Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant This year my family is especially grateful considering all the turmoil California has been through in the last month. It will be just our little family of 5 celebrating together this year, so our wine list in small. While I cook and listen to my children play (or argue, more commonly) I will be sipping on some lovely Delamotte Champagne… bubbles make everything better. For dinner I have saved a bottle of 2012 Coudoulet de Beaucastel to share with my husband. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker Once again it is time to carefully select those wines that will accompany turkey on the table. As is always the case these days the first bottle on my list will be a Magnum of Esprit De Tablas Blanc, the new and luxuriant 2016 perhaps? or the 2012?. The cellar crew and I shared a magnum of Beaujolais Nouveau from Domaine Dupeuble, I bought an extra for thanksgiving! The Lone Madrone Demi Sec Chenin Blanc will certainly be present. I have been saving a Brick House Pinot also. I tend to like some bubbles around also perhaps from The Loire Valley. We have a lot of guests coming this year, guests with varying levels of wine geekiness so the post Thanksgiving list will surely make more interesting reading than my pre list. Is there any better moment than friends and family around a table laden with wine food and chatter? Not for me there isn't! Neil..
Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager I’m going all central coast this year on wine, as my family is celebrating with close friends in Ventura who own an awesome wine-focused restaurant called Paradise Pantry. We’ll be starting off with the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, which is at an incredible stage of its life and mind blowing in large Bordeaux glassware. For my contribution of reds, I pulled a 2008-2010 vertical of Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir; a powerful iconic SLH estate for the varietal. The fruit and tannin intensity coming from this own-rooted slope rewards some short term cellaring and should be at their pleasurable peak, along with the flavors and richness of what Paradise Pantry's chef-owner Kelly Briglio is making for the feast. Happy holidays!
Brad Ely, Cellar Master This year, as every year for Thanksgiving, my family and I will be starting with sparkling. There is nothing like bubbles to ease some family tensions and put everyone in the festive spirit. I usually go domestic for this and buy a few bottles of something very drinkable that everyone can enjoy like Mumm, Roederer, or Schramsberg. Then for the meal we will definitely have a food oriented rosé, like our Tablas Creek Dianthus. I find rosé to be a very versatile pairing with the multitude of flavors on the Thanksgiving dinner table. For red, we will be drinking a Cru Beaujolais from Fleurie and a Red Burgundy from Marsannay. Reds on the fresh side that complement the different foods without overpowering anything are my go to wines and these two should fit the bill just right. Cheers!
Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Lead I am looking for something autumnal, unexpected, and “very French.” My first pick is the 2015 Le Peu de la Moriette Vouvray of Domaine Pichot. The grape is Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley. To me, Vouvray stands for Fall; the way rosé makes me think of Summer. This one has a yellow leaf color, herbal flavors and a Pink Lady apple fruitiness that will fit perfectly with my butternut squash soup.
Another pick from the Loire Valley will also land on my table. I found this 2012 Chinon, Les Petites Roches from Charles Joguet at Kelly Lynch in Menlo Park for $23 (the grape is Cabernet Franc). It is lean, floral and has the right amount of acidity to cut the fat of the meal. I loved its faint earthy undertones on my palate. I will put it in the fridge for 30 minutes before opening because I like my reds on the cooler side. Both Vouvray and Chinon will flow with the food instead of being the centerpiece of the meal.
Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker Aside from helping with chopping and dishes, my only Thanksgiving responsibility is to bring some wines that (hopefully) everyone will enjoy and make sure glasses stay full. My wine packing plan involves the assumption that everyone likes what I like, which is a tactic that I’ve discovered works far better with wine than it does with politics.
