Has TripAdvisor overtaken Yelp for winery visitors?

I keep a regular eye on Tablas Creek's reviews on TripAdvisor and on Yelp.  Reading these reviews helps me keep an eye out for potential problems, and also gives me a good overall sense of what people are thinking about the experience they have when they visit Tablas Creek.  Happily, it's overwhelmingly positive.

I have noticed a recent trend away from Yelp and toward TripAdvisor.  For years Yelp was the dominant review site.  Between 2005 and early 2011, Yelp tallied 69 reviews of Tablas Creek to only 5 for TripAdvisor.  In fact, I didn't even start watching TripAdvisor until mid-2011.  But in the last year, we've received an equal number of reviews (23) on each site, and so far in 2012, TripAdvisor has tallied 13 reviews to just 5 on Yelp. The chart below will give you a sense of how the trend has changed recently.

Reviews by Site
Both Yelp and TripAdvisor are powerful players in travel, dining and entertainment.  Per month, Yelp claims 66 million unique visitors, while TripAdvisor claims 50 million.  And the prominent placing of both sites' reviews in search engine rankings means that increasingly, consumers are using these sites in addition to or instead of the more traditional printed brochures and regional association Web sites that they would have used even a few years ago.  They have the advantages (and disadvantages) of crowd-sourced opinions, combining the perception of incorruptibility with the idiosyncracies of uncurated information.  But their net impact is tremendous, and is only likely to grow.

It's possible that we're starting to see some specialization between the two sites, which have essentially identical interfaces and market niches.  I know that I tend to think of Yelp as specializing in dining, and TripAdvisor as specializing in travel.  But a quick look at a few local restaurants suggests that TripAdvisor may be making significant inroads here as well.  Artisan shows 30 TripAdvisor reviews so far in 2012, but only 20 Yelp reviews (2011 and earlier shows 311 reviews on Yelp and 198 on TripAdvisor).  Il Cortile shows 16 reviews on TripAdvisor in 2012 (compared to just 40 before) and 17 on Yelp (compared to 123 before).  And Thomas Hill Organics shows 25 reviews on TripAdvisor (compared to 48 before) and 35 on Yelp (compared to 180 before).  Even if TripAdvisor still trails Yelp slightly in the restaurant world, it's clear that its trend is positive.

I know that lots of wineries have claimed and edited their profiles on Yelp, and many have also chosen to advertise with them, perhaps encouraged by the aggressive advertising sales push that many wineries, including Tablas Creek, received last year.  I don't see the same level of engagement with TripAdvisor.

Our experience suggests that neglecting TripAdvisor is a mistake.

Reflections on Tablas Creek's 2011 Best Winery Blog award

Wba-winery-WINNER-2011 On Saturday, at the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA, the winners of the 2011 Wine Blog Awards were announced.  One of them was us!  Thank you to everyone who voted; the award was 50% determined by votes from the public.  The other 50% was determined by the votes of the panel of expert judges who culled the list of nominees down to the five-ish finalists in each category.

The world of wine blogs is rich and diverse, and growing all the time.  The fact that speakers at the Wine Blog Awards included traditional media figures (and wine writer titans) Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson shows just how far blogging has penetrated into the mainstream of wine discussion, and how blurry -- some at the conference would say irrelevant -- the boundary between wine writer and wine blogger has become.  As always, I learned a lot and developed some new favorites reading through the blogs of the other finalists.  And it's only fitting that Tom Wark's Fermentation won both "Best Overall Wine Blog" and "Best Industry Blog".  After all, Tom created the Wine Blog Awards back in 2007 and this was his first year eligible after handing the awards off to a nonprofit consortium two years ago.  Congratulations to all the winners.  The complete list:

Best Overall Wine Blog – Fermentation
Best New Wine Blog – Terroirist
Best Writing on a Wine Blog – Vinography
Best Winery Blog – Tablas Creek
Best Single Subject Wine Blog – New York Cork Report
Best Wine Reviews on a Wine Blog – Enobytes
Best Industry/Business Wine Blog – Fermentation
Best Wine Blog Graphics, Photography, & Presentation – Vino Freakism

I am proud that this was the fourth year in a row that the Tablas Creek blog was a finalist.  I'm also proud that the last year of the Tablas Creek blog has been more of a communal effort than ever before, including several great posts by my dad and contributions from two new authors: Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Magnusson, writing Notes from the Cellar, and Tasting Room Manager John Morris, writing View from the Tasting Room.  Each brings a different perspective to our effort to share our experiences as we make, sell, plan and reflect on Tablas Creek.

