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The DIRT on AP - a winery blog

Ancient Peaks
September 6, 2015 | Ancient Peaks

Picture Perfect

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and here is a perfect example—a photo taken the other day of coastal fog clutching the peaks of the Santa Lucia mountains in Santa Margarita on an otherwise sunny morning above the Cuesta Grade.

We often talk about the climate of our estate Margarita Vineyard here, because we are on the dividing line between the warmer inland environs to the north and the cooler coastal region south of the grade. 

As such, our climate is a bit of a hybrid that is vividly captured in this photo—a borderland of sun and fog, situated in the mountains but only 14 miles from the beach.

Of course, this can’t help but have a significant impact on our fruit and ultimately the character of our wines.

Indeed, this consistent cooling effect creates a long growing season with later harvest dates. We are still able to fully ripen signature Paso Robles varieties such as Zinfandel, Cabernet and Merlot, but in a manner that maintains a signature structure and balance that are rooted in the climate. You can taste it, and sometimes you can even see it on a September morning like the one pictured here.  

Time Posted: Sep 6, 2015 at 10:46 AM
Ancient Peaks
August 17, 2015 | Ancient Peaks

Fashionably Late

The big news around the Central Coast last week was the start of the California wine harvest, with Pinot Noir leading the charge at a handful of wineries.

However, here in Paso Robles, “soon” is the operative word—although at our estate Margarita Vineyard, you might say “later.”

That’s because we enjoy some of the latest picking dates across the region. In fact, some of our fruit is still undergoing veraison, the process whereby the berries turn color and transition from the growth phase to the ripening phase (see accompanying photo taken 10 days ago).

So while some of our earlier ripening varieties can expect to come off the vine starting in a few weeks, we’ll still be harvesting grapes well into October and possibly November depending on the autumn weather.

Such relative lateness is a hallmark of Margarita Vineyard, where a strong marine influence creates one of the region’s coolest growing environments. The result is an elongated growing season with longer hang times. When people taste our red wines, they typically notice the common threads of structure and balance—two qualities that are directly related to the longer, later growing season.

Consequently, we’ve learned not to be anxious about the start of harvest, because good things happen when the fruit hangs out.   

Time Posted: Aug 17, 2015 at 8:15 AM
Ancient Peaks
July 23, 2015 | Ancient Peaks

Riding The Lightning

We rarely talk about the summer weather here in Paso Robles because there’s usually nothing to talk about. 

After all, it's typically quite predictable--warm to hot days followed by reliable marine cooling in the evening. It's an ideal winegrowing climate that usually unfolds just like clockwork.

But on Sunday, the clockwork was thrown a curveball in the form of a sustained thunderstorm that dropped as much as 3.5 inches of rain in parts of the region, shattering previous rainfall records for the month of July. The lightning was abundant as well (local photo above by Jon Berezay).

So what did this weather disruption mean in the vineyard? Thankfully not a lot, beyond bringing some much-needed water to the land during this extended drought. 

Now, there are plenty of times of the year when a sustained rainstorm such as this could cause serious viticultural trouble--such as the delicate flowering phase of the vines in the spring, or later in the harvest season, when wet conditions can create mold problems and logistical issues.

But right now, the grapes are as bulletproof as they’ll ever be. They have yet to undergo the process of “verasion,” whereby they begin to gain color and grow softer and become sweeter. Instead, at the moment, they are just firm green berries (see below). If you pop some in your mouth, you will find them crunchy and bracingly tart. So they’re pretty hardy at this stage in their development.

There was another upside to the summer rain, as co-owner and viticulturist Doug Filipponi noted, "This was a good test for everyone to find the weak spots in the vineyard roads and culverts. It was a  reminder of what we used to take for granted."

Of course, any time you get rain followed by humid conditions in the vineyard, you have to keep an eye out for mildew pressure. But all things considered, this was okay—if bizarre—timing for some much-needed rain here in the Central Coast wine country. 

Time Posted: Jul 23, 2015 at 8:06 AM
Ancient Peaks
May 21, 2015 | Ancient Peaks

Grapes? Not Yet, But Soon...

It’s reasonable to assume that what you see in the photo above is a little grape cluster, but there’s more than meets the eye. 

