Highlights from 1000 Blog Posts... and a Thank You

In November of 2005 I kicked off the Tablas Creek blog with a brief post that included a pretty autumn vineyard scene and a plan: that we'd "share thoughts and insights on the state of Paso Robles, Rhone varietals, California, and the wine business in general." I would not have given you very good odds that I'd still have been working on the blog seventeen years later. And probably even longer odds that we'd make it to 1,000 posts or over one million lifetime page views. But when I logged on to the blog earlier this week, this is what greeted me:

Tablas Blog at 1000 posts

In celebration, I thought I'd do a little looking back: at posts that were milestones for one reason or another, and at a few of the lessons I feel like we've learned from doing this one (ulp) thousand times. In chronological order:

First post that I'd be proud to publish today: Corks and Screwcaps: Not an open and shut case (July 2007)
It took me a while to find my footing as a blog writer. Some of that was stylistic (You need to write in first person. You need to be conversational.) but just as much was finding topics worth diving in deep on. Sure, the seasonal pieces about what's going on in the vineyard and winery are the bread and butter for a reader who wants to feel like they're inside our world. But those pieces are also ephemeral, and beyond a "hey good luck with the coming heat wave" or similar wish, don't elicit a lot of comments or have much value to revisit. With this 2007 blog on the cork-screwcap debate, I hit on a formula that would prove to be one I'd come back to again. Take a discussion going on in wine circles, share the results that we'd seen based on our in-house experiments, and try to come to a more nuanced conclusion than what I'd been reading out in the blogosphere. The result was a post that got picked up in an Eric Asimov New York Times column, accumulated 15 comments (more than double the total number of comments the blog had received to date), and still holds up today.

Blog with the most unexpected and helpful feedback: In Search of a Green(er) Wine Bottle (January 2010)
Using a blog to ask your customers what they want seems like a no-brainer. And so it turned out to be early in 2010 when we had come to the conclusion that our short-lived move to heavy wine bottles had been a mistake. Neil and I thought that what we were looking for was a lighter version of the big, impressive bottle that we'd settled on a few years before. But after sharing our thinking in this blog (and on our social media channels) we realized that we'd been thinking about it backwards and not giving our customers enough credit. I was expecting to get a balance of "we love the look and feel of the bigger bottle" and "please be more environmentally conscious". Instead, the overwhelming feedback we got was some variation of "please just give me a light, straightforward bottle that fits in my wine rack and doesn't give me a hernia when I have to lift a full case". We moved our entire production to one of the lightest Burgundy-shaped bottled on the market and have saved more than a million and a half pounds of glass from being made into bottles over the last dozen years. Thank you, Tablas Creek readers.   

Blog with the longest useful life: Investigating an Attempted Wine Scam (June 2011)
Like any other product, wine attracts its share of scammers. But unlike most other products, the shipping rules (particularly international shipping rules) around wine are so convoluted that even a normally skeptical business owner can fall for a scam email and end up out thousands in bogus shipping fees. Rather than just deleting one such email, I decided to publish it, explain what it was hoping to accomplish, and break down what gave it away as a scam. It turned out that I was one of hundreds (or thousands) of wine people to get this email, and I heard from many of them in the comments who'd gotten suspicious and discovered my piece through a Google search. And then something fun happened. Each few years, as the scammers updated their names and approach, people would find the blog and share who the scam emails were purportedly from and post updated language. That continued all the way through 2020, a total of 33 comments, and I still see in the blog traffic data that this post gets hit at least a few times a week. So what began as a blog ended up as a sort of community bulletin board where the wine community banded together to create an anti-scammer resource. So cool. 

My favorite story I've ever told: A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek (May 2012)
What are the odds that Cesar Perrin and I, out at dinner together, would discover a bottle of the 1967 wine that marked the first-ever Haas-Perrin collaboration? Well, we did, and I was able to speak with my dad and track it through the years. Just an amazing and lovely coincidence that produced one of my favorite blogs to research, write, share, and re-read.

Best advice to wineries: Nine lessons the Kimpton Hotel Group offers wineries (May 2012)
I think that every writer needs to answer the question, "who am I writing for". It doesn't need to be a single audience; I know for example that we have winery folks, sommeliers, writers, and wine lovers who subscribe to this blog. But I decided pretty early on that writing a series for other winery folks, sharing what we'd learned about everything from grapegrowing to marketing to hospitality and winemaking, was a great way to start conversations and build our relationships in the community. It also offered the wine lovers in our audience a glimpse behind the curtain, so to speak, of winery life, which I found they appreciated. Some of these pieces were narrowly targeted (i.e. Making the most of time in the market or A Winery Blog. Who Needs It?) but I think that the most interesting entries in this series looked outside the world of wine and shared what I had learned from other companies I admired. There's a little nostalgia for me in reading this blog now that Kimpton has been bought by IHG. I stayed at the Hotel Monaco in Seattle earlier this fall, and while they've tried to keep a certain individuality in this and other signature Kimpton properties, it's not the same. Ownership changes matter. And there's a lesson for wineries in that too.  

Best advice to consumers: When wine tasting, step away from the carafe (November 2012)
In one of my favorite early entries, on learning how to blog, I suggest that prospective bloggers to use the blog to answer the questions they get every day. I still think that's rock-solid advice, and try to note when I've gotten a particular question from consumers multiple times that it's time to blog about it. Even better is to try to come up with some empirical evidence to support the answer you provide. In this piece, after having consumer after consumer come up to me at a wine tasting after rinsing their glasses out with the chlorinated water pitchers placed around the event space, I decided to try to figure out just how much that residual water was likely to change the experience of the wine. If you haven't read the piece before, I'm guessing you'll be surprised how big the impact can be.

