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Last week, we were visited by a couple of producers from The Weather Channel, who came to the Paso Robles wine country as part of a larger story on drought conditions across the West.
Viticulturist and Ancient Peaks Co-Owner Doug Filipponi (pictured above) and Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor enjoyed showing them around our estate Margarita Vineyard, and sharing their thoughts and strategies for conserving water in the vineyard.
There’s no denying that the drought is troubling. Water management is now on the front-burner of the civic discourse in many California communities, including our own. It could get worse before it gets better. An El Niño year can’t come fast enough.
However, it’s still possible to maintain an optimistic outlook as we head out to work in the vineyard each morning. We have survived past droughts. Mother Nature is resilient, and has been known to follow drought years with abundant rainfall. In fact, some are predicting that El Niño conditions may begin later this year.
This doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to the drought, or that we needn’t consider the possibility that climate change is intensifying our drought cycles in California. It just means that we’re keeping our finger off the panic button and focusing on what we can do in the vineyard to ride this drought out.
As a SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certified winery, we are proactive when it comes to resource conservation. For example, we have installed “pulse emitters” throughout the vineyard for frost protection. These emitters cut water usage by more than 30 percent compared to traditional overhead frost-protection sprinklers. We are also vigilant when it comes to monitoring soil moisture with the latest technologies, so that we only irrigate when absolutely necessary, and only with the necessary amount of water.
These are things that we can control, so that is where our focus lies—on making the most of what we have without borrowing trouble. Of course, we’ll keep praying for rain as well.
We were honored last week to host a group of top sommeliers as part of the CABs of Distinction festivities across Paso Robles. They came out for a tour of our estate Margarita Vineyard, and for a look at the vineyard’s rare diversity of soil types. They tasted our wines along the way, and were the first people outside of the winery to experience our Cabernet Sauvignon soil trials in progress.
To say that these folks have discriminating palates would be an understatement, so we were pleased when they seemed to like what they tasted. The wine that really seemed to ring some bells was our new 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon “Jackpot,” a limited-edition reserve wine made from four selected barrels.
The soil trial tasting consisted of 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon barrel samples from three distinct soil types. During the last harvest, our winemakers, Mike Sinor and Stewart Cameron, chose fruit from three separate Cabernet Sauvignon blocks rooted in ancient sea bed, diablo series clay and Monterey shale, all picked at the same ripeness. Each of these small Cabernet Sauvignon lots is now being made with the same winemaking and aging practices. This will give us a more controlled opportunity to compare the effects of the soils and to share our discoveries.
“The somms were very knowledgeable, and I think they appreciated the fact that we offered something different,” Mike says. “Few vineyards have five distinct soil types like ours, so it’s natural for us to focus on that and share how it shapes our wines.”
On that note, here are our current observations on the soil trials at the moment:
• Block 15 – Ancient Sea Bed
Rich, dense, black fruit core. Shy nose will open up in time.
• Block 50 Bottom – Diablo Series Clay (Rocky Alluvium)
More red fruit on the nose, cherry, zingy, bright and high toned.
• Block 50 Top – Monterey Shale
Earthy, mineral aromas. Supple, round black and red fruit on the palate.
Of course, it’s still early and the wines will evolve, but the distinctions are already apparent. Stay tuned for more details as the trials progress.
In the ongoing pursuit of sustainable solutions for managing our estate Margarita Vineyard, we frequently rely on Mother Nature’s critters and creatures to get the job done.
Indeed, we cultivate worms that provide the vermicompost for feeding our vines. We maintain raptor perches to attract birds for vineyard pest control. We plant cover crops in the vine rows that make a happy home for beneficial insects.
Another example is taking place in the vineyard right now as we have 35 goats currently performing vegetation management. These goats provide a perfect alternative to herbicide application when an area has become overgrown. Twenty of the goats are from the family ranch of winery co-owner Doug Filipponi, while 15 belong to vineyard manager Jaimie Muniz.
Here’s how it works: We roll out a small temporary fence around the target area and let the goats enjoy their grub. We also provide the goats with two dogs, Huey and Louie, to provide protection from coyotes and other predators. Huey and Louie are half-guardian dogs by blood, but their work experience is turning them into full guardians!
Once the target area is sufficiently thinned, we simply move the fence and herd to the next spot. This not only controls overgrowth, but also removes invasive weeds along the way without killing the vegetation with herbicide. This, in turn, provides a much better opportunity for native grasses to become re-established around the vineyard.
We strive to offer a remarkable wine club, and that mission is aided by the fact that we have some amazing wine club members.
This was never more evident than at a recent wine club “road trip” tasting event that we hosted at Bacchus Bar & Bistro in Irvine, California. This event was designed as a complimentary “thank you” to our club members who reside in Southern California.
We weren’t sure how many members would make it. It’s not like they all live right around Irvine. Plus, many people are busy with work and family obligations.
“We thought if we could get 30 or 40 people that would be great,” says Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor, who co-hosted the event. “So we were blown away when 70 members showed up.”
Yes, that’s right—70 wine club members came to an event located 240 miles from our winery! How cool is that?
“Their enthusiasm was infectious,” Mike says. “They were really into it, and it was a great time for all of us. This kind of turnout really says a lot about our members.”
We offer an array of ongoing benefits and events for club members, as well as occasional surprise events like this one. Stay tuned for more, and join the fun if you haven’t already.
P.S. Here’s a short recap video of our “Reds, Whites & Greens” container gardening demo that we hosted for club members last week:
We are pleased to share that our winemaker, Stewart Cameron, is featured as one of five “up-and-coming” Paso Robles winemakers in the new issue of The Tasting Panel Magazine.
In the story, wine authority Christopher Sawyer “gives a shout-out to the winemakers to watch in California’s most dynamic AVA.”
Sawyer writes, “Since joining the winemaking team at Ancient Peaks in 2006, Stewart Cameron has mastered the art of interweaving the personality of the vineyard into the special estate cuvée called Oyster Ridge.”
Oyster Ridge is a red blend crafted each year to exemplify our finest winemaking efforts. The name Oyster Ridge honors a block of fossilized ancient sea bed at our estate Margarita Vineyard, which exhibits the type of calcium-rich soil that is coveted by winemakers worldwide.
You may recall that Stewart was promoted to the position of winemaker last summer. At the time, Ancient Peaks co-owner Doug Filipponi stated, “Stewart has a knack for making wines that really capture Margarita Vineyard’s sense of place.” That’s something that Mr. Sawyer has clearly noted as well.
The story also notes that Oyster Ridge pairs well with elk medallions, Stewart’s favorite dish at The Range restaurant here in Santa Margarita!
The following post is copied from Ancient Peaks co-owner and viticulturist Doug Filipponi's contribution to the Paso Robles Grower Blog. Click here to check out this regional blog and to keep up with the growing season across Paso Robles.
The 2014 vintage is officially underway in our estate Margarita Vineyard and across the Paso Robles region with the recent advent of “bud break,” the process whereby the buds on the vines open up and burst forth with fresh green growth.
Vines that looked dormant and skeletal just a few weeks ago now look very much alive, and the growing season is upon us. As we head into April, the new growth is taking shape as spindly shoots, small leaves and tiny flowers. Later this spring, the flowers will self-pollinate and set the crop for the 2014 vintage.
This year, bud break has arrived about a week earlier than average, due to a dry and relatively warm winter, as well as picture-perfect spring weather in mid-March with temperatures reaching the mid-80s for a few days. In other words, there was nothing holding the vines back from getting the show on the road.
As always, the priority right now is to protect the delicate new growth from frost damage. As you may know, Paso Robles is blessed with beneficial “diurnal” temperature swings. Temperature differences of 40 and even 50 degrees are not uncommon within a 24-hour period during the heart of the growing season. The warm days enable the fruit to develop rich, ripe flavors, while the cool nights help maintain balance and structure – all hallmarks of the wines of Paso Robles.
In the spring, however, those temperature swings can take us all the way below freezing by morning time – and once the mercury dips below 32-degrees, it can spell trouble in the vineyard. If left unchecked, frost can throttle the new growth and the vine will lose its new leaves and flowers.
Therefore, vineyard crews must be alert and vigilant whenever there’s a chance of frost – and they must act quickly to turn on the frost control systems when necessary. At Margarita Vineyard, we have five weather stations to warn us of low temperatures throughout the vineyard. We use targeted pulsator sprinklers during frost events. These pulsator sprinklers are trained on the cordons, coating the vine with a fine spray. The water freezes around the new growth and creates a protective barrier from outside temperatures that dip below 32 degrees. When ice is forming, it creates heat. It also creates heat when it’s melting. So yes, ironically, we use ice to protect the vines from frost damage!
Mother Nature has done her job once again, and the vines are fully awakened. It’s now our job to protect what we have been given. Looking forward, we are bullish on the 2014 vintage in Paso Robles. There’s still a ways to go, but we are off to a good start.
At our estate Margarita Vineyard, sustainability isn’t just a buzzword—it’s a true force of resource conservation with positive benefits to both the vineyard environment and the resulting wines.
With the new growing season about to get rolling with spring bud break, one of our most effective sustainable practices is set to play a role in the 2014 vintage.
This would be “compost tea,” a liquefied natural compost fertilizer that is delivered right to the root zone of the vines via our drip irrigation lines. The use of compost tea has drastically cut our use of synthetic fertilizers, creating a more balanced soil composition and providing wholesome nutrients to the vines.