If there were a Day-Drinking Handbook, I’m sure it would require that sparkling wines must be consumed at some point during the festivities. There’s not (that I know of), but it doesn’t mean we can’t heed that imaginary book’s wisdom. We’ll start with something that provides everything I love about sparkling wine (dry, bright yet creamy with a fine mousse) and leaves out the thing that’s harder for me to swallow when buying Champagne: the price-tag. My first sparkling bottle of the 2018 holiday season will be Domaine Huet’s Vouvray Petillant Brut. It lands solid on the palate but weighs in at less than $30. For the more serious portion of the dinner, we’ll pull out a 2012 Foxen Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Block 8. I’m anxious to revisit this wine as I loved the explosive nose and precise palate when we last had a bottle a few years ago. If it’s anything like I remember, this bright, spicy and supple wine should be a great accompaniment to the various dishes being passed around the table. With these two beauties being enjoyed (plus others, I’m sure), we’re bound to be too busy extolling the virtues of what’s in our glass to even think about discussing politics!
Linnea Frazier, Marketing Assistant Thanksgiving tends to toe the line of mayhem and yet not quite dissolving into anarchy every year in my household. Naturally, the wines on the table help in this regard (sometimes admittedly adding to the anarchy aspect). Being a bubbles oriented family in general, we will probably be honoring American tradition and starting out with something produced Stateside like the 2012 Soter Mineral Springs Blanc de Blancs from one of my favorite Oregon producers. After that our 2016 Counoise and 2015 Roussanne will be no doubt represented and massively appreciated, with some Gamay always tending to sneak in there as well. Cheers!
Misty Lies, Tasting Room Team Lead You might be surprised but my family can be a bit untraditional when it comes to Thanksgiving meals. We are just not big on turkey but love all the fixings. This year we will be having some family in from Southern California and are going to celebrate the day before by heading down to Ember Restaurant for dinner. For starters I might bring Esprit Blanc to go with the first half of dinner, it will go nicely with their salads and the amazing scallop appetizer they have. I also see they have Six Hour Braised Oxtails on the menu so I will be taking along some bottles of the 2009 Massolino Barolo Parussi.
Our family wishes you all a great Thanksgiving!
Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist In the spirit of giving thanks, I’ll be paying homage with an ‘09 Tablas Creek Tannat because it is hands down one of the toughest, most resilient varietals I’ve yet to encounter.
Also, Lone Madrone’s “Old Hat” (Neil Collins’ side project). The fruit from this wine is grown by my neighbor David Osgood, a local dry farming legend, and hands down one of the largest inspirations in my life and a huge catalyst as to why I do what I do today!
John Morris, Tasting Room Manager My wife announced yesterday that we're having a Cajun turkey for Thanksgiving. While I haven't taken the time to research precisely what that entails, I know one thing: it's going to be spicy. In my mind I go immediately to whites and roses. Sure, light-bodied, low-tannin reds will work, and I may pull out a bottle of our Counoise just to test my theory, but I suspect my initial instinct will prove correct. I'm going to lean heavily on Tablas Creek this year, so opening a bottle of both the Patelin de Tablas Rosé and Dianthus seem elementary. For whites, the options are much greater. An Esprit de Tablas Blanc of any vintage would be sublime, but I'm a little concerned it's elegance would be overshadowed by the heat. After some tinkering in my minds eye, I'm going with the 2016 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (more saline and mineral than the effusive 2017) and the 2017 Picpoul Blanc, which has this great spice component that offsets the juicy fruit and welcome acidity. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Gustavo Prieto, Tasting Room, Cellar, and Vineyard I have in mind it's to start with some bubbles, a Vouvray, Domaine Pichot 2011, I like Chenin and it's always a fun way to start the festivities. After, continue with Tablas Dianthus Rosé 2016 and for the dinner table an older vintage of the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (04?, 05?). I love Esprit Blanc's and I always find them very complex ready to take on such a mix of flavors like thanksgiving dinner. And for the red drinkers the Qupe 2011 Pinot from the Sawyer Lindquist vineyard in Edna Valley farmed Biodynamically, only 1.5 acres planted. I never tried this Pinot before but I'm curious to taste this wine from a cooler area.
Suphada Rom, Sales & Marketing Thanksgiving is the ultimate family meal and bottle share. I’ll bring a few different options, like the Gamay/Pinot Noir blend from Guillot-Broux, a perfect accompaniment to my tangy cranberry sauce (and for my post-Thanksgiving sandwich!) I’ll keep the Pinot Noir trend going through dinner with a bottle of Frederic Savart Champagne. His Blanc de Noirs (l’Ouverture) is my favorite because its got a freshness I love when it comes to champagne, and a richness I am always pleasantly surprised by. My fiancé Cameron and my parents love rosé and we saved some 2017 Patelin- I’m sure a bottle will make it onto very crowded but cozy dinner table.
Randy Thurman, Facilities & IT I usually drink some Papa’s Pilar rum or a nice bottle of Esprit that we have been saving for special occasions. The rum reminds me of camping trips with my dad and sitting by the camp fires listening to old stories and smelling the smoke from cigars. The wine reminds me of visiting my mother and father in law when we have had huge spreads with a large group of family. Usually 20-30 people and we sometimes drink large magnums of wine. Has been some J Lohr, Tucker Cellars, Paraiso Vineyards by the smith Family and of course several bottles of Tablas Creek. Usually a bottle of Dianthus and something white like a Viognier or Picardan is opened along with a bottle of Esprit. I usually rotisserie over a Weber charcoal grill an apple juice-brined turkey coated in butter and herbs and stuffed with apples, oranges, lemons, and onions for about 4 hours on low heat. Always juicy and comes out like a smoked rotisserie chicken. I have also used a similar method to smoke large prime rib roasts as well.
And as for me... Typically, my choice is to open the largest bottle I have to hand at Thanksgiving gatherings. There's usually a story behind a big bottle, and the randomness of "just open it" adds a certain amount of pleasurable discovery to the gathering, as well as the festivity that large bottles bring per force.
Of consideration for us, this will be our first Thanksgiving without my dad, and I'm sure we will spend a good chunk of the day thinking and talking about him. So it's with pleasure that I think I've found the perfect bottle to both celebrate his memory and pair with the meal. It's a magnum of 1987 Calera Selleck Pinot Noir, brought by Calera's founder and winemaker (and longtime friend of my dad's) Josh Jensen to the celebration of my dad's life this spring. It checks all the wish list elements for me: Pinot Noir, particularly with some age, is a great pairing for turkey (check), Calera is an iconic producer (check), it was brought by a friend and is a wine to which we have a personal connection (check), and it's a magnum, so there's going to be enough to go around the table (check). I'm sure that it will be preceded by some Dianthus, and we'll likely break out some whites for those who'd prefer that with their turkey, maybe our 2017 Marsanne, which is my favorite white we've got right now. And none of these wines will demand to be the center of attention: they will be dining companions with which you can have a conversation, to tell (and help you tell) stories around the table. After all, that's what it's all about.
Wherever you are, we wish you a happy, healthy Thanksgiving, and that you be surrounded by good food and great company.
Bob Lindquist is one of my favorite people in the wine business. As the founder of Qupe and one of the pioneers of California's Rhone movement, Bob probably needs little introduction to most fans of Tablas Creek. He has been making wines from Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo County grapes since 1982, and has been honored with many awards, including the 2015 Rhone Rangers Lifetime Achievement Award. Even more interesting, to me at least, he's still on the Rhone movement's cutting edge. He's planted Rhone varieties in new places, most notably the Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard in the cool (UC Davis Region 1 on the Winkler Scale) Edna Valley. He adopted Biodynamic farming early enough that this year is year 10 of the Sawyer-Lindquist Vineyard's Demeter Certification. And he's still a tireless promoter of the category we both inhabit; I've run into him in airports and at out-of-state wine events more times than I can count.
Bob's wines are in style like his manner: thoughtful, understated, and long-lived. They're rarely flashy when they're young, although they're always pure and correct. But they have remarkable longevity, and (like Bob) the more time you spend with them, the more insight you realize they have to offer.