Thank you to all of you who take the time, whether regularly or occasionally, to read our thoughts.

The Tablas Creek Blog is a finalist at the 2011 Wine Blog Awards!

Wba-winery-finalist-logo We are proud that, for the fourth year in a row, the very Tablas Creek blog that you're reading has been named one of five finalists for "Best Winery Blog" in the 2011 Wine Blog Awards.  We won the award in 2008 (the inaugural year of the awards) and would love to take the prize back from the 2010 winner: the always-worthy Randall Grahm, again a finalist this year.

Finalists were selected from dozens of nominations by a panel of experts.  The award itself is determined 50% by the votes of the public and 50% by the judging panel.  So, we encourage you to vote on the results... your opinions really do matter.  You can vote at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CNTK5P8

In addition to "Best Winery Blog" the categories are "Best New Blog", "Best Writing", "Best Single Subject", "Best Wine Reviews", "Best Industry Blog", "Best Presentation, Photography, Graphics", and "Best Overall Wine Blog".  And in each category are wine blogs that I read myself at least weekly.  The quality of the writing and of the journalism in the wine blogging world has never been better, and it's an honor to be able to be a part of such an accomplished, creative group of writers.

Whether or not you have been following every post on this blog, I thought that it might be an appropriate time to look back at a few of my own favorites over the past year.  In date order, with some brief notes on why I think each is worth revisiting:

  • The appeal of wine in keg... and an appeal to the restaurants who want it (July 2010).  I couldn't believe how much the infrastructure for selling wine in kegs has improved in the last year.  Evidently we weren't the only wineries looking at the options and asking for help!  Of course, we still haven't figured out how to get the kegs back to us anywhere outside of California...
  • A great idea by the Rhone Rangers: Pneumonia's Last Syrah (September 2010).  Still one of the best marketing ideas I've had the pleasure of being a part of.  This editorial ended up on the back page of Wines&Vines a couple of months later.
  • Biodynamics and dry-farming: repairing the failings of "modern" viticulture (November 2010).  An important step in my own personal journey in understanding why the choices that we make in our viticulture matters in the way that the wines taste.
  • A post-harvest round table discussion with Tablas Creek's winemakers (December 2010).  A great video filmed and edited by Tommy Oldre that captures the personalities of our winemaking team (and our winemaking dog) as succinctly as I can imagine possible.  And it's worth remembering just how unusual 2010 was.  Literally unprecedented in our experience.
  • Zombie legislation: HR 5034 lurches back to life as HR 1161 (March 2011).  I love the occasional times I get to do political or legal analysis.  My belief is that the wholesalers' lobby is going to reintroduce similarly consumer- (and winery-) unfriendly legislation each year until the opposition gets complacent and doesn't raise a hue and cry.  Consider this my contribution to raising the hue and cry for 2011.
  • Blending, blending, blending... and an eventual look at the 2010 whites! (April 2011).  The blending of the 2010 whites was the longest we've ever faced, and provided the clearest example yet of how our process protects us from our own biases.  I lay out all the messiness in this post.
  • The Remarkable Rise of Paso Robles (May 2011).  A reflection on how Paso Robles has come as far as it has, as fast as it has, made more relevant by Stacie Jacob's announcement the next week that she would be leaving the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance after seven years at the helm.
  • Investigating an Attempted Wine Scam (June 2011).  The post which received the most comments over the last year (14 and counting!) and I've heard from dozens of other wineries letting me know that they'd found this post after googling the attempted scam or attempted scammer.  Nice to know that shedding a little light on a problem can provide real help.

