Winter 2017-2018 remains one of our driest ever, but at least it's gotten cold again.

Last winter's gloriously wet January and February feels like a lifetime ago. The 4.32" of rain that we've received so far this winter is less than 14% of last winter's (near-record) 31.92" as of February 12th. Yes, last winter was extraordinary, but we're also at just 27% of the 16.16" we'd expect to have received to date in a normal winter.  National newspapers are speculating that despite relatively healthy reservoir levels in the wake of last year's snowmelt, we might be reentering drought conditions.  While things are nowhere near as bad as they were in 2015 or 2016, the California Drought Monitor recently upgraded much of coastal southern California to "Severe Drought" status. And as of now, we're looking at our first totally dry February since 1952. The winter so far:

Winter rainfall 2017-2018 mid Feb v2
Although we're all worried about the lack of rain, there is a more pressing concern. While December 2017 was very cold, with 20 frost nights, 2018 has been much warmer. January saw only five nights drop below freezing, and until two nights ago, February had seen zero, and 10 days in a row topped out at 75°F or higher.  A February 8th Wines & Vines article on very early budbreak in Ojai sent many of the Central Coast winery folks I know scurrying, asking neighbors if they'd seen any signs of the same in their necks of the woods.

So, Sunday night's chilly weather, and the forecast for a week of frosty nights, was a relief to us all.

Why would we worry more about the unusual warmth than the unusual dryness?  Well, too much more warmth and we would be looking at budbreak in February, which would be the earliest we'd ever seen. And early budbreak puts us at increased risk of damage from spring frosts, which can come as late as early May.  A bad frost typically costs us something like 40% of our production.  It's been a while since our last bad frost -- 2011 was our most recent, with other similarly bad ones in 2009 and 2001 -- but I'm not anxious to repeat the experience.  While a dry winter does have some implications on yields, typically it's not nearly as dramatic, at least not the first year of a drought.  It would be a different calculus if this winter had followed a string of dry years, but for now, our wells are in good shape and the vines strong from last year's ample winter rain.

Of course, it's not like we get to choose. And since the main determinant of budbreak is warming soil temperatures, the lack of rainfall and the warm weather both have roles to play in the timing of when the vines sprout.  Wet soils hold the nighttime cold much better than dry soils do, so a good soaking in the next few weeks would have the ancillary benefit of maintaining cool soil temperatures well into March. 

In any case, while we're all hoping for rain, we'll be looking forward each morning this week to seeing a frosty carpet. We'll take what we can get.


Tasting the wines in the Spring 2018 VINsider Wine 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.  I always think it's fun to give followers of the blog a first look at these notes.

These shipments include wines from the 2015, 2016, and 2017 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 2015 is a classically styled vintage, more old world than the luscious 2014's, but with tremendous depth and complexity. We have been impressed with the 2016 whites, but as we come to know the reds I think it's if anything an even better red vintage, striking a mid-point between 2014's juicy intensity and 2015's depth and texture.  Finally, 2017 (we only tasted two wines) seems to show lush textures and vibrant acids, a great combination. 

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 our cellar team: Winemaker Neil Collins, Senior Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Franchi, Assistant Winemaker Craig Hamm, and Cellar Master Brad Ely.  The wines:

Spring 2018 shipment wines 2
2017 VERMENTINO

  • Production Notes: Our sixteenth 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 clean, spicy Vermentino nose of grapefruit pith, citrus leaf, white flowers and sea spray. Briny. The palate shows Vermentino's characteristic vibrant acids, with flavors of key lime, nectarine, and an ocean spray note that lingers on the long, clean, bright finish.  Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 1430 cases.

2016 ROUSSANNE

  • Production Notes: Roussanne yields recovered slightly in 2016, but were still low, and produced wines with both lushness and density. 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 2017 then aged through the subsequent harvest before bottling this past December.
  • Tasting Notes: Rich and immediately Rhoney on the nose, with aromas of graham cracker, crystallized pineapple, ginger, and honeycomb. The mouth is rich and inviting, with flavors of honeydew and smoky marzipan, tons of texture, and a little pithy bite that helps all the rich flavors resolve into a clean, dry finish. A hint of sweet oak lingers. The wine has only been in bottle for a few months and we expect it to continue to flesh out over the next year. Hold for a few months at least, then drink over the next decade or more.
  • Production: 900 cases

