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Tannin management is one of the priorities of Winemaker Stewart Cameron here at Ancient Peaks, where we are frankly obsessed with creating balanced wines with firm—but not astringent—structure.
A perfect example is the 2014 Syrah “Jackpot” from our estate Margarita Vineyard, which will be first shared with wine club members in February, and in our tasting room shortly thereafter.
Unlike more naturally tannic varieties such as Petit Sirah, Petit Verdot and even Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah can often need encouragement to raise the tannin profile.
Therefore, on half of the 2014 Syrah, Stewart employed “whole-cluster” fermentation, whereby the stems are included in the fermentation bins, ultimately enhancing the tannin presence. “Whole-cluster fermentation gives you more savory characteristics and more complexity, along with a tannin bump that affects the perceived dryness of the wine,” Stewart says.
Whole-cluster fermentation, however, is very labor intensive and has its own pitfalls if not managed properly. For the 2014 Syrah, for example, the whole-cluster portion was done on a later pick with riper fruit. “You don’t want the tannins you pick up from the stems to taste young and green, which is why we waited to do the whole-cluster portion on the riper fruit,” he says.
The end result is a Syrah that is loaded with rich, velvety dark fruit flavors—but it also exhibits noticeable backbone that takes it to another level.
Stewart says that his approach to Syrah is inspired by the wines of Cornas in the northern Rhône Valley, where whole-cluster fermentation is part of the local winemaking tradition.
“There are a lot of California Rhône-style wines that are really pleasurable in a softer, fruit-driven way,” Stewart says. “We want our Syrah to exhibit some of those qualities, but we’re also aiming for something with added complexity and the ability to age well.”
Keep an eye out for this Syrah soon in our Paso Robles tasting room, which is also a place to eat in the Paso Robles wine country at the adjoining Ancient Peaks Café.
Here on the Central Coast, we are all celebrating a succession of rainstorms this autumn, with the hope that the recent drought could be increasingly resolved in the year ahead.
Along the way, our estate Margarita Vineyard has lived up to its reputation as a rain magnet. Indeed, there are spots on the surrounding Santa Margarita Ranch that average more than 30 inches of rain annually. Compare that to San Luis Obispo just eight miles to the south (around 19 inches) and the city of Paso Robles just 20 miles to the north (around 13 inches).
So why is Margarita Vineyard historically blessed with so much rainfall? The answer goes right to name of our winery—the “ancient peaks” of the Santa Lucia mountain range that loom over the vineyard.
As moisture-laden air blows in from the ocean and travels upward along these mountain slopes (a phenomenon called “orographic lifting”), it cools and condenses, forming clouds and generating precipitation. It is these cloudbursts that create the elevated rainfall here.
In times of drought (such as recently), the soils can become imbalanced, and the vines can become stressed, requiring a lot of viticultural vigilance. Healthy rains flush accumulated salts from the soils and restore balance, and the vines will respond accordingly. This is what is starting to happen with the recent rainstorms.
Of course, the abundance of rainfall here can occasionally cause headaches: “In October of 2009, we had 10 inches in one day,” says Doug Filipponi, our viticulturist and co-owner. “We were trying to pick Zinfandel at the time, and it really put us to the test.”
Needless to say, that’s the kind of test we will continue to welcome if it means the end of the drought!
Come try the wines that all this rain makes at our Paso Robles tasting room and cafe.
We are excited to share that more than 200 people exemplified the true spirit of Christmas last Sunday, attending our “Grinch Gives Back” event and collectively making significant donations to Coats for Kids of San Luis Obispo County and must! Charities.
In total, attendees donated more than 70 coats and more than 300 children’s books to Coats for Kids. Additionally, $880 was raised for must! Charities via wine sales. We also made a complementary donation of $1,800 to must! Charities on behalf of our wine club members.
Earlier this week, Melodee Crank, event manager at our Oyster Ridge venue, delivered some of the coats and books. “It was pickup day not only for coats, but also for food and other provisions, and people were lined up around the block,” she says. “It was really an emotional window into how much need there still is in our region, to see all these families waiting in line with the hope of Christmas. It was also a testament to how we all can make a difference.”