As always, thank you for your support.  It's an honor to have been able to do this for as long as I have.

The Remarkable Rise of Paso Robles

In the course of my work with Tablas Creek, I work closely with winery associations like Rhone Rangers and Family Winemakers of California that bring me into contact with winemakers and winery principals from other American wine producing regions.  One refrain I've been hearing for the last few years has been "Wow, Paso Robles is on a roll".  The follow up is usually either a question like "How did you do it?" or a comment that "I wish that my region could do what Paso has done."

Paso Robles Sign It's not that long ago that Paso Robles was a relative unknown.  When I started selling our wines in the early years of the 2000's, I would routinely meet wine industry professionals who didn't know where Paso was, or even that it was in the Central Coast.  Those who did know it thought of it as a place to grow rustic Zinfandels or inexpensive Bordeaux varieties.

So how did Paso Robles go from backwater to next-big-thing in a decade?  I think that there are six principal reasons that Paso has been able to be as successful as it has.

  • The inherent quality of the terroir.  I'll start with the most obvious.  Paso Robles has a remarkable combination of soils and climate.  These characteristics led us to choose Paso in 1989 as the home for our at-that-time-unnamed Rhone project, even though there were no Rhones in the ground there, it was on no one's list of the next great California wine region, and it had no cachet that would help make the wines more marketable.  All of the below factors wouldn't mean much if the region wasn't capable of making remarkable wines.  Between the notable concentration of calcium-rich soils, the largest diurnal temperature swing in the state, the rainfall in the western hills that permits dry-farming and the long growing season with limited threat of harvest rainfall it's a tremendous spot to plant and grow grapes.
  • The leadership of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.  I speak to producers from other regions who point again and again to the work that the PRWCA has done over the tenure of Stacie Jacob as Executive Director.  They launched an annual road show, began regular work bringing both media and key restaurateurs and retailers out to visit Paso Robles, refined the annual series of events in Paso Robles that exposes the region to thousands of consumers each year, and began targeted marketing and advertising campaigns that did a lot to bring the region into the public eye.  What's more, they did it in a way that united the region's growers and winemakers, as well as the wineries large and small, east and west.  In 2005 it was not at all clear that the Paso Robles region would remain a single unit, with work underway for a Paso Robles Westside AVA and real friction between vintners and growers.  By producing clear benefits for all the different constituencies that make up the Paso Robles wine community the PRWCA has managed to have an enormous impact. 
  • The willingness of the major winery players in the area to work to support the region.  The PRWCA's efforts would not, I don't think, have been possible without buy-in from all the major players in Paso Robles.  The leading wineries on the east side (such as J. Lohr, Eberle, and EOS) as well as west side (like Justin, Tablas Creek, L'Aventure) have all participated actively in the Wine Alliance's efforts, and other than us all have served on the PRWCA's board of directors.  Paso Robles is a wine community of joiners with principals willing to work together.  That's rarer than you might think; I know that many regions' associations have trouble even getting their members to attend their events, let alone support the association with funds for coherent marketing.
  • The city of Paso Robles' welcome embrace of wine community.  Justin Baldwin is fond of telling the story that when he moved to Paso Robles, the best dinner in town was the tuna melt at the bowling alley.  By my first visit a decade later, the best food was the Denny's.  In the 1980s and 1990s you didn't go into Paso Robles to eat, or shop (except for groceries) or relax.  Downtown vacancy was over 40%.  It was a dying ranching town, without many prospects for renaissance.  But the wine community's growth, and the tourism that followed, has brought the town back to life.  There are now amazing restaurants, fun shops, and a vibrant downtown park surrounded by the decade-old city hall/library and movie theater.  The continued willingness of the community to embrace the local wineries -- driven in no small part by the relatively recent memories of how depressed Paso Robles was -- has allowed the community to focus on outreach rather than waging the internecine not-in-my-back-yard battles seen in other California wine regions.
  • The rise in wine tourism punctuated by the release of Sideways.  Most people associate Sideways, released late in 2004, with a dramatic growth in Pinot Noir sales and an associated decline in Merlot.  And those effects are indisputable.  But I would point to two other impacts of the movie.  First, it romanticized and personalized the experience of going to wine country to taste wine, which was an important factor in the growth of wine tourism around the country.  Second, it was set in Santa Barbara County, which drove home the point that there was wine in California outside Napa to an audience largely unaware of the fact.  No, we didn't see the busloads of movie-crazed tourists that the Santa Ynez Valley did, but we had perhaps an even better result.  The southern California wine lovers who typically patronized the Santa Barbara County wineries featured in the movie skipped over the tourist hordes and came to the next region north: Paso Robles.
  • Advocacy from key members of the wine media, principally Robert Parker.  With the recent recognition of Paso Robles as the home of the Wine Spectator's wine of the year, it may be hard to remember the impact of Robert Parker's declaration in June of 2005 that "there is no question that a decade from now, the top viticultural areas of Santa Barbara, Santa Rita Hills, and the limestone hillsides west of Paso Robles will be as well-known as the glamorous vineyards of Napa Valley".  The media buzz has built from there, with notable contributions from Steve Tanzer and more recently James Laube in the Wine Spectator.  This media enthusiasm led uncounted numbers of wine enthusiasts and collectors to explore Paso Robles, and eventually pulled along the wine trade (typically more conservative than either consumers or media due to entrenched relationships and the sheer inertia of size). A scroll back through our press links will give you a good sense of how consistent the press attention has been over recent years, particularly in the late 2005-mid 2007 period when Decanter, Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, the San Francisco Chronicle, Sunset and Food&Wine all wrote feature articles about the Paso Robles wine region.