2017 DIANTHUS

  • Production Notes: Our Dianthus rosé, whose name was chosen for a family of plants with deep-pink flowers, is back up to pre-drought levels after significant reductions in production in 2016 and especially 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, 39% Grenache and 12% Counoise, bled off or pressed off after 24-36 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, perhaps a touch more concentrated than the 2016, that shows the combination of rich fruit and bright acid characteristic of the 2017 vintage.
  • Tasting Notes: An electric pink. The nose shows watermelon and strawberry fruit, mint, and sweet spice. The mouth is like biting into a ripe plum, complete with the burst of acid from the skin, the sweet fruit that follows, and a little welcome herbiness on the finish like lemon thyme. A little salty minerality comes 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 2019.
  • Production: 1500 cases

2016 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. Grenache had good structure in 2016, so we used a higher percentage (55%) than we have the past few years. Syrah (25%) adds dark fruit and minerality, and keeps Grenache's fruitiness grounded.  Additions of Mourvedre (13%) and Counoise (7%) add a savory earthiness to the wine, which was blended in June 2017 and aged in foudre until its upcoming bottling later in February.
  • Tasting Notes: Explosively rich and spicy on the nose, with aromas of black licorice, cherry compote, new leather, plum skin and star anise. We found the mouth fresh and refreshing, with flavors of wild strawberry darkened by clove, leather, and milk chocolate. Nice chewy tannins come out on the finish, suggesting that as good as it is to drink now, it will go out in an interesting way a decade or more.
  • Production: 2050 cases

2015 TANNAT

  • Production Notes: Our fourteenth 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.  As we do many years, we blended in our small harvest of Cabernet, making the wine is 97% Tannat and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Even so, we made less Tannat than we have since our frost-reduced 2011 vintage. We aged it in one foudre and a mix of new and older smaller barrels for nearly 2 years before bottling it in April 2017, and then aged it another 10 months in bottle before release. 
  • Tasting Notes: On the nose, expressive: boysenberry and salted caramel and blueberry and blackcurrant, with a pine forest/menthol herbiness and Tannat's characteristic (and welcome) floral undertone that always reminds me of violets. The mouth is more approachable than we normally expect of a young Tannat: blueberry jam, a little cedary oak, and a burst of flavor like chocolates with cherry liqueur inside. The combination of Tannat's tannins and healthy acids restore order on the finish, but it's not structure-bound or impenetrable now. A wine to drink any time over the next two decades.
  • Production: 700 cases

2015 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 2016.  Befitting the tremendous depth and intensity of Mourvedre in 2015, our blend is weighted more toward Mourvedre (71%) than it has been most years. 24% Grenache adds lushness and sweet spice, while 5% Syrah adds darker tones and mineral. The wine was bottled in June 2017 and has been aged in bottle in our cellars since then.
  • Tasting Notes: A nose balanced beautifully between sweeter and more savory elements, with dark red currant fruit, soy marinade, dark chocolate, orange peel, and meat drippings.  The mouth is dense with raspberry, plum skin, and bittersweet chocolate, but a lifted rose petal floral note comes out with some air, and sweet nutmeg spice notes play with red fruit on the long, focused finish. A delicious wine with a long life ahead; we predict two decades of life, easily.
  • Production: 800 cases

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

2016 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 (52%), with Viognier (24%) providing lush stone fruit and floral notes, Roussanne (12%) and Marsanne (9%) adding minerality and texture, and for the first time, a little Clairette Blanche (3%) for its briny freshness. The wine was fermented entirely in stainless steel and then bottled in screwcap in June 2017 to preserve its freshness.
  • Tasting Notes: An explosive nose of fresh lime juice, wet rocks, lychee, honeysuckle, oyster shell, and grapefruit. The mouth is clean, fresh, and vibrant: fresh pineapple, anise, blood orange, citrus, and sweet spice. The finish is clean and long, with lingering notes of citrus blossom and sea spray. Drink now and over the next few years.
  • Production: 3000 cases

2013 ESPRIT DE TABLAS BLANC

  • Production Notes: As our drought stretched into its second vintage, we pre-emptively cut back our crop levels, giving all our 2013's an extra level of concentration.  For the Esprit Blanc, this showed most dramatically in a powerful, structured Roussanne component.  To that, we added Grenache Blanc for sweet spice and openness, and Picpoul Blanc for floral aromatics and saline freshness. The final blend was 71% Roussanne (fermented primarily in foudre), 21% Grenache Blanc (from foudre and stainless steel) and 8% Picpoul (from neutral barrels). We let the blend age in foudre through the subsequent harvest before bottling it in February 2015. 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 candied orange peel, citrus blossom, and honeycomb that is just starting to deepen into butterscotch. In the mouth, broad and richly Roussanne in character, with beeswax and green pear and honeydew melon, plus a hint of pithy Grenache Blanc tannins. The finish is long, rich, and deep, yet never heavy. Drink now or continue aging for another decade.
  • Production: 2170 cases