Last night, we opened a bottle of Qupe 2012 Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard Grenache. We paired it with a Blue Apron recipe for seared steaks with parsley-caper butter, which we dressed up by grilling the steaks and zucchini and then serving the zucchini over a whipped ricotta concoction we'd loved from a different Blue Apron recipe. The food was terrific: one of the best meals we've cooked this year. The steaks turned out juicy and flavorful, with the meaty flavors brought out by the umami of the parsley-caper butter. The mashed potatoes were tangy and rich, while the sweet smokiness of the slow-grilled zucchini was given texture and cool richness by the ricotta. But the wine was the star of the show. Grenache has a tendency toward being candied on its own, but this rendition had none of that: just pure crunchy red fruit, vibrant acids, and a little welcome spice at the end. The wine came across as almost weightless, in the best possible way: flavors distilled down to their essence, as I often find from grapes grown in a region almost too cool for them to ripen. Just an absolute pleasure to drink. A snapshot, mid-meal (I didn't stage a shot at the beginning because, well, I wasn't expecting the revelation we got):
The Grenache grape can be something of a chameleon, which is perhaps unsurprising for a grape planted in so many diverse places around the world. It is a warm climate staple, and most regions where Grenache is widely planted (including the southern Rhone, Spain, and Paso Robles) are warm ones. And some of the characteristics that I found in this Qupe Grenache are those we see here at Tablas Creek: its red fruit profile, its brilliant garnet color, its good acids, and its spice. But while many examples of Grenache world-wide are earthier and show more baked red fruit character, this wine felt so fresh, even at age 6, like it was all high tones and electricity. I don't know what age will do to the wine, but given Qupe's track record for aging and the wine's freshness, I'm confident it's going to go somewhere exciting, though it's so good and so pure now, I'm sure lots of it will get consumed in the near term. And best of all, it's not an expensive wine, still available for $35 on the Qupe Web site. If you have the chance to snag some, or you have some in your cellar, you're in for a treat.
I am a sucker for Thanksgiving. Between the excuse to get together with friends and family, the delicious food, and the fact that the whole event centers around being thankful for the opportunity to get together with friends and family and eat delicious food, it's pretty much right up my alley. The fact that it is still our least commercialized holiday only makes it better.
What's more, it's always fun for me to see which of our wines will get recommended for Thanksgiving in the press. There are plenty of options. With a traditional turkey dinner, I tend to steer people toward richer whites and rosés, and fruitier reds relatively light in oak and tannin. There are a lot of the wines that we make that fit this broad criteria, from Roussanne and Esprit Blanc to Dianthus Rosé to Counoise, Grenache, or Cotes de Tablas. Richer preparations open up a world of Mourvedre-based reds, from Esprit de Tablas to Mourvedre to our Panoplie. This year, we've seen Cotes de Tablas recommended in Sunset, Esprit de Tablas Blanc recommended on Alcohol Professor, and Patelin de Tablas Rosé recommended on Maker's Table. And that's normal. I remember one year a while back where we were lucky enough to have the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and Chicago Tribune each recommend Tablas Creek with their Thanksgiving article... and each picked a different wine.
So, this is a long way of saying that if you're planning to stay in the Tablas Creek ecosystem, you've got options. But of course, there's a world of wines out there, and it seems a shame to limit yourself. So, I thought it would be fun to see what a broad cross-section of our team were looking forward to drinking this year. Their responses are below.
Dani Archambeault, Wine Club Assistant This year my husband and I have decided to have an ‘Old Fashioned’ kind of Thanksgiving! So High West Double Rye Whiskey it is! We enjoy this Rye because of its spicy-woody richness with tastes of cinnamon & roasted sugars. I am sure it will pair perfectly with my mom’s sweet potato casserole & soften the impact of the Fox News blaring in the background ;)
Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant For Thanksgiving this year we will be enjoying a Domaine Weinbach Riesling, and the 2015 TCV Counoise. The peach and apple that resonate with Riesling along with the bright acidity are perfection with Turkey. The cranberry and clove stand out for me in the Counoise which makes such a harmonious balance with all the yummy baking spices in both the main dishes and desserts.
