Wineries -- and visitors -- should expect months of recurring periodic closures to tasting rooms

Yesterday, our tasting room was open all day for the first time since Thursday, August 13th. We're open again today, and conditions are lovely. Tomorrow looks pretty safe. After that, well, we'll have to see. At least the heat wave that forced us to close most of last week has moved on, but there are still big fires burning to our north, and whether we'll be able to open will depend on where that smoke goes. 

Welcome to 2020. Anyone waiting for things to go back to normal may be waiting quite a while. And I'm just not sure that wine lovers -- or wineries -- have fully realized that this uncertainty is likely to be the norm, rather than the exception, for tasting room operations over the next six months and more. For our part, I'm fully expecting that we'll have to be closed at least one day a week, on average, over the next six months. Why?

First, and most importantly, COVID, which has meant that wineries in California are restricted to outdoor service only. I agree that this is by far the safest way to open. In fact, even when we could have reopened indoors we restricted ourselves to outdoor service only, because the evidence is strong that the risk of COVID transmission is very low in distanced, outdoor settings, and higher in indoor spaces, even with distancing in place. Of course, being outside means you're at the mercy of the weather. But the virus itself is a source of uncertainty; we’ve already had a few instances locally of positive COVID cases at wineries, who have had to close for stretches to make sure their team and their spaces were safe.

It's not bad, most of the time, being outside in California. It's a big reason why people live here. And we got lucky that we had a moderate summer up until the last few weeks. But the climate that allows wine grapes to ripen is sunny and often hot. We do have some control; we installed extra shade, fans, and misters, and have found that with these measures we're able to lower the temperature roughly ten degrees. Plus, we're typically a little cooler than downtown or areas further east. And we do usually get a late afternoon breeze. But still, if it’s over 100, it’s not safe for our team or pleasant for guests. So, we close early and get people on their way before the heat of the day becomes blazing. We've had to do so eight days so far in August, including a six-day stretch between August 14th and 19th. Our average in Paso is a dozen 100+ days each summer. So expect at least a few more heat-related closures before fall.

The heat wave broke late last week. Unfortunately, we’ve got big fires throughout California, producing copious smoke. A few days ago we had the worst air quality in the world. At least with the heat, we could be open in the mornings. We typically took our last appointments at noon each day. That’s a little less than half our capacity, but it’s a lot better than nothing. But with air conditions unsafe, we couldn’t open at all August 20th, 21st, and 22nd. This dramatic satellite image shows the smoke blanketing much of California late last week:

The primary culprit for our smoke is the River Fire in Monterey County to our north, which has burned some 48,000 acres since it was started by a cluster of lightning strikes a week ago. But there are fires burning all over California right now, with other big ones in Sonoma, Napa, and Santa Cruz. And I think there’s every reason to expect these to be burning for months.

Typically, wildfires in California’s forests burn until they are put out by the onset of the rainy season in early winter. Our state’s remarkable firefighters are mostly tasked with protecting structures and making sure that the fires aren’t endangering communities. Once a big fire gets going, with the accumulated fuel from California’s winter growth and exceptionally low summer humidity, it’s just too much to ask to put a fire out. And that’s true even when there are only a few fires burning. With dozens of big ones spreading resources thin, there’s no chance.

These fires were mostly started by lightning strikes from a rare summer thunderstorm week-before-last. We seem to have dodged the potential for more dry lightning overnight. But we’ve still got months before winter rains will end our fire season. Remember all those terrible California wine country fires in 2017 and 2018? Those were in October and November. It's still August. We've got a very long way to go.

Until then? We’re expecting to make day-by-day calls, informed by the local air quality, as to whether we can open for tasters. Most other California wineries will be the same. So if you’re thinking of going wine tasting, plan to check conditions. We'll be posting updates on our website each morning. If it looks like this, we won't be open. We appreciate your flexibility and patience, and promise you wouldn't want to be tasting here anyway.

Smoky skies over Tannat

The kicker? Once fire and summer heat season are over, it will be because of rain. Gentle rain can be handled with umbrellas and heaters. A Pacific storm, with heavy rain and wind? Wineries will have to close for those too. So get used to thinking about a visit to go wine tasting as like a visit to the beach. Sure, make your plans. But also plan to check local conditions in the morning. Welcome to the new (2020) normal.


When we reopen post-Coronavirus, things will look different. But safe and fun aren't mutually exclusive.

Six weeks ago, I wrote a blog thinking about what reopening might look like post-Coronavirus. At that time it seemed far away. Now, we're getting down to the details of reopening, which I'm anticipating will happen sometime in June.

[Editor's Note June 9, 2020: We have received permission from the state and county to reopen. Our first day open will be Wednesday, June 17th. Thank you for your patience!]

When I wrote that blog, three weeks into most stay-at-home orders, the idea that businesses would reopen into a very different reality hadn't hit most people yet. The hope was that we could crush the curve in a month or two, and then reopen more or less as we were before. Now nearly every state has begun reopening, to some degree at least, and California has entered stage 2 of its Resilience Roadmap. In this stage, restaurants (and wineries who serve meals) can reopen for in-person dining under distanced guidelines.

At Tablas Creek, we're not a restaurant, and don't feel it's wise for us to try to become one just to reopen a few weeks early. Food, after all, changes how wine tastes. There's a reason that professional tasters don't evaluate wines over a meal. And great food (as well as great food service) is hard, particularly if you have to provide "bona fide meals" as specified in the state protocols.

If I thought we were looking at months before we could reopen, I might evaluate, but I really do think that we're in the home stretch, and reopening tasting rooms under new safety protocols is a matter of weeks away, not months. After all, as a recent letter from CA regional wine associations to the governor points out, if serving food and wine can be done with an acceptably low level of risk, serving just wine is (if anything) safer. There's less prep, fewer utensils, less cleanup. Less to sanitize.

