11 Sep Regenerative Agriculture at Tablas Creek – a meaningful way to farm #WinePW
It’s harvest and the group of writers at Wine Pairing Weekend (#WinePW) this month are led by Gwendolyn Alley of Wine Predator. She sent us an Invitation to re/consider Harvest and how global warming will change what we eat, drink and plant.
The way I enjoy harvest since most often I must do it from afar, is through the social media and blogs of my favorite wineries. When I stopped to consider wineries who have upped the ante on making great wine and taking care of the planet, Tablas Creek was the first to come to mind. They also provide great harvest coverage. You should really check out their blog, where they share in-depth information on how the harvest and the vintage went, complete with grapes, and lots of data.
In addition, they recently got their Regenerative Organic Certification.
Tablas Creek is a joint venture with the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel from France’s Rhône Valley and the Haas family of Vineyard Brands. Founded in 1989 in Paso Robles, the winery was certified organic in 2003 and got their biodynamic certification in 2017. So why do this new certification?
A little bit about Regenerative Organic Certified (or ROC)
This organization was established in 2017 by people in various industries that were concerned about the planet and wanted to promote a system of regenerative agriculture. Companies like Patagonia and Dr. Bronner, to drop a couple of names that you might be familiar with.
On the ROC (Regenerative Organic Certified) website they share the reason behind the organization.
“We exist to heal a broken system, repair a damaged planet, and empower farmers and eaters to create a better future through better farming.”From Regenorganic.org
I have been hearing the term “regenerative agriculture” quite a bit lately. Many biodynamic farms use this term. It is mostly used in terms of soil. Healthy soil is good for plants and the ecosystem and it sequesters carbon and goodness knows we could use a hand with that. Methods used include cover crops and not over tilling the soil.
Regenerative Organic Certified goes beyond this. They have 3 pillars: Soil health, Animal welfare, and social fairness. And before I go any further, I should make it clear that this is not a certification just for wineries and vineyards, this certification takes in all of agriculture and products from it, so farms, for produce or livestock or fibers.
Their motto “Farm like the world depends on it”. And well, it does.
Regenerative Organic Certification at Tablas Creek
In February of 2019 Tablas Creek was approached to be part of a pilot program for Regenerative Organic. After looking through the pillars, they realized that much of what they were already doing made them the perfect candidates for this. When they looked closely at the organization and what it stood for, they were on board.
Jason Haas, GM for Tablas Creek was gracious enough to take some time out of his day and talk with me about this new certification. I asked him if there were any requirements that were new to them, or anything that caused them to look differently at something they were already doing.
“There were a couple of things. One of the things is that…there were a lot of things that we were doing, but not measuring the results. Particularly a lot of the kind of carbon capture in the soil sorts of things with the flock of sheep and the cover crops and the rotational grazing and trying to leave sections that we don’t till, so we don’t till every section every year. We had pretty good confidence that this was the right thing to do and that it was building carbon, but we weren’t actually measuring how much carbon and how much moisture the soil was retaining and how that was changing year over year.
As part of the certification process, you have to submit this information and it has to be information that’s monitored regularly over the course of multiple years. So we’ve become a lot better about measuring the results of the things we were doing. Just because we had to. Though the whole reason that we were chosen by the Regenerative Organic Alliance to be a part of the pilot program is because we were doing most of this stuff anyway. It wasn’t because they were like “let’s take a chemically farmed vineyard and see if we can transform it into something different.” They had pretty good confidence that we were applying most if not all of the principals that they wanted to see. So, the measurement is one piece.
The other thing, that for us was really an eyeopener, were some of the audits that we had to do for our farmworker welfare. We know we pay our team a good wage, we know that we are careful about working conditions. But the sorts of questions that they were asking were like “How much input does your team have into the decisions that are being made on a weekly basis in the vineyard?” We were like, well? Not a lot most of the time. We are consulting with our Vineyard manager and then …directing the team. So we are like “Well, okay, this is one of the things that is an important part of this.” We are supposed to do weekly meetings, get the whole team together, and talk through what’s going to be coming up the next week and solicit their feedback. And there were several things that the team suggested, “well why don’t we do it this way,” that we’ve decided, that’s a great idea let’s do it this way. So it was being a little more mindful about incorporating the feedback of the vineyard team. So that was one of the eyeopeners for us.”
“That’s really the biggest thing I think behind the Regenerative Organic certification is that they are trying to set up essentially a framework within which you can be confident that the agricultural products that are certified Regenerative Organic are a part of the solution to that climate change challenge not contributing further to the problem.”Jason Haas, September 8, 2020
They recently shared a video with an explanation of the Certification.
One of the things that you find with vineyards is that many people want to adapt to some biodynamic practices, but when they look in-depth at the background of biodynamics, some of the mystic stuff becomes a non-starter for them. The thing is, if you taste wines from biodynamic vineyards and wineries, in my experience, the quality is always high. In addition, as I’ve mentioned before, when I meet these people, I like them. They are people I want to associate with.
Many biodynamic vineyards owners stick mostly to the things they can measure when it comes to biodynamics avoiding the mysticism. Jason wrote a recent twitter thread about this, citing the science behind why the cow horn silica preparation has an impact on the vineyard.
“yes, biodynamics works, but I’m not sure that it works for the reason it says it works. There are a lot of things … in biodynamics, you are certainly attracting people who want to farm the right way, which goes a long way. This particular collection of techniques has proven basically to make good wine, but the stated reason behind why it’s supposed to work, in most cases sounds ridiculous. It’s nice to just eliminate the whole ridiculous piece of it and dive a little deeper into the science. “Jason Haas, September 8, 2020
I asked if he thought this new Regenerative Organic Certification might be a gateway for biodynamic skeptics.
“I do, I think there will be a lot of people who are a little more science-based who maybe they have gone organic, but they looked at biodynamics and thought…hmm..”Jason Haas, September 8, 2020
We also spoke a bit about the past weekend and the heat spike that caused them to only do their outside tastings until noon. I wondered how the vineyard fared and if some of their vineyard practices help them manage the impact.
“We had a couple of days that touched 110 which in my recollection, we have never seen before…
I do think that that wider spacing and the deeper root systems that result from that and from just the age of the older vines, it does help us withstand things like heat spikes in relatively good shape… I talked to Neil this morning and he said that he didn’t see really anything significant in the way of damage from the heat over the last few days. And I think a big piece of that is that the vines roots are down so far that they barely notice what’s going on at the surface. If the root mass is down 10 feet, that doesn’t get impacted by a couple days of 110 versus 100.”Jason Haas, September 8, 2020
He did mention that with the temperatures now dropping to highs in the mid-90s for this week with cool nights that they expect to see harvest ramp up fairly quickly. This heat spike will likely compress the beginning of harvest.
*After this piece posted Jason shared a twitter thread with more of his thoughts on climate change for the wine industry. It is a worth read. You can find it here.
Lighter bottles – good for the environment and the budget
We spoke a little about packaging. They have added stainless steel kegs to their packaging which is great for restaurants. Once things come back, this will be great for them.
As to environmentally friendly packaging, Tablas Creek went to lighter weight bottles 10 years ago. I asked about the savings with that change. Often with new packaging, it can be more expensive as it’s not as available in the market. It seems in general, the lighter weight bottles are less expensive in many ways.
“…it was cheaper from the beginning. The bottles were cheaper because it’s just less glass, a big piece of it is just the raw materials. And then the transport was a ton cheaper. The average case was 9 lbs less of glass than the previous bottle, so it was ¾ of a lb per bottle less. That was cheaper to transport to us, it was cheaper to transport away from us, whether that was UPS or FedEx going to a consumer customer or whether it was even something as simple as because of the less weight of the glass we could fit 3 more pallets onto a truck, before we get to the trucks weight limit. So there were fewer trucks. It was a cost savings from the beginning.”Jason Haas, September 8, 2020
Tablas Creek Pairing for Harvest
Typically when you think of harvest, you think of fall, of pumpkins and sweaters. Up until just recently our temperatures have hovered around 114 degrees and we had smoke over the Vegas Valley, as much of the West Coast has and is seeing.
Then the front pushed through bringing winds, which while they are terrible for the coast, did clear our skies and drop our temperatures.
We feel a little more fall like, but it’s still not sweater weather, so we are going with a white wine for harvest.
2018 Tablas Creek Grenache Blanc
As we open and enjoy this wine, they are getting ready to harvest this year’s Grenache Blanc.
The 2018 vintage was their 16th bottling of this wine. Their site notes
“A classic Grenache Blanc nose of lemon pith, green apple peel, anise, and briny minerality. On the palate, very bright at first, with a burst of lemon on the attack, then sweeter flavors of sarsaparilla and tarragon, while the grape’s richness comes out on the finish, leaving on a long sweet/tart lemon drop note.”Tablas Creek site 2018 Grenache Blanc
I did not get the sarsaparilla, but everything else was spot on with my tasting. This wine is bright, but round and feels like the perfect white for weather changes. That softness, making it okay for some long sleeves while enjoying a chillier breeze as fall begins to show itself.
This is an estate wine and it sits at 13.4% abv. Most of their Grenache Blanc goes into their White wine blends each year. Tablas is a winery in the Southern Rhone style, so they focus on blends. Luckily for wine geeks like me, they also like to do varietal bottlings, so we can see what each of the components bring to the blends. They fermented some lots in stainless steel and some in foudre (which gives the wine its roundness) and then blend before bottling.
This wine retails at $30 and they produced 1470 cases. It’s still in stock if you want to grab a bottle or two for yourself.
Pairing with fish and fennel
I looked to the suggested pairings on their site and chose to work from a recipe they suggested for Fish & Fennel.
This is again one of those early fall cross-over dishes. It is light with citrus and fish, but the broth is full of warming savory notes. The fennel notes again leading me into fall with the promise of licorice candy and heavier baking spices on the horizon.
It was a perfect pairing to enjoy on the rooftop. We celebrated weather that allowed us to get back out here, as we had not been able to do dinner on the roof since June! We took in the sunset and the mountains and shivered a little, which was kind of delicious.
Wine Pairing Weekend #winepw
Continue the harvest conversation with the group from Wine Pairing Weekend on twitter this Saturday, September 12th at 11 am EDT by following and commenting with the hashtag #winepw. Our discussion will encompass Harvest, climate change, vineyard practices, and of course some amazing pairings.
Here are the pieces by my colleagues on the subject!
- Terri Oliver Steffes shares “Harvest Time at Twin Meadows Winery for Our Good Life” at Our Good Life.
- Andrea Lemieux has “The Art of the Harvest” on The Quirky Cork
- Lori Budd describes “Harvesting the Land While Overcoming Global Changes” at Exploring the Wine glass
- Susannah Gold suggests ” Robert Biale Petite Sirah & BBQ, A Perfect Match” on Avvinare
- Deanna Kang has “French Style Wines by the Sea from Windy Oaks (with 3 fab food pairings)” at Asian Test Kitchen
- Nicole Ruiz Hudson on Somms Table shares “A Harvest at Forlorn Hope & Juicy Lucies”
- Jane Niemeyer at Always Ravenous brings us a “Fall Harvest Dinner with Wine Pairings.”
- Camilla M. Mann will be posting “Donkey & Goat: The Brandts Bring Natural Farming Philosophies Into the Cellar” on Culinary Adventures with Cam
- Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator, we have “A Harvest Conversation at The Ojai Vineyard with winemakers Adam Tolmach and Fabien Castel”
More on Tablas Creek
We have been lucky enough to visit Tablas Creek Vineyard on several occasions and did a vineyard walk and interview with Jason in 2015. Here are some other pieces on this vineyard.
- Tablas Creek – Conversation on Wine
- Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, Biodynamics and more
- Tablas Creek Vineyard – The Rhones, the new Adelaida AVA, natural fermentation and the use of foudres.
- A Conversation with Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyard, Paso Robles, the Drought, Dry farming
More on Harvest
I did work one morning of harvest, picking Pinot Noir at the Clos Pepe vineyard in Santa Barbara’s Sta. Rita Hills. And just a couple years ago we traveled through the Yakima Valley just at the end of Harvest. You can read about those adventures here.
- Clos Pepe – early morning picking Pinot Noir
- Yakima Valley Wine and Beyond with Yakima Valleys Flavor Camp
- Full fermentation bins! A walk inside Owen Roe Winery at Harvest.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.