Celebrating Environmentally-Friendly wines from the Central Coast
Tablas Creek, Patelin de Tablas, Rosé, Paso Robles, 2016, $17.99 (biodynamic)
Bonny Doon, “Le Pousseur,” Syrah, Central Coast, 2013, $18.99 (organic)
Broc Cellars, Carignan, Old Vine, Alexander Valley, 2014, $29.99 (organic)
We have a lot of regions and styles to cover in our wine journey together. As I was considering where to head after the February clubs, I was discouraged by some industry articles that pointed to trends in California that are recurring in other wine regions as well, namely, wineries being purchased by nouveau-wealthy people for whom a vineyard is a hobby-investment and the tension between wine industry interests and environmental concerns in developing wine regions. In a somewhat circuitous route, these led me to pay attention to and want to celebrate some really interesting producers from California’s Central Coast region whose fingernails are dirty from work in the vineyards and who are engaging in environmentally sensitive practices in both the vineyard and the cellar.
Not so coincidentally, April is also the month in which we have a designated day to focus on the environment—April 22nd, Earth Day. Precipitated by one of the worst oil spills in US history off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, which was also the year that the Cuyahoga River caught fire in Cleveland, Senator Gaylord Nelson orchestrated a bi-partisan effort to raise public consciousness about water and air pollution. Drawing heavily on the prevailing student activism, Earth Day was scheduled for April 22nd, a date meant to fall between Spring break and final exams. On April 22nd, 1970, 20 million people participated in various marches across the country to demand industry changes to protect the environment. Here is the empowering lesson—by the end of the year, the EPA was created, and congress had passed the Clean Air Act. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1972.
All of our wines this month are at least organic and, in some cases, biodynamic. There are two reasons for relying on organic farming. Firstly, and consistent with our theme, the practices are more beneficial, or at least less harmful, to the environment. Secondly, the resulting grapes are healthier and therefore make more concentrated, flavorful wines. Many winemakers choose organic practices for the second reason. At Windham Wines, we have become more persuaded by biodynamics because of the energy and complexity that often accompany those wines. Something is different, and in a good way. It’s nice when the wines we like are made by people we admire because the wines they make are not just distinctive, but delicious, and made with environmentally-friendly practices.
The Central Coast American Viticultural Area (AVA) extends from Santa Barbara northward along almost 250 miles of coastline (up to 25 miles inland) to San Fransicso County. It is a huge area, subdivided into 40 smaller AVAs, including Paso Robles, Santa Cruz Mountains, Edna Valley, Carmel Valley and Arroyo Secco, to name a few. All of our wines in both the Terroir and Vineyard Club come from the Central Coast, and each is made by a winemaker whose principal pursuit is making wine that expresses the uniqueness of the place in which the grapes were grown.
Here are references to a few of those articles that motivated this wine club offering.
Patelin de Tablas, Rosé, Paso Robles, 2016
When looking for wineries that were engaging in practices that are earth-friendly, environmentally-responsible, Tablas Creek is always one of the first that comes to mind. Frank and I visited Tablas Creek 15 years ago, before opening the shop. Based on that experience, we joined their wine club, the only wine club we ever joined.
Last week, as I was pouring through the various distributors portfolios to make the selections for this month’s clubs, we received the sad news that Robert Haas, owner-founder of Tablas Creek, died, age 90, at his home Templeton (Paso Robles area), surrounded by family, of complications from pneumonia. In memory of Bob, of the legacy he leaves behind, we are including wines from Tablas Creek in both clubs this month.
Robert Haas embodied the kind of wine-maker/owner that stands in contrast to the “lifestyle” vintner that James Conaway contends is taking over Napa, much of Sonoma and now the Central Coast. This was not a hobby for Bob. He and Jacques Perrin spent several years looking for property in California before investing in the Paso Robles area in 1989. Jacques’ son, Francois Perrin, wrote that “‘[h]e (Bob Haas) spent the last 25 years of his life discovering the terroir of Paso Robles and more specifically that of Tablas Creek, which he completely invested himself in and deeply loved.”
Bob was born into a family that valued wine. His uncle, Morris Lehman, owned a butcher shop and grocery store on New York’s Upper East Side. With his health failing in the 1920s, he asked his nephew, Sidney Haas, to take over the shop. Sidney applied for a liquor license after Prohibition. After graduating from Yale in 1950, Bob Haas joined the family business, becoming the wine-buyer for its import arm. He traveled mostly in France, setting up relationships that were to become the foundation of his own wine importing company, Vineyard Brands. In 1965, M. Lehman was sold to Sherry Wine and Spirits, creating Sherry-Lehman.
Two things about Vineyard Brands. One, Bob set it up out of his home in Chester, VT. Chester was Vineyard Brands “headquarters” for 20 years, when he sold it to its employees allowing him to focus principally on Tablas Creek. He and his wife, Barbera, still own their Chester house, and his older son, Dan, manages Vineyard Brands. Secondly, Bob Haas met the Perrin family of Chateau de Beaucastel when he started importing wines. Vineyard Brands remains the exclusive US importer of the now myriad labels made by the Perrins. The relationship between the Haas and Perrin families deepened over the years. Tablas Creek is a joint project between the Haas and Perrin families.