Leslie Castillo, Tasting Room Team Lead We are going to enjoy a couple of wines I discovered while I worked harvest in the Southern Rhône Valley a few weeks ago.
I am specially excited about my favorite Tavel, Domaine de la Mordorée's 2016 "La Reine des Bois". This wine has beautiful and complex aromatics, bright acidity, spice, textural minerality and captivating depth. It is wild yet elegant and powerful, I think it will bring a nice contrast to the traditional thanksgiving meal components like; sage, turkey, mashed potatoes, etc. The wine I chose is all that while still respecting the environment as it is organic.
Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker Thanksgiving again! as I think about just which beverages to enjoy with this annual feast I realize how many wonderful options there are in the Tablas Creek stable, Terret Noir, Pinot Noir, En Gobelet, Clairette Blanche, Picardan, Roussanne, referencing just a smattering. This is not even thinking of non-Tablas, non-California wines. I will have quite a table of folks this year so there will doubtless be plenty enjoyed. As always as we cook and prepare, as people start to arrive we will have a growler or two of Bristols Cider open for all. When we come to the vino I have chosen three main players, 2016 Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling this seems the perfect match for the day, second La Ronze 2015 this Gamay from Beaujolais was produced in the Regnie appellation, the newest of the crus, and should be fruity and delicate for the food at hand. As that big bird lands upon our table I will break out a Magnum of 2012 Esprit de Tablas Blanc, a big bottle for a laden table and the wine the perfect pairing. Bon Appetit to you all!!
Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager I’ve reserved a hyper local wine duo of 2007 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc - to be drunk out of massive Pinot Noir goblet stems (which I’ve found shows off its wild, evolved pedigree) - as well as a mystery magnum of 2002 Talley Estate Pinot Noir that turned up at my family’s pizzeria fully sealed at some point in the year. At the most, both bottles will please any wine sipping palates at my brother’s table, and at the very least, using the same stems will slightly cut down on dishwashing duties.
Brad Ely, Cellar Master This Thanksgiving I will be opening a Felton Road Block 3 Pinot Noir from Central Otago, New Zealand. It is light on its feet, very textural, and won't over power any of the various flavors on the dinner table. I tend to stick with lighter wines made in a fresh style for Thanksgiving, and this fits the docket quite well. I am sure there will be a few bottles of Gamay making an appearance as well!
Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker For me, bubbles are an absolute must for any celebration – or, if I’m being completely honest – a must for any gathering. This means that the availability of something sparkling over the holidays is non-negotiable. My husband and I had the great honor to meet up with the members of the Tablas Creek riverboat cruise this summer, where one of the pre-cruise excursion destinations was the Champagne cellars of Roger Coulon. We brought a few bottles back home with us and I think this weekend would be the perfect time to examine the difference between tasting Champagne IN Champagne and tasting Champagne in California. All in the name of science, naturally.
For the dinner portion of the evening, the two bottles I’m most excited to crack into are my Smith-Madrone (dry) Riesling from the Napa Valley and one of the bottles from my Cru Beaujolais stash; probably the Jean-Michel Dupre Vieilles Vignes from Morgon. Both of these have enough structure, beautiful roundness of body, as well as infinitely enticing aromas, to support the wide array of diverse dishes we’re going to be enjoying. With these three lovely wines, I’ll have to add three more spaces to my long list of things I’m thankful for!
Robert Haas, Founder This year my cellar choice will be a 1985 Trapet Chambertin. The Trapet family was the largest single proprietor in Chambertin. He mostly sold his wines to negociants in barrel. Raymond Beaudouin convinced him to bottle some and I later represented him personally and through Vineyard Brands. The domaine has subsequently split up in the family. 1985 was a great vintage, and it should be fully mature.
Craig Hamm, Assistant Winemaker For my family dinners there is generally a good amount of open bottles on the table. A couple of the wines we will be choosing will be Tablas 2015 Counoise with plenty of cranberry and light fruits tones along with the baking spices that fills in, it should be a winner. Another wine we will be opening will be A 2014 Hilltop Syrah from Stolpman Vineyards. Cheers and happy holidays.
Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist Thanksgiving is without question my favorite holiday of the year. Family, friends, WINE and good food are all that is needed for a successful holiday. It’s a celebration of being thankful for all that we have. That said, my list is long!!! In the spirit of giving thanks, I will be drinking (and sharing) the 2015 Tannat.
As a grower, if I had to choose one varietal to work with for the rest of my career, it would be Tannat. Hands down it is one of the toughest, most disease resistant, insect pest resistant, (most importantly) virus tolerant plants I have ever encountered. It is one, if not the only, variety I know on the the property that needs little assistance and ripens beautifully year in, year out! So in the spirit of paying homage, I raise my glass to you Tannat! Thank you for being the rock that you are! Also, you know what makes you a tad bit cooler than the rest? You are a palindrome! Happy thanksgiving to all of you! Love your families, love your friends, and think about those who are not as fortunate!!! Happy thanksgiving!!!!
John Morris, Tasting Room Manager This year's pairing should be a cinch as we're serving lamb chops, a natural partner for many Tablas Creek wines. Still there's some narrowing down to do. Single-varietal Mourvedre or a blend? A Côtes de Tablas to bridge some of the lighter food on the table? Which vintage? Something young and fresh, or maybe a bottle mellowed and deepened with time? Hmm, maybe this isn't so easy after all. We’ll open with some bubbles of course, but after that we’ll get straight to the reds. After some thought I’ve decided on our 2015 En Gobelet, which is both fresh and vibrant, and deep and complex. If I only had one bottle, I’d hang onto it for some years to let it develop and open something else, but I happen to know where to get more. Cheers to you and your family!
We’ll toast with a Gruet Blanc de Noirs, a pleasant and refreshing sparkling from New Mexico - certainly called for on such a warm autumn day. I have a bottle of 2013 Perrin & Fils Gigondas La Gille which I’ve been saving for the right occasion, and it will go beautifully with our paté, cheese and other savory starters. With our meal, I have finally decided on the 2012 Esprit Blanc, a perfect complement to the lobster and citrus beurre blanc sauce, with its Roussanne richness and gentle acidity to round out the meal.
I am so grateful to be able to share these beautiful wines with my friends and family who will soon be filling my home with warmth and laughter. Happy Thanksgiving!
And as for me... My general rule is to open the biggest bottle that I have on Thanksgiving. That automatically makes for a festive gathering. As for wines, my personal favorite for the traditional turkey and fixings is Beaujolais. So this year, although I'll be over at my parents' for the meal (and will therefore get to share some of that 85 Chambertin) my contribution will be procuring a magnum of 2016 Domaine Marcel Lapierre Julienas, which my dad tried and reported was terrific this summer. Julienas is one of the lesser known "cru" appellations in Beaujolais, and typically produces wines that balance between classic Beaujolais juiciness and the more savory, serious aspect that comes from the cru terroirs. Hopefully, it will hit the spot. If not, we might just have to open a third bottle of that Chambertin.
Wherever you are, we wish you a happy, healthy Thanksgiving, and that you be surrounded by good food and great company.
