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You will sometimes hear us throwing around the term “AVA,” particularly now that our estate Margarita Vineyard is part of the new Santa Margarita Ranch AVA.
So what is an AVA? It’s shorthand for “American Viticultural Area,” which is a term for a federally recognized and defined winegrowing area.
By default, an AVA can be mere political boundary such as “California” or “San Luis Obispo County.” But it is more frequently meant to describe a specific geographical area unified by climate, soil and other geographic factors that consistently influence the characteristics of wines grown in that area.
Let’s use the Paso Robles region as an example…
The Paso Robles AVA was established in 1983 to recognize the common characteristics of wines from this region.
Over the ensuing 30 years, the Paso Robles wine industry flourished, and in time certain areas within the Paso Robles AVA began to exhibit their own unique characteristics—much in the way that “Oakville” and “Stag’s Leap District” have become recognized pockets within the Napa Valley AVA.
So the next step was to establish “sub-AVAs” of Paso Robles, to further drill down into the diversity of our region. This was not some whimsical exercise—it was a very involved process born of demonstrable distinctions that were officially recognized by the federal government.
Thus, 11 sub-AVAs of Paso Robles were established last year (pictured above), and one of them is the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA. In fact, our estate Margarita Vineyard is the only vineyard in the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA, which truly sets out wines apart.
So now you know the story of why our wines going forward will include references to both “Paso Robles” and “Santa Margarita Ranch” on the label, to celebrate our unique sense of place.
We just got an awesome aloha from Chuck Furuya—master sommelier, wine writer, restaurateur and friend of Ancient Peaks.
He shared photos from his recently remodeled VINO restaurant in Honolulu, which now includes a “rock wall” of soil samples inspired by a recent visit to our tasting room, which includes a similar display of the five soil types found at our estate Margarita Vineyard.
According to Chuck, there was a wall in the restaurant that needed some “loving.” After seeing our display, Chuck recalls thinking, “What an idea!”
Says Chuck, “I thought of all the restaurants that showcase pictures of the owner or chef standing next to some celebrity, or in front of some iconic restaurant somewhere in the world. I have also seen other eateries featuring pictures of farmers and fisherman they work with. Well, for us, with a name like VINO, we look to feature the soils from some of our favorite vineyards in the world.”
The result is a magnificent cross-continental display of soils in glass cylinders from five different sites:
Schist from southern France (Domaine La Tour Vieille); clay-limestone from Burgundy (La Genelotte); red slate from the Rheinhessen region of Germany (Nackheimer Rothenberg); black-grey slate from the Mosel region of Germany (Wehlener Sonnenuhr); and fossilized oyster shells from our own Margarita Vineyard (Ancient Peaks).
We are honored to have our soil included in this display, and to be a part of the magnificent VINO dining experience.
California's (and Paso Robles') heritage grape is getting the royal treatment at Ancient Peaks Winery on November 18, a.k.a. National Zinfandel Day.
For the entire day, our acclaimed 2012 Zinfandel will be available for purchase at the tasting room and online for a full 30 percent off the already enticing regular price of $18.
This is an estate-grown Zinfandel that was declared a “Best Buy” by Wine & Spirits Magazine, so now is the time to stock up on a screaming deal--particularly because it offers a perfect pairing for holiday turkey.
Indeed, the 2012 Zinfandel comes from our estate Margarita Vineyard, the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA. Here, cooler conditions foster a Zinfandel style that exhibits full flavors with elegance and restraint.
As such, the 2012 Zinfandel is a perfect match for classic holiday turkey. The wine’s bright berry fruit and spice elements provide versatility with traditional fixings, while the balanced character ensures that the turkey meat will be complemented, not overwhelmed.
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.
Taste the 2015 wine harvest today and tomorrow—September 26-27—as we take over the Travel & Adventure Stage at Savor The Central Coast from 2:45 to 3:15 p.m., right here on our historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
Our session will be helmed by winery co-owner and viticulturist Doug Filipponi and director of winemaking Mike Sinor, who will lead you through an interactive immersion into the harvest season.
Along the way, you will taste grapes fresh from our estate Margarita Vineyard. As you taste them, Mike will offer insights into the winemaker's art of determining when to pick grapes based on factors such as sweetness, texture and tannin.
Meanwhile, Doug will illuminate how our sustainable winegrowing practices make a difference in both our wine and our environment, and you can expect a special appearance by one of our majestic wildlife residents that play a role in keeping vineyard life in balance.