When we bought the land that would become Tablas Creek in 1989, there were seventeen wineries here, and no Rhone varieties in the ground.  This year, there will be over 220 wineries, and Paso Robles has California's largest acreage of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc.  And the region has a lot more potential for growth; even in the prime vineyard land out west of town less than one-third the cleared plantable acres have been planted to grapes.  With many of the top vineyards less than 20 years old the future is bright.  In the immortal words of Bachman-Turner Overdrive: You ain't seen nothing yet.

Tablas Creek is in Vogue!

No, literally.  We're in Vogue Magazine, at least the online version Vogue Daily, in an Earth Day-themed article called The Green List.  Somewhat more affordable than the $100 repairative moisturizer from an organic farm in Vermont, the vacation in a sustainably-sourced villa in Vietnam, or the beautiful geode-and-responsibly-mined-diamond earrings is the 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel, tied in a pretty cotton-fiber gift tag.


We don't much post press here on the blog (there's a page for that on our Web site: Tablas Creek In the News) but this was so much fun that I thought I should.  A gift to impress the eco-conscious hostess... how nice! Thank you to Peter Zitz from our most excellent New York distributor Michael Skurnik Wines for suggesting Tablas Creek to the editor, and for sending us the link.

Tablas Creek is a 2010 "Best Winery Blog" finalist!

WBA_Finalist_2010 I'm proud to announce that Tablas Creek has again been named a finalist for "Best Winery Blog" at the 2010 Wine Blog Awards.  These awards were created four years ago by the tireless Tom Wark (whose blog Fermentation is a daily must-read for anyone in the wine community) to recognize the growing importance of the blogging community on the world of wine and were this year handed over to the nonprofit OpenWine Consortium.  The awards (which in past years were called the American Wine Blog Awards) have been opened up to this year to any English-language blog in the world.

As in previous years, your votes will help determine the winners; in the final tally, 50% of the weighting comes from voting by the public, and 50% from the votes of the panel of eleven expert judges (whose names are typically revealed after the awards are announced) who culled all the nominations into the five finalists in each category.  So please vote!

The most interesting part of the process for me is always discovering the blogs I wasn't aware of.  The Best Winery Blog finalists include two other winery blogs I consider must-reads (4488: A Ridge Blog and Twisted Oak's El Bloggio Torcido and two that I didn't yet know (Bonny Doon's Been Doon So Long and Quevedo Port).  How did I not know that Randall Grahm was blogging? 

I am particularly proud that Tablas Creek is the only repeat finalist from the 2009 Best Winery Blog category.

