A "Horizontal" Tasting: Looking Back at the 2009 Vintage at Age 10

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing nine of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 10th.  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. In fact, each year that we've done this we've been surprised by at least one white that we expected to be in decline showing up as a highlight.  The lineup:

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A while back, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2009 vintage:

The 2009 vintage was our third consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by serious April frosts. Berries and clusters were small, with excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and our harvest largely complete except for about half our Mourvedre at the time of a major rainstorm on October 13th. Crop sizes were 15% smaller than 2008 and 30% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with an appealing combination of richness and depth, and red wines with an great lushness, rich texture and relatively low acid but wonderful chalky tannins.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the same powerful structure that they did upon release? Would the whites have had enough freshness to be compelling a decade later?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?

In 2009, we made 15 different wines: 7 whites, 1 rosé, and 7 reds. This is a smaller number than most other vintages of that decade, reduced by the fact that so many grapes were scarce that year. Of the white Rhone varieties, our only varietal wines were Grenache Blanc and Roussanne (plus a second Roussanne bottling, under our Bergeron label). On the red side, our only Rhone varietal red was Grenache, making 2009 the only vintage since 2003 where we weren't able to bottle a 100% Mourvedre.

Although we made 15 wines, there were only 14 available in our library to taste today. Unfortunately (and none of us can remember how) there is none of our rosé left in our library. I can't remember another time where we didn't have even one bottle left to taste at the 10-year mark. And it's not like this disappeared recently; the last bottle was pulled out of the library early in 2011. Perhaps with the vintage's scarcity we reached into the library to fill a last few orders?  I wish I remembered. In any case, if any of you have any of our 2009 Rosé at home and want to share one with us, you'd have our undying gratitude and a spot in this or any future retrospective tasting of your choice.

My notes on the fourteen wines we did taste are below. I've noted their closures (SC=screwcap; C=cork) as well. Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling (well, except for the Pinot Noir, which we only made one barrel of and never made a Web page for; if you have questions about that, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer).  I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, Amanda Weaver, and Austin Collins) as well as by our National Sales Manager Darren Delmore.

  • 2009 Vermentino (SC): At first sniff the petrol/rubber cement character I tend to get in older screwcapped whites, but this blew off pretty quickly and rocky, briny, youthful notes emerged. With even a little more time in the glass, they were joined by aromas of orange blossom, lemon custard, and grapefruit pith. On the palate, key lime juice, passion fruit, white grapefruit, and more salty brininess. Surprisingly luscious, with a pretty sweet/salty lime note lingering on the finish. Really impressive, once it got past that initial note, and a good reminder to decant old screwcapped whites.
  • 2009 Grenache Blanc (SC): A lovely golden color. The nose showed marzipan, butterscotch, and a rising bread yeastiness. In the mouth, gentle on attack, with flavors of preserved lemon, wet rocks, and a little sweet spice, with acids building over time and finishing with a pithy tannic note we often find in Grenache Blanc. Not as youthful or dramatic as the Vermentino, though perfectly sound still. Drink up if you've got any.
  • 2009 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 45% Viognier, 28% Roussanne, 20% Marsanne, 7% Grenache Blanc): A nose like beer, with a green hoppy note that reminded Chelsea of lemongrass. With time, some honeysuckle and dried apricot emerged. The mouth had nice texture, very Rhone-like, with impressions of peaches and cream, ginger and straw, and a little burst of sour apple on the finish that we thought might come from the Grenache Blanc. Like the Grenache Blanc, it's on the elderly side, but still sound.
  • 2009 Bergeron (SC): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. A lovely nose of minty spruce and cedar, with caramel and baked apple behind. The mouth was similarly appealing, with caramel apple, chalky minerality, and a nice pithy marmalade note on the finish. It was a pleasure to taste, but also seemed like it would be a great dinner wine.
  • 2009 Roussanne (C): A deeper gold color.  Smells a little like a sour beer, with the yeasty character vying with a little sarsaparilla that I think came from some new oak. The mouth too has that same sour crabapple character, more to us like cider than wine, with flavors of Granny Smith apple, sour cherry, and pork fat, on top of Roussanne's signature rich texture. A strange showing for this wine. Not sure if it's in a stage, or if it's on its way downhill.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 62% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 12% Picpoul Blanc): An appealing nose like an entire apple pie, complete with baked apples, nutmeg spice, and rich yeasty crust. Also aromas of honeycomb and sea spray. The mouth showed great texture: very rich, but with nice building acids that balanced the weight, flavors of baked pear, beeswax, spiced nuts, and a nice briny character that came out on the finish. Fully mature and beautiful.
  • 2009 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): One of our last Chardonnay bottlings, from a vintage where production was devastated by the frosts. The nose showed tarragon, buttered popcorn, lemongrass and green tomato, while the mouth was plush yet with a nice lemony note, like a beurre blanc, with a coconut creaminess and a little creamsicle-like orange character on the finish. It tasted to me like it was picked a touch on the early side, and a good reminder that when you're growing a grape that's not an ideal fit for your climate there are times when you don't have a great choice: wait until ripeness and live with extra alcohol and too much weight, or pick early and end up with some green character. In cooler years, I loved our Antithesis, but warmer years like 2009 are more common in Paso Robles, and a big part of why we decided to end the experiment a few years later.
  • 2009 Pinot Noir (C): Our third-ever Pinot, from a few rows of vines in our nursery we were using to produce budwood to plant at my dad's property for our Full Circle Pinot. Our most successful, I think, of the four vintages we made of this wine: a nice minty, cherry and tobacco nose. The mouth shows an appealing lean power: cherry skin and baker's chocolate, menthol and green herbs, Chinese five spice and cloves. A little luxardo cherry character on the finish. Admirable and fun.
  • 2009 Cotes de Tablas (C; 43% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 18% Counoise, 15% Mourvedre): Our only Cotes de Tablas to make the Wine Spectator's "Top 100". A really nice showing for this wine, dark and spicy on the nose, more black in tone than I expect from our Cotes, with blackberry, juniper, pepper, leather, and iron. The mouth is really impressive, with classic but concentrated Grenache flavors of milk chocolate, raspberry, currant and cigar box, nice balance, and a powdered sugar character we loved to the tannins. The finish showed roasted meats and plenty of tannin. Still at peak, and likely to go a while longer. 
  • 2009 Grenache (C): A powerful nose, tangy with cherry liqueur, pine sap, garrigue, and licorice. A touch of alcohol shows too. The mouth is quite tannic, yet with nice fruit intensity: redcurrant, wild strawberry, leather, black pepper, and autumn leaves. A little one-dimensional right now, and not as appealing as the Cotes de Tablas, with its Syrah-added black notes and Counoise's brambliness.
  • 2009 En Gobelet (C; 56% Mourvedre, 23% Tannat, 21% Grenache): Quite a contrast to the Grenache, with a nose more savory than fruity: lacquered wood, teriyaki, black licorice, cedar, and a little plum skin. The mouth is friendlier than the nose suggests, with blackberry and juniper flavors, smoked meat, pepper, bittersweet chocolate, and blackcurrant all giving relief to the still-substantial tannins. Just our second En Gobelet, and all still from the low-lying areas we planted initially as our first head-trained, dry-farmed blocks.
  • 2009 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 40% Mourvedre, 28% Syrah, 27% Grenache, 5% Counoise): The complete package on the nose, evenly balanced between red and black fruit, with added appeal from notes of meat drippings, chocolate, and junipery spice. The mouth is gorgeous: powerful plum and currant fruit, tons of texture, and little hints of sweet spices, dark chocolate, and candied orange peel. A great combination of savory and sweet, at peak drinking but with plenty left in the tank. Neil commented that it was "just what an Esprit should be".
  • 2009 Panoplie (C; 65% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache, 9% Syrah): Less generous on the nose than the Esprit, with red licorice, teriyaki, bay, and Chinese five spice. The mouth is powerful, with tangy red fruit, cherry skin, and then a wall of tannins locks things down and clips the finish a bit. The texture and the mid-palate were highlights, but I think this is still emerging from a closed phase and will be a lot better in a year or two.
  • 2009 Tannat (C): Tannat's classic blue-black color. A cool nose of black licorice, sarsaparilla, elderberry, and a little violet potpourri lift. The mouth is lovely, with tangy chocolate and plum, still big tannins, and a little welcome sweet oak. Classic and reliable, without being as hard as Tannat can be when young. A pleasure, just entering peak drinking.

A few concluding thoughts

As I suspected at the time, this was a very strong red vintage, and a somewhat weaker white vintage, although there were still treasures to be found among the whites. The Bergeron, I thought, was particularly good, and a fun surprise. On the red side, it's clear that time has been kind to the powerful tannins that characterize the 2009 vintage, with the bigger reds still showing plenty of structure and yet the flavors having emerged. I confessed in a blog from last summer that 2009 was never a favorite vintage of mine, but that what I didn't love in its youth -- a certain muscle-bound tannic weight -- has made wines with remarkable staying power.

