Tablas Creek Vineyard is unabashedly a corner of southern France plunked down in the middle of California, in Paso Robles to be exact. It is owned by the Perrin family of the southern Rhône valley (along with American wine importer Robert Haas). The Perrins are particularly known for one of the most renowned Châteauneuf du Pape wines, Château de Beaucastel. This history is important because of the vines that the family brought to the Central Coast from France. Going back to 1985, Haas and members of the Perrin family sought vineyard land and imported root stock. While the vines went through quarantine, the winemakers determined that the western fringe of Paso Robles was very similar in climate and soil – the terroir – to that of Châteauneuf.
Today, California’s Central Coast is revered for its Rhône-style wines but it was not always so. In fact, it was the vision and generosity of the Tablas Creek owners that established these wines in that region. Paso Robles has long been known for Zinfandel, and still is. The Tablas Creek people realized that one good Rhône winery would be an outlier; if the region did well with Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and the other Rhône grapes, everyone would prosper. Thus they sold their vines to other wineries in Paso Robles. If this seems reminiscent of Robert Mondavi and Napa, so be it.
Visiting Tablas Creek has its challenges as well as its rewards. Paso Robles is pretty far from major airports (three hours south of San Francisco’s) and Tablas Creek is a fairly long drive from downtown Paso. Driving there along the Adelaida Road (Tablas Creek is in the Adelaida AVA) is very beautiful and there are quite a few excellent wineries along the way, so does it make sense if you only have a little time to visit to go all the way out to Tablas Creek? In a word, yes.
You never forget while you’re at Tablas Creek that you’re in California, but there is a great deal to remind you of France, beginning with a signpost at the entrance that tells you that the tasting room is nine yards away and that Domaine de Beaucastel is 9009 kilometers. There are posters and other souvenirs for sale, heralding Perrin’s French labels like La Vieille Ferme, their basic Rhône wines. That French identity carries over into the Tablas Creek wines, which come close to tasting like actual Rhône wines (as opposed to California Rhône Rangers that taste like California wines made from Rhône grapes).
Photo courtesy of Particularly Nice
The tasting room is Mediterranean-style building and is expansive, while the wooden interior still somehow makes it feel warm and inviting. They also have a terrace with umbrellaed tables where picnicking is welcome.
If you are not familiar with Rhône-style wines, a visit to Tablas Creek is an education. Tablas Creek’s wines are perhaps a little more Mourvèdre heavy than in southern France, but the character certainly evokes Châteauneuf de Pape. That is especially so, in our opinion, for the Esprit de Tablas, which until a few years ago was called Esprit de Beaucastel. The Panoplie is their highest priced wine, and to us tastes richer and bolder than we have tasted in wines from the Rhône valley; it is more California than France.
Even more evocative of California wine sensibilities are the single grape varietal wines. If the bottles are open, you can taste grapes you know, like Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir, and many that may be unfamiliar to you, like Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Picardan and Tannat.
Photo courtesy of Tablas Creek Vineyard.
There are stunning views to be had at Tablas Creek, nestled in the foothills of the Santa Lucia mountains. That, taken together with the French atmosphere and the unique wines, make the long hike to Tablas Creek worthwhile.