On the Road Again

By Darren Delmore.

Like a UFO in its own right, my Tablas Creek Subaru Outback fireballed through the Chihuahuan desert in late-February. It’d been awhile since I’d hit the road for wholesale market work. My Southwest odyssey included winemaker dinners and tastings in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico. I saw a country that was coming back, climbing out of the pandemic, and ready to drink some Tablas Creek.

Call me old school, but driving instead of flying had more pros than cons; including the transport of newly released rosé samples, catching up on long phone calls, the bevy of interesting wine podcasts that are available nowadays (I’ll Drink to That, Disgorgeous), and the chance to add in a mystical pitstop like Marfa, Texas along the way. Plus, now I truly know the meaning behind the phrase “longer than a Texas mile”.

Marfa

Texas, as suspected, seemed like nothing unusual had really happened over the last two years. My week-long tour there, which began in Houston, was as busy as any market visit in my ten year history with Tablas Creek, and included a luncheon for wine directors and shop owners, appointments from Uptown to Montrose, and even a sold-out in-person dinner at the great Backstreet Café, with whom we partnered for a virtual wine dinner during the thick of things. It was good to see their sommelier Sean Beck owning the room like normal, and blowing off some social rust of my own. The crowd washed down chili-rubbed snapper on lemongrass risotto with Cotes de Tablas Blanc, feasted on lamb sausage and white bean cassoulet with Patelin de Tablas Rouge, and capped off the night with Bulgogi style braised beef cheeks on a pomegranate reduction, paired with our Mourvédre. 

I witnessed Austin on a rare, freezing day with a wind chill factor sending things into the 18 degree temperature range. Not even the warm, pillowy breakfast tacos at Tacodeli could prepare me for the frigid airmass.

Tacodeli

I’ll never forget my parking lot tasting of the new wines with the Austin Wine Merchant, homeless folks asking us for tastes, and realizing how many layers of fabric I was lacking.

AWM

Had I not driven, I would’ve never made it up to Dallas, courtesy of a massive ice storm that shut down highways and the school system on the Thursday I was slated to work and do a wine dinner. I white knuckled it from Austin to Dallas in a specific window of Wednesday night before the freezing rain set in, like a Wal-Mart trucker with a haul full of toilet paper back in April 2020. Our dinner event was ultimately canceled because of the ice, though our Vineyard Brands manager Todd got me around town to show our wines to a handful of accounts and make the journey worthwhile.

Then off again, passing through Amarillo and on to Santa Fe to the shuffling sounds of Townes Van Zandt and Khruangbin, I arrived in time for top chef Laura Crucet’s culinary crescendo at Pig and Fig Café in White Rock, New Mexico. We debuted the 2021 Patelin de Tablas Rosé to the forty-plus attendees, before art-exhibit-worthy plates of braised buffalo ravioli with Mourvédre and tzatziki drizzled Moroccan Lamb Kefta with Esprit de Tablas Rouge transported us all into gastronomical bliss.

The homestretch of Arizona had me in Phoenix visiting a few restaurant accounts and wine shops, all of which had an increased focus on more organically grown wines than I remember from before the pandemic. Spring training was still on hold, so buyers and restaurant owners had a lot of downtime to meet and taste and hear what's new. You now can find our wines at Sauvage, Faraway Wines and Provisions, Restaurant Progress, Tratto, and many more cool AZ accounts.

Tratto

Lastly, I concluded the odyssey in Tucson, in the Barrio Viejo to be specific, at the beautiful, classic restaurant The Coronet. I showed the owners around our vineyard during Covid, and we plotted a delectable collaboration. The timing seemed right; the Gem Show had just brought somewhat normal business to town, snowbirds had flocked in, and we had fifty reservations for a dinner event that included Thai Mussels and Roussanne, Duck Leg Confit and Patelin de Tablas Blanc,  and Venison on a charred onion blackberry puree with Esprit de Tablas Rouge. VINsiders, restaurant owners from Alaska, and Tablas fans from Minnesota were in the house, to the tinkling ivories and bassy grooves of a local jazz trio.

Barrio

I had to step back a few times and take the familiar scene in. We’re back, it seems, and we’re out here.


Spring in the Vineyard: A Wildflower Explosion and a Burst of Growth

It's been a month or so since I took people on a photographic tour of what's going on in the vineyard, and this is a time of year when things change fast. So, let's dive in.

Spring is my favorite time in Paso Robles. The hillsides are green. The air is softer than it was during the winter, and the days warm and pleasant, but not yet the stark summer that can feel floodlit during the day. Nights can still be chilly, and we do worry about frost, but so far this spring we've been OK. This weekend might be a different story, but we've done what we can to be prepared. Meanwhile, the vineyard is springing to life, with buds swelling, then opening, then bursting to leaf with remarkable speed.

But it's the explosion of color that is springtime in Paso Robles' calling card.  The rain that came during the winter combines with the longer days to produce a month of proliferating wildflowers. The most visible of these flowers are the bright orange California poppies, our state's official flower:

Wildflowers 2022 - Poppies

Low to the ground, the cover crop's most colorful component is purple vetch. These provide a carpet underneath taller elements, but in shady areas are impressive all on their own:

Wildflowers 2022 - Vetch

In areas where the sheep haven't grazed, the wild mustard's yellow blooms give splashes of color that always make me think of a giant toddler let loose with a can of yellow spray paint:

Wildflowers 2022 - Mustard

But the most impressive wildflower arrays are the lupines. These purple clusters can cover the ground, swaying rhythmically and producing an intoxicating scent. They're unmissable on the sides of the roads out in the Adelaida District this year:

Wildflowers 2022 - Lupine

I've been showing you lots of non-vineyard areas because that's what's most colorful, but the vineyards boast an impressive carpet of greenery, studded with purple, white, and yellow flowers from the vetch, radishes, mustard and sweet peas mixed in with the grasses and clovers:

Wildflowers 2022 - Mixed Cover Crop

But, of course, it's the vines that we care most about this time of year. The splashes of vibrant yellow-green from the new growth of our early-sprouting varieties (like Viognier, below) provide a contrast in texture more than color against the gold-green grasses, particularly in the morning sun:

Wildflowers 2022 - Viognier

This explosion of spring color won't last long.  Soon, the weather will heat up and dry out, and the color palette will shift from winter green to summer gold. We've already started getting the cover crop incorporated into the vineyard so the vines can benefit from its nutrition and don't have to compete with extra roots for available water. But if you're coming in the next month, you're in for a treat.

Wildflowers 2022 - Riot


A Report from the Blending Table: the 2021 Whites May Be Scarce, But They're Exciting

We've spent the last four days around our blending table, working to turn the 36 different lots we made from our white grapes in 2021 into the blends and varietal bottlings we'll be releasing to you in coming months. With the ongoing challenges of international travel, we again convened without a Perrin in attendance, though Cesar will be visiting for red blending next month and we'll have a chance to get his thoughts before anything goes into bottle. After four days immersed in these wines, I feel confident that he'll love what he tastes. And that's great! After the painfully short 2021 harvest (white grapes down 36.5% overall) we knew our options might be constrained. But the reward in scarce vintages is typically noteworthy intensity. That (spoiler alert) definitely holds true with 2021. 

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, on Monday and Tuesday, 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. A snapshot of my notes:

2021 White Blending Notes

My quick thoughts on each variety are below. For context, in a normal year, for every 10 lots we might see 3-4 "1" grades, 5-6 "2" grades and 1 "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"). As you'll see, the Roussanne in particular got a ton of good grades this year. In rough harvest order:

  • Viognier (4 lots): A really strong Viognier vintage, with good richness but also better-than usual acidity. Since we don't use Viognier in Esprit Blanc, a "1" grade just means that it's as good and expressive as Viognier gets, with freshness to balance its plentiful fruit and body. One "1" lot, two "1/2" lots, and one "2".
  • Marsanne (3 lots): If possible, an even stronger Marsanne showing than Viognier, with all three lots showing Marsanne’s classic honeydew and chalky mineral charm. One lot was still unfinished and got a "1/2" from me. The other two I gave "1"s to. With yields off more than 40% I was worried that despite how good it would surely be we wouldn't be able to showcase this with a varietal Marsanne, but as it turned out, we will, and it should be terrific.
  • Picardan (2 lots): Neither lot was quite finished fermenting, which made it difficult. Both had nice herbiness and good acids, but neither had as much richness as we've found in our favorite Picardan lots. One "2" and one "2/3". While there won't be Picardan in the Esprit Blanc this year, we have good confidence it will finish up and make a delicious varietal bottling.
  • Bourboulenc (3 lots): After our issues in 2019 with our debut vintage of Bourboulenc having a crazy orange color when it came out of the press the cellar team separated out the press fraction this year. That lot, while it had interesting aromatics, was low in acid and had an almost amber color. I gave it a 2/3 and it got declassified into Patelin. The other two lots had lots of good texture with solid acids. I gave them both "1/2" grades.
  • Clairette Blanche (1 lot): We only had 192 gallons of this, our scarcest white grape, and it was spicy and tropical, with lots of texture. I gave it a "1/2".
  • Grenache Blanc (8 lots): Grenache Blanc is often tough to evaluate in this first tasting because it's always the last to finish fermentation, and this year was no exception. I gave out two "1" grades to lots with brightness, richness, and the grape's characteristic pithy bite, two "1/2" grades to lots with classic flavors but a little leaner, two "2" grades to lots that were in the final stages of fermentation and showing some oxidation but seemed promising, a "2/3" to a heavy press lot with an amber color and some bitterness, and a "3" to a lot with dark color and notable oxidation. I have confidence that even these last two lots will become something good with a little cellar attention, but they weren't there yet.
  • Picpoul Blanc (2 lots): One 708-gallon "1" lot that we all loved, with sweet tropical fruit and bright citrusy acidity, and a 120-gallon "2" lot that we thought would end up just as good, but was still a bit sweet and showing a little oxidation.
  • Roussanne (13 lots): Although there were plenty of strong lots among the other grapes, there was also unevenness. So it was a relief to have our strongest collection of Roussanne lots I can remember. I gave seven lots "1" grades, which would gave us plenty of Roussanne options for Esprit Blanc. Three others got "1/2" grades due to their oak, which we liked but thought had the potential to be too dominant in Esprit Blanc. Three "2" grades to pretty, classic Roussanne lots without quite the level of texture and richness our top lots got. And nothing lower than that.

We finished Tuesday by brainstorming ideas for the Esprit Blanc. With plenty of Esprit-caliber Roussanne, good acids across the board, and the relative unevenness of Grenache Blanc, we thought this might be a good year to lean into Roussanne and Picpoul. But which of the higher-acid whites should be included, and just how much we would reduce Grenache Blanc from the roughly 25% we have most years, we didn't know. That's what our blending trials are for! Complicating matters was the overall scarcity of the vintage, which meant that we knew we would struggle to make enough lots big enough (600+ cases) to send out to our VINsider wine club members. We needed four whites from this vintage in quantity and quality to send out, and that meant at least one varietal bottling, plus the three blends, or two varietal bottlings plus Esprit Blanc and Cotes Blanc. To give us enough options, we made the decision to make somewhat less Esprit Blanc than usual, something more like 1,600 cases than our usual 2,200 cases. That's 600 cases of top-quality fruit available to other wines.

Wednesday morning, we started on our blending work by tasting three possible Esprit de Tablas Blanc blends. Our least-favorite had the most Grenache Blanc (18%) while our favorite had the least (12%) and instead got lovely tropicality from 16% Picpoul. But even our favorite felt like it could lean heavier into Roussanne than the 64% that it contained, and had plenty enough acid that we could swap that in for portions of the brighter Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Bourboulenc lots that it contained. The cost would be making less Roussanne and not having enough for a full club shipment, and having to use the Patelin de Tablas Blanc instead, which we would prefer to avoid since wines that don't make it into distribution feel more special to include to club members. But our rule is that the Esprit wines always get first dibs on what they need to be great, so in a second round we tasted that wine against a new one which upped the Roussanne percentage to 70% and added the rest of the top Picpoul lot (17%), with 10% Grenache Blanc, 2% Bourboulenc, and 1% Clairette. That gave the wine a deeper, more honeyed profile, with exceptional richness and length. It should be impressive young, but feels to us like it's got a long life ahead of it. Consider yourselves forewarned that because of its scarcity it may go fast.

That afternoon we tackled the Cotes Blanc. Viognier always takes the lead, but we weren't sure whether we wanted Marsanne's elegance or Grenache Blanc's density and acid in the primary support role. So, we decided to try one blend with more Grenache Blanc and less Marsanne, one with more Marsanne and less Grenache Blanc, and one where set them to roughly equal levels. As sometimes happens, there was a clear favorite, which to our surprise was the one with the most Grenache Blanc. That at first was surprising, but given that we used so little Grenache Blanc in Esprit Blanc we had some truly outstanding lots available for Cotes Blanc, which produced a wine that we loved: luscious but structured, persistent and appealing. As a bonus, it also gave us the chance to make a varietal Marsanne, which I'd almost given up hope of doing. Final blend: 44% Viognier, 32% Grenache Blanc, 14% Marsanne, and 10% Roussanne.

In making the quantity of Esprit Blanc and Cotes Blanc we wanted, we hadn't used all any of our grapes. Even after declassifying one Bourboulenc lot and two Grenache Blanc lots into Patelin Blanc, we'll still have a great range of options from 2021. And that's how we finished up the blending week: tasting the three blends alongside the eight varietal wines that we'll be bottling from 2021. Our principal concerns here are to make sure that the varietal wines are differentiated from the blends that lead with the same grape (so, our Esprit Blanc is different from Roussanne, our Cotes Blanc different from the Viognier, etc) and to make sure that the blends fall into the appropriate places in our hierarchy:

2021 Whites after Blending

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

  • 2021 Bourboulenc (200 cases): Medium gold. A nose of orange bitters, green herbs, and citrus blossom. On the palate, the citrus note continues with Seville oranges, sweetgrass and chamomile, with nice texture and a long finish.
  • 2021 Picardan (175 cases): A complex, savory nose of lime, peppery citrus leaf, and briny oyster shell. Super bright on the palate with lemon and fresh green herbs, zippy acids, and a mineral finish.
  • 2021 Clairette Blanche (50 cases): Scarce, because we just don't have much Clairette in the ground. But after not making one at all in 2020 I'm happy to have even 50 cases. A high-toned nose of wintergreen, preserved lemon, and limestone. A hint of sweetness on the palate (this isn't quite done fermenting) then turning creamy with a lemon drop zippiness and little lemon pith bite that emphasizes the grape's signature minerality.
  • 2021 Picpoul Blanc (50 cases): Scarce, because we used so much Picpoul in Esprit Blanc. A pretty nose of ripe apple, with a hint of oxidation from the fact that this Picpoul lot hasn't finished fermenting yet.  That's clear on the palate too with some remaining sweetness and notes of crystallized pineapple, lemon drop, and wet rocks. Should be outstanding by the time it's done. 
  • 2021 Grenache Blanc (750 cases): A classic Grenache Blanc nose, pithy, briny, and vibrant. A great combination of acids and richness on the palate, with a long finish where that pithy note comes back to the fore. Should be a great wine club shipment wine.
  • 2021 Viognier (190 cases): A high-toned nose of peaches and white flowers with a little bit of tarragon-like sweet herbiness. Nicely fruity on the palate, with nectarine and mineral character and solid acids. Medium-bodied, which I loved, given that Viognier can have a tendency toward heaviness. Not this one.
  • 2021 Marsanne (230 cases): Quite polished already, with a nose of honey, petrichor, and white flowers. The mouth is clean and spare, with gentle flavors of white tea, honeydew melon, and chalky minerality. Lovely.
  • 2021 Roussanne (480 cases): A notably rich nose with flavors of beeswax, lemongrass, and cedary oak. Similar on the mouth, with the honey flavors given lift by a nice lemony brightness. We're going to put this in neutral barrels and have high hopes for something amazing as the oak integrates.
  • 2021 Patelin de Tablas Blanc (2900 cases): A lovely floral, fruity, buttery nose, orange blossom and white peach, seemingly dominated more by Viognier than Grenache Blanc right now even though there's twice as much of the latter than the former. Good balance on the mouth, with flavors of pineapple and preserved lemon (there's the Grenache Blanc!) and good acids coming out on the peachy finish. Charming already, and exciting that we were able to make this in good quantity.
  • 2021 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (1215 cases): A nose of caramel and brioche, with a little minty lift. The palate is lovely, with good richness held in check by good acids. The ripe peach and lime flavors seem equally balanced between the Viognier and Grenache Blanc components. A creamy texture emphasizes the stone fruit flavors on the finish.
  • 2021 Esprit de Tablas Blanc (1610 cases): The nose is very Roussanne, with poached pear, crystallized pineapple, honeysuckle and sweet oak. The mouth is luscious and textured, with honey, green apple, and graham cracker flavors, solid acidity, and the little dancing mango-like tropicality that I think comes from the Picpoul. This, like the Roussanne, will go back into foudre to let the oak integrate.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • The vintage's character, if I had to distill it down to one word, would be power. Not alcoholic power; the average Brix reading of our whites was just 20.35, which translates to a potential alcohol of around 12.6%. And I don't mean heavy; the wines all had good acids. But the textures were rich. The flavors were deep and intense. I don't think at this stage one would describe the wines as playful, though that often comes out with a little time. But I have confidence that these will be wines with well-defined character and intense flavors. Given that our yields were so low, that's what we'd have expected, though (see 2015) it doesn't always work out that way. 
  • The impact of blind tasting was on full display. It's tempting to write the story of a vintage early, and decide what's going to fit together best as a part of that narrative. But as is demonstrated to us every year, the reality of tasting blends is that you don't know what's going to fit best together until you try it. As evidence, the Cotes de Tablas Blanc and its high percentage of Grenache Blanc, in a year when at the component stage we thought we preferred Marsanne. But it turned out that Marsanne wasn't what Viognier needed this year to show its best self. I am proud of the process that we use, which guarantees that the wines we make reflect the specifics of each vintage. 
  • The scarcity of 2021 is going to have impacts across our business. Even though we managed to make enough different wines in enough quantities, there in many cases won't be much left over after we send them out to club members. If there are wines that you know you love, I would pay attention to the release announcements and plan to get them at release. The days of having a wine like Grenache Blanc, or Picpoul, or Viognier available for several months are likely a thing of the past. We do have more vines in the ground from last year's planting, but that help is still a few years away. 
  • 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 in recent years, it seems like 2016 might provide a pretty good comparison. At the end of our five-year drought, 2016 produced powerful components and seemed particularly strong for Roussanne. In the Cotes Blanc we came to a similar conclusion, using more Grenache Blanc and less Marsanne to better play of Viognier's richness. The solution we came to for the 2016 Esprit Blanc tied for our highest-ever percentage of Roussanne at 75%. That's similar to this year, though we've never before had more Picpoul than Grenache Blanc. But it's at least a starting point. We will see in coming months if I'm right.

It's important to note that while we've decided on blends, it's not like the wines will go into bottle next week. There are lots that need some time to finish fermenting, and everything needs to be racked, blended, and let settle and integrate. The Roussanne and the Esprit Blanc will go into foudre and have another 9 months to evolve. And even the varietal wines are three months from seeing a bottle. But still, this is our first comprehensive look at our most recent vintage. So far, so good.


Budbreak 2022: Early, Despite Our Chilly Winter (Blame the Lack of Rain)

This winter's precipitation has fizzled after a wonderfully wet December. Although we've still got a few chances for more rain (including later this week) there's nothing substantial on the horizon, and March is the last month when we'd expect significant rainfall. So, we're resigning ourselves to another drought year. As you'd probably expect, that is likely to have an impact on our yields. What you might not expect is that it also impacts when the growing season starts. But it does. Because rising soil temperatures are one of the main signals that grapevines use to come out of dormancy in the spring, and because dry soils warm up faster than wet soils, we've been on the lookout for our warmer spots -- and our earlier-sprouting varieties -- to start their growing season. So this is no big surprise:

Budbreak 2022 - Grenache

So far, we've only seen leaves on three varieties (Grenache, above, plus Grenache Blanc and Viognier) and even in those blocks, it's rare. Viognier, for example, has lots of swollen buds but only a few tiny leaves visible, even at the top of the block:

Budbreak 2022 - Viognier

Budbreak, as you probably guessed from the name, is the period when the grapevine buds swell and burst into leaf. It is the first marker in the growing cycle, a point when we can compare the current season to past years. Upcoming markers will include flowering, veraison, first harvest, and last harvest. And like harvest, budbreak doesn't happen for every grape simultaneously. Early grapes like Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Grenache, and Vermentino tend to go first, followed by Syrah, Marsanne, Tannat, and Picpoul, and finally, often three weeks or more after the earliest grapes sprouted, Roussanne, Counoise, and Mourvedre.

Budbreak 2022 is happening a bit early, historically, a couple of weeks earlier than average. That said, we're still two weeks after our earliest-ever budbreak in 2016. Here's when we first recorded significant budbreak the last decade:

2021: Last week of March
2020: Last week of March
2019: Second half of March
2018: Second half of March
2017: Mid-March
2016: Very end of February
2015: Second week of March
2014: Mid-March
2013: First week of April
2012: Mid-April

Note that it's pretty much impossible to assign a hard date for something like budbreak. After all, it's not a single vine we're talking about, it's a continuum across 125 acres of vineyard with eighteen different varieties. Well more than 90% of the vineyard is still dormant. This Grenache bud, from halfway up the block from which the first photo was taken, looks just like it would have in January:

Budbreak 2022 - Dormant Grenache

As I noted in the introduction, budbreak happens when it does largely due to increases in soil temperatures. Grapevines (and all deciduous plants) are waiting for the annual signals that it's safe to come out of dormancy and begin their growing season. The colder the temperatures and the more water in the soils, the longer the vines stay dormant. As winter rains ease, days lengthen, and the sun becomes more intense, those soils start to warm up, and the vines begin a race to reproduce. Evolutionarily, plants are trying to balance competing risks and benefits. Emerge too early, and they risk suffering damage to their reproductive prospects through frost. Too late, and they might not have enough time to ripen their fruit, which is necessary so that animals eat it and distribute the seeds.

Now our biggest worry becomes frost. Before budbreak, the vines are safely dormant, and a freeze doesn't harm them. We've had 35 days this winter where the weather station in our vineyard measured below freezing temperatures, a more or less normal number for us. But once the vines sprout, the new growth is susceptible to frost damage. April frosts cost us roughly 40% of our production in both 2009 and 2011, and we don't feel truly safe until mid-May. So, we've still got nearly two months to go before we can relax. We'll be up a lot at night, turning on frost fans and microsprinklers to help protect the new growth as best we can. Because all our low-lying areas are still dormant, and we choose later-sprouting grapes to go in those lower, more frost-prone vineyard blocks, we're still likely OK if we get a moderate frost in the next week or two. But by the end of March we'll be beyond that.  

Meanwhile, we're trying to keep our sheep in the vineyard as long as possible. Knowing budbreak was imminent, we've moved them to late-sprouting blocks like this Mourvedre section at the south end of the property. With the early start to this year's cover crop growth, this was their third pass here, which is great:

Budbreak 2022 - Sheep in Mourvedre

You might think that earlier budbreak increases the risks of frost damage. And yes, all other things being equal, having fewer nights where you have to worry about temperatures dropping below freezing is better than having more. But if you look at the two most recent frost years (2009 and 2011) both of those saw budbreak in April. That said, after six solid weeks of high pressure between mid-January and late February, the weather pattern we're in now is more mixed. There's no big rain on the horizon, but there are some smaller storms. It's generally in the aftermath of the passage of a cold front that we worry about a hard freeze. So rain now comes as a mixed blessing. Fingers crossed, please. 

Meanwhile, we'll enjoy the rapid changes in the vineyard, and the hopefulness of new growth. It feels metaphorical this year. With March 2020 marking the beginning of lockdowns for most of the country and March 2021 marking the start of a transitional year, as vaccines got into circulation and people started emerging cautiously into mixed company again, this March feels less fraught. We just hosted our first educational seminar here in more than two years. I poured at the Rhone Rangers tasting, my first big indoor event in exactly two years. We have a full slate of tastings and wine dinners planned this spring.

And now the vines are joining the party. Let's hope their (and our) journey out into the world is a smooth one.

Budbreak 2022 - Grenache Blanc


Warehouse Wizard: An Interview with Logistics Manager Eddie Garcia

By Ian Consoli

In 2020, we built an on-site storage facility to house the wines we make available in the tasting room, our exports, and our vast library to update our vintage chart, host events, and fill our Collector's Wine Club shipments. This building has many benefits, from access to our wines to, most importantly, a decrease in our winery's carbon footprint compared to off-site storage. This building also created a need for a logistics manager at Tablas Creek. Enter Eddie Garcia.

Eddie is awesome. He is an absolute pro at organization, communication, and the many other functions of a successful logistics manager. He also happens to co-manage the Tablas Creek Fantasy Football team in the Paso Wine League with me. Finally, a communication outlet for my 17 weeks of obsession!

