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Sometimes “normal” is a good thing…
Indeed, after a wet winter and spring, our estate Margarita Vineyard is tracking beautifully heading into the 2017 harvest.
“We are cruising along at what you might call a normal pace, if you’re looking at it from a 10-year perspective,” says Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor. “When things were really dry in recent years, we were picking our early-ripening varieties starting in August. This year, our harvest will begin in September, which is how it typically was at Margarita Vineyard before the drought really kicked in.”
Mike notes that when there is more moisture in the soil come springtime, the soil becomes more insulated. This allows the ground to remain cooler, resulting in a later start to the growing season—which then carries all the way through to harvest.
“We prayed for rain, and Mother Nature delivered,” Mike says. “The yields and fruit quality all look good, and the weather has been relatively steady. If that continues, then we should be picking well into November.”
**Pictured above: Still-ripening Zinfandel clusters at Margarita Vineyard, late August 2017
Our estate Margarita Vineyard is situated along the flanks of the Santa Lucia Mountains, in the heart of the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
The terrain here is ruggedly beautiful, with oak savannahs that give way to mixed forestland as you ascend toward the mountain peaks. Not surprisingly, this land home to diverse habitats and an abundance of native wildlife, from bears to bald eagles, wild pigs to deer.
As proud stewards of this land, we are passionate about caring for the environment and its inhabitants. For this reason, in addition to subscribing to sustainable winegrowing and ranching practices, we are taking proactive measures to mitigate wildfire threats—as detailed in a recent story by the San Luis Obispo Tribune. (photo above courtesy SLO Tribune, showing Ancient Peaks co-owner Karl Wittstrom working with Cal Fire)
In additional to directing our cattle herds to graze the grassy fuel in open mountain areas, we are working closely with Cal Fire to map and maintain our fire roads for quick access during a wildfire event. Cal Fire is also allowed to our small airstrip and reservoir water when needed. We are also planning to work with Cal Fire on controlled burns that will clear out accumulated fuel while providing for regenerative forestland growth.
Fires often start along Highway 101 on the other side of the mountain range. By working with Cal Fire, we can help stop these fires before they crest the ridge and grow into wildfires that are potentially devastating for our ranch, our neighboring lands and our community.
Click here to read the full story in the Tribune, which details how Ancient Peaks and other wineries are managing potential wildfires threats in the Paso Robles wine country.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard resides on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, which is one of California's oldest continuously operated cattle ranches.
Needless to say, we know a thing or two about horseback riding. In fact, during the branding season, you will see our ownership families riding and roping right alongside ranch manager Jeff McKee and his cowboys.
It is in this spirit that we now offer a unique horseback riding experience for everyone on August 11--and it concludes on a delectable note!
Indeed, we have teamed up with Central Coast Trail Rides for a guided one-hour horseback ride across some of the ranch's most beautiful terrain, with views of mountains, vineyards and oak savannahs. Afterward, we will retire to our tasting room and cafe, where brunch or lunch will be paired with Ancient Peaks wines.
There are two rides offered on August 11: 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. followed by brunch, and 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., followed by lunch.
Click here to reserve your saddle. We look forward to riding with you!
At our estate Margarita Vineyard, you will find a rare array of five distinct soil types that bring natural dimension and complexity to our wines.
Margarita Vineyard’s most spectacular soil profile is found along a block that we call Oyster Ridge, where the ground is riddled with petrified oyster shells and scallops that testify to the land’s origins as an uplifted sea bed.
It is a sight so astonishing that Wine & Spirits Magazine called it "perhaps the most dramatically calcareous chunk of earth in the entire state."
Indeed, as you walk along the Oyster Ridge block, you can see the white fossils literally spilling out of the soil, some of them as large as footballs. If you dig a bit deeper, you discover an entire strata of these compressed fossils.
The high calcium content these fossils acts like an amped-up form of limestone, yielding wines with high-toned flavors, pretty aromatics and fine tannins. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are among the varieties that excel in this ancient sea bed, and we make a Bordeaux-style blend called Oyster Ridge that pays tribute to this soil.
When you visit our Paso Robles tasting room, you can see some of these fossils close up, and taste the wines that they produce. You can also take one of our Paso Robles vineyard tours to see Oyster Ridge firsthand. And, of course, you can conclude your visit with a bite at our Paso Robles winery cafe.
Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to be full of hot air! Indeed, that is a lesson learned from an ingenious new tool that is enhancing the fruit and advancing our sustainability initiatives at Margarita Vineyard.
This tool is a new unit from Agrothermal Systems that acts like a giant propane-powered blowdryer attached to the back of a tractor. As you can see here, it is a compact piece of equipment.
By making slow passes up and down the vineyard rows during the spring blooming period, it provides short bursts of warm air that stimulate the young crop’s self-pollination process, resulting in uniform grape clusters. As such, it is a hedge against “shatter,” whereby incomplete pollination can create clusters with under-ripe or missing berries.
This unit is also used to reduce instances of mold and mildew when the young clusters begin to mature. As such, it offers an environmentally friendly solution to help maintain fruit integrity into the heart of the growing season—and it is the latest example of how new technologies continue to help us achieve natural quality in our wines.
At Ancient Peaks Winery, we are not just winegrowers--we are also longtime local ranchers with deep roots in San Luis Obispo County.
Like our winegrowing experience, our ranching life here on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch is all about responsibly working with the land, and doing so with strong family ties.
On that note, we thought that you might enjoy the above video as a brief glimpse into a day on the ranch.
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.
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 are excited to share that our estate Margarita Vineyard will soon be generating more electricity than it consumes with the installation of two new solar plants at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
The two plants will feed solar power into the electric grid to help our local utility serve customers during periods of peak consumption. Meanwhile, the vineyard’s irrigation facilities and other electrical demand will continue to be run largely during off-peak hours. The net result is that when the solar installations are fully operational this spring, we will be generating more electric than we use at Margarita Vineyard.
We are also converting our pumps from propane to electric power, further minimizing the vineyard’s carbon footprint. All pumps are also being outfitted with new variable frequency drives for enhanced energy efficiency. Other recent vineyard additions include wind machines for frost protection. Our total investment in the ranch’s solar plants and new high-voltage facilities will exceed $1 million.
As Ancient Peaks co-owner Rob Rossi puts it, "The new solar plants are the next chapter in our ongoing sustainability progression at Margarita Vineyard."
This progression dates back to the planting of the vineyard by the Robert Mondavi family starting in 2000. At the time, one observer said that the Mondavis’ environmentally conscious practices put Margarita Vineyard “at the vanguard of sustainable agriculture in the region if not the state.” We have endeavored to advance this commitment since acquiring the vineyard lease in 2005, ultimately earning Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certification in 2010.
As we've said before, sustainability is not just a buzzword to us. Rather, it is something that produces measurable benefits for our vineyard, our wines and the environment. And we are far from alone, as many local winergrowers subscribe to similar practices, which is a pretty cool thing to consider the next time you enjoy a glass of wine!