Outdoor tasting - Flight

We don't know exactly when that will happen. But we do know that when it does happen, we want to be ready with plans that we're confident will provide a great experience, safely. So, what can customers expect? Much of what I predicted in my April blog, but a few additional things. Here's what we're planning:

  • Tasting by appointment only, so we can regulate traffic flow, make sure that we don't have people building up in our parking lots, and be sure that we can take great care of the people who do make the journey.
  • Get to know our patio. We'll be doing all our tastings outside for at least the next few months. We have a great patio space with several shaded levels, and we're making some alterations to ensure that everyone has their own space. Why outside only? I dive into why we think that's so critical below.
  • Plenty of time between groups to clean and sanitize spaces. We're leaving roughly double the time that we figure most guests take for a tasting with us between bookings. We want to make sure we have enough time for a relaxed tasting, and to clean and sanitize spaces, with no one having to wait.
  • All seated flight tastings. We're planning tastings of six wines, which we'll serve in two flights of three. We're getting cool no-touch carriers to bring the wines to guests' tables. That way we don't need to stay in guests' space as long. That level of spacing just isn't possible across a tasting bar.
  • No groups larger than six. Large groups in and of themselves encourage people to abandon physical distancing, even if you ask them to maintain it at your facility. Plus they're inherently chaotic at the winery. I feel like this is a part of not encouraging behavior that is likely to have negative consequences.  
  • Face coverings for us, and for you until you're seated. Our team will be wearing face coverings, and we'll ask guests to as well until they're seated at their tables. We'll have disposable masks for anyone who needs one.
  • Education and health checks for our team. We're working with our team to help them monitor their own health. No one who is showing any symptoms will be allowed to come to work. We have always granted paid sick leave for our team members, so they have no economic incentive to work while they might be ill.
  • No merchandise browsing or picnicking. We'll be restricting our merchandise to a few items that we can display on the wall behind our check-out table, and then getting items from boxed stock as requested. And because we'll be using our whole patio to properly space out our tastings, we won't be able to accommodate picnicking. We apologize!

As we learn about how Covid-19 spreads, it's clear that the most important thing to avoid is creating spaces where virus particles accumulate and stay. That's why the rates of outdoor transmission are so (happily) low, particularly with distancing guidelines observed. Earlier this month I shared on Twitter this terrific piece by UMass epidemiology professor Erin Bromage. In it, he investigates where significant spread occurs and where it doesn't. Because infection becomes much more likely as sustained contact with virus particles occurs, the risks are high in enclosed indoor spaces without much fresh air flow, low elsewhere. And while I love our tasting room, and feel confident in our cleaning protocols, it's not a space I'm comfortable welcoming guests in right now. There's not a ton of air flow. It's surrounded by our cellar (a space without much air flow, for obvious reasons). We only have one door. It's just not feasible to match the level of air circulation we can get outdoors.

Fortunately, we've got our patio. We did the math and figure that we can easily seat 50 people at a time, with plenty of distance between groups. Plenty of shade (and yes, we know there will still be some hot afternoons and are installing both fixed and portable misting systems to help ameliorate this).

Outdoor tasting - View from below

On our patio, with our other safety and cleaning protocols, I feel that we can open with exceptionally low risk to our guests and team. And that's critical. This is a marathon, not a sprint. I'm expecting that we'll need to operate in a Covid-19 environment for a long time. If you feel you can operate each day 99% safely, that sounds like pretty good odds. And if you're just open a few days, that's probably OK. But if you have to be successful every day for a month, your likelihood of zero mishaps drops to 74%. If it's six months, it drops all the way to 16%. A year, and your chances are just 2.5%. That's just the relentlessness of exponential math. But it drives home what the stakes are as we contemplate how to reopen. Each additional step that we can take to reduce our risk of catching or transmitting the virus, even if it's minor and incremental, makes a big difference over time.

Outdoor tasting - tables

For years, we've gotten requests for outdoor tastings. This wasn't the situation in which I'd hoped to add them to our lineup, but I do think it's going to be a great experience for our guests, and I'm confident that we can sustain it as long as we need to, safely.

What do you think? Are you ready to go back wine tasting? And under what conditions? Are there things you're particularly concerned with? Please share in the comments.⁠


We're not about to reopen. Which means it's the right time to think about what that will look like.

Wherever you are and whatever you do for work, I hope you’re weathering the current storm OK. Here, even though as an agricultural enterprise we've been able to continue our farming and cellar work, we've had to begin reinventing how we work as a business. I feel good about the things we've added, including Instagram and Facebook live weekly broadcasts, virtual tastings over Zoom, and an increased investment in sharing what's happening here over video. We even have our own YouTube channel now.

New Tasting Room - EmptyAgricultural businesses are classified as essential, because we’re working with perishable products that often have only one harvest a year, and are the building blocks of the food and drink supply chain. But unless we want to risk infecting our workers and our customers, that status doesn't give us leave to operate as though the business environment were normal. When we were blending at Tablas Creek week-before-last, we made several changes to do what we could to minimize the risks that if one of us were infected but asymptomatic we might transmit the virus. I talked about some of those in last week's blog. With six people distributed around our big conference table, we all had plenty of space. We all pulled and washed our own glasses and dump buckets. The sample bottles were wiped down before they were poured, and only one person picked up and poured each bottle. We kept doors and windows open so there was air moving in the room. We'd all been quarantining at home the previous two weeks, and everyone was healthy. As we've started physically blending the wines, we've limited our cellar team to two people at a time.

Even as we're reevaluating how we can safely operate under current conditions, I've spent a lot of the enforced downtime thinking about how and under what conditions we and other hospitality-facing businesses will be able to reopen. At some point, the shelter at home Coronavirus restrictions will be lifted. I've come to the conclusion that it's very unlikely that we'll go back to pre-Covid status quo.