One additional red joined the Cotes de TablasPanoplie, and Tannat in the red-only shipment:

2016 PATELIN DE TABLAS

  • Production Notes: Patelin is French slang for "neighborhood" and the Patelin de Tablas is our red Rhone-style blend sourced from eleven great neighboring Rhone vineyards. We base the wine on the spicy savoriness of Syrah (52%), with Grenache (31%) providing juiciness and freshness, and Mourvedre (11%) and Counoise (6%) 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 2017 and has been aging in bottle to round into its structure.
  • Tasting Notes: Spicy dark fruit on the nose, very Syrah, like a mixed berry crisp complete with flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and buttery pastry. The mouth is savory, with smoky blackberry, licorice root, garrigue, crushed rock, and saddle leather, with chalky tannins and flavors of cranberry and freshly turned earth that come out on the finish. Delicious now, but still fleshing out, and with the substance and balance to age for up to a decade.
  • Production: 3090 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 22nd.  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


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

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

Twitter thread club signup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A Horizontal Retrospective: Tasting Every Wine from 2008 at Age 10

In 2014 we began the tradition of looking back each year at the vintage from ten years before.  Part of this is simple interest in seeing how a wide range of our wines -- many of which we don't taste regularly -- have evolved, but we also have a specific purpose: choosing ten or so of the most compelling and interesting wines from this vintage to show at the public retrospective tasting we're holding on February 11th.  Ten years is enough time that the wines have become something different and started to pick up some secondary and tertiary flavors, but not so long that whites are generally over the hill. In fact, each year that we've done this we've been surprised by at least one wine that we expected to be in decline showing up as a highlight.  The lineup:

2008 Retrospective

A while back, as part of a look back at each of our vintages for our then-new Web site, I wrote this about the 2006 vintage:

The 2008 vintage was our second consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by spring frosts. Berries and clusters were small, leading to excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and harvest about a week later than normal. Crop sizes were similar to 2007 and about 20% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with good intensity, lower than normal alcohols and an appealing gentle minerality and red wines that were unusually fresh and approachable despite appealing lushness.

I was interested in the extent to which we'd still see what we'd noted when the vintage was younger.  Would the wines (red and white) show the elegance that we thought we might find? Would this vintage marked by elegance (sandwiched between two of our most powerful vintages) have retained the stuffing to make them compelling a decade later?  And were there any lessons we might take for the wines we're making now?

In 2008, we made 17 different wines: 8 whites, 1 rosé, and 8 reds. My notes on the wines, with notes on their closures, are below (SC=screwcap; C=cork). Each wine is also linked to its technical information on our Web site, if you'd like to see a breakdown of the winemaking or the tasting notes at bottling (well, except for the Pinot Noir, which we only made one barrel of and never made a Web page; if you have questions about that, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to answer).  I was joined for the tasting by our cellar team (Neil Collins, Chelsea Franchi, Craig Hamm, and Brad Ely) as well as by our National Sales Manager Darren Delmore.

