A Horizontal Retrospective Tasting of the 2014 Vintage at Age 10

One of the first things we do each year is take a comprehensive look at the wines we made ten years ago. One of the second things we do is share those highlights with our fans at a public tasting (which will this year be February 4th). Why a decade? It's enough time that all the wines have become something that they weren't upon release, without it being such a long horizon that we're worried many will be over the hill. It's also a reasonable enough amount of time that Tablas Creek fans are likely to still have some of this vintage of wines in their cellars. (A fun check on publicly available data is CellarTracker. According to a quick query there, 38% of the 2014 Tablas Creek wines ever entered into the platform are still in people's inventories.) Hopefully, our notes from this tasting will help people decide which wines they want to open, which they want to keep watching, and how they might want to think differently about what they lay down for aging in the first place. It also is an opportunity to revisit our vintage chart

So, it's always exciting for us to do this annual check-in. It was particularly exciting because 2014 was a vintage we all loved when it was young. In my Vintage Doppelgangers blog, here's how I described it:

Our third consecutive drought year plus a warm summer produced wines in the classic, juicy Californian style, with a bit less alcohol than those same wines we were making in the 2000s. We got good concentration with yields similar to 2013, though we needed to drop less fruit to get there. The wines are juicy and luscious, with enough structure to keep them balanced and pretty, high-toned red fruit flavors. Similar vintages: 2003, 2017.

My notes on the wines are below. I've noted their closures (SC=screwcap; C=cork) and, for the blends, their varietal breakdown. Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our website, if you'd like to see winemaking details, professional reviews, or our tasting notes at bottling. Because of its small production we never made a webpage for the Clairette Blanche, so if you have questions about that wine, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, Amanda Weaver, Kaitlyn Glynn, and Austin Collins) as well as by Tasting Room Manager John Morris. The lineup:

2014 Retrospective Wines

  • 2014 Vermentino (SC): We're often surprised with how well Vermentino -- a grape that most people drink young, and is all about freshness and vibrancy -- ages. This vintage was no exception. A nose of oyster shell, lemongrass, flint, and pineapple core. The palate was surprisingly luscious with flavors of lemon curd and key lime pie, a creamy texture playing off bright acids and a long finish with more pineapple and mineral notes.
  • 2014 Clairette Blanche (SC): Our first-ever Clairette Blanche release (we made Clairette in 2013 but decided it wasn't exciting enough to be the grape's first-ever American example) and it was still in a nice place. Aromas of grilled pineapple with a little plasticky note (perhaps from the screwcap?) that blew off with time. The mouth was savory with flavors of melon rind and citrus leaf and a waxy texture. The finish was my favorite part of the wine, with lively acids and lingering orange creamsicle and beeswax notes.
  • 2014 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A classic Picpoul nose of pink peppercorn and juniper over white grapefruit. The mouth was both herby and bright, with flavors of verbena, papaya, and a refreshing note that Amanda described as "fresh mountain air". The finish was richer, with a lingering piña colada character I get from Picpoul in riper vintages. I don't think anyone would intentionally have kept this wine this long, but if you discover one, you're not going to be disappointed.
  • 2014 Grenache Blanc (SC): A classic Grenache Blanc nose showing both richness and brightness: kiwi, brioche, and lemon tart, down to the richness of the crust. The mouth is lovely, like preserved lemon and shortbread, baked golden delicious apple and a lovely little herby rosemary note. A little salty minerality comes out on the finish. Fresh, vibrant, and lovely. A treat.
  • 2014 Marsanne (C): Our first cork-finished wine of the tasting, and it was interesting trying to pull out what difference that made. The nose was explosive and appealing with notes of honey, dried apricot, and caramel apple. The mouth was quieter than the nose, like white tea, vanilla custard, and a little saline mineral note. There was a sweet spice character that combined with the wine's essential creaminess to remind us of eggnog, but dry. The finish showed notes of cinnamon, honey, poached pear, and lemongrass. It's easy to be duped by Marsanne's subtlety into thinking that it doesn't have the stuffing to age, but every time we open one after 10 years we love it, and this was no exception.
  • 2014 Roussanne (C): A dramatic nose of lemongrass, honey, and new lumber that Chelsea described as "honeysuckle on a fresh fence". The mouth showed oak-influenced sweet spice notes of cardamom and crushed vanilla bean with rich texture and Roussanne's classic lanolin note. The finish moves back into the honey realm, kept in check by a sweet green herbal element like fresh-cut grass. 
  • 2014 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (SC; 49% Grenache Blanc, 31% Viognier, 12% Roussanne, 8% Marsanne): Quiet on the nose, perhaps in part because of the screwcap, with subtle notes of lychee, pea shoot, and white flowers. The mouth is similar, with flavors of pineapple core, guava, and orange blossom, plenty of acid, and a peppered citrus peel finish with a little almond-like nuttiness.
  • 2014 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 42% Viognier, 30% Grenache Blanc, 23% Marsanne, 5% Roussanne): A nose with notable plushness and power in its notes of honeydew, sea spray, and creamy minerality. The palate shows peach pit, melon, and sweet straw notes, with rich texture and a briny mineral note keeping order on the finish. The wine didn't particularly speak of Viognier, having become more textural than fruity, but it made for a fascinating experience.
  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (C; 72% Roussanne, 23% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): A nose of apple pie -- both baked apple and the buttery crust -- and honey. The mouth is lively with flavors of clove, candied orange peel, baked apple, and sweet green herbs. And yet it was dry, with a more open texture and less oak than the varietal Roussanne. John called it "stately" which spoke to its essential elegance. The finish showed notes of walnut and new honey. A very pretty wine in the middle of what seemed to us like likely to be a long peak.
  • 2014 Patelin de Tablas Rosé (SC; 80% Grenache, 17% Mourvedre, 3% Counoise): Our third-ever Patelin Rosé, with the most Grenache we ever used, was still a beautiful fresh color. It was initially quiet on the nose -- that screwcap, again -- then showed notes of watermelon and wild strawberry, complete with the green leafiness of the foliage. The mouth was remarkably good with flavors of pink grapefruit and tarragon, nice richness, and great acids. If you lost one in your cellar, go ahead and open it. We think you'll be pleasantly surprised. 
  • 2014 Dianthus (SC; 46% Mourvedre, 41% Grenache, 13% Counoise): Despite that Mourvedre-based rosés are supposed to have longer lifespans than those based on Grenache, we haven't particularly loved decade-old Dianthus in past tastings. But this year's was outstanding. The nose showed a cherry, slightly medicinal note that we variously described as Campari, spicy pink peppercorn, and red Life Savers candy. The mouth is holding up remarkably well, with flavors of cherry, wild herbs, and lemon zest. The vibrant acids create an appealing tension with the rich texture, and the finish of strawberry coulis was lovely. Unexpected and fun. 
  • 2014 Full Circle (C): Our fifth Full Circle Pinot Noir, from the warmest vintage we'd had to date. That showed in a nose that leaned toward cherry cola, dried fig, and cocoa powder. The mouth showed a little welcome mintiness to the chocolate notes with additional flavors of potpourri and black cherry. The finish was still fairly tannic, with cherry and chocolate notes. It was less evocative of Pinot Noir than we would prefer (perhaps unsurprising from such a warm vintage) but still in a nice place.
  • 2014 Counoise (SC): The first bottle we opened was badly sherried, which is unusual under screwcap, and made us worried for the whole batch. But the second bottle was outstanding, with a nose of crunchy cranberry, raspberry tea, loam, and redwood forest. The mouth showed dusty, brambly raspberry fruit with a refreshing wintergreen note. A salty minerality played with the wild, spicy berry character on the finish. 
  • 2014 Terret Noir (C): Only our second-ever Terret Noir. An interesting nose of strawberry fruit leather, oregano, Maraschino cherry, and rose petals. The palate is vibrant: cherry Jolly Rancher, black tea, leafy herbs, dried flowers, and chaparral. The grape's signature tannins are still very much in evidence, making for a fascinating textural experience. Would be fun to show to someone who likes cocktails with aromatic bitters. 
  • 2014 Mourvedre (C): A nose of black licorice, cocoa powder, black currant, and new leather. The mouth showed black plum and chocolate powder notes and a lovely saline minerality. Gorgeous and still youthful. One of my favorite showings of our varietal Mourvedre, which is one of our most reliable bellwethers of our greatest vintages. 
  • 2014 Syrah (C): A classic savory Syrah nose of iron, blood, and pine forest. When I asked the table if they could pull out any fruit on the nose, Chelsea replied "olives are a fruit". On the palate, more generous, with flavors of black raspberry, chalky mineral, and a lovely mouth-coating texture. The finish was nicely salty, with more black olive and dark fruit. Impressive, still young, and quintessentially Syrah.
  • 2014 Tannat (C): A nose that we spent too much time discussing whether it was more reminiscent of pancetta, guanciale, or pig trotters (so, yes, pork fat) along with dark cherry and mint chocolate. The palate showed Tannat's characteristic lively acids, which turn the fruit tone more to red cherry, with plenty of tannin and a spicy finish of brown butter, Mexican hot chocolate, and more of that meaty richness.
  • 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon (C): From the two rows of Cabernet vines we have in our nursery, which most years gets tossed into our Tannat. An immediately recognizable Cabernet nose of graphite, juniper, and a sweet earthy note. The mouth showed blackcurrant and sweet tobacco flavors along with suede leather and a little kiss of sweet oak like toasted coconut. Unlike most California Cabernet, the limestone soils here give a translucency to the texture with nice acids that I really love, though it's a bit out of the mainstream. That said, if more California Cabernet had this approach, I'd probably drink it a lot more often.
  • 2014 Patelin de Tablas (SC; 55% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, 6% Counoise): A nose of pork fat and blackberrry, with a little minty lift. The mouth was much juicier, with plum and dusty bramble notes. The finish was a little short, and this was likely at its peak a few years ago. Still, what a value for anyone who bought some of this at the $20/bottle this was on release. 
  • 2014 Cotes de Tablas (C; 44% Grenache, 36% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 8%Mourvedre): A nose of Worcerstershire sauce, plum compote, and spun sugar. In the mouth, like chocolate-dipped strawberries with nice chalky tannins and back to that Grenache-driven powdered sugar note on the finish. Seemingly right at its peak. 
  • 2014 En Gobelet (C; 34% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 15% Counoise, 5% Tannat): The nose is pretty, with dried cranberry and hibiscus notes over undertones of meaty richness and a clean earthiness Austin compared to walking through the forest when you're mushroom hunting. The mouth showed flavors of açai, chocolate truffle, and fresh coffee bean, with vibrant acids and a little appealing tannic grip. My favorite showing of En Gobelet at this stage that I can remember.
  • 2014 Esprit de Tablas (C; 40% Mourvedre, 35% Grenache, 20% Syrah, 5% Counoise): An absolutely classic Esprit nose of redcurrant and blueberry, new leather, meat drippings, and forest floor. Neil said "this smells like home". The mouth showed chocolate-covered cherry, more of that roasted meat drippings we found on the nose, sweet nutmeg spice, and a licorice note that seemed to bounce back and forth between red and black. Lovely, with a long life seemingly ahead of it.
  • 2014 Panoplie (C; 65% Mourvedre, 28% Grenache, 7% Syrah): A nose that to me evoked a plate set out with prosciutto, fresh figs, and a little drizzle of balsamic glaze, with a little sweet sarsaparilla note over the top. The mouth shows red currant and brown butter shortbread, chocolate-covered açai berry and a meaty appeal like herb-rubbed prime rib fresh out of the oven. Lovely.
  • 2014 Petit Manseng (C): A little nostalgic to taste as we've made the decision to discontinue our bottling of this classic southwest French grape known for maintaining great acids as it reaches high sugar levels. It showed a classic nose of pineapple, membrillo, graham cracker and lemongrass, along with something a little yeasty like buttermilk. The mouth showed flavors of sweet apricot and lychee, with great acids and a lovely crushed rock minerality. A nutty sunflower seed note played with the tropical fruit and mineral on the finish. Fun. 

A few concluding thoughts

In terms of vintage character, Chelsea's description of "plush but pure" seemed to sum it up pretty well. After a stretch between 2010 and 2013 where a combination of cool weather and our desire to move away from a style that we felt in the late 2000's had become too ripe and weighty had led to wines that leaned into a more open-knit, savory approach, 2014 was a bit of a course correction looking for both those savory elements and more fruit intensity. Looking at the progression from 2012 to 2013 to 2014, I can feel us coming to the approach we use today. That's exciting. 

At the time, we thought it was an outstanding red vintage and a good (maybe not great) white vintage. But I thought the whites really shined in the tasting, and the combination of increased intensity and vibrant acids made for a great balance. On the red side, both the fresher, generally early-drinking varieties (think Counoise, or Terret Noir) and the more traditionally ageworthy grapes (think Mourvedre or Syrah) were in appealing stages at age ten. That's a sign of an outstanding vintage overall.

It's worth noting that nearly all of the screwcapped wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and for any wine that has been under screwcap for more than a few years. There's a clipped character that most older screwcapped wines have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant speeds the process.

When I asked everyone around the table to pick five favorites, 14 different wines received at least one vote, with the Counoise and the Mourvedre leading the way with six votes each. We ended up picking nine wines to share at our public retrospective tasting on February 4th. If you'd like to join us, we'll be tasting Grenache Blanc, Esprit de Tablas Blanc, Dianthus, Counoise, Mourvedre, Syrah, En Gobelet, Esprit de Tablas, and Panoplie. There are still a few spots left at the tasting, and we'd love you to join us.


If you liked 2007, try 2021: a quarter-century of vintage doppelgangers at Tablas Creek

It's hard to believe, but 2021 was our 25th harvest here at Tablas Creek. What began as a simple model to make two wines, one red and one white, in the style of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, has blossomed into nearly thirty wines each year, across three colors, nineteen grapes, and a range of inspirations. We've had hot years (like 1997, 2009, 2016, and this year). We've had cold years (like 1998, 2010, and 2011). We've had "goldilocks" vintages where we hit the sweet middle ground. And yes, every vintage is different. But with a quarter century under our belt, and in response to the questions I get regularly trying to put our recent vintages in context, I thought it would be fun to dive in and talk a little about the vintage character of each of our 25 vintages, and try to give some comps for people who might have worked through their favorite and be looking to restock.

Flagship red vertical

So, from the top. Note that I didn't put anything in for 2022, since we don't know what the wines' characters are like yet from this vintage, though as you'll see there is a year that has some eye-opening echoes to how this vintage is shaping up:

  • 1997: A juicy, appealing vintage that showed surprising depth given that it came from vines at most five years old. Also the warmest year of the 1990s, with weather that is more common now, which led to a mid-August start to harvest. These wines are at the end of their lives at this point, but the red is still sound if well stored. Similar vintages: 2003, 2013.
  • 1998: Pretty much the polar opposite to 1997, with persistent on-shore flow, regular cloud cover all summer, and an October start to harvest. A relatively austere vintage in its youth, it has aged surprisingly well, and both red and white have shown well in recent tastings. Similar vintages: 2010, 2011.
  • 1999: Powerful, rambunctious wines that were the product of a warm, dry year. Whites were good from the get-go, while reds were notably tannic in their youth, though with the fruit to carry it. These wines aged well, and the red was still excellent in a recent tasting. Similar vintages: 2005, 2009.
  • 2000: The first vintage that I think we started to approach the model that we use now, including the debut of the Esprit de Beaucastel. The white showed what a lovely year it was for Roussanne, soft and appealing. The reds were earthy and meaty. Both red and white were ringers for Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Similar vintages: 2005, 2013, 2018.
  • 2001: A year with great promise and ample winter rainfall was derailed by April frosts that cost us nearly half our production and led to us declassifying most of our red production into Cotes de Tablas. An outstanding year for whites, though. The low yields and warm summer led to a relatively short hang-time, producing reds with modest concentration and a bit of a tannic edge. Similar vintages: no true comps (thankfully!) though 2009 is probably the closest overall.
  • 2002: A collector's vintage, with dense, ageworthy red wines and powerfully textured whites. The product of the first year in a drought cycle, which typically makes outstanding wines with a balance of concentration and freshness thanks to the vines' stored vigor and the intensifying effect of low rainfall. Similar vintages: 2006, 2016, 2019.
  • 2003: A joyous vintage that we underestimated at the time because it was so appealing and friendly that we thought it wouldn't have the stuffing to age. Then for 15 years we kept picking 2003 out as among our very favorites in vertical tastings. The wines are maybe not among our longest-lived, and are starting to tire a bit, but what a ride they've had. Similar vintages: 2008, 2014, 2020.
  • 2004: A vintage that I remember Francois Perrin calling "square": precise, tidy, well-structured, and classic. Very long ripening cycle, with some rain in October that delayed the picking of our latest-ripening grapes. The wines have generally aged well, and I think of them as being precisely on point for what we were going for at the time. Similar vintages: 2013, 2019.
  • 2005: A juicy, luscious, exuberant vintage in which I feel like you could taste the health of the vineyard, which got 40+ inches of rain after three years of drought. We dodged frosts, had a moderate summer and a long, beautiful fall. The grapes spent an extra month on the vines, and the vineyard was healthy throughout. We saw high yields but excellent concentration and quality. These wines have aged in outstanding fashion, gaining meatiness to balance their fruit, spice, and tannin, and the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel is the wine I pick right now when I'm trying to show off. Similar vintages: 2007, 2017.
  • 2006: Similar overall conditions (ample rainfall, no frost) to 2005, but a later spring and a hotter summer led to wines with a bit more structure and a little less vibrancy. That seriousness meant it was a little overshadowed by the blockbuster vintages around it, and so it was a little bit of a surprise when it produced our first wine (the 2006 Esprit de Beaucastel) to be honored in the Wine Spectator's "Top 100". The low acids meant that while it has turned out to be an outstanding red vintage, it was a less strong white vintage. Similar vintages: 2002, 2016.  
  • 2007: A blockbuster year, with ample fruit, structure, spice, and meaty/earthy richness. This was a product of the previous winter, which was the coldest and driest in our history. The resulting small berries and small clusters gave outstanding concentration to everything, and the moderate summer meant that the grapes retained freshness. The reds from this year got some of our highest-ever scores, and many of these are still youthful. The whites were good but at the time we were picking riper than we do now, and I find their elevated alcohols have meant that they aged less well than the reds. Similar vintages: 2005, 2021. 
  • 2008: A challenging growing season, bookended by frosts in both April and October, led to wines that didn't have the obvious early juicy appeal of 2007. But they've turned out to be beautiful over time, with whites showing both texture and lift and reds a lovely chocolate note. This is consistently one of Winemaker Neil Collins' favorite vintages in our vertical look-backs. Similar vintages: 2015 and especially 2018.
  • 2009: The apex of the concentrated power we saw in the 2000s, with low yields a product of our third straight drought year and a damaging frost in April. Then the growing season alternated between warm and cold months until a severe heat spike in September brought many of our grapes tumbling in. We were mostly harvested when an early atmospheric river storm dumped 10 inches of rain here on October 13th, though the three weeks of warm, dry weather that followed allowed us to bring even those grapes in. The wines were so dense that it took me most of a decade for them to feel approachable, but they're shining now. Similar vintages: none, though these conditions sound a lot like what's happening in 2022.
  • 2010: An outlier vintage for us in many ways, unlike anything we'd seen in the previous decade. Ample winter rainfall and no spring frosts combined to produce a very healthy vineyard and good yields. A very cool summer followed, with harvest less than half complete on October 15th. Warm, sunny weather in late October and early November saved the vintage, and our November 13th last-pick was exceptionally late. The wines showed that coolness in their youth in minty, high-toned flavors, though we were still able to get good ripeness thanks to the friendly late-fall weather. An exceptionally good white vintage. Reds I'm less enchanted by, as they're tasting a little tired right now. I'm hopeful that this is just a stage. Similar vintages: 1998. 
  • 2011: Another outlier, just as cool as 2010 (and much chillier than any vintage since) but with low yields thanks to hard frosts April 8th and 9th. That combination of low yields and cool-vintage character made intensely savory wines, much more reminiscent of the northern Rhone than the south. The wines have aged well, too, while preserving the savory character they had when they were young. Similar vintages: none, though choose 1998, 2010, or 2015 if you want the cool-vintage character, or 2001 or 2009 if you want the concentrated structure.
  • 2012: A friendly, juicy vintage with big yields and modest concentration and structure, as one block after the next came in heavier than we'd estimated, even though rainfall was only about 70% of normal. The accumulated vigor from two previous wet winters and the limited demands on the vines' resources in the frost-reduced 2011 crop meant that it didn't act like a drought year. The wines were friendly and open from day one, and while the ageworthy reds have deepened in tone a bit, they're still medium-bodied and a touch on the simple side, and seem to be on a faster aging curve. Whites are lovely. Similar vintages: 2013 for reds, 2010 and 2014 for whites.
  • 2013: Similar growing season and similar wines as 2012, but we learned from our experience the previous year and proactively reduced our crop levels both to increase concentration and to reduce the stress on our vines in this second year of drought. A moderate summer (very few days over the low 90s) maintained lift and translated into a leafy, herby note on top of the fruit. Warm weather during harvest and low yields led to an early start and our earliest-ever finish to harvest, as we made sure that we picked early enough to maintain freshness. Similar vintages: 2012 (but with a bit more concentration), 2018. 
  • 2014: Our third consecutive drought year plus a warm summer produced wines in the classic, juicy Californian style, with a bit less alcohol than those same wines we were making in the 2000s. We got good concentration with yields similar to 2013, though we needed to drop less fruit to get there. The wines are juicy and luscious, with enough structure to keep them balanced and pretty, high-toned red fruit flavors. Similar vintages: 2003, 2017.
  • 2015: A lovely, ethereal vintage that produced wines with intense flavors but no sense of weight. With the drought at its most severe, yields were already low and further reduced by a cold, windy May that particularly impacted our early grapes. The summer alternated between warmer than normal (June, August, October) and cooler-than-normal (May, July, September) months, and resulted in a slow, extended harvest, with many of our late grapes coming in with tremendous expressiveness at low sugar levels. My dad called the vintage "athletic", which I thought was a nice way of getting at its weightless power. Similar vintages: none, really, though 2008 and 2013 have some traits they share.
  • 2016: Even though we were still in the drought, rainfall was a bit better than the previous years, and the vineyard healthier under our new Biodynamic protocols. Yields recovered a bit from 2015 levels. A warm summer produced intense wines, both reds and whites, with dark colors and the structure to age. Similar vintages: 2002, 2006, 2019. 
  • 2017: We felt like we saw a replay of 2005, where 40+ inches of rainfall broke the drought with a bang and the vineyard tried to do three years of growing in one. We dodged frosts, had a moderate summer before a dramatic heat spike in late August, but just as things got critical it cooled in September and finished under perfect conditions in October. Good yields but outstanding concentration and colors, juicy early appeal but the structure to age. Similar vintages: 2003, 2005, 2021.
  • 2018: As played out a decade earlier, a strong vintage that was overshadowed by blockbuster years on either side, producing elegant wines that were easy to underestimate. The growing season was slightly cooler than average except for a scorching midsummer (July through mid-August). Things cooled back down for harvest, and we picked with outstanding acids and solid concentration. This appears to be one of our greatest white vintages, and a strong red vintage though maybe not with the long aging of our best years. Similar vintages: 2008, 2013.
  • 2019: A classic vintage for us, strong for both reds and whites, a product of good rain the previous winter, a cool first two-thirds of the ripening cycle, then consistently warm last third that accelerated the late grapes. The resulting compressed harvest had slightly above average yields, high quality across the board, pronounced varietal character, and good structure on the reds. A classic vintage for cellaring. Similar vintages: 2004, 2016, 2017. 
  • 2020: A year that many of us would like to forget, but which looks like it produced wines we’ll want to remember. The growing season was challenging, with below-average rain, a cool early summer followed by record-breaking heat in early August and mid-September, wildfires to our north and south, and, oh, a pandemic. The heat produced an early, compressed harvest. Whites turned out to be outstanding, with a lusciousness bolstered by good acids. We're still getting to know our reds, but they appear strong as well, with intense fruitiness and good tannic bite. Similar vintages: 2003 and 2014.
  • 2021: It's our most recent vintage, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think 2021 has produced wines that rival the best we've seen in our history. Yields were reduced by a dry, chilly winter, with 13 of the 16 inches of rain coming in one January storm. The summer was lovely except for a July heat spike, and harvest unfolded in ideal conditions, with each warm stretch followed by a cool-down to give the vines (and us) some time to recover. The resulting wines have concentration and freshness, juicy appeal but structure, and (as we often see in our best years) well defined varietal character. Seemingly equally strong for both whites and reds. Similar vintages: 2017, 2019, and especially 2007. 

