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Duke the beagle is the boss of Assistant Winemaker Stewart Cameron, and the official winery dog of Ancient Peaks.
Today, we present "A Day in The Life of Duke" to show off his many talents, including vineyard management, staff training, winemaking and hospitality.
We salute Duke and all of the hard-working winery dogs out there!
We like to say that soils are the ingredients behind our wines, as our estate Margarita Vineyard is home to a rare diversity of soil types that ebb, flow and intermingle from one block to the next. These soil types include shale, sedimentary, granitic, volcanic and ancient sea bed.
In some blocks, the base soil composition is obvious, such as at Oyster Ridge, where the ancient sea bed soil is literally percolating up to the surface in the form of ancient oyster fossils.
In other blocks, however, the nature of the soil isn’t plainly evident. Have a look at the exposed soil pit pictured above in one of our Zinfandel blocks. As you walk along the surface of this block, your boots get covered in young soil that is dark, fine and fluffy.
But as you can see, just 18 inches beneath that young soil layer is a solid foundation of stratified shale rock. It’s a stark and sudden shift that speaks to the true nature of the growing conditions in this block.
Here, the vine roots tend to grow laterally once they hit the hard rocky soil, seeking an easier way to acquire moisture. Consequently, the vines in this block have limited vigor and produce small, intensely flavored berries. In other words, the soil sets the tone for the fruit—and ultimately the character of the resulting wine.
And when the soils are as diverse as they are at Margarita Vineyard, it gives us that many more ingredients to create wines with natural depth and complexity.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard occupies one of the Paso Robles region’s coolest growing environments, but it sure didn’t feel that way over the past weekend during a heat wave that swept across the West Coast.
Temperatures reached 105 degrees at Margarita Vineyard. In other areas of the region, temperatures reached 111 degrees. Thankfully, things are now starting to cool back down.
As we always do when extreme heat is predicted, we took preemptive action to minimize potential damage. Four days before the high temperatures arrived, we started irrigating more steadily to ensure sufficient vine hydration. We also ceased all leaf removal activities to ensure that the fruit wasn’t overly exposed to hot direct sunlight.
As a result, we avoided sunburn of the grape skins, as evident in the accompanying photo taken yesterday of a young Zinfandel cluster. Even our vulnerable new Merlot plantings (pictured below) are still sitting pretty without any leaf burn.
It helps that this heat wave came relatively early in the growing season. When the grapes are small and green, the skins are thicker and tougher. High heat can be more problematic later in the season, when the fruit is ripe and skins are more delicate.
It’s hard to fathom that exactly one month earlier we were experiencing freezing morning temperatures at Margarita Vineyard. Such is the adventure of agriculture, and whether it’s hot or cold or in between, we always need to be on our game and keep our cool.
This isn't just another vineyard tour, but rather an immersive experience that you won't forget.
We personally guide you out to our estate Margarita Vineyard for an up-close look at growing wine from ground to glass on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
Along the way, you learn about our sustainable practices, remarkable climate, uniquely diverse soils and other viticultural insights that will enhance your wine appreciation.
Click here for more information and reservations.
Our new release 2011 Zinfandel comes from three blocks spanning three distinct soil types at our estate Margarita Vineyard.
We recently staged a tasting of barrel samples from our various Zinfandel blocks, and our guests were astonished at the profound differences in aroma and flavor—even though all of these Zinfandel lots came from the same vineyard, and several were of the same clonal selection.
Of course, these differences are also shaped by the weather exposure of a particular block and other factors. But there is no doubt that the rare diversity of soils at Margarita Vineyard enhances the distinctions between our Zinfandel components.
So what does this mean to the wine? It essentially gives Winemaker Mike Sinor and Assistant Winemaker Stewart Cameron more colors to paint with, allowing them to naturally build nuance, depth and complexity into a single estate grown Zinfandel.
We are confident that you will taste these qualities in our 2011 Zinfandel, which is now available in our tasting room.
It's flowering time at our estate Margarita Vineyard, whereby the baby clusters self-pollinate to set the crop for the upcoming vintage.
As our Assistant Winemaker Stewart Cameron explains in this video, the flowering process begins when the cap over the petals is shed, liberating the pollen and allowing for crop set.
This is the beginning of the fruit's life cycle, which will continue from now through the 2013 harvest. Stay tuned!
When you think of eco-friendly practices, big machinery isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But at our estate Margarita Vineyard, a couple of iron giants—specifically modern multi-function, multi-row tractors—have become an integral part of our sustainable winegrowing program.
Our two multi-row tractors, including the French-made Pellenc pictured here, have taken the place of six traditional tractors.
Because they serve multiple rows at a time and offer simultaneous function for mowing, trimming, pre-pruning and other uses, they have reduced our tractor passes (ie: travel up and down the vine rows) by more than 80 percent. This, in turn, has minimized soil compaction while cutting diesel fuel consumption.
Tractors are a necessary part of farming, but tractor passes cause soil compaction over time. Compaction results in stormwater runoff, which wastes precious water while exacerbating soil erosion. When the compaction becomes too great, the soil must be ripped—which requires more tractor passes and fuel consumption.
So ironically enough, these big machines have significantly lightened our environmental footprint at Margarita Vineyard. They were a huge investment for us, but also a wise one in the long run.
This is how a new vintage is born...After winter dormancy, the little buds on the vines break open every spring, a development that is known as "bud break."
From the buds comes the first new growth of the vintage, including young shoots and baby clusters. Soon, the baby clusters will "flower" and self-pollinate to set the crop, and within a few months the young shoots will turn into robust vine branches (called canes) and the clusters will swell in size.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard is the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA, and occupies one of the region's coolest locations, which makes for a long growing season. In other words, these new clusters are going to take their own sweet time to reach full ripening, but they are officially on their way!
At our estate Margarita Vineyard, we have reduced our fossil fuel consumption through sustainable winegrowing practices. But ironically enough, the vineyard is becoming renowned for its fossil-fueled wines. Let us explain...
In a section of Margarita Vineyard called Oyster Ridge, the soil is composed of compacted layers of ancient oyster fossils. Here, the fossils are literally spilling out of the ground, testifying to the land’s origins as an uplifted sea bed (some of these fossils are enormous, such as the one pictured here). The result, in the words of Wine & Spirits Magazine, is “perhaps the most dramatically calcareous chunks of earth in the entire state.”
Why does this matter? Because calcium-rich soil is coveted by winemakers worldwide. At Margarita Vineyard, this translates to fruit with high-toned flavors, fine structure and pretty aromatics.
This ancient sea bed is actually one of five soil zones at Margarita Vineyard. Few vineyards boast such a spectrum of geological diversity. This diversity enables us to grow the same varietals in a range of soils, ultimately enhancing the complexity, texture and dimension of the resulting wines.
All five soil types play a role in our wines—but the ancient sea bed is by far the most rare and dramatic. Come out for one of our Saturday vineyard tours to see it for yourself.
Our sustainability efforts at Margarita Vineyard include maintaining wildlife corridors that allow for interconnected habitats.
Wildlife is consequently abundant on the surrounding Santa Margarita Ranch. Eagles, turkeys, pigs, deer, falcons, turtles and bears are among the many animals that call the ranch home.
Check out this frisky baby black bear spotted near our Malbec block. Once full grown, this bear will be able to consume more than 50 pounds of grapes in one day. Needless to say, we would prefer if he stayed in the oaks and away from the vines!