Harvest 2019 Recap: What's Usually a Marathon Turns Out to Be a Sprint

Last Wednesday, as I was on the road heading to the (remarkable) New York Wine Experience, the cellar team brought in the last lot of grapes from the 2019 harvest, some head-trained Counoise from our Scruffy Hill block. This capped a 40-day sprint: our shortest harvest in 18 years, and longer only in our history than the tiny frost-reduced crop of 2001. That 40 days is a full two weeks shorter than our average this millennium. But unlike in some of the other attenuated harvests, we didn't have to pick because there was a threat of imminent rain, or heat. No, it was just that the consistently warm, sunny weather that we've seen since early August meant that everything was ready. No wonder our cellar crew was ready to celebrate:

Cellar team with last pick of 2019

Because the weather never forced us to pause, the breakdown of our workflow was nearly constant. After a slow start the last week of August and first two weeks of September (after which we sat at only 10% complete) starting September 16th we picked nearly every day until the end of harvest. You can see steadiness of the vintage in the chart below (in the chart, blue is purchased fruit for the Patelin program, and orange estate-grown fruit):

Final Harvest Graph

Yields defy an easy explanation. We ended up down overall about 8% from 2018, but while overall we were almost exactly at our long-time average, the picture depends a lot on which grape you look at. I'll dive into that below. But what stood out to me was that although we had great rainfall last winter, and exceptional vine health all summer, we didn't see the high yields that typically come with that. The complete picture:

Grape 2019 Yields (tons) 2018 Yields (tons) % Change vs. 2018
Viognier 17.4 18.2 -4.4%
Marsanne 12.3 11.8 +4.2%
Grenache Blanc 28.3 43.6 -35.1%
Picpoul Blanc 8.6 9.1 -5.5%
Vermentino 24.7 17.9 +38.0%
Roussanne 46.1 32.6 +41.4%
Other whites 7.8 6.1 +27.9%
Total Whites 145.2 139.3 +4.2%
Grenache 51.4 74.3 -30.8%
Syrah 42.5 44.7 -4.9%
Mourvedre 49.6 64.4 -23.0%
Tannat 19.0 19.8 -4.0%
Counoise 20.0 16.0 +25.0%
Other reds 5.6 3.8 +47.4%
Total Reds 188.1 223.0 -15.7%
Total 333.3 362.3  -8.0%

Average yields ended up at 3.02 tons per acre, nearly exactly at our ten-year average. Other years right around 3 tons per acre read like a litany of our favorite-ever vintages: 2003, 2007, 2014, and 2016. As to why we saw only average yields despite the ample rainfall that we saw last winter, I blame a handful of small things: we saw some shatter in our Grenache blocks due to cool weather at flowering; we decided that we'd been hanging too much crop on our Grenache Blanc and were more aggressive in thinning, and (the only one of these which is troubling) Mourvedre, which didn't suffer from shatter, still hung a small crop. We'll be spending some time in the slower season to come trying to come up with a program to reverse this development, as we've done successfully in recent years with Roussanne. Speaking of Roussanne, it's clear from the increased Roussanne crop that the health that we noticed all growing season in our Roussanne was reflected in the quantity we harvested. It was also reflected in the fact that we didn't need to make nearly as many passes through our Roussanne blocks. It's the first time in a while that we've had extra lines on our harvest chalkboard, as we picked 95 lots this year (20 fewer than 2018). And that's including our first-ever picks of Bourboulenc, Cinsaut, and Vaccarese, noted in all-caps and with extra stars on the board:

Finished 2019 Harvest Chalkboard

Another way that you can get a quick assessment of concentration is to look at average sugars and acids. Since 2007, the average degrees Brix and pH:

Year Avg. Sugars Avg. pH
2007 24.42 3.67
2008 23.87 3.64
2009 23.42 3.69
2010 22.68 3.51
2011 22.39 3.50
2012 22.83 3.65
2013 22.90 3.63
2014 23.18 3.59
2015 22.60 3.59
2016 22.04 3.71
2017 22.87 3.74
2018 22.80 3.62
2019 22.30 3.62

You'll note that 2019's sugars saw a small decline from the past two years while the average pH maintained the level we were very happy with last year. The main culprit on the lower harvest sugars were Marsanne and Roussanne, both of which came in, on average, below 20° Brix. That's not a problem with Marsanne -- we typically love it around 12% alcohol -- but it suggests that we'll have a range of Roussannes, including those riper lots that are more likely to be appropriate for Esprit Blanc, and those that may be better suited for the Cotes Blanc or Patelin Blanc. I wouldn't be surprised to see both those wines with a higher than normal percentage of Roussanne in 2019.

The continued lower average pH is a great sign of the health of the vines, and the relative lack of stress that the vineyard was under at harvest time.

I had a sense, from living here and evaluating what I felt week by week, that we were really looking at two distinct weather patterns: a fairly cool one that lasted until the end of July, and then a consistent, warm pattern that took over in early August and lasted until mid-October. And the degree days that we measured this 2019 growing season support that, more or less. The chart below shows the unusually chilly May, the moderate June and July, and then the warmer-than-n0rmal (but not scorching) August and September. Note that October's information is for the first 16 days, as we picked our last block on October 16th:

Degree Days 2019 vs Normal

I mentioned in my introduction that the duration of harvest -- 40 days -- was our shortest since 2001. That's noteworthy enough. But just as unusual was the sequencing of the different grapes. The cool weather in May seems to have set back the early grapes somewhat. Viognier -- which started coming in September 7th -- and Vermentino, Syrah, and Grenache Blanc -- all of which saw their first estate picks September 16th -- were delayed about two weeks compared to our average this decade. This delay in our early grapes led me to conclude mistakenly that we were looking at a later-than-normal harvest. But the late grapes, which flower in June and do the bulk of their ripening in the August-September period where we saw ideal conditions, were actually picked early. We saw our first picks of Roussanne on September 6th and Counoise on September 12th, both three weeks or so before we'd normally expect them. Grenache Noir, which usually lags behind Syrah by a couple of weeks, came in right on its heels, just one day later this year. And we were totally done with Roussanne by October 7th, which is really unusual.

In character, it's early to tell what things will be like, but so far, we're excited. I asked Winemaker Neil Collins to sum up the vintage based on what he's seen so far, and his response was, "the ferments have been wonderfully slow and measured. It is early for me to say just what to expect from the wines themselves but the whites seem aromatic and quite showy, pretty and delicate wines. Reds have nice rich color and are solid in structure while yet being quite plush and rich in texture." Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi added that it's "a vintage marked by balance." We'll know more, of course, in coming weeks.

