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WBA_logoOn Saturday, at the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA, the winners of the 2011 Wine Blog Awardswere announced. One of them was us! Thank you to everyone who voted; the award was 50% determined by votes from the public. The other 50% was determined by the votes of the panel of expert judges who culled the list of nominees down to the five-ish finalists in each category.The world of wine blogs is rich and diverse, and growing all the time. The fact that speakers at the Wine Blog Awards included traditional media figures (and wine writer titans) Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson shows just how far blogging has penetrated into the mainstream of wine discussion, and how blurry — some at the conference would say irrelevant — the boundary between wine writer and wine blogger has become. As always, I learned a lot and developed some new favorites reading through the blogs of the other finalists. And it’s only fitting that Tom Wark’s Fermentation won both “Best Overall Wine Blog” and “Best Industry Blog”. After all, Tom created the Wine Blog Awards back in 2007 and this was his first year eligible after handing the awards off to a nonprofit consortium two years ago. Congratulations to all the winners. The complete list:

Best Overall Wine Blog – Fermentation
Best New Wine Blog – Terroirist
Best Writing on a Wine Blog – Vinography
Best Winery Blog – Tablas Creek
Best Single Subject Wine Blog – New York Cork Report
Best Wine Reviews on a Wine Blog – Enobytes
Best Industry/Business Wine Blog – Fermentation
Best Wine Blog Graphics, Photography, & Presentation – Vino Freakism

I am proud that this was the fourth year in a row that the Tablas Creek blog was a finalist. I’m also proud that the last year of the Tablas Creek blog has been more of a communal effort than ever before, including several great posts by my dad and contributions from two new authors: Assistant Winemaker Chelsea Magnusson, writing Notes from the Cellar, and Tasting Room Manager John Morris, writing View from the Tasting Room. Each brings a different perspective to our effort to share our experiences as we make, sell, plan and reflect on Tablas Creek.

Thank you to all of you take the time, whether regularly or occasionally, to read our thoughts.

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We’ve had the same vineyard team here at Tablas Creek for the last fifteen years. Neil Collins has overseen both the vineyard and the winemaking since 1998. He is assisted by Winemaker Ryan Hebert and Vineyard Manager David Maduena, both of whom have been here since our 1997 harvest.So it’s with some excitement that we introduce Levi Glenn, who joins us this summer in the post of Viticulturist. He brings a decade of experience managing vineyards in Napa and Sonoma, and has focused on converting vineyards from modern to biodynamic viticulture for the last five years. Plus, he’s got formal training, which none of the rest of us do, with a degree in Viticulture & Enology from Cal Poly. We couldn’t be more excited to add him to our team. He introduces himself, and gives a brief overview of shoot thinning, in the below video.

We took some close-up photographs of the shoot thinning process as well. The goal of shoot thinning is to select the two best shoots on each of the three spurs that we’ve left on each cordon. As our vines are pruned double-cordon, this means we’re selecting a dozen shoots per vine, each ideally with one cluster of grapes. These shoots are going to provide the photosynthetic capacity, as well as the grape production, of the vine for the year.

This process completes the effort that we begin with our winter pruning of taking a three-dimensional plant and turning it into something more two-dimensional so that we can better ensure even access to sunlight as well as better flow-through of air. Good air circulation reduces the potential for mildew or rot and allows whatever nutritional or antifungal treatments we think the vineyard needs to penetrate the canopy. On the left is an un-thinned vine, so bushy it nearly obscures Levi, and on the right a vine post-thinning, fruit exposed to the light:

Shoot_bushy_0001 Shoot_thinning_0001

Shoots that don’t have fruit, that exit the cordon horizontally rather than angled up, or that are too close to a better shoot, are pruned away. Below, Levi points at the spurs that will be kept, with the others pruned away. In this selection process, we’re also thinking of the coming winter, when we’ll select three of these shoots per cordon to become the next year’s two-bud spurs.

Shoot_thinning_0003

The process this year is more challenging than normal. The principal cause is our April frosts, which damaged many of the spurs that we left last winter and forced the plant to sprout from secondary buds that were not in ideal starting locations. A secondary cause was the wet, cool, late spring, which delayed us getting into the vineyard until later in the year, when the long days, the sudden arrival of warmth in June and the abundant ground water have combined to produce explosive growth.