Yes, it’s a cluster—but not yet a grape cluster. Before it becomes a true grape cluster, it must undergo a process known as “flowering,” which typically takes place in later May through early June.

During flowering, the young clusters shed their hard green caps, revealing blooms underneath. These blooms are designed to self-pollinate. Once fertilization occurs, that’s when you actually have grapes to grow. 

This photo was taken a few days ago at our estate Margarita Vineyard, specifically in Block 7, which is planted to Merlot. So what you see here aren’t baby grapes, the rather the hard caps that will soon be shed to reveal the blooms and begin flowering to create new Merlot grapes. 

Flowering can be a delicate process. Harsh winds or extreme temperatures can disrupt the pollination process. So during flowering, you hope for steady, mild weather. This fosters a thorough grape “set” for a full, healthy crop. 

We invite you to join one of our Paso Robles vineyard tours every Saturday for a close-up look at flowering and other growing phases at our estate Margarita Vineyard.

Time Posted: May 21, 2015 at 8:16 AM
Ancient Peaks
January 22, 2015 | Ancient Peaks

Sizing Up Sustainability

The irony of sustainability is that the more popular it becomes, the more it risks sounding like an empty buzzword.

But at our estate Margarita Vineyard, we can assure you that sustainability is not only real, but impactful.

It helps that our vineyard is Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certified. This certification program is one of the most stringent of its kind, and it lives up to its name by providing real definitions and parameters to the word sustainability.

Even then, however, one can be forgiven for wondering what it all means in the long run. On that note, we are increasing our efforts to quantify the results of our sustainable practices, in order to make them more understandable and relatable. Following are some key examples:

Compost Tea
We maintain raised worm beds to produce "vermicompost," a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. We brew this compost into a liquid form called "compost tea," which is then delivered to our vines via our irrigation system. The vermicompost stimulates micro-organisms that break down micronutrients for plant uptake, resulting in healthier vines.  Reduction in Synthetic Fertilizer Use: 50%

Multifunction Tractors
Our two multi-function tractors serve multiple vine rows at a time and offer simultaneous mowing, trimming, pre-pruning and other uses, significantly reducing our tractor passes through the vineyard. This, in turn, has minimized soil compaction while cutting diesel fuel consumption. Reduction in tractor passes: 60%         

Pulse Emitters
The progressive pulse emitters installed at Margarita Vineyard are much more efficient than traditional overhead sprinklers when used for frost protection. These emitters generate a fine mist targeted directly onto the fruiting zone. Frost protection water savings: 65%

Bird Boxes, Wildlife Corridors and Wetlands Setbacks
Vineyard pests are managed naturally by promoting habitats for native predators, a program that includes bat boxes, owl boxes and raptor perches. Meanwhile, dedicated wildlife corridors enable animals to pass freely through and around the vineyard. We employ goat herds to provide a low-impact herbicide alternative for vegetation management. We also exceed all requirements for wetland setbacks.

These are just a few examples how sustainability isn’t a buzzword at Margarita Vineyard, but rather a real application that is making a difference. 

Ancient Peaks
December 9, 2014 | Ancient Peaks

Winter in Wine Country

As the famous holiday song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”—and it certainly looks that way at our estate Margarita Vineyard right now!

The accompanying photos were taken yesterday amid sunny skies and mild temperatures that nevertheless managed to exude a wintry ambiance. 

Recent rains have generated a fresh carpet of lush green grass along the vine rows, providing a colorful complement to the fiery seasonal hues of the remaining vineyard leaves. The result is a quintessential holiday season scene in the Paso Robles wine country.

We invite you to come out and enjoy it yourself during one of our guided vineyard and food pairing tours offered every Saturday.  

Photo below credit LiLi Tan, KSBY:

Ancient Peaks
November 11, 2014 | Ancient Peaks

Superhero Soars over Ancient Peaks

You could say that a superhero flew over our estate Margarita Vineyard yesterday…

Indeed, Stephen Amell, star of the hit superhero show Arrow on the CW network, came out to Santa Margarita Ranch on Sunday for a zipline tour with our affiliated Margarita Adventures, followed by a tasting of our wines. 

Stephen and his friend Andrew Harding were in the Paso Robles wine country working on a new pilot show project focusing on the wine experience. Stephen and Andrew are also partners in their own wine label, Nocking Point Wines.