You can browse the list of finalists, or if you know who you like, you can vote here.  Voting ends Sunday, May 30th.

Whither inexpensive, artisanal California wine?

In early March I was interviewed by Jordan Mackay for an article in the New York Times called "Local Versions of Europe's Everyday Wines".  In it, Jordan explored why so few California winemakers were attempting to make inexpensive but artisanal wines that can compete with the basic regional wines of France. This seems to be a topic of broader interest among wine writers; Jon Bonné wrote a similar article (“California’s Côtes du Rhone”) in the San Francisco Chronicle last year.  I caught up with Jon at this past weekend’s Rhone Rangers tasting, and our conversation wandered to this topic.  He suggested that smaller California wineries are only now focusing their attention on making wines in this $10 to $20 category, but that with the market hungry for these sorts of wines, the category will grow.  I think he's right, and that as long as winemakers can find older vineyards of less-fashionable varietals, we'll see growth. Still, there are structural issues with the economics of grape growing in California that will inhibit the production of these wines – even if the market rewards those that are produced.

We recently considered whether our own cost structure could support adding a vineyard that would either allow greater production of our Cotes de Tablas wines (our least expensive wines, around $25 retail) or produce grapes to sell at the going rate for top vineyards in our area.  This prospective vineyard was beautiful – 20 acres on a mountaintop near the summit of Peachy Canyon Road, five miles south-east of Tablas Creek – and it was clear to us that it will make a great vineyard.  But, as we did the math, we couldn't make it come out to break-even either in selling the grapes or in making more Cotes de Tablas. 

Here's how the math works, using Tablas Creek's costs and production from 2008 (a fairly average year for us).  Our 2008 vineyard expenses (between labor and benefits, depreciation, taxes, materials, fuel & maintenance, utilities, licenses and fees) were $612,313, and we harvested 262 tons of grapes off our 95 producing acres.  So, our cost of producing each ton was $2,337 and our yield 2.75 tons per acre.  Our cost of grape production, not counting interest on our land or improvements, was $6,427 per acre.

The owner of the 20-acre property was asking around $1 million for those 20 plantable acres.  A 30-year mortgage on $1 million at 5.75% would require about $70,000 in payments per year.  Planting costs in an irrigated, trellised vineyard are typically about $30,000 per acre.  Head-pruned, dry-farmed vineyards are notably less expensive (around $4,500 per acre) but yields are typically lower and the vineyard may take an extra year or two to come into production.  Assuming that we financed the planting costs, we'd add another $42,000 in finance payments each year ($6,300 if we chose to head-prune and dry farm).  Total financing costs of $112,000 per year, divided by 20 acres, comes to $5,600 per acre, though planting head-pruned, dry-farmed could reduce that to about $3,800 per acre.

So, our total costs (in financing and expenses) per acre per year would be something like $12,000 ($10,200 if we chose to dry farm). Could we expect to recoup our farming costs?  If we sold grapes, probably not. The top vineyards in our area charge between $3,000 and $4,500 per ton for grapes.  At our yields (2.75 tons per acre in 2008) we could expect between and $8,250 and $12,375 in grape revenue per year.  If instead we chose to dry-farm, we felt it was unreasonable to expect more than 2 tons per acre, so even at $4,500 per ton, we wouldn't cover our $10,200 annual farming cost.

Would the financial picture look better if we used the extra production to make more of our Cotes de Tablas?  Not really.  We'd typically sell the wine for $150/case into the wholesale market, allowing for the distributor's and the retailer's markup.  Our vineyard costs come to about $73/case ($4,363 cost per ton calculated at 60 cases per ton).  The crush and winemaking costs (based on our 2008 Cotes de Tablas) add another $44/case, and the bottling costs (bottles, labels, capsules and labor) $20/case.  That totals $137/case in cost of production, not counting costs of overhead or to sell the wine.

It's worth noting that the assumptions above are for a vineyard that is financed 100%. But any money that is paid up front rather than financed incurs opportunity costs roughly equivalent to financing costs. These opportunity costs represent the lost profits from not having invested this money elsewhere.

