Here at Tablas Creek we're pretty cautious about jumping into new projects. In my 20 years we've made one significant addition to the lineup of wines, back in 2010 when we started working with a handful of Paso Robles vineyards to produce our first-ever non-estate wine, the Patelin de Tablas. That decision came after the shock of the 2009 vintage, where the combination of drought and frost reduced our crops by nearly 50% and forced us to choose between keeping our wine club and tasting room supplied and maintaining our presence in the wholesale and export markets. At the same time, the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed meant that there were high quality grapes available from Paso Robles vineyards at reasonable prices. We worked out agreements with our first eight growers and we were off.
The addition of the Patelin tier has played out just as I'd hoped, giving us the ability to maintain and expand our presence in the wholesale market, especially in restaurants' by-the-glass lists, while mitigating the peaks and valleys of production that are unavoidable in our frost- and drought-prone climate. The Patelin wines gave the category we're a part of entry-level wines that we were proud to use to introduce new customers to the category, while allowing us to be more selective about what we put into our estate wines. I think the quality of our Cotes de Tablas and varietal wines has never been stronger, in part because we've declassified into Patelin the lots that are pretty and friendly but maybe don't have the intensity or focus we wanted for our estate wines.
An unexpected benefit has been that we feel like we're more integrated into our community after having had the chance over the last decade to work with dozens of the small growers who make up the essential fabric of the Paso Robles wine community. You can get a sense of how much of a pleasure that process has been from the video that we made back in 2017 talking about the people behind Patelin:
The Patelin idea has worked because we've been able to find great sources of the key Rhone grapes, both red and white, here in Paso Robles. And that desire -- to make a wine that represents both our category and our region -- has meant that we've always limited our Patelin sourcing to vineyards in Paso Robles, with preference given to vineyards that have the same clones that we brought in from Beaucastel in the ground. But as a winery who built our reputation on making wines of place, each year there's a certain amount of regret in blending the product of beautiful vineyards together, even if the end result is something we're proud of.
Covid was the catalyst for a new idea. Just as the last economic shock -- the financial crisis and recession that followed, combined with our drought and frost -- opened up the opportunity to make the Patelin wines, we've realized that the challenges we've faced over the last three years point toward another new opportunity. And like in 2007-09, we have a three-year drought cycle (this one beginning in 2020) as a primary catalyst. By 2022 that drought had reached critical levels and its impact on our yields was worsened by our latest-ever spring frost. At the same time, the pandemic fueled a shift in the wine business where in 2020 and 2021 restaurant sales were down sharply and phone, internet, and wine club orders to wineries surged as people stuck close to home by choice or mandate. Together, those changes meant that we saw greater demand than ever before for our estate wines (the bulk of what we sell direct and to our wine club customers) just at the time when our own production was constrained by drought and frost. In the early stages of the pandemic we were able to shift some of our production of the Patelin wines from wholesale to our wine club and tasting room to satisfy the demand there, but that's not an ideal long-term solution. We need those wines in the wholesale market as restaurants have come roaring back. And we think it's more exciting to have the wines that we feature at our tasting room and send to our club members be different from those of our wines that they can find at their local bistro.
Enter Lignée de Tablas. This new tier of wines will debut with the 2022 vintage. It will consist of single-vineyard wines sourced from vineyards planted to Tablas Creek clones, made in small (250-850 case) quantities and sold direct from the winery. There are hundreds of vineyards up and down the West Coast planted with cuttings from the Tablas Creek nursery. In addition to Paso Robles, particularly exciting concentrations of these vineyards can be found in the Sierra Foothills, Santa Barbara County, Sonoma, and up in Washington State. Those other regions have never had the opportunity to be a part of our program... until now. And because our only non-estate wines have been the Patelins, we haven't had the opportunity to celebrate the unique expressions of place from these vineyards. Until now.
My long-term goal is for us to make three or four of these each year, but in 2022 we started with two. We'll be making a Grenache from the Hahn Vineyard in Monterey County, and a Grenache Blanc from Windfall Farms right here in the Creston District of Paso Robles. The Hahn Grenache isn't bottled yet and won't be released until next year, but it's impressive: darker in both color and fruit tone than any Grenache we make here, with firm tannins, lovely fruit, and the distinctive spice you get from cool-climate Grenache. The Windfall Farms Grenache Blanc is equally lovely, with the grape's classic citrus and green apple fruit and a pretty hint of sweet spice. It went into bottle a few weeks ago and will be included in our fall VINsider Wine Club shipments:
Lignée, if you're wondering, means "lineage" in French. So Lignée de Tablas means, in essence, the lineage of Tablas Creek. All these wines will be made exclusively from Tablas clones. For design, we're keeping with the basic look and feel of our current labels, but identifying the vineyard name and the AVA on the front label. For color scheme, instead of the gold, silver, bronze, or copper foil of our current wines, we're using a black foil that hearkens back to the Las Tablas Estates Glenrose Vineyard experiment that we released in 2002. For price, we're planning to offer the wines between what we sell our estate varietal wines for and what we charge for the Patelin de Tablas. For the Windfall Farms Grenache Blanc, that will be $35 list, with the normal wine club and case savings off that. The label (you'll have to imagine the sparkle of the black foil):
As for the wine, it's delicious. It was a favorite in our blending trials of the 2022 whites. My notes at the concluding tasting of the week were:
A pretty lifted nose nose of white pepper and citrus pith. On the palate, more citrus, with a green citrus leaf element adding complexity. With solid texture, good acids, and a little sweet spice on the finish, this should be a nice addition to the lineup!
For the 2023 vintage, we're venturing even further afield, and have been able to secure commitments from two great vineyards in the Sierra Foothills (Syrah from Shake Ridge and Grenache and Mourvedre from Fenaughty) as well as Roussanne from our friends at Zaca Mesa Vineyard down in Santa Barbara County. These are renowned vineyards whose fruit appears in some of our favorite California wines. That's one of the things I know we're all most excited about. Until this point we've set ourselves the task of exploring Paso Robles through the Rhone lens. We do that each year with our estate wines and through Patelin. But there are amazing Rhone-style vineyards all over California. When we go to Hospice du Rhone or Rhone Rangers, one of the things that is the most fun is to taste what our favorite producers from other regions are doing with these clones that we brought to America. With Lignée we'll be able to be a part of those explorations.
Still, it feels fitting that the first wine that we'll be releasing under the Lignée label will be from Paso Robles, and from Grenache Blanc. After all, Grenache Blanc is probably the biggest success story to come out of the Tablas Creek nursery. When we brought in our first vine cuttings, there wasn't a single Grenache Blanc vine planted in California. Thirty years later, it has leapfrogged both Roussanne and Marsanne to become the second-most-planted white Rhone variety in California (after Viognier) at 618 acres. It may not be a threat to knock Chardonnay off its throne any time soon, but its acreage is growing fast and its growing patterns incredibly well suited to California. We're excited that with the launch of the Lignée de Tablas we get to tell one more piece of Grenache Blanc's story.
But for us the most exciting piece of the Lignée de Tablas program is that we'll get to make new wines of place that will allow us to explore some of the other places whose wines we've long admired. There's nothing more fundamental to the lineage of Tablas Creek than that. We're looking forward to sharing these new expressions with you.