Season 1, Episode 3
Paso Robles still feels like a farm community at heart. If it can be sourced local, it is. Everyone knows each other at the local bar. And the locals are proud of the region, even if it doesn't get the recognition it absolutely should: Paso makes some incredibly undervalued grape juice. Go local on this episode of V is for Vino.
filmed June, 2017 | runtime 27 minutes
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from the Paso Robles, California episode
This VIP video is the full, uncut interview with winemaker Neil Collins from Tablas Creek. Neil knows a thing or two about making Rhone blends in California - he was named wine person of the year in 2019 by the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance! In this unedited interview, we explore more about the history of Tablas, farming organically with an intro into biodynamics...and of course, the blending process they use for Tablas Creek's famed wines!
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from the Paso Robles Episode
The glamorous estate built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, this elaborate house on the hill is worth a visit if you're in the area.
TABLAS CREEK WINERY
Widely regarded as one of the best producers of Rhône wines in America, no trip to Paso Robles is complete without visiting Tablas Creek. Only a few of their dozens of wines are available in stores, so you'll be able to try a bunch of wines exclusive to the winery if you visit!
Unfortunately, Artisan restaurant closed a year after our visit, so I wanted to give you another favorite spot of mine in Paso Robles. The Hatch Rotisserie & Bar has some of the best fried chicken, a great bar, and a fun vibe. Make sure to try the homemade hot sauce!
FRIENDS OF THE ELEPHANT SEALS
Located just 5 minutes from Hearst Castle, these animals are a marvel to watch. They are on the beach most of the year but peak viewing times are January, May, and October.
I'm here at Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo County Hearst Castle was made for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Have you seen Citizen Kane? This was the inspiration. Over 80,000 square feet 90 bedrooms 90 bathrooms did I mention 100 foot Neptune pool? Pretty amazing.But if you drive 40 miles inland from here you're gonna find the real treasure of San Luis Obispo: some killer Rhone style wines. We're going to Paso Robles and welcome to V is for Vino! We're hanging out in downtown Paso Robles. Paso Robles is part of San Luis Obispo County which is part of the Central Coast appellation of California. The Central Coast is actually really big; it encompasses everything from San Francisco down to Santa Barbara. But Paso Robles AVA is smack dab in the middle of it all. While most the wine regions in the Central Coast tend to be fairly cool Paso Robles is the exception. It's hot here mostly because the Santa Lucia Mountains shield the region from the cool Pacific ocean breezes. The heat means the big heat-loving grapes like Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel do great here. But it's only been recently the Paso has exploded as a wine growing region. It went from 20 wineries in 1990 to over 200 today. So how do you pronounce it? Rob-les? Ro-bulz? well the city was actually named in Spanish "El Paso de Robles" which meant "The Pass of the Oaks" and eventually just got shortened to Paso Robles. So if you were saying in Spanish you'd say Rob-les, but by that logic you'd say Los Ange-les instead of Los "Angelus" So most people here call it Paso Ro-bulz, or you could just call it Paso and save yourself the headache... So why does this place makes such fantastic terroir driven, Rhone style wines? We're gonna find out, but first what the hell is terroir? So what's with all these fancy expensive vineyards; why can't you just try and grow wine in your own backyard? Well, you can give it a shot. Technically all the great wine growing regions are grown between these lines of latitude. Anything in the middle is too hot and everything on the top and bottom is too cold so you're thinking all right, I live in America. I should be able to get it done. Well, you don't have what the French terroir. Now terroir is this combination of elements: the sunlight, the soil, the slope, the drainage, the average rainfall, the irrigation, and the million and one other factors that make a wine region a great wine region. But most wine regions also have one other thing that I call the X Factor and it's that one thing that without it It couldn't make good grapes. Take Napa. Napa has the Vaca Mountains to the east that protect from the hot central California and the Maya Caymus to the west that protect from the cool ocean breezes and you're left with this nice regulated temperature in the Napa