One of the most fun things about what I get to do is to come to know wines (and years) almost as people, with personalities and life journeys that add depth to the things we perceive on first impression. Opening an older vintage can be like revisiting an old friend, and sometimes it makes me realize that years have what are in essence sibling relationships with other years. Of course, not every year has a comp. There are some years like 2001, 2009, and 2015 whose unusual combination of factors leads to vintages we just haven't seen before or since. Perhaps that will change when we have a half-century of  years under our belt. I'll report back. Meanwhile, I hope that some of you found this helpful, or at least interesting. If this just raises new questions, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer. 


Weekly Roundup for November 23rd, 2014: Natural Wine, Ancient Rocks, Knobbly Fruit & Thanksgiving

This week's Weekly Roundup is highlighted by a great thought piece on what makes wine "modern" or "traditional", and whether either of these have a relationship with the idea of "natural wine".  We've included a couple of our favorites of the many Thanksgiving wine recommendations omnipresent at this time of year.  And, of course, we check in with some members of our community who are doing cool stuff.  As always, please share in the comments what you like, and what you'd like to see different.

The bounty of (our) harvest

Artisan photo of quinces

  • We kick off this week's column with a gorgeous photo from Artisan Restaurant.  We've partnered with them on several dinners over the years, including one early this year which featured lamb from our property.  Their photo on Instagram (above) of some knobbly bright yellow quinces from one of our trees caught our eye.  We dropped some off there because we had many more than we had any idea how to use, and wanted to get them into capable hands.  This photo isn't an isolated event; there's beautiful stuff worth following on all of Artisan's social media feeds.  If you're wondering why we grow quinces (along with apples, pears, cherries, plums, peaches and apricots) they're a part of the increased biodiversity we've been working to integrate over recent years.