Unlike the other vintages around it, I don't have a comparable recent vintage for 2009. The similarly low-yielding 2015 vintage has a lot more in character with more elegant years like 2006 and 2010 than with 2009, and we're picking less ripe, overall, now. That doesn't break my heart; I love the openness of the texture of the wines that we're making now. But when we do get another similarly concentrated vintage as 2009, I know I'm going to try to have the patience to do the same thing, and bury the wines in the back of my wine fridge for a decade. 

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

Finally, we chose nine pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 10th Horizontal Tasting: Vermentino, Bergeron, Esprit Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cotes de Tablas, En Gobelet, Esprit, Panoplie, and Tannat. There are still some seats available; I hope many of you will join us!


Checking in on Mourvedre, young and old

For the last three winters, Meghan and I have brought our boys to Vermont, to spend a week in the house in which I grew up playing with my sister's family, and to experience some real winter. This has meant lots of time sledding (or, in this relatively snow-free year, chilly forest walks), lots of time around a board game or a jigsaw puzzle, and of course lots of time around the dinner (or lunch, or breakfast) table. Our family is notorious for not wanting to get up from one meal without knowing with confidence what the next one will be, and when.

One of the pleasures of this house (and, for that matter, this family) is getting to explore the wine cellar that my dad stocked over the course of his six-decade career. Often that means older Burgundies, Bordeaux, or Rhones, but one of the most fun explorations we did this year was of two vintages of Mourvedre, which we opened with a simple but delicious dinner of pasta with homemade Bolognese, simmered for several hours the day before by my sister Rebecca.

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Mourvedre is known for its ageworthiness. But one thing that I've always appreciated about it is that even in its youth it's not usually forbidding or difficult. Its tannins tend to be more chewy than hard, it's got plenty of red fruit, and it has a lovely loamy earthiness, like new leather and pine needles, even when it's young, that just gets more pronounced as the wine ages.

The two vintages that I chose are similar in some ways. Both were overshadowed by blockbuster vintages that followed, and we have underestimated how good the red wines from both 2006 and 2013 really were, with later vertical tastings (like the one we did of Cotes de Tablas just last month) showcasing how well each was showing now. But each vintage is also representative of the era in which we produced it, with 2006 in the middle of a run of vintages where we were pushing for a bit more ripeness than we have in recent years, and 2013 in the shadow of the cool 2010 and 2011 vintages where we were more comfortable picking earlier, and lower sugar levels. And the alcohol on the labels of both wines reflect this, with the 2006 at 14.5%, while the 2013 came in at 13.5%.

Both wines were lovely. My notes on each (brief, since I was taking them in the middle of dinner conversation):

  • 2006 Mourvedre: Chocolatey and generous, with candied raspberry and plum, a little mushroomy earthiness vying with sugarplum and roasted meats on the palate, and a finish of milk chocolate and forest undergrowth. A touch of heat on the finish.
  • 2013 Mourvedre: Savory in contrast to the 2006, showing more darkness on the nose: pepper spice, soy, and roasted meats, with flavors of blackberry, pine forest, and meat drippings, and a lingering graphite-like minerality on the finish.

The opinions around the family table were interesting: most people preferred the 2006 at first taste, for its lusciousness and generosity. That chocolatey character was pretty irresistible, the tannins soft, and the fruit red and unmistakable. But as the meal wound on, I (and most of the rest of the table) kept coming back to the 2013, which seemed to evolve and open up more over the course of the meal, and whose savoriness offered a nice contrasting tone and whose umami-like minerality seemed to play more confidently with the Bolognese.

Of course, the point of pouring two vintages isn't particularly to declare a winner. Both wines were delicious, and I can't imagine anyone opening either of them being disappointed. But the meal was a good affirmation for me of the direction our wines have taken in recent years, still showing plenty of fruit and Paso Robles' characteristic generous sunshine, but preserving more savoriness and minerality to provide balance, contrast, and lift.

I hope that you opened something wonderful over the holidays, and that your new year is full of great food, interesting wines, and outstanding company to enjoy with both.


Our Most Memorable Wines of 2018

One of the things I appreciate most about the team that I work with at Tablas Creek is the wide range of their interests and experiences. If you don't work at a winery, you might expect that those of us who do spend most of their time drinking their own wines, but in my experience, that's far from the case. Most people who find a career in wine do so because they find it fascinating, and that interest doesn't go away just because they've landed at a particular winery, even a winery that they love. And most people who work at wineries look at exploring other wines as an enjoyable form of continuing education.

This year, I thought it would be fun to ask some of our key people about one wine that stuck with them from all the ones they'd tried in 2018. I loved the responses I received, and thought that readers of the blog might too. Here's everyone's submission, in their own words, in alphabetical order (except mine, which is at the end):

Leslie Castillo, Tasting Room Team Lead: Casa Gran del Siurana La Fredat 2014 Garnatxa
DSC08261This last November my husband and I traveled to Barcelona, Spain. A longtime friend from Baja, Mexico happened to be there at the same time, so we met up and drove to the Priorat for a day and had lunch at Mastrucafort in Bellmunt del Priorat, it was there where we had my most memorable wine La Fredat 2014 Garnatxa from Casa Gran del Siurana, objectively the wine was elegant yet wild simply beautiful but what made it even more memorable was the amazing Catalan food, rice prepared with rabbit, escargots and wild mushrooms; pasture raised lamb and the best braised “bacalao” I’ve had. The wine on its own was beautiful but what made it most memorable for me was everything that surrounded it our friends, the place the amazing dishes, whenever I drink La Fredat in the future I will remember that snapshot of our trip.

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker: 2013 Domaine Tempier La Tourtine
IMG_9163I have always maintained that a really great wine can only achieve its full potential when it’s company and surroundings are all in perfect tune. Just such a moment happened last week. I took the glorious drive over the Nacimiento-Ferguson road to Big Sur with my boys and a friend. We lunched at my favorite lunch spot anywhere on the planet, Nepenthe. A glorious winter day, we were treated like kings! Classic steak & frites, the wine a 2013 Domaine Tempier La Tourtine. Stunning is an under statement! Food family friends great weather great view GREAT Wine, perfect.

Ian Consoli, Tasting Room: AmByth Estate 2013 Mourvedre
My favorite bottle of 2018, AmByth Estate 2013 Mourvedre, had two special moments. Number one was in its tasting room. As a man stood across from me and poured me 14 memorable natural wines one stood above them all. I took that bottle and held it for the right occasion until it found me only 2 months later at a dinner made exclusively of biodynamic ingredients. I brought it out to pair with the lamb and was immediately sent into a world where everyone else at the table disappears and only the dish, the wine and myself remain in the phenomenon known as “the vortex”. It was magical.

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager: 2005 Franck Balthazar Cornas 
IMG_1005This 2005 Franck Balthazar Cornas quietly resides on one of my favorite wine lists in the US, at Sacramento’s Tapa the World. Half wine bar and half hookah lounge, owner Paul bought heavy amounts of old world juice before the financial downturn of 2008, and a lot of it is still there at original prices for us industry types to drool over. Black and viscous in color, raw meat and kalamata olive aromatics, with just enough of the Cornas funk bumping in the glass; it's in a beautiful pop-and-pour state at 13 years of age with time-tamed tannins.

Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Team Lead: Fino Sherry
Tapas and wineAt a tapas joint in Córdoba, Andalusia this summer.  We spotted this little place hidden in the backstreets near the grandiose Mezquita-Cathedral that we had just visited that morning.  In this picture taken by my husband, you’ll notice our glasses of chilled Fino Sherry, the local wine, ubiquitous in the region.  I still feel the deliciously crisp refreshing taste of it, with its distinctive aromas of almond that remind me of our Roussanne.  It did not need any more than a simple plate of chorizo and Manzanilla olives to make the experience delicious and unforgettable.

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker: 2017 Ridge Montebello (from Barrel)
20180803_143440 (1)Thinking about my favorite or most memorable bottle of wine from a given year is like going through a highlight reel from the past 12 months.  Travel experiences, epic dinners with friends and family, celebrations both large and small… for me, every one of those events is marked with a special bottle of wine.  Going through my favorite memories of the year and trying to narrow it down to a single bottle is a difficult task, indeed! 

However, there was one singular wine experience that absolutely blew me away this year.  Before harvest, our cellar team took a trip to Santa Cruz under the auspice of teambuilding, but the real reason for the trip was that our winemaker, Neil Collins, got an invitation from Eric Baugher, winemaker at Ridge Vineyards, to visit the Ridge Monte Bello Estate.  We jumped.  FAST.  Eric gave us a full cellar tour and led us through a stellar barrel tasting experience before showing us the separate Monte Bello cellar.  It was here that I had my very first taste of Ridge’s Monte Bello wine.  My dad had always been a fan of Ridge and the striking green and black labels were a staple in our wine rack – but never the Monte Bello.  This, to me, was tasting from barrel a lifetime of curiosity, longing and wonder.  And while it may have been my first taste of this venerable wine, it was not to be my last that day.  We sat down to lunch and after enjoying flights from their Lytton Springs and Geyserville properties, as well as a flight from their ATP wines, we were treated to a flight of the 1992, 2002 and 2012 Monte Bello.  These wines and this experience was the closest to perfection I’ve ever had the good fortune to be part of.

