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The rare diversity of soils at our estate Margarita Vineyard is something we talk about frequently. It’s part of the fabric of our wines—a point of differentiation that defines our sense of place. And if you can’t get excited about a wine’s sense of place, then you’re missing perhaps the most vital aspect of wine appreciation!
Margarita Vineyard lies along the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains between two fault zones, where ongoing geologic upheaval has blessed the land with a striking mix of soils. Walking around the vineyard, you will find fields of flaky shale, slopes of fine sediment and expanses of calcareous ancient sea bed riddled with oyster fossils. Granitic and volcanic soils are also present.
While we can’t say that the mineral content of a certain soil type fosters a specific flavor (such as blackberry, blueberry, etc.), we do know that soil type has a bearing on the available nutrients and how those nutrients are taken up, as well as moisture retention and root zone development. These and other soil factors do have a significant impact on the resulting fruit and wine, in terms of texture, fruit intensity, flavor profile and tannin profile; and these factors shift as you transition from sedimentary soils to calcareous soils to shale soils.
The differences in the resulting wines are obvious to our winemakers, Mike Sinor and Stewart Cameron. They like to say that the varied soils give them more “colors” to paint with when it comes to assembling final blends, allowing them to build natural complexity and dimension into a single estate-grown wine.
Starting with the 2013 vintage, we are taking these observations to a more experimental level. Mike and Stewart chose fruit from three separate Cabernet Sauvignon blocks rooted in three distinct soil types, all picked at the same ripeness. As Mike explains in the video above, each of these small Paso Robles 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 with you down the line. Stay tuned!
P.S. If you want to see some of these soils firsthand, including the sea bed with oyster fossils, come out for one of our Paso Robles winery tours.
The Paso Robles Inn recently had a brilliant idea, and we are honored to be a part of it…
Indeed, the inn has unveiled a wing of 18 winery-themed spa rooms, with each room decorated by a local Paso Robles winery. So now, Room 1005 at the Paso Robles Inn is known as the Ancient Peaks Winery deluxe mineral spa room.
Our room’s décor includes historic photos and vineyard shots, soil samples from our estate Margarita Vineyard (pictured above, along with a wall hanging showing our affiliated Margarita Adventures zipline tours), an outdoor barrel table and a complete Margarita Vineyard grapevine mounted to the wall. In the weeks ahead, we will be adding more elements that speak to our winery as well as the history of Santa Margarita Ranch. Guests who stay in the room also receive two vouchers for a glass of Ancient Peaks wine at the inn’s restaurant.
We feel that this is a really exciting and interactive way to not only help tell the story of Ancient Peaks, but also the larger story of the Paso Robles region’s reputation for wine, travel and hospitality.
Many people come to Paso Robles to visit the wine country—and now we are taking the wine country to them at the Paso Robles Inn!
Click here to learn about all of the participating wineries and to book your own winery room at the Paso Robles Inn. We can't think of a more fitting place to stay during a Paso Robles wine tasting getwaway.
The phrase “old vines” has become a bit overused in the wine industry, but when it comes to some of the vines at our Santa Margarita Ranch, the term is truly fitting. Indeed, pictured here is a vine whose roots may extend all the way back to the late 1700s. Here’s the story…
This wild vine is located in a creekbed near the ranch’s “Asistencia” building, which was established by Franciscan missionaries in the 1770s. We know that the padres planted grapevines here, both for the sacrament and their regular diet (in fact, records show that one of the padres here was excommunicated for selling wine to the Russians!).
Here’s where the story takes some detective work. We have a photo from the 1880s showing a small vineyard adjacent to the Asistencia, and the trunks of the vines are quite thick—indicating that they’d been planted there decades before the photo was taken. We also have a photo of the adobe ranch house from the same period, showing a vine trellis that is still growing there today.
We had cuttings from the creekbed vine tested and compared with cuttings from the ranch house vine trellis, and confirmed that they are the same species—so it’s safe to say that both originated from that old vineyard photographed in the 1880s. The question is: when was that vineyard planted? Is it the original Mission vineyard from the late 1700s? It very well could be.
Regardless, we theorize that at some point, the vineyard was ripped out, with at least some of the vines tossed over into the adjacent creekbed, where one of them took root. Today, this wild vine extends nearly 60 feet, looping and winding along the ground and up into the trees. It is a remarkable sight to behold.
At the very least, we’re looking at a wild vine that is more than 150 years old, reaching back all the way to the formative days of early California.
