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As a region known for its warm summer temperatures and mild fall weather, Paso Robles isn’t exactly a hotbed for ice wines.
But here at Ancient Peaks, we employed a bit of winemaking improvisation to produce an ice wine-style Roussanne from the 2013 vintage, which is now available in our tasting room.
Wikipedia sums up ice wines quite well: “An ice wine is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing a more concentrated grape must to be pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine.”
Germany is the European epicenter of ice wines, while Canada has paved the way in the New World.
And then there’s our estate Margarita Vineyard here in Paso Robles, where waiting for grapes to freeze on the vine would be a fool’s errand.
So how did winemakers Mike Sinor and Stewart Cameron pull it off? The trick was placing the freshly harvested Roussanne fruit into a cold box at freezing temperatures for three days to mimic the German model.
The frozen grapes were then lightly pressed, yielding only the most sugary juice. Fermentation was halted when just the right balance of sweetness and acidity was achieved, with the residual sugar maintained at 22 grams per liter.
The beautiful thing about this wine is that while it is definitely rich and sweet, it is not cloying. The finish is surprisingly light and lifted, and the balance is impeccable.
Even if you’re typically not a fan of dessert wines, we encourage you to give this one a try. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Just in time for summertime, we have released two new limited-production wines that are a perfect fit for the flavors and spirit of the season—specifically, the 2014 Rosé and 2014 Blanco.
Both of these wines hail from our estate Margarita Vineyard, and are emblematic of the vineyard’s pronounced marine influence, which enables us to grow cooler climate grapes such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Both wines were also cold fermented in stainless steel to retain the natural fruit freshness coming from the vineyard.
The 2014 Rosé is a blend of Pinot Noir (75%) and Syrah (25%). Modeled after the refreshingly dry rosés of Europe—as opposed to the simple sweet blush wines that once dominated here in California—the 2014 Rosé offers summery aromas of strawberry and watermelon, followed by fresh flavors of tangerine, pink grapefruit and lime zest. This is the kind of wine that you will want to enjoy on a warm festive evening with grilled seafood, barbecued chicken or carnitas tacos.
The 2014 Blanco is a blend of Muscat (62%) and Chardonnay (38%). This unique blend greets the nose with suggestions of jasmine, honeycomb, papaya and lemon zest, followed by lush, ripe flavors of pear and tropical fruit. This is a perfect wine for classic picnic fare.
We invite you to come out to our tasting room this summer to try these seasonal wines, as they won’t be around for long.
On certain wines, such as our Petit Verdot, we make note of aging the wine in “tightly grained” oak barrels, which may raise the question: why does oak grain matter? Let us explain…
The notion of tightly grained wood is fairly self evident. Most woods, including oak, come in different grains, depending on the species and where they are grown. Some are more widely grained, others are more tightly packed.
Now, in the wine aging process, wide-grained oak tends to produce a wine that has a more pronounced oak and wood tannin character. In other words, if you want your wine to taste more oaky, or if you have a powerful wine that needs a more assertive oak balance, you might veer toward wide-grained oak.
On the flipside, tight-grained wood is more restrained in its influence. So if you want the oak character of the wine to be more subtle, then you will choose tight-grained oak for aging.
One example is our aforementioned Petit Verdot. In the words of Winemaker Stewart Cameron, “Petit Verdot has some unique varietal flavor profiles that no other Bordeaux varieties have, and we want to keep those at the forefront of the wine. We don’t want it to taste like French oak, so we choose wood with a tight grain and lighter toasting to produce a wine that is varietally true.”
On a more powerful wine, however, such as our Petite Sirah, Stewart might loosen the reins on the grain to ensure that the oak influence is sufficiently present.
And therein lies the significance of oak grain. Ultimately, it’s just one of many arrows in the winemaker’s quiver for guiding the style of a given wine.
We view our wine club members as part of our extended family, which is why we go all out to offer them some of the best benefits and festivities in the industry. Click here to see some of the many experiences we offer to members.
One of our latest club initiatives is to solicit questions from members about each wine club shipment, and then get thoughts on them from winemakers Mike Sinor and Stewart Cameron.
The result is our new "AP ClubCast." Even if you're not a member, you might enjoy the winemakers' insights on a range of topics, including how long to age wines and what distinguishes our reserve bottlings.
Our next AP ClubCast will be pegged to the September club shipment. Stay tuned...or better yet, join the club and join the fun!
It’s always nice when one of your wines racks up a towering score of 94 points in a major wine magazine—and even nicer when the accompanying review does poetic justice to what’s in the bottle.
So we are excited to share that we are the happy recipients of one such review as our 2011 Oyster Ridge cuvée racks up 94 points in the latest issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine.
In their words: “From the Margarita Vineyard at the relatively cool, marine-influenced southern edge of Paso Robles, this wine is named for a ridge of pale, sandy soil mixed with prehistoric oyster shells…It’s a wine that channels Paso’s abundant sunlight toward precision and purity rather than richness and concentration…Its bright, compact structure is poised to gain complexity with another eight to ten years in the bottle. Still, it’s already pretty.”
In that short span, the magazine pretty much nailed what sets our estate Margarita Vineyard apart while articulating exactly what we are aiming to achieve with our Oyster Ridge. It’s one thing for us to say it, but quite another to hear a prestigious reviewer echo the sentiments.
Each year, we craft the Oyster Ridge cuvée to honor the rare array of soil types found across Margarita Vineyard. Select blocks are meticulously farmed to meet the standards of the Oyster Ridge program, and the final blend is assembled from only those barrels that exhibit exemplary complexity, structure and aging potential.
We like to say that Oyster Ridge is our finest winemaking effort—and this latest review suggests that we have hit the mark.
We are excited to roll out a bold new look for Ancient Peaks wines, starting this spring with our 2014 Sauvignon Blanc.
As you may know, the name Ancient Peaks is a tribute to the majestic Santa Lucia Mountains that shape pronounced marine climate and rare soil diversity of our estate Margarita Vineyard, which stands alone as the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles region. This strong sense of place is what drives the spirit and style of our wines.
In contrast to our original label, we felt that it was time to bring these peaks to the forefront with a new design that depicts both the grandeur of the surrounding mountains and the varied soil strata that distinguish the land.
In essence, we wanted our label to give you the sense of actually being here. We hope you agree that we hit the mark.
P.S. Click here for a more detailed look at the imagery and information depicted on our new label.
Four years ago, we introduced a new wine with an iconoclastic twist. We called it Renegade, and it bucked tradition by merging a signature Rhône variety (Syrah) with two classic Bordeaux grapes (Petit Verdot and Malbec).
We wondered: How would the market react? You just never know when you release a new wine, let alone one that is inherently unconventional. But the 2009 Renegade was immediately embraced, and the reception even exceeded our expectations. Today, Renegade is still going strong with the recent release of the 2012 vintage.
Our experience with Renegade is partly a sign of the times. There was a time when California wineries almost unanimously toed the European line. Rhône grapes were blended with Rhône grapes, Bordeaux with Bordeaux, Italian with Italian, etc.
The European model is proven and definitely has its place. In fact, we belong to the Paso Robles Cab Collective, which is dedicated solely to advancing the cause of local Bordeaux varieties and blends.
But there is a rebellious streak that is also gaining ground in the wine industry, and particularly here in Paso Robles. Winemakers are pushing the envelope and exploring blends not based on tradition, but on our local terroir and stylistic vision.
Which brings us to Renegade. The original winemaking vision of Renegade was to craft a rich, boldly flavored wine with structure and finesse. We knew that Syrah from our estate Margarita Vineyard could deliver the bold fruity character, but we found ourselves gravitating to Malbec and Petit Verdot to achieve the sense of structure and overall style we were seeking.
So that’s how Renegade was born, not by looking toward the past, but rather by exploring possibilities. In the world of wine, both have their place.
Sometimes you’re defined not just by the wines you make, but by the wines you don’t.
A case in point is our 2011 Petit Verdot, or more specifically, what might have been our 2011 Petit Verdot.
Petit Verdot has been a mainstay of our White Label reserve series for many years, along with Malbec, Petite Sirah and the Oyster Ridge red blend. But in 2011, the Petit Verdot just didn’t measure up to our White Label standards, so we didn’t bottle it.
“Petit Verdot is always the last grape to ripen at Margarita Vineyard,” says Mike Sinor, our director of winemaking. “We had a cool year in 2011, and the Petit Verdot fruit just never developed the intensity we were looking for at the White Label level. It was close, but in the end, we decided not to bottle it.”
He adds, “It was hard. That wine has a fan base, and we were walking away from revenue. But one reason it has that fan base is because of the White Label standard of quality that we’ve set.”
Such decisions are part of a larger culture here at Ancient Peaks, where ownership and staff routinely taste our wines together and push each other for honest feedback (one such tasting pictured above!). As Mike says, “You can get so caught up in cutting wood that you forget to sharpen your saw. It’s easy to lose sight of that when things get busy, but we’ve made it a priority here to set aside time for gut-checking ourselves.”
We also conduct comparative tastings of different varietals and wine regions from the U.S. and beyond. “It’s easy to develop what we call a ‘house palate,’ where you become too focused on your own wines,” Mike says. “It’s critical to have more of a global view of wine, and to understand where you fit into it.”
So there you have it—the true story behind a wine that we didn’t make.
We often talk about the diverse soils and complex geography of our estate Margarita Vineyard, which spans a variety of different slopes, aspects and elevations.
If you’re inclined to ask, “Why does it matter?”, we’ll forgive you—and then pour you a glass of our 2012 Zinfandel, which is a perfect example of why it matters.
As Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor explains in the short video above, the 2012 Zinfandel is a blend of three separate blocks grown in three distinct soil types at Margarita Vineyard.
Fruit from the volcanic soils of Block 32 brings a core of varietal spiciness to the wine, while a contribution from the shale soils of Block 49 adds a layer of dark, ripe fruit. Lastly, the cooler climes and alluvial soils of Block 39 bring enhanced structure and backbone.
The nuance doesn’t end there. As Mike explains, he and Winemaker Stewart Cameron target specific subsections, which you might call “blocks within blocks.” So from Block 32, they choose fruit from the middle of the block, which they call the tenderloin. In Block 49, they focus on the elevated crown of the block. In other words, a slight change in aspect or elevation can be the difference between good and great.
The result is that Mike and Stewart have what they call “different colors to paint with” when assembling the final blend. It allows them to craft an estate-grown wine that naturally exhibits fullness and complexity, qualities that you can taste in our 2012 Zinfandel.
Last week, we wrote about the good tidings of our 2012 Merlot, which is our finest vintage to date.
We've been bullish on Merlot since day one, even when the varietal was in the proverbial doghouse after its Sideways-inspired backlash.
Well, as Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor confirms in the following video, Merlot is back, baby!