Best use of a 60-year career in wine: When Terroir Was a Dirty Word (May 2013)
I could have picked any one of a dozen pieces that my dad wrote, sharing his decades of experience in the business of wine as a retailer, wholesaler, importer, and vintner. But this one stood out to me because of how much it upends conventional wisdom. I have a vivid memory of him strolling into my office, eyes twinkling, visibly pleased with himself for having unearthed this tidbit. I hope that I have the same delight in the new discoveries I make when I'm in my mid-80s, and the joy, vision, and health to inspire people as long as he did. On a related note, if you haven't read the appreciation of his life that I wrote after he died in 2018, it's here. I still miss him, and am grateful to have the chance to relive my time with him through the 30+ pieces he wrote.

Best tie-in with current events: State of the Union, Wine Shipping Edition (January 2015)
I always enjoy diving into the intersection of wine and law. Because the 21st Amendment (which repealed Prohibition) gives states wide leeway to regulate alcohol within their borders, there's a wider range of regulatory statues in place than for almost any other product type. Many of these statutes were written by (or with the encouragement of) state-licensed liquor wholesalers, whose interests are usually in protecting themselves from competition. This also makes them relatively fertile ground for "sunshine" journalism, where a little public light shined on a backroom pocket-lining arrangement can have an impact. If you can do it with some humor so much the better. Direct shipping of alcohol is the wine/law intersection that has seen the most interest and the most movement in recent decades. In this piece, I dove into the patchwork of laws regulating winery shipping, dividing up states into tiers and putting numbers on the costs. I even had a hook to tie it to: the impending January 2015 State of the Union Address. I was pleased I was able to make it all work, and know at least in one case where the publication of this piece played a role in the changing of a state's statute.

Favorite rant: Customer Disservice: Nine Lessons from a Terrible Hertz Experience (June 2015)
I appreciate a good rant. But the key to making one valuable, I think, comes with tying more generally applicable lessons to the frustration that made the experience rant-worthy. I was able to turn what felt like the longest 45 minutes of my life into nine lessons that a winery could use to evaluate their own operations. I even managed to incorporate a relevant Seinfeld clip, which it seems I'm physically incapable of not watching each time I revisit the blog. 

Prettiest collection of photographs: Paso Robles is Absurdly Beautiful Right Now (January 2019)
A blog is a great place to share pictures of what's going on at the vineyard and winery. I try to do that in every piece, and vineyards are beautiful enough places that 306 of the 1000 posts carry the Pretty Pictures tag. But there are also posts where the photographs, rather than illustrating the text, become the main event. Here in Paso Robles, it seems that it's the moments when we actually have moisture in the air that I find the most beautiful. I'd arrived at the vineyard that morning to find fog lifting over the newly-green vineyard, and still don't think I've ever had a better day taking pictures here.

Best pandemic idea: The vineyard in January, from four perspectives (January 2021)
The pandemic gave me the time and space (and the necessity, given how many other marketing avenues had shut down) to refocus on our blog, and I feel that the roughly year between March 2020 and February 2021 produced the best sustained writing in its history. Nearly a dozen of these dealt directly with the challenges of the pandemic and reopening, and I'm proud of the information that we gathered and shared to help the wine community make good choices. But the forced time in town and at home also produced deep dives into grape histories (explorations of the California trajectories of Syrah and of Mourvedre were two of the hardest blogs to leave out of this highlight list) and this family-focused photo essay. Around the 2021 holidays, with travel off the table, we decided as a family that each member would get to choose four activities, two inside and two outside, for us to do as a group. No one got veto power, so the idea was to get everyone out of their comfort zone a little. One of my choices was to have everyone explore the vineyard and take photos from their perspectives. So in this piece, you get not just my view of Tablas Creek, but that of my wife Meghan and our two boys, Eli (15 at the time) and Sebastian (13). Seeing a familiar place through new eyes is always a treat.

Most impactful blog on our own decision-making: A Winery Carbon Footprint Self-Assessment: Why I Can't Give Us an "A" Despite All Our Progress (May 2021)
I've tried to share our pursuit of greater sustainability on the blog, and to be transparent about where we think we're doing well and where we're struggling. I believe that this transparency is a part of why members of our community look to us as leaders in this space. So when I discovered a 2011 California Sustainable Winegrowers Alliance report on the carbon footprint of California wine, I thought that it was important to evaluate how our own operations looked in contrast to that baseline. What stood out to me was how great the impact was of the packaging, with the manufacture and transport of the glass bottle accounting for more than half the carbon footprint of the average California winery: greater than everything a winery does in the vineyard and cellar combined. This realization refocused us on alternative packaging (leading directly to the decision to branch out into wine in box this year) as well as on getting a full greenhouse gas inventory, which is underway now. I look forward to sharing the changes that will come from that.

Conclusion:
I've been asked a lot what it is about the blog that keeps me coming back to it. After all, it's work to write and edit, work to go out and take photographs, work to engage with the community and respond to comments, questions, and feedback. I think that in order for a blog to have staying power, you need to want to write. I know that I value the time I get to put words to paper (OK, screen) and feel the lack when I've gone too long without doing so. The opportunity to do so often allows me to work through the questions that I have running through my own head and come to a conclusion I'm happy with. In other words, it's not about promotion -- though I hope that reading these thoughts makes you feel a deeper connection with Tablas Creek -- but instead about processing. But mostly it's the community of writers, winery folks, wine trade and wine lovers who make up the blog's audience who make it feel like it's an endeavor worth investing in. I've met many of the wine people who most inspire me through this effort. Hopefully I've provided a little inspiration in return. 

Thank you to Marc Perrin, who suggested I start a blog back in 2005 because it would do great things for our search engine positioning. Neither of us could ever have imagined what this would become. Thank you too to my team, who have written over 150 of those 1000 posts and bring their own fascinating perspectives and experiences to the table each time they do. Finally, though, thank you to the community of readers of this blog, who've given me the space and encouragement to figure out how to do it, and the engagement to make it all feel worthwhile.