  • 2008 Vermentino (SC): A combination of bright and more aged notes on the nose: petrol, peppermint, grilled grapefruit, lime leaf, lemongrass, and wet rocks. The mouth shows nice acids, clean and younger than the nose, with citrus pith and a nice briny finish. It's in a nice place: like a dry riesling with a little age on it.
  • 2008 Antithesis Chardonnay (C): A deeper golden color. The nose is like that of a sweet wine: caramel and butter pecan and a little minty lift. The mouth is round, and, by contrast, dry. Tons of texture. Flavors of candied orange peel and nectarine, with a pithy bitterness like peach pit coming out on the finish. A touch low in acid, particularly compared to the wines before and after in the lineup. A perfectly admirable showing for this wine, but drink up if you've got any.
  • 2008 Picpoul Blanc (SC): A lifted nose: monty, watermelon rind, barely ripe honeydew, and wet rocks.  This filled out with time in the glass and turned into lemon meringue.  Pretty fascinating.  The mouth is fun: quite rich, with pineapple flavors and a creamy texture that remind me why I always think Picpoul evokes pina colada. A nice limestoney character comes out on the long, clear finish.  Still vibrantly alive, and one of my favorites of the tasting.
  • 2008 Grenache Blanc (SC, and in fact our first experiment with the Stelvin "Lux" that we now use for all our screwcaps): A quieter nose than the first 3 wines: preserved lemon, white pepper, and a little crushed chalky rock. The mouth is initially all about sweet fruit (lychee and candied grapefruit, for me), then the acids take over, and then a little tannic bite that's absolutely characteristic of Grenache Blanc plays back and forth with ripe pear and a spicy juniper character on the long finish.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas Blanc (SC; 42% Viognier, 26% Roussanne, 21% Marsanne, 11% Grenache Blanc): A sweetly spicy nose, more floral than the first four wines, with honey, wild herbs, anise, and jasmine. The mouth is very nicely balanced between sweet attack (I thought peach syrup), good acids, and a little Grenache Blanc pithy bite on the back end. The long finish showed candied orange peel, honeysuckle, and marzipan. It's in a good spot, long after we would have thought.
  • 2008 Bergeron (C): Made from 100% Roussanne, harvested a little earlier from cooler blocks around the vineyard. A cool nose of green pear, honeysuckle, and cantaloupe. The mouth is all about texture: smooth flavors of watermelon and lemon custard, with a soft minerality pervading everything. Still quite Roussanne, in its way, though it's medium-bodied and lively. A little hazelnut and lemon drop comes out on the long finish, but the persistent impression is of its cool, smooth texture. 12.8% alcohol.  We're offering this now as an extra taste in our tasting room, if you're curious.
  • 2008 Roussanne (C): A deeper gold color.  An explosive nose: butterscotch, grilled pear, and a yeasty pastry note: pear tart, anyone? The mouth is gorgeous: luscious, rich, caramel and vanilla, and nuts, but dry. A long powerful finish with apricot and baking spices and a little sweet oak. Really impressive, if you like white wines with power and density. 14.2% alcohol.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc (C; 65% Roussanne, 30% Grenache Blanc, 5% Picpoul Blanc): An appealing nose, less powerful than the Roussanne but more complex: key lime pie, honey roasted peanuts, baked apple and a cool green bay leaf herbiness. The mouth shows sweet Roussanne fruit on the attack, pear, honey, and brioche. Then Grenache Blanc's anise lift and pithy bite keep order. Then a long, soft finish with flavors of kiwi and sweet spice, and a little salty minerality which I credited to Picpoul.  A few signs of age, but the wine is in a very nice place.
  • 2008 Rosé (SC; 58% Mourvedre, 32% Grenache, 10% Counoise): A pretty deep amber-pink color. A beguiling nose of candied fruit and baking spices that I thought was like fruitcake and Chelsea compared to "walking through a candy shop". The first of several descriptors that were more like a craft cocktail than a wine: singed orange. The mouth is nice: tart cranberry, cherry soda, grenadine, and campari. A nice texture, with a little tannic bite. Still an interesting wine, but we all remembered this as being insanely good on release, and while this was interesting, it would be a shame to have missed that.
  • 2008 Pinot Noir (C): Our second-ever Pinot, from a few rows of vines in our nursery we were using to produce budwood to plant at my dad's property for our Full Circle Pinot. Quite dark for a Pinot. A deep, ripe nose of root beer and figs and black cherry, with a little pine needle savoriness. The mouth is quite rich: chocolate-covered cherry, cola, dates, and sweet baking spices. Not particularly expressive of Pinot -- and to me less interesting than the Full Circle, which comes from a cooler spot -- but a nice rich red wine.
  • 2008 Cotes de Tablas (SC; 42% Grenache, 21% Syrah, 20% Counoise, 7% Mourvedre): After several years of bottling under both cork and screwcap, we only bottled under screwcap in 2008. This was terrific: a nose of roasted meat, plum, raspberry, black pepper, and graham cracker. The mouth was vibrant, with beautiful lifted red fruit: cherry and red plum. There are nice dusty tannins. Still young, lively, and without any real signatures of age, and anyone who has some of this is in for a treat. 
  • 2008 Grenache (C): A nice medium-intensity Grenache nose: cherry cola, cocoa powder, and pepper. Like a flourless chocolate cake with raspberry syrup. A powerful mouth, with supple but significant tannins, great cherry fruit, and nice balance. A long finish with sweet spices and ripe fruit. In an excellent place, and carrying its 15.5% alcohol well. Neil commented "that's a wow for me". One of our favorites of the tasting.
  • 2008 Mourvedre (C): A fun contrast to the Grenache, with a nose more structured and savory: meaty, eucalyptus and garrigue around currant and chocolate. The mouth is medium weight, with more currant fruit and still some pretty big, dusty tannins.  It was a nice example of why Mourvedre and Grenache make such good partners: Mourvedre's austerity is opened up by Grenache's exuberance, while at the same time taming Grenache's tendency toward booziness.
  • 2008 Syrah (C): A different color palette than the Grenache and Mourvedre: all black on the nose, like blackberry, black olive, iodine, black pepper, and baker's chocolate. The mouth shows cool-climate syrah's austerity, with a minty, minerally, meaty darkness, tannins that are still just starting to resolve, and a mouth-filling character that suggests some additional time in bottle will be rewarded. Our best guess: wait another 5 years for peak.
  • 2008 Tannat (C): Also very dark: pine forest, soy, and dark chocolate. The mouth is comparatively friendly, with a sweet attack of milk chocolate, nice grapey purple fruit, a little violet floral lift, and tangy acidity that keeps everything lively. Then lots (lots!) of tannins come out on the finish, with a raspberry preserves note.  Fun to taste, at this stage more appealing, I thought, than the Syrah, but clearly capable of going another decade or more.
  • 2008 Esprit de Beaucastel (C; 38% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 6% Counoise): Lovely on the nose, tending more toward red than black, but with aspects of each: red currant, new leather, baking spices, balsamic glaze, and a minty garrigue-like savoriness. The mouth is luscious: strawberry preserves, milk chocolate, rare steak, tangy acidity, and really nice, persistent tannins. Elegant and in a good place, with plenty more development to come.
  • 2008 Panoplie (C; 54% Mourvedre, 29% Grenache, 17% Syrah): A nose of density and power: balsamic cherry glaze, meat drippings, and wild herbs, with more of Mourvedre's characteristic restraint than Grenache's exuberance. The palate was more luscious: dark red fruit, chocolate, raspberry preserves, dried cranberry, and big but ripe tannins. Very long. A little dustiness that comes out on the finish and the still-thick texture suggests that there are more layers to emerge with additional time in bottle.  Still, a very nice showing for the Panoplie, and an impressive wine.

A few concluding thoughts

I was very happy, overall, with how the wines showed.  I didn't have as clear an impression of 2008 in my mind as I did for the vintages surrounding it, perhaps because the character of the wines wasn't as dominated by the vintage signature as it was in, say, 2007, but also perhaps because the year was overshadowed by the massively powerful vintages on either side. That said, the wines were nearly all in good shape at age 10, and the year's elegance meant that there were more wines that I would want to drink at this stage than I found in 2007. The whites, in particular, were as a group the most impressive we've found in our five-year history of horizontal retrospectives, and presaged, I think, a shift toward the more elegant style that we prefer today.

Nearly all of the wines improved in the glass, and I thought that most of them would have benefited from a quick decant. A lot of people don't think of decanting older whites, but I think it's often a good idea, and particularly so with wines that have been under screwcap. There's a clipped character that all our older screwcapped whites have that dissipates with a few minutes of air. It happens anyway in the glass, but a decant would have been welcome.

This tasting was yet another data point for me suggesting that Syrah really needs time, and yet its value in a blend.  This 2008 Syrah was still, I thought, too young, but the structure and austerity of the Syrah component gave the Esprit red and Panoplie a feeling of balance and restraint that were really valuable. We choose to harvest our estate Syrah at ripeness levels where it has good structural elements, because that's where it's most valuable when blended with Grenache and Syrah.  That's likely a few weeks earlier than we would if we were focusing on the wine as a varietal bottling, and I'm OK with the tradeoff of having to wait a few extra years for our varietal Syrahs to come around.

Finally, we chose ten pretty exciting wines for what should be a great February 11th Horizontal Tasting: Picpoul Blanc, Roussanne, Esprit Blanc, Cotes de Tablas Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Esprit, Panoplie, and Tannat. There are still some seats available; I hope many of you will join us!


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

By Linnea Frazier

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

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

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

Evelyne Fodor pic

Where were you born and raised?

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

Tell me about how you started working at Tablas.

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

What is your role here at Tablas?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you spend your days off?

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

What would people be surprised to know about you?

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

What is one of your favorite memories here?

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

How do you define success?

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


Checking in on our first ever Tablas Creek red: the 1997 Rouge

In the early days of Tablas Creek, we followed a very simple model: one red wine (which we called "Rouge") and one white wine (which we called "Blanc").  In 1999, we got really crazy and added a pink wine, which we called (of course) "Rosé".

Things have changed since then, as we've come to know both our vineyard and the market better, and this year we'll bottle, by my count, 29 different wines: 13 reds, 13 whites, 2 rosés, and one sweet wine.  These include our three tiers of blends, a pretty wide range of varietal wines, particularly on the white side (thank you, rainy 2016-17 winter), some small-production wine club-only blends, and one special project we're doing in conjunction with the team at Bern's Steakhouse.  I'm grateful to have the flexibility and opportunity to make these different wines, which I feel show off the uniqueness of our grapes and the talent of our vineyard and winemaking team.

That said, when we get to the blending, Neil and I always look at each other and remark that it used to all be so easy: as long as we liked the lots, they all went to the same place.

So, it was with a mix of nostalgia and anticipation that I opened a bottle of our 1997 Rouge while I was back in Vermont for the holidays.  This was where it all began, and it was not just the reflection, or the essence, of the vineyard that year, but the entirety of our red production.  Even so, we only made about 2000 cases.  It was the first harvest off the Beaucastel cuttings we had brought into the country, as they were kept in quarantine between 1989 and 1992, and then required two years of propagation before we could plant our first block in 1994. To this, we added small amounts of fruit from our American-sourced one-acre blocks of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, most of which we have since grafted over to French clones.  And even these older blocks were only planted in 1992, so the oldest vines in the vineyard were five years old in 1997.

Jason decants 3

Given the youth of the vineyard, it was very much to our surprise that the 1997 Rouge ended up in Wine & Spirits Magazine's "100 Best Wines of 2000", receiving 94 points and the following notes:

"The scent of this wine draws you in, then the texture holds you effortlessly. What’s great about this Rhône blend, however, is not just the deep, dark scent of dried cherries and wet stones, not just the succulent red fruit flavor and voluptuous feel. When it’s gone it leaves a memory of earthiness and a clean, refreshing taste. The wine isn’t about complexity. It focuses on perfect ripeness, and the delicious savory flavors and textures that come with such impeccably balanced grapes. A joy to drink. This is the first release from Tablas Creek, a joint venture between Château de Beaucastel’s Perrin family and their longtime importer Robert Haas."

Because it was so long ago, because we no longer make a "Rouge", and because there wasn't much of the wine to begin with, I don't get to open the 1997 Rouge all that often.  So, it was a treat to see that, even as it approaches its 21st birthday, it's still going strong.

Jason decants 2

My notes from the dinner:

"A deep, rich nose of hoisin, pine forest, currant, green peppercorn, nutmeg, and a coolness that's surprising from such a warm vintage. The mouth is full of sweet fruit: red raspberry and cocoa powder, and a rich texture with tannins that feel like powdered sugar. A little mushroomy earthiness is the wine's best hint of its age.  Shows nice tanginess on the finish and some still-substantial tannins that linger.  Fully mature, but nowhere close to over the hill."

 What a relief that it's finally old enough to drink.


A cold, dry start to winter 2017-18, but a change is (hopefully) on the way.

It's going to be no surprise to most of you to hear that it's been a dry winter so far. You don't need to look any farther than the fact that much of the Central Coast has been dealing with fires at a time of year when we're more likely to be worrying about erosion. Even when we did get a little rain the week before Christmas, it served mostly to highlight just how unusually bare the ground was for late December:

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While the dry weather has meant pleasant afternoons that felt more like October than December, it was also very cold at night.  How cold?  In December, we saw 20 nights of frost at the vineyard.  Now a winter frost isn't unusual.  We typically get 30-40 nights a year that drop below freezing, and December is typically our coldest month.  Nor is it detrimental.  Grapevines benefit from being forced into dormancy, as it keeps them from expending energy they'll need in the spring on winter growth that won't help ripen grapes.

But it is unusual to see so many frost nights in a single month, and even more unusual for so many of those days to be warm.  The average high temperature in December was 68.9 degrees, and sixteen days made it into the 70s.  One day (December 13th) managed to set both Paso Robles' record high (73) and low (22) for that date.  What was the culprit?  Record low humidities, and a near-total lack of cloud cover.  Eighteen days saw relative humidity levels drop into the teens, with a stretch in early December where four days in a week saw levels in the single digits.  How unusual is that?  December 2016, which wasn't even all that wet, didn't see a single relative humidity reading as low as 30%.  Neither December 2015 nor December 2014 saw any days below 20%.  You have to go back to 2013, which for most of California's was its driest year on record, to find anything comparable, and even they only saw 11 days of relative humidity below 20%. No wonder our December brought us only a paltry 0.07" of rain.

The impact on the vineyard is likely to depend on what we see in coming weeks and months.  Typically at this point we'd expect to have accumulated 8.15" of rain. This year, we've only gotten 1.42", or 17% of normal.  Our cover crop has barely sprouted, and the soil is dry down through most of the root zone.  But there's still time.  Typically, more than two-thirds of our annual rainfall comes after the new year, and our two wettest months are, on average, January and February.  That said, there's no question that we're behind. Even with normal rainfall the rest of the winter, we'd only be at 73% of normal precipitation:

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There's no guarantee that we'll see normal rainfall the rest of the winter, either. The Pacific has settled into a mild La Nina pattern, which typically produces drier than normal winters in California.  That said, for the first time in over a month the near-term forecast is calling for some wet weather. The ridge of high pressure that has been responsible for our dry December is breaking down, and two small storm systems are forecast to impact the Central Coast this week. Even better, the following week is likely to see the storm track shift south enough for some potentially more significant rainfall.  Meteorologist John Lindsey shared the following graphic on social media, showing the two major model predictions of ten-day precipitation:

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While neither projection suggests we'll get drenched, both show an inch or two of rain as we enter January. That's not enough to get down deep into the zone where our dry-farmed vines' roots mostly are, but every bit helps.  At the least, it should get the cover crop germinated, and ensure that our flock of sheep, alpacas, donkeys, and llama has enough to eat this winter without our having to supplement.

Given how dry it's been so far this winter, we'll take whatever we can get. Fingers crossed, everyone, please.


Through the Wine Glass: Boozy Holiday Family Reunions

By Linnea Frazier

“Do you sell any Chardonnay at this winery of yours, honeycakes?” 

I resisted the urge to roll my eyes at my Great Aunt Beverley’s shout-level query over the din of our Thanksgiving table, plus I must admit I’ve never been one to be fond of the endearment “honeycakes.”

“No Auntie Bev, remember I told you earlier that a Chardonnay is from the Burgundy region of France? At Tablas Creek we offer Rhone varietals, from the South of France. I brought one of our Viogniers, which will be as similar as I can get you to a Chardonnay, but with the turkey how about I pour a Roussanne for you? I promise you it will hold up better with the bird.”

I began reaching for the Roussanne, hoping she wouldn’t halt my passive attempts at expanding her everpresent Chardonnay fixation.

“But you know I like my Chardonnays honeycakes, they just go down smoother than other wines. Probably all that butter you put in em!”

I faltered, “You mean butter-y, right Auntie Bev?”

“No no, the actual butter you add in the wine, that’s what people mean when they say it’s a smooth, buttery Chardonnay, right?”

As I felt myself blacking out, I felt a sharp kick under the table. My mom was glaring at me and shaking her head from over the table, knowing what was about to happen.

Turning to my dear, beloved Auntie Bev I leaned in conspiratorially, “Actually, at our winery we like to mix it up and with our “buttery” wines we actually use salted butter instead of unsalted. We feel that it gives it more depth. But it’s a trade secret so don’t be spreading it around, ya hear?”

Smiling smugly, she nodded, “Your secret is safe with me, honeycakes. And hell, pour me that Rouss-whatever you called it, I’ll give it a try.”

Chuckling, I poured for her and turned my attention back to the neglected gravy island that was my Thanksgiving plate, knowing that as much as I had somewhat won the battle, the war was far from over.

Holiday Post Pic 2

The last few months of the year can be a harrowing affair. With the holidays comes the inevitable Christmas music before Thanksgiving fiasco, the over-reliance on anything pumpkin spiced, the holiday office parties, the rise and fall of gingerbread house empires, and the boozing that happens to get people through it. When the leaves begin to turn we are all ready to let our ids run away with us. We give into the holiday fever for a few months, whether it takes the form of being okay with Granny’s heavy hand with the mulled wine, or as Christmas comes along the mass production and consumption of cookies that that one Aunt will always shell out. There’s a distinct joy in the overindulgence of the holidays, perhaps the influence of the warmth of winter fires with loved ones, and the ushering in of yet another year as the memory of the last one is tucked snugly under our belts. With that holiday-infused happiness, comes the family reunions.

As my favorite Auntie Bev has demonstrated for you, my family is a most delightfully raucous bunch. My American side of the family will come in from as far as snowy Minnesota to as close as San Diego and I admit that I don’t always recall everyone’s name at our 50+ family gatherings. Then throw in the Swedish side of my family that comes over for a “traditional American Thanksgiving” or an “80 degree California Christmas Eve” and it all descends into even greater anarchy. We have my six foot Nordic clan members towering over five foot nothing Auntie Bev, both parties attempting to outwit and outdrink each other (Auntie Bev normally wins if you were curious). So needless to say, the holidays keep us on our toes in the Frazier household.

Holiday Post Pic 1

Working in the wine industry, you see a whole other side of the holidays, which I’ll be honest with you, isn’t always stupendous. I have a fear of my liquored-up, wizened relatives pinching my cheeks just as much as the next gal, but my fear of the holidays is brought about by a different type of creature; the Guzzler. 

What pray tell is a Guzzler? A Guzzler is not my Auntie Bev, who just appreciates a good ole- fashioned buttery finish to her white, no, the Guzzler is something far beyond buttery Bev.

The Guzzler is a thing that indiscriminately destroys all bottles in its path, no matter the vintage, the year, the varietal, whose prized cellar it came from, how much thought went into selecting the bottle, not to mention the rarity and expense of the wine itself. The Guzzler can take any form. It could be your newly turned 21 year old college cousin who is eager to drink at the “adult table” but in reality couldn’t tell you if it was White Zinfandel Franzia or a 2009 Garrus Rosé in their glass. It could be your mopey uncle going through his now third divorce who’s sitting in the corner hoarding every bottle of Zin in the house. It could be your second cousins fiancee that you've been introduced to three separate times, that picks up any bottle in their vicinity, not even reading the label, and promptly upends half a 98-point Syrah in their glass to polish off within 15 minutes.

When I was younger, I didn’t understand wine beyond acknowledging the fact that I would wrinkle my nose at some less than others when my parents would encourage me to take a sip. So during the holidays of those nose wrinkling years, I would go strictly off of the expressions of my parents’ faces when identifying a guzzler. For example the whites of my Mom’s eyes as a drunk relative would tell her he was, “going down into our cellar to pick a ‘doozy’, or even just the smile crinkles around my dad's eyes as he would shake his head laughing when someone would sidle up and ask the inevitable question under their breath of, “you got any brandy around here to fortify this wine up a bit?”

And as for me? During the holidays I now find myself loitering by the wine table, inanely chatting with random relatives while at the same time desperately hoping that someone will come along and peruse for their next glass with a palatable purpose, and not the guzzling kind. In those people, I find my respite. I get to cease “chomping at the wine bit” as my brother jokingly says, and have a spirited conversation with someone. Maybe about the bottles they brought, or what they’re going to pair with my mom’s Christmas ham, any surprising finds amongst the open bottles they had a chance to try, and of course, to joke about the massive amounts of Port on the table.

Make no doubt, as much as I am prone to Guzzler-induced goosebumps, a part of me also adores them. Because there’s always that hope, that hope that they are going to pause a three-second chug and actually stop and take notice of the supple softness of the Grenache they’re drinking, or the warm spiciness of the Counoise in their glass, or the delightful surprise of an aged Nebbiolo. And if you can lead them to a wine that makes them take that pause it is all worth it. It is rare, but it happens. There is a distinct joy in watching people discover the wine that causes their paradigm shift. I can remember each specific wine with each specific family member that converted them to actually wanting to read the label of the wine they were drinking. These are the wines I track down and gift to them for their birthdays, anniversaries, or even simply make sure to bring to next year’s Thanksgiving or Christmas. So it is that hope that keeps me going during these holiday months.

Our families are the foundations from which we move forward in life. They are with us from the dawn to the dusk of our lives and we get to stumble through it all together, sometimes laughing at each other, and never failing to pick each other up and dust each other off. At the end of the day I wouldn’t change a thing about the borderline absurd nature of my family during the holidays. Because at the end of the day I’m pretty certain that I am just as absurd as they are, and I’m pretty content with that.

Shout out to the one and only Auntie Bev.