I learned that he's even more than that in my interview with him. Eddie embodies a common thread I find when talking with anyone who works at Tablas Creek: passion. There's a passion for wine, food, and our impacts on the planet. Importantly and uniquely, I also find a passion for each individual's position within the company. There are positions where passion seems a given; winemaking and viticulture come to mind, but logistics? Yes, even logistics. Eddie's dedication to his job emanates from him as soon as he broaches the topic. He embodies the Tablas Creek ethos to exist in humility and choose actions based on the betterment of the system. It takes a special kind of logistics manager to keep everything running at a business like Tablas Creek. Eddie is that person. I can't wait for you to meet him.

Eddie Garcia at Tablas Creek

Who are you?

My name is Eddie. I am the Logistics Manager here at Tablas Creek.

 Where did you grow up?

I was born in Glendale, CA, and grew up in North Hollywood until we moved to Templeton in 1994. It's been a real blessing to be up here, and I don't envision ever wanting to move out of our area. It's everything you want. I mean, beach, mountains, camping. I'm good.

What's your family like?

My family is pretty big. I have three sisters and my mom; we are scattered across the United States. I have two boys, Ryan, who is 14, and Frankie, who is 7.

How do you spend your free time?

It all depends on what day of the week it is. When I have my kids, I’m all about being Dad. Playing games on the switch, jujitsu practices or enjoying soccer Saturdays. When it’s no kids, it’s enjoying trips to do tastings at wineries I’ve never been, seeing concerts at our local venues, and even catching up on watching TV series I’ve never seen. Right now, I’m watching The Sopranos and I’m hooked!

What professional experience did you have before coming to Tablas Creek?

Most recently, I was with Broken Earth Winery for about three years, working the warehouse and managing logistics. Before that, I was at Firestone Walker for seven years, which got me into the beverage industry. Seeing the logistics, production, and craft brewery scene was a real eye-opener. I worked for other beverage distributors in the area too. I worked for Pacific Beverage in Santa Margarita and Allied, the local Coors distributor in Santa Maria. It's interesting because I never envisioned wine and beer would be the way my career would go, but it's been really rewarding. I feel situated and understand I could carry into my golden years hanging out with wine as a career.

How would you describe your job at Tablas Creek, and what does your day-to-day look like?

I see the logistics position as the spinal cord of any company because we're everywhere. I do wine club. I do exports. I handle DTC as far as in the tasting room and online fulfillment. So logistics is like the spinal cord, which is the body's nervous system, right? It is how the brain communicates to our hands and legs and everything else that gets things moving. That's what logistics does. So when the general manager, tasting room manager, direct to consumer team, or whoever feeds me information, I get the wine, fulfill the order, and do what I need to do to keep the process moving.

I was originally hired to be half facilities and half logistics, but the logistics part of the job is so demanding that we had to change it up. Advanced logistics is not only accommodating the current needs of the business; it's saying, what else do you need? You always want to expand it and grow. And in the past year or so, I feel I've been able to do that.

Eddie Garcia at Tablas Creek at his desk

How did you hear about the role at Tablas?

I heard about the position from our former Assistant Controller, Pam Horton. I had previously interviewed with her when she worked at Hearst Ranch. They went a different direction, but there's always a silver lining. I remember thinking something else is going to happen down the road. A little shy of a year later, Pam, who had started working at Tablas Creek, found me one night when I was working part-time at Food 4 Less and asked if I was still looking for a job. She told me to put in a resume for the logistics position. I was a bit hesitant because it was in the middle of the pandemic; I stopped looking for jobs and focused on stability. She really got the ball rolling for me. I thank her for the opportunity and for bringing me here.

Did you know about Tablas Creek before your interview?

Yes. I am a part-time limo driver, which gives me a feel of the different wineries in the area. So I've been to Tablas and met [Tasting Room Manager] John a couple of times on the driver's side. I knew this place was here but never knew the story. Since working here, I have enjoyed learning about Robert Haas, the Perrin family, and their footprint on the Paso Robles wine industry. When you're driving people, you're just dropping them off. So now, finally understanding who we are and what we are about is awesome. I love talking about what I do and who I work for.

How do you like the job so far?

I love it. Kind of reiterating what I said earlier, I took this position and made it into something that wasn't envisioned at first, and I'm hoping that I can add on more. So, I love what I do here at Tablas.

What at Tablas Creek are you most excited about going forward?

Expanding on the new regenerative organic certification. I think we will be the torch bearers of establishing responsible farming and viticultural practices in our area. It's like Firestone Brewery, which started at one corner building, and now they have that whole cul-de-sac. That expansion took somebody with a vision, and I feel like we can do that with responsible farming. I'm excited because we're leading the charge to change the way people think about wine and the winemaking process.

What are you excited about concerning the future of the logistics department?

The opportunities the opening of our new on-site storage building brings. We're keeping more of the product here versus sending it out to third-party storage. And by us doing that, we're able to monitor and control the situation. We know where our wines are being stored, how they're being stored, and where we can go to clarify the situation if there is an issue. We're able to find different ways to reduce our carbon footprint. I know that's a big thing for us, whether it be direct to consumer or shipping to our distributor houses. We can make sure their trucks are leaving full, not sending half, not sending partials or one pallet here, one pallet there, and the wine's not being moved three or four times.

Eddie Garcia at Tablas Creek on a Forklift

Do you drink wine?

Absolutely.

When and how did you get into wine?

I started getting into wine when driving limousines and getting feedback from my clients. I didn't have a reason to go wine tasting before, but talking to my clients got me involved, and then employment in wine sealed that interest. Working for Broken Earth gave me access to industry tastings. Now I work for Tablas. That's how I started getting into wine, and now I don't really drink craft beer anymore. It's like a complete 180. I'd rather have a nice bottle at night. Wine is a staple to a great meal or even just the ability to unwind after a long day.

What's the best wine you've ever had?

The 2014 dry-farmed Cabernet from Ventoux in Templeton. Phenomenal. Anything they do out there is really good. My second favorite wine would be their 2017 Tache Le Verre, a Santa Barbara County Syrah. So jammy, the legs on the glass were amazing. Those are my two, and I can tell you the vintage, the bottle, the varietals. Great wines.

Who is your #1 overall pick in fantasy football next year?

As of right now, it’s Jonathan Taylor.

Would you rather:

Cake or pie?

Pie

Fly or breathe underwater?

I'd rather fly. Breathing underwater makes me feel claustrophobic.

Be a winemaker or a viticulturist?

Ooh, that's tough because both of them have their passions. I'd probably say winemaker, though, because of the opportunity to create it and make it your own.

Is there anything else you want the audience to know about you?

Thank you. Thank you to everyone for the support of Tablas. Hopefully, everybody enjoys the wines that we have out in the marketplace. There's more to come.

Eddie Garcia at Tablas Creek storage


A Blast from the Past and a Prototype for the Future: A Look at the 2002 Glenrose Vineyard "Las Tablas Estates" at Age 20

2001 was a traumatic vintage for us. After a relatively warm winter produced early budbreak, consecutive nights of hard freezes in late April hit hard. Yields were just 1.4 tons per acre, down by 39% despite additional acreage in production. Worse, the frost hit right as the Mourvedre was sprouting. Typically, Mourvedre, which sprouts late, dodges the spring frosts and provides a hedge against the lost production from other more precocious grapes. Not in 2001. In the end the uneven Mourvedre quality, combined with the low overall yields, dictated that we not even make an Esprit de Beaucastel. We ended up declassifying almost the entire red vintage into Cotes de Tablas, which we were selling for $22/bottle at the time. Ouch.

I moved out here to California in April of 2002, and that experience was fresh. We looked forward and foresaw a few years with both cash flow and profitability challenges thanks to the short 2001 crop. And we had no assurance this would be a one-off event. Several other local wineries told us to should expect frosts like that in our chilly inter-mountain valley every few years. So when my dad and I sat down and brainstormed how we were going to get more wine into production and protect ourselves against potential future frosts, the additional acreage that we'd planted in 1999 and 2000 didn't seem like it would be an adequate solution. 