Our Favorite Stories of the Decade

Eli Haas with Galets - LargeFourteen years ago this month, I kicked off the Tablas Creek blog with a story about a family visit to Beaucastel. It wasn't much of a story, just two paragraphs and two photos of our then-6-month-old Eli in the vines (right) and the winery there. But it was the beginning of something that has proven, 855 posts later, to be one of our most powerful communication tools, and maybe my favorite piece of what I get to do. Two years later, as I felt like my writing for the blog had hit its stride, I wrote a post with seven pieces of advice for other nascent bloggers. I still stand behind all those recommendations, but there's one topic I keep coming back to. That item:

Write about what you're worried about.  In a blog environment, the core of writing something interesting is picking a topic that can arouse emotions.  In general, the pieces that I've found most fulfilling to write (and which have received the most comments, a sure sign that they've engaged their readers) are the things that are keeping me up at night, like my frustrations over organic labeling requirements or my reaction to a writer calling all Tablas Creek's wines "conspicuously expensive".

The end of a decade seems like a good time to go back and identify some of the pieces that I feel like were most successful. They tend to correlate with posts that got the most comments, but not always. I chose some because I've heard from readers that they found them meaningful in some way, and others because I find myself going back to them for insight or to recapture a perspective that I had at a certain point in our history. Some were things that literally kept me up at night. That makes this (necessarily) a subjective list. But isn't that what a blog is all about? Here's a baker's dozen of the posts that have stuck with me, in chronological order:

  • In Search of a Green(er) Wine Bottle (January 2010). When I wrote this blog, I thought we were looking for a lighter-weight version of the big, impressive bottle we'd moved to two years earlier. By the time I was done processing my readers' comments, I realized we were looking for something quite different. Ten years later, we've saved more than 1.3 million pounds of glass.
  • Investigating an Attempted Wine Scam (June 2011). Until last year's tribute to my dad's life, this piece had received more comments (32) than any other. I shared an email that I'd received, broke down why it wasn't legitimate, and even traced what would have happened had I responded. It turns out the scammer had cast a wide net, and I heard from lots of other grateful wineries who'd received a similar solicitation. Readers have turned it into something of a chronicle of scams, posting new solicitations they receive as a warning to others, which makes it the piece with maybe the longest relevant life span.
  • A tale of two Grenaches (December 2011). This piece came out of a talk I gave at the always-wonderful Yosemite Vintners' Holidays, where I broke down the California acreage statistics for Grenache by county to offer a different narrative than one I had been reading. Yes, we've declined from 20,000-plus to roughly 5,000 acres, but all Grenache acres are not created equal!
  • A great dinner, an amazing restaurant, and a wine that marks the beginning of Tablas Creek (May 2012). Maybe my favorite post ever, where Cesar Perrin and I stumble across the bottle that marks the first collaboration (in 1966!) between the Haas and Perrin families, and I discover its history. 
  • The costs of state alcohol franchise laws (April 2013). I always enjoy the posts that shine a light into the labyrinth of legislation a winery has to navigate to get its wares to market, and this was a favorite one. I still refer people -- many of whom have no idea that wineries are denied something as basic as the right to choose who represents you in a state -- to this piece, and every word is as true now as it was seven years ago.
  • Vintage Hollywood (January 2014). I felt like I was out on a limb with this blog, where I picked a male and female Hollywood star that I felt embodied the personality of each of our recent vintages. I'm not sure if it was fun or just nuts to match actors from Denzel Washington to Daniel Craig, Angelina Jolie to Julianne Moore with vintages, but I did it, and I've heard from lots of people since who told me it struck a chord.
  • Are direct-to-consumer sales really failing to lift the wine industry? (August 2014). I saw the headline "Direct to Consumer Sales Fails to Lift the Wine Industry" in a major industry journal, and took exception. Just because someone is given a platform in a major trade journal doesn't mean they actually understand the business from every perspective.
  • State of the Union, Wine Shipping Edition (January 2015). In honor of the real State of the Union, I broke down the 51 markets we ship to by tier, from relatively straightforward to incredibly convoluted and expensive. I always try to make sure posts are topical and timely, but only succeed to this extent a few times a year. If you think that wine is a free market product, read on.
  • Customer Disservice: Nine Lessons from a Terrible Hertz Experience (June 2015). Sometimes, it's a choice between laughing at something frustrating and hitting someone. I was really happy with how I managed in this piece to tie a roughly chronological account of a customer service debacle I experienced with some useful take-home lessons for businesses, and even got a Seinfeld clip in there.
  • A 60 Year Career in a Bottle of Delaporte Sancerre (January 2016). I could have picked several pieces by my dad, but my favorite was one of his last, reflecting on opening a bottle of wine he'd first encountered (many vintages earlier) on his first buying trip to France. That same day, I'd been in the audience to listen to the original proprietor's great-grandson present the estate's newest wines to Vineyard Brands, the company my dad founded.
  • Should a Vermentino ever get 98 points? (June 2017). I don't talk much about press on the blog. By and large, it's not that interesting. We share it on Facebook and Twitter, post a link on the relevant wine's page on our Web site, and move on. But this score got me thinking about glass ceilings for certain types of wines, and I spent an afternoon sending queries into the Wine Spectator's review database to try to figure out the extent to which variety limits scores, and share what I found. 
  • Direct Shipping is not a Zero Sum Game (August 2017). We sell roughly the same amount of wine direct and through wholesalers, and I work hard to make sure that everyone feels treated fairly. But I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of my time pushing back against the knee-jerk reaction from many players in the wholesale world that direct sales are competition. To illustrate, I shared our sales data from ten states that recently opened to direct shipping. In the first two years after they opened, our wholesale sales rose 52% on average. Why? Fan cultivation. 
  • Robert Haas 1927-2018: A Life Well Lived (March 2018). This tribute to my dad got more comments (35) than any other post. I hope I was able to share some of what made him special.

For those of you who have been regular readers of the blog over recent years, thank you. I am honored and humbled that other people find this crazy project that we've now kept going for thirty years interesting enough to want to read my thoughts. If you have pieces that particularly stuck with you, for whatever reason, or that you found valuable, please share in the comments.


So, what makes people join a wine club, anyway?