I'm clearly not the only one thinking about this. As discussions ramp up on lifting local and national restrictions, some of the heavyweights of the American business community are weighing in. The American Enterprise Institute, which you'd think would come down on the side of restarting the economy sooner than later, laid out some pretty rigorous preconditions in their report on how the economy might reopen:

"...when a state reports a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days (i.e., one incubation period); and local hospitals are safely able to treat all patients requiring hospitalization without resorting to crisis standards of care; and the capacity exists in the state to test all people with COVID-19 symptoms, along with state capacity to conduct active monitoring of all confirmed cases and their contacts."  

Similarly, JPMorgan Chase's Jamie Dimon, in the annual letter to his shareholders he published last week, predicted a complex series of events that would need to take place before the American economy could start to get back to normal, and ongoing restrictions once it does:

"It is hoped that the number of new COVID-19 cases will decrease soon and – coupled with greatly enhanced medical capabilities (more beds, proper equipment where it is needed, adequate testing) – the healthcare system is equipped to take care of all Americans, both minimizing their suffering and maximizing their chance of living. Once this occurs, people can carefully start going back to work, of course with proper social distancing, vigilant hygiene, proper testing and other precautions."

We won't be the only (or first) economy to figure out how to safely relax the restrictions that have allowed us to slow the spread of Covid-19. An article in the New York Times examined how a few European countries are going about restarting their economies. From their conclusion: “The gradual acceleration of economic activity is accompanied by strict new rules requiring people to cover their nose and mouth in shops and on public transport — and many more months of strict social distancing.

So, what will a winery tasting room look like once we can reopen, whenever that is? It won't, I don't think, look like it did over the last two decades. We will almost certainly face restrictions to the activities we can conduct, and even if we don't, we will need to operate responsibly. I'm thinking it may resemble the brief period after social distancing measures were announced but before all tasting rooms had to close. Restaurants removed tables. Our tasting room moved to tasting-by-reservation so we could keep six feet between groups. Everyone started cleaning and disinfecting much more rigorously.

This is the time, before we're faced with the imminent arrival of customers, when we should all be thinking about we can reopen safely. How many customers will we safely be able to welcome at a time? What sorts of events will we be able to hold? What will we need to do to make sure that our team is safe? I don't know, but am trying to plan for it. Assuming we'll just go back to status quo ante isn't smart.

This great article by Thomas Pueyo called "The Hammer and the Dance" was widely shared last month. We're all working on the hammer now. But there will be a longer period of the dance, where we've reopened but are constantly mitigating risks. Now seems like a good time for us all to start thinking about what that will look like, and examining the pieces of our business that will likely have to change.

I look forward to figuring this all out, as a community.


How to Help Your Favorite Wineries Survive the Coronavirus Pandemic

It's been a tough last week, on a lot of levels. Like most Americans, we've personally been adjusting to social distancing, school, and activity closures, while reevaluating our own life patterns and checking in with family members to make sure everyone is in a good place. On a business level, we've been worrying about how best to make sure we're operating in a way that is responsible while still hopefully continuing to operate, both to be able to support the great team we have working here and to be available to provide wine to our thousands of customers. We switched briefly over last weekend to tastings by-appointment-only to ensure proper distancing, and then closed our tasting room entirely this week in accordance with Governor Newsome's new directives and our own obligations (and desires) to do everything we can to slow the spread of the virus. 

Tasting Room Closed for Coronavirus

We're just one of hundreds of wineries in Paso Robles, and thousands of wineries in California, who've been navigating this new crisis. I know it's hit plenty of other industries hard. Restaurants are on the front lines. Tour companies, hotels, neighborhood shops... really the whole tourism infrastructure has been disrupted or shut down indefinitely. At the same time, the outpouring of phone calls, texts, and emails I've gotten from people has been really heartwarming. One thing so many of them have asked is "how can we help?" I've been answering everyone individually, but thought it might be timely and helpful to expand these into a blog.  

Order Wine From Us
OK, this is probably pretty self-explanatory. Wineries are seeing two of their primary revenue streams disrupted right now. Tasting room sales, the lifeblood of the majority of California wineries, are going to zero. And wholesale sales are going to be seriously impacted too, as restaurants are forced to close or toward takeout. But from what I'm hearing, people are still definitely buying wine. Who wants to be stuck at home with leisure time to plan and cook meals for several weeks without the wine to accompany them? Wine shops and grocery stores have been reporting sharply increased sales in recent weeks, and that's great. These sales do help wineries, and help keep the distribution channel functioning. But if you are able to buy directly from the wineries you patronize, that's a lot better for them. If you had to cancel a trip to wine country, consider joining a wine club or two with the money you aren't spending on hotels and travel.

Support Restaurants Who Are Staying Open by Ordering Takeout
Restaurants are the hardest-hit businesses in these socially distanced times. Some are closing entirely. But others are pivoting to offering their menu for takeout. This list includes big name restaurants that made news for doing so, like Canlis in Seattle, Spago in Beverly Hills, and Balthazar in New York. But it also includes local favorites here in Paso (each linked to their announcements or carryout menu) like The Hatch, Il Cortile, Thomas Hill Organics, BL Brasserie, and La Cosecha. Will there be enough local business to make up for all the lost visitors to the area? Almost certainly not. But we can all do our part. Many jurisdictions have also announced a new easing of rules and allowed restaurants to sell wine to go. As wine programs are typically a big piece of a restaurant's profitability, ordering wine with your gourmet to-go meal can have several benefits. It keeps restaurants going, which benefits the entire community, and it helps wineries by reducing the loss to their wholesale sales. Plus, we all want these restaurants to be open when we're out the other side of the crisis, for lots of reasons.  

Share Your Experiences and Recommendations
One of the most important things that we lose when we close our tasting rooms and cancel our events is the chance to reach new customers who don't yet know that they'd love us. You can help bridge that gap by sharing on social media the wines that you're opening at home. There's a ton of research that shows that peer-to-peer recommendations are the most trusted in this day and age. In an environment where most wineries will struggle to get in front of potential new customers, just sharing a photo of a bottle you opened and loved can mean a lot. And talking about wine encourages engagement and other people talking about wine. There's a lot of story to wine, generally more than there is to other alcoholic beverages, because wines have an association to place, and to year, that beer and liquor generally don't. Thousands of these stories would normally be told every week in tasting rooms around the state and country. Instead, start one of your own, tag your favorite winery, and see where it takes you.

