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We are excited to introduce Chris Thompson as our East Coast Sales Specialist starting in 2014.
In this newly created position, Chris will be charged with taking our East Coast distribution to the next level while growing the visibility of the Ancient Peaks brand. Chris actually joined us earlier this fall as a harvest intern to learn winemaking from the ground up (as pictured above). Prior to that, he served as a wine consultant for The Country Vintner in North Carolina, one of the nation’s premier fine wine distributors. His experience in wine sales and distribution spans more than eight years.
We caught up with Chris to get his take on how he got here, and where he’s going with Ancient Peaks:
Why were you drawn to Ancient Peaks in the first place, to the point of coming out west to work the crush?
Two things really stood out. First, the ownership families…There are such great people involved here in the ownership and management of this winery, and they’re very hands-on. That was a big influencing factor. Also, Margarita Vineyard and Santa Margarita Ranch…This is such a unique place, with its own climate, and it’s very different from any other part of Paso. Not only do you have the vineyard, you have the history and the cattle, and now the zipline tours. There’s so much diversity here and so many things going on. It seemed like a great company to work for, and a good place to gain winemaking experience.
What was your favorite part of working in the winery?
It’s hard to say. There really wasn’t one task that stood out overall. I just enjoyed learning the various aspects of winemaking and the physical labor of it all—and having that instant gratification of helping make something with tangible results. All that hard work makes a beer taste even better at the end of the day, too.
What’s your vision for Ancient Peaks on the East Coast?
I want to establish Ancient Peaks as a household name. The first step is to get wine directors, managers and buyers excited about Ancient Peaks, so that they turn their customers onto our wines. That’s the way to start building a market presence. In time, however, I want Ancient Peaks to become a brand that people recognize and depend on and ask for by name. That’s something you already see here on the Central Coast with Ancient Peaks, and I want to make it happen on the East Coast as well.
I also want to educate people about Santa Margarita Ranch, which is set to become a sub-AVA of Paso Robles. A lot of people don’t know about the unique pockets and microclimates that make up Paso. They may have heard about the Westside or Templeton Gap, but there are a lot of other spots like El Pomar and Santa Margarita that aren’t as well known yet. Being the only grower in Santa Margarita sets us apart, and I want to get the word out about that.
P.S. Here’s Chris starring in our punchdown video:
One of the more iconic annual moments in the winery cellar is the “barreling down” of new wine to begin the aging process.
Today, our team is barreling down Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 50 at our estate Margarita Vineyard, which is one of the last 2013 vintage lots to make the transition from tank to barrel.
The cellar is surprisingly quiet as the wine is barreled down. The Cabernet Sauvignon is being racked (transferred) from a larger tank about 100 yards away from the awaiting barrels. It is flowing through the hoses via gravity, so there are no pumps making noise. As the wine flows into the barrel through a long racking wand, it makes a splashing sound at first, and then goes silent as the level rises.
Gravity racking is preferable because it’s very gentle on the wine. Also, if there are any hiccups, you can just shut the valve on the racking valve without having to make an uphill 100-yard dash to turn off a pump!
The splashing and aeration of the wine as it fills the barrel is also beneficial. After fermentation, the wine has been resting in the tank with very little air exposure. Barreling down allows any suspended CO2 in the wine to blow off (if CO2 remains suspended in the wine, it will taste spritzy). This controlled air exposure also gives the wine a moment room to breathe and develop, setting the tone for the maturation period.
You have to be alert when barreling down. Right now, our cellar master Octavio is operating two racking wands. He starts one barrel, and then about halfway through he starts another. It takes three minutes for a 60-gallon barrel to fill up. So once the barrel is nearly full, Octavio has less than 90 seconds to gently top it off (see below photo), secure the bung and move the wand to begin filling the next barrel before rushing over to the other barrel that is rapidly filling.
Any hitch in the rhythm can result in what is known around the winery as a “volcano”—red wine erupting from an overflowing barrel. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Rumor has it that Winemaker Stewart Cameron recently had a nice sweater ruined by a volcano!
So there you have it—a look at the quiet yet momentous occasion of barreling down at Ancient Peaks Winery.
We invite you to take a break and treat yourself to some seasonal magic at our annual Holiday Open House this Thursday, December 12 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
This complimentary event at our tasting room includes light nibbles, sweet treats, hot cocoa, wine tasting, wine specials and…drumroll…a singing Santa! The Holiday Open House has become a festive tradition here at Ancient Peaks, and it’s always a lot of fun. And the cold weather this week will ensure that it feels a lot like Christmas.
Then, throughout the weekend, we will offer a trio of culinary craft workshops. Click here for more details.
We are also excited to share that our own Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins was on the What’s Cooking on Wine show on CRN Radio last night. During the interview, Amanda shared details about our Holiday Open house and our Paso Robles winery tours, as well as the unique qualities of our estate Margarita Vineyard and how they shape our wines. Click here to listen to the interview (fast forward to the 30-minute mark to hear Amanda).
We hope to see you at our open house, or anytime this holiday season for Paso Robles wine tasting, wine gifts and more.
You may have tasted our Pinot Noir—and now you can fly over it…
Indeed, our affiliated Margarita Adventures has just opened the “Pinot Express,” the newest addition to its zipline canopy tours on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
The Pinot Express is now the highest, longest and fastest of the five ziplines—and it zips right over the Pinot Noir block at our estate Margarita Vineyard.
(Pinot Noir in Paso Robles?—yes, as we explained in this recent blog post!)
Margarita Adventures’ 2.5-hour zipline canopy tours also include a guided tour of the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, which was first planted to vines by Franciscan missionaries in the late 1700s. The tours touch on the ranch’s sustainable ranching and winegrowing practices, as well as its diverse wildlife and remarkable geology.
The tours conclude with an optional Ancient Peaks wine tasting. Tour guests receive 20 percent off wine purchases, and the tasting fee is waived with a purchase of one bottle or more. Also, Ancient Peaks wine club members save 20 percent off the Margarita Adventures tour price.
And if you prefer your Paso Robles winery tours to be a little less adventurous, you can always come out for one of our guided vineyard and food tours offered every Saturday.