Despite our late start, we’re more than 90% done with shoot thinning. One more photo will give you a sense of the progress: thinned vines on the row on the left, with bushy vines awating thinning further up the row as well as on the row to the right:

Shoot_thinning_0005

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Early June, when I wrote about how cold our spring had been, seems like a lot longer ago than one month. When I returned from a two-week trip to the Rhone (during which it was consistently in the 90s here in Paso Robles) the vineyard had grown so much that it was barely recognizable. There are vineyard blocks where the canes have grown so much, so fast, that you can’t see the ground between them. Neil, Ryan, Levi, David and the vineyard crew are spending most of their time shoot thinning, but it will be another few weeks before they’ve caught up. This last month of warm weather is exactly what we wanted to see. We’ve nearly caught up to last year in degree days, and more importantly the vineyard looks like it’s only a few weeks behind rather than a full month.I snapped one photo of a hillside of Grenache that gives a sense of what things are like out there, with a sea of vines topped by a robin’s egg blue summer sky.

Sea_of_green

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New_websiteWe’re working on a new Web site, to debut later this summer. (A screenshot of the home page of the new Web site is to the right. Click on it to get a bigger view. Yes, we’re excited.) One of the things that we’re looking forward to being able to do more flexibly with this new site is to allow people to browse through the different wines we’ve made. Right now, our Wines pagehas an overview of the different wines we make, and links to current releases, but beyond that you have to look wine by wine to get information. On the new site, you’ll be able to select, for example, all the wines from 2007… or every Rosé we’ve made… or all whites currently for sale.We realized that we could make these categories more useful by adding information about the categories, including summaries of each vintage. Most of this information is out there in pieces, either on individual wines’ pages or in a blog piece I wrote a few years back called Ten Years of Vintage Grades: Paso Robles Report Card 1999-2008. But that last blog piece was not particularly descriptive of the wines, and not specific to Tablas Creek, focusing instead on evaluating Paso Robles as a whole. Plus, what was here on the blog and what was on the individual wines’ pages was not always in perfect harmony.

So, I cleaned everything up, went back and researched our earliest vintages, and wrote vintage summaries for every vintage we’ve seen here at Tablas Creek. It occurred to me that this information would be of interest to our blog followers, so here it is. I’ve linked recent vintages to the harvest reports that we kept, if you’re interested in digging more deeply into them or in seeing photos of what it was really like.

  • The 2010 vintage saw healthy rainfall after three years of drought. The ample early-season groundwater and a lack of spring frosts produced a good fruit set. A very cool summer delayed ripening by roughly three weeks, with harvest not beginning until mid-September and still less than half complete in mid-October. Warm, sunny weather between mid-October and mid-November allowed the later-ripening varieties to reach full maturity. The long hangtime and cool temperatures combined to produce fruit with intense flavors at low alcohol levels. White whites display bright acids, good concentration and intense saline minerality. Red wines show dark colors, spicy aromatics and granular tannins.
  • The 2009 vintage was our third consecutive drought year, with yields further reduced by serious April frosts. Berries and clusters were small, with excellent concentration. Ripening over the summer was gradual and our harvest largely complete except for about half our Mourvedre at the time of a major rainstorm on October 13th. Crop sizes were 15% smaller than 2008 and 30% lower than usual. The low yields and gradual ripening resulted in white wines with an appealing combination of richness and depth, and red wines with an great lushness, rich texture and relatively low acid but wonderful chalky tannins.
  • 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.
  • The 2007 vintage was a blockbuster vintage in Paso Robles. Yields were very low (down between 15% and 30% from 2006, depending on variety) due to a cold and very dry winter, which produced small berries and small clusters. A moderate summer without any significant heat spikes followed, allowing gradual ripening, and producing white wines with deep color and powerful flavors, and red wines with tremendous intensity, excellent freshness and a lushness to the fruit which cloaks tannins that should allow the wines to age as long as any we’ve made.
  • The 2006 vintage was a study of contrasts, with a cold, wet start, a very hot early summer, a cool late summer and a warm, beautiful fall. Ample rainfall in late winter gave the grapevines ample groundwater, and produced relatively generous crop sizes. The relatively cool late-season temperatures resulted in a delayed but unhurried harvest, wines with lower than normal alcohols, strong varietal character, and good acids. White wines show freshness and expressive aromatics, while red wines have impeccable balance between fruit, spice, and tannins, and should age into perhaps the most elegant wines we’ve made.
  • The 2005 vintage was one of nature’s lucky breaks, with excellent quality and higher-than-normal yields. The wet winter of ’04-’05 gave the grapevines ample groundwater, and a warm period in March got the vines off to an early May flowering. The summer was uniformly sunny but relatively cool, and harvest began (relatively late for us) in the 3rd week of September, giving the grapes nearly a month longer than normal on the vine. The resulting wines, both red and white were intensely mineral, with good structure and powerful aromatics. Red wines have big but ripe tannins that reward cellaring.
  • The 2004 vintage was our third consecutive drought year, with a very early spring balanced by a long, warm (but rarely hot) summer. These favorable conditions led to a fairly early harvest: most of our whites and all the reds but Mourvèdre were harvested before an early onset of the fall rains on October 14th stopped harvest for a short time. Two weeks of sunny, cool, and breezy temperatures allowed us to harvest the rest of the Mourvèdre. The extended ripening cycle gave the grapes intense aromatics, pronounced minerality, and good structure that has allowed reds to age gracefully.
  • The 2003 vintage was a second consecutive drought year, though not as dry as 2002. A relatively early flowering, combined with a warm but not overly hot summer to produce a beginning of harvest about two weeks later than normal. This long hangtime produced grapes with concentrated flavors and a distinct minerality, and beautiful fall weather allowed us to bring in fruit when it was at peak ripeness, and allow other blocks to continue to mature. White wines showed good richness and classic varietal character, while red wines showed lush fruit balanced by good acids and firm tannins. Time has brought an unexpected complexity to 2003’s red wines that at first showed mostly rich fruit.
  • The 2002 vintage began with a warm, dry winter with the lowest rainfall in five years. Spring remained dry and cool, while June, July and August were very warm. Moderate temperatures returned in September and weather stayed ideal well into November. Cool nights prolonged the hangtime of the grapes and produced wines that were concentrated, rich, and ripe, with just enough acidity to balance the richness. Roussanne-based whites have proven to age remarkably well, and the powerful tannins on 2002’s reds have mellowed into wines with remarkable complexity and years of development left ahead of them.
  • The 2001 vintage began with moderate vigor from average rainfall and cold temperatures. A warm March led to early budbreak, which allowed a serious frost in mid-April to inflict major damage and dramatically reduce yields by nearly 50%. The summer was hot and sunny, but cool nights preserved the aromatics of the fruit. Low yields (1.5 – 2.5 tons per acre) produced intense flavors in both reds and whites. The erratic ripening from the spring frosts and particular challenges with Mourvedre encouraged us not to make an Esprit de Beaucastel red this year, but and chewy, chalky tannins have allowed 2001’s red wines to age very well.
  • The 2000 vintage saw average rainfall, with warm springtime weather, early budbreak and no significant damage from frosts. Summer daytime temperatures were about normal while cooler than average summer nights helped extend the growing season. Harvest began two weeks later than normal, but warm harvest weather led to an earlier-than-normal conclusion to harvest. Both white and red wines had good intensity despite slightly higher than normal yields, and the reds had big tannins that encouraged mid-term cellaring.
  • The 1999 vintage began with slightly below average winter rainfall that reduced yields. Ripening was further accelerated by a warm, dry spring and summer. Harvest began in mid-August, the earliest date on record at Tablas Creek. The wines were intense and the red wines tannic when young, with slightly elevated alcohol levels. The wines needed some time to come into balance, but many have aged magnificently.
  • The 1998 vintage was the coldest, and one of the wettest, on record at Tablas Creek. After a late budbreak but no damage from frost, the summer remained cool and the harvest did not begin until early October. A warm, sunny October and November saved the harvest, and produced wines that were fresh and balanced, with low alcohols and gentle tannins. The white wines were beautiful from the beginning, and the red wines needed a few years to unwind into classic elegance, and continue to drink well today.
  • The 1997 vintage was hot and dry, with early budbreak, low yields and an early onset to harvest in late August. This vintage saw the first significant contributions from our French clones, and produced wines that were juicy and lush from the start despite serious tannins. The wines drank well young and have aged better than we could ever have expected given the youth of the vineyard and the heat of the vintage.

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