Stay in Touch
I've sent two emails to our entire mailing list (37,000-plus) in the last five days, sharing the changes that we've been making here at Tablas Creek. I can't tell you how much it means that so many people have taken the time to reply to say some variation of "hang in there". I honestly wasn't expecting that, though I probably should have. We know that we're losing many of the easy ways that we have to share what's going on here and help our customers feel connected to our work, and so will be moving toward more digital ways of communication. When you see these, if you felt like participating and interacting, we'd love to know what you think. A virtual tasting? Let's try it. A live-streamed report from the blending table? We'll see. An Instagram Live vineyard walk? You bet. We're all going to be learning how to preserve social ties through a period when face-to-face contact is restricted. Wineries are no different. 

Buy Gift Cards
While most wineries are keeping their shipping departments open, not all are. And not everyone is in a place to take delivery of wine right now. Restaurants and local shops are in even tougher positions. Buying gift cards right now, and redeeming them when the crisis is over, is a way of helping these small, local businesses survive a period of zero foot traffic. 

Self-Isolate
Mostly, though, the best thing that you can do for us is to take these restrictions seriously so that we can get through to the other side of this without major breakdowns of our health care system and our economy. If you have the choice, please be serious and conscientious about your isolating and your virus spread mitigation. I'm not going to repeat the whole list that begins with washing your hands a lot and not spending time around other people if you're sick. But it's all true, and the extent to which we all make the changes we're told are important will make a meaningful difference not just in the societal response to this pandemic, but to how fast we can all safely get back to our raising a glass... together.


Sustainability Matters: We ditched the plastic water bottle. And so should you.

By Leslie Castillo

[Editor's Note: With this blog, we're launching a the new blog series "Sustainability Matters", written by Leslie Castillo. In addition to her responsibilities as a team lead in the tasting room, she is our point person on a major waste-reduction initiative we began at Tablas Creek late last year.]

Have you been to our tasting room? If you have, you’ve probably seen and enjoyed the complimentary cool, fresh water we provide in reusable stainless steel canteens. Our guests are welcome to enjoy this water while they are visiting; we ask that they return the canteens when they're done. And most people do. We often receive comments from our first-time visitors expressing what a genius idea it is to provide water in reusable canteens instead of single-use plastic bottles, and that they wish more other places adopted it. To us, finding alternatives to plastic is more common sense than genius.

Canteens 2017

Ever since we opened our doors to the public in 2002 we have made sure water is provided to our guests. That's an essential accommodation for any business serving wine and a common courtesy for a winery like us who wants to get our guests out to see how grapes are grown in an often warm, dry climate. In our first few years, we hosted tastings in a smaller tasting room at the western edge of our winery, and used 5-gallon reusable water jugs. But as our traffic increased, and we got more demand for water to take out on tours, we switched to a more convenient alternative: plastic bottles with our logo on the label. From June 2007 to June of 2011 we purchased one pallet of single-use water bottles roughly every five and a half weeks. Each pallet had 84 cases, and each case had 24 bottles, which meant we were going through some 19,000 bottles per year.

That summer, our General Manager Jason Haas had the common-sense idea to replace the single-use plastic bottles to the reusable stainless steel canteens we offer now. I asked him why, and he said "it always made me a little queasy seeing the pallets of water arrive, and knowing that we had a hand in creating demand for all this plastic. It seemed like there had to be a better way. When I came up with the idea of the stainless steel canteens, I kicked myself for not having thought of it earlier." This decision turned out to be good for our bottom line as well as for the environment. We lose between 5% and 7% of the canteens. They cost roughly four times what a plastic water bottles cost. The cost of the water filtration station and the labor to sterilize and refill the empty canteens each morning have been modest. So, we figure we've reduced the cost of providing water to our guests by some 75%. And the reduction in the amount of plastic waste we were producing has been dramatic. That was important even when the plastic that we were collecting was being recycled. With recent changes to the international plastic recycling supply chain it's even more so.

You may assume that plastics thrown into your recycling bin end up reprocessed into a new material. New research (and changes to international trade) suggest that's largely not the case. In fact, worldwide, 91% of plastics are not recycled. For the last 30 years, most of the plastic waste the US and many other countries produced was exported to China to be recycled. But as of January of 2018 China stopped importing all plastic waste from residential collection. This means China went from being the main world’s plastic waste recycler to only buying plastics that are 99.5% pure, this means 99.5% clean, free of contaminants like left over food, liquid, grease, etc. As a consequence, bales of plastic waste began to pile up around the world, from Japan to the UK, Germany, Australia, and yes, the United States.

140108-plastic-1955-peter-stackpoleIt's not like things are likely to get better soon, either. Most consumer plastics today have no market value in the recycling industry, and virgin plastic is cheaper than its recycled version. Single-use plastic is everywhere, from the grocery store to the shopping mall to the fast-food restaurant. And yet, we don't have to go back that far in history to find a culture that didn't embrace a throw-away lifestyle. If we look back at the World War II era, thriftiness was encouraged. People collected metal to be melted into bullets. But the years following the end of WWII were an era of economic growth and prosperity in the US, and the focus on consumer products was ease of use. A sign when the society began to switch from a thrift based model to a throw-away model is an article published in August 1955 by LIFE Magazine that includes a remarkable image by Peter Stackpole of Getty Images (right) of a couple and their child throwing disposable plates and other food ware up in the air. The title of the article is “Celebrating Throw-away Living”. 

It's easy to understand why plastic became popular. It is easy to mold into different textures and shapes, can be flexible like a plastic bag or rigid like the keyboard I’m using to type this blog post, it is impermeable so it can serve as a barrier for oxygen and bacteria, and it is cheap to produce. Plastic is also extremely durable: so durable that it lasts essentially forever. It seems crazy that a material that lasts forever is the underpinning of single-use products that are meant to be thrown away!

Plastic does not biodegrade. It fragments into smaller pieces instead called microplastics, fragments 5mm or smaller. These fragments are now permeating our oceans to the point that they can reasonably be called the smog of the sea. These small plastic particles are ingested by ocean animals, from the smallest fish in the sea to huge filter-feeding whales. This is an environmental crisis. It's also a social justice crisis, and I’ll explain why.

According to 5 Gyres, a California-based organization that fights global plastic pollution in our oceans, in the US an average of 3 million water bottles are used per hour, a number that has continued to grow despite well-publicized city bans of single-serve bottled water and the faltering recycling system. Since the January 2018 China plastic ban, cities like Memphis, Tennessee and Deltona, Florida have stopped their recycling programs. Earlier this year, RePlanet, the biggest recycling center in California, went out of business, shutting down all of its 284 centers because there is too much plastic waste and not nearly enough infrastructure to reprocess plastic into new materials. The accumulating plastic waste is either going into landfills or oceans, or being incinerated, adding to climate change worries and adding air pollution disproportionately in majority-Latino and black communities.

Leslie with water bottle

So, what to do? First, recognize the scale of the problem. Plastic bottles are the number two in the top five single-serve disposable items. Maybe switching to reusable steel canteens instead of the single-use plastic bottle at a single winery in California seems insignificant, but over the eight and a half years since we made the switch, we've saved the production of more than 161,000 plastic bottles. Every reduction of 1000 bottles reduces demand by 40 gallons of oil and eliminates the release of 142 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere. And that's just the production. The reprocessing or destruction of these bottles requires additional resources and releases additional pollutants and greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. We are just one of more than seven million businesses in California. Imagine if one in ten found a similar area where they could make a change that reduced their waste and helped their bottom line. If more and more people set aside a little bit of convenience to begin practicing more sustainable ways of water consumption, perhaps sooner than later our culture will begin to see throw-away as what used to be the norm. Think of other norms that have changed surprisingly rapidly, like smoking in restaurants, bars, and airplanes.

I’m curious to know if any of you readers who live in areas where recycling has been suspended. How has this impacted your community? Have you made any changes in the way you consume? And, most importantly, have you come up with any great ideas that deserve to be more widely adopted?


Thirsty for a bit of history: The Wine of the Popes

[Editor's Note: With this blog, we're launching a the new blog series "Stories from the Tasting Room", written by the talented Evelyne Fodor. Evelyne was born and raised in Lyon, France, holds a PhD in French and Francophone Studies from UCLA, and still teaches for UCLA online. She has been one the leaders in the Tablas Creek tasting room since 2014.]

By Evelyne Fodor

The other day a young couple stopped at the winery for a tasting.  Timothy and Cassandra, as they introduced themselves, were from Silver Lake, a hidden Los Angeles neighborhood that attracts creative people and foodies. My guests fell in both categories. “Timothy is a TV writer and I am a private chef” Cassandra told me.  Timothy had an unusual request. “I am reading this book about a troubled gentleman, confined in a hotel, who found solace in drinking the “Wine of the Pope.” The allusion to the New York Times bestseller, A Gentleman in Moscow, did not escape me. The main character, Count Roskov, a wine connoisseur, was a big fan of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.  “How is Tablas Creek related to Châteauneuf-du-Pape?” he asked.   Of all the things that makes our story so compelling, our connection with an ancient village in Southern Rhône is the one that excites me.  The name transports you not only to another time and place, it also evokes a turbulent time in the Catholic Church history, the birth a wine dynasty family, an iconic bottle, and the inspiration for our flagship wine Esprit de Tablas.

CNP blog PIC ClementChâteauneuf-du-Pape means “Pope’s new castle,” I told Timothy. In the 14th century, I continued, just before the Great Schism the newly elected Pope was a Frenchman from Bordeaux by the name of Clément V (pictured left).  As historians told us, Pope Clément chose to not move to Rome for security reasons. Instead he brought the Papal court to the walled city of Avignon, at the time a property of the Roman Church.  Clément V, it is also said, was an avid wine drinker who preferred to stay close to his estate which he personally managed.  The estate was a few kilometers north of Avignon in an ancient village known for its soil, Châteauneuf-Calcernier, named after a nearby limestone quarry.

I started the tasting with our 2016 Grenache Blanc, a perfect wine for a day like today, when Timothy interrupted me. “It’s a lovely wine, great acidity! Tell me more about the Castle.” Clearly Timothy was enjoying the unexpected history tasting so I continued. The next Pope, by the name of Jean XXII, also French, also a wine lover, built a home among the vineyards of Châteauneuf-Calcernier, as a summer residence to escape the heat of Avignon.  Then six successive French Popes kept their residence in Avignon, spending time in the vineyards of Pope Clément, expanding the home started by Jean XXII.  The Papacy remained in Avignon until the last French Pope, Gregory XI, decided to return to Rome. It came to a bad end for the last Pope, but the legend of the “Vin du Pape”, as it became known, had begun.

CNP blog PIC villageI was now pouring the 2016 Cotes de Tablas, boasting the characteristics of my favorite grape, Grenache, when Timothy signaled again, he was ready for a bit more of history. “So how did the Beaucastel family became involved with the Wine Pope?” It came later I answered. The Popes had already returned to Rome when Pierre de Beaucastel, a Huguenot living in a village nearby, bought a barn with a plot of land. In those days, if a Protestant agreed to convert to Catholicism, in return King Louis XIV would give him the right to collect taxes from the local people.  It is with this money that Pierre built his house.  In recognition of his status and conversion to Catholicism after the revocation of the Edict de Nantes, he was appointed “Captain of the town” by the King and became known as Noble Pierre de Beaucastel.  The Beaucastel family went on to become one of the most prestigious families in Châteauneuf-du-Pape region, and their estate has now been owned and run by the Perrin family for five generations.  