I am in Vermont, relaxing for a short time after a wonderful cruise up the Rhone River. And what an experience it was. We (Meghan and I, as well as our winemaker Neil Collins and his wife Marci) led a group of 62 up the Rhone, from Avignon in the south to Lyon in the north, with a short extension up the Saône to Macon for a little Burgundy experience to cap it off. From this floating home base, we made shore excursions each day to cultural, historic, culinary or oenologic destinations, reconvening each evening for a dinner paired with wines from Tablas Creek, Famille Perrin, Chateau de Beaucastel, and Maison Nicolas Perrin. For those who made it, I wanted to share some photos. For those who didn't, but are considering coming next time (and yes, there definitely will be a next time) I hope this will give you a taste of what to expect.
Our Home Base
Our home for this eight day trip was the Uniworld S.S. Catherine. This ship is one of the newest in Uniworld's fleet, named after Catherine Deneuve and showing much of the same glamour and elegance as her namesake. The exterior:
The interior was beautiful, but the highlight for me was the roof deck, from which you could watch the countryside go by, the moon come up, or the sun go down:
The Focus Visit: Beaucastel and Clos des Tourelles in Gigondas
Most of the itinerary of the cruise was that of the Uniworld ship we were on. However, we worked with our travel partners Food & Wine Trails to create two special experiences just for our group. A visit to Chapoutier, including both a tour of their Hermitage vineyards and a focused tasting and lunch in their cellars, was amazing. I'll dive into that more below. But the centerpiece of the trip for us (and, speaking to the attendees, for most of them) were the twin visits to the cellars at Beaucastel and to the Perrins' newer property in Gigondas: Clos des Tourelles. So that both visits could be more intimate, we divided the group into two. One half visited the first day of our trip, and the other half the second. We started with a tour of Beaucastel's Chateauneuf du Pape vineyards, with head-trained vines growing out of what looks like a moonscape of rounded river stones. That's Beaucastel's Hospitality Director Kirsty Manahan speaking to the group:
Kirsty then brought us through the remarkable cellar, with stacks of bottles aging gracefully and big wooden tanks identical to those we use at Tablas Creek:
We then moved to a tasting of the wines, including vintages back to 2001:
One of the cool discoveries for me was a photo of my dad and Jacques Perrin from 1973: the beginning of the Haas-Perrin collaboration that ultimately resulted in Tablas Creek:
From Beaucastel, we continued by bus to Clos des Tourelles, the Perrins' property in Gigondas. A former monastery -- the first permanent structure built outside the town's medieval city walls -- Les Tourelles is being renovated as the headquarters of the Famille Perrin umbrella, and is just a few months away from opening. We got to enjoy a reception on the property's patio, overlooking the walled vineyard that is the appellation's only "Clos":
Charles Perrin joined us there, which was a treat for the guests:
We walked up a short stairway to the town center, where the Perrins' restaurant l'Oustalet is located on a pretty shaded patio. I would submit Gigondas as one of the most picturesque villages in the south of France.
The meal was delicious -- summer truffles, anyone? -- and the wines equal to the challenge:
From there, fully sated, we continued to the first of our shore visits, a walking tour around the ancient town center of Arles.
The Shore Excursions
Each day, the participants in the cruise got a choice of ways to explore the towns and countryside we were passing through. Because it was a river cruise, and because we didn't have massive distances to travel, we woke up each morning in port, so the shore opportunities were daily and varied. Some were more sedate, like walks through quiet towns like Viviers (in which we also got to hear a short performance on the basilica's pipe organ):
Other shore visits offered more activity, like the chance to kayak down the Gardon River to and under the remarkable Roman aqueduct known as the Pont du Gard. This was one of my top highlights of the trip, and a bucket list thing to do:
One nighttime excursion was a bus tour of Lyon (the "City of Lights"), serendipitously as the full moon was rising:
And, at the end of the trip, we spent a lovely day in Beaune, including a visit to the weekly market:
And a tour of the lovely, historic Hospices de Beaune, a hospital for the poor started in 1433:
Focus Visit #2: Chapoutier and Hermitage
As we made our way north, we watched the landscape change from the southern Rhone's broad valleys and pebbly soils to the northern Rhone's steep terraced vineyards. When we reached Tain l'Hermitage, we stopped for the night. The next day, we were greeted at the ship by two representatives from Maison M. Chapoutier, the historic wine family who have farmed their vineyards in Hermitage since 1808. We walked through the town and into the vineyard blocks at the foot of the hill which forms the town's northern border:
The small size of the appellation was striking, as was knowing that this hillside has been the inspiration for a high percentage of the world's producers of Syrah. The tasting in Chapoutier's cellars was equally convincing, as we got a chance to taste wines from Hermitage (both red and white), Cote Rotie, and even Chapoutier's Chateauneuf du Pape, which was particularly interesting given where we'd just come from.
