PASO ROBLES – The signpost pointing to the entrance of the tasting room reads 9 yards away. Pointing in the opposite direction, the sign reads Domaine de Beucastel, 9,009 kilometers away.
The two locales seemed much closer in proximity after sampling some of the Rhone varietals at Tablas Creek Vineyard in West Paso Robles. One of Paso’s most renowned wineries sits high in the Santa Rita Hills, and the drive along the tree-lined, winding and undulating Adelaida Road offers some spectacular views.
“French connection to a California wine,” is how Tablas Creek’s Russ Frank describes the goal behind the partnership of Robert Haas and his family from California and the Perrin family from Chateau de Beaucastel in France. In 1989, the families purchased a 120-acre former alfalfa farm and cattle ranch after searching four years for a site similar in composition to Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhone Valley in France.
Their dream was to create in California the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which roughly translated means “the Pope’s new castle.” Chateauneuf-du-Pape is one of the most renowned wine appellations in southeastern France and its top wines are some of the most sought-after in the world with prices to match. Most of the wine produced in Chateauneuf-du-Pape is red and Granache Noir, which can be sweet and jammy, takes the lead in many of the blends with Syrah adding color and spice and Mouvedre supplying structure and elegance.
Paso’s combination of limestone-rich, calcareous clay soils that retain water, large diurnal temperature swings and hilly terrain have proven suitable for Tablas Creek to grow many of Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s 18 permitted grape varieties, including Mouvedre, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Counoise, Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne.
Tablas Creek has been organically dry-farmed farmed since its inception. Dry-farming limits yields and emphasizes character of place, elements essential to winemaker and vineyard manager Neil Collins.
“I just do as little as I can to make those wines be an expression of the soil,” said Collins in a video by Marc Weisberg, “so when you taste a Tablas Creek wine you’ll taste minerality but every wine will be different from the previous wine, but there will be a thread of similarity.”
Here are a few Tablas Creek wines that stood out:
Grenache Blanc 2014 ($27)
This important variety in Chateauneuf-du-Pape white wines has crisp acidity with green apple and fennel flavors. The minerality is super pleasing in this easy-to-drink alternative to over-oaked Chardonnay.
Cotes De Tablas 2014 ($35)
Tablas Creek’s showcase for Grenache Noir has cherry lollipops on the nose with high acid and medium-plus tannin. This has nice fruit character but enough structure to lie down for a while. Grenache Noir (44 percent) is dominant in the blend with Syrah (36 percent), Counoise (12 percent) and Mouvedre (8 percent) filling it out.
Esprit De Tablas 2013 ($55)
Tablas Creek’s flagship red has Mouvedre (40 percent) as the dominant grape in the blend with Syrah (28 percent), Grenache Noir (22 percent) and Counoise (10 percent). The Mouvedre gives off meaty aromas and flavors. This is an intense, lush wine with pleasing minerality and ample structure.
Tablas Creek brings the Rhone to California and is popular on restaurant wine lists and available in fine wine shops and markets with good wine sections.