Of course, just because we've finished picking doesn't mean that we're done with our cellar work. There are still plenty of lots to be pressed off, tanks to be dug out, and fermentations to monitor. But it feels different than it does earlier in harvest, when you're emptying tanks to make room for the next pick. Now, when we press something off and clean a tank out, that's the last time of the season. We've already put a couple of our open-top fermenters outside, where they'll winter over without taking up space. And the late-season sun shining through the presses make the afternoon warmth that much sweeter: 

Mourvedre in the press

Now that the fruit is in, it's welcome to start raining any time (although, to be fair, it doesn't look like there's any precipitation in the long-term forecast). Meanwhile, we're putting the vineyard to bed, seeding cover crop, and getting the animals back into the vineyard, to clean up any second crop clusters still on the vines and start spreading manure in preparation for the rainy season. Even in years like this when there's no inclement weather during harvest, it's still a relief when everything is in tanks and barrels, and you just don't have to worry about rain, or frost, or anything else. Whenever winter feels like coming, we'll be ready. And that's something to celebrate, in and of itself.


What it Feels Like to Spend a Day in the Cellar During Harvest

The 2019 harvest will go down in our history as one of the most intense, compressed seasons ever. After a slow beginning, things ramped up the week of September 15th, and they really haven't stopped. We've picked at least 60 tons off of our estate each of the last four weeks, and suddenly, all that's left out there are little clean-up picks. We'll be done sometime this week.

I'll have a more detailed analysis of how the vintage compares to other recent years in my harvest recap blog either next week or the week after. But for now, what I wanted to do was give you a feel for what a day in the cellar feels like, not least because it's suddenly almost done. And harvest feels like that. You wait all year for it to begin, once it starts it feels like it will go on forever, and yet when the end comes, it comes suddenly, and marks the end of the intense camaraderie that comes with long hours, close quarters, and shared goals.

Our talented Shepherd/Videographer Nathan Stuart chronicled one day in the cellar, October 8th, turning in his crook for his GoPro, adding a soundtrack and editing it all down to two minutes. Definitely turn up the volume on this one.

What did we pick that day? Roussanne, Mourvedre, and Grenache. But the sorting, destemming, and pressing of those lots wasn't all that was happening. We were filling barrels and digging out tanks of Grenache and Syrah harvested in previous weeks, punching down and pumping over a cellar full of wine, sampling vineyard lots to schedule upcoming picks, and cleaning. Lots and lots of cleaning. And playing with the winery dogs, sharing one of Marci Collins' famous cellar lunches, keeping the espresso machine humming, and snacking on the leg of jamon in the lab, of course.

It was just one day, one long day, but also one pretty great day. 

Harvest Video October 8th 2019


We welcome Cinsaut (new to Tablas Creek), Bourboulenc (new to Paso Robles) and Vaccarese (new to America) all in one week!

It's been a momentous last week for us here at Tablas Creek. In three days, we added three grapes to our pantheon, bringing our total of Chateauneuf du Pape grapes to 13 and our total of Rhone varieties to 15. See if you can spot the new ones:

New Grapes on Chalkboard

These three grapes are numbers four, five, and six of the seven new varieties that we imported in 2003. All of them took twelve years to be released from quarantine, and we planted them in the vineyard in 2016. This is the first year we've gotten a harvestable crop. As they're all just starting to ferment, we can't say much about what they'll ultimately be like, but I thought it would be interesting to summarize what we know about them so far, and speculate a little on what we expect. Here goes. Historical and planting information are summarized from Jancis Robinson's authoritative "Wine Grapes" (HarperCollins, 2012) and Harry Karis's "The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book" (Kavino, 2009) so planting information may be a few years out of date.

Bourboulenc
The fourth-most planted white grape in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation (after Grenache Blanc, Clairette, and Roussanne) at nearly 85 acres, making it roughly 1% of total plantings and 15% of white acreage. It's also found elsewhere in the south of France; Chateauneuf-du-Pape makes up just over 5% of the 1,537 acres reported in France in 2008. Bourboulenc is an ancient grape, first mentioned in the literature in the early 16th century, and from its earliest times identified with the south of France, particularly the area around Avignon. The vines are fairly vigorous, the berries relatively large, and the clusters loose, which makes it resistant to rot. It is known in France to make wines with citrus aromatics and a distinctive smoky character, with fairly good acids and relatively low alcohol.

We picked 2.15 tons of Bourboulenc at 20° Brix (roughly 12.4% potential alcohol), a pH of 3.38, and total acids of 3.53. Unfortunately, it was a night pick and went into the press before anyone remembered to take a photo, but it had a remarkable orange color coming out of the press:

Bourboulenc in beaker

Cinsaut (or Cinsault)
Cinsaut is the fourth-most planted red grape in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation (after Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre) at 205 acres, making it 2.6% of total acreage and 2.8% of reds. Cinsaut (officially spelled without the "l" in American literature, and typically used interchangeably) is grown around the Mediterranean, with more than 51,000 acres in France, and significant plantings in Italy, Spain, Morocco, and South Africa. There are also 82 acres of mostly old vines in California as of 2018. Similar in many ways to Counoise, with large berries and large clusters, producing medium-to-light-bodied wines with floral and spice notes. Although Cinsaut has generally been preferred over Counoise in France because it ripens earlier, the Perrins have long preferred the extra depth and brighter acids that Counoise contributes, which is why in our more reliable climate we chose to focus on Counoise in our original imports, back in 1989.

We picked our Cinsaut (all 0.55 tons of it) at 22° Brix (roughly 13.6% potential alcohol), a pH of 3.64, and total acids of 4.23. You can see the distinctive large berries clearly:

Cinsaut cluster and bin

Vaccarèse
One of the rarest grapes in Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation at just over 10 acres, Vaccarèse accounts for just 0.3% of both total and red acreage. There is little more outside Chateauneuf, with just 30 acres recorded in France and none elsewhere in the world. Also known as Brun Argenté (which translates to "brown silvered") for its dark bark and silvery look of the underside of its leaves. In look and growth it seems similar to Counoise and Cinsaut, with large berries and large clusters. As it's generally not fermented on its own even at Beaucastel, we don't have a ton to go on here.

We picked 2.61 tons of Vaccarèse at 22.4° Brix (roughly 13.8% potential alcohol), a pH of 3.50, and total acids of 4.76. We knew, given that this had never been harvested before in California (or America, or the New World) that we needed to document the milestone, so we got better photos of this than the first two:

Vaccarese Cluster in Bin

Vaccarese Cluster in Hand

So, what next for these new grapes? First, we'll get them through fermentation. There's going to be enough to make roughly five barrels (125 cases) of Bourboulenc and six barrels (150 cases) of Vaccarèse, so our tentative plan is to bottle these both as varietal wines. We prefer to do this, as long as we like them, in early years, so that we can begin the process of wrapping our heads around what the wines are like, and so we can share them with other interested customers and winemakers. With less than two barrels worth of Cinsaut, I'm not sure we'll have enough to keep separate, but we'll see.

In France, these three grapes are all typically blended. In the long run, that might make sense here. But the first step is to guide them through fermentation and get to the point where we can taste and evaluate what we've got. They are well on their way!