Something in the (ancient) water

  • Halter fossilOur neighbor Halter Ranch posted a great photo (right, or on the Halter Ranch Facebook page for a high-resolution version) of one of the fish fossils that they found in their rocks and integrated into their winery building.  It's a great reminder that the soils that sit under our vineyards (and much of west Paso Robles) were deposited as seabed in the Miocene period (10-20 million years ago). These were lifted above the surface in the creation of the Santa Lucia Mountains quite recently, by geologic standards.  My dad wrote a great blog piece about our soils' history in 2011, if you're interested in learning more.

The 2014 Harvest

Is there a holiday coming up?

  • Thanksgiving is the American holiday most dedicated to eating and drinking.  Yet, many traditional Thanksgiving foods aren't naturally friendly to many of the most popular American wines, given their questionable affinity to oak and high alcohol.  Happily, Rhones, both red and white, make classic pairings, and it's always a pleasure waiting for the pre-Thanksgiving wine columns suggesting Rhones as an accompaniment.  I thought Laurie Daniel's Rhones for Thanksgiving column for the San Jose Mercury News was particularly good this year, and was pleased to see that our 2012 Cotes de Tablas ("bright fruit with savory notes of wild herbs") was one of her suggestions.
  • We weren't mentioned, but I still really liked Eric Asimov's Thanksgiving recommendation that the wine you choose should "Refresh the Palate". He highlights versatility and energy as two characteristics to look for in your Thanksgiving wine, and recommends an eclectic mix. I'm not sure I could find many of the wines he and his panel recommend (there are rewards for living in New York City, after all) but I do know that I agree completely with his basic advice. Read more »

An event to look forward to

  • This week, the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers announced the details of their 2015 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience. In the last seven years, this event has become a showpiece for the Rhone movement here, and it's a remarkable value: just $85 for the full slate of events, including a nine-wine seminar (this year led by the Wine Enthusiast's Matt Kettmann), a vintners lunch catered by Chef Maegen Loring, a grand tasting featuring some 50 Paso Robles Rhone wineries, and a silent auction that benefits the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund.  There's a $35 ticket for just the Grand Tasting, too. Details & tickets »

Food for Thought (Beverage for Thought?)

  • Finally for this week I wanted to point you to a blog that is writing some of the most consistently interesting and erudite pieces in the world of wine today.  Elaine Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews this week tackles the questions raised by the ambiguity inherent in the definition of "natural wine".  We fall in her category 3 ("Wine growers and/or makers that use organic and/or biodynamic viticultural practices and/or less interventionist cellar techniques with few additives but do not define themselves with the movement of Natural wine") and are often dismayed by the reductive arguments on either extreme of the debate. Her conclusion -- that what matters is "if we’re trying to listen, and have a conversation" seems right on to me. Read more »

Harvest 2014 Recap: Yields up 5.2% (though still below average); Quality excellent

On Wednesday, October 15th we picked the last batch of Roussanne off of our estate.  And just like that, we're done picking for the year.  It doesn't feel like we're finished, as we're still pressing off bins of reds, the cellar still smells like crush, and the vineyard's colors are still more green than gold -- it is only mid-October, after all -- but there's no more fruit to pick.  From Wednesday:

Last Day of Harvest

As we've progressed through this harvest, we have been comparing it to similar vintages with relatively low yields and high quality, like 2003, 2007 and 2013.  Now that everything is in, we have a chance to look quantitatively and see whether these comparisons have merit.  Of course, there are things that can't be easily measured (think color, or thickness of skins) but knowing how much fruit you have and how ripe it is, overall, gives us a good tool for knowing what the vintage will be like.  And it's not surprising; yields per acre and ripeness at harvest tell you critical things like skin-to-juice and sugar-to-acid ratios.

Somewhat to our surprise, given that we're in our third year of drought, yields were on average actually up a little from 2013. For our principal grapes:

Grape2013 Yields (tons)2014 Yields (tons)% Change
Viognier 16.7 11.4 -31.7%
Marsanne 8.2 9.9 +20.7%
Grenache Blanc 25.4 31.9 +25.6%
Picpoul Blanc 5.2 7.5 +44.2%
Vermentino 15.1 17.3 +14.6%
Roussanne 44.5 42.8 -3.8%
Total Whites 115.1 120.8
+5.0%
Grenache 48.7 50.7 +4.1%
Syrah 32.5 38.1 +17.2%
Mourvedre 57.3 52.3 -8.7%
Tannat 12.3 15.4 +25.2%
Counoise 13.9 17.0 +22.3%
Total Reds 164.7 173.5
5.4%
Total 279.8 294.3 +5.2%

Most varieties are up a bit, with the exceptions of Mourvedre and Roussanne, our two latest-ripening varieties, and the two grapes most susceptible to late-season stress-related devigoration.  So, it's perhaps unsurprising that both showed declines in this dry year.  The third grape to see a decline (Viognier) came from a much more discrete cause: we had several nights of break-ins by wild pigs toward the beginning of harvest, and they of course went straight for Viognier, the ripest (read: earliest-ripening) grape.

Overall yields ended up at 2.78 tons per acre, which is still just below our ten-year average of 2.9 tons per acre.  Other years in which we've seen yields between 2.5 and 3 tons per acre have included 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2013, all of which have been excellent and have been aging very well.

Looking at average sugars and pH at harvest gives a quick way of measuring a year's ripeness.  Since 2007:

YearAvg. SugarsAvg. pH
2007 24.42 3.67
2008 23.87 3.64
2009 23.42 3.69
2010 22.68 3.51
2011 22.39 3.50
2012 22.83 3.65
2013 22.90 3.63
2014 23.18 3.59

Both of these measures show the subtle differences between 2014 and a year like 2013, corroborating what we noticed: that the level of lushness this year (our highest average sugars since 2009) was counterbalanced by good acids (better than all our recent vintages except the historically cool 2010 and 2011 vintages).  It also suggests that the narrative we're hearing from many California appellations -- that acids were extremely low this year, requiring significant intervention in the cellar -- didn't hold true for us.  Finally, it's a good indication that we were able to keep up with the pressure in mid-September, when so much of the vineyard seemed like it was ready, and that we got fruit off the vine while it still maintained natural freshness.

