Oh, And A Word On Biodynamics, Too.
Picking up on where we left off on our last dispatch....as I had recently
written about Santa Barbara County...
Pinot Noir attracts much of the attention in this area, then Rhone
varieties generate much of the passion - at least for those in the
know. Underappreciated and undervalued, less familiar varieties like
Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc, and Viognier make brilliant,
complex whites that boggle the mind and dazzle the heart. Similarly,
less popular red varieties - Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache - emulate the
French traditions of the southern Rhone valley while maintaining an
identity true to their provenance. Powerful, complex, and incredibly
satisfying, red Rhone varieties in Santa Barbara County seem to
Just replace "Pinor Noir" with "Cab and Zin", and replace "Santa Barbara County" with "Paso Robles".
This statement is perhaps best embodied at Tablas Creek Vineyard. This sister outpost of Chateauneuf-du-Pape's Chateau Beaucastel focuses almost exclusively on Rhone varieties and a philosophy of
"Minimizing human intervention to maximize the expression of our
terroir." That's hardly a rare statement from winemakers these days, but
it is rare to see it put into practice in such a real way. Though they
prefer (smartly) to focus on the results in the bottle rather than
vineyard practices, the good people at Tablas Creek are not shy about their organic and biodynamic
farming. Let's talk about what that means for a minute. (Quick disclaimer: Biodynamics is something I know
precious little about other than that it is hotly debated among a very
small cross section of winemakers/growers and sommeliers with nearly the same fervor as denominations of Islam are.)
we can agree that putting fewer pesticides on the products we consume,
then organics are a good thing. And while biodynamism principles overlap with organic practices, they are not the same thing - at all. I get the idea that bio (as it's called in France)
is focused on creating an ecosystem in the vineyard of reciprocating flora
and fauna life cycles. At Tablas Creek, chickens roam the vines eating
what if Tablas Creek is just one giraffe shy of being a zoo? All of
this is hooey unless the experience of consumption is at least equal to,
if not improved over, that of conventionally grown products. That's
where truth tests theory. If farming practices provide a superior platform from which the winemaker works, then terrific. But things have to be done right both in the vineyard and in the cellar to produce quality wines. Which brings us back to the winery.
not going to cover well-covered ground about Tablas Creek's winemaking
methodologies here other than to reiterate that Tablas is focused on
Rhone varieties. And that they want you to taste the wine as it's grown in the
vineyard, not as they could have been manipulated in the cellar. I'll
also preface my impressions of their wines with a note that my personal
palate does not naturally gravitate towards this style of wine - a
disclaimer which hopefully lends the following impressions greater weight.
these wines are of uncommonly superior quality. You can taste it. There is an honesty
with which they speak that is impossible to miss. Clarity and focus are
pervasive across the board in reds and whites alike. This characteristic was so pronounced that I quickly became, well, a bit giddy. To wit: midway
through the tasting, General Manager Jason Haas stopped by to say hello, but by this point I was too stupefied and distracted by the wines (yes, I was spitting) to carry on any kind of substantive conversation.
they do bottle a handful of noteworthy limited production single
varietal wines, Tablas has three main levels of wine: Paletin de Tablas
(entry level), Cotes de Tablas, and the upper tier Esprit de Tablas.
Brief recollections some of what we tasted:
2011 Cotes de Tablas Blanc ($30) -
Good God! Dizzying in its rapid fire attack of multi-faceted, complex
white flower aromatics and full frontal assault of flavors that manage
to be supple. Irresistible and worth every penny all day long.
2011 Esprit de Tablas Blanc ($40) - Elegant and lovely. Unhurriedly unfolds its flavors in a seductive display of allure.
2012 Vermentino ($27) - Faithful to the grape. Bright, sprightly, and energetic. Drier and leaner than most examples from its home base of Sardinia, which is a good thing in this case.
2011 Paletin de Tablas Red ($20) - Vibrant if monolithic. Tastes more like a Beaujolais than a Cotes du Rhone. Hard to believe it's half Syrah.
2011 Cotes de Tablas Red ($30) - Pure. Fruit core stares you down from the glass. More captivating for its unwavering gaze than its intensity.
2010 Grenache ($40) - As compelling and transparent as any of the wines here. Solid acidity frames this wine nicely and gives it a bit of grip. Can't wait to uncork again in a few years.
2010 Esprit de Beaucastel ($55) - Venerable, proud, precise. The last vintage bottled under this name (renamed to Esprit de Tablas starting in 2011).
So, does biodynamic vineyard practices translate to irresistible wines? Not as an absolute rule, but in conjunction with seasoned, skilled hands in the cellar, that certainly is this case here. Be on the lookout for these wines and don't hesitate to scoop some up if you spot them - they're worth the experience.
A belated, but big shout out to the warm, hospitable staff at Tablas - Lauren and Madeline especially. They made for one of the most memorable winery visits in many, many years. Thanks!