Three new grapes


Harvest 2019: Things heat up and produce our busiest-ever day (and second-busiest-ever week)

At the beginning of last week, three weeks after we'd seen our first grapes arrive in the cellar, Chelsea estimated that we were only 10% of the way done. By the end of the week, 132.4 tons later, we sat at 35% done. We saw our first Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Noir, and estate Syrah. We direct-pressed 2700 gallons (over 1000 cases) of Grenache for our 2019 Patelin de Tablas Rosé. Our staff parking lot became parking for bins on their way into the cellar:

Mid-Sept Harvest - Parking Lot Panorama

We're seeing some unusual timing this year, with grapes that are normally ripe later (like Roussanne and Counoise) ready to pick alongside earlier grapes like Viognier and Syrah. We're attributing this to the exceptional vine health we've seen this year, which has allowed those grapes that normally struggle with vigor as we get toward harvest season to remain green and photosynthesizing efficiently. But we're really not sure; we'll learn a lot more as we get deeper into harvest. For now, we'll enjoy seeing our harvest chalkboard fill up:

Mid-Sept Harvest - Chalkboard

The unusual overlap of varieties is a great opportunity to see the different colors of our different grapes side-by-side. For example, the dark, opaque Syrah (left) is a great counterpoint to the more translucent amethyst of Grenache (right):

Mid-Sept Harvest - Bins of Syrah 2Mid-Sept Harvest - Bins of Grenache

The samples we're taking on a daily basis are an even clearer illustration of the many hues in the vineyard, determined both by the grapes' inherent pigment and how close each is to harvest:

Mid-Sept Harvest - Samples

The peak of the week was Thursday, where estate Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, and Syrah combined with Patelin Syrah and Patelin Rosé Grenache (those 2700 gallons I mentioned) to total over 51 tons, the most we've ever harvested in one day and more than 10% of what we're estimating we'll see the entire harvest. Chelsea pointed out how nice it was to get a day like this early in the harvest when everyone was still feeling fresh, rather than in mid-October, when everyone's already ragged.

What does it take to process 51.3 tons of grapes in a day? It begins around 1am with lights, Jordy, David, and our harvest crew arriving out in the Vermentino block. Neil arrives in the cellar at 3am to get the first press load of white going. By the time the rest of the winemaking team gets there around 6, that press is ready to empty, rinse, and refill with the next load. The first Grenache bins destined for Patelin Rosé have arrived, and our second press gets loaded with those. These two presses will cycle through press runs every 3 hours until evening. Meanwhile, bins of red grapes are unloaded from trailers as they arrive, labeled and stacked. We use a highly technical labeling system called "post-it notes":

Mid-Sept Harvest - Grenache D

One at a time, red bins are forklifted off their stacks, weighed, then dumped into the hopper and vibrated down the sorting table, where our team picks out any leaves or unripe or raisined clusters. The grapes then get de-stemmed and pumped into tanks to ferment. Amidst all this, all our red tanks (thankfully, not much yet) have to be pumped over, punched down, or otherwise mixed twice each day. You can see the last of the 103 bins that our rock star cellar team processed that day, in the hopper and on the sorting table:

Mid-Sept Harvest - Last Bin of Busiest Ever Day

Thankfully, the rest of the week wasn't quite at Thursday's pace, but it still resulted in a second-busiest-ever week, just a fraction of a ton less fruit than September 10-16, 2018. You can see how dramatically the harvest accelerated compared to its first three weeks:

Mid-Sept Harvest - Graph

I mentioned a few weeks ago that we felt harvest's wave building, but that it hadn't broken yet. Now it has, and we spent last week paddling fast. Everything looks great in the vineyard, and the flavors and numbers on the fruit we've been picking have been ideal. So, if I can push the analogy a little further, we're up on the board, and going to ride this one as long as we can.


A New Winery Wastewater Wetlands Area

Back in 2005, the state of California passed a law requiring wineries to treat their wastewater rather than releasing it to a normal septic system. This made a lot of sense to us because the lees and other winery by-products can be acidic enough that they impact the normal microbial function of leach fields. But, what sort of water treatment system was an important question. Most wineries chose a contained treatment unit, basically a small version of the treatment plants that cities or industrial operations install. We chose to go a different way. One available option was to build a wetland area where the roots of water plants would filter the winery wastewater as it passed through a series of gravel-filled lined ponds, until it was clean enough to be applied as irrigation water or to keep dust down on the roads. This solution creates wetland habitat for water-loving birds, amphibians, and insects. We were the first winery in the Central Coast to choose this (at the time novel) solution, and completed the construction of our first iteration of this project in 2006. We have enjoyed the benefits (including getting visits from this great blue heron) ever since.

But we're processing more grapes than we were in 2006, between the winery expansion we completed in 2011 and the growth of our Patelin de Tablas program, and in busy periods in recent years we've been pushing more water through those wetlands than they could really process. So, one of our big projects for this year was to expand the wetland area to the appropriate scale for our production. If you've driven into (or by) the winery in the last six weeks, you've likely seen the work going on:

New wetland construction

As of last week, the ponds are filled and the plants are planted. You can see in the foreground how the wastewater is distributed across the surface of the pond.

New wetlands with plants 2

I think the whole thing looks glorious. This next photo shows off the flowers a little better. It also shows a view of the holding pond in the background. We'll make good use of this water, likely to keep the animal enclosure that's right next to this green and growing all summer long:

New wetlands with plants 1

All wineries (and all businesses) are faced with problems to solve, whether they be inherent in the business or mandated by regulation. Finding solutions like this, that fit into our larger goals and ethos, is one of the real pleasures of running this particular business. The next time you come out to see us, look left as you turn into our gate and you'll see it. Maybe our heron will even make an appearance for you.


The delayed 2019 Harvest begins slowly, but we can feel the wave building

This is the time of year when everyone in Paso Robles begins every conversation with "so, how's harvest coming for you?" Typically, they're asking if you've begun, and if so, if you're far enough in to have a sense of how things will look. And we have begun, although only a little, and just two grapes. But even these grapes give us useful data points as we look to compare the 2019 harvest with other recent vintages. And one thing is clear: there's a lot more on the way, soon.

We began harvest on August 29th with a pick of about five and half tons of Pinot Noir from my parents' place in Templeton. As we typically do for the first pick, the whole cellar team goes out and works alongside the vineyard crew. Perhaps that's why Vineyard Manager David Maduena, overseeing his 26th(!) harvest here at Tablas Creek, is looking amused:

DSC09594

The grapes look amazing. It's remarkable how little stress the vines appear to be under, at a time of year when they're usually starting to look a bit ragged. That's a testament to the ample and distributed rainfall we got last winter, and to the relatively moderate summer we've seen. Even with the past four warm weeks (average high temp: 92.4°F), we've only seen eight days this summer top 100°F, with a high of 103.5°F. That may sound like a lot, but it's well below the average here, and the nights have remained cool: the average nighttime low over the last four weeks was 54.9°F, and every one of the seven 100+ days saw nighttime temperature drop into the 50s. A few photos should help give you a sense of the health of the vines. First, the Pinot block. Everything is green, not a hint of red or yellow to be seen in the leaves:

DSC09499

And it's not just Pinot. Check out this photo looking out over two blocks that would normally be showing signs of stress in early September: a hilltop Grenache block in the foreground (still only partway through veraison) and the dry-farmed "Scruffy Hill" block on the other side of the creek. Both are still vibrantly green:

Looking over Grenache to Scruffy Hill

But for all that we're still recovering from the delayed beginning to the growing season, we're making up time fast. The conditions (mid-90s highs and mid-50s lows) have been absolutely ideal for grapevine photosynthesis to proceed with peak efficiency. And we've definitely caught up. In my veraison post on August 6th, I looked at the 36-49 day range that we've observed between first veraison on the estate and first harvest and made a prediction that we'd start between September 4th and September 17th. As it turned out, 2019 will tie for our shortest-ever duration between veraison and harvest, and at 3am yesterday (September 4th) the team convened at our oldest Viognier block to kick off the 2019 harvest. Shepherd/Videographer Nathan Stuart was there to capture it. Definitely turn on the soundtrack for this one:

If you haven't been a part of a night pick, it's a memorable experience. There's a camaraderie in the shared work, the early start, and the silence that surrounds you. Until, of course, the lights go on and the tractors rev up, and then it's go time.

DSC03376

We didn't pick that much, just eight bins (a little under four tons) from the top of the block. The bottom of the same hill was enough behind the top to make it worth waiting until next week. But after having run numbers on most of the early-ripening grapes, we know that things have moved enough that it's likely we'll see more Viognier as well as our first Syrah and Vermentino next week. And then, we'll be in the thick of things.

How does this compare to last year? With only two data points, it's hard to say. We picked Pinot quite a bit earlier this year than last (August 29th vs. September 10th) at similar numbers. But we picked the first Viognier from here bit later than last year (September 4th vs. August 31st). Yes, the regions are different, but not wildly so. Instead, I think that the Pinot vines were delayed last year by the swings between cool and hot which we largely avoided this year. In 2019, the two regions have accumulated almost exactly the same number of degree hours compared to average: Templeton Gap 2249 (0.4% above average) and Adelaida District 2430 (1.2% above average). By contrast, to this point last year, we were 9.6% above average here at Tablas Creek, and 5.9% above average in the Templeton Gap. So, why are many of our grapes coming in earlier despite the cooler year?

To understand why, it's important to know what degree days (or degree hours) is measuring, and how it does and doesn't correlate with how grapevines ripen. Degree days measure the number of hours that temperatures spend above an arbitrary line, which corresponds roughly to the point at which plants start photosynthesizing. But in a year like 2018, when we had cool stretches interspersed with one long scorching hot stretch it's important to remember that neither cool nor very hot temperatures are ideal for grapevine photosynthesis. Instead, grapevines photosynthesize optimally in consistent very warm (but not hot) weather. And we've almost entirely avoided those hot days this year. Last year? Not so much. We saw 25 days that topped 100°F, including ten hotter than our hottest day this year (103.5°F). At those very hot temperatures, grapevines close the pores in their leaves to protect themselves from dehydration, slowing their photosynthetic capacity. This year, it's been all systems go.

It may be early in the harvest season, and we may only have brought in two grapes, but all signs point to it getting busy soon. If you see a winemaker out at a restaurant in the next few days, you might want to wish them well. Because you may not see them again until November.


Grapes of the Rhone Valley: Muscardin

We have some big news. With last week's grafting of some 250 Muscardin buds into the vineyard at Tablas Creek, we've achieved our goal of having all the Chateauneuf-du-Pape grapes in the ground here at Tablas Creek. This is the culmination of a 30-year project, and meaningful for me in part because it's the realization of one of my dad's dreams.

But what, you ask, is Muscardin like? That's a difficult question. I've been answering it by saying, "well, it's red, but not very" and making a joke that that's all I know. But it's only sort of a joke, because there is so much we don't know yet. Muscardin is barely planted even in its Rhone Valley homeland, and there has been none that I've been able to find that ever made its way outside of the Rhone. But still, I've done what I can to pull together everything we know about it here.

MuscardinHistory
Muscardin is rare nowadays, and it appears never to have been very common, or found anywhere outside the Rhone. Its first mention in the historical record from 1895 talks about it being one of the "old southern grape varieties", along with Grenache, Piquepoul, Tinto, Terret noir, gris and blanc, Counoise, Vaccarese, Clairette, and Picardan.1  Its combination of relatively low vigor, pale color, and sprawling growth appears to have been three strikes against it in the period after Phylloxera2, and in 2009 there were just 11 hectares (27 acres) in Chateauneuf du Pape, and less than that in the rest of France.3 Nevertheless, it is recognized in the official Chateauneuf-du-Pape regulations as a distinct grape, and the Perrins have been one of its advocates, valuing the wine for its freshness and floral lift. When we decided that we wanted the complete collection of Chateauneuf-du-Pape varieties in 2003, our Muscardin cutting came from the Beaucastel estate.

The origin of Muscardin's name is obscure, but the one thing that practically everyone agrees with is that it has nothing to do with Muscat or Muscadet. And the grape's scarcity (it doesn't even appear in Viala & Vermorel's seminal 1905 Ampelographie) means that there is just not that much literature out there on this rare grape.  So, we really are breaking new ground here.

The grape did not have an easy time getting into California either. We took cuttings from Beaucastel in 2003 along with Picardan, Terret Noir, Cinsaut, Vaccarese, Bourboulenc, and Clairette Blanche, and all entered quarantine at U.C. Davis at the same time. But while the other grapes were released to us after one, two, or three rounds of virus cleanup, Muscardin took four separate rounds and wasn't released to NovaVine until last year. They have been working on producing buds ever since.

Muscardin in the Vineyard and Cellar
In order to speed up our production of this last grape, we made the decision to graft the 250 buds we were able to secure onto existing vine stock. About 50 of those buds were grafted onto rootstocks that we planted last year, with the other 200 grafted onto a few surplus rows of 20-year-old Grenache Blanc. We expect to get production off of this block perhaps as soon as 2020.

We don't know that much about how Muscardin will do in our vineyard, but we do have some reports from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. There is a great quote from Baron Le Roi of Chateau Fortia that John Livingstone-Learmonth recounts in his 1992 book The Wines of the Rhone: "You know, we would be better off here if we replaced the Cinsault with the Muscardin. The Muscardin doesn't produce a lot, makes wine of low degree and spreads out over the soil, preventing tractors from passing freely between the vines, all of which combine to put people off it. But I believe that it gives a freshness on the palate and helps the wine to achieve elegance."4

As with any new grape, our initial picking decisions are educated guesses, but Muscardin is supposed to both emerge from dormancy and ripen early, more or less in sync with Syrah. This suggests we will need to be ready to protect it from frost. It is known for ripening at low alcohols and relatively high acids. The freshness and floral character it is supposed to bring to the table suggest that ultimately it will become a part of our blends, and serve perhaps a similar role to Counoise. That said, we plan to bottle the first few vintages on their own, so that we can wrap our heads around them and so we can show them to other people and get their feedback.

Flavors and Aromas
At Beaucastel, because it is so scarce, Muscardin is rarely vinified on its own and I was not able to taste it on either of my last two visits. I did taste a tank where they co-fermented it with two other pale, floral grapes, Vaccarese and Terret Noir. It was delicious, rose petals and fresh acids, spicy with yellow plum and strawberry fruit. I suspect from our own experiences here that the tannic bite I remember came from the Terret; neither Vaccarese nor Muscardin are supposed to be particularly tannic. But we will know more soon. As for aging, Muscardin is reputed to be prone to oxidation, like Counoise, so it may well be something best drunk young, and I suspect we will choose to bottle it under screwcap. We look forward to finding out, and sharing our discoveries with you!

Footnotes

  1. Jancis Robinson, Wine Grapes, HarperCollins 2012, p 678.
  2. John Livingstone-Learmonth, The Wines of the Rhone, Faber & Faber 1992, p 326.
  3. Harry Karis, The Chateauneuf-du-Pape Wine Book, Kavino, 2009, p 78.
  4. Livingstone-Learmonth, p 326.

Red blending shows that 2018 is every bit as good as the rest of the 2014-2017 run

Last week, after two full weeks of work, we finally got a chance to taste all 11 red wines we'll be making from the 2018 vintage.  It was impressive.  Esprit and Panoplie were rich and lush, with plenty of ripe tannin but also freshness provided by vibrant acids. The En Gobelet and Le Complice each spoke clearly of the idea behind why we created the wines: En Gobelet earthy, with plenty of concentrated red fruit, while Le Complice was dark, herby, and spicy, like Syrah and yet not quite. The MourvedreGrenache, and Counoise were intensely characteristic of each grape: Mourvedre meaty and chocolaty, Grenache fruity but also powerfully structured, and Counoise juicy and electric, translucent and fresh. Even the Patelin de Tablas and Cotes de Tablas were each, in their own way, remarkably expressive.  And, equally important, thanks to the relatively plentiful 2018 harvest, we'll be able to make solid amounts of most of our wines.  With our 2012-2016 drought still in our recent memory, that was a relief.

Blending components - 2018 reds

How did we get here? It was the result of a process we've developed over the decades, where we spend a week or more sitting around our conference table, schedules cleared so we can focus just on this. Around that table this year joining Neil and me was the rest of our cellar team (Chelsea, Craig, Amanda, and Austin), Claude Gouan (Beaucastel's long-time oenologist, recently retired) and, once he arrived mid-week for our 30th Anniversary celebration, Jean-Pierre Perrin. As usual, we started our blending week Monday morning by tasting, component by component, through what we had in the cellar. As we typically do in years where we have decent crop levels, we split our varietal tasting into two days: Counoise and Grenache (plus our few lots of Terret Noir and Pinot) on Monday, and Syrah, Mourvedre, and Tannat on Tuesday. Our goal at this first stage is to identify the quality of the different lots, and get a sense of both the character and diversity present in the vintage to help give us direction in blending.

We grade on a 1-3 scale, with 1's being our top grade (for a deep dive into how we do our blending, check out this blog by Chelsea from a few years back). For context, in a normal year, for every 10 lots we might see 3-4 "1" grades, 5-6 "2" grades and 1 "3" grade.  As you'll see, lots of good grades this year.  My quick thoughts on each variety:

  • Grenache (19 lots): The most powerful Grenache we've seen in years, although with the power came some lots that were tannic enough that we felt we had to be careful how we applied them in blending. Nine of the lots received 1's from me, with two others getting 1/2 grades (my intermediate grade that sits between a 1 and a 2). Only one 3. A combination of excellent fruit, good acids, and tannic structure.
  • Red Blending Notes May 2019
    The Syrah and Mourvedre portions of my notes. That's a lot of "1" grades!
    Mourvedre (17 lots): A really nice showing for Mourvedre.  I gave eight lots a 1 grade, there was only one lot I even thought about giving a 3 (I ended up giving it a 2/3, because while it was lighter, it was still pretty).  Lovely and classic, leaning more toward the loamy chocolaty Mourvedre side than the meaty, though there were a few of those sorts of lots too. Nice ripe tannins. A great core for the many wines we make that are based on Mourvedre.
  • Syrah (15 lots): Really outstanding, reminiscent in many ways of what we saw in 2016. Eight 1's, with three others that I gave 1/2 grades to. Dense, dark, creamy and mineral. And, like what we saw in 2016, we ended up liking the syrah's contribution in the blends so much that we didn't have any left over for a varietal. Sometimes, that's how it works.
  • Counoise (7 lots): A nice range of Counoise styles, from the translucent, juicy lots that remind us of Gamay to the rich, spicy, purple-fruited Counoise that we love to use in Esprit. Three 1's of the seven, on my sheet.
  • Terret Noir (1 lot): Terret was as usual zesty and bright, but felt less focused and concentrated than it had in past years, and while it will make a nice contribution to Le Complice, we didn't feel it was worthy of bottling on its own. The portion that didn't make it into Le Complice will get declassified into Patelin, which is also fun to contemplate.
  • Tannat (3 lots): Massive, dense, and dark, and powerfully tannic. Chocolaty. Should be a Tannat-lover's dream vintage.
  • Cabernet (1 lot): Beautiful, classic Cabernet, but with only one barrel (from our old nursery block) not enough to bottle on its own. It will go into the Tannat, as it does most years.
  • Pinot Noir (7 lots): All these lots come from the small vineyard in the Templeton Gap that my dad planted outside my parents' house back in 2007, with different clones and levels of stem inclusion providing several small (in many cases, one-barrel) lots. The mix of the seven hit, for me, just the right note, with pretty cherry Pinot fruit given weight and complexity from the stems. A nice touch of oak. Should make for a delicious 2018 Full Circle Pinot.

We finished Tuesday with a round-table discussion about what we wanted to try in the blending the next few days, and decided that given the apparent strengths of all three of our main red grapes it only made sense to kick off the blending trials for both Panoplie and Esprit with three different blends, each one emphasizing one of the varietals, and see what we learned. 

Wednesday morning, we reconvened to work out each blend, starting with the Panoplie. As always, we tasted our options blind, not knowing what was in each glass. Panoplie is always overwhelmingly Mourvedre (typically 60% at least) and typically not much Syrah, because Syrah's dominance often proves to be too much for the character of the Mourvedre. But in this vintage, we all agreed on the blend with the higher percentage of Syrah, which we felt offered great lushness and structure. After a brief discussion, we settled on a blend with 64% Mourvedre, 24% Syrah, and 12% Grenache.

Panoplie decided, we moved on to the Esprit.  The first trial helped us narrow things down, as none of us picked the wine with the highest percentage of Mourvedre (50%). This was likely true for the same reason we saw last year: because although the Mourvedre was outstanding, we'd used all the lots that got near-universal 1 grades to get to 40% Mourvedre. Increasing that to roughly 50% forced us to include Mourvedre lots to which several of us gave 2 grades at the expense of 1-rated Grenache and Syrah, and our blind tasting confirmed that this was a mistake. That said, we split roughly evenly between camps favoring more Grenache (which produced wines with vibrancy and lift, nice saltiness and firm tannins) and those favoring more Syrah (which produced wines with more density and dark lushness) and decided to try some blends that split the difference.

