In 1989, Bob Haas and Jean-Pierre Perrin made the decision to buy the property that is now home to a biodynamic vineyard and growing operation hosting French vines that few had made thrive outside the southern French wine region.
On May 3, the Tablas Creek Vineyard in rural west Paso Robles threw a party to mark three decades of progress since the founding, with members of the Haas family still involved in daily operations and Jean-Pierre Perrin visiting for the week. Around 350 of their friends and neighbors were also invited.
Bob Haas passed away in 2018, shortly before what would have been his 91st birthday, but his son Jason Haas who’s taken over proprietorship noted just how much had changed in the days since his father and business partners took the risk to find an American home for the Rhône varietals.
With 200-some wineries now in Paso Robles, there were only 17 in the late 1980s and their Vineyard Drive destination tasting room only had two neighbors.
“Dad was a wine importer first,” Jason explained, noting the longstanding relationship with the Perrins and the decision to create a local source for the products led them to innovate in the hot and dry climate, adopting techniques that other vintners turn to as a guide, “These were already the most drought-tolerant grapes from France, so dry farming, placing the vines further apart to really make use of the soil, that’s all key and only becomes more important over time.”
In the days before the party, Jean-Pierre Perrin went straight to spend time in the blending lab with Tablas winemaker Neil Collins — that is, as soon as he’d recovered from the rigors of international travel.
“Balancing the powerful character with finesse,” is key he said, adding that there was nothing particularly French about his tastes or style but, “it is my tastes. A winemaker has to pay attention to their own palate...to create for others.”
They may be celebrating 30 years, but their search for a unique location to start what turned into Tablas Creek started with visits some 42 years ago, he said. Once they’d made the decision to take the time waiting for grapes to pass quarantine, they searched for the right planting site, “Everywhere from Sierra Nevada to Texas.”
While the climate here wasn’t an exact match for the Rhône, limestone was, if not the decider, “in my opinion a very important factor for the wines,” Perrin added.
Since establishing the kind of winery and vineyard they wanted the cultural importance and unique contributions of Tablas to the area also become apparent.
Jason Haas pointed out family friends and owners of the Paso Terra Seafood restaurant, André and Cristina Averseng.
Aside from affection for the Haas family and the four particular Tablas Creek vintages they maintain at the restaurant, Cristina Averseng credited the vineyard for their moving to Paso Robles several years ago, “for André I think it was instant that it was finding a slice of home,” she said.
Chef André added, “It’s the vegetation, the soil here, the rosemary, and olives. I’m just lucky my wife wanted to be here, too.”
Barbara Haas, who now splits her time between Vermont and California’s Central Coast reminisced that the charm now so apparent on a visit wasn’t obvious to customers of the label at first, “It was actually a hard sell at first because we didn’t fit into the slots people built [in their minds], we spent a lot of time explaining our French connection.”
Even inside the U.S. she said, people assumed Napa when they heard California.
“Looking back now it was a fabulous adventure, like we grabbed a tiger by the tail,” and while she’s happy about the success of their wines, “now days when I come out here I think most about our stewardship of this land. That makes me proud.”