Valley. What about Mosel Germany? Now Mosel Germany is one of my favorites because it's way too cold to grow grapes but it's very famous for its Riesling. This is because the Mosel river that runs through it reflects sunlight off of the river and onto the vines that are on the slopes of the river. Otherwise the grapes would never ripen. So the next time you're thinking about trying to make wine in your backyard it's probably best to leave it to the pro. So what about Paso Robles. What is its x-factor? Well remember I told you how hot it is here. It's literally a hundred degrees today. We're baking. It would normally be way too hot for wine growth. But there's wild temperature fluctuations called diurnal shifts that allow wine grapes to grow here. It may be a hundred now but it'll be 40 to 50 degrees cooler at night and what that does is allows the grapes to ripen all day and then stop ripening in the evening and still have a nice long hang time until September or October. Now Cabernet Sauvignon is still the number one grape by the numbers grown in Paso, but nobody grows more Rhone varietals in the new world than Paso Robles. And this is because climate here is very similar to the Rhone Valley in the southeast of France. But what exactly is a Rhone blend? Let's find out! Today we're gonna focus on southern Rhone style blends. Now the term Rhone blend is used to describe a wine That's made in similar style so the wines they make in a place in the southeast of France called the Rhone Valley And unlike most places in the planet that focus on one grape maybe 100% Pinot Noir or 100%, Chardonnay The Rhone Valley is all about blending Why use one grape when you can use three or five or even ten? You're actually allowed to use up to 22 grapes in the Rhone Valley itself. White Rhone blends are full of grapes you may not be too familiar with. Grenache Blanc Marsanne, Rousanne, Viognier, Picpoul, and some other grapes thrown in for good measure. They're usually apricot-y and peachy Perfume-y and aromatic and floral and if they have any oak on them, maybe some lemon curd or some vanilla But winemakers have to be careful when they harvest and how much oak they use because they don't have a lot of natural acidity So they need to be careful to preserve the acidity they do have. When they're done right they're similar to a lush tropical, Chardonnay GSM. It's a common abbreviation for red Rhone blends And it stands for Grenache Syrah Mourvedre. These wines take full advantage of the heat that Paso and Rhone tend to offer Big bold high alcohol wines. Think cherry and cassis flavors, maybe lavender floral and herbs But also some spice notes and some gamey notes from the Syrah. You can think of it like a three-piece band Grenache is the lead singer and guitarist and Contributes most of the alcohol and red fruit flavors. Syrah is the bass; contributes lower fruit flavors like blackberry And maybe some gamey notes and some spice notes. And then the Mourvedre hangs in the back It's the drums It contributes to the finish and the tannin structure Now blending is great for a wine maker because it allows you to not only have some say in the wine But to take advantage of the different grapes in different years. If it's a warm year You might use more Grenache with loves the heat If it's a cooler year, maybe a little more Syrah. But all this means you better have a winemaker who knows what he's doing and I think I got just the one... Vince: Thanks for having us out! Neil: You're welcome V: so tell us a little bit about About the story of Tablas and these these vineyards N: Two families the Perrin Family. The other family being an American family the Haas family, Robert Haas. And they were just in California selling wine and asking the question Everything here is Cabernet and Chardonnay. Why is there no Rhone varietals here? This is perfect for that. The weather the climate is so much similar to where we are we should do something and they searched California up and down west coast really up and down looking for the ultimate spot to do this product so they were looking for limestone soils they were looking for enough sunshine to ripen mourvèdre and They found it here. V: Can you tell me a little bit about your story? How you got into winemaking? N: Yeah, I was in the restaurant industry and while I was working in that business just grew a passion for wine and read a lot about wine and decided I wanted to do a Year in a small winery. You know I can read, but I don't understand it So well as anything as well as actually physically getting my hands And it got a job at a winery down the street started doing that in in 91 and Just loved it. V: And then you came over here, and you've been here pretty much since the beginning. N: Yeah, I did a year in France working in the vineyard and winery at Beaucastel And and then moved back here in July of 98 And I've been here ever since V: do you have a nickname around here like father of Tablas or something like that? N: I haven't heard it, but I'm sure... weird guy that wanders around... V: What is your philosophy behind the style of wines that you make here at Tablas?, N: It's really simple that question I mean how I see it was I was Tasked when I got here with the job of growing grapes and making wines the best demonstrate a sense of place They built this property specifically because they felt it was unique the limestone soil particularly is incredibly unique within, California It's rare it's hard to find and so the goal is let's produce wines that are as clear a Reflection of this place as we can possibly make. Farming organically now, we're moving into biodynamic, an introduction of animals in the vineyard, more diversity. Just trying to Leave this place in a better state than we found it. And then when we get to the winery again. It's it's very traditional. We don't use much new oak. Everything is fermented on native yeast we don't inoculate anything and that's all in an attempt to display this beautiful Incredible piece of land that we have here V: and for a winemaker who sounds like you want to be very Hands-off, you actually have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to the blending process. N: So what happens is that we sit down at a table and we'll sit and we'll taste every single lot that we have in our cellar blind and We'll make ratings on the individual lots of individual varietals from individual blocks. Etc etc And from those tastings we'll go back and we'll put together some potential blends of being okay And then we taste three or four versions of those blind and then we're saying okay order preference Which ones you like? And we keep going until we all agree that this is the one so sometimes it can be a couple of days sometimes it can Be a couple of weeks There have been times when we've just packed it up and gone home and come back to it a month later V: And you live on property right? N: I do my family my kids grew up here It's home for us. I was here the day the first vine went in the ground Just as a nosy neighbor not as an employee. Yeah, we'll be harvesting this stuff in late September early October Clusters are gonna tighten up, and then we'll start seeing the turn of color and this time of year is nerve-racking because you're hoping everything keeps going in the right direction and And you get to the end of it you're tired of getting up at 4:00 in the morning and staying up till 8:00 at night and in the winery and want it to be over but It's always the most exciting thing because that's where... that's where the season is. V: I wanted to get to know more about the biodynamic farming and the use of the animals in the vineyard So for that I went to Nathan, Tablas Creek's own personal shepherd. Nathan: This is the herd of sheep, Tablas Creek. There's about 200 of them right now...the guardian animals Fiona and dotty the donkeys. Fiona doesn't like me. I don't like you either Fiona! And then if you look in the back You can see the alpacas with the funny-looking necks. They just got sheared so don't be too hard on them. Okay, they don't always look that bad so the the herd started is kind of a novelty But now that we've gone into bio dynamics, and we're becoming certified biodynamic it's gonna be a big part of building soil in the vineyard and They'll graze in between the vines all winter long keeping the weeds down cutting back mow passes Fertilizing. 240 cubic feet of manure that we didn't buy that we didn't truck here Using you know fuel and all the other costs of running equipment They're putting compost on the ground for us without us having to spread it with tractors and trucks the final byproduct is We have lamb for sale. We'll be harvesting 20 30 40 lambs, and then we distribute them out to the local restaurants, but they're getting organic biodynamic No hormones, no antibiotics My big argument not everybody's, but my big argument is The more animals we can get back on the land properly managed properly managed... not that's not the valley I'm not talking about like feed lots and creating methane and all that but Properly managed animals on the livestock can put carbon back in the soil and keep it there forever. That's kind of what I'm passionate about is... using them to, you know, save the planet in a small way. Jason Haas: Tablas Creek is equally owned and run by two families one of the families is my family my dad is Robert Haas. He was an importer who started the company Vineyard Brands and importing wine since the 1950s. The other family is the Perrin family from chateau Beaucastel in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the South of France whose wines my dad introduced it to the US market in the 1960s and with whom he became friends. There were three things that they were looking for that led them to Paso. So the first thing they were looking for was the right kind of climate which meant hot enough and sunny enough to ripen some of the latest ripening grapes in France but moderated enough so that the earlier Rhone varieties like Syrah and Viognier didn't go flabby. Second thing they were looking for was enough rainfall to dry farm. And then the third thing that we were looking for was limestone. Vince: Wow, and so between those three you're left with a perfect place to recreate chateauneuf-du-pape. J: And our goal isn't to recreate it exactly, but our goal is to use kind of the same palette of flavors and then have those flavors express this particular place. So the Cotes de Tablas Blanc is is our chance to show off Viognier. So Viognier is one of the classic grapes of the Rhone Valley. But in a warm climate in like in the southern Rhone or like in Paso Robles it's usually used as a blending grape, but in a lead role so the Viognier is that floral juiciness, the Grenache Blanc is citrusy, bright, minerally. Marsanne is restraint. Melon, a little bit of honey, pretty, and then Rousanne is structure. V: Yeah, right away just that that floral perfumey. J: The nice thing about working with Rhone grapes is that they're meant to be blended with one another. Each of them brings a different strength to the table. So you can allow a grape life Viognier to show off when it's great at without having to live with its weaknesses. V: Viognier is one of my favorite grapes that I feel like nobody does right and I don't say that about you guys, so cheers to that. J: So the Cote de Tablas Rouge is our chance to lead with Grenache. So Grenache is another the classic grape of the southern Rhone, it accounts for something like 60% of the acreage in the southern, Rhone Valley. And you can understand why; it's a grape which is juicy, it's got good acids to balance that juiciness. It's it shows off herbs and spice in a really nice way. If it has a weakness it's that it can be a little simple on its own. It's not very dark in color, and so the classic blending partner for Grenache is Syrah. It's dark, savory, spicy, tannic, but usually not very friendly. So you can think of Grenache is providing friendliness for Sarah and Sarah's providing seriousness for Grenache> The Cote de Tablas is always led by Grenache with Syrah as the number two and then smaller amounts of Counoise which has great acidity and just brings everything into focus and mourvèdre for this little bit of wild earthy darkness. The thing that I like about Rhone blends in general is that they're not only one thing. It's not a wine, which is is one-dimensional at all. It's a wine that has fruit and it has earth and it has spice has meat and it has herbs. It has flowers. V: you can keep digging. J: You can keep digging. Makes you want to keep coming back for a second sip. V: Even in a climate as warm as it is here, this feels fresh. People often paid more attention to how hot the days get in Paso Robles then they do to how cold the nights are and the fact that you can pick... you can pick the same grapes at the same sugar levels that you get in the Rhone valley with higher acids in Paso Robles because the nights are so cold. V: Thank you so much for taking us on this tour. J: You are welcome. V: Absolutely J: Cheers V: Cheers Welcome to the V is for vino nerd laB, where we take complicated wine topics and make them simple. Today, we're talking about ACID So what is acid? Well it's one of the five major components of wine. It's a compound in the grapes tartaric, malic, and citric acid, that gives wine a sourness or a tartness. But it's really important to wine - it also gives wine liveliness or pizzazz or a pop! Some things that have acid naturally: lemons vinegar has a lot of acid. Some things that have very low acid-milk, avocados. Now acid is a direct consequence of climate. Cooler climate grapes tend to have more acid than warm climate and this is because it has an inverse relationship with ripeness. The riper a grape gets the more acid goes down. So as the sugar goes up the acid goes down. You can think of it like a banana- this green banana is gonna have more acid and not so much sugar. Whereas this ripe banana that's brown is gonna have way too much sugar, and the key for a winemaker is to find that perfect blend right in the middle where you get a perfectly ripe grape or banana! It's also very similar to good lemonade. Lemonade is all about the balance between the citric acid in the lemon juice and the sugar that you put in. So we start with our water, and we'll put in our lemon juice