In character, we see many similarities to 2013, with the characteristic dark color and intense flavors of a low-yielding vintage, but with a little more overt fruit than the more savory 2013s.  Fans of the lusher style our wines featured in the 2007-2009 period will likely find many similarities.  Clusters and berries were very small, which means that skin-to-juice ratios were high on our red grapes.  My dad holds up a cluster each of (from left) Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre from late-September, when all three were arriving in the cellar simultaneously:

004

Of course, it's early to make predictions on flavors, so stay tuned in the spring, when we'll dive into the vintage's character in preparation for our blending trials.

At 53 days between its August 23rd beginning and its October 15th conclusion, this harvest clocks as a bit shorter than average (our 10-year average is 56 days) and our finish was one of our earliest on record, preceded this century only by last year's October 7th end.  It joins 2013 as our only vintages where we finished harvesting before the Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend.

Our main challenge, as things finished up, was Roussanne, and it's with this notoriously finicky grape that I think the meticulous work of our vineyard team will show the most.  Roussanne, even in the best of conditions, tends to ripen unevenly, requiring that we go through each block multiple times to pick what's ripe and give the other clusters some more time to mature.  Roussanne is also the variety most prone to stress-related devigoration, where the leaves lose chlorophyll and ripening slows toward the end of harvest.  Not every vine is affected to the same degree, so you can have mostly-green vines next to those that are largely yellow, with predictably faster ripening on the greener vines.  In this exceptionally stressful year, we knew we would have to be willing to go back repeatedly through our Roussanne blocks if we hoped to get most of the fruit harvested in good condition.  But even by Roussanne's normal standards, this year was a slog.  As an example, we made a first pass through the Roussanne block we still call our "New Hill" (since it was planted in 2000 rather than 1995-1997) on September 4th.  We made our next passes on September 18th and October 2nd.  Still, nearly half the fruit remained.  We went through again on October 7th, and a final pick -- our last pick of the harvest -- on October 16th. It's a good thing Roussanne is so rewarding in the cellar.  If it weren't, no one would deal with its quirks. The culprit, looking deceptively placid in early October:

Roussanne mid-September 2

 

And while we're early to be done with harvest, the cooler nights and the shorter days are beginning to bring out the fall colors in the vineyard.  I take a photo from this vantage point nearly every year because it shows two grapes that both color up in the fall: Tannat, in the foreground, and Syrah, on the hillside behind.

Fall foliage 2

Now that we're done with picking, we're able to get our animal herd back into the vineyard.  They can clean up any second crop clusters we left behind, as well as start getting some natural fertilizer into the soil in advance of what we're hoping will be a wet winter.  Dottie, one of our guard donkeys, is enjoying a snack of Marsanne before it goes dormant: 

Dottie back in the vineyard

And as for that rain, we're feeling hopeful that the series of Pacific fronts that have blown through Paso Robles over the last two weeks -- dry though they were, this early in the season -- bode well for winter. In many years, it's still hot and summer-like in mid-October.  These last two weeks have felt like fall.  If that promise carries through to real rain, we'll all have reason to celebrate.


Near-End-of-Harvest Assessment: A Furious September, Moderate Yields, Quality High

In the vineyard, things are starting to look genuinely fall-like:

Fall foliage 2

And in keeping with the visuals of the season, we're on the tail end of our harvest craziness, something like 85% done.  As of the beginning of this week, we'd harvested 386 tons: 237 from our estate and another 149 for the Patelin.  What was left was one good block of Mourvedre (picked today), scraps of the other reds (all of which should be cleaned up by the end of this week), our three small blocks of Tannat (likely to be harvested this and next week), and a good chunk of Roussanne (which will likely be picked in waves into the middle of October; more on that later). 

The pace at which we harvested fruit off our estate in September was remarkable.  After a relatively slow beginning to harvest (which I discussed on the blog) things picked up serious steam the first week of September, and are only now starting to slow down. It's perhaps easiest to look at it graphically, showing tons of fruit, estate and Patelin, per week:

Harvest 2014 by week

In many ways, this vintage is shaping up like 2013: it's been a warm year without many heat spikes, we've picked 10 days or 2 weeks early on average, it's a slightly below-average vintage for yields, and looks very high for quality.  But unlike 2013, our shortest harvest in a decade, we're likely going to see a more normal full two months between the first and last fruit off our estate.  Still, August's slow beginning and October's gradual taper will together account for less than 20% of the harvest, meaning our September peak was one of our busiest periods ever. How busy? The busiest week of 2013 saw us bring in 58 tons off of our estate.  Even in 2012, our largest crush ever, no week ever reached the 79 tons we harvested the week of September 15th.  And the week of September 8th had already filled the cellar with 70 new tons of fruit.

So, it's not surprising that we felt buried by grapes.  We've managed to fit everything into the cellar (more of a challenge than you'd think, given that we typically use a fermentation tank for 5 or 6 sequential lots at harvest -- leaving each lot in the fermenter for some 10 days -- and having nearly all our fruit come in during a 30-day sprint effectively halves our fermentation space).  Between the couple of new upright wooden tanks we added last year and a few open-top stainless steel fermenters we hadn't used in a few harvests, we've made it work.  The cellar, though, is as full of different fermentation tanks as I've ever seen it:

Full cellar

Yields look very similar to last year.  Of the non-Roussanne whites, we've harvested 68.7 tons.  Last year saw us bring in 65.4 tons.  Of the Rhone reds, at week's beginning we'd brought in 134.5 tons.  Last year we finished up with 151.5, but we estimate we've got another dozen tons or so that will trickle in, meaning we'll end up very close to last year's totals.  Maybe up a touch in Syrah and Counoise, and down slightly in Mourvedre and Grenache. 

The real question for us is Roussanne.  This always-challenging grape is being difficult even by its standards this year.  We've gone through our principal Roussanne blocks twice already, picking just the ripe clusters, netting a little over 10 tons.  We have another selective pick scheduled for tomorrow, and are expecting another 4 tons or so.  Still, we're a long way from done.  Last year, we harvested 44 tons of Roussanne, accounting for about 40% of our white production.  This year, there are a higher than normal number of Roussanne vines that are starting to shut down due to stress, which means that the clusters they carry are ripening more and more slowly.  We think that we'll still be able to harvest much (most?) of what's out there, but assuming that all of it will come in seems unreasonably optimistic.  We're hoping for 30 tons, total.  It seems unfair that the Roussanne looks as nice as it does on the vines, taunting us with its amber beauty despite not being ripe: 

Roussanne mid-September

So, we wait on Roussanne, and on Tannat, which is looking good but still mostly not quite there.  The colors of its foliage, though, suggest that the time is near: 

Tannat on the vine

In terms of quality, we continue to be excited by what we're seeing.  The berries seem unusually small, the flavors and colors correspondingly intense.  The grapes are a bit riper than they've been the last few years, but in good balance.  It's looking (dare I say it) a lot like 2007.

And that has to be a good thing.