CNP blog PIC bottle“There is a scene in A Gentleman in Moscow, where Count Rosko is in the cellar of the Metropol Hotel where thousands of bottles of wines had their labels removed” Timothy said, “but Count Rosko was able to single out a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. How was that possible?” Clearly, Timothy had never seen a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. "If you remember the scene," I told him, "Count Rosko was lingering his fingers on the bottles." In our seating room we have a picture of a vintage bottle of Château de Beaucastel. "Here it is," I told Timothy. You can see and feel the inscription "Châteauneuf-du-Pape contrôlé" embossed in Gothic letters. The Coat of Arms symbolizes a Papal tiara placed above the keys of St. Peter, or as Francois Perrin, our French partner from Beaucastel once told me “the keys to Paradise”.

I could tell Timothy’s excitement when I finally introduced him to our flagship blend 2016 Esprit de Tablas. “So, this is the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine?” he asked, starring at our own embossed logo, a nod to Châteauneuf-du-Pape Coat of Arms.  "It’s as close as you can get in this part of the world," I told him.  "But as Jason Haas made it clear in his blog, Esprit de Tablas is 'an inspiration, not a copy.' Esprit means 'Spirit' after the Châteauneuf-du-Pape of Beaucastel.”

When the tasting was completed, Timothy joined our VINsider Collector’s Edition, “to get as many older Esprit de Beaucastel and Esprit de Tablas vintages I can put my hands on.” And with that, Cassandra had one final question: “What should I pair the wine with?” Timothy winked at me. We both knew the answer. “A bouillabaisse, bien sûr”, as per Count Roskov’s recommendation. 


From Temecula to Tannat: a Q&A with Misty Lies, New Tasting Room Team Lead

By Linnea Frazier

Continuing our Interview Series with members of our Tablas Creek Crew, we would like to introduce you to our new Tasting Room Sales Lead, Misty Lies.

She not only makes certain things don't get out of hand in the tasting room, but she also is a successful mother of two children as well as the mama to us all in the front of the house. 

Plus, she's not only our recently promoted, kickass new sales lead, but she can also quite literally kick your butt. I’m not joking; the woman is trained in Krav Maga and tells the story of her making a citizens arrest with glee. Facing down a rowdy bachelorette party in the tasting room? No contest.

Misty came onto our team Spring of last year, and if you have come out and tasted with us since then, odds are you’ve seen her behind one of our bars hoarding all the Tannat. I sat down with her recently to ask about her journey to Tablas Creek.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in La Jolla, but I grew up in Encinitas. Before my husband and I moved up here I was down in Temecula.

What drew you to Central California?

My husband is a firefighter and so we moved up here for that. Truthfully it wasn’t wine!

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How did you first hear about Tablas Creek?

I drove by it all the time and I would ask my friends what Rhone wines were. And nobody knew even though we were already drinking them, like Syrah’s and GSM’s! Apparently I loved Rhones before I even knew what they were, which is what I think a lot of California wine drinkers do. I started talking to John (our Tasting Room Manager) back and forth, and I told him I had retail experience with Williams-Sonoma and tasting room experience for an olive oil company, and was interested in the wine industry. In my interview he asked me what I knew about wine and I told him that, “I know I like to drink it.” I figured what better way to learn about wine than to work in it?

[When I asked John about Misty, he said, "Misty is a tremendous worker, has great character, and takes great care in everything she does.  I sensed all of these traits in her interview, and thought that even though she didn’t have experience in the business, her interest in and love of wine combined with her character would make her a great fit here at Tablas Creek.  She has been everything I hoped for and more."]

What is your role at the winery?

I was working part-time in the tasting room as a pourer because my husband Nate and I were preparing to move up to Monterey, but now that is no longer occurring so I’m staying at Tablas and they offered me a tasting room lead position! I believe in making a connection with the people you’re talking to on the other side of the bar, that’s what makes them want to come back at the end of the day. Plus, I used to teach special education down in Temecula and now I’m still doing what I love which is teaching, but now it’s about wine.

What’s your biggest challenge as Tasting Room Sales Lead?

Making sure people get to where they need to be when they walk through the door. It’s up to us to get them to a bar and proceed with a tasting and when things get crazy in the tasting room it’s easy to get distracted.

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

No official comment on the Temecula wine scene, even though I lived there for years. But I really love what they do at Brecon, not to mention they throw a heck of a pickup party. Lone Madrone is always fun, plus there’s the fact they have Tannat.

Misty and family 2.5

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

Tannat… well duh. But the new Cotes Rouge is awesome and I tried a 2013 at our pizza making party, and now there’s no going back. In terms of whites I would have to say just genuinely all Rhone whites. They’re so different than any whites we’ve grown up thinking about. I only drank reds before I came here and now helloo Picpoul!

You are quite the accomplished chef, do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?

I’ve been really into paella recently. There are so many of our whites that go with that. The Esprit Blanc goes wonderfully, and is so versatile because of its creaminess.

How do you like to spend your days off?

Planning the next adventure. Life is all about seeing everything and tasting everything you possibly can. You should always ask yourself, “What haven’t I done yet?”

What would people be surprised to know about you?

Well if I ever won the lotto I would want to buy socks for all the homeless, because there’s nothing quite like a new pair of socks.

What is one of your favorite memories here?

The tasting room pizza making class was awesome. But it’s like a family here in general. We look after one another and get excited for each other. And that sense of whole is what makes me excited to come to work. I get to talk to the people I work with but I also get to talk with the people who walk through the door.

How do you define success?

Success is doing something you like doing, because if you have fun doing it, then it’s not a job. And it’s also not about having all the money in the world, it’s about having an adventure along the way. Because the more money you make the more money you spend.

