Spain, meet Paso Robles: Manchego, estate grown quince paste, and Rhone-style whites

By Suphada Rom

Scattered through the vineyard and amongst the vines are various fruit trees, planted to reel in beneficial insects to roost. Not only do the fruit trees break up the monoculture of solely growing grapes, they provide a healthy bounty of fresh and delicious produce for the staff to enjoy. Throughout the year, we are able to enjoy fresh vegetables from the garden and fruit from the trees. However, in the dead of winter when garden life is on a brief hiatus, we get to enjoy quince paste, made from quince off our estate and preserved in the chilly confines of our cellar. 

Quince paste (or membrillo) is simple in its ingredients and lengthy in its process. The fruit is harvested in the fall, around the same time as some of our late ripening grapes, like Mourvedre and Roussanne. As of now, there are three quince trees planted on the property. Even though they are quite youthful and small, they produce close to forty pounds of fruit. Once the fruit is harvested, it's cored and prepped for a stovetop simmer. [We detailed this process on the blog in late 2015.]

From the cores, the seeds are collected and wrapped in cheesecloth and thrown into the pot for maximum extraction of pectin. Pectin, for those (including myself) who do not can/preserve often, is a necessary ingredient that is basically the binding agent and key in the successful setting of the paste. Slowly reduced and concentrated in color, the quince paste is poured into baking dishes, where it sits and dehydrates for a few weeks before it's ready for consumption.  All this is overseen by Gustavo Prieto, jack of all trades, one of which is maker of quince paste here at Tablas Creek (for more on Gustavo, check out his recent interview). The result:

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Manchego cheese, quince paste, and the flight of Tablas wines

Quince paste can be enjoyed as a substitute for a jams and preserves in recipes, or simply spread on crackers or toast. In Spain, quince paste is traditionally enjoyed with Manchego cheese made from sheep's milk. Produced in the region of La Mancha, Manchego has a soft nuttiness and firm, creamy texture. As soon as I took a bite of the cheese and quince, I understood the pairing completely, but what I didn't understand was how I missed out on this for so many years! But what Tablas Creek wine pairs best with this classic combination? Gustavo and I decided to find out.

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Quince paste, or membrillo

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The line-up included 2 dry wines (2013 & 2014 Roussanne) and one with a hint of residual sugar (2o14 Petit Manseng)

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We had to dig into the library for this one, but as you'll find out, it was well worth it!

The four wines we tasted were: 2013 Roussanne, 2014 Roussanne, 2014 Petit Manseng, and 2003 Vin de Paille. Of the four, we leaned towards both the 2013 Roussanne and the 2003 Vin de Paille. 2013 Roussanne was beautiful with a slight salty salinity (try to say that 3 times fast!) brought out by the Manchego. Quince is quite rich and textured on its own, without being overly sweet (which is surprising, considering the recipe for making quince paste is just quince and sugar!). The 2003 Vin de Paille was just gorgeous. I was reviewing my tasting notes and I actually wrote gorgeous three times in a row! The viscosity and richness was there, without being offensively sweet. Sweet notes of ripe nectarines and honey shone through, making this an absolutely memorable wine in my book.  We also experimented outside of the three step pairing and did a tasting with just the cheese and were pleasantly surprised to find that the Petit Manseng was the best fit. We loved Petit Manseng's bit of residual sugar and nice tropical notes that stayed with us through each bite of cheese. It was as if the sweet notes of the wine replaced that of the quince paste, playing up the nice creaminess and saltiness of the cheese. Overall, we were really excited about exploring the many avenues of our wines, both new and old, dry and sweet.

If you love quince and Manchego or if you have another idea for a pairing that would work, be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • The 2013 & 2014 Roussanne are available for purchase in the tasting room or via the online shop, although quantities for the 2013 are getting low.
  • The 2014 Petit Manseng, although out of stock, has been replaced by the delicious 2015 vintage. Order in the tasting room or on our online shop.
  • If you're interested in the Vin de Paille, you're in luck! We have just under a case left and we'd be happy to sell you a bottle (or two!) in the tasting room or online shop.

