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The vines at our estate Margarita Vineyard are now getting their annual haircut in preparation for the growing season ahead, as shown in the above photos taken this week.
Winter pruning is not only a fundamental act of vineyard cultivation--it can also have a significant impact on the quality of the vintage to come. In the words of Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor, "Pruning is something that is critical to making the wine taste great. Winemaking isn't something that just happens at the winery, but something that happens all year long, starting in the vineyard."
For this reason, we are vigilant when it comes to pruning, to ensure that the vine grows in a balanced manner through the growing season, and to keep yields in check for the development of rich, concentrated fruit.
After harvest and when the winter season sets in, we are left with a skeletal vine with bare branches, called canes (see top photo). When we prune these canes, we leave just two buds per spur (the little knobs on the cordons, or arms, of the vine). These buds will later push new canes, and these canes will bring forth the new fruit of the growing season ahead. By limiting the amount of buds, we control the eventual grape yield.
But it's not just a matter of flying through the vineyard and cutting the canes according to the two-bud rule. In fact, pruning is an art, whereby the vineyard team must also choose where to make the best cut and which buds to leave. From a quality standpoint, the ideal vine will have clusters and canes that are evenly spaced, with enough room for air to flow through the canes, and diffuse sunlight to filter through.
And that's exactly what Vineyard Manager Jaime Muniz and his crew are aiming for right now with their pruning activities, so that we can get the most out of our upcoming 2016 vintage wines.
As we've noted before, sustainiability isn't just a buzzword for us. It's a real tool that produces measurable results that benefit the vines, wines and environment at our estate Margarita Vineyard on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch. You can read more about our sustainable practices here.
But sometimes sustainability is experienced in more ethereal ways, such as yesterday, when our affiliated Margarita Aventures zipline canopy tours joined with Pacific Wildlife Care to release a native golden eagle back into the wild, right here on Santa Margarita Ranch.
The drama began earlier in the week, when a citizen saw the golden eagle strike a power line alongside Highway 58. The bird was immediately distressed, and it was placed under the care of a veterinarian at Pacific Wildlife Care, whose mission is to support San Luis Obispo County wildlife through rehabilitation and educational outreach.
“Pacific Wildlife Care reached out to us, because they knew about our commitment to wildlife education, and because they understood that Santa Margarita Ranch would be a fitting and safe environment ,” says Sherryl Clendenen, staff naturalist at Margarita Adventures.
After the eagle was nursed back to health, it was released yesterday--a joyful moment of all involved.
Moments like this reaffirm why we have worked hard to maintain wildlife corridors, wetland setbacks and other sustainability practices that nurture the natural habitats across the ranch.
Deer, mountain lions, bobcats, turkeys, boars, bears, bald eagles and, yes, golden eagles are among the many wildlife that have been spotted in and around Margarita Vineyard. We truly believe that the wild beauty of our vineyard contributes to the soul of our wines, and we hope to see this young eagle again in the skies over our vines.
The next vintages are starting to roll into our tasting room and into the market, and the new year is near. So before 2016 arrives, we thought we would take a look back at some of our greatest hits from 2015:
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
"92 POINTS...EDITOR'S CHOICE...Fresh, lively black cherries and blueberries...All held together by smooth tannins."
“93 POINTS…Minerals, lilacs, black pepper, and plump blueberry in an edgy, modern unfolding.”
-Meridith May, Tasting Panel Magazine
“90 POINTS…Quite Rhone-like in character…Very good spicy persistence.”
-Josh Raynolds, Vinous
"90 POINTS...From a unique vineyard atop the Cuesta Grade...Black licorice, dark blackberries, rustic elderberries and a cedary, asphalt-laden grip power the palate."
2011 Petite Sirah
“93 POINTS…Bacon fat, blackberry extract, dark chocolate and freshly ground espresso, with a peppery roast-beef crust on the finish…Wondrous flavors.”
“90 POINTS…Fleshy on the palate, with nicely focused blackberry, mulberry and plum flavors.”
-Josh Raynolds, Vinous
2011 Oyster Ridge
“94 POINTS...Named to YEAR'S BEST U.S CABERNET'S & BLENDS LIST...It’s a wine that channels Paso’s abundant sunlight toward precision and purity rather than richness and concentration…Its bright, compact structure is poised to gain complexity with another eight to ten years in the bottle."
-Wine & Spirits
“92 POINTS…German chocolate cake, blackberry jam, violet extract and night jasmine on the detailed nose.”
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.