We finished with a lunch in their cellars, which was a remarkable way to end a great day.
We were docking in a new town each night, which meant new places to explore. Some of these I knew well (Avignon, for example) so I skipped the planned tours in favor of some simple wandering. Others I'd visited, but rarely or not for a while, and in these cases I very much enjoyed the more formal narrative on the town's history and culture. Arles was one of these. The remarkable Roman amphitheater is one of the best preserved anywhere in the world, and was actually hosting a bull race -- the Camargue version of the "running of the bulls" famous from the Spanish city of Pamplona -- that day.
The small town of Tarascon, just south of Avignon, has one of the best-preserved medieval castles in the south of France.
The castle had been converted to a prison during the French Revolution, which saved it from destruction. It also meant that the rooms had graffiti (largely from 18th & 19th century English prisoners) carved into their walls, which I found fascinating:
It's particularly nice, I found, approaching these towns from the river. Unlike the typical entry points of railway station, airport, or even outside-of-town road sprawl, the river typically shows a historic face, and the docks were all in the middle of town rather than the outskirts. And it seemed like our schedule meant that we often arrived at dusk, which is hard to beat:
The Onboard Program
As our group represented more than two-thirds of the passengers, whether we were mingling at breakfast, taking in the views of the river topside, or exploring the differences between pastis and pernod in the lounge, the ship's activities became group activities. And the length of the stay meant that after the first day or two everyone felt like family. But we did add a few enhancements to the ship's program. We sent over (or procured in France) special wines for each night's meal, doing our best to mirror what we were drinking to what we had seen that day or the parts of the Rhone we were passing. That meant wines like Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape and Miraval rosé in the south (and the Tablas Creek equivalents), Famille Perrin Gigondas and Vinsobres as we made our way north, and then the wines of Maison Nicolas Perrin in Tain l'Hermitage and Lyon. It was a particular treat to be sipping on the (delicious) Nicolas Perrin Condrieu with dinner as we passed the tiny village of Condrieu on our way north from Tain to Lyon.
Neil and I also hosted a seminar, where we got the whole Tablas Creek group together during a longer sail and deconstructed our flagship Esprit de Tablas and Esprit de Tablas Blanc blends, tasting these wines and varietal bottlings of each of the grapes that go into them. Coming toward the end of the journey, this also gave Neil and me a chance to put the visit into context:
But the star of the show was ultimately the Rhone. The engineering on display as we traversed 13 locks, each bringing us 60 vertical feet higher, was a recurring highlight of the trip. We would slow down and the windows would get dark as we entered the lock, massive yet barely larger than the ship. Then, after a pause, we'd begin to climb out of the manmade canyon, up to a new landscape at a rate of a foot every few seconds:
It was equally impressive watching the technology required to pass under the low bridges, with the ship's awnings, railings, and even the captain's wheelhouse retracting into the deck:
Wherever we were on our journey, we had the Rhone's patchwork of grain fields, vineyards, lavender and orchards on display, with the honey colored building stone of the old towns sprinkled in. That landscape was the constant backdrop of the many visits, and a lovely reminder of what draws millions of visitors to the south of France each year:
If you joined us on this journey, thank you. I'd love you to share your own highlights in the comments. If you weren't able to join us this time, we'll definitely be back. And we look forward to sharing this experience with you then.