Summer Solstice Vineyard Tour: Late but Lovely in 2023

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how the beginning of June felt like we'd been transported to Santa Barbara for some of their "June Gloom". That unusually cool, overcast weather lasted another week. But the last week has seen things start to feel more summer-like. Not the 100°F temperatures that some associate with summer in Paso Robles, thankfully, but at least sunny and in the upper 70s and low 80s. It's honestly been glorious, and we're feeling lucky that it's this late in the year and we haven't yet seen any oppressive heat.

I was feeling stir-crazy in my office today and with it being so beautiful out I decided to take a ramble around the vineyard. There was enough going on that I thought it would make a fun blog to share with all of you. First, to set the stage, a view looking down through our largest Mourvedre block over the winery and across Las Tablas Creek to Scruffy Hill and Jewel Ridge:

Solstice 2023 - Long View over Winery

We're excited about all the new vineyard blocks that we have going into the ground or coming into production. In addition to everything going into Jewel Ridge (some 25 acres that have been planted in the last couple of years) we've made the decision to pull out a few underperforming blocks on our original property so we can start fresh. One such block, formerly virus-weakened Roussanne, is being replanted to own-rooted Mourvedre on wider spacing, to help reduce the stress levels on this notoriously stress-prone grape. Note the 33% wider spacing compared to the 20-year-old Grenache block on the left, the higher irrigation lines so sheep can graze more easily, and the amazing sky:

Solstice 2023 - New block

Another Mourvedre block that we planted last year (named the Santos Block after one of our long-time and deeply missed late vineyard crew members) is growing well and looking healthy. We won't get a crop off it this year, but next year is looking likely:

Solstice 2023 - Santos block

The Syrah block where we've been experimenting with grapevine layering is looking amazing. Both the mother and child vines have leafy, healthy canopies and are carrying fruit. First, an overview photo of a mother vine (center) with canes buried on either side to produce child vines:

Solstice 2023 - Layering Landscape

And second, a closeup of the cane descending into the ground (foreground) and reemerging thicker and healthy in what had been a missing vine position. You can see the new Syrah clusters hanging down:

Solstice 2023 - Layering Closeup

Speaking of clusters, despite our worries about shatter due to the chilly spring, we've seen a good fruit set this year, though we're something like a month behind where we've been most recent years. Below, see Grenache (left) and Syrah (right). Normally these berries would be pea-size or larger and starting to squish together into clusters:

Solstice 2023 - Grenache

Solstice 2023 - Syrah

There may be some unusual sequencing this year. Counoise (below left) is usually one of the latest grapes to flower. This year it's ahead of the Syrah. And Mourvedre (below right) is just finishing up flowering. If I had to make a prediction, it would be that we're looking at mid-September before we're seriously into harvest, which would be our latest start since 2011.

Solstice 2023 - Counoise

Solstice 2023 - Mourvedre
Once challenge for us this year has been that with all the rain, the cover crops keep re-sprouting even after we've grazed and mowed them. But the flip side of that challenge is that even in our less vigorous blocks we're noting remarkable vigor and vine health. You can see both issues in the below photo looking up our oldest Counoise block:

Solstice 2023 - No Till Counoise

The grapevines and the cover crops aren't the only plants excited about winter rains. The olive trees are as covered with blossoms as any of us can ever remember:

Solstice 2023 - Olive flowering

I'll leave you with one last photo, of one of our handsome head-trained Grenache vines from the western edge of our property. I feel like you can positively see the health of the year bursting out of the vine's pores: 

Solstice 2023 - Head-trained Grenache

So, that's the report from the vineyard, as of mid-June. Late, but looking great. Next stop: veraison.


Since when does Paso Robles get "May grey" and "June gloom"? Welcome to 2023.