Tablas Creek Lambs and Tablas Creek Lamb

As many of you know, we have been building up our flock this year. The animals help nourish our soil, spreading manure thoroughly and evenly, reducing or eliminating our need to bring in outside fertilizer. They help keep weeds down and reduce the number of tractor passes we need come spring. And they attract different microbes and insects into soil that is vibrantly alive in a way that just doesn't happen in a monoculture.  The past few years, we've had around 80 sheep, along with a few alpacas, two donkeys, and a llama.  Now, thanks to a fertile winter season, we're up to 165 sheep, plus the other members of the menagerie. The flock can at times be seen from the tasting room, but is more often working quietly, out of view:

Animals Feb 2017

The results, for us, have been remarkable.  In this record rainy winter, we've seen practically no erosion, as the soils have absorbed massive quantities of the rainfall we've received. The cover crops have thrived in the nutrient-rich soils the animals leave behind.  The regular movement of the animals around the property has meant that in what could have become an overgrown jungle, we've instead kept the grasses under the height of the cordons, which will help as we get to frost season.  And because we've moved the animals out of each block after just a day or two, they haven't overgrazed anything, and the grasses have resumed growing right away, giving us that much more biomass from our winter months.  We are excited for the vines to reap the benefits of this investment come spring.

Our goal is to graze the entire property twice each winter between harvest and budbreak, at which point we have to move the animals out of the vineyard lest they eat the new growth off the vines.  We'll probably manage that this winter, thanks to the early start to the rainy season and the early end to harvest.  But for a normal winter, Nathan -- the experienced shepherd who we brought aboard last year -- estimates that we'll need about 200 sheep to get the entire vineyard grazed.  Hence why we've been building up our flock.

As a general rule, you get 1.5 healthy lambs per ewe each year.  Many have twins, but some don't lamb at all, and some lambs don't survive.  But even so, you can grow your herd fast. We got 86 lambs this year from our 55 ewes.  Luckily, 53 of these were female, and will be added to the flock long-term.  But once they reach maturity, you can run into problems if you have too many rams in a flock.  Some rams will fight for dominance.1 But even if you get lucky and they don't, the extra rams are still mouths to feed during the dry summer season, where forage is at a premium because the animals can't be in the vineyard, and extra rams won't contribute to the building of the flock for the next year.

So, for the last few years, we've been reaching out to local restaurants about our male lambs, once they reach a certain age.  It's perhaps not surprising that these have provided some of our most memorable food and wine pairing opportunities.  The lamb, as you would expect from where and how they graze, is some of the most delicious -- as well as the most sustainable -- meat you'll ever taste.  And to have it come from the same place as the wine, grown on vines nourished by the healthy soils the animals helped create, ties together what we really love about Biodynamics.

LarderWith the growth of the flock, we're no longer talking about a dozen or so lambs a year.  This year, we have about 20 year-old lambs from last year's brood, and another 30 or so from this winter's.  We will continue to work with our local restaurants, and are in fact hoping that you'll see Tablas Creek lamb on more local menus.  But after receiving a number of inquiries from consumers, we've also started working in a small way with Jensen Lorenzen's Larder Meat Company.

Many of you will remember Jensen from the Cass House in Cayucos, where he was the chef and his wife Grace ran the dining room and wine program.  When the property sold a couple of years ago, he started what is, in essence, a meat club.  Using his contacts with local farmers, he's sourced high quality beef, pork and chicken, always whole animals, always pasture raised and humanely (and locally) harvested at a USDA-licensed facility.  He divides up the meats into a monthly "share", and his members receive a mix of cuts in each box, along with recipes and pairing suggestions. 

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So, when Jensen (above, working on a recipe with one of our lamb shoulders) reached out to us to see if we would be willing to create a "Tablas Creek lamb" offer with him, we agreed. If you'd like to try it, these lamb boxes are 6 lbs. each, and include a roast, rack and/or chops, ground lamb and sausage, as well as Jensen's Larder lamb seasoning and recipe ideas.  They cost $98, shipping included (CA only)2. If you'd like to learn more, or sign up, you can here.

Delicious lamb, raised on a certified organic (and hopefully soon certified Biodynamic) property, with recipes from one of our best local chefs?  Knowing that the lambs helped produce great wine (that I might even choose to pair with that lamb)? And knowing from first-hand experience that the lambs led good lives and were humanely harvested?  Even for me -- and I am typically skeptical of arguments touting ethical meat production -- that works.  If it works for you and you decide to try it, we hope you will let us know what you think. 

Plate with Esprit bottle

Footnotes:

  1. In the wild, young rams leave the presence of the dominant male, often spending several years on their own. When they come back, they fight for the right to breed. Neither the leaving nor the fighting are practical in a working flock. We left a young ram with the flock longer than we should have a few years back, and he was so badly injured in a fight with the dominant ram that he had to be put down.
  2. Jensen has not yet shipped anything out of state. But it sounds like it's possibly in the works for the future.

