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Wine is bottled poetry.
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

During our recent trip to the Paso Robles wine country, we scheduled a tour at Tablas Creek Vineyard. This happened to be the most instructive winery tour we ever had, thanks to Ryan Hebert our host, Assistant Winemaker at the winery.

The Winery

View of the Tablas Creek vineyards and the nursery.

The winery and vineyards are situated on the westside of the Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA), in the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, at an altitude between 1400 and 1600 feet and only 8 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The combined effects of the ocean cooling breezes, the sun, fog and altitude create in this area a long growing season and produce fruit of great complexity and depth.

The Vineyard

View of the Tablas Creek vineyard with the winery logo painted on a limestone rock.

One of the winery owners, the Perrin family from Château de Beaucastel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape was looking for rugged soil containing limestone with a lot of difference between high and low temperatures, similar to the Beaucastel terroir in Southern Rhône Valley. They found what they were looking for in the Las Tablas district of west Paso Robles.

The vineyard is densely planted on steep terraced slopes and is organically farmed. Composting is extensively used and compost tea is sprayed on the plants to prevent foliar and berry diseases like mildew. Watering is reduced to a minimum. Cover crops regulate vine growth, attract beneficial insects, reduce erosion and provide nutrient like nitrogen to the vineyard.

Work in the vineyard is all done by hand: maintenance, pruning and harvesting.

The Vines

Viognier budwood growing in the nursery.

The winery owners chose to import eigth main Rhône varietals (Mourvèdre, Grenache, Syrah, Counoise, Roussanne, Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc) directly from the Perrin's estate. They waited three years to get the cuttings tested for viruses through the USDA certification program, and these cuttings are now propagated and grafted at the winery's nursery. Picpoul Blanc was introduced recently and more (Clairette, Bourboulenc) should be coming later.

These clones are now available in California and can be purchased by other growers.

The Winemaking

The 1200-gallon oak foudres braced on custom-designed reinforced steel bases to prevent any future earthquake damage.

No vines are harvested before they are five years old in order to get enough fruit concentration and complexity. Harvesting is done by hand and only when the grapes are completely ripe. There is little human intervention in the winemaking. The goal is to preserve the unique character and complexity provided by the soil, the grapes and the skillful blending of varietals. Each varietal is fermented separately using native yeast, in neutral aged oak barrels or stainless steal. After fermentation, red varietals are blended like in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and aged in 1200-gallon French foudres to avoid any heavy oaky aromas in the wine.

The Tasting

Assistant Winemaker and Assistant Vineyard Manager Ryan Hebert at the tasting room.

After the winery tour, we were curious to see the results of such hard efforts and we were not disappointed at all. All the nine different wines that we tasted were very well-crafted, full of flavors, very food friendly and simply fantastic!

The 2002 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc is a blend of Viognier, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne. The wine exhibited a fresh aromatic nose of stone fruits and white flowers. On the palate it was dry and fat with some minerality. It is a perfect summer wine to drink with olive spread and other Mediterranean appetizers.

The 2003 Tablas Creek Roussanne is made of 100% Roussanne. The nose showed notes of white flower. On the palate it was full-bodied with a rich, fat mouthfeel and a strong backbone. To me, Roussanne seems to be the Cabernet Sauvignon of a white Rhône blend.

The 2003 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel Blanc is a blend of Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Viognier. It exhibited a very aromatic nose with notes of stone fruits and white blossoms. On the patate, it was well-balanced with a rich mouthfeel and a long finish. This wine should go very well with Provencal seafood cuisine or coconut-based Asian dishes.

The 2003 Tablas Creek Picpoul Blanc is 100% made of Picpoul Blanc, another of the thirteen varietals authorized in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blending and recently introduced in California by the winery. The nose showed white fruit aromas and on the palate, it was concentrated with a lively acidity. It is easy to see how it could perfectly complements Roussanne in a Roussanne-based wine by bringing some fresh acidity to the blend.

The 2004 Tablas Creek Rosé is a blend of Mourvèdre, Grenache and Counoise. It reminded me of a Bandol Rosé. The nose had freshly crushed red fruit aromas. On the palate it was perfectly dry with a fresh mouthfeel. It is a great summer wine to complement Provencal tomato-based dishes.

The 2002 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas is blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Counoise. It exhibited a fruity and spicy nose and on the palate, it was dry and full-bodied. It could easily be mistaken for a Côtes du Rhône Villages, a Gigondas for example.

The 2002 Tablas Creek Esprit de Beaucastel is a blend of Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache and Counoise. The wine exhibited a dark, deep color, black fruit aromas on the nose with spicy notes, followed by a rich, full-bodied and well-balanced palate and a stylish long finish. It should complement well gamey dishes or rich wine-based stews.

The 2002 Las Tablas Estates Glenrose Vineyard was made from Tablas Creek propagated cuttings purchased from a neighboring vineyard, and it went through the same winemaking process than the other Tablas Creek wines. It is a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, Grenache and Counoise. The wine had a fruity nose followed by sweet aromas on the palate. It was amazingly clearly different in style and much more Californian, sweeter and less earthy, than the rest of the winery offering.

The 2003 Tablas Creek Vin de Paille is a blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne. The berries were dried out on straw beds before being crushed and fermented, a traditional method used in the East of France and the Rhône Valley. The wine showed a bright golden color. The nose was very aromatic with honey and white blossom aromas. On the palate, it was rich, concentrated but also fresh and stylish, not overwhelmly sweet. It is a delicious dessert wine that should complement well a fruit tart like a pear almond tart.

See our other tasting reports.