After they zipped over our Pinot Noir block on the Pinot Express zipline, Ancient Peaks co-owner Karl Wittstrom treated them to a tasting of Ancient Peaks wines. Pictured above are (left to right) Andrew, Karl and Stephen enjoying our 2012 Renegade red blend. 

Thanks to Stephen, Andrew, producer Alan Miller and his crew for turning their spotlight on the Paso Robles wine country. The pilot show featuring Margarita Adventures and Ancient Peaks Winery is set to air this winter, stay tuned for details.

Time Posted: Nov 11, 2014 at 11:50 AM
Ancient Peaks
November 6, 2014 | Ancient Peaks

Introducing Santa Margarita Ranch AVA

We earlier shared the news about the establishment of the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA as one of 11 new sub-appellations of the umbrella Paso Robles AVA.

Now we're going to dig a little deeper into the distinguishing characteristics of the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA, including the rare diversity of soil types pictured below. 

The Santa Margarita Ranch AVA is situated along the foot of the coastal Santa Lucia Mountain Range, roughly 25 miles southeast of the city of Paso Robles and just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the west. Our estate Margarita Vineyard now enjoys the rare distinction of being the only vineyard located within its own namesake AVA

Below are highlights of the growing conditions found in the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA. All quotes are from the adopted Santa Margarita Ranch AVA petition:

  • The Santa Margarita Ranch viticultural area “is distinctive from that of other areas of the Paso Robles AVA, in terms of topography, geology, geological history, soils, and climate.”
  • Santa Margarita Ranch is one of the coolest sub-appellations within the Paso Robles AVA, making it “very much a true, cool Region II climate.” The maritime influence increases “to the west towards the Pacific Ocean and below specific topographic gaps in the range.”
  • Santa Margarita Ranch is also marked by an unusual diversity of soils, due largely to an array of active fault lines along the coastal ridge: “The surficial geology here is also different than in other parts of the Paso Robles AVA…with an extensive area of the Miocene age Santa Margarita marine sandstone interfacing with the Monterey shales, granitic rocks to the east, and ‘slices’ (due to faulting) of the older Cretaceous marine sedimentary rocks and conglomerates to the west.”
  • Of the 11 sub-appellations within the Paso Robles AVA, Santa Margarita Ranch receives among the highest amount of rainfall—29 inches per year on average “as Pacific storms dump their water across the steep, high mountain ridge.”

These distinctive growing conditions impart a pronounced sense of place in our wines. Paso Robles is our home, and we will always lead with the Paso Robles message on our labels and elsewhere. But the establishment of the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA allows us to drill down more clearly into what makes our location distinctive, and why it matters to our wines. 

Time Posted: Nov 6, 2014 at 11:59 AM
Ancient Peaks
October 28, 2014 | Ancient Peaks

Rooted in Royalty

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. 

Ancient Peaks
October 15, 2014 | Ancient Peaks

A Singular AVA

Big news is breaking here in the Paso Robles wine country, and it’s really big news for Ancient Peaks Winery.

Last week, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) issued a final ruling creating 11 new American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) within the Paso Robles region: Adelaida District, Creston District, El Pomar District, Paso Robles Estrella District, Paso Robles Geneseo District, Paso Robles Highlands District, Paso Robles Willow Creek District, San Juan Creek, San Miguel District, Templeton Gap District…and Santa Margarita Ranch.

Of course, the last one, Santa Margarita Ranch, is home to our estate Margarita Vineyard—which now becomes by far the most predominant vineyard within the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA boundaries.  

We’ve long talked about the uniqueness of Margarita Vineyard as the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles region, standing alone and apart just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. This new recognition of Santa Margarita Ranch as its own distinct AVA confirms what we’ve been saying all along, and we’re very excited about it. 

In the words of the TTB, an AVA designation “allows vintners and consumers to attribute a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of a wine made from grapes grown in an area to its geographic origin.” AVA designations are not taken lightly. They must be petitioned, and their unique growing conditions must be proven. 

As the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA petition stated, “The Santa Margarita ‘valley’ has a distinctive maritime and mountain-valley climate within the large Paso Robles AVA, different than the other proposed viticultural areas… The region is very much a true, cool Region II climate.”

We will be drilling deeper into this topic and the special attributes of the new Santa Margarita Ranch AVA. Stay tuned…