After looking for property in California for 4 years, in 1989, Jean-Pierre and Francois Perrin, along with Bob Haas, purchased 120 limestone-rich acres in the Paso Robles area (Templeton) 12 miles inland. The Mediterranean climate along with the rocky limestone soils so similar to the Perrin’s Chateauneuf property led them to believe that the same varieties grown in the southern Rhone, e.g., Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Counoise for reds, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Viognier and Picpoul, among others, would also thrive there.
The respect that Tablas Creek has achieved is a product of Bob Haas’ business incisiveness and personal integrity. He saw both the opportunity of the property—without hurrying that process by relaxing any of the criteria for which they were looking, and he established a business premised on respect for the land and for the people with whom they work. Tablas Creek’s first vineyard was planted in 1994; it was certified organic in 2003, and certified biodynamic in 2017. Neil Collins , winemaker, has overseen the vineyard and the cellar since 1998.
Since 2006, Bob’s youngest child, Jason, has been a partner and the General Manager of Tablas Creek. Jason’s contribution to the next wave at Tablas Creek constitutes a tribute to his father. Jason attributes his passion for wine to the summers he spent with the Perrins in France during his high school years. He worked in the vineyards and cellars there, joining the family for meals during which they talked about the wines they were drinking, which each enjoyed more, and why. He loved it.
Jason went to Cornell, pursued a double major in economics and archeology, then a masters in archeology (also Cornell) after which he spent a couple of years digging around in Greece, and learning another language, before returning to D.C. to work with a tech start-up. There he learned marketing, web design, and management, while building a team of 80 across six cities. He left that company in 2002 to join his father at Tablas Creek. As he observed, “[i]t was time. By then my dad was in his mid-70s, and if I waited until he wasn’t around anymore I would have kicked myself.”
Jason has moved Tablas Creek into its current enviable position—from producing more wine than it could sell in those early days to selling out each vintage. Among other practices he introduced is the Tablas Creek blog, which has won myriad writing awards. Here is a link to the tribute that Jason posted to his father: http://tablascreek.typepad.com/tablas/2018/03/robert-haas-1927-2018-a-life-well-lived.html.
Bob Haas, his son Jason, winemaker, Neil, and the rest of the team at Tablas Creek are testimony to the importance that passion for the product, for the entire process of cultivating vines, from planting rootstock to grafting, growing and harvesting, always trying to learn what is best for the soil, and therefore the grapes and the potential wine, is essential to the outcome. According to Jason, Bob was active at Tablas Creek until the end. In fact, Jason and those who knew Bob well were convinced that his “passion for this project kept him young.” No one would describe Tablas Creek as run by “lifestyle vintners.”
Another link worth watching—when Bob received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhone Rangers (more about that with Randall Grahm): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwpRPnBk3RM&feature=youtu.be
73% Grenache,17% Mourvedre, 6% Counoise,4% Syrah
We got a great deal on this wine. As you can see, it is the 2016. When we receive the 2017, in just a few weeks, it will be back up to $21.99. When we were told that some 2016 was still available, I asked to try it again (that was almost 2 weeks ago now). We carried it last summer and, while we enjoyed it, it was less impressive than the 2015 that was our favorite rosé of summer 2016. Well, the intervening time has been kind to this 2016.
We loved the 2015 Patelin, rosé so much that I asked Bob if he might write a little piece for our website about it. He did. I am providing a link to that piece that includes a salute from Bob pouring the rosé. Jason is seated next to him. https://www.windhamwines.com/featured-wine/2016/07/tablas-creek/
Here are Neil Collin’s observations about the 2016 Patelin, rosé.
Color—light peach; “on the nose are spicy aromatics of nectarine, grapefruit pith, yellow roses and petrichor. The mouth is bright with flavors of yellow peach and raspberry, with mouthwatering acidity giving focus to a long finish with flavors of lemon drop and salty minerality.
Josh Reynolds, who reviews wines from the Southern Rhone for Vinous, wrote this description and gave the 2016 Patelin, Rosé a score of 91.
Pale pink. Mineral-accented strawberry and blood orange aromas are complemented by a sexy floral nuance. Nervy and focused on the palate, offering vibrant red berry and citrus fruit flavors that show a delicate touch and stretch out and deepen with air. Concentrated yet lithe, finishing with lingering florality, a touch of orange zest and impressive persistence.
From the Tablas Creek blog (did I mention that it is terrific???), here is a recipe for a suggested food pairing—crispy crab risotto with tomato and tarragon coulis (https://tablascreek.com/recipes/crispy-crab-risotto-with-tomato-and-tarragon-coulis) and one for an Anadalucian style Gazpacho (https://tablascreek.com/recipes/gazpacho).