If you live in California, you're not going to be surprised by this update. But it's been chilly so far this year. Sure, the winter made headlines, with record-breaking rains and cold temperatures. But even since then it hasn't exactly felt like sunny California. After a more-or-less normal April, we've gone back to a weather pattern in much of May and June that feels more like March -- or Mendocino -- than midsummer. Today we've had a heavy overcast as an unusual late-season low pressure system drifts over our area. This is not a sky that you expect to see in conjunction with this landscape:

Looking west June 5

It's not just the lack of sun. Since May 1st, temperatures here averaged nearly 7°F lower than normal, with only 12 days above seasonal highs and 22 below:

Daily High Temps 2023 vs Average

The cool pattern looks likely to persist through at least the middle of the month and perhaps longer, as it's the result of longer-term phenomena (static high pressure systems over the sub-arctic and low-pressure over the sub-tropics off the coast of California). For a more in-depth explanation, I recommend Daniel Swain's Weather West blog and Twitter feed:

The last six weeks or so have been characterized by a deep marine layer and on-shore flow, which has meant that even our warmer days have usually started out foggy. That's not unusual in the early spring here, but it's typically not the case even by early May. And having deep gray clouds over lush green grapevines in early June is even more unusual:

Terret Noir and Stormy Skies June 5

The net result has been that the growing season, which got off to a slow start before catching up a bit in mid-May, has fallen further behind again. We're now something like a couple of weeks behind average, and more like three or four weeks behind most recent years. For a good comparison, check out the blog I published June 3rd, 2022 about fruit set, with pea-size berries in Grenache. By contrast, Grenache is still in mid-flowering today:

Flowering June 5

Our biggest worry right now is that cool, breezy weather isn't ideal for berry fertilization, and raises the risk of shatter. But no one I talk to is particularly concerned. It hasn't been all that windy (the last month has had only one day with a top wind gust over 20mph), we've had warmer days interspersed between the chilly ones, and it hasn't rained. Even if we do get a passing shower tonight or tomorrow, it doesn't look like it will be much, or that it will stick around for long. Plus, everyone is seeing what we are: unusual vigor in the vineyards thanks to all our winter rain, with large clusters and plenty of leaf area. If we lose a small percentage of that crop, we can afford that better than we would have been able to the last few years.

Finally, there's plenty of runway left in the growing season. We've gotten used to starting to pick in August and finishing by mid-October. But in the 2000s it was more normal that we'd start in mid-September and finish in early November. In Paso Robles that's not a huge risk, since the rainy season doesn't usually start in earnest until around Thanksgiving. That's a big part of why we chose this location. So if we need to wait, we wait. There are even benefits to doing so, as the grapes will spend longer on the vines and we're more likely to be picking in cooler weather.

Meanwhile, we'll enjoy the unusual backdrop to our vineyard activities. "May grey" and "June gloom" aren't normal features of Paso Robles weather. But it seems like in 2023 we're getting a taste of both.

Cinsaut and Stormy Skies June 5


Flowering 2023: So Far, So Good

This past weekend was the Paso Robles Wine Festival, our unofficial end to frost season. It was lovely and warm, and I dove into our pool as soon as I got home. And yet most of the questions that I got from guests at the festival were about our winter, along the lines of "how did you withstand the crazy rains this year?". That's a good reminder of the slow dissemination of news, as well as the staying power of striking video images. But we're well into the growing season, and things are moving fast in the vineyard. And so it was with anticipation that I took a walk around the vineyard yesterday afternoon. When I got to the top of our tallest hill, I found flowering in our Viognier:

Flowering 2023 - Viognier 1

If you haven't seen grapevines flowering before, you can be excused for finding it underwhelming. It's not a showy process. Still, the tiny white fuzz-like flowers that appear on the clusters are the first stage of development of the berries. From this point on, if the berries are fertilized successfully, they'll grow in size and mass until veraison, at which point they stop growing but accumulate sugar and ripen the seeds within. As with all parts of the vineyard annual cycle, there are grapes that enter (and exit) flowering earlier and later, with the early grapes being Viognier, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, and Vermentino. They are followed shortly by Marsanne and Syrah, and finally, as much as a month after the early grapes, Roussanne, Counoise, and Mourvedre bring up the rear. And there is variation between vineyard blocks as well, with cooler, lower-lying areas a week or two behind the same grapes at the tops of our hills. The only other grape that I could find flowering in was Grenache from another top-of-hill block:

Flowering 2023 - Grenache 1

Flowering marks the rough quarter-pole of the growing season. There's a lot more year to come than in the rear-view mirror, but it's still a point at which you can start to make comparisons to other vintages. Doing so provides more support for our assessment that 2023 is looking like something of a throwback year, more like what we saw in the 2000's and early 2010's than what we've seen most of the last decade. Since the beginning of April we've had an above-average number of frost nights and days that don't get out of the 60s, and a roughly average number of days that top 90°F, and a below-average number of growing degree days (a rough number of hours that are warm enough for the grapevines to photosynthesize). The first 52 days of the growing season compared to the same dates the past dozen years:

Year Degree Days Days > 90°F Days < 70°F Nights < 32°F
2011 383 0 24 4
2012 496 5 15 3
2013 615 9 12 1
2014 553 5 16 0
2015 378 0 26 0
2016 494 2 14 0
2017 517 6 17 0
2018 454 0 21 1
2019 410 0 25 0
2020 500 2 20 2
2021 499 2 13 2
2022 554 6 13 3
Average 2011-2022 488 3.1 18 1.3
2023 470 4 21 4

As always, though, the devil is in the details. It was so chilly the first quarter of 2023 that the frost nights we saw this April came with low-lying vineyard blocks still dormant and therefore not at risk. That's great. The 90+ days were only barely into the 90s (top temperature: 93°F) and in every case the low the following night dropped into the 40s. That's great too. So the vines have had a good runway to catch up a bit after their late start, and in our estimate they have. From the roughly three weeks later than normal that we saw 2023's budbreak, we've probably made up half of that deficit.

Flowering is the second of the four viticultural markers that we use each year as markers: notable reference points that indicate where we are compared to other years. These are, in order:

  • Budbreak (typically beginning late March or early April, and lasting three weeks or so)
  • Flowering (typically beginning mid-May, lasting a month or so)
  • Veraison (typically beginning late July or early August, lasting as much as 6 weeks)
  • Harvest (typically beginning late August or early September, lasting two months or so)

You might notice that in the above list, the duration of each stage is longer than the previous one. That's because grapes start their growing cycle at different times, and also proceed at different rates. So, harvest stretches over a longer time than veraison, which takes longer than flowering, which takes longer than budbreak. Given we saw flowering begin the second week of May, we're likely to be enjoying the intoxicating scent of bloom until the sometime in mid-June.

What do we want now? We're hoping for consistent, sunny weather, with only limited wind and no rain. Cold, wet, or windy weather at this stage can produce incomplete fertilization, or shatter, where a cluster has a high proportion of unfertilized berries, looking snaggle-toothed and (often dramatically) reducing yields. Some varieties, most notably Grenache, are prone to shatter, while others are less so. The Paso Robles weather forecast suggests that we're entering a little cooldown that should last us through the work week, and then temperatures returning to normal levels in the upper 70s and low 80s by this coming weekend. There is no rain expected, or any unusual wind. That bodes well. 

So far, so good. Full steam ahead.

Flowering 2023 - Grenache 2


Budbreak 2023: Another Reminder of Our Largest Variable, Nature

By Austin Collins

Since my last blog in December, we've had over 46 inches of rain and 60+ below-freezing nights, a harsh winter for us Californians. Although, as I write this, we are experiencing our first proper spring weather, three weeks after the spring equinox. With day temperatures in the high 6o's and 70's, and warmer nights, things have drastically changed here at Tablas Creek. The tasting room now has a bustling patio of people rather than being strapped down for another onslaught of wind and rain. Cover crops and annual grasses have doubled in size, and even though we still have flowing water in some parts of the of the property, most of the saturated soils have dried out enough to allow tractors to re-enter the vineyard.  The air is filled with the smell of mowed grasses and the sounds of some clearly excited birds. Soil temperatures have also risen due to the decrease in moisture, allowing buds to finally "break". Across the hilltops vines are leafing out at a rather hurried pace. With change all around us its hard to ignore our industry's innate connection with nature and its systems. Nature dictates EVERYTHING in this business. From newly planted vines to the wine your glass, the path is rarely straight and sunny, and you can count on it to never look the same:

Budbreak 2023 - Bourboulenc

Above is a Bourboulenc vine just bursting to life on April 12th, 2023. Below is a Bourboulenc vine in the same block, give or take a few rows and vines, on April 1st, 2022. Note the differences in shoot growth as well as the color and size of the cover crop beneath:

Budbreak 2023 - Bourboulenc 2022

The contrast in the above photos is stark, and this true of every inch of the property. This season (beginning July 1st of 2022) we have received 49.01" of rain. That is only .18" fewer than the previous three seasons combined! We've had twelve atmospheric rivers this season. During several of these my family and I were the only ones on the property, for days at a time. My work days consisted of dressing up like a fisherman and maintaining a few different water pumps in hard hit flooded areas. Those pumps ran for 48-hours straight before the water levels began to subside. It was fun while it was novel, but then each rainy day following (there were many) the water had no where to go, do it began to eat away at the soils and our wet weather enthusiasm.

Due to the weather our tasting room, office halls, and vineyard roads were empty for a total of six days, devoid of human sound and movement. All roads leading to and from the property were either washed out or simply impassable by car. We were an island in the Adelaide. I think its fair to say that most business are affected by extreme weather, but given our location we are slightly more vulnerable. As Jason mentioned in his last blog our foot traffic was down 19% this quarter, in comparison to 2022. The natural landscapes have held up well, with the visible damage mostly limited to areas scarred by man. Back in the vineyard we saw predictable spots get washed out, but considering the amount of water flowing through our humble hills, it has held up wonderfully. Now, we are able to continue our work as usual, because nature has allowed us to:

Budbreak 2023 - Newly mown Grenache

It's a spring situation in the vineyard right now, a situation we are very ready for. This is the first time we've had to wait until April for significant budbreak since 2013, making it the latest start in the last decade, about a month behind that average:

2022 Mid-March
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

After about six months of dormancy, lying in wait, now the vines are showing their eagerness to get this vintage underway and enjoy the sunshine:

Budbreak 2023 - Viognier

These two pictures are both taken in our second oldest Viognier block. The above photo was taken on April 11th, 2023, the one below was taken on March 29th, 2021. Again notice the differences despite the 2023 photo being taken two weeks later in the year:

Budbreak 2023 - Viognier 2022

Amongst the bustle of spring activities happening here at the vineyard is the preparation of frost protection. We are currently somewhat "safe", as the budbreak is mostly on the hilltops, which are less at risk of frost. Once vines leaf out in the frost-prone valleys and swales we then have to employ all of our efforts to keep the small vulnerable sprouts safe. Because I live here on the property it is my job to help keep an eye on night-time temperatures. When it drops to about 37 degrees (and still before 5 AM) I layer up and head out to turn on the frost fans and micro-sprinklers to battle the incoming ice. I do so alone, for I truly believe my dog Nina is afraid of the dark. Alas it is her loss, because there are few more beautiful moments in the vineyard. Ice crystals beginning to form on surfaces, sparkling in the light of my headlamp, while silence grips the landscape, everything seemingly too cold to move. From fan to fan my night carries on disrupting the once-enjoyable silence. But, it is not in vain, to see the new growth still green and pushing in the next morning's sun I look forward to the upcoming night and my fray with nature.

Another uncharacteristic element of this year's budbreak is the relative consistency among varietals. Typically we see certain varietals leaf out before others (e.g. Viognier and Grenache before Roussanne and Counoise). While many of those later varietals are still behind there is a lot more uniformity in regards to timing. That being said, Grenache leads the way this year with the largest growth thus far, using all its stored energy built up over the last six months. Like us, the vines have been unable to do their work because, like us, they are bound by the forces of nature. Now, it's go time, for all of us.

