Picpoul Blanc (also spelled Piquepoul Blanc) is one of the lesser-known Rhône varietals, but one that we think has a tremendous future in California. It is one of the thirteen permitted varietals in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where it is used primarily as a blending component to take advantage of its acidity. Like the better known Grenache and Pinot, Picpoul has red, white and pink variants, though Picpoul Noir and Picpoul Gris are very rare. Literally translating to “lip stinger”, Picpoul Blanc produces wines known in France for their bright acidity, minerality, and clean lemony flavor.
Most scholars believe Picpoul is native to the Languedoc region of Southern France, where it is still found today. Records from the early 17th century indicate that it was blended with Clairette (another white Rhône varietal) to form the popular sweet Picardan wine (not to be confused with the Châteauneuf du Pape varietal of the same name) which was exported by Dutch wine traders from Languedoc throughout Northern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. After the phylloxera invasion at the end of the 19th century, Picpoul was not widely replanted. Today it is best known from Picpoul de Pinet, the crisp light green wine of the Pinet Region in the Côteaux de Languedoc.
We did not import Picpoul with our initial eight varieties in 1989. After the original eight were established in the vineyard, we decided that the consistent sun and long growing season at Tablas Creek might prove to be well-suited to varietals that in France are lean and high in acidity. Picpoul, with its reputation for sharp acidity, was the first of these high-acid whites that we brought into quarantine, and was in fact the first supplemental varietal we brought in of any sort. It was released from quarantine in 1998, and we spent the next two years propagating and grafting it. We planted approximately one acre of Picpoul in 2000, and received our first significant harvest in 2003. It has been such a success that we grafted over two acres of Roussanne to Picpoul in the winter of 2005, and got our first harvest from that new acreage in the fall of 2008. We plan to plant two additional acres of Picpoul in the next few years.
In the vineyard, Picpoul is not a difficult varietal to grow. It pushes early, making it somewhat susceptible to frost, but ripens relatively late. Along with Roussanne, Picpoul is usually the last white varietal to be brought in, just before Mourvèdre (the last red of the season) at the end of October. In the winery, we ferment it in neutral barrels to complement the grape’s brightness with a bit of roundness.
When we first bottled Picpoul, it was necessary to petition the Tax and Trade Bureau to recognize the varietal, a process we had undergone with several other varietals, including Grenache Blanc, Counoise and Tannat. In February of 2004, our petition was formally approved.
Although we have sold Picpoul vines to a handful of other vineyards around California, virtually none of it is in production yet. But based on the recent interest that we have seen for our nursery vines, it has a bright future here.
We have found that, in California, Picpoul maintains its bright acidity, but also develops an appealing tropical lushness. It is quite rich in the mouth, with an exceptionally long finish. When we have enough fruit, we bottle Picpoul Blanc as a single varietal, and the wine shows a rich nose of pear, pineapple and spice. In the mouth, buttery flavors of pineapple and orange are balanced by crisp acids, and the long, rich finish shows flavors of piña colada.
Although French Picpouls are not typically thought to age, the richer California versions seem to be better able to handle some time in bottle. We recently opened a Picpoul from the library to complement a delicious recipe from Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home cookbook. The recipe (Crispy braised chicken thighs with olives, lemon and fennel; page 30 for those of you with the book) had classic Provencal flavors that made a wonderful pairing, and the wine was was lush and bright, youthful and pretty. Highly recommended.
More important than its occasional starring role in a varietal wine, Picpoul has proven to be a wonderful complement for Roussanne and Grenache Blanc in our Esprit de Tablas Blanc. Prior to 2004, we had used Viognier in small quantities in our Esprit Blanc to give it a slight aromatic lift. When we blended the 2004 vintage, we experimented with replacing the Viognier with Picpoul, and found that its addition lifted the aromatics of the wine similarly to the way Viognier did, but that its bright acids better highlighted the richness of the Roussanne and Grenache Blanc and brought out a savory saline note that is present in Roussanne but not always evident. Including Picpoul in the Esprit Blanc also meant that the wine includes only grapes approved for Châteauneuf-du- Pape (Viognier, while a Rhône varietal, is not permitted in Châteauneuf-du-Pape). This appealed to our sense of order.
With our additional producing acreage of Picpoul, we are more often able to both include it in the Esprit Blanc and make a varietal bottling. We have produced one in 2003, 2005, 2008, and each year since 2010.
You can go back to the summaries of the different Rhône grape varietals.
You're invited to join us for a weekend-long Wine Festival celebration Friday, May 20th through Sunday, May 22nd. Friday, we're pouring at the RESERVE event from 4:00-6:30 then hosting a winemaker dinner at Bistro Laurent with wines from Beaucastel and Tablas Creek at 7:00. On Saturday at the Paso Robles downtown park we'll be joining the Paso Robles wine community for the Grand Tasting from 12:00 to 4:00. Sunday at the vineyard we'll have "brunch style" bites starting at 10am and live music with Shawn Clark Family Band from 12:00-3pm.
We were proud to learn that Tablas Creek Partner/GM Jason Haas was voted by his peers the 2015 Paso Robles Wine Industry Person of the Year. His father, our founder Robert Haas, wrote this appreciation on our blog.
In Robert Parker's Wine Advocate (Issue 220) 15 Tablas wines topped 90 points, including 2014 Esprit de Tablas (93-96), 2013 Panoplie (94-96), and 2014 Panoplie (95-97). Read the review » More press »
April 27, 2016
Think of each plant that's growing in a given plot of land as like a wick, with its roots delving into the soil for available moisture. If we had overabundant water, we might want to leave some surface weeds to keep levels more reasonable. Instead, in our California climate, eliminating competition from grasses and other surface plants is an essential part of our ability to dry farm. Tilling in the cover crop also allows the insects and microorganisms in the soil to start breaking down the surface biomass accumulated during the winter growth into nutrients that the vines will draw from in the coming months. Finally, the loosening of the soil creates an insulating layer at the surface that helps conserve the water deeper down. Read More »