If you're as in love with her as we are (and want to pick her brain about the homeless sock answer), stop by our tasting room and she'll have you chuckling in no time. 


The Man Behind the Forklift: Q&A With Assistant Tasting Room Manager Charlie Chester

By Suphada Rom

Always on the go with a task list that extends beyond the length of your forearm, Charlie Chester has a diverse role here at Tablas Creek. From curating a collector's tasting for enthusiastic guests to transferring pallets of wine to keep the tasting room stocked, Charlie does it all- while also juggling the his son Brandon, now age two.

Charlie New
Charlie in our new seated flight tasting room

How did you learn about Tablas Creek?
I was a wine club member before I was an employee. I visited the winery in 2011, right after the new tasting room was finished. I was on my way back from an extended ski season up north in Truckee and I wanted to pick up my wine club shipment. I was enjoying the new tasting room, newly released wines while chatting with John (Tasting Room Manager).  I mentioned I was interested in working for Tablas Creek and he invited me back for an interview.  The rest, as they say, is history!

Why did you choose to join the Wine Club at Tablas Creek?
Before I worked for Tablas Creek I was working in the limousine industry, chauffeuring people around Paso Robles, I got to see it all. I really enjoyed visiting the different tasting rooms, observing like a fly on the wall. After visiting a winery more than once, I could gauge for consistency both in quality of wine and customer service. Tablas Creek stood out as having unique, consistently high quality wines plus their staff was always super friendly.  The tasting room staff would go out of their way to show you something special and share their passion for the wines and the story. 

John and Charlie
Charlie (left) with Tasting Room Manager John Morris

What do you think is special about Tablas Creek?
I like being part of something that is on the cutting edge of Rhone wines in California. I remember the first time I had Counoise on it's own, bottled varietally, and I thought that was really great. To be able to share these unique wines that are normally only found in blends one of my favorite things we do here.  Last year we introduced Terret Noir and Clairette Blanche to the U.S and Paso Robles... how great is that?!

Your title here is Assistant Tasting Room Manager and Logistics- what does a typical day look like for you?
I help things runs smoothly both in the tasting room and in our wine inventory. During the busy season we can have multiple tour groups, tastings, private tastings, group tastings- I help to make sure everyone has a good experience and all positions are staffed appropriately. We have a jigsaw puzzle-ish library storage area that I am constantly moving and shuffling wine around in. I also like driving the forklift around!

What is your most memorable experience here at Tablas?
Oh man, last summer we had some fun with the sheep!  That was crazy. We were finally heading home after a busy day in the tasting room when I noticed our herd of sheep on the road!  We had to get them back on the property so my first instinct was to try to corral them back in and out of the road, so I grabbed a bucket of sweet feed (a mix of grain and molasses the animals go crazy for!). That usually works to lure them in. While I drove the gator, a few other tasting room team members were doing their best herd them. It took us about 2 hours to finally get the sheep in their pen. 

Escaped Herd
Herding the escaped animals

When it comes to running the tasting room, what is your work philosophy?
I want to make sure everyone is happy and taken care of.  In the tasting room there's always something exciting to share with new guests, from someone who, say, knows the tasting room as it stands today, to someone who first tasted with Bob [Haas, our founder] "off of two barrels and a plank in the cellar". 

What's your favorite thing about your job here?
I enjoy the diversity of things that I get to do in the winery and on the property from taking care of the animals to driving forklifts and moving wine....All of it's awesome!

When you're not working, what are you doing?
Spending time with my son, Brandon. He's two. Hanging out with friends, grabbing a beer and tacos, going to the beach. Go wine tasting! 

Finally, how do you define success?
Happiness!! Work isn't as meaningful if you don't believe in what you're doing and if you're not happy doing it.

Charlie and Brandon_edit
Charlie with son Brandon and father Charles Sr.

Elevating the experience: introducing seated flight tastings at Tablas Creek

By Linnea Frazier

Here at Tablas Creek it’s been a busy start to 2018. With winter pruning almost over and bottling season well under way, the vineyard and cellar have been a constant hive of motion. Not to mention preparing our spring wine club shipments for release in mid-March as well (pro-tip: the Vermentino this year is insane). But maybe most exciting development is a new way to experience our wines in our tasting room; with a seated flight tasting.

For a long time, the tasting room experience didn't change much. You belly up to the bar, your server gives you a little history of the winery and pours you the first wine, and you move on down the tasting list. Some wineries offer you the ability to customize the list, or ask you to pick a few from a larger selection. But the basic experience stayed more or less the same. Sometimes, that's exactly what you want: a chance to taste through a range of wines, to chat with a knowledgeable pourer, and to learn a little about the history and background of the winery you're visiting.

But for a while now we've felt that we wanted to also offer a more in-depth, more focused experience. I asked Jason Haas what his thinking was and here's how he explained it:

"Wine is enriched by context. What I mean by that is that wines, at their best, provide a window into the place and year in which they were grown, and into the people who made them.  One of the best ways to learn about wines is to be able to go back and forth between two or three wines that share something in common -- maybe a grape, maybe a vintage, maybe a winemaking treatment -- and use what's similar about the wines to highlight what is different. That's rarely possible in a standard tasting room setting, because you're tasting the wines in sequence. We're excited to start offering flight tastings, which include multiple vintages of our Esprit de Tablas wines, to give our guests the opportunity to experience Tablas Creek's wines in a more curated environment."

Flights are nothing new to the wine world, but it was important for us to not lose our personal touch that is part of our tasting room’s pouring style. We spent last six weeks remodeling the smaller tasting room (to the left, as you walk in) into the chamber that it is now, with three small tables for two or four people, and one larger communal table for groups of up to eight. Not only are you seated at your leisure but you also have a full hour to contemplate, compare, and contrast the six wines we will place in front of you. For the warmer months to come we also have the option for you to enjoy your flight outside on a private patio, to better appreciate that California sun from the safety of our veranda.