Budbreak 2023 - Grenache


The Adelaida District's Limestone Layers Laid Bare

On Friday, Winemaker Neil Collins poked his head into the office we share, looking excited, and said, "Hey, you got a minute?" I did, and we hopped into the ATV and Neil piloted us south across the creek and along the south side of the reservoir the property's previous owner made back in the 1950s. He stopped near the dam, and we headed out on foot. What he had found was remarkable: that Las Tablas Creek had become an exhibit for the local geology.

This has been a banner year for Las Tablas Creek. After three years where it barely ran, the series of storms that we got in late December and early January got it flowing fast:

A week later, after another storm had dumped six more inches of rain in about 24 hours, it burst its banks and flowed over Adelaida Road just outside the winery, producing impressive enough footage that it made it onto several national networks as an illustration of the widespread California flooding:

All that water flowing down the creek and into (and out of) the reservoir changed the landscape in in visible ways. In the creekbed it's clear how high the water came because everywhere below that line it scoured away the topsoil and exposed the limestone layers underneath:

Creekbed with Sadie

At the far end of the lake is a spillway through which the water flows once it has filled the reservoir. It's a remarkable illustration of the local geology. Most of the calcareous soils that underly the Adelaida District are soft, as much clay as rock, which has given rise to the (incorrect) theory that none of it is limestone1. While it's a good thing that we don't have solid limestone underneath us, as limestone is too hard for vines' roots to break up or break through, there are bands of limestone that run throughout the region. The previous owner made use of one of these layers in the creation of the spillway, which follows the slanting descent of the layer from dam-level down to the original creekbed. Here are two views: on the left from above the spillway in late January, and on the right from below last week:

Spillway from top Spillway from below

In both photos, though most clearly from below, you can see the many layers of softer rock that the water has eaten away over the years, while staying above the harder limestone layer. 

A side-stream that flowed into the creek showed another good example of the mix of harder and softer calcareous layers, and the step-like pattern that is repeated in creekbeds throughout the region:

Limestone and softer layers cross-section

While the softer layers crumble and decompose, the harder limestone bits stay in the topsoil. Most wineries remove them before planting anything, as otherwise they chew up tractors at an alarming rate. The rocks that are removed are the raw materials for the walls you see at Tablas Creek and around the Adelaida District:

Sadie camouflaged against stone wall

All this rock is sitting there year-round, just a few feet below the surface. Thanks to the rain we've received (and continue to receive) this winter it's easier to see than ever. 

Footnote:

  1. If you're interested into a deep-dive into the chemistry and geology of the calcareous soils out here, check out my 2020 blog Why Calcareous Soils Matter for Vineyards and Wine Grapes.

Winter's color show, playing now on daily rotation

Most visitors come to wine country in the season when the Golden State feels appropriately named. Between May and November, hillsides are yellow-brown, broken by the deep green of oaks and the slightly lighter green of grapevines. The sky is a pure, medium blue. It's a beautiful color palette in its own right, with remarkable consistency from the fact that moisture in those months is extremely rare. 

This is not that season. After three very wet weeks to kick off the year, we've had nearly a month of sun. The hillsides are a brilliant yellow-green from new growth. There's still so much water everywhere that it's seeping out in impromptu springs and flowing through usually-dry gullies. And in the mornings, it's settling into surface fog. That fog produces something rare in California: the feeling of enclosed spaces. The landscape more than few dozen yards away becomes shrouded and indistinct. It feels quieter. Then, as that fog lifts in the warmth of the morning sun, you get transitional moments of sunlit foreground and puffy white middle distance. Finally, by mid-morning, the fog is gone, the green of the new grasses brilliantly set off against the deep brown trees and grapevine trunks, and the sky a deep azure blue. It's a remarkable transformation, and it's happening daily right now. In this blog, I'll take you through what one of those days feels like, starting in the fog and finishing in the sun. 

Oak tree on hilltop in fog

It's not all vineyards here; the photo above is of an oak near my house. There are still old walnut orchards too, shaggy with lichen:

Walnut in lifting fog

The transitional moments are my favorites. First, a shot in the forest, rays of sun illuminating the moisture:

Shafts of light in the forest

And then one overlooking some head-trained vineyards, newly pruned, with a river of fog less than a hundred yards away:

Fog flowing across head-trained vineyard

By mid-morning the sun is warm, the grasses fully lit, and the sky deepening except right at the horizon line. That's a lot of very happy sheep.  

Crosshairs block so green with sheep

One more view of the sheep, looking up the rows instead of across, shows off the block's geometry:

Sheep on hillside horizontal

The blue sky deepens for the next few hours, and the contrasting blues, greens, and browns are amazing:

Head-trained Mourvedre and blue sky

Finally, one more photo focusing on the sky. If you're visiting in the next few months, you're in for a treat.

Head-trained Mourvedre and blue sky 2


After two of our five rainiest months ever, we're ready for a break... but grateful for the moisture

I left California three weeks ago, just after Christmas, to spend some time in New England with family. At the time, I was feeling cautiously optimistic about how our winter was shaping up. We'd banked nearly 13" of rain and were at something like 170% of the rain we'd have expected at that point in the winter. The day I left, it started raining and essentially hasn't stopped. With the two-thirds of an inch that we got today, this makes 20 of the last 21 days we've seen measurable precipitation. The end-of-December rain pushed us to 13.28" for the month, making it our second-wettest December in the 25 years since we installed our weather station and a top-5 rainfall month overall.

Then came January. A series of atmospheric river storms paraded across the Pacific and slammed into California. Some were aimed farther north, but still dropped a couple of inches of rain. And one arrived on early in the morning of Monday, January 9th with its plume of moisture directed squarely at the Central Coast. We tallied 5.65" that day, including more than 4" in its peak between 1am and 10am. And when we arrived to see how things looked at the winery that morning, we realized that we couldn't even get there because Las Tablas Creek was flowing over Adelaida Road:

It wasn't until Wednesday that we could make it into our facility, and Thursday that we could reopen our tasting room. Thanks to some great work by our neighbors at Halter Ranch the debris blocking the culvert that was causing the creek to flow over the road was removed before the road was critically damaged. There was a section of Adelaida Road a few miles east of us that wasn't so lucky. And we had to close again this past Saturday because a new storm made access to the winery unsafe. Residents and businesses out here are still picking up the pieces, and what we're seeing is minor compared to the scale of damage around the state, with 19 deaths so far and floods forcing people from their homes from Sacramento to Santa Barbara.

Still, while we wish it had been spread out more, we're grateful to have received the rain. And when I got out in the vineyard today, it was stunning: lush and green from the saturated soils yet with minimal signs of erosion even on our steepest slopes:

After the rain - Counoise and cover crop

There wasn't really any standing water, even at the bottom of the hills, thanks to the remarkable ability our calcareous soils have to transport enormous quantities of water from the surface to deeper layers. That said, there was some water slowly trickling downhill in blocks like this head-trained Mourvedre at the northern edge of the property. It was wet enough that I nearly lost my boots getting this shot:

After the rain - water in head-trained Mourvedre

For all its beauty now, it's clear that things were pretty wild a week ago. You can see the deep cuts in the channels where valleys became rushing creeks (left) and the impact of 36 hours of water flowing over Adelaida Road (right):

After the rain - water flowing from Halter Ranch

After the rain - erosion on Adelaida Road

With nearly half the month still to come, January 2023 is already our third-wettest month in our history, trailing only January 2017 and (from before I started writing this blog) February 1998. We're at 281% of expected rainfall for this point in the winter and above our full-winter long-term average. After three years of drought, that's a huge relief.

