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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!
We are happy to help drive the last nail in the coffin of the “Merlot is dead” movement.
Merlot is far from dead—in fact our new release 2012 vintage is kicking butt, having already earned a gold medal for “Best of Merlot” at the Central Coast Wine Competition and a gold medal with 90 points at the San Francisco International Wine Competition (pictured above are Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and Winemaker Stewart Cameron with the fruits of their labor).
Merlot’s low point started in 2004 with the hit movie Sideways, in which the lead character Miles staged a hilarious rant against the noble grape. This pop culture moment—combined with some admittedly uninspired Merlots flooding the marketplace at the time—sent Merlot into a tailspin of public perception.
Suddenly, Merlot was on the outs. It was un-hip. It didn’t disappear, but it had its tail between its legs for years thereafter.
But here at Ancient Peaks, we weren’t going to let a fictional movie character tell us what to make. Back in 2005, we knew that our estate Margarita Vineyard—with its ancient sea bed soils and pronounced marine influence—could produce exceptional Merlot. So we’ve proudly waved the Merlot flag since day one.
Now we’re happy to release our finest Merlot to date, at a time when the anti-Merlot movement is happily losing steam.
The 2012 Merlot comes from three different blocks at Margarita Vineyard that exhibit a range of distinct qualities, bringing added natural complexity and dimension to the finished wine. The 2012 vintage presents ample aromas of blueberry and plum with hints of vanilla, tobacco and baking spice. The palate is round and velvety, offering flavors of cherry, blackberry and mocha. Notes of oak and cinnamon join plump tannins on a rich, juicy finish.
The bottom line is that the reports of Merlot’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Long live Merlot!
We are no strangers to high honors at wine competitions, but our medal count at the recent 2014 San Francisco International Wine Competition is particularly noteworthy.
Indeed, three of our wines scored gold medals and 90+ points at this prestigious competition, which included more than 4,500 wines from around the world. This competition is now in its 34th year, and is helmed by a judging panel of esteemed wine experts.
Gold medals were awarded to our 2011 Oyster Ridge blend, 2012 Renegade blend and 2012 Merlot. Along the way, these wines earned, respectively, 93 points, 91 points and 90 points. Click here to see all of our latest reviews.
“I tried a sawzall then a cutting torch and now blasting caps!”
So wrote wine club member William Wallace the other day, explaining how he was struggling with opening a bottle of our wine. We hope he was exaggerating (and that the above photo he sent was mere theater!), but his note nonetheless inspired us to write the following public service announcement about how to safely open a wax-sealed bottle.
Let’s start at the beginning…When we bottled our limited-edition 2011 Syrah “Jackpot,” we went the extra mile to seal it with wax instead of the traditional foil. We felt it was an exceptional wine, so we wanted to give it a special look.
The unintended consequence is that William and possibly other club members have found the wax seal confounding when it comes time to uncork the wine. The seal feels firm to the touch, and indeed may look like it’s begging to be sawed or chipped off.
However, rule number one around any winery is “don’t hurt yourself.” That rule also applies to opening wine. If you ever find yourself reaching for a serrated kitchen knife, crowbar or other alternative instrument (or explosive), then stop immediately. It’s just not worth it—even if it is our epic 2011 Syrah “Jackpot” that you’re trying to liberate.
So just how do you crack the wax seal? The ancient principle of Occam’s Razor essentially says that the simplest option is usually the right one, and so it is that the best way to uncork a wax-sealed wine is to use what you always use: a corkscrew.
Position the screw right into the center of the seal, push hard and screw it down through the wax and into the cork just as you always do. Then grip the corkscrew lever against the wax along the neck (as you would normally do against the lip of the neck), and gently pull the cork out and through the wax seal.
This simple method should work like a charm on our 2011 Syrah “Jackpot” and other wax-sealed wines.
However, there are instances when wineries use an overly hard wax to seal their wines, which can make the corkscrew method extra challenging if not impossible. In which case, we recommend that you contact William. We hear he has a cutting torch.
One of our mantras at Ancient Peaks is that we aim to “over deliver.”
This means that we always strive to provide value at any given price point, whether it be one of our $17 varietal reds or our $35 reserve White Label wines or our $50 Oyster Ridge cuvée. It’s part of our winery culture, and it has helped us earn a loyal following.
We have a few things working in our favor. For starters, we have an estate vineyard—Margarita Vineyard, the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles region—that delivers high-character fruit. Better yet, we only use a fraction of the fruit from this vineyard (the rest is sold to other wineries), allowing us to pick and choose blocks that fit our winemaking vision, and to farm them exactly how we want. On top of that, our Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and Winemaker Stewart Cameron are really talented and in tune with the estate fruit.
On that note, and at the risk of sounding like we’re tooting our own horn, we are very pleased that two of our wines have earned a spot on Wine & Spirits magazine’s annual Top 100 Best Buys of The Year list—our 2010 Merlot ($17) and 2010 Renegade ($23).
This list was compiled from 12,500 wines tasted from around the world! So to place two wines on the list is quite gratifying, and it affirms that our pursuit of over-delivering is going well.
When painting with a broad brush, you could call Paso Robles a warm winegrowing region. And it's true that Burgundian varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—which are known to excel in cool regions—aren’t typically associated with Paso Robles. Here, it’s Bordeaux and Rhône varietals that make the most noise.
But the broad brush often misses the nuances, and that's why we are confidently producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from our estate Margarita Vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA.
Margarita Vineyard is the southernmost vineyard in the region, with a pronounced marine influence. It's often cool and sometimes cold here during the growing season. That's our baseline.
From there, we've planted our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the vineyard's coolest spots. One such spot is at the mouth of Trout Creek, where marine air spills through a notch in the coastal mountains.
In these spots, the notion of growing a premium Paso Robles Pinot Noir or Chardonnay isn't wild and crazy. It's simply a logical fit for the growing conditions.
On that note, we are excited to release our 2012 Chardonnay from our White Label (reserve) series. We think that this wine shows just how good a Paso Robles Chardonnay can be. This follows our 2011 Pinot Noir, which was also varietally true and equally delicious. Right now, these wines are very limited in production (in the range of 100 to 150 cases), with our wine club members getting first dibs.
Our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will never supplant our Bordeaux varietals in acreage or production. But we are excited about where these wines are headed. They speak not only to the diversity of our vineyard, but of the Paso Robles region as a whole.
Our new release 2011 Renegade is already rounding up high praise in the wine media.
On Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle published a piece on the state of Syrah, and included the 2011 Renegade as one of just six recommended Central Coast Syrahs and Syrah-based blends, noting, "When the grape succeeds, it does so wonderfully, as you'll witness in the bottles here."
Here's how Wine Editor Jon Bonné describes the 2011 Renegade: "A curious mix of Syrah, Petit Verdot and Malbec that pushes the edge on tannin - 28 percent Petit Verdot is a bold move - but also reveals the beauty of Margarita Vineyard's high-elevation limestone soils. Slightly funky, with racy fruit and tobacco and white-flower aspects. Think Cahors on the Central Coast."
It's exciting to have Mr. Bonné and the Chronicle's tasting panel discern the unique sense of place behind the 2011 Renegade, as that's something we really strive to capture in our wines.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard spans a rare diversity of five soil types in one of the Paso Robles region's coolest growing environments. It's important for us to honor these special growing conditions and to make sure they are expressed in the bottle.
For more on the 2011 Renegade, here's a short video featuring Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor: