2022 Red Blending: The Big Three Grapes Shine and the Vintage Surprises with Its Combination of Structure and Vibrancy

On Tuesday we finally got to sit down and taste the sixteen (!) red wines from the 2022 vintage we'd built around the blending table over the past two weeks. The tasting showed all the promise that we'd hoped in assembling the wines. From the vibrant sweet spice and brambly cherry flavors of the Counoise to the salty minerality, loamy earth, and pure raspberry of Mourvedre, the dark soy and blackcurrant depth of the Le Complice, and the reverberating red and black fruit and licorice of the Esprit, each wine was both deep and focused, expressive and pleasurable. And what a relief. 2022 was one of our most challenging vintages, with the cumulative impacts of a three-year drought, two spring frosts, two punishing heat waves, unexpected rain, and a compressed harvest season. The white blending that we finished a month ago was so constrained by low yields that there were several wines we couldn't make, and the Roussanne so scarce that we had to blend an Esprit Blanc unlike any other we've done before. While I think the white wines we made will be excellent overall, I don't think it's a great white vintage. But on the red side? I think this will go down with some of the best vintages in our history. 

For the first time in a decade, we had the pleasure of having both Cesar and Francois Perrin join us around the blending table. Together, they bring five decades worth of vintages at Beaucastel, and dozens of weeks spent evaluating lots and making blends here. And their perspective is always valuable, bringing deep experience with these grapes and outside opinion unbiased by previous knowledge of the year. But while their voices are always heard and their opinions noted, these are not "flying winemakers" coming in to make pronouncements on our direction and then leave us to execute their wishes. Instead, like the Perrins' own system at Beaucastel, we take the blending process in steps and build consensus rather than relying on one or two lead voices to determine the wines' final profiles. After all, when you have nine family members involved in a multi-generational business, as they do at Beaucastel, it's a good policy and good family relations to make sure everyone is on the same page before you go forward. The same is true with a partnership like Tablas Creek where both founding families have equal ownership. More importantly, we're also convinced it makes better wines. And the discussions around the lunch table after each day's critical tasting are wonderful:

Blending 2022 Reds - Lunch Table

We began the first two days by tasting the 62 different red lots. On Monday we tackled Grenache, Counoise, Cinsaut, Tannat, and our trace varieties: Terret Noir, Vaccarese, Muscardin, and our tiny Cabernet lot. Tuesday we dove into the more tannin-rich grapes: Mourvedre, Syrah, and Pinot Noir. We keep our different harvest lots separate until they've finished fermentation so we can assess their quality and character before we have to decide which wines they fit best in. After all, a Mourvedre lot could potentially go into any of six wines: Panoplie, Esprit, En Gobelet, Cotes, Patelin, or the varietal Mourvedre. So our goal at this first stage of blending is to give each lot a grade that's reflective of its overall quality, and to start to flag lots that we think might be particularly suited to one wine or another. This component tasting is also an opportunity for us to get a sense of which varieties particularly shined or struggled, which helps provide direction as we start to brainstorm about blends.

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

Blending 2022 Reds - Notes

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

  • Cinsaut (3 lots): Our third vintage of Cinsaut, and the largest quantity to date, nearly double what we got in 2021. Overall pretty and medium-bodied, with nice fruit and vibrant acids. I gave two of the lots "2" grades and one with more fruit and density a "1".
  • Counoise (7 lots): Many of these lots were notably pale, with lifted red fruit character, good acids, and nice salty minerality. But there weren't any obviously Esprit-level lots with the darker blueberry fruit and richer texture. Plenty of the pretty spicy Gamay-style juiciness that our varietal Counoise bottling typically reflects. The lack of lots with greater density made it a challenge to identify top lots, but I gave out two "1" grades to the lots with the most intense fruit, four "2" grades, and one "3" that came across a touch medicinal.
  • Grenache (15 lots): Grenache is often a challenge in this first tasting, as it is slow to finish fermentation and some lots are just rounding into form. But this was a strong showing, with plenty of richly fruited, spicy lots with the density to carry that fruit. I gave nearly half the lots (seven in total) "1" grades, with two others getting "1/2" and my hopes that they would form the core of our varietal Grenache. Two "2" lots, two "2/3" lots, and one "3" (which I felt a little guilty giving out, since even it felt like it was going through a stage) rounded a strong Grenache showing. 
  • Muscardin (1 lot): It was exciting that we finally had a barrel of Muscardin to blend, but I wasn't a huge fan of the wine. Last year's was pale but carried a minty/herby/juniper note that reminded us of Terret Noir along with great acids and salty minerality. This year's was just as pale but didn't have the same vibrancy, with gentle watermelon flavors and a short finish. I gave it a "2/3" and we agreed it wasn't distinguished enough to release as our first-ever varietal bottling. It will end up, like last year, in Le Complice.
  • Terret Noir (2 lots): Like the Muscardin, we felt we wanted more from Terret this year. Typically it's been pale but had high-toned wild strawberry fruit, herby lift, and grippy tannins. Not for everyone, but distinctive and interesting. This year's felt tamer, missing the herbiness and tannic grip from past years. I gave both lots "2/3" grades, flagging one lot with more structure as likely ideal for Le Complice
  • Vaccarese (1 lot): Compared to the ethereal nature of the previous two wines, the darker color and powerful aromatics of the Vaccarese stood out like a rocket. This tasting served as a reminder of why we're so excited about this grape, and I felt fortunate that we had enough to both include in Esprit and make into a varietal bottling. I gave it a "1".
  • Tannat (3 lots): Dense, yet with the vibrant acids that always surprise me in such a powerful grape. Not a lot of decisions to be made here, except for how much Tannat we feel is the right addition to En Gobelet. I gave two lots "1" grades and another, in which I found a little oxidation, a "2".
  • Cabernet (1 lot): Typically, the few rows of Cabernet in our old nursery block go into our Tannat, but we always taste it and have a few times decided to bottle it on its own when we had enough to make that viable and it showed such well-defined Cabernet character that we couldn't bear to blend it away. In 2022 we only had one barrel, so even though we loved its classic flavors and dusty minerality we didn't have enough for a solo bottling. It will go into Tannat and be happy. 

This marked the end of day one. If I'd had to give a grade at this point, it would have been a B/B+. We saw some very nice Grenache lots, but also some weaker ones. Tannat was strong, but it's always like that. Cinsaut and Counoise came across as pretty but not particularly serious. The trace varieties were a mixed bag. But then came day two:

  • Mourvedre (12 lots): Given the mixed results from the day before and the comparatively pale colors, I wasn't prepared to be blown away by Mourvedre. Typically, in lighter-weight vintages, it's Syrah that shines. But the Mourvedre lots went from strength to strength, and at one point I gave five lots in a row "1" grades. Overall the wines had intense varietal character, with deep red fruit, lovely leathery, loamy notes, and good structure. Six lots got "1"s from me, with three others getting "1/2", three "2"s and nothing lower than that. The best Mourvedre showing I can ever remember at this stage.
  • Syrah (12 lots): Syrah at this stage is easy to appreciate, with its plush dark fruit, spice, and powerful structure. Given that consistency, our main goals are to evaluate the different winemaking choices we made (too much or not enough stems? too much or not enough new oak?) and decide which lots feel like they can play well enough in Mourvedre- or Grenache-based wines to be blending partners. I gave out five "1"s, five "1/2" grades (these included most of those lots with notable stem or oak character, as I felt they weren't necessarily slam dunks for Esprit or Panoplie), and just two "2" lots that in another year could have been graded higher.
  • Pinot Noir (5 lots): From the small vineyard in the Templeton Gap that my dad planted outside the house he and my mom built in 2007, where we live now. It's planted to a mix of different Pinot Noir clones, and while we ferment each clone separately most years, they all always end up in the Full Circle Pinot Noir. So in this tasting we're just making sure there aren't lots that might cause issues in the blend, and evaluating the percentage of stems and whole-cluster. All five felt on point, and the total of about one-quarter whole cluster provided nice herbal lift. It should make a compelling 2022 Full Circle.

So while day one was a mixed bag, we all were ecstatic about day two. We finished the day with our normal round-table discussion about what we wanted to try in the next day's blending of Panoplie and Esprit and came to the conclusion that it probably wasn't a year to lean heavily into the more minor grapes and that we should start the blending trials with three test blends, each one leaning a little heavier into one of the big three of Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah, and see where that took us. In terms of quantity, while yields on reds had recovered a bit from the punishingly low 2021 vintage, we were still constrained by supply, and if we wanted enough different varietal wines to send out to the wine club we needed to cap our Esprit production around 3000 cases and our Cotes production around 1200. 

Wednesday morning we reconvened to work out our two top blends, starting with the Panoplie. As always, we tasted our options blind, not knowing what was in each glass. Panoplie is always overwhelmingly Mourvedre (typically around 60%) and typically more Grenache than Syrah, because Syrah's dominance often threatens to overwhelm the Mourvedre. This dynamic held true in our first three-wine trial, with the Panoplie with the most Syrah (29%) being no one's favorite, the one with the most Grenache (31%) the consensus second choice, and the glass with the most Mourvedre (67%) and roughly equal parts Grenache (18%) and Syrah (15%) receiving every first place vote but one. As sometimes happens when we have such overwhelming consensus in an early wine, we spent a while discussing around the table whether there was anything we could do to make the wine better, but couldn't come up with anything more compelling than that first blend. Done, and done.

Panoplie decided, we moved on to the Esprit. Like the Panoplie, we started off with a high-Grenache/low-Syrah option, a high-Syrah/low-Grenache option, and one that had them in roughly equal proportions. Unlike with the Panoplie, instead of near-universal agreement around the table, we were able to eliminate one Esprit option (the one with the most Grenache, which was pretty but didn't carry the density of the other two options) but split between the other two. After talking through what we liked in each, and encouraged by the Perrins who both chose it as their clear favorite, we ended up deciding on the blend that leaned into Mourvedre (40%) with Grenache (28%) and Syrah (22%) playing roughly equal roles, and smaller amounts of Vaccarese (4%), Counoise (3%), and Cinsaut (3%). That choice was less overtly powerful than the option with less Mourvedre and Grenache but 31% Syrah, but also more expressive, with a lithe energy that we thought would broaden into lovely depth and richness over the next year-plus in foudre.

On Thursday we tackled our remaining wine club blends, starting with En Gobelet. It seems we often don't have a ton of options with this wine. In the early years, we just didn't have many head-trained, dry-farmed lots to choose from. Now, we have more, but we also used some of our favorite head-trained lots in Esprit and Panoplie, leaving only a few options for Mourvedre, Grenache, and Syrah. So the big question was how much Tannat and Counoise we wanted to add to the core made by our "big three" Rhone reds. We ended up settling on the least Counoise (6%) and the middle amount of Tannat (also 6%) as the right complements to the expressiveness of the Grenache (43%), Mourvedre (27%) and Syrah (18%). Too much Tannat and it started to stick out, and too much Counoise thinned the wine down too much.

For Le Complice, which celebrates the kinship we feel Terret Noir shows with whole cluster Syrah, we needed to decide how much Terret Noir we wanted in this relatively simple Terret year, how much Syrah we felt we could put in without it just tasting like Syrah, and how heavily we wanted to lean into the stemmy character we get from whole cluster fermentation. Like with the Panoplie, there was near-total consensus around the table around an option that included our most Syrah (67%) and least Terret (5%) along with 25% Grenache and 3% Muscardin. That wine felt the longest and most structured, but still had a pretty herbal lift that differentiated it from the straight Syrah lots we'd tasted. I think it's the best Le Complice we've ever made, and it should be a pleasure to watch evolve in the cellar. 

At this point, with the Perrins headed back to France, we took a couple of days off to catch up on other work. But on Monday we reconvened to build the Cotes de Tablas and check back in on some of our previous week impressions. As is usually the case at this stage in the blending, we were down to a handful of Counoise and Mourvedre lots, making the central question on Cotes de Tablas blending the ratio of Grenache and Syrah. We generally prefer the blends that have more Syrah to those that have less, but there's also a tipping point where the wine stops tasting like Cotes de Tablas and starts tasting like Syrah. This year, that point came whenever we increased the blend to more than one-third Syrah. Final blend: 44% Grenache, 33% Syrah, 19% Counoise, and 4% Mourvedre.

The final choice that we had to make was on the lots we'd flagged for possible declassification into Patelin. One two-barrel Terret Noir lot was an easy choice, but we were uncertain as to the rest of the Terret that didn't go into Le Complice, and on a two-barrel Counoise lot to which most of us gave a "3" grade. Tasting the Terret again gave us confidence that it would do well as a 75-case varietal bottling, and tasting the two Counoise barrels revealed that one was pretty and could go into our varietal Counoise, while the other would be declassified. Those decisions made, all that was left was to taste the varietal wines from the lots we hadn't blended, and to taste the blends against them to make sure everything slotted where we wanted. We don't want, for example, a Grenache-dominated wine like Cotes de Tablas to taste too much like our varietal Grenache, or the Esprit and Panoplie, both of which are based on Mourvedre, to feel too close to each other or our varietal Mourvedre. That was Tuesday's work. The wines:

Blending 2022 Reds - Wines

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

  • Counoise (380 cases): Vibrant with sweet spice and plum skin on the nose. Clean, pure, and bright on the palate with flavors of cherry juice, white pepper, more sweet spice, and a little brambly wildness on the finish. Fresh and appealing, like a glass of springtime.
  • Cinsaut (150 cases): A nose of fruitcake, new leather and olallieberry, plush and spicy. The mouth is more lifted than the nose suggests, with flavors of elderberry and red plum, a sprinkling of dusty tannins, and a spicy blueberry note on the finish.
  • Terret Noir (70 cases): A nose of watermelon and mint, sweet green herbs and a little menthol spiciness. The mouth is similarly lifted, like all the parts of a wild strawberry (fruit, flower, leaves), a little fresh oregano herbiness, and a clean finish with notes of sagebrush and cranberry and a little tannic bite. A tamer version of Terret than in the past, but clean, pretty, and fun.
  • Full Circle (285 cases): A serious, obviously Pinot nose of cherry cola, leather, eucalyptus and a little sweet oak. The mouth shows cherry skin, bittersweet chocolate, and sweet cola. The finish is long, with some noteworthy tannic grip. Maybe the most impressive and (I think) ageworthy Full Circle we've made. 
  • Mourvedre (330 cases): Medium color, with a nose that leaps from the glass with redcurrant, new leather, black plum and mocha notes. The mouth is lovely: salty minerals, black raspberry, loamy earth, and cocoa powder. The finish is long, and I expect this to continue to gain depth with time in barrel.
  • Syrah (630 cases): A nose with all black and mostly savory elements: iron, soy, blackberry, and pepper steak. The mouth is juicier than the nose first suggests, with flavors of blackberry and minty spice, more of the iron-like mineral note, and some serious tannins at the end. Very young, but with tons of potential.
  • Vaccarese (165 cases): Notes on the nose of licorice, grape candy, soy marinade, and tobacco leaf. The mouth is vibrant with flavors of blackberry and sweet butter, good acids, plenty of tannin, and a finish full of brambly spice. After using all our Vaccarese in the 2021 Esprit, it will be great to have this as a varietal bottling again.
  • Tannat (720 cases): A generous nose of black cherry and blueberry, sweet thyme and cocoa powder. The mouth shows more dark berries and a rich, earthy mocha note. The finish shows Tannat's characteristic good acids, grippy tannins, and a lingering rose petal floral note.
  • Grenache (890 cases): A high-toned nose of cherry candy, tarragon, and strawberry shortcake, from the fruit to the buttery biscuits to the whipped cream. The mouth is pretty and medium-bodied, with sweet flavors of strawberry jam and meringue, vibrant acids that reminded me of blood orange, and lots of chalky minerality on the finish.
  • Lignee de Tablas Grenache Hahn Vineyard (1300 cases): Dark for Grenache. Initially a bit reduced on the nose (after all, this hasn't had to be blended and was pulled straight out of tank) but that opened up to savory notes of meat drippings, ripe plum, and potpourri. The mouth is generous with flavors of black pepper and licorice, purple olallieberry fruit, and some tannic grip. A smoky, floral note like rose hips comes out on the finish. Very different than our estate Grenache, which was fun. More on this wine soon. 
  • Patelin de Tablas (4500 cases): A somewhat quiet nose right now, savory with notes of black olive, dried strawberry, white pepper, and leather. The mouth seems evenly balanced between Grenache's red plum and Syrah's blackberry fruit. There's nice mouth-filling texture and a finish showing some youthful tannic grip and lingering savory notes of soy, iodine, and black raspberry. It's exciting that we were able to make this much of this wine. The blend ended up 54% Syrah, 29% Grenache, 13% Mourvedre, 3% Counoise, and 1% Terret Noir.
  • Cotes de Tablas (1160 cases): An impressive nose, both juicy and spicy, with a little minty lift over notes of strawberry hard candy and sweet leather. The mouth shows tangy salty raspberry fruit, red licorice, and milk chocolate. The finish brings out a nice bite of tannin reminiscent of plum skin and more sweet, minty spice.
  • Le Complice (790 cases): A nose both dark and inviting, with notes of leather, soy, blackcurrant liqueur and black licorice. The palate is a blockbuster, with lovely black fruit, a little sweet oak, and a clean mineral note like wet stone. The long finish shows both sweet and savory herbs, and significant tannic grip cloaked in waves of black fruit. Memorable and impressive.
  • En Gobelet (800 cases): A pretty Mourvedre-inflected nose of redcurrant, new leather, loamy earth and wild herbs. The mouth is generous, with raspberry and plum fruit, sweet spices, chalky minerals, and a Grenache-like combination of strawberry compote and red licorice on the finish. Elegant and expressive.
  • Esprit de Tablas (3050 cases): A deep nose poised between red (redcurrant and red licorice) and black (black plum and cracked black peppercorn) with an additional loamy earth element that felt very Tablas Creek. The palate is mouth-filling with flavors of sugarplum and black raspberry, cocoa powder and newly-turned earth. The long, youthfully tannic finish with a hint of sweet oak suggests there's more to come both in barrel and in bottle. A serious, delicious Esprit
  • Panoplie (800 cases): A dense nose of plum compote and baker's chocolate, forest floor and juniper spice. The mouth is more open and higher toned, featuring flavors of red plum and chalky minerality, with notes of mocha and sweet spice. Good vibrancy on the palate and Mourvedre's characteristic chewy tannins complete the picture. This should be a great Panoplie to lay down, though it may be so tasty that it will be hard to keep away from it in its youth.   

A few concluding thoughts. 

  • What a treat to have both Cesar and Francois around the blending table, and to see their excitement with what we were tasting. That's one of the benefits of having them participate: their combination of outside observer and experienced partner gives us a great check on our own reactions. Although we taste each flight blind, we still come into the blending week with preconceptions about what we think the vintage is like. The Perrins haven't mostly been here to develop those biases, and so their reactions are uninfluenced by things like knowledge of the vintage's weather or how tired we were in mid-October. It's not that they always agree with each other (they don't, both because each has his own preferences and because blind tasting is inherently difficult) but seeing their excitement as the vintage comes together, and getting their feedback on things we think we know is so welcome, and so valuable.
  • It's amazing how one day can chance your feeling about an entire vintage. I think it's fair to say that after our experience of the white blending and our first day where some of the less-structured grapes were a mixed bag, we thought we had the narrative on 2022. Then we tasted some of the best Mourvedre and Syrah ever to come off the Tablas Creek property, and maybe the best Pinot Noir ever to come off the Haas Vineyard, and we were suddenly in a different place. I guess this is a positive "don't count your chickens before they hatch" moment, and a good reminder to wait until we have the full picture before coming to conclusions.
  • If there's a defining character of the vintage, it's the combination of intense structure, ample fruit, and powerful spice and mineral notes. Some vintages bring two or three of those, but having all four is rare. 2021 did. So did 2019, 2016, 2009, 2007, and 2005. There are other vintages that came close (I felt bad leaving out 2017 and 2003) but it's a great sign. I think this will be a vintage that will produce wines that will have great early appeal, but will really shine with time. At least I feel that with wines that are based on Mourvedre and Syrah. It's probably a slightly less strong Grenache vintage, and mixed on the trace varieties. But for those grapes that we rely on to make cellar-worthy wines, and the wines that are based around them, this will be a vintage to seek out.
  • Last year I wrote a blog post diving into vintage comps. I didn't include 2022 because we hadn't tasted the wines yet, but I speculated that what we were seeing reminded me of 2009, the last year we were impacted by both frost and drought. Then, as we blended the whites, I was leaning more toward 2015. Now, with the reds, I'm back to 2009. The wines we're making now are a bit different in style than they were then, a little less ripe, a little more elegant. But the intense structure and concentrated fruit of 2022 is reminiscent of the 2009 vintage. I'm hoping (and expecting) that the evolution in our own approach will make wines that I will be able to enjoy earlier than I did the 2009s. But if structured, intense wines with powerful aromatics and spice notes are your thing, 2022 should make you happy.

I'll let Chelsea have the last word, as I thought she summed up the experience we had during blending perfectly: "They're just so intensely structured, but honestly the balance is surprising given it was such a hot, weird year. They're wonderful. And I don't mean to sound so surprised, but it's been a pleasant surprise."

Blending table report: we piece together a smaller lineup of white wines from the painfully scarce 2022 vintage

We spent four days last week around our blending table, working to turn the 30 different lots we made from our white grapes in 2022 into the blends and varietal bottlings we'll be releasing to you in coming months. The good news is that we were excited about the lots we tasted and what we made looks like it will be good. The bad news is unlikely to be a surprise if you've been following this blog. The 2022 vintage was painfully scarce, particularly on whites, whose yields were down 29.3% from 2021 and a heartbreaking 55% from 2020. That meant that we were faced with some difficult questions before we even sat down to blend. With Roussanne lots most affected of all (down 63% from the combined impacts of lingering drought and a May frost) would we be able to find enough lots we loved to make an Esprit de Tablas Blanc? If we did, what would it look like, and what would it leave us? Read on.

If you're unfamiliar with how we do our blending, you might find it interesting to read this blog by Chelsea that she wrote a few years ago.

Our first step was to taste each variety in flights, give each lot a grade, and start assessing the character of the year. Our grading system is simple; a "1" grade means the lot has the richness, elegance, and balance to be worthy of consideration for Esprit Blanc. A "2" grade means we like it, but it doesn't seem like Esprit, for whatever reason. It may be pretty, but without the concentration for a reserve-level wine. It might be so powerful we feel it won't blend well. Or it might just be out of the style we want for the Esprit, such as with too much new oak. A "3" grade means the lot has issues that need attention. It might be oxidized or reduced. It might still be fermenting and in a place that makes it hard to evaluate confidently. Or it might just not have the substance for us to be confident we'll want to use it. Most "3" lots resolve into 2's or 1's with some attention. If they don't, they end up getting sold off and they don't see the inside of a Tablas Creek bottle. Then, we start from the top of our hierarchy (with the whites, that's the Esprit de Tablas Blanc) and brainstorm possible blends, taste those blind against one another, and come to consensus. Once we've determined the blend and quantity for the Esprit Blanc, we set aside the lots needed and look at what we have left for possible Cotes de Tablas Blanc and varietal bottlings. Finally, we taste everything we're going to make to be sure that each feels complete and individual. A snapshot of my notes:

Blending whites 2023 - notes

In a normal year it takes us two days to taste through all the white lots. Not this year; we finished in one day. My quick thoughts on each variety are below. For context, in a normal year, for every 10 lots we might see three or four "1" grades, five or six "2" grades and one "3" grade. When we think a lot is right on the cusp between two grades, we can note that with a slash ("1/2", or "2/3"). In rough harvest order:

  • Blending whites 2023 - BottlesViognier (6 lots): An above-average Viognier vintage, with classic flavors, good richness, and respectable acids. Since we don't use Viognier in Esprit Blanc, the best grade I was giving out was a "1/2". Three "1/2" lots, two "2" lots, and one "3" that ended up being more useful in blending than I expected.
  • Marsanne (4 lots): An outstanding Marsanne vintage, with all four lots showing Marsanne’s classic honeyed charm, creamy textures, and mineral-laced finish. I gave all four lots "1/2" grades, and we included Marsanne in our blending trials for Esprit Blanc for the first time since 2001 (!).
  • Picardan (3 lots): A strong representation of what we find appealing about Picardan: peppered citrus notes, good minerality, and solid acids. I gave two lots "1/2" grades and one (a single barrel of our heavy-press component, which was darker in color and lower in acid) a "2/3".
  • Bourboulenc (3 lots): The most challenging of the varieties we tasted, at least for me, the three lots were all quite different from one another. One four-barrel lot showed the combination of honeyed aromatics, rich, nutty texture, and bright acids we've come to expect from this grape. Another, which was fermented in concrete egg, was higher toned and less expressive, with some reductive notes. And a third two-puncheon lot from our heavy-press component had the deep orange color we saw back in 2019, a lacquer-like savory note, and very bright acids. I gave the first lot a "1", the second a "2/3", and the third a "3".
  • Clairette Blanche (1 lot): We nearly doubled last year's production and it was outstanding: citrusy and minerally, with lemon curd notes and great finishing brightness. I gave it a "1".
  • Grenache Blanc (4 lots): Our fewest Grenache Blanc lots in my memory. But what there was was outstanding: citrus and brine on the nose, lovely peach and grapefruit pith on the palate, and the combination of brightness and texture that we look for. I gave three lots "1" grades and even the fourth, which I gave a "2", was appealing: just softer and less vibrant.
  • Picpoul Blanc (3 lots): Only three small lots totaling just 648 gallons. Luckily all were strong: pithy pineapple and salty minerality, still just a touch sweet. I gave two lots "1" grades and the third, which had a little more texture but a little less brightness, a "1/2".
  • Roussanne (6 lots): All the best options for making Esprit Blanc involved using all or almost all of the Roussanne we had. So it was a relief that the quality of the six Roussanne lots was so high. I gave four of them "1" grades for their classic, rich, honeyed pear noses, the kiss of sweet oak emphasizing their rich texture, and their long finishes. One other, to which I gave a "1/2", was less rich but brighter, while the last, which I gave a "2" sat at the other end of the spectrum: darker in color, rich and nutty, but a touch low in acid.

We finished by brainstorming ideas for the Esprit Blanc. Our minimum amount of Esprit Blanc that can cover the different needs we have for it with our wine club, tasting room, wholesale and export is about 1700 cases. Given the scarcity of Roussanne, using all of it only made up about 36% of a possible Esprit Blanc blend at that minimum quantity. Given that our least-ever Roussanne in the Esprit Blanc was 45%, and it's more typically around 65%, we first needed to make sure that what we could make would feel at home in the history of Esprit Blanc bottlings. Knowing that we wanted to keep our Grenache Blanc percentage below the Roussanne percentage, again to preserve the link with our established tradition, limited our options further.

We ended up deciding to make up three different potential Esprit Blancs. One would use all the Roussanne, Picpoul, and Clairette, the best Grenache Blanc lots, and the top lots of Bourboulenc and Picardan, at our minimum total quantity. In my mind, this was the baseline Esprit Blanc, closest to what we'd done in the past. The second would make about 100 more cases of wine by increasing the Grenache Blanc to the maximum we could use while keeping just below the Roussanne percentage, and adding the rest of our Picardan. And a third modified the baseline blend by replacing the least-strong Roussanne lots with Marsanne. If we'd chosen this, it would have been the first time since 2003 that we'd have used a grape outside of the six white grapes legal for use in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. So even the decision to try a blend that included Marsanne caused a certain amount of hesitation. But given the strength of the Marsanne this vintage and the scarcity of Roussanne we thought if there were ever a year to break with tradition this would be it.

Wednesday morning, we started on our blending work by tasting three possible Esprit de Tablas Blanc blends. To my surprise, our least favorite was the first glass (which upon revealing, was the one I'd been thinking of as our baseline Esprit Blanc). While it was pretty, with good texture and weight, it just wasn't as exciting as the other two. We split pretty evenly between the other two options, with some preferring the elegance and openness of the second glass and others the extra texture and brighter acids of the third glass. When we revealed what was in the two glasses, and realized that the third option was the one that eschewed Marsanne for extra Grenache Blanc and Picardan, and made us 100 more cases of the Esprit Blanc, we had our winner. The final blend was 33% Roussanne,  32% Grenache Blanc, 14% Picpoul Blanc, 8% Picardan., 8% Clairette Blanche, and 5% Bourboulenc. Our rule is always that the Esprit wines get first dibs on whatever lots they need to be great. This year, that means it got all of the Roussanne, Picpoul, Picardan, and Clairette. It will hurt not having any of those for a varietal bottling, but at least we have an Esprit Blanc that we love.

Looking at what we had left after setting aside the Esprit Blanc lots made it clear that if we made a Cotes Blanc in anything like our normal 1,000 case quantity, that would use most of what was left and mean essentially no varietal bottlings for the year. That didn't seem to be a great choice, and would likely leave us short of wines to send out to our wine club. So we decided that the next step was to try varietal bottlings of what was left (Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, and Bourboulenc) and get down into the barrel-by-barrel decisions of what felt varietally appropriate and what we wanted to instead declassify into Patelin.

All four lots of the Marsanne were strong, and a blend of the four was expressive, classic, and lovely. Perfect. The remaining Grenache Blanc lots fit together beautifully, with the softer, richer lot providing depth and counterpoint to the citrusy brightness of the base. Done, and done. For Viognier, it was really a question of how much of the lot that I gave a "3" to we wanted to use. It had deep gold color, rich texture, and very bright acids. We tried a blend using both barrels, with neither barrel, and with one barrel and ended up deciding like Goldilocks that the one-barrel addition was just right. The other will become a useful part of the Patelin Blanc. Finally, with the Bourboulenc, we all decided that we preferred it as a varietal bottling without the two heavy-press puncheons. That finished off our varietal decision-making. 

On Thursday we got together to taste the wines we'd decided on and make sure that the Viognier and Bourboulenc lots that we hoped to declassify into the Patelin Blanc fit stylistically. We also tried for the first time a new 100% Grenache Blanc we're calling "Lignée de Tablas" about which I'll be sharing details a little later in the spring. The Patelin Blanc absorbed the declassified lots seamlessly, which was great, giving us a blend of 49% Grenache Blanc, 22% Viognier, 10% Marsanne, 10% Vermentino, 4% Roussanne, 3% Picpoul Blanc, and 2% Bourboulenc. That left us with seven white wines from 2022, and a feeling of relief around the table:

Blending whites 2023 - table cropped

My brief notes on each wine, with the rough quantity we'll be bottling this summer:

  • 2022 Bourboulenc (275 cases): Medium gold. A nose of orange bitters, lacquer, and nuts. On the palate, the orange note continues, with rich texture, bright acids, and a long finish.
  • 2022 Grenache Blanc (350 cases): A pretty nose of peaches and cream, crushed rock, and lemongrass. The mouth has Grenache Blanc's signature mouth-filling texture and white grapefruit flavors, bright acids, chalky minerality and a little pithy bite of green apple skin tannin on the finish.
  • 2022 Marsanne (475 cases): Quite polished already, with a nose of honeydew melon, sweetgrass, and briny minerality. The mouth has gentle but persistent flavors of lemon curd and cantaloupe, nice texture without any sense of weight, and a creamy mineral note that comes out on the long, clean finish. Lovely.
  • 2022 Viognier (700 cases): A charming nose of honeysuckle and Haribo peach. The palate is long, pure, and textured, with more stone fruit and a tarragon-like note of sweet green herbs. Rich texture is balanced by some structural weight and unusually good acids for Viognier. Should make a great wine club shipment wine.
  • 2022 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (4080 cases, plus some wine for boxes and kegs): A nose more driven by Grenache Blanc than Viognier right now: white grapefruit and petrichor, pepper spice and a little nutty depth. On the palate, flavors of stone fruit and lemon custard, persistent chalky minerality, fairly rich texture and vibrant acids. Exciting that we have a solid supply of this!
  • 2022 Lignée de Tablas Grenache Blanc (825 cases): A pretty lifted nose nose of white pepper and citrus pith. On the palate, more citrus, with a green citrus leaf element adding complexity. With solid texture, good acids, and a little sweet spice on the finish, this should be a nice addition to the lineup!
  • 2022 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (1850 cases): Despite its comparatively low percentage, a nose clearly expressive of Roussanne in its notes of beeswax, jasmine, and sweet spice. On the palate, good weight and texture, with flavors of peach pit, lanolin, a little kiss of oak, and a clean minerality that got described as rainwater and river stone. This will have another several months in oak, and should develop additional caramel notes and nutty depth before bottling.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • Given that we've never had so few options in our blending, it was a relief that the puzzle pieces fit together. All sorts of options were potentially on the table. Would we maybe not make an Esprit Blanc? It was possible. Would we have lots that didn't fit into the estate wines but also didn't work in the Patelin Blanc? Also possible. In the end, sacrificing the Cotes Blanc made the other puzzle pieces fit. With all the lovely rain we've been getting this winter, I hope we'll have a very different picture next year. Fingers crossed, please, that we dodge frost.
  • This is the stage where I often try to reach for what vintage(s) in our history might be good comps for what we've been tasting. And yes, it's early to make these sorts of judgments, but the vintage that this reminded me of most was 2015, at the nadir of our previous drought cycle. Like 2022, 2015 produced uneven results across different varieties, and that unevenness keeps me from thinking of it as a truly great vintage. But I love the 2015 Esprit Blanc, which reduced our quantity of Roussanne and used all our Picpoul and a healthy amount of Grenache Blanc. I think that the solution that we came to for the Esprit Blanc this year, with less Roussanne and more of the higher-acid, earlier-ripening varieties, will end up resembling the 2015 stylistically. If you like your Esprit Blancs on the fresher, more minerally side, while still carrying the essential honey and mineral flavors of Roussanne, this should be one you'll love.
  • For all that, I'm not sure we yet have a great handle on what the character is of the 2022 vintage. Each variety seemed to handle the year in its own way. That's a good thing, I think, and suggests we were able to keep up with the terrible heat wave that hit us in the beginning of September. Talking to some friends and neighbors, it seems not everyone was as lucky and that there were vineyards without the monitoring and labor capacity to get all their grapes off when they wanted. I don't think that the wines we tasted felt like they came from a hot vintage. No raisiny heaviness. No volatility. I hope to have a clearer sense of how to describe the year after we dive into the reds next month. 

Now that the blending decisions have been made, we can move forward in getting the wines racked, blended, and given time to settle and integrate. The Patelin Blanc and Lignée de Tablas will be the first to go into bottle, in May. The varietal wines will be next, in June. And the Esprit Blanc will go into foudre and have another 9 months to evolve before its scheduled December bottling.

But in a year where all sorts of difficult options were on the table, I'm not sure our first blending week could have gone much better. We look forward to sharing these 2022 whites with you, and apologize that many of them will go very fast because of their scarcity. When they come out, don't blink.

Harvest 2022 Recap: We Emerge Cautiously Optimistic

On Friday, with the bin of Counoise pictured below, we completed the 2022 harvest. The combination of our earliest-ever start and a (roughly average) 51-day duration meant that we tied with 2013 for our second-earliest-ever finish, with only the frost impacted 2001 vintage finishing earlier. Our rock star harvest crew deserved to celebrate, as they powered through our busiest-ever week on their way to a 9% increased amount of fruit compared to 2021 in a harvest that was five days shorter:

Last Bin of Harvest 2022 - Cropped
2022 will likely always be defined by the ten-day heat wave that began on August 31st. You can see it clearly in this graph of high temperatures by day, as well as the cool stretch that followed, culminating in our unusual September rainstorm September 18th-19th:

Daily High Temperatures 2022 vs Average - Revised

We were already harvesting before that heat wave hit, thanks to warm early-August weather and relatively light crop levels, but that definitely kicked it into high gear. It's remarkable (though hardly surprising) how closely the harvest by week tracks the temperatures, most notably in our busiest-ever week of over 130 tons between September 4th and 10th. In the chart below, blue is purchased fruit for the Patelin program, and orange estate-grown fruit:

2022 Harvest by Week

Because of the heat-induced sprint in early September, this seems to me to be the kind of year which will separate the wineries with a secure source of labor from those without. When you get an extreme event (typically heat or rain) it impacts an entire region. All the growers and wineries, faced with needing to pick at an increased pace, are competing for the same finite number of field crew. If you can't get the crew, you can't pick. Sugars can spike, acids can tumble, and the cells of grape skins can start to break down, opening the door for insect damage or rot. But we've given our core field crew year-round employment since 1996, which means that we're able to keep up with what's going on in the vineyard. Sure, it's more hours of overtime and more expense. But it's within your control. That's why it's the challenging vintages that shows the true quality of a winery's team. In a year like 2021, everyone should make great wine. That won't be the case this year. But I feel good about our prospects.

Yields were down 8.2% overall off the estate vs. 2021, and averaged 2.37 tons/acre. That's the lowest that we've seen this century except for the extreme drought year of 2015 and the frost years 2009 and 2001. And yet that number could have been worse. Like 2009, we had the twin impacts of drought and frost. But the most serious frost, which came late on May 11th, was localized in an 11-acre section of the vineyard we call Nipple Flat. I'd estimate that this one below-freezing night cost us three-quarters of our production from that section, which includes our largest block of Roussanne and additional sections of Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, and Vermentino. Lo and behold, those were the grapes that were seriously down:

Grape 2022 Yields (tons) 2021 Yields (tons) % Change vs. 2021
Viognier 11.9 11.9 none
Marsanne 8.3 7.6 +9.2%
Grenache Blanc 14.2 23.4 -39.3%
Picpoul Blanc 4.2 5.2 -19.2%
Vermentino 8.7 11.4 -23.7%
Roussanne 10.5 28.1 -62.6%
Other whites 10.0 8.3 +20.5%
Total Whites 67.8 95.9 -29.3%
Grenache 52.5 54.7 -4.0%
Syrah 39.9 37.6 +6.1%
Mourvedre 42.9 44.4 -3.4%
Tannat 13.5 11.1 +21.6%
Counoise 14.4 12.5 +15.2%
Other reds 11.8 8.4 +40.5%
Total Reds 175.0 168.7 +3.7%
Total 242.8 264.6  -8.2%

Complicating year-over-year calculations is our decision to start regenerating some of our weaker blocks by pulling out the vines and building up the soils before planned replanting this winter. Last year, we pulled out vines in two areas,. each about three acres: a block of Mourvedre down on Nipple Flat (which turned out to be good timing, since it would have gotten clobbered by frost anyway) and our second-largest block of Roussanne at the north-east edge of the property (which turned out to be a bummer, since our largest Roussanne block was on Nipple Flat). So we have about six fewer acres in production in 2022 than we did in 2021. All this means that the yields picture looks better that it might appear, as despite our third drought year in a row, the non-frozen sections of the vineyard generally saw yields slightly above what we saw in 2021. That's evidence that the early rain that we got last winter, and the work we've been doing with our flock of sheep to build up our soils' water-holding capacity, helped give the vines the reserves they needed to withstand the stresses of the August and September heat. It also bodes well for quality. 

Help is on the way. In the last couple of years we've planted nearly 30 new acres, including blocks of Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, and Clairette Blanche. Much of that is on Jewel Ridge and based on the quality of the first tiny picks we did off those blocks this year seems likely to be the gem its name suggests. And this and next winter we have plans to plant an additional dozen or so acres of Picpoul, Vermentino, Cinsaut, and Roussanne. I'll share more news on that as it happens. It does mean that for the second year in a row our choices in blending are surely going to be constrained. I'm particularly concerned with what we're going to do with the Esprit de Tablas Blanc from this vintage; the wine has never been less than 45% Roussanne, and even if we assume all the Roussanne we harvested is good enough to go into the Esprit Blanc, which isn't a guarantee, that would cap our production of that wine at 1,500 cases, which isn't really enough for the many things we use it for. So, we'll have a challenge on our hands at blending time. The low quantities also preclude us having enough of any single white grape to do a varietal wine in the quantities we'd need to send it out to our 8000 VINsider Classic Club members. But I have faith that we'll figure out something fun and creative to do. Stay tuned on that too.

We had 115 harvest lots, an increase of five vs. 2021. These included three fewer estate lots (82 instead of 85) and eight more Patelin lots (33 instead of 25). That will be a silver lining to this harvest: we were able to source some great, new vineyards for Patelin, and our quantities of these wines should be assured. In fact, we were able to get enough Patelin that our overall quantity of fruit that we processed this year is up about 9% vs. 2021. In the photo below, the estate lots are in yellow, while the purchased lots are purple on our completed harvest chalkboard:

Finished Harvest Chalkboard

One way that you can get a quick assessment of a vintage is to look at average sugars and acids. Since 2010, our average degrees Brix and pH at harvest:

Year Avg. Sugars Avg. pH
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
2015 22.60 3.59
2016 22.04 3.71
2017 22.87 3.74
2018 22.80 3.62
2019 22.30 3.62
2020 22.14 3.62
2021 22.12 3.55
2022 22.14 3.70

While 2022's sugar numbers are very similar to 2021's, we saw lower acids due to the heat and drought. The result were numbers remarkably like 2016, which was culmination of the five-year 2012-2016 drought in California. The 2016 vintage was an outstanding one in terms of quality, so that's good. But eventually, we really do need some rain. Fingers crossed for this winter. 

In character, it's early to tell what things will be like, but I asked Winemaker Neil Collins to sum up the vintage based on what he's seen so far, and the first thing he mentioned was the pace: "It was an insanely hectic month which beat us all up. I think we scared the interns a bit." But he's happy with what he's seen in the reds so far: "The Pinots and Syrahs are tasting super. Not massive, but complex, with good depth of color." Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi had a similar take on the whites: "they feel a little more luscious because of the high-pH year. They're sultry, I think." We're looking forward to getting to know the wines of 2022 even better in coming weeks.

Now that we're done picking, it can rain any time, though there's nothing in the immediate forecast. We've already returned our flock of sheep to the vineyard, where they're eating second crop clusters before they rot and spreading their manure. This should give the soil's microbial activity a boost as soon as it rains:

Sheep reentered into the vineyard

Of course, just because we've finished picking doesn't mean that we're done with our cellar work. There are still plenty of lots to be pressed off, tanks to be dug out, and fermentations to monitor. But it feels different than it does earlier in harvest, when you're emptying tanks to make room for the next pick. Now, when we press something off and clean a tank out, that's the last time of the season. We've already put a couple of our open-top fermenters outside, along with our sorting table and destemmer. And we're going through the white barrels one by one and making sure that they're topped off. A little head space is necessary when it's bubbling away actively, but once fermentation slows down we need to make sure each barrel is full: 

Chelsea topping barrels

After the challenges of the growing season, we're grateful for the return of a slower pace. And we're excited that it looks like quality will be good. I'll let Chelsea have the last word: "Everything is tasting really beautiful. I just wish there was more."

As we ease out of harvest, we welcome the brief and beautiful Paso Robles autumn

Since our heat wave broke on September 10th, it's felt more like fall than summer. Our average high has been 84F, and the nighttime lows have dropped into the 40s more than half the nights. The days are shorter. We've seen some clouds, and even one day (this past Saturday) where the marine layer was so thick the sun never came out. We got our first (small) rainstorm, about two months earlier than normal. If we'd had a cool summer, we might be worried that the conditions weren't going to allow the grapes still on the vine to ripen. Of course, we had a warm summer and an early start to harvest, and then the most long-lasting heat wave in our history as we entered September. Together, these conditions accelerated ripening to the point that we were roughly three weeks ahead of normal before it got cool. So, no worries about later grapes not getting ripe. But as we wind down through the last week or so of harvest, the grapevines appear to have noticed the fall-like weather and have begun their brief, beautiful autumn transformation. It's stunning, and I thought I'd share a little of it, starting with Mourvedre in the block we call Scruffy Hill:

Looking west through Grenache and Mourvedre

The vineyard colors combined with the lower sun angles and a touch of humidity in the air to produce a landscape which is dramatic and beautiful. Witness this view, looking west through some Syrah canopy toward the Santa Lucia Mountains:

Hills through Mourvedre foliage

If you haven't seen wine country in its autumn colors, it's different both from the high-contrast green-and-gold summer and from the softer, yell0w-green and dark brown winter season. And fall can be over in just a few weeks, if you get a frost, after which and the colors fade to brown almost overnight. But given that it's rare for us to get frosts before mid-November, it seems like this year's might last a bit longer. So you'll have a little longer to catch view of Counoise vines looking like this:

Colorful Counoise vine

Often, these colors don't show up until all the grapes are off the vines. Not this year. In addition to Counoise, we've still got both Grenache (left) and Mourvedre (right) on the vines. That won't be true for much longer, as we're likely to come through our last blocks before the end of the week, but it's pretty:

Grenache cluster

Mourvedre clusters

It's been a luxury letting these grapes wait to gather a little extra hang-time. Everything could have been picked a week or two ago, if we'd wanted. But the fall-like weather has meant that we can leave the remaining clusters out to get a little more complexity and a little more sugar without worrying that the acids will fall out. That's a little-known aspect of the Paso Robles climate. By the time you get to October, the nights are typically chilly and the days, which can still get warm, are short. That's one of the reasons that it's such a good spot for late-ripening grapes like Mourvedre, Roussanne, and the like.

It's worth pointing out that not all the grapes color up like a sugar maple. Grenache is famously green, often all the way into November. I like this next shot both for how well it shows Grenache's ongoing vigor, but for how clearly it shows the chalky soils we love so much:

Grenache vines and chalky soil

One last photo, my favorite of the session, combines everything I love about the current moment. It's looking at the bottom of a head-trained Mourvedre vine, including the gnarled trunk and one of the large, loose clusters characteristic of the grape, with the colorful foliage of the rest of the block in the background:

Mourvedre cluster and colorful foliage

With benign weather on the horizon, we might have another month or more of this look. Of course, we'd love it to rain any time, and the more the better. But that's not likely until the end of the month. So, if you have the good fortune to be here over the coming weeks, you're in for a treat. If not, hopefully I've captured some of it for you to enjoy from home.

Three Tales Intertwined: One Begins, One Continues, and One Finds a Home

By Ian Consoli

Every harvest season our team receives some temporary help to lessen the load of the hundreds of tons of grapes that flood through the cellar doors over the course of 8-10 weeks. The individuals that join us bring an assortment of stories and expertise. Some come to see wine production for the first time, some add another harvest under their belt, and some know what they want and see Tablas Creek's Harvest as a way to get there. This year's interns represent a variation of all three of these categories.

I enjoy sitting with the harvest interns every year to discuss where they came from, how they ended up at Tablas Creek, and where they are going next. This year we have three interns, Louisa, Michael, and Erin, whose answers are divided by color. I'm excited for you to meet them.

Three Tablas Creek internsFrom Left: Louisa, Michael, Erin

Who are you?

My name is Louisa, and I'm a Harvest intern at Tablas Creek right now.

Michael Mensing.

Erin Mason.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up near San Diego, in Del Mar, California.

I lived in Paso Robles for my whole childhood. My family moved here 30 years ago, so they've been here for a while. I graduated from Templeton High in 2015.

Mostly in Southeast Georgia. I lived the longest in Atlanta, so I claim Atlanta as where I'm from, but I've lived and grown up in the southeast my whole life. I ended up in California when I came out to work a harvest with Ian Brand in 2019. I've been living up and down the state ever since.

How did you get into wine?

I wasn't exposed to wine growing up, but I discovered it in college. I took a class at Cal Poly SLO called The Spirituality of Wine. And that got me interested in learning more about wine.

I've been drinking wine since I turned 21. When I moved back here from Australia two and a half years ago, I wanted to get into wine. I started researching wineries around the area here in Paso and got lucky enough to start working in the Tablas Creek tasting room. That's when I started working with and studying wine.

I was running beverage programs for a restaurant group in Atlanta. I wanted to connect on a different level with wine, less as a buyer and more with production and viticulture. I quit my job of 10 years, put all my stuff in storage, packed up my car, and came out to work harvest. I didn't have anything lined up after. I have been piecing together seasonal work and making it work for the last three years.

Louisa in the VineyardLouisa in the vineyard

How did you end up working Harvest with us?

My good friend Kayja worked the last two harvests here. She inspired me to apply for a position at Tablas. This is my first grape harvest, and it's going good.

I have wanted to work Harvest ever since I started here. Last year I worked Harvest at another winery, so this year I chatted with Chelsea and had a meeting with the cellar crew. We all got along, and here we are.

I came to Tablas because of the regenerative program and my interest in the sheep grazing the vineyard. I wanted to look deeper into a position involved with that. Harvest is a way for me to work and see if Tablas is a good long-term fit.

What was it like working our busiest harvest week ever?

It was a lot of grapes <laughs>. Yeah, it was a little bit overwhelming to look out in the parking lot and just see bins and bins and bins of grapes. But it was cool seeing how everyone worked together to make it happen and get all those grapes processed.

Exhilarating and tiresome and fun.

It's like working all of Harvest in one week <laughs>. It was fine. It was hard, long hours, and kind of grueling, but everybody was in good spirits, well organized, and efficient, which made it a lot easier. Everybody's hands-on, there's not really like a hierarchy of who's doing what, so everybody's in there working until it's done. But yeah, it was tough. <Laughs>

Michael and Erin on the sorting tableErin and Michael on the sorting table

What were you doing during the week?

Mainly on the sorting table and doing cap management, like pump overs and pulse airs to keep the ferments going. I like doing the DMAs the most, which is like getting the temperature and the density of all the different lots and stages they're in, and that's been really fun.

Hmm, that's a good question. A little bit of everything. I mean everything from cleaning tanks to processing fruit to just everything. They were long days.

Michael doing a punchdownMichael doing a punchdown

What has been your best memory from Harvest 2021?

Probably one of those really long days during those couple of hectic weeks. We had days we worked from 7am to almost 9pm. We had a water fight at the end of the night, <laughs>, which was super fun. Oh, and harvest lunches are great. Definitely a highlight.

Every day for lunch, we sit down and pull a couple picnic tables into the cellar. Then Winemaker Neil Collin's wife Marcie comes with food for everybody at about 12. We pick out a couple of bottles of wine, sit down for an hour or two, enjoy each other's company, and have food.

Seeing the first estate fruit come in. And just seeing the quality of fruit and the taste and being wowed by that.

Best bottle of wine you ever had?

I really like the Tablas Creek Dianthus. It's just really, really beautiful.

Probably the one I had with good company and good friends. There are so many good wines in the world, too many to choose from. I don't know if it could be my first Chablis, the 2000 Chateau Montelena, or the 2006 Beaucastel, I don't know. I don't remember the wines as much as I do the company I share them with. I've had a $2 bottle of wine that was absolutely fantastic because I shared it with great people.

One of the most memorable bottles is a 2007 Chateau Rayas, which was unlike any wine I've ever tasted. It was incredible and super alive. The experience of tasting it next to A Tribute to Grace 2007 from Santa Barbara Highlands, the first wine that Angela Osborne ever made, was really a cool experience.

Erin in the cellarErin working in the cellar

What's next for you?

I'm going to work for an organization called NOLS, an outdoor education school. I worked for them in Alaska this past summer doing backpacking and sea kayaking expeditions. This winter, I'm going to work for them down in Baja, doing sailing expeditions.

After Harvest, I'll go to Napa for a couple weeks to do my WSET level three. Then I'll go to Portland and check out the Oregon wine region for a little bit. Then I'll be back here in the tasting room. I hope to do a harvest in Europe somewhere next fall, potentially Italy, Portugal or France. But you never know what will happen.

Aside from a massage and recovery, hopefully, staying on here at Tablas and diving deeper into the regenerative organic certification. I like it here. Everybody seems super happy to work here. It's a good sign that people have worked here as long as they have. The property's beautiful, and everybody seems really generous. There's a lot of open-mindedness, curiosity, and support which I think is really important. Especially because there's no finish line or endpoint in regenerative agriculture. It's something that you're always going to be striving to do what's best, and that'll change and evolve. It seems like Tablas as a company has been able to do that in and of itself. So it gives me confidence in where the regenerative program could go.

The vineyard and harvest impacts -- positive and negative -- of our unusual September rain

It's definitely been a month with interesting weather. Just three weeks ago I was writing a blog Preparing for a potentially historic California harvest heat wave. And that heat wave was intense, with ten days in a row over 100°F, though we feel like we escaped the worst impacts that were felt in some of the regions to our north. Now, a week after that heat wave broke, we got our first real rain of the 2022-23 winter, and not from some tropical monsoonal moisture that just wandered a little far north, as we sometimes see in late summer here. No, we got a real winter storm plunging out of the Gulf of Alaska, bringing significant rain to the northern two-thirds of California:

While harvest rain is rare here in Paso Robles, it's not unheard of. In the last two decades, the only other year we received September rain was in 2010, but we got rain before the end of October in 2004, 2006, 2021, and most notably 2009, when we received nearly ten inches on October 13th. And it's more common in other wine-growing regions around the world; Chateauneuf-du-Pape, for example, has harvest rain most years, as September and October are the two rainiest months of the year. Walking around the vineyard this morning shows a very non-Californian scene, with mist in the air and droplets of water on the leaves and clusters of the vines that still have fruit. Check out Mourvedre (left) and Counoise (right):

Mourvedre cluster after the rain Counoise cluster after the rain

It's not like we got an ocean of rain; we got about a half inch overnight, with potentially another quarter-inch coming today. But the whole experience is rare enough that we've been getting tons of questions about what we expect, and we assembled this morning to discuss what's likely to happen. So I thought it might be helpful if I broke down our risks.

  • Dilution. When grapevines get rain late in the growing season, some of that water is pumped into the berries. That reduces both the percentage of sugar and the percentage of acid in the grapes, at least temporarily. As long as you get dry, warm weather after, that dilution is usually short-lived. And given how dry the summer has been, it's not always a bad thing. If you were following us during the heat wave, you know that we pre-emptively gave some water to our most heat-sensitive blocks, figuring that the minor amount of dilution, if it happened, was better than the alternative of having the vines shut down or even pull water out of the berries, creating hard, unripe raisins. Risk of this being an issue: low.
  • Rot. Fungus thrives in moisture. Luckily, most of the time during the growing season here, moisture is in short supply. But when it rains it offers any available rot spores a chance to grow and spread. Key to whether or not this happens is what comes after the rain. If it turns dry and you get a breeze, the moisture on the clusters is gone before any rot has a chance to take hold. If not, and particularly if it gets warm and stays humid, things can go south in a hurry. Looking at the forecast suggests that while today will remain cool, overcast, and showery, tomorrow and especially Wednesday look clear, dry, and breezy. That's good. On the flip side, the clusters and berries have already taken some damage from the heat, and are starting to soften, offering more opportunities for rot spores to get inside the grapes than you'd normally see this time of year. Risk of this being an issue: moderate.
  • Lack of access. Finally, an issue with wet weather is that it makes it difficult and messy to get tractors into the vineyard. Most times of year that's just an inconvenience; if you can't get into the vineyard to prune, or spread compost, or weed, it's usually not a big deal to wait a few days or even a few weeks. But during harvest, access is more important as grape chemistry can change on a daily basis, and if you can't get into the vineyard to pick you run the risk of missing your window. Mitigating this likelihood is that the grapes don't ripen particularly fast in this weather, and the roughly half-inch of rain isn't enough to saturate the deeper layers of the soil. A few days of dry, breezy weather and this won't be a problem. Risk of this being an issue: low.

 The impacts of the rain aren't all negative. In fact, there are some real positives. They include:

  • Helping the harvested vineyard blocks store energy for dormancy. While we do have some worries about the fruit still hanging, the impact of this rain on the two-thirds of the vineyard that has already been picked is nothing but positive. Those vines have expended a lot of resources getting fruit ripe over the past five months. We still have a couple of months of photosynthesis to go before they go dormant with the first hard freeze. It's normal for us to go through after we've finished picking and give the blocks that we can irrigate a bit of water anyway, to help them continue to photosynthesize and store up resources for next year. This rain does that for us, and more broadly than we ever could. 
  • Giving the grapevines with fruit still hanging the energy to make a final push. We've often seen when we've gotten early rain that after a few days where numbers (sugar and acid concentrations) retreat due to dilution, the vines then appear to get something of a second wind and make more progress toward ripeness than they had been doing before the rain. It's probably intuitive as to why. These vines have been pushing hard, with their most limited resource being water. Giving them the water that they need helps them photosynthesize more productively, and that photosynthesis translates into ripening.  
  • Cleaning the dust off the vines, clusters, and roads. It's been a long, hot, dusty summer. We've been running water trucks from our wetland area over the vineyard roads, trying to keep the dust down so that it doesn't settle on the vines (reducing photosynthesis in the same way in would on a home solar panel) and clusters (where it ultimately ends up settling to the bottom of tanks and barrels as a part of the lees). But while it's impractical to spray off the whole vineyard, that's what this rainstorm effectively did. Hey, we'll take it.

So while the rain isn't an uncomplicated boon, neither is it an unmitigated disaster. What happens over the next few days will determine whether we dodge the risk of rot, or whether we need to redouble our efforts and get the remaining grapes off the vines as fast as we can. If we did have to pick fast, at least everything is pretty much ready. The biggest issue would be space in the cellar, and we're trying to make good use of this break to press off tanks that have reached sufficient extraction to make room for what's coming. But if we get good weather later this week, this could actually end up being a good thing. Please keep your fingers crossed for dry and breezy starting tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we'll enjoy the unexpected misty respite in what's usually a hot, dusty season. I'll leave you with two last photos so you can enjoy it, too.

Long view over Tannat after the rain

Long view after the rain

We reach (and pass) the peak of the 2022 harvest... that escalated quickly

By Ian Consoli

We passed the midpoint of the 2022 harvest sometime last week, and what a week it was. In terms of timing, that's pretty early. This would make sense since this harvest was our earliest start (August 17th). But when you take into consideration our early estimation that it would be a prolonged, drawn-out harvest, this past week threw us for a loop. Harvest usually lasts about eight weeks, so passing the midpoint in three and exceeding it in the fourth is an outlier like we haven't seen. The 10-day heat wave will go down as something of a winemaker legend. I can already hear the stories from individuals who worked in cellars in Paso Robles in 2022 talking about "the heat wave of September 2022." With all the bins, fruit, and heat, our vineyard and cellar teams continue to smile and enjoy the rush of harvest 2022.

Harvest Intern Louisa Cleaning the Press Bins of fruit waiting on the crushpad

Harvest Intern Louisa Cleaning the PressHarvest intern Louisa cleans the press


So what did the heat wave look like?

Daily Max temp at Tablas Creek during heatwave

In this graph, you can see the max daily temperatures during the 10-day heatwave were consistently over 100, topping out just shy of 110 on three of those.

The heat caused a rapid ripening of fruit, bringing an avalanche of berries into the cellar. When the team left on September 2nd for the holiday weekend, we were ~35% of our way through harvest, based on our estimates of the tonnage we expect by the end. By the end of September 9th, that number had jumped all the way to 63% of the way through harvest. Winemaker Neil Collins and Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg noted they'd never seen a week like this in their decades in the industry. Multiple varieties jumped 6 Brix in a single week. Varieties that we typically harvest late (Bourboulenc, for example) came in at this early-mid harvest stage. Terms like "madness" and "bonkers" became the go-to when trying to explain what was going on.

Fruit Raining into the cellar 2022

Realizing what an anomaly this past week was, I thought it would be fun to look at the last three harvest chalkboards to see how many lots we had picked by the end of September 9th. In 2020 we had harvested 19 lots; in 2021, 32 lots; this year, we are already at 65 lots. Bonkers indeed.

Chalkboards side-by-side

In terms of varieties, we have picked a bit of everything. In fact, on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, sequential picks off the estate brought in Vermentino, Roussanne, Picardan, Syrah, Counoise, Viognier, Mourvedre, and Grenache, grapes that normally encompass a 6-8 week range. We’re done with a few varieties, including Viognier, Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, and (just today) Syrah and Marsanne, while we're continuing to wait on the bulk of perennial late-ripeners like Mourvedre, Roussanne, and Counoise. There have been days where we've been stashing grapes wherever we could find space because all of our presses are in use simultaneously, and all our tanks are full. As soon as a lot finishes fermentation, we're pressing those tanks off and washing them out to make room for that day’s fruit. The cellar is so full, we had to move the sorting table outside to make room for the fruit. It's a flurry of activity in the cellar.

Cellar team on sorting table

It is important to note that while we are seeing a record number of lots come in for this time of year, yields are a little all over the place. Varieties like Syrah, Viognier, and Marsanne (none of which were much affected by our May frosts) are seeing totals equal to or slightly higher than last year's. Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, and Vermentino (all of which have blocks in our low-lying Nipple Flat section, which was hit hard by May’s frost) are all down significantly from last year. This is particularly bad for Grenache Blanc and Vermentino, which were already down 40%-50% from 2020. Roussanne, whose most extensive planting is on Nipple Flat, is sure to be down sharply as well. For the rest, we’ll see.

Frost Damaged Grenache Blanc VineA normally vigorous Grenache Blanc vine in Nipple Flatt showing the effects of frost damage

In the vineyard, it feels like we came out of the heatwave mostly unscathed. Some pre-emptive irrigation on our more sensitive grapes like Mourvedre helped minimize raisining, the vines’ self-defense mechanism of pulling the moisture they need to survive from the clusters. There was some very limited damage, but nothing like we'd feared. Most of the remaining signs of the heatwave are what you see on the sun-kissed Marsanne cluster below: healthy and ready for harvest.

Sun kissed Marsanne Cluster

We also hit an important milestone last week with our first significant harvest of Jewel Ridge, the 35-acre dry-farmed block on the parcel we purchased in 2011. We let it lay fallow for six years, grazing our sheep there and building organic matter in the soil before beginning planting in 2017. ⁠The nearly five combined tons we picked of Roussanne, Counoise, Mourvedre, and Grenache represent a big piece of the future of Tablas Creek.

First Pick of Jewel

We continue to see lovely fruit concentration in 2022. The combination of yet another drought year and frost-reduced yields means that all our varieties come in with smaller berries and thicker skins. The fact that both sugars and acids were at ideal levels is good evidence that we were able to keep up with the heat spike. The similarities Jason drew to the 2009 vintage in his most recent blog seem to be ringing more and more accurate.

In addition to the Mourvedre, Tannat, and Counoise still hanging on the vine, there are a couple more obscure varieties we look forward to bringing in, including Terret Noir and Clairette Blanche, a personal favorite. Most exciting of all is our block of Muscardin, the 14th and final Chateauneuf du Pape variety from the Beaucastel collection. We are hopeful this year could be the year we can finally get enough to bottle on its own. If the look of the clusters is any indication, it seems we're set to make history in 2022!

Muscardin Cluster in Fall 2022

Another good piece of news: we've been able to secure some really nice additional fruit for our Patelin de Tablas wines, including 10 tons of Grenache Blanc contracted just last week. That's always been one of the primary benefits for us of the Patelin program. In years where our own crop is plentiful, we use more Tablas fruit in those wines. In years where it's scarce, we reach out to the big network of growers who have our clones in the ground in Paso Robles and secure some more fruit to purchase. That should mean that even if many of our estate wines are scarce or can't be made in 2022, we'll at least have some wines for the pipeline. And all of that fruit has looked outstanding.

So, now it's a question of how much longer harvest will last. Winemaker Neil Collins predicts another 3 weeks of fruit, which opens the possibility of being fully harvested before October even begins! That would certainly mark the first time in our history that happened. Either way, we are challenging our earliest end to harvest ever of October 3rd, set in 2001. Will the second half of harvest provide a new narrative? Stay tuned.

Preparing for a potentially historic California harvest heat wave

So far this harvest season, the weather has been just about perfect. It's been warm (average high temp 93.5°F) but not too warm (highest high just 102.8°F, and just 48 hours over 95°F). Nights have been chilly (average low temp 54.7°F) but not too chilly (lowest low temp 47.7°F). Each warm stretch has been followed by a cool-off. You can get a sense of this by looking at the daily temperature ranges since August 1st:

Daily Temperatures August 2022

All that moderation is exactly what you want for your vines as they make that final push toward harvest. Unfortunately, it looks like we're getting something rather different starting tomorrow. A heat wave is coming, and it's a big one. The New York Times is calling it "brutal", the Washington Post is calling it "record-threatening", and the San Francisco Chronicle is calling it "dangerously hot". Here in Paso Robles, our forecast is for a string of days that might touch 110°F:

Forecast highs heat wave 2022

Many parts of California are looking at temperatures that will exceed seasonal norms by 12-14°C (22-25°F) in what is already a warm time of year. The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) gives a great graphical depiction just how widespread the temperature anomaly will be across the western United States. A shout out to Daniel Swain and his blog Weather West, where I found this image, and which I consider required reading for anyone interested in California weather or climate:

Temperature Anomaly Heat Wave August 2022

A couple of mitigating factors give me some hope that we might escape the heat wave's worst effects. First, it's not quite as hot out here as in the town of Paso Robles. So if the forecast for town is 110°F, it's more likely to be 106°F or 107°F here. Those few degrees help. Second, the vineyard looks really healthy this year. That vigor is going to be put to the test in coming days, but at least we're starting from a good position. Third, it looks like the nights are supposed to cool off. Even at the height of the high pressure ridge, it looks like the town of Paso Robles is going to drop into the 60s. Out here it's usually 3-5°F cooler at night than in town. So the vines will still have a chance to refresh themselves a bit at night. And finally, it's late enough in the year that we have somewhat shorter days and longer nights than we would if it were mid-summer. The twelve hours and 57 minutes between sunrise and sunset is an hour and 38 minutes less heating time than we would have had on our longest day of the year.

On the other side of the ledger, we're in our third year of drought here in California, it's late enough in the growing season that even in a normal year we'd expect the top several feet of soil to be dry and the vines to be under high stress, and we had another heat event in July that already resulted in some losses.

However it shakes out, it's going to be a challenge, and our tools to deal with the heat are limited. The best option is to bring anything that's ready or nearly so into the cellar and get them into tanks or barrels where the outside temperature doesn't matter. Over the last two days, we've brought in nearly 47 tons of grapes, or roughly 10% of what we expect to do this entire harvest season, including these Grenache Blanc bins on our crushpad today:

Grenache Blanc on crushpad

We'll be continuing to bring in grapes through the wave, starting early in the pre-dawn hours with light towers and headlamps when it's still cool and continuing until probably only around 10am, when temperatures get high enough that we worry about the effects of oxidation on the newly harvested clusters. A big piece of what's coming in next will be Syrah, which is ready to go and looking amazing:

Syrah clusters

But there are grapes that are still a long way from being ready. Heck, there are grapes like Counoise that haven't even finished veraison. Harvesting those isn't a viable option, and it's important to remember that even with this week's push we're still only about a third of the way through harvest. So we've been doing something you rarely see after veraison and turning on our irrigation lines in our most heat-sensitive varieties, trying to give them the reserves they need to withstand the heat. I posted about this on Twitter today:

We're trying to avoid raisining, where the vines activate a self-defense mechanism by pulling the liquid out of their berries and using it to replace what they're losing to evaporation and photosynthesis. The resulting hard, sour raisins won't reinflate, costing us production. This Mourvedre cluster shows both that there are grapes still finishing veraison and a few of these premature raisins, the result of an earlier heat wave in mid-July that caused modest losses in Mourvedre:

Mourvedre cluster with raisining

Those two options are pretty much our entire toolkit, at least in the short term. And, of course, we don't even have one of those options on the 40% of our vineyard without irrigation infrastructure. In the longer term, the farming choices we make can help build the vines' resilience to heat and drought. Focusing on dry-farming builds deeper root systems, which have more reliable access to water and are less impacted by what's going on at the surface. Regenerative farming helps build the organic content of our soils, which then hold more moisture. And Biodynamics (along with the regenerative practices) produces more robust vines that have greater reserves to draw from. 

Fingers crossed, please, that it's enough. 

With its August 17th beginning, 2022 becomes our earliest-ever start to harvest

By Ian Consoli

In the early morning of August 17th, we brought in our earliest estate-fruit pick ever with just under four tons of Viognier. Our first purchased fruit came in later that the same day: 4.25 tons of Syrah from Fralich Vineyard. And just like that, the 2022 harvest began! We steadily brought in fruit over the next week before temperatures cooled a bit the last few days, and everything slowed down.

The next day saw our annual "Cellar Crew Day" at the Haas Vineyard, source of our Full Circle Pinot Noir. This tradition allows the whole cellar team to be a part of the picking process before the thick of harvest. It's also an opportunity for our core cellar team to better get to know the harvest interns. A few photos from that pick, beginning with Vineyard Manager David Maduena, starting his 31st harvest here at Tablas Creek, monitoring the bins of Pinot Noir:

David Maduena

Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi in her 14th harvest at Tablas Creek picks alongside one of this year's cellar interns, Louisa:

Chelsea and Intern harvesting

Seeing the first bins of fruit on the crush pad is always a welcome sight:

Syrah on the Crushpad

Unlike last year, where temperatures dropped in late August and we waited a week between our first estate pick and our second, this year is steadily moving along. After the Viognier came in on Wednesday, we harvested half a bin of Roussanne from Jewel Ridge on Thursday, Vermentino on Saturday, then Grenache Blanc and Syrah on Monday. Over the past week, we have maintained a daily high of around 100 degrees with just a slight dip over the weekend into the 80s, maintaining prime ripening conditions for the fruit this time of year:

Our estate fruit isn't the only thing we are keeping track of. We source from about ten vineyards throughout Paso Robles for our Patelin program, and with these kinds of ripening conditions, viticulturist Jordan Lonborg needs to pull samples from all of them a couple of times a week to ensure we pick at just the right time. Every time we finish picking from one of these partner vineyards, there's one less stop Jordan needs to make in the morning. Right now, he's visiting every one of them. Here's his haul from Wednesday morning:


It's early, but it looks like we may be seeing another lower-yielding vintage. That’s not surprising, given the drought conditions and the frosts we saw in April and May, but we’d hoped it might be more localized. Instead, Winemaker Neil Collins noted that yields are down on both the estate and Patelin picks so far from a year ago, and a year ago yields were down from the previous year. Still, quality looks very strong.

Although an earlier-than-normal harvest does come with complications for staff (the cellar team typically takes a bit of time off before the rush of harvest), the steady pace at which this harvest started bodes well for the next couple of months. We're looking at temperatures in the 90s over the next week with a slight dip over the weekend. This is the type of weather pattern we hope for at this time of year, and we're looking forward to what next week will bring.

What's next? It seems like we might get a little more Syrah at the end of the week. In the meantime, we'll be enjoying the lovely harvest aromas of fermenting Viognier in the cellar and this slow, steady start to harvest. It's just the beginning, but it's been a good beginning. I'll leave you with the Syrah clusters that look like they're coming next.

Syrah Clusters

Comparing Clusters and Vine Growth in Our Principal Red Rhone Varieties as Harvest 2022 Aproaches

This is a time of year when things move fast in the vineyard. In just the last couple of weeks, we've gone from just starting veraison to more than halfway through. Large swaths of fully-colored grapes don't look much different than they will at harvest, and they're getting tasty. Even better, the vines themselves still look great. Typically, by mid-August some of the lower vigor grapes (I'm looking at you, Mourvedre) start to look a little tired, with some yellowing or browning of the leaves. Not this year. Throughout the vineyard, the vines look deep green and vigorous. That bodes well for their ability to make a strong finishing push.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at our main red grape varieties, both cluster and vine, to get a comparative sense of how they grow and what they look like now. So I took a walk through our Scruffy Hill block, which we planted back in 2005 and 2006 with the idea it would someday be a vineyard block designate, and got representative photos of the four red Rhone varieties we had available to plant in that era. I then went to a new head-trained Cinsaut block to complete the quintet of grapes we think of as our core set. I'll share them in the order in which we expect them to arrive in the cellar, starting with Syrah and finishing with Mourvedre. Without further ado:


There are Syrah blocks at the tops of our hills that look like they might only be a couple of weeks from harvest. But our Scruffy Hill section will likely be longer than that; you can see that the cluster I photographed still has a green berry, and there are other green clusters in the background. But overall I'd guess we're 80% of the way through veraison in Syrah. The grapes are characteristically blue-black, and the clusters modest in size and roughly cylindrical. In terms of the vine, you can see its vigor and its sprawling growth pattern, which is why we train it up high. That way the long canes can arc down like an umbrella instead of trailing on the ground. 

Pre-harvest 2022 - Syrah Pre-harvest 2022 - Syrah Vine


Grenache has made a lot of progress through veraison in the last few weeks, and I'd estimate it's past the 50% mark vineyard-wide. You can see in the cluster I chose its relatively pale purple color and its tightly bunched, large clusters of fairly large grapes. The vine is also characteristic: stocky and robust, looking twice as old as its 16-year age, with a large number of relatively stiff canes shooting out at a variety of angles and a plentiful supply of grapes. We should see our first Grenache lots in mid-September, but our last lots not until mid-October. 

Pre-harvest 2022 - Grenache Pre-harvest 2022 - Grenache vine


Cinsaut may actually come in before Grenache, but the only head-trained block that we have is in one of the lowest parts of the vineyard and was impacted by the frosts we saw this spring. So, the vine's progress is a bit behind where it should be, and where the trellised blocks are elsewhere in the vineyard. But the cluster is still coloring up nicely, with a mix of colors between green and medium purple. The range of grape sizes is unusual (it's a condition colorfully known as "hens and chicks") and appears to be a symptom of the difficult weather it had during flowering. The vine, even in its youth, is already showing the long canes characteristic of Cinsaut and the vigor and upright growth pattern that made it so successful in both Mediterranean Europe and old Californian head-trained, dry-farmed vineyards. We expect it to come in roughly in synch with Grenache. 

Pre-harvest 2022 - Cinsaut Pre-harvest 2022 - Cinsaut Vine


There are still Counoise blocks where you have to do some hunting around to find purple berries, but the Scruffy Hill block was at about 50%. This cluster shows the large berries that made Counoise a prized table grape before the development of seedless grapes, and its fairly pale color. The vine shows the moderate vigor and upright growth characteristic of Counoise. We don't expect to see our first Counoise grapes in the cellar until early October.

Pre-harvest 2022 - Counoise Pre-harvest 2022 - Counoise Vine


We have a lot of Mourvedre blocks, in various stages of ripening.  The Scruffy Hill Mourvedre block is lower down the hillside, and it's relatively early into veraison. But there are hilltop trellised blocks that are nearly done. Still, even when it finishes veraison Mourvedre takes a while to get to ripeness, and we're not likely to see much if any in the cellar until October. The photo below shows the grape's relatively loose clusters, which helps it shrug off early rains, should we be so lucky, and the medium-dark color that the red berries have achieved shows why it produces darker wines than Counoise, Cinsaut, or Grenache. The vine is typical of what we see in the block this year, although as I mentioned in the intro it's unusually green compared to many other years. I would normally expect our Mourvedre vines to look more or less like the Counoise photo above, but this year they have longer canes and more leafy vigor. That's as good a sign as any that the vineyard has unusual vigor and is well positioned for this finishing push.

Pre-harvest 2022 - Mourvedre Pre-harvest 2022 - Mourvedre Vine

A quick note about this year's variability

Although as I noted in a few weeks ago we're likely to challenge our earliest-ever beginning to harvest, I'm starting to believe that it's likely to be quite an extended harvest season. Thanks to the frosts we got in March, April, and May, there's more difference than I'm used to seeing between the tops of the hills (which avoided the frosts and sprouted early) and the bottoms (which either stayed dormant through the frosts or were frozen back when they emerged). And we're used to a long harvest, typically lasting around eight weeks between the arrival of the first and last fruit. This year may be longer.

Still, I'm feeling optimistic about things. We're well set up to handle uneven or delayed ripening, since we give our field crew year-round employment and pick selectively while making multiple passes through our blocks even in a normal year. If we're going to have a 10-week lag between our first and last grapes, it's good to get an early start. And if you were designing perfect ripening weather, what we've gotten the last couple of weeks and what's forecast for next week (days topping out in the upper 80s to upper 90s, with onshore flow and cool nights) would be exactly what you'd wish for.

Let's get this party started.