Rainfall by month through January 2023

You can see from the rainfall distribution above why this season is so critical for us. We get three-quarters of our annual rainfall between December and March. If we have an extended winter dry stretch, it's almost impossible to make it up later. And drought impacts are cumulative. Grapevines generally do fine the first year of a drought cycle, thanks to their accumulated vigor. But starting the second year, you see the reduction in yields, and by the third year you start to see impacts on vine health and mortality. That's played out for us the last three years. 2020 saw roughly average yields. But 2021 saw yields off by 26% and 2022 saw them decline another 8%. A quick look at our available wines shows many more sold-out than for sale. And that's before we've even gotten to the 2022 vintage, from which there will be several wines we just won't be able to make. So getting rain this winter was particularly important.

Vineyards themselves are typically resilient in the face of extreme rainfall events. Those events typically come in winter, when the vines are dormant, and grapevines' deep roots play an important role in helping hold soil in place. Vineyards that are regeneratively farmed tend to do even better. Both no-till farming and planted cover crops (one or the other is required for regenerative certifications) keep surface erosion to a minimum. The focus on building up the organic matter in your soils helps them hold more moisture. And the biodiversity in regenerative farming systems tends to create a denser web of life than monocultures. Witness this section in the middle of the vineyard, which a decade ago was one of our most erosion-prone areas but which we planted to a mix of perennial crops that would act as attractors for beneficial insects. The combination of shrubs and deep grass, already well-established because it hasn't been tilled in years, made for one of the least-soggy sections of the vineyard:

After the rain - Biodynamic plantings

Looking forward, we're supposed to get a few more showery days and then a solid week at least of sun. That will be welcome for everyone, from vineyard to residents to businesses. It should give the county a chance to get out and repair the damaged roads. It should shift the cover crop into overdrive, and make for some very happy sheep. It will give the soils a chance to transfer the water to deeper layers and free up space at the surface for the next storm. It might even give us a chance to get started on our pruning, which we've been unable to do because pruning in wet weather encourages the spread of fungal diseases. But as happy as we are with what we've received, we're hoping this isn't the end of the rain. The local reservoirs still have significant room; while Lake Nacimiento is at 87% capacity, Lake San Antonio is only at 32%. At Tablas Creek we're chipping away at an accumulated rainfall deficit of 28" from the last three years of drought. Plus there would be benefits during the growing season, as soils with high moisture content stay cool longer in the spring and delay budbreak, which would reduce our risk of frost damage. And on a purely aesthetic level, there's a particular character to the green here after winter rain that I love. Who wouldn't want more of this?

After the rain - New Hill and Jewel Ridge

If you were negatively impacted by these storms, please know you have our deepest sympathy. It's been a rough couple of weeks for California. But if you were worried that the vineyards here would be suffering, hopefully we can at least put that to rest. We have high hopes for the 2023 vintage.  


A Vineyard Life: When It Rains in the Adelaide

By Austin Collins

There is no doubt that winter is upon us. This past week alone we have received over five inches of rain. That's more than our long-term average for the month, and half of what we got in one of our wettest-ever Decembers last year. And there is more on the way. We even got a brief, but incredibly strong hail storm, littering the ground with marble-sized pellets. In fact, it was my one-year-old's first time seeing hail. One of many firsts under the skies of Tablas Creek Vineyard, just like his father. It is days and weeks like this that allow us to loosen our shoulders and enjoy our holidays just a little bit more. These past few years of drought have taken a severe toll on us, and are a big reason why, along with the unseasonably late frosts of 2022, our crop yields have been unprecedentedly low. So, the next time you are having dinner and rain is tapping on your window, open a good bottle of wine and give a nod to the clouds.

Austin - View toward Las Tablas Creek

With the recent rainfall we received I was taken back to my early years on the Tablas Creek property. This is the view off of my back patio. Down the steps and into the bed of Las Tablas Creek, the access point to many of my childhood adventures. During the rainy season this creek would begin to flow again, and with the return of water came life. I have strong memories of hearing the creek rushing through the darkness of the Adelaide nights, the sound of toads reverberating off of the ancient oaks. Back then there wasn't much traffic on the roads and the sounds of the land were accompanied by only silence.