just to get started here. Now adding just lemon juice this is going to be obviously very sour, you have no sugar to balance it out. And these are like grapes that have been on the vine too little: they're going to be very very acidic. That's not gonna taste very good. But if you add a little sugar, and these will be like grapes that are on the vine that have developed a little bit more, you're gonna find that perfect balance between the acid and the sugar. That's perfect lemonade and that's just like a grape thats had the proper amount of hang time on the vine. And now if we add more sugar, this is gonna be like a grape that had too much hang time. It's going to be very low on acid and it's not gonna have any pop it's gonna be very flat. Now the key to a winemaker is to pick at the perfect moment. The winemaker can't just add sugar down the road. He has to pick at the right moment when the acid and the sugar are perfectly balanced. And this is assuming There's a perfect moment at all. In some years the weather won't be good enough and the grapes won't ripen enough, and in other youth they'll ripen too quickly and you'll be forced to pick them too early before everything else in the grape has developed. I hope you enjoyed this nerd lab on acid and keep geeking out! I headed back into town to meet the husband-and-wife team behind a restaurant that's now an institution in downtown Paso: welcome to Artisan. Vince: Someone told me that I'm amongst royalty is that true? Jenn: How does that always get brought up? Garrett: I might have snuck that in, But her being mrs. form Miss, California, what does that make me? Mister California! V: The king himself! V: So tell me a little bit about the restaurant. J: We were living in Orange County at the time. Got married here in Paso in 2004, so we knew we loved it here and wanted to be here and we knew that we could utilize my background in the restaurant business as well as just his serial entrepreneurship to be able to get here but we didn't know when that was gonna be we honestly thought it was probably to me when we retire bBut wouldn't it be cool if we could come here with what our kids our kids? We could raise them here. They could be raised in the restaurant. V: Tell me a little bit about what is the style of food if you had to sum it up? G: You know farm-to-table has been used. It's almost cliche now, so I really call it dirt to mouth. For many years we had our own farm. We grew our own vegetables. We serve them here at the restaurant. We're uber local. These other buzzwords that you hear like sustainability or sustainable we believe in those things as well. J: And have from day one. J: But even this bar that were leaning against this is a tree that fell in Templeton and we hired a local woodworker and that woodworker created this bar and all the tables that we have as well. V: You literally are as close to the source with everything. So cool. G: You know we use a cork flooring because it's sustainable. You know we we hired a local metalsmith to create some of the lighting here these sconces that are behind us are made by a local metalsmith. It's not just our local foods produce meats, but also local wines so if you look at our wine list I would say 99% of our wine list is local Paso wines or local Central Coast wines. V: And it seems you get a big local following in the community as well. J: Yeah, we feel really a fortunate to have that. Nothing better than coming in here on a weeknight and seeing the same a couple people that have been here five times that week we love that. V: That's awesome. Well, if you don't mind we have to go talk to Ryan I think we got to taste some of this food. J: Enjoy it, it's good! Ryan: So we're gonna be doing our octopus salad. So this is just one eighth of the octopus. It's just one tentacle a Spanish octopus. We just braised it and just straight white wine for about an hour and a half. Yeah, that's it, bring it to a boil drop it let it go. So we're gonna be grilling this up. And we'll just leave that straight on the grill that'll take about two maybe three minutes on each side before it's fully done. You don't want burnt, but you want a nice charred you want marks. V: You just wanna kiss it. R: Yeah, you were just want to hot all the way through. So while that's going we can totally build the salad. So we start with our chickpeas these are actually come from Los Osos from a farm called Kandarien farms. These are peppadews this is a South African pepper I believe they were lightly pickled but they add a really nice fresh flavor than not spicy at all. And then these are peeled tomatoes. We just take the skin off. The skin can be a little bit bitter. Drop in boiling water for about maybe 15 seconds. just till the skin pops off and we just peel it. Then we're gonna