Spreading our love to the Paso Robles community

By Lauren Phelps

When I have the opportunity to share stories about Tablas Creek I find myself repeating this line, “this is one of my favorite things about Tablas Creek…” I say it about the wine (of course), but I also say it about many other unique aspects including our organic and biodynamic vineyard practices, how intentional the vineyard is from the soil up, and our passionate and friendly team- it really is a joy to come to work every day. This morning was another “one of my favorite things about Tablas Creek” moment.  

In celebration of Valentine’s Day and as a way to share our love for our community, the Tablas Creek team came together to clean, organize and donate playground toys to benefit the children at the Boys & Girls Club in Paso Robles.  Eleven of us (from the cellar, tasting room and office) met early in the morning and spent three hours there working on projects too time consuming for the club to manage in their day-to-day operations. We look forward to choosing another worthy cause this fall, and diving back in.

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Service projects at the Boys & Girls Club

We worked to repair the backpack racks used by over 100 children every day. We also organized and cleaned the library, the computer lab, the kitchen, storage room and ball room. Believe it or not, we had a great time! It was a bit of a Mickey Mouse in Fantasia around the Club this morning. Imagine eighties-rock music motivating us, brooms and dustpans in action, donuts for breakfast and friendship in the air. Working to help others, in a collaborative way, with such fun coworkers leaves a lasting sense of joy that we all shared.

BGC Group

I feel honored and privileged to work for a committed, family owned business like Tablas Creek. Also, I feel incredibly thankful to have such enthusiastic, fun, caring friends as coworkers. We’re looking forward to our next project this fall -- another opportunity to share give back to the local community which has been so supportive of us.

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The Boys & Girls Club in Paso Robles provides a safe place after school for over a hundred children every day. The Club charges just $20 a year and provides academic, enrichment, and leadership opportunities for many children whose parents have limited resources.  It has received major support from must! charities, the amazing local nonprofit that has done so much good work in San Luis Obispo North County, and which we have supported each year since it was created in 2012.  For more about the work Tablas Creek does to benefit our local community please see our In Our Community page.


Biodynamic Bon Vivant: Q&A with Gustavo Prieto

By Suphada Rom

When work doesn't feel like work and is a joy, you know you've got it made. By this measure, Gustavo Prieto lives an incredibly fruitful life, balancing passion in his work with a zeal for adventure. From cellar to vineyard to tasting room, Gustavo's role at Tablas Creek is as fluid and multifaceted as the seasons themselves. 

Gustavo feeding lamb

Where were you born and raised?
I was born and raised in Chile and moved after high school to attend university at Cal Poly.

What did you study at Cal Poly?
I studied fruit science there for five years. After that, I moved a lot, always working in the produce industry. I was in Holland for four years, moved back to Chile for eight years, then finally back to California for good in 1999. In 2000, I decided I needed a break from that industry, and just did some consultating on the side.

When did you get into the wine industry?
I got my first winery job in 2005, working for Wild Horse during harvest and I just loved it! That was my first harvest and after that, I decided that I wanted to continue working in the wine industry. I worked a harvest at Bianchi on the east side of Paso Robles, then after that, I started hearing a lot of conversation about Tablas Creek and I got really curious about it. In 2007 I was able to get a position in the tasting room and have been here ever since. When I first started I was primarily tasting room, but that grew into doing more out in the vineyard and the cellar. I had a lot of experience with farming and produce, so Levi (our then viticulturist) asked me to help him out with some cool new projects. We wanted to get a staff garden going on the property, as well as planting more trees for the orchard. I also work in the cellar during harvest season.

Gustavo eating cherries

Why is planting trees and a garden important for the vineyard?
It's important for diversity in the vineyard. I mean, we've been growing grapes here for a long time, so growing other crops gives us the opportunity to be around other types of agriculture. Neil introduced the idea of planting fruit trees to bring something else that we didn't already have into the vineyard. By bringing in the fruit trees, we are breaking up the monoculture that is just growing grapes. And we have so many different kinds of trees! Mostly apples, but we also have pears, plums, peaches, nectarines, quince, pomegranates, fig, cherries, and persimmons. 

In the last few years, I've been able to work on a garden, to both diversify the vineyard and provide our staff with good organic produce. In the summer, we have fresh tomatoes, corn, zucchini, squash, melons, radishes, basil, and more. Again, all that adds to the biodiversity in the vineyard. Same with the animals that Nathan's working with and the bees that Jordy introduced. We have this place that is rich and diverse in other elements. We aren't just growing grapes- we're doing much more than that. 