We “brew” our compost tea mainly from “vermicompost,” a fancy name for worm castings. We cultivate worm beds on site specifically for creating compost tea. The brewing cycle is 24 hours. The brew can include brewer’s yeast, kelp and molasses to help grow the mix of beneficial bacteria and fungi. Once brewed, the tea is ready for delivery to the vines.
For the vines, it’s like eating green vegetables (compost tea) compared to simply taking a multivitamin (traditional fertilizers). The uptake of nutrients is more complete, natural and thorough. It also avoids the nitrate soil buildup that can occur with traditional fertilizers.
The result is a more balanced vine that allows us to maximize fruit quality. Additionally, we maintain a healthier soil profile that is better for the vineyard environment and the creatures (and people) who inhabit it.
Even though we finally had some late rains this winter, we are still expecting an early “bud break.”
Indeed, as of today, we are expecting bud break to begin about 10 days earlier than average at our estate Margarita Vineyard, which means it should be coming very soon.
Bud break occurs when the vine buds open and push the first green growth of the vintage. It’s the moment when the vines truly awaken from dormancy and inaugurate the growing season.
The dry, relatively warm winter of 2014 means that the vines have been encouraged to awaken sooner rather than later, hence the expected early bud break.
During bud break, the buds open to reveal thin shoots, small leaves and tiny flowers that, in the months ahead, will become long canes, large leaves and juicy grape clusters.
The young growth is delicate and vulnerable to frost. And with bud breaking coming early this year, it means that this new growth will be exposed to a longer window of potential frost events.
In the short video above, Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and Vineyard Manager Jaime Muniz talk about the road to bud break. Stay tuned for updates from the vineyard!
Things are looking up as we round the corner into March.
First, some significant rainfall this week is bringing much-needed water to the Central Coast. Yesterday’s storm brought more than two inches to our estate Margarita Vineyard, and the meteorologists say there’s more to come over the next few days.
Also, we are staging two March events—one for the public, the other for our wine club members—that will tantalize your taste buds:
Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival – March 14-16
Get your Zin on as we go all out during the Paso Robles Zinfandel Festival weekend! On both days, we will serve complimentary made-to-order artisan grilled cheese sandwiches from 12:30 p.m. to 3 p.m. We are also offering complimentary tours of our estate Margarita Vineyard, with a focus on the diverse soils and marine moderated climate that enable us to craft one of the Paso Robles region’s most acclaimed Zinfandels. These Paso Robles vineyard tours are available by appointment on Friday at 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. To RSVP for a tour, call us at (805) 365-7045. And for more on the festival and related activities across the region, visit PasoWine.com.
Wine Club Artisan Cheese Seminar – March 20 (the first official day of spring!)
Wine club members are invited to join us at our tasting room on Thursday, March 20 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. as we team up with Fromagerie Sophie to explore the art of wine and cheese pairing. Based in San Luis Obispo, Fromagerie Sophie is the Central Coast’s newest artisan “cheesemonger.” Proprietor Sophie Boban-Doering brings a French-inspired flair to her regional cheese offerings, and she will provide a tasty demonstration on how to find the perfect match for a variety of wine styles. The cost is $15 for A-List members and $10 for Six Shooters, inclusive of wine, cheese and good cheer.
Not a wine club member? Please check out our member lounge to see the array of events and benefits that we offer to members.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard is blessed with a rare array of five soil types, and these soil differences from block to block have always been notable in the wines they deliver.
The geographical map pictured below provides a visual explanation as to why Margarita Vineyard is such a ground zero for soil diversity.
We have cropped the map to show the location of Margarita Vineyard, and all of the black lines you see are fault lines. This abundance of localized faults has churned and turned the terrain over time, which explains why you can see everything from uplifted fossilized sea beds, thick fields of shale, rocky plains of alluvium and more during a short walk through the vineyard.
Why does soil diversity matter to us? Well, it allows us to build natural complexity into a single estate-grown wine. For winemakers Mike Sinor and Stewart Cameron, it’s like giving them more colors to paint with.
Starting with the 2013 vintage, we are taking our interest in soil influence to the next level by conducting a more controlled trial of Cabernet Sauvignon lots grown in calcareous ancient sea bed, diablo series clay and Monterey shale. Each lot was farmed the same in terms of crop load and irrigation; harvested at similar ripeness; went through the same fermentation protocols; and was racked to the same barrels (once-used Taransaud barrels with medium+ toast levels).
In the above video, Stewart provides an update on these lots four months after harvest. And so far, the differences are pretty striking.
The ancient sea bed lot from Block 15 is showing a deep, dense black fruit character. The diablo series clay lot from the bottom of Block 50 is exhibiting a zingy red fruit quality, while the Monterey shale lot from the top of Block 50 is showing plum and boysenberry with assertive tannins.
Stay tuned, as we will be following these wines to see how they mature from ground to glass, and looking into ways to share the results at special tastings down the line.