Drying Mourvedre Grapes for Vin de Paille "Sacrérouge"

We don't make our vin de paille dessert wines every year.  First, the grapes need to be in great shape before they're put on the straw, or they rot rather than drying, making some vintages unsuitable for the technique.  Second, Americans don't buy large quantities of sweet wines, so we don't need to make that much.  (Perhaps I should more accurately say that while many Americans like their dry wines with some sweetness they don't buy large quantities of truly sweet wines.)  And third, given that the setup and winemaking are pretty labor-intensive and that the wines age effortlessly, more wine less-often gives us efficiency.

So, it's exciting that today we're beginning the process of making our first Vin de Paille  "Sacrérouge" since 2010. The process is interesting, I think.  The grapes (in this case, Mourvedre) are harvested into picking baskets, but not then dumped into half-ton bins for transport, because the weight of the grapes on top is enough to bruise the grapes on the bottom and encourage rot.  Instead, the baskets are carried by hand -- or loaded onto the back of a flatbed and driven -- down to our greenhouse:

Sacrerouge bins

Then, they're laid out on the straw, as demonstrated by Juan Gomez below:

Sacrerouge

The grapes will spend two or three weeks on the straw, dehydrating gradually in the greenhouse heat, until they're semi-raisined, at which point we'll pick them back up and transport them to the winery for foot-crushing (they're too dense at this point to run through a de-stemmer or to get a punch-down tool through) and eventual fermentation.  If you're wondering why these wines are usually expensive, this makes three times that they have to be handled plus some pretty labor-intensive daily cellar work.  But the reward is worth it: a sweet wine that has freshness, isn't overly alcoholic (reds typically in the 13% range, whites in the 9%-10% range), and has concentrated minerality and varietal character, not just sweetness.  But that's still several weeks away.  For now, we'll be watching the drying grapes as we finish the rest of harvest.  One more photo, for those of you interested.  One of our greenhouse benches is nearly full, with another to go:

Sacrerouge on benches

If you're interested in more technical explanation of how the vin de paille process works compared to other common techniques for making sweet wines, or photos of the grapes further along in their drying, check out my blog post from 2010: Vin de Paille: A Dessert Wine Making Technique for the Obsessed.


Photo of the Day: Bounty of Harvest

Today we were given a glorious reprieve: a cool, overcast morning with even a little drizzle, courtesy of a cut-off low pressure system currently meandering down the California coast.  Given how much fruit is ripe on the vines or nearly so, this cool day (and the similarly cool day forecast for tomorrow) give us a great chance to get caught up on our harvesting without the pressure of knowing that each hour of warmth and sunlight means that yet another block is ready to come in.

All this doesn't mean that we're pausing; we've harvested several blocks today (Roussanne, Grenache and Mourvedre) and have several more similar pickings on tap for tomorrow.  It just means that we can pick what we know needs to come in and not worry too much that in the time it takes us to pick those blocks, several more are reaching critical ripeness.

All this is pretty standard for the peak of harvest, which I think, looking back, we'll say happened this week.  We're done with all our whites except Roussanne, nearly done with Syrah, and have made a good start on Roussanne, Grenache and Mourvedre.  Counoise is still mostly hanging, but we have to be around 50% done with our estate.  And walking around the vineyard supports this: there are nearly as many vines picked clean as there are still heavy with fruit.  And we've made at least one pass through many of the blocks that do still have fruit, taking what's ready and leaving the slower-ripening clusters to hang longer.

One grape that is nearly finished is Syrah.  We have some left only in two places, both down near Tablas Creek and because of the tendency of cold air to sink among the coldest spots in our property.  Walking past one of them, I saw a shot I loved, which just calls out about the bounty of the season.  I was happy the photo came out as well as it did.  Click on it for a larger version; it's worth it.

Bounty of Harvest - Syrah

May your harvest seasons be going as well as ours.


Harvest 2014 at the Midway Point: Very Like 2013, which is a Good Thing

We finally feel like we're in the middle of harvest.  Every day brings a mix of new fruit coming in, sample teams going out, both presses running as we press off fermented red lots and newly-harvested whites, winemakers on the sorting table and de-stemmer processing newly-harvested reds, and even the first outline of our rosés taking shape.  The harvest chalkboard is filling up!

Chalkboard 9.11

Happily, for our sequencing at least, the arrival of Patelin lots via truck have slowed to a trickle.  You can see in the chalkboard: the top of the board has mostly blue lots, indicating fruit from Patelin vineyards, while the bottom is mostly white, which denotes estate fruit.  It has been great not to have to worry about too much of our Patelin harvest once our estate fruit started coming in in earnest.  Here's some of what we know, so far:

The Patelin is mostly done.
We've received 126 tons of fruit for Patelin: 53 tons of white (mostly Grenache Blanc and Viognier), 45 tons of red (mostly Syrah, with a little Grenache), and 28 tons of Grenache that we've direct-pressed to make the base of the Patelin Rosé.  We're expecting another 25 or so tons of red, mostly Grenache and Mourvedre, and a few more tons of Mourvedre for the Patelin Rosé.

Harvest off our estate vineyard is heating up.
So far, four grapes are done.  The Haas Vineyard Pinot -- often an outlier -- was the first, on 9/3.  We completed our harvest of Viognier on 9/9 and Vermentino on 9/11, and picked our last Grenache Blanc this morning.  We're probably 80% of the way through Syrah, 40% through Grenache Noir, 25% through Counoise, 15% through Roussanne and Mourvedre, and are yet to start Marsanne (coming in tomorrow), Tannat, or Picpoul.  Still, we expect the year to end with Roussanne and Mourvedre, as usual.  Overall, we figure we're maybe 40% done with our estate, and expect to hit the halfway mark around the end of the week. This week has been the beginning of a Grenache onslaught.  It looks super: intensely colored, with beautiful flavors.

Grenache

The fruit that's still out looks great, too. 
A few photos.  First, Roussanne, starting to show the classic russet tint that gives the grape its name:

Roussanne on Vine 9-12

Next, Mourvedre, still fully inflated, sheltering under its canopy, and likely a couple of weeks away from coming in:

Mourvedre on Vine 9-12

Overall, the vineyard doesn't appear to be struggling as much as we thought it would given how dry it's been.  Sure, Roussanne is looking ragged, but it always does this time of year.  The Viognier made it, barely.  Mourvedre, which also often looks pretty haggard by the time it's picked, is holding up pretty well, as are Grenache and Grenache Blanc, and Counoise.

An early harvest? Not so much.
For all our worries that this would be an exceptionally early harvest, it turns out we're not actually ahead of last year's pace. Looking at the grapes that are done, we finished Viognier and Vermentino roughly a week later this year than last, the Haas Pinot at the same time, and Grenache Blanc one day earlier this year.  As of September 13th, 2013, we'd harvested 119 tons off our estate.  This year, it was 110 tons at the same date.

