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The advent of autumn is always exciting here on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, and not only because of the bustling grape harvest at our estate Margarita Vineyard...
Indeed, each fall, our ranch is also proud to host the main event at the annual Savor The Central Coast celebration presented by Sunset magazine.
Savor is the ultimate showcase for the distinctive flavors and farm-to-fork culture of our region. The main event—which spans the weekend of September 28-29 this year—includes an extensive Marketplace featuring local food artisans, growers, wineries, craft breweries, celebrity chefs and more. In-depth wine and cooking seminars are offered throughout the weekend, along with culinary adventure tours (including one hosted by Ancient Peaks—sorry, ours is sold out!).
Celebrity Chef Michael Voltaggio and musician Colbie Caillat are among the top draws for this year's festivities. For foodies and wine lovers alike, this is a can’t-miss Central Coast event.
It’s also a fitting time to recall that Santa Margarita Ranch has been a hub of local hospitality since the 1800s, when then-owner Joaquin Estrada was known for hosting lavish fiestas and rodeos.
Today, we endeavor to extend this legacy of what we call “early California rancho hospitality” with our ecotourism offerings—including vineyard and zipline canopy tours—and ongoing special events.
Along the way, we are proud that Savor The Central Coast has chosen the ranch as its main event venue, and encourage you to come out for a tasty good time.
It seems like just yesterday we were launching our winery, with Stewart as part of our cellar crew. That was in 2006…Now, here we are seven years later, and we are proud to have him as our winemaker.
“Stewart has been an instrumental part of our winemaking team since day one,” Mike says. “He has a great feel for the style and vision of Ancient Peaks wines, and the time has come to recognize his talents and responsibilities with the title of winemaker.”
Stewart will continue to oversee the daily winery operations and remain involved in all facets of winemaking in tandem with Mike.
“Stewart has a knack for making wines that really capture Margarita Vineyard’s sense of place,” says co-owner Doug Filipponi. “He has helped our wines earn widespread industry praise, and we are excited to have him as our winemaker.”
Over the past year, Stewart has traveled to France and Italy to broaden his winemaking inspirations, and has developed a particular affinity for the small-block winegrowing practices in the northern Rhône Valley and Barolo.
“They’re both relatively small regions, and they have a real fix on the nuance and complexity at the micro level of each little block, or even a few rows,” Stewart says. “It doesn’t always translate out here, but we try to do our own version of it, micromanaging specific spots—such as the top of Block 7 or the hillside on Block 49 at Margarita Vineyard—to get the most out of our White Label reserve wines.”
He adds, “It’s a great honor and privilege for me to work here with such a wonderful vineyard and group of people. I will continue in the effort to bring joy and blessings through our wines here at Ancient Peaks.”
In the winemaking notes for our new release 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, you will find this little tidbit: “Ten percent of the wine underwent 24-hour skin contact prior to pressing and fermentation, further adding an exotic touch to the wine.”
This is just one of many examples of how our winemaking team employs judicious experiments and extremes for the betterment of our wines.
In traditional winemaking, white wines are made by immediately pressing the juice off of the skins prior to fermentation. But in this case, Winemaker Mike Sinor and Assistant Winemaker Stewart Cameron took a walk on the wild side and let a small portion of the juice soak on the skins for a full day.
Taken on its own, this is somewhat of an extreme measure. When you allow that kind of skin contact, you get Sauvignon Blanc wine with intensified varietal attributes.
“You get much more of that herbal character that’s inherent to Sauvignon Blanc,” Stewart says.
Therefore, if we handled all of our Sauvignon Blanc lots in this manner, we would end up with a wine that most folks would consider too edgy and atypical.
Yet by thinking outside the box and going the extra mile with select skin contact, Mike and Stewart developed a crucial 10-percent component that elevates the final blend.
“It helps us produce a more interesting an intriguing wine,” Stewart says. “We’re just intensifying the natural qualities of the grape to accent and enhance our Sauvignon Blanc blend. Little things like this can go a long way toward making a more complete wine.”
The 2011 vintage marks the third release of our Renegade red blend, and once again it offers an unconventional union of Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot.
“With the Renegade, we set out showcase the Syrah from our estate Margarita Vineyard, but to do it with some added backbone,” says Winemaker Mike Sinor. “You still get the yumminess of the Syrah, but there’s this complexity and structure that takes it to another level.”
In just two years, the Renegade has emerged as one of our most acclaimed wines, and we believe that the 2011 vintage may be the finest yet. This wine is now available at our tasting room, and will start hitting the retail market at the end of this month.
In the accompanying video, Mike elaborates on the vision behind the 2011 Renegade.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard resides on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, so we are no strangers to branding…and we’re not talking about the marketing sense of the word!
It should come as no surprise, then, that we like to hot-brand our barrels with a signature “AP” brand mark.
The accompanying pictorial shows how we do it. Once the electric hot brand is applied with a steady hand, it only takes a few seconds for it to make its permanent mark.
We think that it adds a distinctive touch to our winery, one that ties directly into our ranch heritage.
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!
Not just another wine club. That's how we bill our A-List wine club. We recently asked Nina Leschinsky, our direct to consumer sales manager (pictured here), to share what makes the A-List different…
What is your vision for the A-List Wine Club?
Our vision is to keep the club exciting and interesting at every level, and to offer incomparable benefits. It all starts with the wine. We work with winemaking and ownership year after year to develop varietals and blends exclusive to our members. Whether it be a small lot of Pinot Noir or a magnum of our Renegade red blend, you can expect something unique and exclusive. Each year, we also have extremely special barrels that we reserve for our special Jackpot designation. These wines are only available to our club members and they change from year to year.
What do you think makes this wine club different from others?
So many things make us unique. For starters, we over-deliver on quality. As a member, you receive a substantial discount on highly rated wines that are already priced competitively. I can’t think of too many other wine clubs that can compare. At the same time, we bring you exclusive wines at a higher price point that you can feel great about bringing to special occasions.
We also offer many creative ongoing benefits beyond our great discounts.
Every year, members are invited to an outdoor barbecue dinner at our private Oyster Ridge barn, highlighting local food, beautiful views, library wines or futures, and live music. These truly are magical events.
We now offer monthly educational workshops for club members, featuring local food artisans, chefs, cheese purveyors, and even flower arranging experts. Members are also treated to a complimentary tour (up to four guests) of the ranch and vineyard, concluding with wine and food pairings. Additionally, members enjoy special savings on zipline canopy tours offered by our affiliated Margarita Adventures.
For club members who live out of the area we are always offering something special. This may be a special shipping promotion, a gift included in your wine shipment, or a winery-hosted event in your area.
The list of benefits goes on and on. In fact, we had to create a dedicated web page to help members keep track of them!
What do you do to keep the things fresh for the club?
It comes down to our staff and the commitment to education that ownership makes to ensure we are ahead of the game. Every month, our tasting room staff takes time to learn a different aspect of the business, including but not limited to winemaking, vineyard practices, food and wine pairing, and guest services. All of these things help us develop new ideas to better serve our club members.
I haven’t seen many other clubs evolve and flourish in the same way ours has. It’s a testament not only to our hard work, but also to our members. Our members are very involved, friendly and enthusiastic, and they are a continual inspiration to us.
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.
We present our Oyster Ridge red blend as the crowning achievement of each vintage. While the blend varies from year to year, it is based upon Cabernet Sauvignon, which typically ranges from 55 to 70 percent of the total blend.
And when we tell people that all of Oyster Ridge’s Cabernet Sauvignon is aged in 100-percent new French oak barrels (including those by Taransaud, pictured here), it often elicits the question: doesn’t that “over oak” the wine? In fact, it doesn’t…
Assistant Winemaker Stewart Cameron says that there are two key factors that enable us to age our Oyster Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon lots in 100-percent new French oak: (1) tight wood grain; (2) fruit quality.
Stewart explains that there are a dozen different identifiable flavor and aroma compounds that come from oak. Because the chosen barrels are “tightly grained,” they allow for a slow release of these compounds over an extended period of time—ideal for a wine like Oyster Ridge, which is aged for a full two years prior to bottling.
“The tighter grain of the Taransaud barrels is respectful of the fruit and character of the wine,” Stewart says. “So we get the complexity benefits of new oak without the oak influence getting too aggressive or out of balance.”
Fruit quality is the other factor. The Oyster Ridge blend is assembled around the finest Cabernet Sauvignon blocks at our estate Margarita Vineyard. The fruit from these blocks exhibits exceptional depth and structure, allowing it to gracefully handle the new oak.
“Someone once said that there’s no such thing as an over-oaked wine—just an ‘under-vineyard’ wine,” Stewart says. “That may be an exaggeration, but there’s a grain of truth to it, too.”