05 Jun Tablas Creek Vineyard – The Rhones, the new Adelaida AVA, natural fermentation and the use of foudres.
While on the Central Coast in April we were lucky enough to meet with Jason Haas, General Manager of Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Jason graciously took time out of his busy schedule to spend a couple of hours with Michael and I in the vineyard and the winery.
Tablas Creek Vineyard is the collaborative effort between the Perrin Family of Chateau du Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape in France’s Rhone Valley and the Haas Family. Vineyard Brands, the wine import company founded by Robert Haas had been the exclusive importer for Beaucastel wines. In 1989 they founded Tablas Creek Vineyard in the west side of Paso Robles to grow Rhone varieties.
In our 3rd segment, Jason tells us about all the Rhone Varieties that Tablas has brought in to the United States, we discuss the new Adelaida AVA, he tells us the intricacies of native yeast fermentation and we discuss Tablas Creeks use of 1200 gallon Foudres for aging wines. Here’s the video, but you can read below for the details
The Rhone Grapes at Tablas Creek Vineyard
Tablas Creek brought in classic Rhone varieties directly from Chateau du Beaucastel. These original cuttings went through the mandatory 3 year quarantine and were grafted onto rootstock. These were; Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, Counoise, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Grenache Blanc. Soon after they also added Picpoul. They planted 1/2 acre of Picpoul and this increased the amount of Picpoul planted on the planet by 50! In 2003 they decided they might as well bring all the rest of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes. Many of these were the first new plantings of these varieties in a decade. Clairette Blanche and Terret Noir were added and both have been made into single varieties wines in 2013 and 2014. Picardan was planted and they expect to have a small crop this year for the first time. 3 others Vaccarese, Cinsaut and Bourboulenc are out of quarantine and they expect to be able to plant these this winter. Poor Muscardin is still in quarantine and may be released next year. Tablas Creek has wonderful information on their site about all of these varieties Tablas Creek Vineyard Grapes
The Adelaida AVA
Paso Robles Wine was one of the largest unsubdivided AVA in California spanning 40 miles East to West and 30 miles North to South. This immense area varies from 350 to 2700 feet in elevation, rainfall in different areas can run from 6 to 35 inches and temperatures from one area to another can vary by 15 to 20 degrees. In November of 2014 this area was broken into 11 new AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). Tablas Creek is located in the Westernmost AVA known as the Adelaida District. This is one of the AVAs to be noted by their calcareous soil, which is one of the reasons Tablas Creek chose this location. How these new AVAs will change the area is yet to be seen. For Tablas Creek Vineyards, all of their Estate Wines will now list “Adelaida District” on their label.
Native Yeast Fermentation
I have always been fascinated by native yeast fermentation. Many winemakers find it to be too risky, so I took this opportunity to ask Jason about the native yeast fermentation at Tablas Creek and how they might handle a “stuck” fermentation. Jason mentioned that often native yeast fermentation is described as “hands off” wine making. He looks at it more as “fingerprints off” wine making because the process actually makes you more “hands on”. During fermentation they are closely monitoring each lot and testing to be sure it is perking away. If a lot is not fermenting well or looks like it is getting stuck, they have options. They can mix the lot with another lot that is fermenting well or pump it over the lees of something that is fermenting well. They can build a culture from a tank that is doing well and release it into a tank that isn’t. So they don’t get “stuck”, they just have to work harder. Using only native yeast is another way of expressing the uniqueness of the site or the “terroir” which is something that Tablas Creek is passionate about.
Use of Foudres
There are few places in California that you will see foudres used. Foudres are 1200 gallon barrels (as opposed to a typical wine barrel that holds 60 gallons). When you walk into the Tablas Creek Vineyards tasting room you can see these beautiful large foudres through the glass windows that surround the tasting room. As Jason explains it, when you are aging a wine you must determine how much oxygen and how much oak you want. As they follow the Chateau du Beaucastel style they are looking for very minor but consistent oxygen and very little oak. As a result, large wood it the way to go. With a 1200 gallon Foudre you have 20 times the wine and just 4 times the surface area compared to a normal 60 gallon barrel. This gives you more volume to surface area. The staves in these larger barrels are thicker also, which makes the penetration of oxygen slower. This is perfect for protecting Grenache which is prone to oxidation and for Syrah and Mourvedre which are prone to reduction which can cause them to go funky. The large foudres give a balance allowing the wines to age gently and still progress.
While this concludes our formal interview with Jason, we did continue with a vineyard walk and winery tour which concluded with a great conversation about how they blend their wines. So watch for more videos and blog posts.