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One little-known fact about our estate Margarita Vineyard is that was planted by the Robert Mondavi family, who are rightfully considered California wine royalty.
Robert Mondavi (pictured above) was a visionary who recognized Napa Valley’s potential early on, and he and his family brought a similar vision to Santa Margarita Ranch many years later.
The story begins in 1999, when, after extensive site research, the Mondavis leased a section of the ranch to plant what would become known as Margarita Vineyard (originally called Cuesta Ridge Vineyard). This was virgin territory for viticulture—other than the mission grapes planted here by the padres in the late 1700s—and there were no neighboring vineyards. But the Mondavis saw something special here, and they went all in. In fact, they actually tried to acquire the ranch outright, but settled for a lease.
At the time, some viewed the ranch as an impractical place to grow the types of grape varieties for which the Paso Robles region is known, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. The ranch occupies one of Paso Robles’ coolest growing environments, and it can be difficult to ripen these varietals in cooler years. But the Mondavis knew that with attentive viticulture, the ranch’s late, long growing season would translate to rich flavors with uncommon structure and balance. They also saw the diverse soils and contoured land, and knew that these things would translate to complexity in the field.
The Mondavis also blazed a sustainability trail here on the ranch. At the time, one observer said the Mondavi’s progressive practices put Margarita Vineyard “at the vanguard of sustainable agriculture in the region if not the state.”
By 2005, however, the Robert Mondavi company was under new ownership, which didn’t fully understand what the Mondavis had seen in this land. As the owners of the ranch, were able to buy back the original lease and take full control of the vineyard. Ironically (and fatefully!), the potential of Margarita Vineyard was just beginning to be realized, and it inspired us to start making estate-grown wine under the Ancient Peaks label beginning in 2005.
We are fortunate to be the inheritors of the Mondavi family’s vision, which can today be tasted in the wines of Ancient Peaks, and which is reflected in our continued commitment to sustainable winegrowing.
Earlier this week, we wrote about how two producers from The Weather Channel visited us to explore the effects of the current drought.
We are now pleased to share that their segment on the Paso Robles wine country and our estate Margarita Vineyard aired today as part of a larger series called “Cracked: California.”
This segment does an admirable job of reporting on the challenges of the current drought as well as the sustainable water conservation practices that we and other winegrowers are employing to mitigate drought impacts.
You can click here to view the segment on Weather.com.
Last week, we were visited by a couple of producers from The Weather Channel, who came to the Paso Robles wine country as part of a larger story on drought conditions across the West.
Viticulturist and Ancient Peaks Co-Owner Doug Filipponi (pictured above) and Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor enjoyed showing them around our estate Margarita Vineyard, and sharing their thoughts and strategies for conserving water in the vineyard.
There’s no denying that the drought is troubling. Water management is now on the front-burner of the civic discourse in many California communities, including our own. It could get worse before it gets better. An El Niño year can’t come fast enough.
However, it’s still possible to maintain an optimistic outlook as we head out to work in the vineyard each morning. We have survived past droughts. Mother Nature is resilient, and has been known to follow drought years with abundant rainfall. In fact, some are predicting that El Niño conditions may begin later this year.
This doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to the drought, or that we needn’t consider the possibility that climate change is intensifying our drought cycles in California. It just means that we’re keeping our finger off the panic button and focusing on what we can do in the vineyard to ride this drought out.
As a SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certified winery, we are proactive when it comes to resource conservation. For example, we have installed “pulse emitters” throughout the vineyard for frost protection. These emitters cut water usage by more than 30 percent compared to traditional overhead frost-protection sprinklers. We are also vigilant when it comes to monitoring soil moisture with the latest technologies, so that we only irrigate when absolutely necessary, and only with the necessary amount of water.
These are things that we can control, so that is where our focus lies—on making the most of what we have without borrowing trouble. Of course, we’ll keep praying for rain as well.
At our estate Margarita Vineyard, sustainability isn’t just a buzzword—it’s a true force of resource conservation with positive benefits to both the vineyard environment and the resulting wines.
With the new growing season about to get rolling with spring bud break, one of our most effective sustainable practices is set to play a role in the 2014 vintage.
This would be “compost tea,” a liquefied natural compost fertilizer that is delivered right to the root zone of the vines via our drip irrigation lines. The use of compost tea has drastically cut our use of synthetic fertilizers, creating a more balanced soil composition and providing wholesome nutrients to the vines.
We “brew” our compost tea mainly from “vermicompost,” a fancy name for worm castings. We cultivate worm beds on site specifically for creating compost tea. The brewing cycle is 24 hours. The brew can include brewer’s yeast, kelp and molasses to help grow the mix of beneficial bacteria and fungi. Once brewed, the tea is ready for delivery to the vines.
For the vines, it’s like eating green vegetables (compost tea) compared to simply taking a multivitamin (traditional fertilizers). The uptake of nutrients is more complete, natural and thorough. It also avoids the nitrate soil buildup that can occur with traditional fertilizers.
The result is a more balanced vine that allows us to maximize fruit quality. Additionally, we maintain a healthier soil profile that is better for the vineyard environment and the creatures (and people) who inhabit it.
When you think of eco-friendly practices, big machinery isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But at our estate Margarita Vineyard, a couple of iron giants—specifically modern multi-function, multi-row tractors—have become an integral part of our sustainable winegrowing program.
Our two multi-row tractors, including the French-made Pellenc pictured here, have taken the place of six traditional tractors.
Because they serve multiple rows at a time and offer simultaneous function for mowing, trimming, pre-pruning and other uses, they have reduced our tractor passes (ie: travel up and down the vine rows) by more than 80 percent. This, in turn, has minimized soil compaction while cutting diesel fuel consumption.
Tractors are a necessary part of farming, but tractor passes cause soil compaction over time. Compaction results in stormwater runoff, which wastes precious water while exacerbating soil erosion. When the compaction becomes too great, the soil must be ripped—which requires more tractor passes and fuel consumption.
So ironically enough, these big machines have significantly lightened our environmental footprint at Margarita Vineyard. They were a huge investment for us, but also a wise one in the long run.
Our sustainability efforts at Margarita Vineyard include maintaining wildlife corridors that allow for interconnected habitats.
Wildlife is consequently abundant on the surrounding Santa Margarita Ranch. Eagles, turkeys, pigs, deer, falcons, turtles and bears are among the many animals that call the ranch home.
Check out this frisky baby black bear spotted near our Malbec block. Once full grown, this bear will be able to consume more than 50 pounds of grapes in one day. Needless to say, we would prefer if he stayed in the oaks and away from the vines!