Doug and Mike will also provide insights into the influence of soils on wine, to include a look at the ancient sea fossils that make up one of our five soil types at Margarita Vineyard.
Lastly, we will be pouring some special wine. So if you're at Savor The Central Coast, make a note to come out at 2:15 p.m. We look forward to seeing you!
P.S. And don't miss our affiliated Margarita Adventures zipline canopy tours as they take the stage from 1:45 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. both days. Click here for the full Travel & Adventure Stage schedule.
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and here is a perfect example—a photo taken the other day of coastal fog clutching the peaks of the Santa Lucia mountains in Santa Margarita on an otherwise sunny morning above the Cuesta Grade.
We often talk about the climate of our estate Margarita Vineyard here, because we are on the dividing line between the warmer inland environs to the north and the cooler coastal region south of the grade.
As such, our climate is a bit of a hybrid that is vividly captured in this photo—a borderland of sun and fog, situated in the mountains but only 14 miles from the beach.
Of course, this can’t help but have a significant impact on our fruit and ultimately the character of our wines.
Indeed, this consistent cooling effect creates a long growing season with later harvest dates. We are still able to fully ripen signature Paso Robles varieties such as Zinfandel, Cabernet and Merlot, but in a manner that maintains a signature structure and balance that are rooted in the climate. You can taste it, and sometimes you can even see it on a September morning like the one pictured here.
We are excited to unveil our newly expanded and remodeled tasting room starting this Labor Day weekend—and we hope that you will come out to celebrate with us.
Our tasting room is now more than twice the size as before, including a new outdoor patio space as well as lounge seating along with bistro tables and chairs. Our tasting bar features considerably more elbow room, as well as an eye-opening display of the five soil types at our estate Margarita Vineyard (see photo below). The décor and hues of the tasting room are an extension of our new packaging, as well as a reflection of our ranching heritage.
So please come by not just to taste, but to hang out, enjoy a glass and soak up the fresh vibe. We look forward to seeing you here.
The big news around the Central Coast last week was the start of the California wine harvest, with Pinot Noir leading the charge at a handful of wineries.
However, here in Paso Robles, “soon” is the operative word—although at our estate Margarita Vineyard, you might say “later.”
That’s because we enjoy some of the latest picking dates across the region. In fact, some of our fruit is still undergoing veraison, the process whereby the berries turn color and transition from the growth phase to the ripening phase (see accompanying photo taken 10 days ago).
So while some of our earlier ripening varieties can expect to come off the vine starting in a few weeks, we’ll still be harvesting grapes well into October and possibly November depending on the autumn weather.
Such relative lateness is a hallmark of Margarita Vineyard, where a strong marine influence creates one of the region’s coolest growing environments. The result is an elongated growing season with longer hang times. When people taste our red wines, they typically notice the common threads of structure and balance—two qualities that are directly related to the longer, later growing season.
Consequently, we’ve learned not to be anxious about the start of harvest, because good things happen when the fruit hangs out.
We rarely talk about the summer weather here in Paso Robles because there’s usually nothing to talk about.
After all, it's typically quite predictable--warm to hot days followed by reliable marine cooling in the evening. It's an ideal winegrowing climate that usually unfolds just like clockwork.
But on Sunday, the clockwork was thrown a curveball in the form of a sustained thunderstorm that dropped as much as 3.5 inches of rain in parts of the region, shattering previous rainfall records for the month of July. The lightning was abundant as well (local photo above by Jon Berezay).
So what did this weather disruption mean in the vineyard? Thankfully not a lot, beyond bringing some much-needed water to the land during this extended drought.
Now, there are plenty of times of the year when a sustained rainstorm such as this could cause serious viticultural trouble--such as the delicate flowering phase of the vines in the spring, or later in the harvest season, when wet conditions can create mold problems and logistical issues.
But right now, the grapes are as bulletproof as they’ll ever be. They have yet to undergo the process of “verasion,” whereby they begin to gain color and grow softer and become sweeter. Instead, at the moment, they are just firm green berries (see below). If you pop some in your mouth, you will find them crunchy and bracingly tart. So they’re pretty hardy at this stage in their development.
There was another upside to the summer rain, as co-owner and viticulturist Doug Filipponi noted, "This was a good test for everyone to find the weak spots in the vineyard roads and culverts. It was a reminder of what we used to take for granted."
Of course, any time you get rain followed by humid conditions in the vineyard, you have to keep an eye out for mildew pressure. But all things considered, this was okay—if bizarre—timing for some much-needed rain here in the Central Coast wine country.
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.