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To start, we've designed three separate flights for you: a Classic, a Reds-only, and a Whites-only. Each was created in order to highlight not only our Rhone blends but also some of the smaller production and wine club wines that we produce.

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The three-vintage vertical of our flagship Esprit that you can see in the reds-only flight had me particularly purring.

Although we will be pouring you your flight at the outset of your tasting, and we have prepared detailed folios with everything from the history of the winery to how the wines were made, this doesn't mean you'll be left on your own. The dedicated hosts in our new flight room will act as your guide through the experience, adding context and background, answering questions, and customizing your wines based on what you're most interested in seeing. Don’t be surprised if he or she pulls up a chair at one point or another!

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Reservations are strongly recommended, although if we have free space available we will do our best to accommodate walk-ins. Flight tastings are $25 per person ($10 for wine club members), fee waived with a $75 purchase. Because of our seating constraints, this experience is limited to groups of 8 or fewer. For more information or to reserve a time, go to tablascreek.com/visiting and if you have questions, please email visit@tablascreek.com.  And if you've had similar experiences you've loved at other wineries, please let us know in the comments. We're actively soliciting ideas and feedback.


New World meets Old World: Q&A with Evelyne Fodor, Tasting Room Lead

By Linnea Frazier

If you have ever visited the Tablas Creek tasting room, it is more than likely that you are familiar with Evelyne Fodor. We hear, again and again, that you cannot help but fall in love with the world she creates, and with her velvet French accent. She is also in charge of the merchandise of our tasting room as well as the training of our new tasting room associates. 

Not only could I listen to her speak about wine for hours, but (needless to say) she is also my go-to for not screwing up the pronunciation on our more obscure varietals.  One of the first things she ever told me was that wine is “pure emotion. It is about the relationship that you have with not only your glass but from the place the wine came from. Don’t ever forget that.”

I caught up with Evelyne recently to ask her about her journey from Lyon, in the Rhone Valley, to Paso Robles.

Evelyne Fodor pic

Where were you born and raised?

I grew up in Lyon, France. Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France and is also conveniently located between the Beaujolais and Rhone regions, which are the wines I grew up drinking. I moved to Los Angeles after meeting my husband in the South of France and became fascinated with Paso Robles while visiting winemaker friends. In 2012 we decided to take the leap and sold our house in LA and moved to Paso.

Tell me about how you started working at Tablas.

Just a few weeks after moving to Paso, a sommelier friend from NYC came to Paso to visit wineries in the area and I went along with her. She had a long list of wineries on her agenda, one of which was Tablas. We came and did a Collector’s Tasting. At the end of it we were both so charmed that my friend ended up joining the club and I applied for a position in the tasting room that very night.

What is your role here at Tablas?

I serve as a wine consultant and Tasting Room Sales Lead. My role is to bring my wine expertise, my educational skills, and sales experience to promote our wines. Recently, I also took over responsibility of tasting room merchandise as well.

How would you describe the style of what we offer here at Tablas in terms of merchandising?

I have the opportunity to shop and select merchandise that reflects the integrity and style of our brand.  That’s why we promote local artists such as Heidi Petersen and her beautiful organic pottery, the eco-friendly Tablas branded clothing from Patagonia or our French influences with books by French-American cookbook writer Pascale Beale, Patrick Comiskey’s American Rhône, and an assortment of books on our Châteauneuf-du-Pape origins.  I also have introduced unique French manufacturers including Gien tableware and fabrics from Le Jaquard Francais, high quality, distinctive gifts that pair well with our own Tablas wines.


Evelyne Merchandising Pic Edit
What do you think is a great visitor experience?

I like to remind visitors that while wine can be complex and intimidating, its focus is all about the good things in life; good food, great company, and wonderful memories.

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

Locally, I am a huge a fan of Lone Madrone.  Here again Neil Collins delivers wines that are unique and distinctive; characteristically balanced with structure and finesse.  I especially like his take on Nebbiolo and Chenin Blanc.  I also recently had two very interesting tasting room experiences outside the Paso area.  I found the staff very engaging at The Ojai Vineyard and immensely enjoyed a food and wine pairing at Ridge Vineyard.  These wineries and their wines have in common with Tablas integrity and craftsmanship.

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

For the red, I would pick Terret Noir.  We served it at our tasting room’s pizza party last week and I was in awe.  I found the wine elusive, mysterious and hugely attractive, very different from my typical red experience.  For a white wine, I would select a Picpoul Blanc which I love to pair with roasted root vegetables, perfect for this time of year.  

You are quite the accomplished chef, do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?

I grew up eating Mediterranean food usually paired with a Côtes du Rhône.  A roasted chicken with herbes de provence and a ratatouille, paired with our Cotes de Tablas, is so beautiful and perfect it’s my go to dish for an easy dinner with friends.

How do you spend your days off?

I teach French online for UCLA graduate students. I also experiment at producing my own wine [Author's note: I’ve tried one of her GSM’s and I can attest to their ability to leave you speechless]. I am also a voracious reader and lately my reading is all about wine. I am currently reading American Rhone, by Patrick J. Comiskey, an exploration of how the Rhone movement started in California.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

One of the first classes I took when I returned to UCLA for my Ph.D. was an accent reduction class in which I failed miserably.  I ended up with the worst grade of my entire academic career.

What is one of your favorite memories here?

Oh I have so many.  But one of my best happened on a Saturday afternoon in the tasting room.  I was pouring for a group of nine members of a chorus specialized in the singing of ancient Gregorian chants. I was explaining the complexity, balance and creativity of our blends using the analogy of music which led to an impromptu live performance.  Needless to say, it was a magic moment for both guests and staff alike.  

How do you define success?

For me, success is about reinventing yourself and becoming who you want to be. Reinventing yourself can sometimes be a conscious move, or it can be something you just stumble upon. I was lucky to stumble on Tablas. Being immersed in the world of wine is one of the most rewarding things I have yet to do.