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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.
When we opened our little tasting room in tiny Santa Margarita seven years ago, we never imagined that our traffic would grow to the point of needing a major renovation and expansion.
Yet that’s where we find ourselves right now, swinging hammers to create more space, expanded outdoor seating, a new kitchen and more.
On that note, we ask you to pardon our dust when visiting our tasting room during this period. We are still open daily. No need to bring a hard hat, just be prepared for cozier environs and a little noise through the rest of this month.
We believe that you will be blown away by the transformation once we are done later this summer. In the meantime, we appreciate your patience.
On certain wines, such as our Petit Verdot, we make note of aging the wine in “tightly grained” oak barrels, which may raise the question: why does oak grain matter? Let us explain…
The notion of tightly grained wood is fairly self evident. Most woods, including oak, come in different grains, depending on the species and where they are grown. Some are more widely grained, others are more tightly packed.
Now, in the wine aging process, wide-grained oak tends to produce a wine that has a more pronounced oak and wood tannin character. In other words, if you want your wine to taste more oaky, or if you have a powerful wine that needs a more assertive oak balance, you might veer toward wide-grained oak.
On the flipside, tight-grained wood is more restrained in its influence. So if you want the oak character of the wine to be more subtle, then you will choose tight-grained oak for aging.
One example is our aforementioned Petit Verdot. In the words of Winemaker Stewart Cameron, “Petit Verdot has some unique varietal flavor profiles that no other Bordeaux varieties have, and we want to keep those at the forefront of the wine. We don’t want it to taste like French oak, so we choose wood with a tight grain and lighter toasting to produce a wine that is varietally true.”
On a more powerful wine, however, such as our Petite Sirah, Stewart might loosen the reins on the grain to ensure that the oak influence is sufficiently present.
And therein lies the significance of oak grain. Ultimately, it’s just one of many arrows in the winemaker’s quiver for guiding the style of a given wine.
We view our wine club members as part of our extended family, which is why we go all out to offer them some of the best benefits and festivities in the industry. Click here to see some of the many experiences we offer to members.
One of our latest club initiatives is to solicit questions from members about each wine club shipment, and then get thoughts on them from winemakers Mike Sinor and Stewart Cameron.
The result is our new "AP ClubCast." Even if you're not a member, you might enjoy the winemakers' insights on a range of topics, including how long to age wines and what distinguishes our reserve bottlings.
Our next AP ClubCast will be pegged to the September club shipment. Stay tuned...or better yet, join the club and join the fun!