Austin - Rain over misty vineyard

As I child my favorite thing to do was explore this property. Sure, I played some sports, but I remember being at my happiest romping through this wild and dirty playground. The great thing about having the vineyard and forest as your playground is the changes it experiences throughout the year. In summer it's warm, dry, and full of sun-drenched grasses until late in the evening. In the winter my playground would transform. The cold would encourage leaves to cover the forest floors, the vines became bare, hardly resembling their summertime guise. Small cover crops sprouted and annual grasses began to peek through the darkened soil.

Austin - View over dormant vines

When it rains at Tablas Creek, vineyard work comes to a standstill. Tractors are parked under cover and sheep rest on blankets of straw in the barn. That meant I had the hills to myself, a child of the mud.

Austin - Olive trees and rock wall

Good, wet storms do not hit us too often here in Paso Robles. That being said I feel as though people can still take them for granted when they do come. In fact, it confused me as a young child when people deemed the weather miserable when water fell from the sky. "Bring it on", I always thought. I think our dry farmed vines and olive trees agreed with me.

Austin - Sun emerging

The rain sure meant a lot to me back then. It still does. How can it not? Look how much it does for us. If you don't grow crops for food or for wine, I think everyone can appreciate the beauty rain brings to the planet. Whether it is during a storm, or after, through the clearest air our lens can find, rain did that.

[Editor's note: after this piece was published, our Winemaker Neil Collins, Austin's dad, sent us this photo of Austin playing in one of these very same puddles. As he said, "proof".]

Austin playing in the mud


Paso Robles is (Still) Insanely Beautiful, Late-Fall Edition

Three weeks ago, with the lower sun angles and the vineyard starting to change into its autumn colors, I caught some of this new beauty and shared it in a blog. Since then, we've seen a decisive turn toward early-winter weather. It's been nearly two weeks since a daytime high got out of the 70s. Nights have been routinely in the 30s, but it hasn't frozen yet. We've had a couple of cold fronts push through the area, and the past two days have seen us get a little rain. The result has been one of those rare moments when we have leaves showing fall colors still on the vines, deep, rich brown earth, and clouds in the sky. It's a dramatic, lovely combination:

Syrah terraces and dramatic clouds

Equally impressive have been the sunsets, with the low autumn light warming the fall foliage:

Autumn colors and bright sky

On clearer days, the low sun angles highlight the changing colors, as in this shot that includes both head-trained and trellised Mourvedre blocks:

Autumn colors in Mourvedre

The sunrises have been equally impressive:

Sunrise in Haas Vineyard

The rain, minimal though it's been so far, has been enough to change the color of the soil. That's particularly evident in the sections that we've prepped and seeded with our cover crop mix, like this Vermentino block:

Seeded ground in Vermentino

What makes the soil so rich? Our flock of sheep, mostly, but also the regular additions we make from our compost pile. As I drove by it this morning, it was steaming in the sun, with the contrasting colors of Roussanne and Tannat in the background:

Compost Pile steaming

The low clouds, when there's not sun peeking through, give things a wintery light despite the fall foliage. That's dramatic in this view down through our Vaccarese block: 

Vaccarese and dramatic clouds

When the sun does peek through, the contrast between the foliage and the changing skies is lovely:

Grenache Blanc on Crosshairs

I'll leave you with one more photo, a slightly different view of the same scene I started with: terraces of Syrah rising at the western edge of our property, with more vineyard and dark hills shrouded by tattered clouds behind:

Syrah terraces and dramatic clouds horizontal

This landscape might not last much longer. We're forecast for a hard freeze tonight, which will put an end to the colorful foliage and force the grapevines into dormancy. That's a good thing from a vineyard perspective, but depending on how widespread it is from low valleys to hilltops, it will mean the end of much of this color. More rain is expected next week, which should accelerate the transition to winter's green hillsides and dark brown vines.

That will be lovely too. But these last few weeks have been special.


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

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

Looking west through Grenache and Mourvedre

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

Hills through Mourvedre foliage

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

Colorful Counoise vine

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

Grenache cluster

Mourvedre clusters

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

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

Grenache vines and chalky soil

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

Mourvedre cluster and colorful foliage

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