I had a first for me a couple of weeks ago: I closed the deal on a wine club signup via Twitter:

Twitter thread club signup

This wasn't a Herculean feat; it sounds like Amber LeBeau, who writes the SpitBucket.Net blog, was interested already.  I just connected the last few dots.  But I was fascinated to read the blog that she posted the next day, about why she signed up.  After all, there are thousands of American wineries, most of whom have wine clubs, and thousands more clubs available from retailers, magazines, newspapers, and even NPR.

Now we spend a lot of our time thinking about how to make our wine club (or, more accurately, wine clubs, since we offer three different flavors) as appealing as possible.  We research how other wineries who we respect craft their club offerings.  And we try to listen (and to ask) our own customers about what they want out of a club.  Still, each customer's reason for joining a club is ultimately personal, and what may be appealing to one customer may matter only a little to another. In Amber's piece, she outlines three main factors she uses in deciding whether to sign up for a club or not:

  • How easy can I get your wines at home?
  • How many bottles am I committing myself to?
  • How likely is the style of wine going to change?

Happily, we fared well on all three factors. While some of our core wines are available in Amber's hometown of Seattle, we make more than a dozen wines each year that don't make it into distribution, many of which are exclusively available to wine club members.  We think of our wine club as an introduction to our wines, not a means to move large quantities, and so typically send out twelve different bottles per year, six in the spring and six in the fall.  And we are family-owned, with so much continuity in our philosophy and winemaking team that we've had the same winemaker for more than two decades. So, we passed. (Thank you, Amber!)

Still, because of this conversation and the blog that resulted, I've spent more time than usual recently thinking about what makes for a great wine club.  I thought I'd put my thoughts down here, and encourage you to chime in in the comments if you think there are things I've under- or over-emphasized, or that I've missed entirely.

  • Wines that you love, consistently. This is, I think, the core of it all. If a winery makes wines that you love across the board the chances of you loving what they choose to send you is a lot greater than if you like a few wines a lot and others less.
  • Wines you otherwise can't get. I think it's important that there be wines that are made especially for club members (or, at least, set aside exclusively for club members). When we started, and our wine club was small, this was easy. Now, we have to plan for it, and make wines that we know are going to be dedicated to our members.  This can be lots of fun. [Read, if you haven't, our blog from last spring about making a new wine around Terret Noir for our club members.]
  • Savings. Now, maybe if your wine is otherwise unavailable (i.e. all sold on allocation) this isn't a key.  Getting the wine at all is the important thing.  But for most wineries, you don't have to be a member to get their wine.  Making sure that club members get good prices on what they buy is really important.  There's not much that will make a member into an ex-member faster than seeing your wine sold cheaper than they can get it at a nearby store.
  • Special treatment. I think "club" is the key word here.  You want to know that when you visit a place where you're a member, you'll be treated like an insider.  There's not one specific way in which this has to be done.  But knowing that you'll get more than the basic experience everyone else gets is important.
  • Flexibility & convenience. I've lumped these two things together, because while they're probably not positive decision factors, they can definitely be deal-breakers. A shipment every two months? Probably not a convenience if you have to be home to sign for the packages. A single set configuration which can't be adjusted depending on your likes? Probably ditto (though less so if you really love all the wines). And any particular wine in quantity? Probably less appealing than a variety.
  • Fun other opportunities to connect. Whether this includes member-only days at the winery, excursions (hey, how about a Rhone River cruise?), or just making the point of sending out information and invitations to club members when you're doing an event in their neck of the woods, opportunities to connect outside the tasting room can be lots of fun for everyone.

We are always honored when someone joins one of our wine clubs. It's a meaningful gesture of faith in what we do that a customer will give us their credit card and say, in essence, we trust you to pick some wines we'll love. We want always to make sure that we're worthy of that trust, and are proud that our wine club members stay members for more than three times the industry average. If you have things that you particularly value in a club membership that I haven't mentioned, or another way you look at value, please share it in the comments.

And, once more, to any members out there, thank you.


Tablas Creek is a 2016 Wine Blog Awards Finalist

WBA_logoI was excited to learn today that we are a finalist for the 2016 Wine Blog Awards. These awards, created in 2007 by the tireless Tom Wark to honor the growing number and quality of wine bloggers, have been awarded each year since.

This is the tenth year of the awards, and the eighth year where we've been a finalist. Our consistency is the accomplishment I'm proudest of. Blogging can be a slog at times. There is a start-up period where no one much is reading what you're saying. And then, after a few years in a seasonal, cyclical endeavor, it becomes a struggle to feel like you aren't just repeating yourself. In order to keep the blog feeling fresh and relevant, I've tried to bring new voices into the mix, and this past year, we've added two new series, both of which I think add fresh perspectives: the Eat Drink Tablas series featuring food & wine pairings by Suphada Rom, and the Q & A with Tablas series, where Lauren Phelps interviews some of the key members of our team.

Like last year, our category is "Best Winery/Industry Blog". There is one other returning blog from last year's finalists (last year's winning Berry Bros. & Rudd blog, from the venerable UK retailer). The other finalists are all new to the awards, though I was excited to see a personal local favorite (the Wine Lohr blog, from J. Lohr, which should win for its name alone). The other three entries are new to me, and I look forward to getting to know them over the next few days.  And, of course, ours is just one category; there are seven categories in all.  Getting to know the other finalists' work [click here] is always my favorite part of the whole process.  I hope that you will as well.  If, after doing so, you'd care to vote for us, we'd be honored.  The winner will be determined half by the voting of the judges, and half by the votes of the public.  Voting ends June 13th.