Working in this industry, we get access to all kinds of really extraordinary experiences, events and wines.  But hanging out with the Ridge vineyard and cellar team and talking frankly about their winemaking practices over glasses of exceptional wines I’d been waiting my entire life to try – this was one of those days where I sat thunderstruck, asking myself “Is this really my life?  How did I get so lucky?”  If a glass of wine causes you to ask questions like that, well, that’s certainly a highlight of the highlight reel.

Linnea Frazier, Media & Marketing: 1984 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
My most memorable bottle actually all came into play because of a chipped tooth. Yes, a chipped tooth. I was at my orthodontist and we were chatting about my work in the wine industry and his past wine collections, so being curious about the more obscure Rhone whites he proposed we do a bottle exchange next appointment. I readily agreed, not thinking too much of it and when the time came presented him with a bottle of our 2017 Picpoul Blanc. Casually, he places a bottle of 1984 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill Cab Sauvignon on the table between us. Needless to say I laughed. And despite my protestations, he was adamant about us exchanging. Much to the delight of my conscience, I do believe he ended up buying a couple cases of Picpoul a few weeks after.

That bottle was opened during the holidays with the people I love most and given the ceremony it well deserved. Of course it was outstandingly rich and rustic, with immediate sinister earthiness and gained more dark fruit after a couple hours. Cheers!

Misty Lies, Tasting Room Team Lead: 2013 Domaine Ponsot Clos de la Roche
IMG_0048Earlier this year we had a free afternoon to open a nice bottle of wine. We decided on a bottle from Domaine Ponsot and decanted it. As the afternoon progressed we tasted it about every 20 minutes to see how it would open up over time. Even as a youthful wine, it was simply amazing and it gave me a whole new appreciation of wine.

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager: 1996 Tablas Hills Cuvee Rouge
This was a year where I drank plenty of wine, but mostly good, solid, everyday stuff.  The exception, at the risk of being a homer, was the discovery of a handful of cases of 1996 Tablas Hills Cuvee Rouge.  This predated the first Tablas Creek Vineyard labeling by one year, but is in essence an Esprit de Tablas/Beaucastel.  A caveat: there’s none left.  We sold it bottle by bottle in the tasting room over the course of a couple of months, and I had the opportunity to taste it a handful of times.  It’s held up remarkably well, and still has some years left.  It is of course an old wine, so is ethereal in body, delicately perfumed, graceful on the palate, with just enough vibrancy to make it fresh.  It’s not quite a perfect wine, as it shows a touch of green, maybe stemmy tannins that are mostly calmed with age, but for a 22-year-old wine made from three-year-old vines, it’s a revelation.  And as much I as enjoyed it, I‘m even more excited about what the wines we’re making now will be like in 20 years, with fully mature vines and a vineyard and winemaking team with two decades of experience on this site.

Suphada Rom, Sales & Marketing: Vouette & Sorbée’s Fidèle
Suphada ChampagneI might be the worst minimalist ever! I carried around this bottle of champagne around with me through the better part of the summer. I had a sneaking suspicion that Cameron (my now fiancé) was going to propose at some point and me, being my hyper organized and planned self, I wanted to be prepared. Thankfully, I only had to tote it around for a month or two! Our engagement wine was Vouette & Sorbée’s Fidèle, a beautiful expression of Pinot Noir from the Aube. If I can give any unsolicited advice, I would say to always have a bottle of champagne ready- you never know (or sometimes you do!) when you may need to celebrate.

Randy Thurman, IT and Facilities Manager: 2012 Esprit de Tablas
We celebrated a new niece arriving this year with a bottle of Esprit Red 2012. I also gained a brother in law almost 3 months to the day that my niece was born, which we also drank to at their wedding with 24 bottles of Tablas Dianthus, Picardan, and Patelin current releases. We did not have any immediate family pass but we usually toast them at every family get together with any drink available and reminisce about how they would have enjoyed being there with us and how much we miss them. To King Po Po as my family would say.

Me: Domaine Marquis d'Angerville, Clos des Ducs, Vintage Unknown
IMG_7056As readers of the blog or followers of Tablas Creek will know, my dad Robert (founder of Tablas Creek) passed away this March one month from his 91st birthday. I wrote at some length on the blog on his life, and also in another piece shared the eulogy I gave for him at the celebration of his life we held at the vineyard in April. That celebration was a mix of sadness and appreciation for the many things he built and left for all of us. In that spirit, at a family gathering two nights before the memorial, my brother Danny and I decided to open a bottle of made by the Burgundy proprietor with whom he had been friends longest: Jacques d'Angerville, born like him in 1927.

I've always loved the wines from Domaine Marquis d'Angerville in Volnay, which for me exemplify Burgundy's magical ability to have depth and intensity of flavor without any sense of heaviness. The bottle itself had spent some years in my dad's Vermont cellar, where the high humidity is ideal for the wine inside the bottles but enough to cause labels to disintegrate. I'm sure that the vintage was printed on the cork, but I don't remember what that was, and the part of the label that would have shown it is gone. Almost certainly some vintage between 1976 and 1985, but I can't be more specific than that.

I remember the wine, though: translucent and ethereal, high-toned, fully mature and yet still very much alive. It's a wine I would have loved in any circumstances, but it was everything else that the wine signified that night that made it my most memorable wine of the year: a backdrop for our telling stories of our dad's life; tangible proof of the impact of his career; and a symbol of endurance (Jacques passed away in 2003, but his brilliance shines through in the wines he made).

A few concluding thoughts:
As you might expect, this was an eclectic list. Some wines are Tablas Creek, but most are not. Many were older, which says that for all the challenges of storing and being patient with wines, the rewards can be marvelous. But the thing that stood out most for me was the extent to which wines can mark the significant occasions in our lives, and give those moments additional depth and meaning. May your food and wine experiences be memorable in 2019.


My Most Memorable Meals of 2018

By Darren Delmore

One of the greatest physical threats of being the National Sales Manager for Tablas Creek is accelerated weight gain from all the killer food being whipped up at restaurants around the country that serve our wines. Here's a shortlist of my heavenly highlights of 2018, which were many. Now, off to find the nearest cool sculpting place, or at least the hotel's treadmill! 

Michael Warring

In what may have once been a donut store on the eastern outskirts of Vallejo now quietly houses a dynamic husband-and-wife duo serving artistry on a plate, many courses at a time, for a steal. The word isn't entirely out yet, though the culinary cognoscenti that visit Napa Valley are known to Uber out here for one of two seatings a night. Michael and his wife Ali do everything, including washing dishes, and it's a real open performance. Ali is a fan of Tablas Creek whites and the evening I was there served an older vintage of our Grenache Blanc because she loved the petrol notes that arise with some bottle age. This truffle ravioli dish brought me deep into he wet, salty earth, only to come to when the made-before-your-eyes marshmallow ice cream closed out the evening.

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McPhee's Grill

My family lives a block away in Templeton from this Paso Robles institution. Ian McPhee, along with Laurent Grangien, were the OG wine country chefs for our aspiring wine region, and I think both chefs have improved with some time in the cellar. During the Hospice du Rhone wine festival in April, my old boss at Two Hands wines in Australia and the winemaker from Staglin wanted to have dinner and share some bottles, so I immediately booked a table and McPhee's did not disappoint. From baby back ribs, grass fed steaks, wood fired flatbreads and more, the locally-sourced fare went gorgeously down the hatch with the velvety match up of 2005 Tablas Creek Panoplie and 2005 Hommage a Jacques Perrin, among other bottled beauties.

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Hitching Post

I serendipitously stopped by this classic in Buellton on the way back from the Ojai Wine Festival, and lo and behold got sandwiched by the legends themselves Frank Ostini and Gray Hartley. It'd been a while since I'd grabbed a seat at the notorious bar from the film Sideways, which keeps the old school Central Coast steakhouse vibe alive, complete with relish trays. They serve Tablas Creek Vermentino by the glass, along with the complete lineup of Hitching Post Pinot Noir, and I followed Gray's lead with ordering some grilled quail and a small grass fed flat iron steak. The oak-grilled aromas and flavors keeping the barroom -- which that night housed a mix of Cal Trans dudes, a bachelorette party, and other tourists posing out for a selfie or two -- classy.

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Kitchen Door

In the bustling Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, Chef Todd Humphries continues to turn out wood fired Asian fusion comfort food, and often has Tablas Creek on tap! With only a half hour to burn here in the spring, I ordered (for a second time) the smoked salmon rillettes and crostini. Have a look at the buttery fat layer at the surface, the perfect foil for the bright acidity of Patelin de Tablas Rosé.

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The Wine Gallery

A Tablas Creek wine dinner in the balmy heat of the summer while a south swell is raging along the beaches of Laguna? Sign me up. Chef Rick Guzman and owner/sommelier Chris Olsen hosted the sold out five-wine feast, beginning with a wood fired Crab melt and closing out the night lingering over a heritage pork and bean skillet that they matched with multiple vintages of Esprit de Tablas Rouge. We're coming back for more in 2019!

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Bar Bianco 

Hailing from a pizzeria family myself, it's incredible what is happening with pizza across the US! And it seems the wines being offered at pizzerias are slowly getting elevated to match the farm-to-table crusty cuisine being churned out city to city. In Arizona, the most talked about chef and restaurateur is arguably Chris Bianco, with his Pizzeria Bianco establishments, Tratto, and now Bar Bianco and its monthly wine dinner series focusing on organic vineyards around the world. I asked to have Tablas Creek be a part of the series way back in 2017, and with some perseverance, we combined forces in October and I got to nerd out with a signed copy of his infamous cookbook. Going hyper seasonal, we started with an Antipasto of Okra, Roasted Gold Peppers, Turnip, Sopressata, and Manchego, and concluded with a Braised Beef Shoulder, pickled winter squash and sweet onion German Potato Salad paired with 2014 Esprit de Tablas Rouge. Chris gave a heartfelt toast about community, how the power of good food and sharing a table can connect us all.

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Alter

It's ironic that exactly where my rental car was heavily burglarized three years ago now resides a Michelin-star worthy hotspot called Alter. The Wynwood district in Miami is overflowing in beautiful graffiti art, new wave galleries, coffee roasters, and incredible places to eat and drink. It used to certainly be the Patelin of Florida. We hosted a Tablas Creek wine dinner here in November, five courses designed by Chef Brad Kilgore, with each expanding the imagination factor, but the duck breast and Cotes de Tablas Rouge 2016 blew the whole crowd out of their seats.

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Longboat Key Club

Off the shimmery shores of Sarasota, Florida, there's an annual celebration of wine and Stone Crab known as Bacchus on the Beach. Our Vineyard Brands contact Freddy Matson and Bob Weil of Longboat Key Club put on a mesmerizing memorial dinner to Robert Haas on the powdery white sands, with an endless array of crustaceans and cuvees from both Tablas Creek and Chateau de Beaucastel. I've conducted dinners comparing the California and French bottling, but this was the first time we did all older vintages of Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc and Chateau de Beaucastel. The whites were stunning, spanning from 2005 to 2011, and a lot of VINsiders who turned out raved about the quality of the older whites and how they often don't think to age them. I stumbled away believing there may not be any finer white grape in the world to pair with buttery fresh crab than Roussanne.

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Chez Delmore 

After consuming all this brilliance, and as the nights dip into the 30's around Paso Robles, I've learned that the most memorable meals can often be crafted in your own home, shared by loved ones. I'm no chef, but I've been making a fairly wicked French Onion soup from the cookbook of Daniel Boulud for years. Our farmer's market down the street has all the ingredients for this simple but patience-driven dish, and I've always admired that Chef Boulud's wine recommendation for his soup, once it's pulled out of the broiler with melted Comte cheese and the salty, broth-soaked crust below, is Roussanne, and an older one if you can find it. I think I know some people. Happy Holidays!

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The Greening of the Vineyard

At this time of year, the landscape in Paso Robles changes fast. Within a few days of the season's first rain, you start to see hints of green under the dry grasses from the year before. The day after your first hard freeze, the grapevines lose most of their leaves as they pass into their winter dormancy. And suddenly, instead of the autumn landscape we had less than a month back, it's starting to look like winter:

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The vineyard's annual change to winter colors doesn't always happen evenly. There are still vineyard blocks (mostly at the tops of our hills) that haven't seen a hard freeze, and which combine autumn foliage with a green undercoat:

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For whatever reason, Syrah seems to hang onto its leaves (and their pretty fall colors) longer than any other grape. Witness this panoramic, with bare Mourvedre vines on the left of one of our vineyard roads and Syrah on the right:

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The growth of the cover crop means that we've been able to reintroduce our animal herd into the vineyard. The areas they've grazed look brown, but remember that the manure they leave behind will just accelerate the growth of more cover crop later in the season. Our goal is to get the flock through every block twice between now and bud-break in April:

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We are thrilled with the early rain we've seen so far this winter. We saw our first significant storm the week before Thanksgiving, in which we picked up a little less than an inch of rain. This was followed by a more significant storm the next week, which dropped 3.12 inches over two days. That wasn't all. The next week (which brings us to last week) saw another small storm drop a half-inch, and we have another storm forecast for this coming Monday. Overall, we're at 4.85" for the winter so far, and ahead of our long-term average. Even better, it has come with sunny breaks in between, which gives the cover crop a chance to get established and reduces the threat of erosion.

I'll leave you with one more photo, maybe my favorite that I took this morning. I love the feel and look of the air in a Paso Robles winter, with moisture differentiating receding mountains and softening the sun's intensity. If you haven't visited wine country in wintertime, you're missing out.

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Buy More Wine (and Fewer Wines)

Last weekend, we hosted our annual en primeur tasting for our wine club members. This is part of a program with roots back to 1954, when my dad offered the customers of his father's Manhattan wine shop M. Lehmann the opportunity to purchase futures on the great Bordeaux vintage of 1952. His father never thought consumers would pay for wine before they could get it, but my dad sold out the entire 3000 case allocation in three weeks and transformed the way that Bordeaux wines were sold in America. I recently uncovered the old pamphlet, with gorgeous hand-colored lithographs printed in Paris and sent to my dad's best customers in Manhattan. It's a remarkable time capsule, from an era where a case of first-growth Bordeaux would only set you back some $37. For larger images, click on the pictures below:

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At Tablas Creek, we offer futures on our two top red wines from each vintage, Esprit de Tablas and Panoplie.  We do this in largely the same way, year after year, as is fitting for a program that looks back nearly seven decades. We send out an invitation to purchase at a futures-only savings to our club members, as well as the opportunity to come to one of two sessions where we debut these new wines. Guests try the wines on their own and with a hearty dish that can stand up to the wines' youth, while Neil and I spend the sessions doing our best to put the newest vintage into context with other recent vintages, and share our best guesses as to how the wines will evolve over time. That was our day this past Saturday.

Here's where things get interesting. Because, while we can and do try to draw parallels with other years, no two vintages are the same. For example, my closest comparison for the 2017 wines is 2005: a year, like 2017, where we saw a multi-year drought cycle end with a bang, and where the resulting vintage was both high quality and plentiful, the vines' expression of their health in a warm, generous year. But, of course, the vineyard is older now than it was in 2005, with the oldest vines pushing 25 years and a much higher percentage of head-trained, dry-farmed acreage. The raw materials are not the same. And the young 2017 reds manage to be both densely packed and approachable, thick with primary fruit and yet savory, with hints of the complexity that they'll develop over the decades. They clearly have a long and fascinating life ahead of them.1

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I was asked at both sessions what I thought the drinking windows would be on the wines that we were tasting, and I did my best. I think that both of these wines have two windows, one 3-6 years after vintage where the wine has lost its youthful blockiness but remains young, juicy, and exuberant, and another (after a 1-3 year closed period that I liken to a wine's teenage years) 8-20 or more years after vintage where it has softened, developed more secondary and tertiary flavors of meat, leather, and truffle, when the wines' tannins have softened, when it's mature, graceful, and elegant.

But really, the most fun for me is getting to know a wine at different stages of its life. And this led me to share with the guests one of my revelations I've tried to act on over recent years. I realized I needed to buy more wine, but fewer wines. Most of us don't have unlimited resources and unlimited space. We have to prioritize. And with wine -- or at least my favorite wines, which I think will age well -- this means buying enough to be able to open at different phases of its life, and hopefully still to have some left to enjoy when I think it just can't get any better. I don't think this is feasible with fewer than six bottles, and it's a lot easier with a case.

So, that's my practical wine advice for the year. Buy more wine, but fewer wines. And then get ready to enjoy the journey that the wines you love will take you on. I don't remember seeing any 1952's left in my dad's Vermont cellar. But he definitely went heavy on the vintages he loved: 1964 and 1970 for Bordeaux, 1978 and 1985 for Burgundy, 1981 and 1989 for Chateauneuf du Pape. When we're back there over the New Year's holiday, we'll all be thanking my dad for his foresight.

Footnotes:

  1. If you missed this Monday's order deadline for futures on the 2017's, we'll be accepting orders through this weekend. You can find ordering information here.

A Vertical Tasting of Every Vintage of Cotes de Tablas, 1999-2017

We've been enjoying one of our periodic visits from Cesar Perrin this week.  Monday, we looked at our present by tasting through the cellar to get a first look at the 2018 vintage, and tasting a selection of the wines we've bottled this year to evaluate how the 2016s and 2017s are shaping up. Tuesday, we looked at our future, spending the day with our managers talking about what we want Tablas Creek to be working towards over the next five-plus years, and setting ourselves goals. This morning, we looked at our past by opening up every vintage of our Cotes de Tablas, from the first vintage (then called Petite Cuvee) in 1999 to the 2017 that's sitting in foudre and will be bottled in February.

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The tasting was fascinating.  We hadn't looked at all our Cotes de Tablas wines since 2011, and a lot has changed since then.  We've integrated the Patelin de Tablas into our mix. Our varietals have assumed more of a focus, as our sales continue their gradual move away from a focus on the wholesale market and toward our tasting room and wine club.  And we've seen the end of a wet, cool cycle and the full arc of our five-year drought that began in 2012. 

I'll dive into the take-home lessons we feel we learned today at the end of the tasting notes, but one thing was clear from the very first wine: we've consistently underestimated (and perhaps, undersold) the sophistication and ageworthiness of these wines. Although it shows well young, even our first examples were still fresh and vibrant as they reach voting age. And these were not wines made consciously to cellar.  Toss in that in the early years the Cotes de Tablas retailed between $20 and $25 (it's still only $35) and I think that the quality that they offer at their price is pretty hard to beat. Kudos to any of you who saved any of these older vintages in your cellars.

I've linked each wine to its page on our Web site, if you want to look at production notes or tasting notes from when the wine was newly bottled. The notes:

  • 1999 Petite Cuvee (65% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre): This was the precursor to the Cotes de Tablas, and we made just a few hundred cases in 1999 of lots that we thought weren't up to the standards of the 1999 Reserve Cuvee (itself the predecessor to the Esprit de Beaucastel), mostly Grenache that we thought too tannic for its weight.  The wine was sold only in our tasting room, and we never thought it would go this long, but it's showing admirably, with the nose pungent and fresh, with a piney, licoricey note. The palate shows strawberry and dried cherry fruit, lots of peppercorn, and a chocolaty note, with still those Grenache tannins that we worried about in the wine's youth now offering lovely counterpoint. A little heat on the finish (the wine is 15.2% alcohol) is the only sign of age to me.
  • 2000 Cotes de Tablas (84% Grenache, 16% Syrah): Our first Cotes de Tablas, from about 600 cases worth of lots we thought pretty but not sufficiently intense to go into the 2000 Esprit, that to our surprise got a 92-point rating from Robert Parker and sold out in less than a month.  There are times when an outside perspective helps you realize the quality of something you've been overlooking each day, and this was one example.  This is gorgeous now, with a meaty, gamy baking spice nose sitting over dark red fruit, and red licorice, plummy and a little pruney with age. The mouth is still richly fruity, meaty, with chocolate and cinnamon warmth, and still some good tannins. It's mature and lovely, and you really can't tell it's 15.6% alcohol. I can't imagine this getting any better from here, but drink up.
  • 2001 Cotes de Tablas (38% Mourvedre, 34% Syrah, 24% Grenache, 4% Counoise): An anomaly for the tasting, as in 2001 we decided that the spring frost had scrambled up the vintage sufficiently that we weren't going to make an Esprit de Beaucastel, and declassified nearly the entire vintage into the Cotes.  So, the only vintage where Grenache was not the #1 grape in the Cotes de Tablas.  The nose was spicy, not as opulent as the 2000, but with some nice savory umami meatiness. It was fresh and still reasonably tannic on the palate, less fruit-driven and showing more of the savory tobacco note I get from aged Syrah. There are still some drying tannins on the finish. It was less of a statement than the wines around it, but felt familiar to us since it's a profile we make wines in nowadays.
  • 2002 Cotes de Tablas (45% Grenache, 22% Syrah, 21% Mourvedre, 12% Counoise): Our first Cotes de Tablas blended primarily as a wine in its own right rather than as a consequence of lots we didn't want in the Esprit. Whether because of the blend or the vintage (which was a low-acid year that made brooding wines) it tasted older to me than the preceding wines, the first that I would put in "late maturity" on our vintage chart.  A deep nose of leather, dark chocolate, and soy marinade. The mouth shows sweet fruit, still fairly tannic, then a dried teriyaki beef jerky character that showed (to me at least) it was likely on the downslope. I preferred the renditions with a bit more acidity and lift.
  • 2003 Cotes de Tablas (60% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 12% Mourvedre, 4% Counoise): The first wine that to me smelled like a "modern" Cotes de Tablas, with that translucent cranberry Grenache character that I associate with the Cotes now. The palate showed nice openness, freshness, and medium weight, although there were some drying cherry skin tannins that came out on the finish. Good acids. Chelsea called it "affable". I'm not sure there's the stuffing here to age much longer, so drink up while it's at its peak.
  • 2004 Cotes de Tablas (64% Grenache, 16% Syrah, 13% Counoise, 7% Mourvedre): Neil said "here is the Cotes of today". The wine showed a lovely cool nose of minty eucalyptus, pie cherry, fresh tobacco, green peppercorn and baking spices. The mouth showed sweet fruit, but had a nice tanginess that kept it from ever being sappy. The finish showed a bright berry compote character with great tannins with the texture of powdered sugar.  The wine of the tasting for many of us.

[Between 2005 and 2007 we bottled the Cotes de Tablas in both cork and screwcap versions.  We hadn't checked in on them in a while, so we tasted both.  They weren't tasted blind, which of course influences our perceptions of them, but since some of us are screwcap proponents and others tend to favor corks, we were pleased that our impressions of the wines' relative merits were pretty consistent.  I've included notes from both versions.]

  • 2005 Cotes de Tablas (43% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 18% Syrah, 15% Counoise)
    • Cork: a nose deep with soy, baker's chocolate, and meat drippings. The mouth showed some of the depth and weight of the 2002, more sweet earth and dark chocolate and tobacco, and a slightly medicinal cherry cough syrup note that felt to some of us like it was a touch overripe (or a touch past its prime).
    • Screwcap: the nose was a little more closed, but broadly similar, more savory than fruity. The mouth was higher toned, with more freshness but less complexity and richness. It still felt a little disjointed, and we would like to have decanted it an hour or so before we tasted it. The group split pretty much 50/50 as to which closure we preferred.
  • 2006 Cotes de Tablas (72% Grenache, 11% Syrah, 9% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise)
    • Cork: a really nice nose, spicy and lifted cranberry, baking spice, and eucalyptus. Smells cool and fresh. The palate showed flavors of mint chocolate, red cherry, and nicely resolved tannins. Really pretty and delicious.
    • Screwcap: the nose is a little less open and expressive, perhaps a touch medicinal. The palate is very nice, but with a touch of reduction that seemed to make it express as less fruity and maybe because of that a bit more evolved. That also made the tannins a little more evident. Almost all of us preferred the cork on this one. Of course, the first bottle we opened was corked, which drove home the risk of cork finish. That one definitely wasn't better.
  • 2007 Cotes de Tablas (50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 25% Counoise)
    • Cork: a deep, meaty, gamy nose, with sweet baking spices. Quite massive on the palate, still powerfully tannic, and a little on the heavy side right now.  More power than nuance, we thought.
    • Screwcap: the nose is cleaner and more straightforward: spice and roasted meat and dark red jam. The mouth was really pretty: powerful, but fresher than the cork version. Like the 2000 in some ways: opulent but not overweight. All of us preferred the screwcap version.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas (42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 17% Mourvedre): Only bottled in screwcap. A beautiful nose, clean and lifted, with spicy notes of dried strawberry, juniper, cherry skin, new leather, and pepper.  The mouth is generous but with the tanginess that we loved in the 2004, making the wine both fresh and refreshing. Nice sweetness on the finish, with an underlying chalkiness that keeps it pure.  In a very pretty place, and another wine of the tasting for us.
  • 2009 Cotes de Tablas (43% Grenache, 24% Syrah, 18% Counoise, 15% Mourvedre): Only bottled in cork (as were all subsequent vintages).  The first bottle we opened was oxidized and dead (perhaps a cork flaw?) but the second was pristine: powerful on the nose, with an iron-like minerality that was more dominant than the fruit or meat that lurked underneath. The mouth was nice, but big, with a grapey Grenache character, powerful tannins, and a little alcohol coming out on the finish. From a very powerful, extracted vintage that saw yields reduced by both spring frosts and the third year of drought. More about complexity and power than charm, for me, this was the only Cotes de Tablas to ever appear in the Wine Spectator's "Top 100" list. Definitely enough stuffing to lay down for a while longer.
  • 2010 Cotes de Tablas (46% Grenache, 39% Syrah, 10% Mourvedre, 5% Counoise): Smells like Syrah to me: iron and blackberry and loam. The mouth shows more open than the nose suggests, really nice, with black cherry, some tanginess, and good integrated tannins, with lots of black licorice on the finish. A serious wine from a very cool, slow-ripening vintage, still probably not quite at peak. Cesar commented "you feel a lot of potential".
  • 2011 Cotes de Tablas (49% Grenache, 28% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre, 8% Counoise): More open on the nose than the 2010: blackberry and spice and rich dark earth, though the coolness of the vintage (the back-to-back vintages of 2010 and 2011 were the coolest in our history) still means that the fruit tones are more black than red. The mouth is velvety, with nice acids and elegant tannins. Not quite the fruit density of the 2010, but that may be a stage. This feels to me like it's emerging from a closed period, will be better in another six months, and drink well for another decade.
  • 2012 Cotes de Tablas (60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5% Mourvedre): Charmingly Grenache on the nose: red cherry and red licorice, loam, and sweet spices. The mouth shows cherry-chocolate, more red licorice, and a nice tanginess on the finish. It's a little light on the mid-palate compared to a great vintage, but it's easy and charming. Chelsea called it "joyous".
  • 2013 Cotes de Tablas (55% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5% Mourvedre): Darker and more powerful on the nose than the 2012, almost 2011-like, with iron, soy marinade, baking spices, and figs. Inviting. The mouth is really nice: licorice, raspberry and blackberry, with appealing earthiness and a nice tannic bite coming out on the finish. My favorite of the relatively young vintages.
  • 2014 Cotes de Tablas (44% Grenache, 36% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 8% Mourvedre): Seems older on the nose than the 2013, jammier and less vibrant. Still, nice strawberry jam, sweet earth, and baking spice character. The mouth shows great tanginess, sweet fruit, good tannins, a bit primary right now with some grapiness and a little baked fruit. Maybe on a track similar to a wine like 2002 or 2005, and that's not surprising: we thought that 2014 was in many ways a throwback vintage that reminded us of the mid-2000s.
  • 2015 Cotes de Tablas (39% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 16% Counoise, 10% Mourvedre): So focused and precise on the nose, like (to me) all our 2015 reds: spicy cranberry, young, fresh, and playful. The mouth to me is on point, with both precision and intensity, and vibrant acids. A little less rich on the mid-palate than the 2014 -- not surprising given the cooler vintage -- but for me more than made up for that with the focus.
  • 2016 Cotes de Tablas (55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 13% Mourvedre, 7% Counoise): Still young and less focused on the nose than the 2015, pungent and spicy with a cherry cola character and (I thought) a little touch of sweet oak. On the palate, like strawberry puree with tangy acids but a nice creamy, chalky mineral backbone to play off. Strawberries and cream on the finish, fun and expressive.
  • 2017 Cotes de Tablas (53% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 12% Counoise, 10% Mourvedre): Out of foudre; will be bottled in February and go out to wine club members in the spring. A rich but lifted nose of spicy strawberry, iron, and vibrant freshness on the nose. In the mouth, red fruit and licorice, complicated by a garrigue-like herbiness and with youthful tannins that come out with black cherry and fresh fig flavors on the finish. A baby, but should be outstanding.  

A few concluding thoughts. First, on corks vs. screwcaps. This was the least conclusive tasting that we've done on these three vintages; with one vintage seeming better in cork, another in screw cap, and the third a split decision. But I left feeling like the decision to put the wine in cork starting in 2009 was a good one, as most people who are drinking the wines are doing it in the wine's first decade, and there's plenty of freshness to carry the wines to that age, while the added depth from the aging under cork seemed a benefit. If you are opening wines like this under screwcap, a decant is highly recommended.

Of course, the one disappointing wine was the corked 2006. If you'd waited a decade and opened that, what a bummer. It's a dilemma.

Second, while the Cotes de Tablas wines are a less important piece of our production now than they were a decade ago -- when they represented about 40% of our production instead of the less than 15% they do now -- we all agreed that they're still a lovely, flexible wine that can be a pleasure to open young yet still offer an incredible drinking experience if you choose to let them age out a decade or so. And what a  bargain. We choose to price this less than our other wines because we want to be able to offer wines at different prices, and we usually aren't including our most intense lots in this blend. But it's still 100% estate fruit off the organic (and now biodynamic) vineyard, fermented and aged in the same way as our Esprit, and it has consistently exceeded our expectations for ageworthiness. I'm going to start tossing a case of each vintage in the back of my cellar, and try to keep my hands off.

Third, although (or perhaps because) the style changed over the years and from vintage to vintage, there was something for everyone in the lineup. I asked everyone to vote for their favorites at the end, and fourteen of the nineteen vintages got at least one vote. The Cotes de Tablas that got the most votes (five of the eight of us) was the 2008. Tied for second with four votes were the 2001 and 2004. Two wines (the 1999 and 2010) got three votes.  And the 2006, 2011, 2013, and 2017 all got two votes. So there were favorites young and old, from bigger vintages and from more elegant vintages, with mostly Grenache and with Grenache levels around 40%.

Finally, it was great to have Cesar's perspective around the table. One of the things I'm most grateful for in our collaboration with the Perrins is that they manage to bring the best qualities of being both insiders and outsiders at the same time. Insiders, because they've worked with these grapes for generations, all over the south of France, and they've been cutting edge in experimenting with new ways to grow and vinify Rhone varieties since the time of Jacques Perrin in the 1950s. Plus, they've been deeply involved with Tablas Creek since the beginning and are regular visitors several times a year. Cesar spent the 2011 harvest working at Tablas Creek, and has been back most years since. So it's not like we have to bring them up to speed on the vision or the decisions that were made previously. But at the same time, this is not the world that they're immersed in on a day to day basis, and their mindset is in what they do in the Rhone. So, when they come, they come with fresh -- but informed -- eyes. And that's a remarkably valuable perspective, for which I am grateful.

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What We're Drinking with Thanksgiving 2018

I have always loved Thanksgiving. It's a holiday that's mostly about eating, drinking, and family. It's still relatively uncommercialized. And it's about giving thanks, which I feel like puts a celebration into the right perspective.

The idea that there is a "right" wine for Thanksgiving seems to be on its way out, and that's just fine. The meal, after all, is diverse, with a panoply of flavors (and participants) that encourages a diverse collection of wines. I do think that there are wines that it's probably good to steer clear of: wines that are powerfully tannic tend to come off even more so when they're paired with some of the sweeter Thanksgiving dishes, and wines that are high in alcohol tend to be fatiguing by the end of what is often a marathon of eating and drinking. But that still leaves you plenty of options.  With a traditional turkey dinner, I tend to steer people toward richer whites and rosés, and fruitier reds relatively light in oak and tannin.  There are a lot of the wines that we make that fit this broad criteria, so if you want to stay in the Tablas Creek family, you could try anything from Roussanne and Esprit Blanc to Dianthus Rosé to Counoise, Grenache, or Cotes de Tablas.  Richer red meat preparations open up a world of Mourvedre-based reds, from Esprit de Tablas to Mourvedre to our Panoplie.  But there's a wide world of wines out there, and I know that while our table will likely include a Tablas wine or two, there will be plenty of diversity represented. I thought it would be fun to see what a broad cross-section of our team were looking forward to drinking this year.  Their responses are below, in their own words, in alphabetical order.

Thanksgiving Pairings

Janelle Bartholomew, Wine Club Assistant
This year my family is especially grateful considering all the turmoil California has been through in the last month.  It will be just our little family of 5 celebrating together this year, so our wine list in small.  While I cook and listen to my children play (or argue, more commonly) I will be sipping on some lovely Delamotte Champagne… bubbles make everything better. For dinner I have saved a bottle of 2012 Coudoulet de Beaucastel to share with my husband. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Neil Collins, Executive Winemaker
Once again it is time to carefully select those wines that will accompany turkey on the table. As is always the case these days the first bottle on my list will be a Magnum of Esprit De Tablas Blanc, the new and luxuriant 2016 perhaps? or the 2012?. The cellar crew and I shared a magnum of Beaujolais Nouveau from Domaine Dupeuble, I bought an extra for thanksgiving! The Lone Madrone Demi Sec Chenin Blanc will certainly be present. I have been saving a Brick House Pinot also. I tend to like some bubbles around also perhaps from The Loire Valley. We have a lot of guests coming this year, guests with varying levels of wine geekiness so the post Thanksgiving list will surely make more interesting reading than my pre list. Is there any better moment than friends and family around a table laden with wine food and chatter? Not for me there isn't! Neil..

Darren Delmore, National Sales Manager
Darren editedI’m going all central coast this year on wine, as my family is celebrating with close friends in Ventura who own an awesome wine-focused restaurant called Paradise Pantry. We’ll be starting off with the 2010 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc, which is at an incredible stage of its life and mind blowing in large Bordeaux glassware. For my contribution of reds, I pulled a 2008-2010 vertical of Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir; a powerful iconic SLH estate for the varietal. The fruit and tannin intensity coming from this own-rooted slope rewards some short term cellaring and should be at their pleasurable peak, along with the flavors and richness of what Paradise Pantry's chef-owner Kelly Briglio is making for the feast. Happy holidays! 

Brad Ely, Cellar Master
This year, as every year for Thanksgiving, my family and I will be starting with sparkling. There is nothing like bubbles to ease some family tensions and put everyone in the festive spirit. I usually go domestic for this and buy a few bottles of something very drinkable that everyone can enjoy like Mumm, Roederer, or Schramsberg. Then for the meal we will definitely have a food oriented rosé, like our Tablas Creek Dianthus. I find rosé to be a very versatile pairing with the multitude of flavors on the Thanksgiving dinner table. For red, we will be drinking a Cru Beaujolais from Fleurie and a Red Burgundy from Marsannay. Reds on the fresh side that complement the different foods without overpowering anything are my go to wines and these two should fit the bill just right. Cheers!