The cellar is a moving three-dimensional puzzle that needs a new solution each day.
The challenges in the cellar are logistical: how do we make enough of the right kind of space for the fruit that's coming in.  This means pressing off lots that have reached the extraction levels we want (typically about 10 days after harvest) and moving those lots into barrels, cleaning those tanks and then getting them ready to refill with new juice.

We've begun the process of assembling the Dianthus Rosé by bleeding off a tank of Counoise 24 hours post-harvest.  A 40-second video takes you through how it's done:

Yields look similar to 2013.
Of the grapes we've finished harvesting, Vermentino's yield is up about 10%, Grenache Blanc nearly identical, and Viognier's down 30% (largely due to wild pig depredation).  It looks like Syrah totals will be very similar to last year.  The grapes we're thinking might be lighter are Roussanne (which seems to be struggling more than most grapes due to the drought) and Grenache (whose berries and clusters seem small this year; check out the photo below). 

Grenache cluster in JCH hand

But overall, we don't expect big yield differences from 2013. Since we consider last year's yields of 2.66 tons/acre to be characteristic of our best vintages, having similar results this year would be just fine with us.  And the weather seems to be continuing to cooperate, with hot-but-not-scorching spells broken by stretches of cool weather that give us a chance to catch back up.  Fitting the pattern, it was hot over the weekend, but is forecast to cool down this week.  Even so, it looks like we've got maybe another month of harvest, at the outside.

So, looking ahead, that el nino they're now not forecasting for this winter?  It can arrive any time after October 15th.  If any of you have any pull with the weather gods, that is.


Harvest 2014 slowed with a cool second half of August, but is picking up speed

It often happens in harvest that you get your first burst of fruit and then enter a lull, where it seems like half your vineyard is sitting there almost-but-not-quite ready.  Because you're into the routine of daily punch-downs, and you've broken out your harvest equipment, it seems like you should be in the full swing of harvest, but when you look back at the totals you realize you were really in a holding pattern.  That was our story for the second half of August.

That story ends today.

First, a quick recap of what we've seen the past two weeks.  Our first few days, where we welcomed 30 tons of Patelin fruit between August 13th and 15th, were busy indeed.  But the next two weeks saw a slower pace, with another 47 tons of Patelin fruit spread over the period.  This included 8 more tons of Grenache Blanc and 12 more tons of Viognier for Patelin Blanc, 12 more tons of Syrah for Patelin, and 15 tons of Grenache Noir for the Patelin Rosé.  We've also been guiding the early red lots through their fermentations, keeping the skins and juice mixed by pumping them over (or in some cases, using compressed air to inundate the cap of skins) twice a day:

PumpOver Syrah

More exciting, we saw our first harvest off our estate, with 2.8 tons of Viognier on August 23rd and another 2.8 tons two days later.  We also made a first pass through the Pinot Noir at the Haas Vineyard, for our Full Circle:

Pinot in bins

And, we've been out in the vineyard every day, taking samples and assessing whether or not blocks are ready:

Sample buckets

The pause during the second half of August was not surprising, in retrospect, because it turned out to be quite cool for us, historically.  Most days topped out in the 70's or low 80's.  Between August 15th and August 31st we accumulated just 304 degree hours (a common agricultural measurement of heat), 20% less than either 2012 or 2013 and 5% cooler even than the cool 2011 and 2010 harvests.

That cool weather ended over the Labor Day weekend, with five days topping 90, and the vineyard has responded as you would expect.  Samples we took yesterday suggested that Viognier, Vermentino, Syrah and even one block of Mourvedre were ready to pick, and we're now entering the period where sequencing what gets picked and pressed, and in what order, becomes a daily challenge.  Knowing this fruit was coming, we pressed off four upright tanks of Syrah yesterday, so they're ready and waiting for the new arrivals:

Emptied upright

We've already run two press loads of Vermentino today, and will try to squeeze in (pun intended) two more of Viognier.  We've got another picking of Pinot Noir on the way, and will in all likelihood see close to 100 tons this week alone.

Happily, the heat has already moderated (forecast high for today: upper 80's) and we're supposed to have another cool week this week.  This will give us a chance to catch up, and slow down the vineyard's progress a touch.

In terms of character, the grapes look very much like they did last year: intense yet balanced, with thick skins and dark color, moderate sugar levels, and good acidity.  So far, so good.


Harvest 2014 begins: How our earliest-ever start also has longer-than-average hangtime

This Wednesday, August 13th, we welcomed sixteen tons of Syrah into our cellar, marking the beginning of the 2014 harvest.  These bins were from Estrella Farms, in the warm heartland of the Paso Robles AVA, and will form the juicy core of our Patelin de Tablas.  The fruit looked terrific, and the numbers were textbook: 23.5° Brix and 3.39pH.

002

The next day, we got four more tons of Estrella syrah and our first white: a little over seven tons of Grenache Blanc from Coyote Moon Vineyard, on a vineyard that we had grafted over to Grenache Blanc specifically for the Patelin Blanc up near the town of San Miguel.  This fruit looked great too, with intense flavors, modest sugar levels and great acidity: 21° Brix and 3.38 pH.

Grenache Blanc in bins

The two locations have in common that they are from areas of the AVA that are on the warmer side.  We think we're still a week away from harvesting anything off of our estate vineyard.  For our planning in the cellar, it's great that we're seeing this slug of fruit before anything else.  The roughly 30 tons of fruit is about 20% of what we're expecting for our Patelin, and to have it already safely put away before we're also dealing with the much more complicated harvest off our estate is a gift.  It also allows us to break in our wooden upright tanks and start building the population of native yeasts in our cellar.

This mid-August beginning feels early, but it's not unprecedented.  Yes, August 13th is the earliest that we've ever had fruit in the cellar, but it's only one day earlier than 1997, when the lot of estate Syrah that we harvested on August 14th was the first fruit we crushed in our newly-built winery.  Given that the fruit we've welcomed so far this year comes from warmer parts of Paso, I'm not sure even that we'll break our modern record for our earliest picking off our estate, August 23rd in 2004.

More than the calendar date when we start harvesting, what we look at as important is the length of the ripening cycle, and of course the balance and intensity of the fruit.  Because we saw such an early budbreak this year (two and a half weeks earlier than average) an estate harvest that begins ten days earlier than average, as this one appears poised to, actually gives us hang time about a week longer than normal.  And the fruit conditions that we're seeing so far bear this out: the fruit is intensely colored and perfumed, with beautiful deep flavors and acids exactly where we'd like to see them.

So, it's early yet.  But we couldn't ask for a better beginning.