I like to celebrate these nominations by looking back at some memorable posts from the last year.  Here are ten of my favorites of the 62 entries we've posted in the last year, with a little about why each has stuck with me:

  • The Early Years of Tablas Creek. Last summer, I received a treasure trove of photographs from Dick Hoenisch, our original nursery and vineyard manager who has since moved on to a career in academia.  These photographs, from when we bought the property in 1989 through the original construction of our winery building in 1997, were like a time capsule that I think anyone who only knows us as a mature winery will find fascinating.
  • On the Rhone: a Post-Cruise Appreciation. My dad helped lead the Tablas Creek Rhone River cruise last August.  When he came back, he wrote up the experience vividly enough that you'll feel like you were there. The amazing photographs provided by Jeffery Clark, a wine club member on the cruise, are the icing on the cake.
  • Coming (Soon) to Fruition. I always love Chelsea Franchi's blogs because of their combination of intimacy and humor. Read this, and you'll know what it's like to anticipate (and dread) the onset of the harvest season. 
  • What's Next for the New Paso Robles AVAs. I was invited late last year to present at a continuing education law seminar, focused on the AVA approval process and prospects for the 11 Paso Robles sub-AVAs. It gave me a chance to look forward at what the future might look like. What these new AVAs mean (and should mean) in the marketplace is a fascinating question, and I enjoyed delving into it in some depth.
  • Customer Service Lessons from an Overcrowded Restaurant. I think this is one anyone can relate to: a favorite place that's just not on its game one night. But in the age of Yelp, the consequences to that place can be lasting. Hopefully, I helped someone, somewhere, avoid this.
  • A 60 Year Career in a Bottle of Delaporte Sancerre. A second piece by my dad, reflecting on opening a bottle of wine he'd first encountered (many vintages earlier) on his first buying trip to France. Even more fun: that same day, the original proprietor's great-grandson had presented the estate's newest wines to Vineyard Brands, the company he founded.
  • Braised Short Ribs: A Cold-Weather Pairing Fit for Rain or Snow. I could have picked any of Suphada's Eat Drink Tablas entries, but this was maybe my favorite: seasonal and delicious, with her super photographs illustrating every stage of the recipe.
  • Why the Future May Look a Lot Like the Crazy 2015 Vintage. This came out of my being invited to give the keynote address to a viticulture conference held here in Paso Robles. The opportunity to go back and look at what made 2015 so unusual was, I think, both instructive and unsettling.
  • The Swarm, the Hive, and Tablas Creek Honey. Viticulturist Jordan Lonborg's first blog was a knockout, taking you inside the quest to catch a wild swarm of bees. The photographs that accompanied the piece were equally amazing.
  • Grenache Blanc's Moment in the Sun. Some blogs take work to write. This was one that sprang onto the keyboard almost fully formed, thanks to conversations I'd had in recent weeks with both the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. Love seeing the attention for this grape that we introduced into California more than two decades ago.

Thank you for coming on this journey with me and with us: 660 posts in all since we began the blog in November of 2005. As we pass our ten year mark, it's gratifying to know that we're still going strong. And if you're still reading, but haven't checked out the other finalists, go do that now. Wine blogs, at their best, plunge you into the inner workings of a world that is still too often shrouded in mystique. Dive in.


Tablas Creek is a 2015 Wine Blog Awards Finalist!

WBA-Finalist-Industry-2015I was excited to learn today that we are a finalist for the 2015 Wine Blog Awards.  These awards were created in 2007 (Thank you, Tom Wark!) to honor the growing number and quality of wine bloggers, and have been awarded each year since.  I'm even prouder that of the nine years the award has been given out, this is our seventh time being a finalist.

Blogging isn't easy to sustain.  It takes commitment to persevere through the start-up phase, when no one much sees what you're writing and you may go months between comments.  And it's a challenge in what is an annual endeavor (making wine) to continue to find new things to talk about.  I'm proud that we've been able to keep it fresh, and feel like what we've done the last year has been particularly good.

This year, the folks running the awards combined two categories (Best Winery Blog and Best Industry Blog) into one, making it that much harder to make into the five finalists.  The others in our category are all deserving, including a two-time winner and another three-time winner.  I hope that you will take some time to explore the many great blogs that made it to this stage in the process.  If, after doing so, you'd care to vote for us, we'd be honored.  The winner will be determined half by the voting of the judges, and half by the votes of the public.  Voting ends June 26th.

If you're new to what we do, or have been only an occasional visitor over the last year, here are eight of my favorites of the 67 entries we've posted in the last year, with a little about why each has stuck with me:

  • Customer Disservice: Nine Lessons from a Terrible Hertz Experience: Sometimes, it's a choice between laughing at something frustrating and hitting someone.  I chose to laugh, but it was a near thing. Hopefully, even if it won't be Hertz, someone will learn a useful lesson or two!
  • Dry-Farming in California's Drought: Everyone I see, anywhere around the country, asks me first how we're faring four years into our drought.  Most are surprised to learn that a critical reason why we think we're OK is that we've been increasingly investing in dry farming over recent years. In this three-part series, I try to explain why.
  • Is Facebook Even Worth It Any More?: It's hard to get a social media scoop. But the comments I got from people around the industry after I published this blog in February suggested that many wineries were aware that their posts were reaching fewer fans, but unaware to what extent, or that Facebook has been very clear that this is part of their long-term strategy.
  • State of the Union, Wine Shipping Edition: In honor of the real State of the Union, I broke down the 51 markets we ship to by tier, from relatively straightforward to incredibly convoluted and expensive. I always try to make sure posts are topical and timely, but only succeed to this extent a few times a year.  If you think that wine is a free market product, read on.
  • Worried about preserving an opened bottle? Just stay cool.: I find I often have the most fun with blog posts that answer the questions I get from consumers.  This one gave me the chance to dust off some chemistry in pursuit of an answer that may be surprising to many people.  It also spurred me to collect all these sorts of posts in a Practical Wine Advice archive.
  • The Enduring Effects of Sideways, 10 Years Later: We weren't in Sideways. Nor was Paso Robles, to any significant extent. But this quirky movie's impacts on us and the communities we're a part of have been significant and long-lasting nonetheless.  It's hard to believe it's been ten years!
  • Are direct-to-consumer sales really failing to lift the wine industry? I saw the headline "Direct to Consumer Sales Fails to Lift the Wine Industry" in a major industry journal, and took exception.  Lots of great comments to this one!
  • Finding Closure(s) in Portugal: I always love the articles that Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi writes, which are all funny, thoughtful, and beautifully documented. She reports back here on a trip she took last summer to the cork forests of Portugal.