Our net decision was an easy one.  We didn't buy the additional property.

So, for what sort of proprietor would such a property make sense?  It would work for a producer who built a winery and tasting room and sold much or all of the production direct.  They would have to be willing to put $3 million or more into the project (between land, planting, vineyard improvement and winery), but the higher margins in direct sales make it a viable proposition after that.  Or a savvy investor in land might take a chance, given that the price of prime vineyard land here is almost certain to appreciate.  Someone who bought it and covered most of their annual costs through selling grapes could come out ahead given that in a dozen years it might sell for double what it's worth now.

In the calculations above, you can see how large a portion of the annual expenses the initial investments in land and planting represent.  And I think that these costs are the real reason why most wine reviewers think that Europe enjoys a competitive advantage in the $10-$20 price category.  There is so much old vineyard planted in all the traditional wine-producing countries that a winemaker can find inexpensive grapes from older vines on vineyards long since bought and paid for.

Will that ever be possible in California, where most vineyards have to be planted from scratch, on land that is often in demand for development and therefore more expensive?  We'll see some growth, I'm sure, as long a it's still possible to find overlooked older vineyards.  But the numbers above shed some light on why small California producers, working with similar economies of scale and similar restrictions on mechanization, tend not to aim their wines at the under-$20 portion of the market.

One from the Vaults: a September 1988 Wine Spectator article on Robert Haas

WS88_cover I was back in Vermont last week visiting my sister and my new nephew, and spent the night in my old room in the house I grew up in.  I was browsing through old papers late one night when I uncovered a 1988 issue of the Wine Spectator in which there was a wonderful six-page article by Mort Hochstein on my dad's career as an importer.  I hadn't read this article in years, and the Spectator's online archives don't go back that far.  The article was titled "Have Palate, Will Travel" and traces my dad's career in wine from its beginnings at his father's shop (M. Lehmann, in Manhattan) through his early travels to France in the 1950s, his eventual decision to found an importing business, and his move to Vermont in the early 1970s.


I've written about his career before, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, so I'm not going to enumerate his many impacts on how Americans drink, buy, and think about wine, but there were a few things that struck me about the article.

First was the affection with which his fellow importers and suppliers talk about him in the article.  One story I particularly liked was told by his friend, writer Alexis Bespaloff.  He recalled the end of a long day of prospecting in the Rhone:

"It was November 1963 and we'd been tasting in the Rhône.  We came back to our hotel after 10 one night.  The restaurant was closed and we were lucky to find a café where we could get a bowl of soup.  We returned to the hotel and went upstairs and Haas sat on his bed in a bare, cold, unheated room with just a single exposed light bulb overhead, dropped one shoe and said, 'You know, Alex, my friends in New York think I have a glamorous life.'"

Second was the degree to which he was already an institution in the 1980's.  The writer of the article, Mort Hochstein, pointed out

"Though widely known and respected in the trade in Europe and the United States, few American wine lovers have had any contact with him other than the perception that the phrase "Robert Haas Selection" on a bottle represents quality."

Now, 22 years later, my dad has added to his achievements as an importer and a distributor the foundation of Tablas Creek and the importation and distribution of high quality Rhone grapevine clones around the United States. He has also played an important role in the advancement of organic viticulture and the elevation of the Paso Robles region to the forefront of California wine. It is not a surprise that he was the first American elected president of the largely French Académie Internationale du Vin in 2000.

The last thing that struck me from reading the magazine was how young and unformed the California wine industry was at that time.  There is an article by Norm Roby promoting Kistler as the next "heavy hitter" in Chardonnay.  It's bizarre for me to think of Kistler as the new kid on the block.  Other wineries meriting mention whose building permits had newly been approved included Screaming Eagle and Sinskey. Terry Robards penned an opinion piece called "The Case for Red Zinfandel".  That the Wine Spectator needed to sound the alarm that "the majority of Zinfandel consumers do not even know there is such a thing as red Zinfandel" strikes me as being from another age.  And perhaps the greatest indication of the youth of the industry was the faces featured in the announcement for the 1988 California Wine Experience, which included a collection of American wine writing talent unlikely to be found in the same building today: Dan Berger, Anthony Dias Blue, Michael Broadbent, James Laube, Harvey Steiman, and, yes, Robert Parker.