“The theme of the event was ‘giving is better than getting’ and our local community really rallied around it,” says Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, our VP of operations. “It was a true family experience with a lot of heart behind it.”
The event festivities included a showing of Dr. Seuss’s original “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” cartoon movie at the winery’s Oyster Ridge event barn. Popcorn, sweet treats and hot cocoa were served.
All involved would like to thank the following people and businesses that went out of their way to donate to the event: Jay C. Winter (photography); All About Events (event rental); Miner’s Ace Hardware (Christmas trees); Just Baked (custom desserts); Trader Joe’s (desserts); Vino Vice (security); First Baptist Church (popcorn machine) and 805 Photo Booth (backdrop); and the Filipponi, Rossi and Wittstrom families.
The Grinch may have stolen Christmas, but he is about to give it back as we host a family showing of the holiday cartoon classic at our Oyster Ridge event barn in Santa Margarita on Sunday, December 11 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is complimentary. However, we ask that each attending family bring a new or gently used jacket to be donated to Coats for Kids of San Luis Obispo County, a charity that provides vital attire to children in need. Alternatively, those families who are unable to provide a jacket may bring a new or gently used children’s book to donate.
The festivities will include a showing of Dr. Seuss’s original “How The Grinch Stole Christmas” cartoon movie. Complimentary popcorn, hot cocoa and cookies will be provided. Ancient Peaks wine will also be available for purchase, with proceeds benefitting must! Charities.
“This event is a great way to get in the holiday spirit, have fun with the family and make a difference in the lives of local children,” says Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, our VP of operations. “It will be an afternoon to remember for the whole family.”
We would like to thank the following event co-sponsors: All About Events, Vino Vice and Miner’s Ace Hardware.
Directions and RSVP: www.ancientpeaksgivesback.eventbrite.com
At the time, we had to keep it under wraps, but now the word is out on national television!
Indeed, last summer we had the privilege of hosting the Manzo family of the hit Bravo reality television show "Manzo'd with Children."
It was all part of an episode featuring a Manzo family vacation with a birthday celebration right here at our estate Margarita Vineyard and the surrounding Santa Margarita Ranch. Not only did they enjoy a meal from our Ancient Peaks Café, they also got to soar across the ziplines of our affiliated Margarita Adventures.
“It was really a fun day,” says Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, our VP of operations. “The Manzo family was kind, witty and really down to earth. Building special memories is what Ancient Peaks and Margarita Adventures are all about, and I think we accomplished that.”
The resulting episode just aired. You can click here to watch the episode online, or search for "Manzo'd with Children Episode 8 California Dreamin'" on Amazon or other on-demand providers.
Here’s how the episode teaser puts it: "The family vacation continues on Lauren's birthday and Vito has pulled out all the stops to plan a special day. Much to Caroline's dismay, Vito booked a zip-lining excursion high above a beautiful vineyard..."
Spoiler alert: they had a blast!
We really enjoyed our time with the Manzo family, and are thrilled to be featured in their show.
When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade. But when you get too many pumpkins, well, that’s when things need to get really creative.
Such was our dilemma when we were faced with an unexpected bumper crop of pumpkins here on the Santa Margarita Ranch. Then the light bulb went off: rather than plow the gourds under or let them rot, what if we could find them some happy homes?
With that thought, our staff got in the spirit and mobilized, stuffing their vehicles with pumpkins and hitting the road.
Click here and here to read a few local media stories about what happened next. We were overjoyed and touched by all the little smiling faces we were met with along the way, and thrilled to see our pumpkins land in happy hands.
We are proud to share that Ancient Peaks has joined the CowParade “moo-vement” with a striking sculpture of Cinnamon, the legendary cow that roamed our Santa Margarita Ranch for 32 years.
More than 75 cities and 200 million people worldwide have participated in the CowParade, which is recognized as one of the most successful art endeavors ever. Now it is San Luis Obispo County’s turn, and we are thrilled to be a part of it.