The next day was a big one. We tasted the day before's Syrah-heavy Esprit against one with equal parts Syrah and Grenache, and again split pretty evenly between the two. In the end, we decided that yet another in-between blend was best, and ended up with an Esprit at 40% Mourvedre, 27% Syrah, 23% Grenache, and 10% Counoise. 

We next moved on to our two small-production wine club blends, En Gobelet and Le Complice. Given the head-trained lots that we'd chosen for Esprit and Panoplie, we didn't have a ton of choice on En Gobelet, which is made entirely from head-trained, dry-farmed blocks. And given the relatively high tannins across the vintage, and particularly among the Grenache lots, we were leery of including too much Tannat in the blend. So, it was with some relief that we loved the blend that resulted: 36% Grenache, 28% Mourvedre, 27% Syrah, 6% Counoise, and 3% Tannat. It made for an En Gobelet that was juicy yet structured, with beautiful red-fruited power and the tannins to age.

Le Complice celebrates the kinship we feel Terret Noir shows with Syrah, and particularly the Syrah lots fermented with stems or whole clusters. Both grapes share a peppery spiciness, although Syrah is very dark and Terret quite pale. Because both grapes tend toward high tannin, we've realized the past two years that we also need some Grenache, to provide flesh to the bones and spirit of Syrah and Terret. That said, because we felt the Terret on its own was weaker than 2016 or 2017, we decided to try some blends with lower percentages of the grape and more Syrah and Grenache. But it was interesting to me that we still all coalesced around the blend with the highest percentage of Terret (15%), along with 60% Syrah and 25% Grenache, as the most characterful and balanced. It was a good reminder that grapes that might be lacking on their own that can be just what a particular blend needs.

After this, we had to break for our 30th Anniversary party, and Claude and his wife left for a driving tour of the desert southwest. So, the next Monday, we reconvened to tackle the Cotes de Tablas and the varietals. The main question this year with the Cotes was, given the relatively high tannins of the Grenache lots, what was the right blend (and the right choice of Grenache lots) to show off the grape's charm. We ended up spending more time on this question than I can ever remember, added a relatively high percentage of Counoise and swapped in some of the Grenache lots we'd originally liked less because their simple juiciness was just what the more tannic lots needed. In the end, we chose a blend of 45% Grenache, 33% Syrah, 12% Counoise, and 10% Mourvedre. Even with our adjustments, it will be a serious Cotes de Tablas, with significant aging potential.

Given what we'd made of the blends, the math dictated how much of the varietal wines we could make: no Syrah, and not much Counoise (125 cases), but a nice quantity (680 cases) of Mourvedre, 1250 cases (our most-ever) of Tannat, and a glorious 1100 cases of what should be an amazing varietal Grenache. Although we'll miss having the Syrah, we should have plenty of great stuff to share with fans and club members over the next couple of years. And coming on the heels of bottling all four of our main red grapes from the terrific 2017 vintage I feel better about the selection of red wines we have in the pipeline than I can remember.

A few concluding thoughts.  First, although we're always looking for comparable vintages to the newest one we're wrapping our heads around, it's hard for me to make an easy vintage comp for 2018.  Maybe 2002, which was also a dark, serious, structured year, outstanding for Syrah, and the first dry year after a very wet one, but the vines were so much younger then. Or 1999, with the same big tannins around expressive fruit, but without the concentration we see now. The fact that I'm having to reach so far back into our history suggests that it was a year with its own unique character. It will be fun to get to know it over the coming months. 

Second, we saw more day-to-day variation in how the wines tasted this year than I can remember since at least 2011. The same wines would taste lusher and rounder one day and more powerfully tannic the next. This was a good reminder that it's important to leave yourselves the flexibility to come back and re-taste things a second or third time. Whether that's a function of what was going on with the weather (it still hasn't settled into our summer pattern, and we had a few rainstorms pass through while we were tasting), or the stages of the wines, or even (as much as I cringe to mention it) the Biodynamic calendar, it's a fact that wines do taste different on different days. Making decisions over the course of two weeks helps reduce the likelihood that those decisions will be based on a tasting day that is an outlier.

Finally, it was such a treat to have both Claude and Jean-Pierre around that blending table. It's pretty mind-blowing to think of the number of vintages, and arguments, and discoveries, they have made at Beaucastel sitting around blending tables like this, in the 40-plus years they've worked together. To have that accumulated experience on display will be my lasting memory of this year's blending.

Blending Table with Claude and Jean-Pierre


Blending the 2018 White Wines: Our First Look at the Strikingly Mineral 2018 Vintage

We spent most of last week around our conference table, making sense of the white wines from the recently concluded 2018 vintage. As usual, we started our blending week Tuesday morning by tasting, component by component, through each of the 32 lots we’d harvested this past year. Yeah, I know, tough life. Though, to be fair, these blending weeks are my favorites of the year. Not every week is this exciting.

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The first stage of blending is to look at the raw materials we have to work with, and decide whether that will constrain any of our choices. In 2018, it didn't seem like it would. Although quantities were down a bit from our near-record 2017 levels, they were still healthy:

Grape 2018 Yields (tons) 2017 Yields (tons) % Change vs. 2017
Viognier 18.2 18.9 -3.7%
Marsanne 11.8 13.8 -14.5%
Grenache Blanc 43.6 46.4 -6.0%
Picpoul Blanc 9.1 9.7 -6.2%
Roussanne 32.6 41.7 -21.8%
Total Rhone Whites 115.3 130.5 -11.6%

Being down 10-ish percent still allowed us plenty of possibilities, with the reductions in crop more likely to constrain how much of our varietal wines we could make, rather than whether we would be able to make them at all. The once concern we had was Roussanne, which always forms the basis of Esprit Blanc, and which we've made as a varietal wine every year since 2001. Still, the first stage was as usual to go through the lots, variety by variety, and get a sense of both the character and diversity present in the vintage:

We grade on a 1-3 scale, with 1's being our top grade (for a deep dive into how we do our blending, check out this blog by Chelsea from a few years ago). For context, in a normal year, for every 10 lots we might see 3-4 "1" grades, 5-6 "2" grades and 1 "3" grade. As you'll see, lots of good grades this year. My quick thoughts on each variety:

  • Viognier (5 lots): A really good year for Viognier, with 2 of the 5 lots getting 1's from me and the others strong 2’s, marked down only because they were so dominant I wasn’t convinced that they would shine in blends. Overall, concentrated, tropical and deep, with surprisingly good acids. Of course, there were a few lots that hadn’t concluded malolactic fermentation. Those lots will soften as that finishes, unless we decide that we like them how they are.
  • Picpoul Blanc (2 lots): Not my favorite Picpoul vintage, with our largest lot getting a 2 from me because it was showing a little oxidative character and a ton of acid as it’s still going through malo. Still, plenty of salty minerality, and that nice tropicality that we’ve come to expect from the Picpoul grape.
  • Roussanne (9 lots): The barrel program here dominated my impression of these, with two lots showing beautiful (but dominant) oak, two others that were raised in foudre showing brightness and pungency and tasting very young, and five others in mixed but neutral cooperage showing solid, dense, mature Roussanne character, though with a touch lower acidity than I’d like to have seen. My grades: five 1’s (though two of those got asterisks for being oaky enough that we needed to be careful in blending), three 2’s, and one that bordered between 2 and 3 because it was so low in acid.
  • Grenache Blanc (10 lots): A pretty heterogeneous mix here, with four lots still sweet and five lots still going through malolactic. Like with the Roussanne lots, two that were fermented in foudre were noteworthy: finished with their fermentations but still very young and showing a hint of reduction, which masks their richness. The lots that were done with fermentation and malo, and had spent some time in smaller cooperage, were outstanding, which bodes well for the collection overall. My scores: four 1’s, three 2’s, one 3, and two “incomplete” grades.
  • Marsanne (3 lots): A spot-on showing for this grape, with all three showing Marsanne’s classic honeydew and chalky mineral charm. One lot added a gentle creaminess and surprisingly good (for Marsanne) acidity, and seemed a cinch to bottle on its own. The other two will be lovely Cotes de Tablas Blanc components. My grades: one 1, and two 2’s.
  • Clairette Blanche (1 lot): We only had 240 gallons of this, our scarcest white grape, but it was pretty: lovely salty minerality, and a little tropical lychee character. Plenty of acid, and still not done with malo. A 1 for me.
  • Picardan (1 lot): Newer for us than Clairette, but we have a few more rows in the ground, so the lot was larger (528 gallons). This was a tough wine for me to evaluate. There was still a touch of sugar left, and lots of malic acid, muting the nose and leaving a somewhat primary, candied sweet-tart impression on the palate. Another wine that for me got an “incomplete” grade.
  • Petit Manseng (1 lot): Not really relevant to the rest of the week’s work, since we don’t blend Petit Manseng into the other Rhone whites. Still, this was a good chance to check in on how it was doing, and decide whether we wanted to push it along fermentation to a drier profile, or to leave it with more residual sugar [If this question seems interesting to you, check out the blog from a few years back Wrapping Our Heads Around Petit Manseng]. At the roughly 70 g/L residual sugar, I thought this was lovely: luscious like key lime pie, with the same hints of pithiness and acidity that suggests.

Wednesday morning, we started on our blending work by tasting possible Esprit de Tablas Blanc blends. We always want the Esprit Blanc’s blend to be dictated by the character of the Roussanne, and in some years, that makes the choice easy. Not this year. The 2018 vintage produced both good lushness and higher acids than we’d seen the few years before, so it wasn’t obvious that we should include higher quantities of the high-acid grapes like Picpoul and Grenache Blanc. Plus, Picpoul this year didn't seem so obviously outstanding as to dictate a high percentage in the Esprit Blanc. Adding to the complexity of the challenge, some of the Roussanne lots we’d liked best were quite oaky, and while we feel that a touch of wood is appropriate on the Esprit Blanc, we don’t want it dominated by that character. So, we decided to focus on blends with moderate (60%-70%) proportions of Roussanne, but to vary the amounts of the oakier lots, and also to try blends that replaced a portion of Picpoul with Picardan and Clairette (as we did last year) and also others that didn’t (as we’d done through 2016).

As is often the case when we have lots of viable options, the Esprit Blanc blending took a while. The first flight of four options saw the table fail to come to consensus, although we did decide that we liked the lots that included some Clairette and Picardan. A second round, controlling for that and varying the amount of new oak, surprised us with the realization that even with all the oaky lots in the blend, it didn’t taste particularly oak-dominant. (Though, given that those lots only made up about 10% of the wine, that might not be surprising.) After we’d mulled on that for a while, the blend fell into place on our third trial, at 66% Roussanne, 21% Grenache Blanc, 8% Picpoul Blanc, 3% Picardan, and 2% Clairette Blanche, with most but not all of the lots in the new barrels.

Once we'd decided on the Esprit Blanc blend Wednesday, the Cotes de Tablas Blanc came together quickly on Thursday. In this fairly scarce (and low-acid) Roussanne year, it was pretty clear that there wasn’t much need for it in the Cotes Blanc. And setting aside the Marsanne lot we loved for a varietal bottling meant we knew how much Marsanne we had for Cotes Blanc. So, that meant a blending trial mostly to determine the best relative proportions of Viognier and Grenache Blanc. As is often the case with a trial with only one variable, we all came to agreement on the first round: 40% Viognier, 35% Grenache Blanc, 20% Marsanne, and 5% Roussanne. That allowed the Viognier to show nicely (the Cotes Blanc is always designed to show off this most exuberant of our grapes) but with the Grenache Blanc giving it a nice acid backbone to play off. We talked for a while to see if we could think of anything to improve the blend, but couldn’t, so we all used the rest of the morning to clear some other work off our desks.

We had managed to make our two main blends without using up any of our grapes completely. So, the final step was to taste those two blends alongside the seven (yes, seven) varietal wines that this left us. Other than Grenache Blanc (1200 cases) and Roussanne (some 700 cases) we won’t have enough of these other varietal bottlings for a full wine club shipment, but it will still be a treat to have 400 cases each of Picpoul and Viognier, 275 of Marsanne, 125 of Picardan, and even 50 cases of Clairette Blanche. At this stage, the highlights for me were the Viognier, which was absolutely classic and luscious, the Marsanne, which showed the grape's signature honey and floral notes but also had great brightness, and Clairette, which had electric minerality and a lovely lemongrass character. If you’re fans of any of these, stay tuned to emails that announce their release as we get them into bottle later this spring and summer.

A few concluding thoughts:

  • I was struggling much of the week with a nasty head cold, and there was one day where I could barely taste. Thank goodness for a strong team, and a process which meant that things could move forward even without my full faculties. My head had cleared by the end of the week, and tasting the finished blends all together was a great chance to affirm the success of the week’s work.
  • The cold 2018-2019 winter has definitely had an impact on how far along things were in their fermentation. Normally by late March, most of the lots are done with sugar fermentation and largely done with malolactic. Not this year, despite the efforts of the cellar team in bringing barrels out into the sun, moving recalcitrant lots over the lees of those fermenting actively, and generally nudging things along as much as they could. Fermentation is a temperature-sensitive chemical reaction, and this year has been cold.
  • The vintage’s signature seems to be medium body with expressive aromatics, bright acids, and striking minerality. That’s a great combo. We can’t wait to share these wines with you!

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From Behind a Bar to Behind the Bottle: Q&A with Amanda Weaver, Cellar Assistant

By Linnea Frazier

As is tradition here at Tablas, I like to track down various members of our family and torture them with a peppering of questions so as to create a better understanding of who we are behind the Tablas Creek label. My next victim in this series is Amanda Weaver, who began in our tasting room and was so successful that she was promoted to overseeing our merchandise and running many of our events, but decided after a few years that her true love was production. So, after a couple of harvests working part-time in the cellar here, she jumped to full time with a harvest in Australia, and returned to a full time position as our newest cellar assistant. Not only do we love her for her tenacity in pursuing the world of wine production, but also she happens to be one of the more fearless women in wine I know (in the cellar as well as the dance floor if you're lucky). With that said, check this girl out. 

Amanda 2

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Simi Valley California and lived there until I was 24. It was a cool smallish kind of town back when I was growing up. A pretty safe spot where you were bound to know someone no matter where you went, which was unfortunate when running to the store in your pajama pants at one o'clock in the afternoon. It'll be surreal to go home for Thanksgiving with all of the fire destruction.

What drew you to Central California?

You know, the usual life changes that pull you to new places. If I'm being honest, making wine was not really anything I thought I was interested in or qualified to do, so moving to the central coast was a move that ended up changing my whole life trajectory. 

How did you first hear about Tablas Creek?

I first heard of Tablas Creek when I caught wind of a possible job connection through a friend of a friend. There was this lovely French woman by the name Evelyne, I’m sure you know her, whom at the time had no idea who I was nor I her, well, she decides to put in a good word for me (again, not knowing anything about me) and stipulates that I should call a Mr. John Maurice at once and set up an interview. So I do as such, I send in my resume and promptly call Mr. Maurice who ends up being Mr. John Morris, the tasting room Manager. Funny part being that both of us had been expecting to be speaking to someone more... how do I put this... French! If you have had the pleasure of meeting Evelyne you would note her eloquent way of making everything and everyone just a little French. Well, so, I call and we talk a bit and set up to meet that Wednesday. I drive up, have the interview, and walk out with a job offer to be a part time tasting room attendant. I was PSYCHED! I agreed to start in two weeks with not a clue of where I was going to live. And you know, this story is always one of my favorites to tell, not only because I got a job at the end of it (which is amazing) but it is also extremely representative of the type of community that the Paso Robles wine industry has cultivated. Everyone is willing to help you out and make you a part of the family, and that is exactly what I have found here at Tablas, a family. Suffice to say, this is where I found my footing to really start my journey towards making wine.

Amanda

You started with us in the Tasting Room and now have transitioned into our full-time cellar hand which is an awesome evolution, could you describe what drew you to production? What’s your biggest challenge as a cellar hand?

Hah, it is an awesome transition I would have to agree. I learned so much from my time in the tasting room and was offered so many opportunities to expand my knowledge and even more opportunities to meet many of the people that make up our industry not only near but far as well. All of this knowledge is what spurred me and fueled my desire to at least give my hand a try at being the one behind the bottle instead of behind the bar. So, as harvest approached in 2016 I made myself a bug in the ear of Neil (Our Winemaker), Chelsea (Our Senior Assistant Winemaker), and Craig (Our Assistant Winemaker). Just constantly asking if there was room for me in their harvest team and flexing my arms to show I was strong enough. Well, it worked, not sure if they just wanted me to shut up or what, but I was in! I would say my biggest challenge in the cellar has been myself. That might sound strange, but I have found that I am my own worst heckler, and once I decide to silence that part of me that tells me I can't do something, I inevitably find that I am perfectly capable. Although, a close second would be my height, that tends to hinder me whether I am mentally game or not, but no worries, I have some awesome tall coworkers that help me out in those cases, or a conveniently placed ladder.

Now more than ever you see women winemakers in the industry and you see those numbers only growing every year. Is being a head winemaker your end goal?

I think it is awesome that women are making themselves more prominent in a role that men have dominated for so long. It is truly inspiring. Luckily, I have the honor of knowing a few of these, excuse the language, bad-ass women that are making strides in this rapidly growing region of wine making, not to mention that I work with one of them! As far as being head winemaker as an end goal, I would say I am in a position now that would give me all the tools necessary and support needed to get to a position like that in this industry, and that may be where I am headed once I feel as though I deserve it. But as of yet, I am stoked to be a part of such a rad crew that gives me so much knowledge and is patient with all of my inquiries.

What is it like to work harvest?

Oh man. I love this time of year because I feel like everything gets so much closer. We, as a team, get closer as we roll through our ridiculous highs together and pull one another out of our inevitable lows, while we as a vineyard get closer together as well. At harvest time, the gap between what we do in the cellar and what is happening in the vineyard converges into one functioning entity. And it’s beautiful, even at the end of a 12 hour day when you're dripping wet and have fallen into a drain or walked into a forklift, it's inspiring, cause no matter what, you're all in this together. Not to mention, we have some pretty fun traditions to keep us pumped throughout the harvest season like sabering champagne bottles to signal the start of harvest and various music themed days of the week. I would say the only thing I dread is the wrath of my dog. She's not a fan of my longer-than-usual work days....

You worked a vintage down in Australia earlier this year, and how did that experience compare to the culture of the American Harvests you’ve worked?

Uh, it is quite different, at least at the place I worked. It was more of just a job for most of my coworkers rather than a passion, which is fine and all, I just had to adjust my expectations. All together it was an experience that I am grateful for and would never trade, I met some really great people, hung out with a couple kangaroos, and gained invaluable knowledge to add to my wine-making handbook for the future. The one similarity that I found during my time in Australia was with the growers. I don't know what it is about raising grapes but it tends to produce larger than life personalities in those who take care of the vines. 

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

That is a loaded question. It’s a hard question to really articulate because finding a favorite wine is so sensory and indicative of a specific experience. However there are a few bottles that I have sought out recently that I came across during some of our wine nights in Australia. 

There is a super cool winery in Central Otago New Zealand called Burn Cottage that produces some amazing Pinot, their Estate named Pinot in particular is a favorite as well as their Moonlight Race Pinot. Then on the white side I would suggest getting your hands on a bottle of Gruner Veltliner from Nikolaihof, the orange label. Super crisp and smooth with notes of citrus and coursing with minerality. 

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

Hmmm, at this moment I would probably choose our Vermentino and for the red Dutraive's Cap du Sud.

Amanda 1

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I don't know if anything about me is terribly surprising. I can rapid fire some facts and you can decide it they are surprising or not. Most people don't know that I took ballroom dancing lessons for 4 years, got pretty good I think. I believe the only reason I stopped was because the studio I was going to closed down. I was on the first ever womens Australian Football team. We were the Orange County Bombshells and our first legit game was on my 14th Birthday, we won (I think). Oooo.... Here is one most people wouldn't guess. I was in a sorority in college. Kappa Kappa Gamma. 

How do you define success?

Happiness. It's as simple as that. Growing up I was told that success was directly linked to your bank account and your status in the work force, and I totally believed it. I found myself slowly sinking into the stressful hamster wheel style of life that wasn't making me happy and I thought this was just how life was. But now that I am older I believe less and less in the idea that success is solely reliant on money.