For those interested, I scanned a PDF of the article which can be accessed here.

Tablas Creek on "A Long Pour: Fifty-Two Weeks with California Wine"

I have noticed a backlash recently among writers passionate about wine against what might be termed the tyranny of the tasting note.  In the view of these writers, the stilted language and the inherent subjectivity of the wine review is a distraction from the real business of telling a story about the people and the places which make up the world of wine.  [One great example, quoted in a recent piece on Steve Heimoff's blog, was of writer Rod Smith, who in response to a question about what he thought about the wines in a group wine tasting, replied "I don’t review wines. I write about them".]  And I understand this clearly: there is only so much writing you can do about flavors of berries, oak and minerals.  And this is without getting into the whole debate about scoring wine.

Whether in response to the fustiness of the traditional wine review, or just a greater interest in the how and the why of wine rather than the what, I've had the pleasure to speak to several writers recently who weren't particularly interested in writing about the wines of Tablas Creek, but about the soul.  One such writer is Wayne Kelterer, who a few months back started the blog "A Long Pour: Fifty-Two Weeks with California Wine".  On this blog, he profiles one winery each week.  The profiles are done on-site, incorporate his excellent photography, and include an in-depth interview with a principal or winemaker at each winery.  I think that the care that he takes on these pieces is evident in the results.


Tablas Creek is fortunate to be the profiled winery this week, and in the profile Wayne includes a transcript of what might be the longest, most in-depth interview I've ever had published.  If you're interested in not just where we are now, but how we got here and where we think we're going, then it's a must-read.

So, go read it: Tablas Creek: The Long Road to Success

Tasting the wines in the spring 2010 wine club shipment

Each spring and fall, we send out six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  With each shipment we include a little update from our wine club director, an order form, and, of course, production and tasting notes for the six wines in the club shipment.  As these wines are typically unreleased, most of them do not yet have a Web page, and for me it's often one of my first opportunities to taste these wines after bottling.  It's always exciting, and the rest of the staff typically joins me as we see, in effect, what's next.  I thought it would be fun to share what I found.


In the order in which we'll be pouring them at our March 6th club shipment tasting event:


  • Production notes: Grenache Blanc continues shine in California’s Central Coast. Most of our production goes into our Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc each year, but in 2008 we reserved a small (565 case) lot for our wine club. It had a very long fermentation (in a mix of stainless steel and foudre) that didn’t finish until nearly a year after harvest. It was bottled in September 2009.
  • Tasting notes: A clean nose of mineral, green apple, grapefruit and pear, with flavors that begin bright with lemon and lime, then broaden in the mid-palate before re-tightening on the finish with a lingering character of green apple skin and wet rocks. Drink in the next two to three years.
  • Press: Tanzer's I.W.C. 89 points (11/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 565 cases
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/grenacheblanc08.shtml
  • Production notes: 2008’s relatively cool growing season produced wines of medium body, tremendous elegance, and expressive varietal character. The 2008 Roussanne was fermented 40% in oak (mostly old, neutral barrels), 20% in foudre, and 40% in stainless steel. The wine was blended in July and bottled in September 2009.
  • Tasting notes: An expressive nose of beeswax, lacquered wood, and white flowers, with a powerful spiciness emerging with air. The mouth is juicy yet still restrained, with flavors of peaches and cream. The finish is more mineral, very clean, with almond, pear, honey and chamomile notes. Enjoy now or over the next 4-6 years.
  • Press: Parker 90-92 (8/09); Tanzer's IWC 90 (11/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 720 cases
  • List Price: $27 VINsider Price: $21.60
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/roussanne08.shtml
ROSÉ 2009
  • Production notes: The 2009 Rosé reflects the generally tiny crop in 2009, and the particular shortage of Mourvèdre.  We were worried that given the extreme concentration of the Mourvèdre, using as much as we typically do (60% in most vintages) would produce a wine too dark and structured.  So, we reduced the Mourvèdre to 46% and increased Grenache (39%) and Counoise (15%). We left the grapes on their skins for just under two days before drawing off the juice and completing the fermentation in stainless steel. The wine was bottled in January 2010.
  • Tasting notes: Cranberry in color, with an explosive nose of sour cherry, cranberry, Christmas spices and orange zest.  The mouth is incredibly juicy with flavors of maraschino cherry, sour strawberry and apple. Mouth-watering acidity on the long, dry finish cleans up the wine's richness. Drink now through the end of 2011.
  • Quantity Produced: 640 cases
  • List Price: $27.00 VINsider Price: $21.60
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/rose09.shtml
  • Production notes: The 2007 Grenache, like the 2007 vintage, is big yet balanced, with powerful aromas and flavors, and should benefit from short-term cellaring. The wine was blended in June 2008, aged in foudre, and bottled in March 2009. 10% Syrah gives the wine firmness and a touch of mineral on the finish.
  • Tasting notes: A powerful nose of mint, boysenberry, and licorice. Vibrantly fruity on the palate with unusually dark tones for Grenache: black cherry, blueberry and black raspberry, followed by a long finish with some chalky tannins that cut the wine’s richness. We suggest you hold this wine for 1-2 years and drink for the next decade.
  • Press: Parker 92 (8/09), Wine Spectator 92 (12/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 750 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/grenache07.shtml
SYRAH 2007
  • Production notes: The powerful 2007 vintage produced our most intense Syrah ever. Aged in a combination of 1200-gallon foudres and small new Dargaud & Jaegle 60-gallon pieces, we blend our Syrah for a balance of fruit, mineral, and spice, and add 10% Grenache for its signature acidity and openness. The wine was blended in August 2008, aged in a single foudre and bottled in March 2009.
  • Tasting notes: A deep, dark nose of ink, soy and iodine, with a little oak and black fruit sneaking through. The mouth shows mineral, blackberry, iron and spice, with beautiful tannins and length. This is a wine for the long term; hold for 3-5 years, and then drink for another fifteen.
  • Press: Parker 92 (8/09); Tanzer’s IWC 91 (11/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 685 cases
  • List Price: $35 VINsider Price: $28
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/syrah07.shtml
  • Production notes: The 2007 Panoplie is a wine of incredible lushness and power. As always, Panoplie is selected from lots in the cellar chosen for their balance, richness, and concentration. The components (60% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache, and 10% Syrah) were blended in July 2008 and aged in foudre before bottling in July of 2009.
  • Tasting notes: Dense purple-red in color. A dark, meaty nose with aromas of sweet earth, plums and nutmeg. Explosive in the mouth, with flavors of currant, plum, cocoa powder and red licorice, finishing drier and powerfully tannic. Hold, if possible, until 2015, and drink for two decades after that.
  • Press: Parker 96-98 (8/09); Tanzer's IWC 95 (11/09)
  • Quantity Produced: 540 cases
  • List Price: $95 VINsider Price: $76
  • More at http://www.tablascreek.com/panoplie07.shtml

More details on the shipment are available online for anyone interested: http://www.tablascreek.com/wineclub_news.html.  A few final thoughts are below. 

First, these 2007's are built for the long haul.  I wouldn't touch the Syrah for several years, and the Grenache seems to me to be likely to benefit from a year or two of aging.  Surprisingly, it was the Panoplie, of the three, that was the most giving right now.  That's one of the things that we love about Mourvedre: it has loads of chewy tannin and can be aged beautifully, but doesn't have the hardness when young that most similarly-structured varietals have.

Second, I'm really coming to love the elegance of the 2008's.  The 2008 whites show medium body, sparkling acidities, very pretty fruit flavors and spot-on varietal character.  I think that the wines are already showing beautifully, even with varieties like Roussanne that are typically structure-bound at this age.  I'm not sure I'd recommend laying these whites down (though their exquisite balance suggests they could be) but for drinking right now I'm not sure we've ever made a more appealing vintage.