CowParade SLO County gives local artists a chance to showcase their talents on a global stage. Our sculpture was created by Lon Etzel, who portrayed Cinnamon’s distinctive opposing horns while using the torso as a canvas to depict signature Santa Margarita Ranch experiences, including winegrowing and ziplining. There is also a nod to the ranch’s historic role as part of California’s famed mission trail.
The CowParade exhibit will be on display through April. Visit CowParadeSLO.com for a map of the more than 100 sculptures that can be enjoyed across the county.
While the harvest action is starting to reach its peak around Paso Robles, things remain relatively quiet here at our estate Margarita Vineyard.
“A lot of wineries are getting through their Cabernet Sauvignon picks right now, but not us,” says Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor. “Which is normal—those guys go, and we watch and come afterwards.”
Winemaker Stewart Cameron sums it up succinctly: “We don’t pick Cabernet this early. September and Cabernet equals ‘no’ for us.”
In other words, it’s business as usual at Margarita Vineyard, which occupies the Paso Robles region’s coolest growing environment, resulting in a long, late growing season.
“We got accustomed to things being a bit earlier the last few years, but right now we’re very much back to normal,” Stewart says. “We’ve picked some of the typical early varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but not Zinfandel, Merlot or Cabernet.”
“It’s going to be an October through early November harvest for us,” Mike adds.
The crop load is more vigorous compared to last year, owing to added winter rainfall. The overall yields, however, are not particularly high. “On Cabernet in particular, it seems to be a bit light,” Mike says.
Additionally, the Cabernet berries are small as usual (see photo above): “That’s one of the signature traits we see here with Cabernet, these small berries that provide rich, concentrated flavors,” Mike says.
Yet while it’s still largely wait-and-see time at Margarita Vineyard, that doesn’t mean the winemakers are taking it easy.
“Stewart and I were out in the vineyard yesterday, and we’re back here today,” Mike says. “We’re not waiting for the sugar samplers to bring their stuff to the barn and write it down. We’re out there looking over their shoulder, asking ‘What do you got?’ It’s a time of high anticipation.”
Geographically speaking, our estate Margarita Vineyard is at the tail end of Paso Robles, as it is the southernmost vineyard in the region.
But it’s also at the tail end in an agricultural sense, as it is one of the last vineyards to be harvested each year. The reason is simple: Margarita Vineyard occupies one of Paso Robles’ coolest environments—the Pacific Ocean is just 14 miles away—which translates to a long, late growing season.
Consequently, Margarita Vineyard is only just now entering the heart of veraison—the process whereby the grapes turn color and transition from the growth phase to the ripening phase (pictured above). Meanwhile, in many parts of Paso Robles, veraison is already completed. “Everything happens later here,” says Winemaker Stewart Cameron.
Yet while this means that the winemaking team will once again have to bide its time while other wineries start harvesting later this month, Stewart is not complaining.
As he explains, while a longer growing season does create a bigger window for inclement fall weather to potentially disrupt the harvest, the advantages of being late are significant. “With a long season like ours, there’s more time for the fruit not only to develop sugar ripeness, but also phenolic maturity and overall balance,” Stewart says.
In other words, when you taste Ancient Peaks wines, there is an undeniably direct connection between Margarita Vineyard’s singular climate and the correspondingly unique character of the wine.
We mentioned earlier that Ancient Peaks was named as one of just four finalists in the category of “Best Vineyard / Tasting Room Experience” for the 2016 Sunset Travel Awards.
Now, the final results have been published in the latest issue of Sunset magazine, and it has been revealed that Paso Robles took the title of Best Wine Country Town!
Here's what they wrote about Paso Robles: "The vibe is nothing if not laid-back. The historic town square is circled by shops and chef-owned restaurants. Highway 46 is a bucolic drive with more than a dozen wineries that pour in barns, cafes, underground caves, and cattle ranches."
Better yet, in the accompanying print story the Ancient Peaks experience was included as a highlight for the region.
Needless to say, we are thrilled to be recognized as one of California’s top winery guest experiences by such an esteemed publication, and equally excited to see our home region of Paso Robles in the spotight.