Thank you all for following along on this journey with me and with us: 598 posts and counting since we began the blog in November of 2005. It's wonderful to hear, as we get ready for our tenth anniversary, that the experts who filtered down the hundreds of nominated entries to the five finalists in our category think we're still going strong.


Weekly Roundup for December 22nd: Drinking Better, Wine's Off Days, Anniversaries, and So Much Green

This week, as you've probably heard, was the last week of the holiday-buying season.  Yet in between the endless lists of the right wines for holiday gift giving were some truly interesting tidbits.  Our favorites of the week are below:

An amazing time-lapse video of the changing weather

  • We're just emerging from three weeks of wet weather into a drier pattern.  How wet?  Not overwhelmingly, by total precipitation; we got 7.75 inches over that stretch, an amount not inconceivable for a single winter storm on the coast of California.  But the distribution of that rain was remarkable: our weather station received measurable rainfall fifteen different days of twenty-two, with no more than two consecutive rain-free days.  With that rain came some beautiful clouds and lots of surface fog.  The time-lapse video captured by Biodynamic winery AmByth Estate, in the hilly El Pomar region just east of the town of Templeton, was pretty amazing.

And evidence of the rain's positive impacts

Adelaida Green  Frick ponds

  • The landscape here in Paso Robles has been transformed over the last few weeks.  The hillsides are electric green in the sunny interludes, and the cover crops are months ahead of last year.  The photo on the left, from Adelaida Cellars' Facebook page, gives a good sense of the new landscape.  We haven't seen any significant runoff or recharge of the ponds and lakes locally, unlike further north, where Frick Winery (in Dry Creek, Sonoma County) posted the dramatic changes to one of their local ponds on their Facebook page.  Hopefully, with the next series of storms, we'll see the same.

Another rain impact: bad tasting day?

  • I read with interest W. Blake Gray's post The Day Wine Tasted Bad on his blog The Gray Report.  He describes a day (pouring down rain) where he opened bottle after bottle, looking for one that tasted good.  We've had this happen to us in the cellar, where wines that we know we liked all started disappointing us in one way or another.  It seems to happen more often when the weather is changing, and we've learned to call it a day early rather than make irrevocable decisions on days like this.  There are believers who would attribute this to the Biodynamic calendar, but it's always seemed more plausible to us that it's somehow meteorologic.  In any case, Blake, you're not alone.  Read more »

A Year in the Life

  • Law Estate 2Congratulations to our neighbors Law Estate Wines, which celebrated the one-year anniversary of opening their tasting room this week.  If you haven't been to visit them yet, in their beautiful tasting room at the crest of Peachy Canyon Road, you should make a point to.  And when you do, please wish them Happy Anniversary.  (Meanwhile, it's worth following them on Facebook, where they routinely post some great photos.)

Food for Thought (Drink for Thought?): Drinking Better

  • Finally, a piece in LA Weekly's Squid Ink blog got some well-deserved play around the internet.  Drink Better Wine, Start a Revolution is a clarion call by author Besha Rodell to consumers to demand better from their wine retailers.  She concludes: "And so, Millennials of America, as well as anyone else who has found themselves drinking that bottle of Two Buck Chuck and realizing that you are basically only tolerating something that you know little about, not truly enjoying it, I implore you: Drink better wine. Make it imperative that Vons should have decent wine if they want your business. Or, better, hit up the small shops around town that really do all the work for you." Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Read the article »

Weekly Roundup for December 15th: 8000 Years of Wine Storage, Months of Great Press for Paso, and a Week of Rain

This last week, it seems we've been dominated by stories about our rain.  Whether it's in its pre-precipitation anticipation or its post-fall analysis, it's clear that California is excited about the unusual moisture falling from the sky and curious to know whether it makes a big-picture difference in our multi-year drought.  But that's not all we've been seeing.  Paso Robles got another mention in what has been an amazing year for our area, we got a nice mention ourselves from the Los Angeles Times, and we learned about how wine has been transported and stored through the millennia.  Plus, I discovered a blog I'll be following regularly going forward.

OK, About that Rain

  • We wrote about our rain twice, once looking forward to it and once mid-storms.
  • The Los Angeles Times pointed out that the storms aren't just having an impact on the vineyards directly; they're also building the Sierra snowpack, which provides so much of California's summer water source.
  • Looking back, our local KCBX Public Radio interviewed me for a piece on how the drought impacted the 2014 vintage (it wasn't all, or even mostly, negative). My conclusion was "the quality of this vintage, as is often true with low yielding vintages, looks spectacular -- but now it can rain". And it has! Listen »

In Between the Raindrops
LAventure Clouds

  • Winter isn't just about rain clouds and green grass; the interludes between the storms provide mixed skies appealing in a different way than the deep unbroken blues of summer. I loved this shot from the L'Aventure Winery Facebook page, of their iconic sign hanging under a cornflower blue sky dotted with sheep-like clouds.

Some Nice Press for Paso

  • This year has seen Paso Robles recognized in the Washington Post, in Forbes, in the San Francisco Chronicle, in Conde Nast Traveler, and in Passport Magazine. This week, Travel & Leaisure got into the act, putting Paso Robles at #16 in its list of America's Best Towns for the Holidays. Most visitors come to Paso between April and October, and bask in its warm days and clear golden light. The winter is different, softer and greener, slower-paced, and it's nice to see a piece focusing on our winter charms.
  • Paso Robles was also the feature of a great blog posted by Chef and Sommelier Shauna Burke.  Her piece, called Stopping in the Middle: A Weekend in Paso Robles Wine Country, touched on several of my favorite places to go and things to do. Like the rest of her blog, it also was beautifully written and illustrated. I was intrigued that her previous blog piece was about Vermont (where I grew up) and equally impressed with what she picked to feature in that piece. With that inducement, I ended up reading a year's worth of entries, chock full of terrific recipes, thoughtful recommendations and her terrific photography. Check it out »

And for Tablas Creek

  • It was really nice for me to see the 2012 Cotes de Tablas picked by S. Irene Virbila as the Los Angeles Times' Wine of the Week, for two reasons.  The first is that as the "middle child" (between, in price, the Esprit de Tablas line and our Patelin de Tablas) the Cotes wines, which I think have never been better, seem to struggle to get their fair share of attention.  And second, I thought her review was particularly perceptive and really nailed the wine's character: "cherries, plums and wild herbs, with a licorice kick".

Food for Thought (Drink for Thought?)

  • This last piece isn't new (it was published in March) but it was new to us, and we all found it fascinating.  It's a long-format article on the Web site Vinepair called The 8,000 Year Effort To Transport Wine Around The World, going back to when ancient Georgians invented the kvevri, a massive earthenware vessel used to ferment, age and store wine made from locally growing wild grapes.  Smaller, more portable amphorae came next, then wood barrels, and finally bottles in recent centuries.  And even once they were invented, wine wasn't initially put into bottles at the estate; it was transported in barrels and bottled nearer its eventual destination.  In any case, we found the article fascinating, and hope you will too.  Read more »

Weekly Roundup for December 6th: When We Got Wet, Learned How to Drink, and Chose Wine over Beer

Our biggest story over the last week has been rain.  We've received measurable amounts each day since last Sunday, totaling 3.6 inches at our weather station out here.  Even better, that rain has come spread out, with five different days producing between 0.48 inches and 1.19 inches.  The distributed nature of the rainfall has meant that it's all soaked in and we're seeing virtually no runoff.  And after a break this weekend, there's more rain on the horizon for late next week.  In this week's weekly roundup, we start with a look at our recent rain, and move back in time from there.

Our Rain, In Perspective
CA Precipitation vs Normal 4nov-4dec14

  • Despite the wet week, the Central Coast is only slightly above historical norms for this time of year, according to an interesting piece by SpaceRef, which used NASA data to plot California's rainfall from space.  The above graphic, showing average daily precipitation compared to normal for the Nov 4-Dec 4 period, is just one cool map in the article. Read more »

The Origins of Human Alcohol Consumption, Revealed

  • According to a new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, our ability (relatively unique to humans and other great apes) to digest ethanol came about 10 million years before we started to produce it ourselves.  The genetic mutation allowed us to derive more nutrition from the fallen fruit our ancestors were scavenging off forest floors at the time. Read more »

Celebrating Repeal Day: December 5th

  • 81 years ago on Friday, the ratification of the 21st Amendment ended Prohibition and re-legalized the sale of alcohol in the United States.  I quite enjoyed George Yatchisin's exploration of California's Wine History on KCET, which looks at how the vineyards that survived prohibition did so, and some of the repercussions we're still feeling today.

Beauty Shot of the Week: Castoro's Rainbow

Castoro rainbow

  • One consequence of this week's rain was widespread rainbows.  I tried but failed to take some good shots out at Tablas Creek, but this photo from Castoro Cellars' Facebook page is spectacular.  If you don't follow them already on social media, you should: their photography is consistently beautiful. I particularly love this time of year, with the hillsides turning greener by the day and the air soft and cool. If you haven't been out to Paso in the winter, it's wonderful, and wonderfully different from summer's stark, crisp precision.

Food for Thought (Beverage for Thought?): a Growing Trend Toward Wine and Away from Beer

  • Wine preferenceThe Washington Post published an interesting article comparing the changes since 1992 of Americans' preferences between beer, wine, and hard alcohol.  I think that the headline ("The Great Beer Abandonment") overstates the case a bit, but the trends for wine (right) are clearly healthy.  Not only are young people preferring wine more than the previous generation did, but each generation's wine preference continues to grow steadily as its members move through their 30's, 40's and 50's.
  • Those continued trends are why I've thought that some of the recent hand-wringing within the wine industry about the rise of craft beer is misplaced.  In fact, I'd think that for a craft winery (the term doesn't really exist, but should) seeing craft beer's increasing importance in the market would be encouraging, as younger consumers who are exposed to the creativity and individuality of craft beers would already have much of the vocabulary to understand wine.  This idea probably deserves a full blog post.  Stay tuned.
  • Finally in this vein, I found the snapshot of the current American wine consumer, published this week by Wine Business Monthly, worthwhile reading.  It showed the growth of (but still relatively small penetration of) social media in wine purchase decision-making, the continued popularity of grapes we don't think much about like White Zin and Pinot Grigio, and the relative unimportance to consumers of wineries' environmental practices.  A good reminder of the work there still is to do! Read more »

Weekly Roundup for November 23rd, 2014: Natural Wine, Ancient Rocks, Knobbly Fruit & Thanksgiving

This week's Weekly Roundup is highlighted by a great thought piece on what makes wine "modern" or "traditional", and whether either of these have a relationship with the idea of "natural wine".  We've included a couple of our favorites of the many Thanksgiving wine recommendations omnipresent at this time of year.  And, of course, we check in with some members of our community who are doing cool stuff.  As always, please share in the comments what you like, and what you'd like to see different.

The bounty of (our) harvest

Artisan photo of quinces

  • We kick off this week's column with a gorgeous photo from Artisan Restaurant.  We've partnered with them on several dinners over the years, including one early this year which featured lamb from our property.  Their photo on Instagram (above) of some knobbly bright yellow quinces from one of our trees caught our eye.  We dropped some off there because we had many more than we had any idea how to use, and wanted to get them into capable hands.  This photo isn't an isolated event; there's beautiful stuff worth following on all of Artisan's social media feeds.  If you're wondering why we grow quinces (along with apples, pears, cherries, plums, peaches and apricots) they're a part of the increased biodiversity we've been working to integrate over recent years.

Something in the (ancient) water

  • Halter fossilOur neighbor Halter Ranch posted a great photo (right, or on the Halter Ranch Facebook page for a high-resolution version) of one of the fish fossils that they found in their rocks and integrated into their winery building.  It's a great reminder that the soils that sit under our vineyards (and much of west Paso Robles) were deposited as seabed in the Miocene period (10-20 million years ago). These were lifted above the surface in the creation of the Santa Lucia Mountains quite recently, by geologic standards.  My dad wrote a great blog piece about our soils' history in 2011, if you're interested in learning more.

The 2014 Harvest

Is there a holiday coming up?

  • Thanksgiving is the American holiday most dedicated to eating and drinking.  Yet, many traditional Thanksgiving foods aren't naturally friendly to many of the most popular American wines, given their questionable affinity to oak and high alcohol.  Happily, Rhones, both red and white, make classic pairings, and it's always a pleasure waiting for the pre-Thanksgiving wine columns suggesting Rhones as an accompaniment.  I thought Laurie Daniel's Rhones for Thanksgiving column for the San Jose Mercury News was particularly good this year, and was pleased to see that our 2012 Cotes de Tablas ("bright fruit with savory notes of wild herbs") was one of her suggestions.
  • We weren't mentioned, but I still really liked Eric Asimov's Thanksgiving recommendation that the wine you choose should "Refresh the Palate". He highlights versatility and energy as two characteristics to look for in your Thanksgiving wine, and recommends an eclectic mix. I'm not sure I could find many of the wines he and his panel recommend (there are rewards for living in New York City, after all) but I do know that I agree completely with his basic advice. Read more »

An event to look forward to

  • This week, the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers announced the details of their 2015 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience. In the last seven years, this event has become a showpiece for the Rhone movement here, and it's a remarkable value: just $85 for the full slate of events, including a nine-wine seminar (this year led by the Wine Enthusiast's Matt Kettmann), a vintners lunch catered by Chef Maegen Loring, a grand tasting featuring some 50 Paso Robles Rhone wineries, and a silent auction that benefits the Rhone Rangers Scholarship Fund.  There's a $35 ticket for just the Grand Tasting, too. Details & tickets »

Food for Thought (Beverage for Thought?)

  • Finally for this week I wanted to point you to a blog that is writing some of the most consistently interesting and erudite pieces in the world of wine today.  Elaine Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews this week tackles the questions raised by the ambiguity inherent in the definition of "natural wine".  We fall in her category 3 ("Wine growers and/or makers that use organic and/or biodynamic viticultural practices and/or less interventionist cellar techniques with few additives but do not define themselves with the movement of Natural wine") and are often dismayed by the reductive arguments on either extreme of the debate. Her conclusion -- that what matters is "if we’re trying to listen, and have a conversation" seems right on to me. Read more »

Weekly Roundup for November 16th, 2014: AVAs, Local Achievements, Veterans Day, Direct Shipping and Uncovering the Obscure

Last week, we debuted the Weekly Roundup, news from around the wine community that we thought worth sharing with you.  It's an admittedly eclectic mix, but we feel each thing that we've chosen warrants few minutes of your time.  It's also a work in progress, so please share in the comments what you like, and what you'd like to see different.  This week's list:

Some Great Press for Paso Robles and our new AVAs

  • The Tasting Panel's Anthony Dias Blue visited Paso recently, just before Sunset's Savor the Central Coast in September. His article concludes with an exciting evaluation of our great town: "this sleepy region, once home to a few obscure, under-the-radar wineries, has transformed itself into the most exciting wine region in California".  The article also recommends wines from 15 top Paso Robles wineries, including our 2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc and 2012 Mourvedre. Read more »
  • On of our favorite blogs for the week came from Wine Spectator editor Mitch Frank, whose piece Wine Can Be So Complicated — And That's OK was a notably thoughtful musing set against the background of the recent approval of 11 new AVAs here in Paso Robles.  His conclusion -- that "while wineries, and journalists, need to work hard to make wine inviting for newcomers, that doesn't mean erasing what makes wine like few other beverages—it comes from someplace specific" sums up our thoughts pretty well.  I'm quoted in the article, and submitted a comment with a few more of my thoughts on the subject. Read more »

Something from Tablas Creek

  • RZH in the Navy It was fun on Veterans Day to see the tributes to the many veterans in the wine community flowing through our social media feeds (for the intersection of the #wine and #veteransday hashtags on Twitter, check out this link).  We posted this 1944 Navy photo of Robert Haas, all of 17 years old at the time.  A sincere thank you to him and to all the many veterans and servicemembers, current and past, who have impacted our lives so substantially.

A Glimpse Behind the Scenes into the Business of Wine

  • Wine marketer, expert blogger and consumer advocate Tom Wark was interviewed by ReasonTV, and the 3-minute video that resulted is posted on YouTube.  I spend a fair amount of time trying to shine some light on some of the more convoluted and counterintuitive laws that govern how wine is sold around the United States in my Legislation and Regulation series.  Tom's opening salvo: that "the only way to get them to begin to be repealed and reformed is to bring them to light" is absolutely spot on. Watch the interview »

Some Landmarks from our Neighbors

Paso Robles Beautiful

Cass - fall foliage

  • We've been posting lots of photos of our fall foliage.  The photo above, which our friends at Cass Winery posted on their Facebook page, is one of the most impressive we've seen.  Too good not to share!

Food for Thought (Beverage for Thought?)

  • We'll conclude this week with an article by Lettie Teague in the Wall Street Journal, entitled Dark Horse Wines: Great Finds in Odd Places.  As a winery who chose what was, at the time, an odd place (Paso Robles) to make odd wines (southern Rhone-style blends), we find comfort in her conclusion that because gatekeepers will naturally tend toward the conservative, "wine drinkers themselves must ultimately be the ones to pursue the unexpected, to eschew the tried-and-true".  She also suggests 5 wines, including one (a Pinot Noir from South Africa) imported by Vineyard Brands.  Read more »