Evelyne bottlesEvelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Lead
I am looking for something autumnal, unexpected, and “very French.”  My first pick is the 2015 Le Peu de la Moriette Vouvray of Domaine Pichot. The grape is Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley.  To me, Vouvray stands for Fall; the way rosé makes me think of Summer.  This one has a yellow leaf color, herbal flavors and a Pink Lady apple fruitiness that will fit perfectly with my butternut squash soup.  

Another pick from the Loire Valley will also land on my table.  I found this 2012 Chinon, Les Petites Roches from Charles Joguet at Kelly Lynch in Menlo Park for $23 (the grape is Cabernet Franc). It is lean, floral and has the right amount of acidity to cut the fat of the meal. I loved its faint earthy undertones on my palate. I will put it in the fridge for 30 minutes before opening because I like my reds on the cooler side.  Both Vouvray and Chinon will flow with the food instead of being the centerpiece of the meal. 

Chelsea Franchi, Senior Assistant Winemaker
Aside from helping with chopping and dishes, my only Thanksgiving responsibility is to bring some wines that (hopefully) everyone will enjoy and make sure glasses stay full.  My wine packing plan involves the assumption that everyone likes what I like, which is a tactic that I’ve discovered works far better with wine than it does with politics. 

If there were a Day-Drinking Handbook, I’m sure it would require that sparkling wines must be consumed at some point during the festivities.  There’s not (that I know of), but it doesn’t mean we can’t heed that imaginary book’s wisdom.  We’ll start with something that provides everything I love about sparkling wine (dry, bright yet creamy with a fine mousse) and leaves out the thing that’s harder for me to swallow when buying Champagne: the price-tag.  My first sparkling bottle of the 2018 holiday season will be Domaine Huet’s Vouvray Petillant Brut.  It lands solid on the palate but weighs in at less than $30.  For the more serious portion of the dinner, we’ll pull out a 2012 Foxen Pinot Noir from Bien Nacido Block 8.  I’m anxious to revisit this wine as I loved the explosive nose and precise palate when we last had a bottle a few years ago.  If it’s anything like I remember, this bright, spicy and supple wine should be a great accompaniment to the various dishes being passed around the table.  With these two beauties being enjoyed (plus others, I’m sure), we’re bound to be too busy extolling the virtues of what’s in our glass to even think about discussing politics!

Linnea Frazier, Marketing Assistant
Thanksgiving tends to toe the line of mayhem and yet not quite dissolving into anarchy every year in my household. Naturally, the wines on the table help in this regard (sometimes admittedly adding to the anarchy aspect). Being a bubbles oriented family in general, we will probably be honoring American tradition and starting out with something produced Stateside like the 2012 Soter Mineral Springs Blanc de Blancs from one of my favorite Oregon producers. After that our 2016 Counoise and 2015 Roussanne will be no doubt represented and massively appreciated, with some Gamay always tending to sneak in there as well. Cheers!

Eileen Harms, Accounting
We will begin and end our Thanksgiving with a toast to the blessings we have had this year and what the future holds. I think a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut and a bottle of Domaine Carneros Brut Rose should do the trick. Not quite sure which will start and which will finish but dinner will include a 2013 Carlson Creek Chenin Blanc.

Misty Lies, Tasting Room Team Lead
You might be surprised but my family can be a bit untraditional when it comes to Thanksgiving meals. We are just not big on turkey but love all the fixings. This year we will be having some family in from Southern California and are going to celebrate the day before by heading down to Ember Restaurant for dinner. For starters I might bring Esprit Blanc to go with the first half of dinner, it will go nicely with their salads and the amazing scallop appetizer they have. I also see they have Six Hour Braised Oxtails on the menu so I will be taking along some bottles of the 2009 Massolino Barolo Parussi.  

Our family wishes you all a great Thanksgiving!

Jordan Lonborg, Viticulturist
In the spirit of giving thanks, I’ll be paying homage with an ‘09 Tablas Creek Tannat because it is hands down one of the toughest, most resilient varietals I’ve yet to encounter. 

Also, Lone Madrone’s “Old Hat” (Neil Collins’ side project). The fruit from this wine is grown by my neighbor David Osgood, a local dry farming legend, and hands down one of the largest inspirations in my life and a huge catalyst as to why I do what I do today! 

John Morris, Tasting Room Manager
My wife announced yesterday that we're having a Cajun turkey for Thanksgiving.  While I haven't taken the time to research precisely what that entails, I know one thing:  it's going to be spicy.  In my mind I go immediately to whites and roses.  Sure, light-bodied, low-tannin reds will work, and I may pull out a bottle of our Counoise just to test my theory, but I suspect my initial instinct will prove correct.  I'm going to lean heavily on Tablas Creek this year, so opening a bottle of both the Patelin de Tablas Rosé and Dianthus seem elementary.  For whites, the options are much greater.  An Esprit de Tablas Blanc of any vintage would be sublime, but I'm a little concerned it's elegance would be overshadowed by the heat.  After some tinkering in my minds eye, I'm going with the 2016 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (more saline and mineral than the effusive 2017) and the 2017 Picpoul Blanc, which has this great spice component that offsets the juicy fruit and welcome acidity.  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  

Gustavo Prieto, Tasting Room, Cellar, and Vineyard
I have in mind it's to start with some bubbles, a Vouvray, Domaine Pichot 2011, I like Chenin and it's always a fun way to start the festivities. After, continue with Tablas Dianthus Rosé 2016 and for the dinner table an older vintage of the Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (04?, 05?). I love Esprit Blanc's and I always find them very complex ready to take on such a mix of flavors like thanksgiving dinner. And for the red drinkers the Qupe 2011 Pinot from the Sawyer Lindquist vineyard in Edna Valley farmed Biodynamically, only 1.5 acres planted. I never tried this Pinot before but I'm curious to taste this wine from a cooler area. 

Suphada Rom, Sales & Marketing
Thanksgiving is the ultimate family meal and bottle share. I’ll bring a few different options, like the Gamay/Pinot Noir blend from Guillot-Broux, a perfect accompaniment to my tangy cranberry sauce (and for my post-Thanksgiving sandwich!) I’ll keep the Pinot Noir trend going through dinner with a bottle of Frederic Savart Champagne. His Blanc de Noirs (l’Ouverture) is my favorite because its got a freshness I love when it comes to champagne, and a richness I am always pleasantly surprised by. My fiancé Cameron and my parents love rosé and we saved some 2017 Patelin- I’m sure a bottle will make it onto very crowded but cozy dinner table.

Randy Thurman, Facilities & IT
I usually drink some Papa’s Pilar rum or a nice bottle of Esprit that we have been saving for special occasions. The rum reminds me of camping trips with my dad and sitting by the camp fires listening to old stories and smelling the smoke from cigars. The wine reminds me of visiting my mother and father in law when we have had huge spreads with a large group of family. Usually 20-30 people and we sometimes drink large magnums of wine. Has been some J Lohr, Tucker Cellars, Paraiso Vineyards by the smith Family and of course several bottles of Tablas Creek. Usually a bottle of Dianthus and something white like a Viognier or Picardan is opened along with a bottle of Esprit. I usually rotisserie over a Weber charcoal grill an apple juice-brined turkey coated in butter and herbs and stuffed with apples, oranges, lemons, and onions for about 4 hours on low heat. Always juicy and comes out like a smoked rotisserie chicken. I have also used a similar method to smoke large prime rib roasts as well.

Calera SelleckAnd as for me...
Typically, my choice is to open the largest bottle I have to hand at Thanksgiving gatherings. There's usually a story behind a big bottle, and the randomness of "just open it" adds a certain amount of pleasurable discovery to the gathering, as well as the festivity that large bottles bring per force.

Of consideration for us, this will be our first Thanksgiving without my dad, and I'm sure we will spend a good chunk of the day thinking and talking about him. So it's with pleasure that I think I've found the perfect bottle to both celebrate his memory and pair with the meal. It's a magnum of 1987 Calera Selleck Pinot Noir, brought by Calera's founder and winemaker (and longtime friend of my dad's) Josh Jensen to the celebration of my dad's life this spring. It checks all the wish list elements for me: Pinot Noir, particularly with some age, is a great pairing for turkey (check), Calera is an iconic producer (check), it was brought by a friend and is a wine to which we have a personal connection (check), and it's a magnum, so there's going to be enough to go around the table (check). I'm sure that it will be preceded by some Dianthus, and we'll likely break out some whites for those who'd prefer that with their turkey, maybe our 2017 Marsanne, which is my favorite white we've got right now. And none of these wines will demand to be the center of attention: they will be dining companions with which you can have a conversation, to tell (and help you tell) stories around the table. After all, that's what it's all about.

Wherever you are, we wish you a happy, healthy Thanksgiving, and that you be surrounded by good food and great company.


From Behind a Bar to Behind the Bottle: Q&A with Amanda Weaver, Cellar Assistant

By Linnea Frazier

As is tradition here at Tablas, I like to track down various members of our family and torture them with a peppering of questions so as to create a better understanding of who we are behind the Tablas Creek label. My next victim in this series is Amanda Weaver, who began in our tasting room and was so successful that she was promoted to overseeing our merchandise and running many of our events, but decided after a few years that her true love was production. So, after a couple of harvests working part-time in the cellar here, she jumped to full time with a harvest in Australia, and returned to a full time position as our newest cellar assistant. Not only do we love her for her tenacity in pursuing the world of wine production, but also she happens to be one of the more fearless women in wine I know (in the cellar as well as the dance floor if you're lucky). With that said, check this girl out. 

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Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Simi Valley California and lived there until I was 24. It was a cool smallish kind of town back when I was growing up. A pretty safe spot where you were bound to know someone no matter where you went, which was unfortunate when running to the store in your pajama pants at one o'clock in the afternoon. It'll be surreal to go home for Thanksgiving with all of the fire destruction.

What drew you to Central California?

You know, the usual life changes that pull you to new places. If I'm being honest, making wine was not really anything I thought I was interested in or qualified to do, so moving to the central coast was a move that ended up changing my whole life trajectory. 

How did you first hear about Tablas Creek?

I first heard of Tablas Creek when I caught wind of a possible job connection through a friend of a friend. There was this lovely French woman by the name Evelyne, I’m sure you know her, whom at the time had no idea who I was nor I her, well, she decides to put in a good word for me (again, not knowing anything about me) and stipulates that I should call a Mr. John Maurice at once and set up an interview. So I do as such, I send in my resume and promptly call Mr. Maurice who ends up being Mr. John Morris, the tasting room Manager. Funny part being that both of us had been expecting to be speaking to someone more... how do I put this... French! If you have had the pleasure of meeting Evelyne you would note her eloquent way of making everything and everyone just a little French. Well, so, I call and we talk a bit and set up to meet that Wednesday. I drive up, have the interview, and walk out with a job offer to be a part time tasting room attendant. I was PSYCHED! I agreed to start in two weeks with not a clue of where I was going to live. And you know, this story is always one of my favorites to tell, not only because I got a job at the end of it (which is amazing) but it is also extremely representative of the type of community that the Paso Robles wine industry has cultivated. Everyone is willing to help you out and make you a part of the family, and that is exactly what I have found here at Tablas, a family. Suffice to say, this is where I found my footing to really start my journey towards making wine.

Amanda

You started with us in the Tasting Room and now have transitioned into our full-time cellar hand which is an awesome evolution, could you describe what drew you to production? What’s your biggest challenge as a cellar hand?

Hah, it is an awesome transition I would have to agree. I learned so much from my time in the tasting room and was offered so many opportunities to expand my knowledge and even more opportunities to meet many of the people that make up our industry not only near but far as well. All of this knowledge is what spurred me and fueled my desire to at least give my hand a try at being the one behind the bottle instead of behind the bar. So, as harvest approached in 2016 I made myself a bug in the ear of Neil (Our Winemaker), Chelsea (Our Senior Assistant Winemaker), and Craig (Our Assistant Winemaker). Just constantly asking if there was room for me in their harvest team and flexing my arms to show I was strong enough. Well, it worked, not sure if they just wanted me to shut up or what, but I was in! I would say my biggest challenge in the cellar has been myself. That might sound strange, but I have found that I am my own worst heckler, and once I decide to silence that part of me that tells me I can't do something, I inevitably find that I am perfectly capable. Although, a close second would be my height, that tends to hinder me whether I am mentally game or not, but no worries, I have some awesome tall coworkers that help me out in those cases, or a conveniently placed ladder.

Now more than ever you see women winemakers in the industry and you see those numbers only growing every year. Is being a head winemaker your end goal?

I think it is awesome that women are making themselves more prominent in a role that men have dominated for so long. It is truly inspiring. Luckily, I have the honor of knowing a few of these, excuse the language, bad-ass women that are making strides in this rapidly growing region of wine making, not to mention that I work with one of them! As far as being head winemaker as an end goal, I would say I am in a position now that would give me all the tools necessary and support needed to get to a position like that in this industry, and that may be where I am headed once I feel as though I deserve it. But as of yet, I am stoked to be a part of such a rad crew that gives me so much knowledge and is patient with all of my inquiries.

What is it like to work harvest?

Oh man. I love this time of year because I feel like everything gets so much closer. We, as a team, get closer as we roll through our ridiculous highs together and pull one another out of our inevitable lows, while we as a vineyard get closer together as well. At harvest time, the gap between what we do in the cellar and what is happening in the vineyard converges into one functioning entity. And it’s beautiful, even at the end of a 12 hour day when you're dripping wet and have fallen into a drain or walked into a forklift, it's inspiring, cause no matter what, you're all in this together. Not to mention, we have some pretty fun traditions to keep us pumped throughout the harvest season like sabering champagne bottles to signal the start of harvest and various music themed days of the week. I would say the only thing I dread is the wrath of my dog. She's not a fan of my longer-than-usual work days....

You worked a vintage down in Australia earlier this year, and how did that experience compare to the culture of the American Harvests you’ve worked?

Uh, it is quite different, at least at the place I worked. It was more of just a job for most of my coworkers rather than a passion, which is fine and all, I just had to adjust my expectations. All together it was an experience that I am grateful for and would never trade, I met some really great people, hung out with a couple kangaroos, and gained invaluable knowledge to add to my wine-making handbook for the future. The one similarity that I found during my time in Australia was with the growers. I don't know what it is about raising grapes but it tends to produce larger than life personalities in those who take care of the vines. 

Which are your other favorite wines or wineries locally or around the world?

That is a loaded question. It’s a hard question to really articulate because finding a favorite wine is so sensory and indicative of a specific experience. However there are a few bottles that I have sought out recently that I came across during some of our wine nights in Australia. 

There is a super cool winery in Central Otago New Zealand called Burn Cottage that produces some amazing Pinot, their Estate named Pinot in particular is a favorite as well as their Moonlight Race Pinot. Then on the white side I would suggest getting your hands on a bottle of Gruner Veltliner from Nikolaihof, the orange label. Super crisp and smooth with notes of citrus and coursing with minerality. 

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month which would you choose?

Hmmm, at this moment I would probably choose our Vermentino and for the red Dutraive's Cap du Sud.

Amanda 1

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I don't know if anything about me is terribly surprising. I can rapid fire some facts and you can decide it they are surprising or not. Most people don't know that I took ballroom dancing lessons for 4 years, got pretty good I think. I believe the only reason I stopped was because the studio I was going to closed down. I was on the first ever womens Australian Football team. We were the Orange County Bombshells and our first legit game was on my 14th Birthday, we won (I think). Oooo.... Here is one most people wouldn't guess. I was in a sorority in college. Kappa Kappa Gamma. 

How do you define success?

Happiness. It's as simple as that. Growing up I was told that success was directly linked to your bank account and your status in the work force, and I totally believed it. I found myself slowly sinking into the stressful hamster wheel style of life that wasn't making me happy and I thought this was just how life was. But now that I am older I believe less and less in the idea that success is solely reliant on money. 


November: The Calm Before the Storms (Hopefully)

This November has been beautiful so far.  Days have remained warm and sunny, mostly in the upper 70s or lower 80s. Nights have been chilly, down into the upper 30s and lower 40s.  The vines have erupted into a riot of autumn foliage:

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We're enjoying this weather in part because we know it could end at any time. Typically, we get our first real rain in the second half of November. That puts an end to the fall colors, and begins our transition into winter green. And we'd be thrilled whenever it starts to rain. But instead we're getting weather that feels more like October than November, except with longer, chillier nights. We're using the time in a couple of ways. First, we're carving furrows into the rows, breaking up the soil so that it's more able to accept that rain when it does arrive:

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Second, we're seeding the vineyard with our custom cover crop blend, a mix of vetch, peas, beans, radish, cabbage, and rye. We'll be putting over 1000 pounds of seed out in the next week or two:

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Third, we've been taking advantage of the warm afternoons to bring some barrels outside and encourage them to ferment a little faster. With the nights so cold, the cellar isn't getting above 60 degrees, so a little time in the sun can give the yeasts just enough of a nudge to get them finished: 

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November also marks the flock's reintroduction into the vineyard. To better protect against mountain lions, we've added a pair of Spanish Mastiffs to the flock. They're only a year old and still growing, but they've already bonded with the sheep. You can see Bjorn, the smaller of the pair, in the foreground of this shot, looking proprietary:

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The sheep have been enjoying the second-crop clusters that we left on the vines because they didn't achieve ripeness. For whatever reason, Tannat had more than its normal share this year. Although it looks perfectly ripe, even now, a month after we've finished harvesting the block, its sugars are still sitting around 15 brix. Plenty sweet enough to make good eating, but not to make great wine. So, it will make a snacking sheep happy instead:

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The long-term forecast doesn't suggest any rain in the next ten days or so, although it seems like we might see our first frost of the year by this weekend or early next week. That it can frost at night and then climb into the upper 70s the following day is still amazing to me; the idea would be inconceivable in Vermont where I grew up. Still, if there is a time of year when the landscape looks like Vermont, it's now, when the fall vineyard colors are doing their best sugar maple impression. I'll be enjoying scenes like this last one, as long as they last.

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