Enter Glenrose Vineyard and its proprietor Don Rose. He'd been one of the first customers of the Tablas Creek Nursery back in 1996, and planted an array of our cuttings onto his hillside property. This is about five miles east and a little bit south of Tablas Creek, on one of the ridges in the hills that separate us from the town of Paso Robles. Critically, the vineyards sit between 1700 and 2000 feet in elevation, high enough that they are usually above the frost line. And it's a stunning vineyard [see some striking photos here] with soils even more calcareous than what we have under our own vineyard, particularly after Don carved terraces into the steep hillside so it would be farmable. We reached out to Don and worked out an agreement for him to sell us some grapes for 900 cases of a wine, which would become the 2002 Las Tablas Estates "Glenrose Vineyard":   

Glenrose 2002 in 2022
We decided that in order to have something different from our Mourvedre-based Esprit de Beaucastel and our Grenache-based Cotes de Tablas this wine should be based on Syrah. So we contracted for grapes, brought them into the cellar, and crushed, fermented, and blended the wine. It turned out to be delicious, with the darkness of the Syrah, the minerality of the chalky soils, and a distinctive violet florality. We released it in April of 2004 and it was a welcome wine for our tasting room as we worked through the shortages from our estate 2001 wines. We contracted for a second vintage in 2003, and (in smaller quantities) 2004 as well. My vision for this project at the time was to eventually develop a series of 3-5 different vineyards that had our grapevines in the ground, and have us produce a vineyard designate of each under this "Las Tablas Estates" label. But it didn't turn out that way.

So, why didn't this work? There were a few reasons:

  • Production off our own vineyard rebounded. We had a productive vintage in 2002, and another one in 2003, and another in 2004. As it turned out, our next major frost wasn't until 2009. And that production grew fast. After harvesting just 85 tons off our estate in 2001, that total more than doubled to 203 tons in 2002, thanks to the combination of no frost and yet more acreage coming into production. And it went up again to 232 tons in 2003. So we had our hands full finding homes for all this new estate production, and it started to feel like a distraction establishing this side-project, with a different label and a related but different story.   
  • We diversified our own estate offerings. This was also the era where we were starting to offer varietal bottlings of these new-to-most-consumers Rhone grapes. I wrote about that last year after tasting our first such wine, the 2001 Roussanne. But in 2002 we added six new varietal bottlings: Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Syrah, Counoise, and Tannat. In 2003 we added Viognier, Picpoul Blanc, and Mourvedre (as well as our first Vin de Paille). All of a sudden we had lots of other wines to talk about and slot into wine club shipments.
  • We decided it would be a mistake to sell the wine in wholesale. This was an era where we had gone through a series of name and label changes as we found our footing in the market. [See this blog my dad wrote in 2011 for a few of them.] Wholesalers value continuity and familiarity. In a crowded marketplace where a distributor rep might only take out a few bottles of Tablas Creek each year, and a restaurant or retailer might only have one presented occasionally, the bar to launch a new product is high. We were worried that doing so would further confuse the market and compete with either the Cotes de Tablas, the Esprit de Beaucastel, or both. So that meant just selling the Glenrose Vineyard in the tasting room and on our website.
  • The timing and pricing weren't different enough from our estate wines. Because the wine was based on Syrah, which benefits from time in barrel to soften, we couldn't really push the wine's bottling early enough to help cover the holes produced by 2001's short crop. So we ended up releasing it after our 2002 Cotes de Tablas and only slightly ahead of our 2002 Esprit de Beaucastel. If we'd had a frost in 2002, that would have been fine. But of course, we didn't. And then didn't again the next year, or the next. And as for price, we decided to sell it at $32.50, which was only slightly below the $35 price of the Esprit in that era. We realized that we hadn't left ourselves a lot of room in pricing. Cheaper than the Cotes' $22/bottle would have meant we lost money. More expensive than the Esprit would never have made sense.

As we approached the time in early 2005 when we were going to have to bottle the follow-up vintage of 2003 Glenrose Vineyard, we decided that it would be a mistake to do so. So we reached out to some of our neighbors, and ended up selling both the finished 2003 Glenrose, ready to bottle, and the just-fermented 2004 Glenrose, to a local winery. We watched with both pride and a bit of regret as it got high scores and established a brand for them that lasted several years. And the Glenrose Vineyard became a go-to sought out and celebrated by some of the region's top local Rhone producers, including Paix Sur Terre, Adelaida, Thacher, Lone Madrone, and many more.

I found a bottle of that wine (under screwcap!) in our library and opened it over the weekend. It was in beautiful shape. My tasting notes:

Still very much alive. Cherry and currant, leather and pepper, and a sarsaparilla-like sweet spice on the nose. The mouth is similar, with flavors of licorice and plum and sweet baking spices. A Worcestershire-like umami character is the best sense of the wine's two decades of age. The tannins are mostly resolved, ushering in a hint of that violet florality I've always associated with the site 

I still think the basic idea is one that could work, particularly now that our biggest challenge is not enough wine, not too much. But we did take a lot of the lessons from this experience to heart when we next launched ourselves into the world of grape purchases. Five years after we pulled the plug on the Glenrose Vineyard wine, we responded to our next big frost by launching the Patelin de Tablas and Patelin de Tablas Blanc.

Like the Glenrose Vineyard, the Patelin red is based on Syrah, to distinguish it from the other main blends we make. And thanks to the screwcap experiment we did with this wine we felt confident putting even the Patelin red under that closure. But the Patelin wines have a clearer place in our hierarchy than the Las Tablas Estates did. They are our entry-level wines, which we hope restaurants will pour by the glass. We bottle them just before the subsequent harvest, which means they're less expensive to make, require less foudre space, and can be released into the market before the estate wines of the same vintage. That came in very handy in addressing frost years like 2009 and 2011. They include some Tablas Creek fruit, whose percentage can vary from very little in short crops to more significant when we have surplus estate production (as in 2010, or 2020). There are white and (since 2012) rosé versions, better matching our own vineyard's mix and the demands of the market. It shares the Tablas Creek label, allowing it to benefit from our own branding and also when people discover and love it to lead them to what else we do. And it feels appropriate that they be less expensive than our estate wines, which are after all organic, Biodynamic, and Regenerative Organic Certified. 

Still, I love how things come full circle. One of the vineyards that we reached out to source that first 2010 Patelin de Tablas was Glenrose Vineyard. And there will be some Glenrose Vineyard in the 2021 Patelin. That feels right, and appropriate. I only hope that the wines hold up as well as that 2002 I opened on Saturday did.


Why Annual Rainfall Is the Wrong Metric to Understand California Weather

After our lovely, wet December, the last six weeks have been almost completely dry. The last week has seen headlines that feel like flashbacks to 2015 or 2016, including Brush fires rage in Southern California amid record heat, worsening drought (Washington Post), California’s Drought-Relief Dreams Are Quickly Drying Up (Bloomberg), and As drought continues, Southern California offers millions to buy Sacramento Valley water (Sacramento Bee). And yet, here at Tablas Creek, 2021 finished with above-average rainfall at nearly 30 inches.

Although we do get more rainfall than most of the Central Coast, we're not alone in having 2021 be an above-average rainfall year. The city of Paso Robles recorded 16.75", about 119% of their 75-year average. Downtown Los Angeles saw 14.27" of rain, which was 98% of their 60-year average. So why are climatologists and reporters so downbeat about our current totals?

The secret to making sense of this is understanding the difference between the calendar year and the water year. In a place like California where nearly all our annual precipitation comes in the winter, the break between one calendar year and the next is not a meaningful way of looking at current conditions. Our rainfall distribution is such that in the winter, we're a rain forest climate, while in the summer, we're a desert (climate graph from the site climate-data.org, on which I spend probably more time than is healthy):

Rainfall Graph Paso Robles

As you can see, the calendar year ends just as the water year is really getting going. Take the winter of 2020-2021. We saw a punishingly dry early winter that left things in late January looking more like we'd expect in November than in March. We shared a piece on our social media in mid-January that I found really dramatic: a photo taken from the same spot on the same day in 2022 (exceptionally green) and 2021 (entirely brown):

Green and Brown from same perspective 2021 vs 2022

When the rain did come last winter, it came with a vengeance, in the form of an atmospheric river that dumped more than a foot of rain on us in roughly 48 hours on January 27th and 28th. That ended up being most of the rain we got last winter, with just over an inch more before summer came. But still, the 13.85" we got January-June was more than 80% of our averages for those months. Combine that with the 14.2" of rain we got in our wet October and December, and you end up with a year that looks like it was 12% wetter than average. Instead, what you really have is a function of the calendar. Last winter's total of 15.09" was just 60% of a normal rainfall year. And unless some unforecasted rain comes before the end of February, we'll be below 80% of normal rainfall for this rainfall year too.

There's still time. March is often one of our wettest months, averaging more than four inches of rain. As recently as 2018, a "Miracle March" turned what looked like a truly scary rainfall picture into something closer to average. And thanks to our wet December, we're worlds ahead of where we were that winter. But unless it rains again soon, we're likely to see early budbreak as drier soils and the higher soil temperatures they allow cue the grapevines to begin their growing season. And more visibly, scenes like the below one will start to move from green to gold as the grasses go to seed in preparation for the long, dry summer:

Green Vineyard February 2022
None of that would be the end of the world. But we know that the clock is ticking on this rainfall year, with only another couple of months to go. So while 2022 is just getting started, the 2021-22 rainfall year is already on what feels like its final lap.


Why we believe the time is right for a $95 box of wine

Last summer, I wrote a blog I called A Winery Carbon Footprint Self-Assessment: Why I Can't Give Us an "A" Despite All Our Progress in which I broke down how we stacked up against the baseline California winery across all the components that make up our carbon footprint, from vineyard to winery to packaging and transport of finished wine. Overall, we look good against the baseline, thanks to the combination of organic farming with minimal outside inputs, solar power, and the lightweight glass that we use for all our bottles. My rough estimate is that we have about 60% of the carbon footprint of the baseline.

One of the things that was really driven home to me as I did this research was the importance of the packaging in wine's overall environmental footprint. According to the assessment of California Wine's Carbon Footprint published by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) in 2011, which is what I used as my baseline, more than half of California wine's impact is due to the packaging in glass bottles. And that's not surprising; glass is energy-intensive to make and transport, as it requires high temperatures to melt and mold and is heavy to transport. Moving to lightweight glass reduces a winery's footprint by 10%, while using heavy bottles adds 10% to that tally, according to the CSWA's report:

CO2 Impact by Bottle Weight

In the piece, I did mark us down a bit for not using the 3L bag-in-box, which is by far the most effective package for reducing wine's carbon footprint. But I admit that I didn't take it particularly seriously, as the market for the 3L wine boxes is still (at least in the United States) almost entirely a bottom shelf one, with boxes topping out around $30 retail. Given that our least expensive wine at the time was $25, and the box contains four bottles, I didn't think it was an option for us.

After I published this piece, I got a number of interesting comments that made me rethink that position. A great example is one on my personal Facebook page from friend and former wine blogger Jason Mancebo:

Really great effort here, Jason. Tons of respect for your efforts and transparency in that effort! One thing that rubs me a bit wrong is: ...."we don't use the bag-in-box 3 liter package (the best available package, in terms of CO2 footprint) at all, and likely won't as long as it still carries the stigma of grocery store generic."
 
Leadership requires risk and without risk, this (stigma) won't ever change. A winery of your size and your commitment to environmental issues is a perfect "Poster Child" to change the stigma. As a consumer I wish I had more choice on quality wine than the 750 glass bottle. Cans are great, but limited selection and volume requirements = lower quality. the 3L would be great, especially to ship for @home consumption. Go for it! Be the change!!

Since then, I've found my own feelings around the 3L bag-in-box evolving. And Jason was right; the issues with the format -- at least for wine made for short-term consumption -- are almost entirely about consumer perception. After all, think of the advantages:

  • Preservation. When you open a bottle of wine, the liquid inside is exposed to oxygen, and starts the clock ticking on the destructive effects of oxidation. If you're careful, and re-cork or re-cap the wine promptly and put it back in the fridge, you can get a week or so of life. If you forget and leave the half-empty bottle on your dinner table, it's likely to be compromised by morning. But not in a bag-in-box. Because the bag containing the wine deflates inside the box as you pour wine out of its spigot, oxygen never comes into contact with what remains inside, and you can keep an open box in good shape for weeks or a few months in your fridge.
  • Storage space. It's amazing how much space and weight are taken up by the bottles and the fact that because they're round and breakable they can't even sit snugly next to each other. When we got a look at our first 3L boxes they looked so small that we thought the vendor had sent us 1.5L boxes. It wasn't until we measured out three liters of water and filled one up that we realized that it was three liters after all. That saved space is extra room in your fridge and in our winery and warehouse.
  • Portability. Liquid is heavy, but wine bottles are too. The 470 gram (1 lb.) bottles that we use are among the lightest on the market. Even so, they end up making up nearly 40% of the finished 1,220 gram (2.7 lbs.) weight of a filled bottle. Four full bottles together weigh nearly 11 pounds. The full 3L bag-in-box weighs less than seven. That's easier to lift and take with you, sure, but it's also cheaper to truck and ship. Plus... glass is breakable. Liquid in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box? Not so much.
  • Footprint. The CSWA chart that I shared above makes the case clearly. Compared to the packaging required to put that same wine in 750ml glass bottles, the carbon footprint of the bag-in-box package is 84% less, and the carbon footprint of distributing this lighter, more compact package is 60% less. The CSWA study didn't specifically look at the footprint of delivering direct-to-consumer (DTC) wines, but I'm sure the savings of moving to bag-in-box is similar if not greater than the savings via distribution, given all the packaging that's required to ship glass bottles safely via companies like UPS and FedEx and the greater per-bottle transportation footprint of air shipping compared to palletized wholesale transport by truck or rail.

Of course, there are unknowns about this package too. Is it good for long-term aging of wine? I'd doubt it. Is the package recyclable? The boxes are, although the plastic pouches inside are not in most places. (Of course, in America our glass recycling percentage is a disheartening 31%, so this still means a lot less trash headed to the landfill on average). And will people buy it at a price that allows higher-end wineries to adopt the package? I floated on Twitter that we were thinking about trying it with our new vintage of Patelin Rosé and got a heartwarmingly enthusiastic set of responses.

It seems like it's time to find out the answer to the question "will people buy a high-end wine in a box". To that end, we've decided to dip our toe into this water by diverting 100 cases of the 2021 Patelin de Tablas Rosé into 300 3L bag-in-box packages. The Patelin Rose seems like a great place to start, since it's a wine that we suggest that people drink in the near-term anyway. A few photos of the process. First, Austin at the filling machine (left) and Chelsea building boxes (right):

Box of rose filling

Box of rose making boxes

Then Gustavo putting on labels (left) and the finished box (right)!

Box of rose labeling

Box of rose finished

Since we're paying less for the packaging, we'll be passing along that savings to customers, pricing each box at $95 instead of the $112 that the four bottles would cost. Because it takes up less space and weighs less, we can pass on shipping savings too, counting each box as two bottles for shipping rather than four.  

Will that be enough to tempt people who might not have dreamed of buying a box of wine? I hope so. For this batch, we're only making it available for sale direct, i.e. on our website and in our tasting room, so we can explain directly to the customers who might be interested why we've made this choice. If it works, we'll do it with some additional wines going forward. If it really works, we might even make enough next year to sell some wholesale. After all, there was a time when screwcaps were considered appropriate only for cheap wines. And when wine in keg, to be ordered by the carafe or glass, was unheard of. But in both cases we decided that we trusted our followers enough to try, because we thought that the decisions were the right ones for the wines. In this case, we think it's an important approach to try both for the wine, and for the planet.

Patelin Rose Box with Amanda Jason and Neil

No time like the present to find out if we're right. If you're on our mailing list, look for an email next week announcing its release.


Tasting the Wines in the Spring 2022 VINsider Wine Club Shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club. In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club. In others, the club gets a first look at a wine that may see a later national release. About six weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments. In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling reintroduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming months and years. I always think it's fun to give followers of the blog a first look at these notes. The wines:

Shipment Wines Spring 2022

The shipments that will be going out in March include wines from the 2019, 2020, and 2021 vintages. Tasting three vintages together is a great way to get a handle on their relative personalities, and typically my first chance to do a personality assessment on the newest vintage, which we haven't even started blending trials on yet. My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are these:

  • The 2019s show a lovely combination of density and balance, with concentration reminiscent of a year like 2014 or 2017, but slightly higher acids and more overt minerality than either. It's a vintage that is serious and ageworthy, without being austere. An outstanding years for both reds and whites.
  • I had originally thought that the warm weather that marked the summer and harvest of 2020 might produce wines with a soft, luscious profile, but I don't find that to be true. Instead, there is plenty of plush fruit but also lively acids and excellent balance. The wines are crowd pleasers without the simplicity that this might imply. 
  • Finally, 2021, as much as one can tell from tasting two wines, seems electric. The combination of mouth-filling texture, intense flavors, and bright acids makes tasting the wines a memorable experience. Buckle up.

I'll go through the six wines in the VINsider Classic (Mixed) Shipment, and then move on to the additional wines that we chose to include in the Red Wine Selection and White Wine Selection shipments. I was joined for the tasting by Executive Winemaker Neil Collins, so these notes are a compilation of our thoughts.

The Classic Shipment includes six different wines:

2020 COTES DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Viognier is always the lead grape in our Cotes Blanc, and we balance Viognier's lushness with the elegance of Marsanne and the brightness of Grenache Blanc. Because of the somewhat softer profile of 2020, to the Viognier (38%) we added a higher-than-normal percentage of Grenache Blanc (32%) for brightness and pithy bite, bumping down the percentage of Marsanne (22%, for elegance), and preserving a little more Marsanne for our varietal bottling. 8% Roussanne rounds out the blend and provides structure. The selected lots were blended in May 2021, and the wine was bottled in June 2021.
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely nose of peach pit and honeysuckle, fresh apricot and lemongrass . The mouth shows both richness and brightness, with flavors of fresh pear and apple skin and rich texture. Grenache Blanc comes out in the finish, asserting order with bright acids and a little pithy bite, leaving a long finish of gardenia flower and stone fruit. Drink now and for at least the next five years.
  • Production: 1257 cases.
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2020 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: Roussanne yields were down sharply in 2020, reduced by both the lack of rainfall and the unrelenting summer. But you wouldn't have known it from the Roussanne lots that we tasted during blending, which showed freshness and balance. We chose lots for our varietal bottling that came roughly 55% from foudre, 35% from neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques. The selected lots were blended in April 2021 then aged in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
  • Tasting Notes: An appealing nose of anise, brioche, beeswax, petrichor and jasmine, instantly recognizable as Roussanne. The palate is pretty, showing flavors of ripe pear and chalky minerals, lighter on its feet than many vintages of Roussanne, with a finish of wildflower honey, a sake-like sweet minerality, and a little hint of sweet oak. The wine has only been in bottle for a few months, but it's already drinking well. Drink in the next 3 or 4 years for a pure expression of Roussanne's honey and pear flavors, or hold it for 8-15 years for a flavor profile of caramel, wet rocks, and hazelnut.
  • Production: 940 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

2021 PATELIN DE TABLAS ROSÉ

  • Production Notes: With yields low in 2021, we reduced our production of Dianthus, which opened up an opportunity to share with VINsiders our Patelin Rosé, the Provencal-style dry rosé that we base on Grenache and source primarily from other vineyards with our grapevines in the ground. Always led by Grenache (79% this year), which provides both bright fruit and refreshing acidity, the wine also includes additions of rich, floral Mourvedre (15%) and spicy, electric Counoise (6%). More than 80% of the fruit was direct-pressed upon arrival at the winery, with the balance destemmed and let soak for a single work day, then pressed off after about 12 hours.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty light peach color. On the nose, explosive aromatics of pink grapefruit, fresh nectarine, cherry blossom, and chalky minerals. The mouth is lovely and lively like the nose, with flavors of yellow raspberry and peach juice, vibrant acids, and a mouth-watering finish with notes of passion fruit and white flowers. Electric. Drink now and over the next year.
  • Production: 3300 cases
  • List Price: $28 VINsider Price: $22.40

2019 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our eighteenth bottling of this traditional grape from South-West France, famous for its intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging. Tannat is known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Easy to grow and ferment, we mostly put Tannat in open-top fermenters to keep it exposed to oxygen and soften it somewhat. We then moved the wine to neutral oak foudre and aged it for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2021, and then aged it another 10 months in bottle before release. 
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely juicy blackcurrant and sweet licorice nose, given lift and definition with spicy juniper and alpine forest notes. On the palate, mouth-filling flavors of black cherry, sweet tobacco, and dark chocolate, lots of chalky tannic structure but the friendliness and fruit to carry that even in its youth. A long, plushly tannic finish of bittersweet chocolate and brambly blackberry completes the experience. A Tannat to make new friends and converts for the grape. Drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 1179 cases
  • List Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2019 LE COMPLICE

  • Production Notes: Just the fourth vintage of our newest red blend, which celebrates the kinship between whole cluster Syrah (67%) and the wildly interesting grape Terret Noir (6%). Le Complice means, roughly, "partner in crime". Although Syrah is dark and Terret light, both share wild herby black spice, and Terret's high acids bolster Syrah's tendency toward stolidity. We added some Grenache (27%) for mid-palate richness. The wine was blended in June of 2020, aged in foudre, bottled in April 2021, and has been aging in our cellars since.
  • Tasting Notes: A savory, umami-rich nose of iodine, soy, wintergreen, and graphite. The mouth is juicier than the nose suggests, with sweeter-toned flavors of licorice, star anise, baking chocolate, plum skin, and bay. The finish is more generous yet, with the predominant notes being Chinese five spice and loamy earth. Plenty of tannic richness. A wine to pair in its youth with rich, flavorful meats, which we suspect will age for two decades or more.
  • Production: 793 cases
  • List Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

2019 PANOPLIE

  • Production Notes: Panoplie is selected from the top 3% of the year's lots, chosen for their richness, concentration and balance, giving pride of place to Mourvedre's lovely dark red fruit and distinctive combination of loam, earthiness, and meat. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2020. Mourvedre, as always, represents the largest percentage (62%) of Panoplie. In this year when all our major red grapes excelled, we chose a relatively equal proportion of Syrah (22%, for black fruit, density, and tannic richness) and Grenache (16%, for sweet spice and vibrancy). The wine was bottled in July 2021 and has been aging in our cellars since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A pretty nose, just hinting at what's to come, with aromas of sweet loam and redcurrant, milk chocolate and new leather. The mouth is a blockbuster, with both red (raspberry) and black (cherry) fruit, a teriyaki-like umami element, then a wash of serious tannins that promise decades of fascinating evolution. The finish, like the rest of the wine, vibrates between red and black (licorice, in this case), sweet earth, and savory herbs. A serious wine to wait on for a year or two, if you possibly can, then to enjoy over two decades or more.
  • Production: 820 cases
  • List Price: $95 VINsider Price: $76

Four additional wines (2021 Vermentino, 2020 Marsanne, and two library selections, the 2017 Roussanne and 2017 Esprit de Tablas Blanc) will join the 2020 Cotes de Tablas Blanc and 2020 Roussanne in the White Wine Selection shipment:

2021 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our twentieth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottled it young in January 2022 under screwcap. Vermentino yields in 2021 were painfully low (off by half compared to most recent years) but the fruit we got was classic and showed beautiful balance.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Vermentino nose of all parts of a lime, from leaf to pith to juice, deepened by an herby lemongrass note and briny sea shell-like minerality. The palate is electric and juicy, with key lime and yellow grapefruit notes, sweet white flowers and briny sea spray, and a long, vibrant finish. Tastes like summer at the beach, or like what a gin and tonic wishes it could be. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 537 cases
  • List Price: $30 VINsider Price: $24

2020 MARSANNE

  • Production Notes: Marsanne is best known from the northern Rhone, particularly the famed appellation of Hermitage, where it produces wines of legendary elegance and ageworthiness. The 2020 vintage, for whatever reason, produced some of our favorite Marsanne ever, which was a bit of a surprise since we think of it as a grape that prefers cooler years. We fermented it in 600-gallon foudres to emphasize its texture and give it a hint of oak, then chose the lots for our varietal bottling and bottled it in June 2021.
  • Tasting Notes: A quintessential Marsanne nose of honeydew melon, honeysuckle, and straw drying in the sun. The mouth is pretty, showing notes of fresh honey, Golden Delicious apple, citrus blossom, and a gentle, chalky minerality. The long, gentle finish shows white flowers and melon, rainwater and dried grass. Moderate acids, but enough to keep things together. Like our 2019, it's so appealing now that I'm guessing a lot of it will get drunk young, but it should evolve in an interesting way for a decade at least.
  • Production: 193 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2017 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: In a vintage where most grapes showed higher-than-normal yields, Roussanne was the exception. But the year's ample rainfall produced Roussanne fruit with bright acids and vibrant flavors. We fermented the Roussanne lots that were selected for our varietal bottling roughly 55% in foudre, 35% in neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques, blended them in April 2018, returned them to foudre to age another six months, and bottled the wine that December. Because of the vintage's unusual vibrancy, we stashed a couple of pallets for a later release, and have enjoyed watching the deeper, more caramel-tinged flavors emerge over the last few years. 
  • Tasting Notes: A deep, classic Roussanne nose of lacquered wood, vanilla custard, lanolin, and quince. The mouth is still lively, with flavors of graham cracker and tangerine, candied orange peel and melon rind, and a finish that shows a little pithy bite that keeps the developing caramel tones fresh. Drink any time over the next decade.
  • Production: 1050 cases
  • Library Price: $45 VINsider Price: $36

2017 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: In 2017 we incorporated two of our newest white grapes into the Esprit Blanc blend for the first time. Still, Roussanne (68%, fermented in a mix of oak of various sizes and ages) was the leading contributor, but the different higher-acid, more mineral varieties (17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Clairette Blanche, and 4% Picardan) all added citrusy acidity and saline freshness. After the blend was chosen and assembled in April 2018 we returned it to foudre to age another six months before bottling it in December 2018. Like with the Roussanne, we stashed some away for a (slightly) later release, when some of its more mature flavors would have developed.  
  • Tasting Notes: A nose balanced between sweeter and more savory elements, candied green apple and Werther's caramel aromas given depth and seriousness by laquered wood and lemongrass notes. On the palate, similarly sweet and savory, with flavors of lemon meringue, chalky mineral, creme brulee and melon rind. Notes of sweet hay and dried herbs tilt the balance toward savory for me, at least right now. The long finish shows pear skin and beeswax, minerality and citrus pith. In the middle of what promises to be a long, interesting life. Drink now or age up to another two decades for additional notes of hazelnuts and butterscotch.
  • Production: 2250 cases
  • Library Price: $55 VINsider Price: $44

Two additional reds (the 2020 Counoise and 2020 Cotes de Tablas) join the 2019 Panoplie, 2019 Le Complice, and two bottles of 2019 Tannat in the Red Wine Selection shipment:

2020 COUNOISE

  • Production Notes: Valued as a blending grape in France because of its spiciness, its fresh acidity, and its low alcohol, Counoise is rarely seen on its own. But we love being able to share one, and suggest you enjoy it much as you might a Cru Beaujolais: slightly chilled, with charcuterie or as an aperitif. We tend to ferment our Counoise lots in stainless steel to protect it from oxidation, and to age it in neutral oak to avoid weighing down its bright fruit flavors. The lots that we chose for our varietal Counoise were selected and blended in June 2021 and bottled in February 2022, under screwcap to preserve the wine's freshness.   
  • Tasting Notes: A lovely translucent garnet color. Very fresh on the nose, with aromas of raspberry, rose petals, and savory chaparral, spicy and lifted. The palate is juicy, herby, and lively, reminiscent of the whole wild strawberry experience, from fruit to leaves, with sweet sarsaparilla spice, light tannins, and refreshing acids. A pretty and intriguing wine that should be endlessly flexible with food. Enjoy it lightly chilled any time in the next six to eight years.
  • Production: 240 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28

2020 COTES DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Grenache always plays lead in the Cotes de Tablas, and 2020 (where it represents 43%) was no exception. But during our blending trials we realized we had enough top-notch Syrah left to make a more serious, savory Cotes than we often do, and included 33% in the blend. 20% Counoise (for vibrancy and spice) and 4% Mourvedre (for earth and complexity) rounded out the wine, which was blended in June 2021 and aged in 1200-gallon neutral oak foudres until its bottling in February 2022.
  • Tasting Notes: A serious nose of brambly spice, red apple skin, wild grape jelly, and bay. The palate is poised evenly between savory and sweeter elements, with plum skin and cola deepened by dried herbs and cocoa powder. A little chalky minerality comes out along with some fairly substantial tannins on the finish. This will be delicious young, with excellent complexity for this bottling, but should also age gracefully a decade or more.
  • Production: 1200 cases
  • List Price: $40 VINsider Price: $32

If you're a wine club member, we've got a few different ways you can try these wines. We are planning to host a live, outdoor, in-person pickup party here at the winery on Sunday, March 27th. Neil and I will also be hosting another virtual pickup party the evening of Friday, April 8th, with the opportunity to order 187ml tasting kits from us so you can taste along. And we'll again be offering club members who visit between mid-March and mid-April the opportunity to choose their shipment wines as their tasting flight. Consider this a "save the date"; we will be putting details on all this on our VINsider News & Updates page and announcing them via email soon.

If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


A Picture Worth 1,000 Words, Mid-Winter Edition

We're in week three of sunny January after our rainiest December in nearly two decades, and the vineyard looks amazing. This is peak green for Paso Robles, almost shocking if you're used to it in its summer colors. I've been taking advantage of the sun to get out and take lots of pictures of how things look, and while experimenting with using the panoramic mode on my iPhone vertically, ended up capturing a photo that I feel like tells big chunks of the story of Tablas Creek in one shot. I'll share the photo first, and then break down the story that I see when I look at this picture, starting at the bottom and working my way up to the horizon.  

Winter on Crosshairs
Miner's Lettuce at Ground Level
At the bottom of the photo you can see, nestled among the grasses, spade-shaped leaves of the water-loving California native plant Miner's Lettuce. It thrives in wet soils, and is one of our best indicators that the ground is saturated. It's also very tasty, like a milder, juicier spinach, and was a great source of vitamins for California pioneers (hence its name). I dove into its significance in a blog more than a decade ago, but the take-home is that it's one of my indicators that the soils are saturated.

Native Cover Crop
A little further up, you can see the thick green carpet of grasses and broadleaf plants that are growing around the vines. This isn't a section that we seeded, instead choosing to leave the topsoil undisturbed to allow the plants that summered over to grow naturally. This is not to say that we avoid planting cover crops. We believe in them, and always seed many of our blocks each year with a mix of peas, oats, vetch, clovers, and radishes. But more and more, in the blocks that we believe can support them, we're going to leave sections to seed themselves year after year. And the lush health of this cover crop is a great indication that the goal of building rich, nutrient-dense soils is succeeding.

Head-Trained, Wide-Spaced, Dry-Farmed Grenache Vines Grafted onto St. George Rootstocks
We planted this block in 2012, as a part of our exploration into how we could help the grapes we love thrive without irrigation in our often hot-dry climate. To do this, we looked toward the past, to one of the first rootstocks developed after the phylloxera epidemic, which was widely used in the many California vineyards planted before irrigation became widespread in the 1970s. This is the famously deep-rooting, high vigor St. George rootstock, 100% from vitis rupestris stock, which fell out of favor in irrigated vineyards because of its high vigor, deep root growth, and incompatibility with some wine grapes. But Grenache? Not a problem. It grafts well to any rootstock. The deep root structure? Perfect for our calcareous clay soils, where the top several feet might be dry by late summer. High vigor? Great! Dry-farming grapes in Paso Robles is a naturally high stress endeavor. Giving the vines what they need to survive and thrive is a big piece of our goal each year. And Grenache, the lead grape in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is originally from the hot, dry Spanish plateau, well adapted both for the Rhone's Mediterranean climate and for ours. 

This block is a great example of how we look to the past for our farming models. After all, wine grapes were grown in California for centuries before drip irrigation, and you only have to drive around Paso Robles to see the health of these old vineyards today, nearly a century after they were planted. What do these old vineyards all have in common? Low density (wide spacing). Head-training. Dry-farming. We have high hopes that the vineyards we are planting in this model will be examples to future grapegrowers a century from now, while providing a hedge against near- and medium-term climate change. 

Hilltop Owl Box
At the top of the hill, you can see one of the 43 owl boxes we have scattered around the property. Back when there were just 38 of them, Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg wrote about their value and even shared directions on how to build your own. These boxes, and the families of owls that they support, are a big piece of our ongoing fight against the gophers and ground squirrels that plague our region. When you commit to farming organically, you lose the ability to poison these rodent pests. You can trap gophers, and we do. But families of owls, each of which can eat 500 rodents in a nesting season, provide round-the-clock vigilance against a wider spectrum of rodents, helping maintain and restore the environment's balance. And that balance is the central tenet of Biodynamics, which seeks to turn your farm unit into a complete and naturally resilient ecosystem. Thirty years into our commitment to organics, a decade into our first forays into Biodynamics, and four years into our move toward Regenerative Organics, these owl boxes are maybe the most visible, understandable piece of that effort. 

So, what does this photo tell me? It tells a story of a healthy, balanced vineyard, planted in to a grape and in a way that aligns it with the growing conditions here. It tells the story of  vineyard practices that make best possible use of the resources that Nature provides us, those resources encouraged and supported by our farming. And it tells the story of a winter that, so far at least, is playing out exactly as we would have wished.