What is your vineyard or garden philosophy?
My philosophy is to bring back Mother Nature. Mother Nature is so savvy and I truly believe will always outsmart us. It's very resilient. I think that's what we, globally, need to get back to. Nature dictates what we do out there. Let the process flow as naturally as well as we can, by guiding in an efficient way. In the end, nature will reward us with what we want to achieve, and in our case, that is to produce good quality grapes on a healthy vineyard. We do that by not using any chemicals. You see, nature in itself helps to keep the population of bad insects under control. It's not about eliminating them, but more about the beneficial insects keeping them under control and not letting them get out of hand. 

Gustavo Grapes

You're coming up on your 10 year anniversary here- what has been your most memorable experience at Tablas Creek or in the wine industry in general?
One of the many highlights was going to France in 2010 and 2011. In 2010, I went to work for Chateau de Beaucastel for harvest. That was amazing! I enjoyed that so much. Everything was great, I worked in the cellar doing everything related to cellar work, helping and supporting them with anything they needed.  Also tasting wines over there, I mean, I can still taste them! It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity and through working for Tablas Creek, I was able to have such an incredible experience. 

I was also able to spend some time in Burgundy. I even took a class in Beaune. I loved going to France so much that I repeated the experience and worked for Pierre Gaillard in Languedoc for harvest and that too was an amazing experience. Spending time in the southeast part of France, it reminded me a little bit of Paso Robles, you know? Less tight and rigid, less regulated, and less traditional. You have more room for exploring and creativity, too. So much great potential there, as there is here.

When you're not at the vineyard, what are you doing?
On my days off, I like to bike. I live in Santa Margarita, so I can leave my house and bike for hundreds of miles without seeing cars. I also enjoy working on my bikes. Sailing has always been a passion of mine. My wife, Heidi, and I spend time working on our garden; I love doing that. We compliment each other very well in that area; she knows a lot and really, she's the one who started me on gardening. 

Gustavo sitting

Do you have a favorite food and wine pairing?
Well, I'm from Chile, so I love empanadas! To me, empanadas are traditional and a staple. It was a staple in my house every Sunday. We would have empanadas and red wine, most likely a Chilean Cabernet. I love Chilean wines. Old world producers coming from the southwestern part of Chile, with dry farmed vines. Old vine Carignan is very interesting to me. I've also seen Mission blends coming out and getting popular.

Finally, how do you define success?
Success is all about happiness. If you have success and no happiness, I think you've gone nowhere. Stability is important, too. Stability with your family, friends, and yourself. I don't see success from a monetary aspect, it's all about what makes you happy!


Tasting the wines for the spring 2017 VINsider Club shipments

Each spring and fall, we send out a selection of six wines to the members of our VINsider Wine Club.  In many cases, these are wines that only go out to our club.  In others, the club gets a first look at a wine that may see a later national release.  About 6 weeks before the club shipments will be sent out, we open them all to write the tasting and production notes that will be included in the club shipments.  In many cases, this tasting is our first post-bottling introduction to wines that we'll come to know intimately in coming weeks and months.  In some cases (like this time) where the shipments contain wines that aren't yet even bottled (they will be the last week of February) it's a chance to get to know wines that are newly finished.  Over recent years, I've given followers of the blog a first look at these notes.

These shipments include wines from the 2014, 2015, and 2016 vintages.  It was fascinating to taste these three vintages, all of which we think were very strong, together, and to get a sense of how they compare.  My quick thoughts, after the tasting, are that 2014 is a blockbuster vintage, with wines that are luscious and forward, yet not lacking in tannin and structure.  The reds incorporate tannic power with luscious fruit... a pretty irresistible combination. The 2015s are, I'm coming to see, similar in many ways to the 2014's, but with a somewhat more notable savory note, perhaps from the alternating cool and warm periods that typified that growing season. For those familiar with the classic, Old World-styled 2013's, 2015 seems to be a midpoint between them and the 2014's. Finally, 2016 (we only tasted two wines) seems to be electric and vibrant, with very bright acids showcasing and contrasting with pretty, intense fruit. 

I'll start with the classic mixed shipment, and then move on to the red-only and white-only shipments, noting which wines will be included in each.  I was joined for the tasting by Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi.  The wines:

Spring 2017 vinsider shipment

2016 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our fifteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal, known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy. It is also grown in the Mediterranean parts of France (particularly Côtes de Provence) where it is known as Rolle. The Vermentino grape produces wines that are bright, clean, and crisp, with distinctive citrus character and refreshing acidity. To emphasize this freshness, we ferment and age Vermentino in stainless steel, and bottle it in screwcap.
  • Tasting Notes: A classic Vermentino nose of grapefruit pith, citrus leaf, fresh herbs and sea spray, but with an extra level of creaminess beyond what we usually see, like key lime pie. The palate is zingy with flavors of lemon, nectarine, and a briny mineral note that comes out on the long, clean, bright finish.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1275 cases.

2015 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: Roussanne suffered less than our other white varietals from low production in 2015, but yields were still down, and this brought an extra level of structure to the lushness Roussanne typically exhibits. We fermented the Roussanne lots that were selected for our varietal bottling roughly 55% in foudre, 35% in neutral oak puncheons, and 10% in small new barriques. The selected lots were blended in April 2016 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
  • Tasting Notes: A rich nose of pineapple, honeycomb, butterscotch, jasmine, and a little cedary oak. The mouth is broad and rich, inviting, with ripe pear, beeswax, custard, baking spices and a nice savory firmness that reminded me of apple skin cleaning things up on the long finish. A wine to enjoy now or to hold for a decade or more.
  • Production: 1200 cases

2016 DIANTHUS

  • Production Notes: Our Dianthus rosé, whose name was chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers, is back at reasonable levels after a drastically lower production in 2015. As usual, we aim for a style between that of Tavel (deeper pink, based on Grenache) and Bandol (less skin contact, based on Mourvedre). This year's blend is 49% Mourvèdre, 37% Grenache and 14% Counoise, bled off or pressed off after roughly 24 hours on the skins. The wine was fermented in stainless steel and will be bottled later in February. This is a deeply colored, flavorful rosé that shows the combination of rich fruit and bright acid characteristic of the 2016 vintage.
  • Tasting Notes: An electric pink. The nose shows watermelon candy, mint, yellow raspberry and a strawberry tart richness that hints at the flaky crust as well as the berries. The mouth is floral: rose petals, lemongrass, raspberry and plum, with a little tannic bite to maintain order on the back palate. Great acids come out on the finish, with flavors of cranberry and spice. A rosé to convert people who think that pink wines can't be serious.  Drink before the end of 2018.
  • Production: 900 cases

2014 SYRAH

  • Production Notes: Many years, in our climate, Syrah makes for a wonderful blending component but a varietal wine that can be more about power than balance. Not 2014. In this blockbuster vintage, Syrah showed a combination of luscious fruit, powerful tannins, and herbal lift that we thought worthy of showcasing. So, during blending in the summer of 2015, we kept aside one foudre and a few puncheons and demi-muids (a mix of newer and older oak) of our most expressive Syrah. It was re-blended and bottled in May of 2016.
  • Tasting notes: The nose is luscious: blackberries, prime rib drippings, tobacco leaf, Chinese five spice and a little cedary oak. The mouth is richly tannic: new leather, black raspberry, plum skin, sweet oak, and baking spices. A syrah that is more refined than our usual: more Cote Rotie than Cornas, for those with a northern Rhone background. Decant in advance if drinking soon, or wait up to two decades.
  • Production: 845 cases

2014 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our thirteenth bottling of this traditional varietal from South-West France, known principally in the Pyrenees foothills appellation of Madiran, but originally native to the Basque region. Tannat typically has intense fruit, spice, and tannins that produce wines capable of long aging.  While we often blend ours with Cabernet Sauvignon, in this vintage we bottled the Cabernet separately and the wine is 100% Tannat.  We aged it in one foudre and a mix of new and older smaller barrels for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2016, and then aged it another year in bottle before release. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, smoky, savory and meaty: stew in a garlicky marinade, Worcestershire sauce, and mint, yet with Tannat's characteristic (and welcome) floral undertone that reminded me of violets. The mouth is classic: red plum, tobacco leaf, pepper spice, and a little sweet oak. Plum skin tannins soften into a spicy, salty finish with a lingering note of black tea. A wine to watch evolve over decades.
  • Production: 985 cases

2014 PANOPLIE

  • Production Notes: As always, Panoplie is selected from lots chosen in the cellar for their richness, concentration and balance, always giving pride of place to Mourvedre's rich meatiness and firm structure. Each lot was fermented individually before being selected, blended and moved to foudre to age in July 2015.  The wine was bottled in June 2016 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.  The blend is 65% Mourvèdre, 28% Grenache and 7% Syrah.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose that was immediately reminiscent of Beaucastel, to me: currant, sugarplum, cola, orange peel, crushed rock, and wild herbs.  The mouth is luscious, with red currant, milk chocolate, licorice, plum, and cigar box flavors.  The finish is long, with big tannins enlivened by a minty lift.  An unusually approachable Panoplie at this stage, but one that should have two decades of life, easily.
  • Production: 800 cases

There were two additional wines (joining the Roussanne and Vermentino) in the white-only shipment:

2015 PATELIN DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas Blanc is our white Rhone-style blend sourced from nine great neighboring Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the richness and acidity of Grenache Blanc (56%), with Viognier (23%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, and Roussanne (12%) and Marsanne (9%) adding minerality and texture. All the varieties, but particularly the Viognier, saw dramatically reduced yields in 2015, sacrificing quantity but providing extraordinary concentration. The wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled in screwcap in June 2016 to preserve its freshness.
  • Tasting Notes: An explosive nose of lychee, white peach, tarragon, lemon pith, and mineral. The mouth is clean, fresh, and vibrant: blood orange, anise, pear, lemon curd, and sweet spice. The finish is clean and long. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 2920 cases

2012 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: 2012 provided a warm contrast to the cold vintages of 2010-2011, giving Roussanne generous fruit to go with its spice, structure and flavors of honey and pear skin.  This unusual friendliness allowed us to use more Roussanne than usual in our Esprit Blanc, adding just enough Grenache Blanc and Picpoul Blanc to lift the aromatics and the acidity slightly, and bring in a hint of sweet spice.  We blended 75% Roussanne (fermented primarily in foudre) with 20% Grenache Blanc and 5% Picpoul, then for the first time let the blend age in foudre through the 2013 harvest before bottling it in December. Knowing how well this wine ages, we held back a good chunk of our production, and are releasing it to club members now, after three years of bottle age have brought out the deeper, nuttier tones white Rhones gain with age.
  • Tasting Notes: The three years in bottle have brought remarkable depth to the aromas of caramelized pineapple, honeycomb, citrus blossom, creme brulee, and a nice herby lift Chelsea nailed as "lemon thyme". In the mouth, like the essence of an apple pie: custard, baked apples and pears, sweet spice, and a rich element that Chelsea described as bran and I identified (keeping with the theme) as pie crust. The finish is long, rich, and deep, yet never heavy. Drink now or continue aging for another decade.
  • Production: 2465 cases

Two additional reds joined the Syrah, Panoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:

2015 PATELIN DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our red Rhone-style blend sourced from our many great neighboring Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (51%), with Grenache (31%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (14%) and Counoise (4%) earth and structure. Fermented in a mix of upright oak fermenters and stainless steel tanks and aged in wooden uprights, it was bottled in July 2016 and aged in bottle to round into its structure.
  • Tasting Notes: A savory, dark, Syrah-driven nose of blackberries, crushed rock, menthol and saddle leather, with a little sweet lift lurking that reminded me of honey graham crackers. The mouth shows black cherry, loam, and pepper spice, with chalky tannins and flavors of cranberry and freshly turned earth that come out on the finish. Delicious now, but with the substance and balance to age for up to a decade.
  • Production: 4845 cases

2015 COTES DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: The Cotes de Tablas is our chance to let Grenache shine, as it does in most Chateauneuf du Pape blends. The juiciness of Grenache in the 2015 vintage encouraged us to use a closer percentage of Grenache (39%) and Syrah (35%) than normal, to keep Grenache's fruitiness grounded.  Additions of Counoise (16%) and Mourvedre (10%) added a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2016 and aged in foudre until its upcoming bottling later in February.
  • Tasting Notes: A spicy Grenache-led nose, despite the relatively equal percentages: wild strawberry, mint, fresh figs, and an undertone of meatiness that reminded Chelsea of chorizo. In the mouth, we found lifted fruit balanced with richness, like strawberry shortcake, with complicating flavors of Mexican hot chocolate, cola, and fresh dates. Drink now and over the next decade.
  • Production: 1475 cases

If you're a wine club member, you should make your reservation for our shipment tasting party, where we open all the wines in the most recent club shipment for VINsiders to try. This spring's party will be on Sunday, April 2nd.  If you're not a wine club member, and you've read all this way, then why not join up, while there's still a chance to get this spring shipment? Details and how to join are at tablascreek.com/wine_club/vinsider_club


A Luxurious Supper for a Cold Winter's Day: Roasted Duck Legs and Tannat

By Suphada Rom

Grocery shopping while hungry is not for the faint of heart. I often end up with way more food than I could ever think of eating in the course of a week, while indulging in instant gratification snacks for the car ride home. So, whenever I feel a hunger impulse, I try to steer clear of the tempting snacks and head straight for the meat and seafood section. Better yet, I'll visit my local butcher. You can't eat those tempting cuts of uncooked meat, taunting you from behind the glass. You have to muster up patience and focus on creating a menu. This time, I was drawn to the fresh cuts of duck offered at the counter. Duck is a real treat. I don't cook it often. Duck tends to be on the upper end of the spending spectrum and I don't know about you, but if I'm spending more on a cut of meat, I like to know exactly what I'm going to do with it. Not a problem today; when I saw the duck at the butcher's shop, the lightbulb effect was in full force and I knew that I wanted roasted duck legs.

Tannat
Roasted Duck Leg and Butter Poached Potatoes with our 2014 Tannat

I love duck's rich dark flavors and almost butter-like consistency. When done right, it melts. in. your. mouth. My recipe choice: Roast Duck Legs with Red Wine Sauce from BBC Food. This recipe is a nice balance of flavor reward for time invested.  Seasoned simply with Chinese Five Spice (I've used this before on an oven roasted chicken- it's extremely versatile!) and roasted in the oven for just over an hour, makes for an incredible dinner or indulgent lunch. Also, I chose to use quince paste (made from Tablas Creek quince- stay tuned for a blog piece on quince paste production and a wine and cheese pairing!) in the sauce. Here are the results from today's efforts:

Pre Roast
The duck legs, seasoned and ready to go in the oven. The bed of rosemary and garlic not only flavors the meat but also separates the gradual pool of duck fat that will accumulate at the bottom of the pan 

Potatoes
Butter poached fingerling potatoes; trust me when I say they look more indulgent than they are! I love that each potato keeps its form right up until you bite into it

The smell of roasting meat and herbs wafted through the office, effectively luring hungry individuals into the warmth of the kitchen. After a quick photo op, it was finally time to dig in. Cutting into the crispy skin, your knife meets rich and creamy textured meat. The aromatics from the rosemary and garlic that the duck was roasting on permeated through the meat and flavored everything wonderfully. Roasting the duck concentrates the flavor and give it this succulent texture. And the potatoes- oh man, these were light and pillowy. I love whipped potatoes, but sometimes even whipped potatoes can have a denseness and gummy texture that I wasn't looking for with this dish. I pulled the butter poaching technique from a dish we served at the restaurant I worked at. They're almost like a mashed potato on command- they stay in their whole form until you take a bite, when they reveal the creamy and buttery texture of a luscious whipped potato. 

Pairing this with the 2014 Tannat was a natural. I had tasted it earlier this week and in my mind, pairing it with the duck just clicked. On the nose, there are rich aromas of tobacco and juniper. I also got a whiff of black tea, sweet smoke, and citrus, steering more towards orange peel. Even in its youth, Tannat has a loamy and meaty quality that suggests the strong flavors of game. On the palate, Tannat's tannins are concealed nicely, making the wine approachable in it's youth, which isn't always this case for the notoriously powerful Tannat grape. I was absolutely thrilled with how well the wine complimented the dish. Duck is just so texturally rich that the tannins (silky as they were) in the wine provided a wonderful counterpoint. The sauce was lightly scented with the rosemary infused duck fat that collected at the bottom of the pan, playing up the savory tones of the wine. We were all quite pleased with this pairing, in fact, the only thing I was partly disappointed with was the quantity- I only wish I had made more (mostly to fulfill dream of shredded duck tacos for lunch the next day). Oh well, there's always next time!

If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas

A few resources:

  • The recipe for Roasted Duck Legs can be found here.
  • Our 2014 Tannat is available through purchase at our tasting room or on our online shop.
  • Not a member yet? Our 2014 Tannat will be part of our 2017 Spring VINsider shipment, set to ship out mid-March. Find out more information here.

Winter Vineyard Photo Essay: After the Rain

It has been a remarkable January here at Tablas Creek. By the time the last storm in our most recent sequence passed through early Monday morning, we'd accumulated 4.01" of rain in 24 hours, 18.79" for January, and 25.5" for the winter rainy season so far. The blog I posted Sunday has more detail on what this record-setting rainfall means to us, but big  picture, it's all terrific.  At this time of year, the more rain, the better, almost without exception.

Now, with three days of sun (and two quite frosty nights) behind us, it's finally firm enough to get out into the vineyard without sacrificing your footwear.  And we've been taking advantage of this footing by getting out to show off the vineyard's green winter coat.  I thought I'd share a few of our favorite shots.  As always, click on the photo to see it larger.  

First, one that Lauren caught of the frost on one of our cover crop flowers. Our mornings have been quite chilly, down in the upper 20s with plenty of moisture to settle (and freeze) overnight:

Frost on cover crop flower

While we're on the subject of wildflowers, I found the first California poppy of the year growing behind the winery:

CA poppy

The vineyard itself is vibrantly green, with the contours emphasized by the bare branches.  We'll be starting to prune in the next few weeks, but as for now everything is still in its raw state. Note too the section in the background (formerly a mixed section of struggling Syrah, Mourvedre, and Roussanne) that we've pulled out and will be letting lay fallow for a year:

Green vine contours

What's growing is a mix of the cover crop that we seed each year (a mix of sweet peas, oats, vetch, and clovers) and the native plants that seed themselves.  One of these that I'm always happy to see is miner's lettuce, an edible water-loving perennial that tastes like a cross between watercress and baby spinach:

Miners lettuce

The animals are doing a great job of keeping the cover crop growth reasonable.  Nathan has already gotten the animals through nearly the entire vineyard once, on his way to two full passes before budbreak.  His goal is to keep them in any given area only for a day or two, and then move them before they start to damage the cover crop's roots, so it will continue growing.  They dot the hillsides like white clouds on a green background:

Animals in vineyard

The sheep, alpacas, and donkeys aren't the only animals we're finding homes for.  I like that this shot of one of our owl boxes is framed between two of the different oak species that give Paso Robles its name (a coastal live oak on the right and a deciduous black oak on the left):

Owl box and oak trees

Outside the vineyard, the rain has left the forest feeling washed clean. I love this photo of the lichen hanging off the trees, still sparkling from the last cloudburst:

Lichen forest

Finally, lest you think that all the water has disappeared underground, one photo of what is normally just a grassy valley.  Water is seeping out of the vineyard at all its low points, heading down toward a suddenly rushing Las Tablas Creek:

Impromptu creek

With all the water in the ground, and a week of sun forecast, it's only going to get greener here, and the wildflower season this year should be spectacular. If you've only seen Paso Robles in its summer gold, it's something to be sure to experience. 


January 2017 is Tablas Creek's wettest month ever

Sometime around 6:30 this morning, as the third of three powerful storms pushed through the Paso Robles area, our rain gauge for January passed 16.32" for the month and displaced February 1998 as the wettest single month in Tablas Creek's history.  Our running total (with much of this storm still to pass, and 9 days left in January) is now 17.17", more than triple the normal average for January, our wettest month:

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For the year, we're at 23.88", just about at our 20-year average for the winter rainy season and about more than 90% of the way toward the 26" that old-timers quote as the long-term annual "normal" for our pocket of the Paso Robles Adelaida District. You can see, looking at the last 20 years, that we're still quite a ways from matching our wettest-ever rainy season, 2004-05:

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Of course, we're still only just past the midpoint of the normal winter rainy season. It seems like we'll get another inch or so in the aftermath of this storm, and February-June brings another 11.47" of rain on average.  That would put us up above 35" of rain, on par with the last two wet winters, 2009-10 and 2010-11.

Even with the recent rain, we've got a long way to go to climb out of the hole the last five years of drought has put us in. Between the winters of 2011/12 and 2015/16, we built up a deficit of more than 54" (compared to that 26" average).  So, it will take more than one wet winter to recover.  But between the reports of greatly increased capacity in our local reservoirs and the news that most of Northern California has been declared free of drought it's clear that the rain has made a measurable difference.

As for the vineyard, it's wet. Springs have sprouted in low-lying areas, and enough water has drained to cause Las Tablas Creek to flow during more than the immediate aftermath of a storm for the first time in four years.  You venture into the vineyard at peril of losing your footwear.

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After this low pressure system passes through on Tuesday, we're forecast for a week or so of dry weather.  That's perfect.  It will allow the surface water to drain down into the limestone clay layers, and give the cover crop a week of sun.  And then the long-term forecast suggests a return to a wet pattern in early February.  That's perfect too.  At this point, we're feeling good about where we are.  Anything more at this point is gravy.