We attended a really nice event at Tablas Creek on Saturday. The Harvest and Winemaking seminar is an annual event hosted by the winemaker Neil Collins and the Tablas staff.
Read more after the jump.
The event started out on a pleasantly cool morning (thankfully the hot weather had turned a bit) with Neil explaining what was in store for us. We were warned to dress for tromping through the vineyards to work and luckily most everyone obliged.
Ryan started out by showing us how they test for the right time to start the harvest. The vineyard crew pick samples from each vineyard block to test for sugar, acidity, and PH as well as color, taste, and ripeness. This is done all old-school style by crushing a bunch of grapes with an empty wine bottle then running a few tests.
Then we headed up into the vineyard to pick some ourselves. It was quite a nice morning and quite a good sized crew made their way to the grapes.
The vineyard dogs followed us but decided to take some breaks along the way.
We made it up the hill after stopping for Neil to explain the history of Tablas Creek and the partnership with Domaine de Beaucastel. He also talked about some of the problems earlier in the year with frost and the general lack of water. We made it toward the back of the 120 or so acre property atop a hill covered in Grenache. Two clone that they imported (with much time in quarantine and propagation) on either side of the road. Grenache A and Grenache B. We were tasked by the vineyard manager David to pick around a ton of the Grenache B block. Thankfully, the crew had been there a bit earlier clearing out some of the leaves so us newbies could see what we were picking.
After getting some instructions, sharp clippers, a big plastic tray, and some concerned looks from the vineyard crew, we set upon the vines. Even with the lack of rainfall and odd weather this year, the grenache looked beautiful in large bunches.
In about a half hour, our unskilled but fairly large and eager crew managed to fill up two large bins and David said that was enough. I think he was worried that we were going to start doing some real damage. But Neil seemed happy with the overflowing tubs.
So we headed back to the winery to follow the next steps in the process. We started out at the destemmer. This machine those described as gentle looked anything but.
The grapes were loaded into the destemmer and the beast started to do its work.
Out of the machine, the grapes were pumped into an open-topped fermenter to begin the wine creation. Tablas Creek uses only native yeasts and strives for a very hands-off approach to try and bring out the expression of place in the wine.
Thoroughly exhausted from our labors... We headed to the nursery area where the vineyard crew fed the famished troops. The wine picked at the two previous year's harvest seminar had been aged in barrels separately and the team bottled up a few samples of the 2007 and 2008 Syrah for us to have with lunch. Thankfully, since it was a bit more warm by then, we also had Cote de Tablas White as well as Rose to start. The 2007 Syrah had been made completely organic (without the addition of any SO2). It was a little funky (Northern Rhone style) in the nose and a bit tarry (Ryan said it was tending to be a bit reductive and should open up more with decanting and time) but very interesting and complex. The 2008 was much more approachable now with some strong black fruit and currant with a nice mineral and smoky finish. Not my favorite of Tablas Creek wines but certainly quite good. The plan is for the team to integrate those Syrahs into the blends once they have finished the barrel age process. It was a real special treat to get to try them at this point. I certainly look forward to trying the Grenache we picked next year.
Overall, a wonderful day and event at Tablas Creek. Our hosts were informative, patient, and enthusiastic and made us all feel very welcome. Given that they all are right in the middle of harvest in a less than perfect year, it was all the more special. Definitely make an effort to get out there for a visit.
9339 Adelaida Road
Paso Robles CA 93446