P.S. You can learn more about Santa Margarita Ranch and Margarita Vineyard during one of our Saturday vineyard tours.
One of our mantras at Ancient Peaks is that we aim to “over deliver.”
This means that we always strive to provide value at any given price point, whether it be one of our $17 varietal reds or our $35 reserve White Label wines or our $50 Oyster Ridge cuvée. It’s part of our winery culture, and it has helped us earn a loyal following.
We have a few things working in our favor. For starters, we have an estate vineyard—Margarita Vineyard, the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles region—that delivers high-character fruit. Better yet, we only use a fraction of the fruit from this vineyard (the rest is sold to other wineries), allowing us to pick and choose blocks that fit our winemaking vision, and to farm them exactly how we want. On top of that, our Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor and Winemaker Stewart Cameron are really talented and in tune with the estate fruit.
On that note, and at the risk of sounding like we’re tooting our own horn, we are very pleased that two of our wines have earned a spot on Wine & Spirits magazine’s annual Top 100 Best Buys of The Year list—our 2010 Merlot ($17) and 2010 Renegade ($23).
This list was compiled from 12,500 wines tasted from around the world! So to place two wines on the list is quite gratifying, and it affirms that our pursuit of over-delivering is going well.
When painting with a broad brush, you could call Paso Robles a warm winegrowing region. And it's true that Burgundian varietals such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir—which are known to excel in cool regions—aren’t typically associated with Paso Robles. Here, it’s Bordeaux and Rhône varietals that make the most noise.
But the broad brush often misses the nuances, and that's why we are confidently producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from our estate Margarita Vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA.
Margarita Vineyard is the southernmost vineyard in the region, with a pronounced marine influence. It's often cool and sometimes cold here during the growing season. That's our baseline.
From there, we've planted our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the vineyard's coolest spots. One such spot is at the mouth of Trout Creek, where marine air spills through a notch in the coastal mountains.
In these spots, the notion of growing a premium Paso Robles Pinot Noir or Chardonnay isn't wild and crazy. It's simply a logical fit for the growing conditions.
On that note, we are excited to release our 2012 Chardonnay from our White Label (reserve) series. We think that this wine shows just how good a Paso Robles Chardonnay can be. This follows our 2011 Pinot Noir, which was also varietally true and equally delicious. Right now, these wines are very limited in production (in the range of 100 to 150 cases), with our wine club members getting first dibs.
Our Chardonnay and Pinot Noir will never supplant our Bordeaux varietals in acreage or production. But we are excited about where these wines are headed. They speak not only to the diversity of our vineyard, but of the Paso Robles region as a whole.
When it comes to Paso Robles, you’ve probably heard about the eastside and the westside, but here at Ancient Peaks, we’re on the southside—and still in the thick of the 2013 harvest at our estate Margarita Vineyard. View and read our report below:
On the whole, we are just past the halfway mark in our picking. As of October 13, only about 20 percent of our Cabernet Sauvignon is in the house. About 60 percent of our Syrah has been picked, and all of our Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc fruit is off the vine. Zinfandel is mostly done. But we just began harvesting our Malbec, and haven’t even started on the Petit Verdot.
At this rate, we should be fully done with the grape harvest by the end of October or first week of November. This is rather typical—and even a bit early—for Margarita Vineyard, which is the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA. It’s cooler here, and so the growing season is long.
Yields are a bit larger than normal, which is somewhat surprising in the wake of such a dry year. We’re not alone, as larger yields are one of the stories of the 2013 vintage in California.
The sailing has been smooth this harvest, especially compared to recent years. In 2008, we experienced eight inches of rain in one harvest day. In 2010, an unusually cool summer forced us to drop an inordinate amount of crop just to make sure we got things ripe. The 2011 growing season was fairly cool, too. Last year was nice, but a bit more erratic with regard to hot weather events.
But this year has been rock steady—warm but rarely hot, with consistent temperatures heading into fall, and just a few drops of rain one day in early October.
Even with the healthy yields, we’re getting a nice intensity of color and flavor out of the fruit. Yesterday morning, during our first Malbec pick, the picking bins were stained a dark purple—an unscientific yet clear indication of what we’re getting in terms of concentration. By mid morning, the air was still chilly and thick with fog, demonstrating why we still have a few weeks to go.
With later-ripening varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, we sometimes find ourselves on what we call “the edge of ripeness”—that long wait for the grapes to fully mature. And we’re fine with that, because it’s a great way for the fruit to maintain its balance and varietal character.