grab some of-any green will do -right now we're using kale in ours. This is again as local kale also. So really what besides the octopus everything else is pretty much local. Salt. And then for our dressings we use a Calabrian chili oil. It's really spicy, so you only need like maybe maybe an eighth of a teaspoon. It's hot. And then so this is gremolata. Just garlic lemon parsley and local olive oil. It just kind of adds a little bit of a pop and a little bit of freshness going into it and then this is our macerated lemon. We just take lemon segments get rid of the pith, zest and everything, cook it in a little olive oil on the stove Probably about I don't know maybe thirty seconds just to it falls apart. V: You guys are fancy over here. Ryan: We are we keep it really fancy. I want to flip that octopus really quick. So just looking for about that much color. You just don't want to burn if it's burnt it gets really hard and tough. It's not good. When you see it starts like flex and move it's about there. Okay, so I'm just gonna slice it up a little bit. This is mainly just for presentation. Throw a couple pieces into the salad So once it's fully mixed. I'm just gonna go straight into the bowl. Put that right there on top. Now grab some of our house-made garlic aioli, which is made just with confit garlic and how you normally make an aioli and then we top it with just a little bit of fresh, oregano. And that's it. V: All right. Let's try this out. R: When we first put this on the menu I was in here eating it twice every day. That's one of my favorite dishes V: We paired this with the white Rhone blend for a few reasons number one, There's enough acidity in the white Rhone blend to match the acidity of the dish. Remember acid likes acid and between the lemon juice and the tomatoes and the dish and the acidity and the wine they can keep up with each other. The second reason is that the spicy in the dressing goes great with the over-the-top fruity, aromatic and floral characteristic of the white Rhone blend. All right, so what's the second dish? R: We're gonna be doing our lamb bolognese with house-made pappardelle pasta. Bolognese is a dish that I really enjoy because it takes a long time. You can tell someone doesn't know how to make one is when the meats tough. It has a really runny sauce. It should be it's like meat paste. V: You want to let it get nice and thick. R: Yeah, you want to you want it like basically mud is what you're looking for. First thing we're looking for is you want to drop your wanna drop your oyster mushrooms in there. I just look for a little bit of color so once I start seeing that a little bit of color I'll just let them go and I throw my Bolognese. So what we do is we take all of our salami scraps render that down. And then you're gonna we always throw in our meat. Beef is the body, pork is the flavo,r lamb is the bigger flavor. V: You've got the trio. The Holy Trinity of meat. R: And then so we put that in there, you know you fry up a little tomato paste, throw in your stock, white wine. Kind of like just let it go! So once I get this far And I see a nice color So a little bit of white wine And a lot a bit of butter. When you have sauce left on the plate after you eat it That's a very bad thing I mean that means it wasn't done right. So I I usually let my pasta go about 3/4 of the way in the water And I'll finish it the last 25% in the sauce. You're getting that starch into the sauce And it soaks into the noodle, and it's not two separate entities. The other secret is you want to make sure that your water is Salty like the ocean. Not a pinch, but uh no. I put cups. So this I just go low and slow. It's already cooked you're just rewarming. So this is about 3/4 of the way done. I'll splash a little bit of my pasta water in there because you do want that in there. So these are papadelle. We do an egg yolk based pasta. There's nothing wrong with a lot of fat. Finish this off in the sauce about the last 25% I'll just throw in a little bit of pecorino cheese So we'll grab our plate right here And then I'll finish with a little more pecorino This is just some whipped ricotta and for the last one this is salsa verde Which is basically a mixture of there's mint chili flake caper anchovy parsley. That's it! V: Let's try it! The tannin and alcohol and the GSM goes great with the fatty richness of the dish and the big bold dish likes a big bold wine. These guys got the right idea. These elephant seals come to the San Luis Obispo shoreline twice a year to rest and breed After the 8 to 10 months a year that they spend at sea. I hope you enjoyed this episode in San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles, and we'll see you next time on V is for Vino! Get the wine full episodes and more at v is for vino dot com