This year, however, full maturity is coming more easily. We’re not looking over our shoulder at a coming storm or at our watches waiting for the fruit to get in gear. Mother Nature has smiled upon us, and it should result in a banner vintage.
The latest edition of Sunset’s Savor The Central Coast was a big success over the past weekend, and we were pleased to be right in the thick of it.
We kicked things off on a beautiful Friday morning by hosting one of Savor’s signature “Adventure Tours” at our estate Margarita Vineyard. The tour was titled “Winemaking on The Wild Side,” celebrating the unconventional blends for which Paso Robles is renowned.
Neil Roberts from Clavo, Christian Tietje of Cypher, Steve Lohr of J. Lohr and our own Mike Sinor, along with moderator and sommelier extraordinaire Christopher Sawyer and Sunset wine editor Sara Schneider, were on hand to help guests create their own daring blends from selected lots of Zinfandel, Syrah, Malbec, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Each guest’s blend was then bottled, corked, wax dipped, and labeled on site. The festivities concluded with a vineyard lunch catered by The Range.
Then, throughout the weekend, our Santa Margarita Ranch headquarters played host to Savor’s Main Event, which included an extensive Marketplace featuring local food artisans, growers, wineries, craft breweries, celebrity chefs and more, as well as cooking demonstrations and wine seminars. As always, this event was a remarkable showcase for the distinctive farm-to-fork culture of San Luis Obispo County and the Central Coast.
It’s not too early to mark your calendar for next year’s Savor The Central Coast, and keep an eye out for announcements about next fall’s adventure tours—they often sell out fast!
Spontaneity is the spice of life, so we recently invited our A-List Wine Club members out for an impromptu vineyard walk with a just a few days’ notice—and were delighted when nearly 50 members took us up on it!
On a bright, warm morning, winery co-proprietor Karl Wittstrom led the group on an informative two-mile walk that circled Block 49 at our estate Margarita Vineyard. Along the way, guests got to sample Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah grapes on the precipice of harvest.
Halfway through the walk, Vineyard Manager Jaime Muniz (pictured below) joined the group to share insights into vine canopy management and other viticultural techniques. The walk concluded with morning snacks (including grapes, of course!) in the shade of a large legacy oak.
This is the latest example of how we like to go the extra mile—or two, in this instance—for our wine club members. For those of you who are thinking of joining, check out this chat with our own Nina Leschinsky, who shares the many unique benefits of being an A-List Wine Club member.
Making wine isn’t for the faint of heart. It can be tough and physical—especially during harvest, when the to-do list is long and the hours even longer.
When it comes to making small-lot red wines, one inescapable duty during harvest is the punchdown.
When new red wine is fermenting, the skins float to the top of the fermentation bin, forming a cap that can easily dry out. With a punchdown, you perch yourself on the edge of the bin and use a specially designed paddle to mix the skins back into the juice. This keeps the cap from drying out, and it ensures steady, optimal extraction of color, flavor and tannin from the grape skins. At Ancient Peaks Winery, we perform punchdowns on each small lot three times per day.
In the accompanying video, harvest intern Chris Thompson demonstrates the art of punching down on a lot of Pinot Noir recently harvested from our estate Margarita Vineyard.
Plunging and pulling the paddle through the heavy skins requires exertion, and doing it on multiple bins three times per day requires endurance. Hence the third and final rule of the punchdown: Don’t wimp out!
Our new release 2011 Renegade is already rounding up high praise in the wine media.
On Sunday, the San Francisco Chronicle published a piece on the state of Syrah, and included the 2011 Renegade as one of just six recommended Central Coast Syrahs and Syrah-based blends, noting, "When the grape succeeds, it does so wonderfully, as you'll witness in the bottles here."
Here's how Wine Editor Jon Bonné describes the 2011 Renegade: "A curious mix of Syrah, Petit Verdot and Malbec that pushes the edge on tannin - 28 percent Petit Verdot is a bold move - but also reveals the beauty of Margarita Vineyard's high-elevation limestone soils. Slightly funky, with racy fruit and tobacco and white-flower aspects. Think Cahors on the Central Coast."
It's exciting to have Mr. Bonné and the Chronicle's tasting panel discern the unique sense of place behind the 2011 Renegade, as that's something we really strive to capture in our wines.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard spans a rare diversity of five soil types in one of the Paso Robles region's coolest growing environments. It's important for us to honor these special growing conditions and to make sure they are expressed in the bottle.
For more on the 2011 Renegade, here's a short video featuring Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor: