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One of the more iconic annual moments in the winery cellar is the “barreling down” of new wine to begin the aging process.
Today, our team is barreling down Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 50 at our estate Margarita Vineyard, which is one of the last 2013 vintage lots to make the transition from tank to barrel.
The cellar is surprisingly quiet as the wine is barreled down. The Cabernet Sauvignon is being racked (transferred) from a larger tank about 100 yards away from the awaiting barrels. It is flowing through the hoses via gravity, so there are no pumps making noise. As the wine flows into the barrel through a long racking wand, it makes a splashing sound at first, and then goes silent as the level rises.
Gravity racking is preferable because it’s very gentle on the wine. Also, if there are any hiccups, you can just shut the valve on the racking valve without having to make an uphill 100-yard dash to turn off a pump!
The splashing and aeration of the wine as it fills the barrel is also beneficial. After fermentation, the wine has been resting in the tank with very little air exposure. Barreling down allows any suspended CO2 in the wine to blow off (if CO2 remains suspended in the wine, it will taste spritzy). This controlled air exposure also gives the wine a moment room to breathe and develop, setting the tone for the maturation period.
You have to be alert when barreling down. Right now, our cellar master Octavio is operating two racking wands. He starts one barrel, and then about halfway through he starts another. It takes three minutes for a 60-gallon barrel to fill up. So once the barrel is nearly full, Octavio has less than 90 seconds to gently top it off (see below photo), secure the bung and move the wand to begin filling the next barrel before rushing over to the other barrel that is rapidly filling.
Any hitch in the rhythm can result in what is known around the winery as a “volcano”—red wine erupting from an overflowing barrel. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. Rumor has it that Winemaker Stewart Cameron recently had a nice sweater ruined by a volcano!
So there you have it—a look at the quiet yet momentous occasion of barreling down at Ancient Peaks Winery.
We invite you to take a break and treat yourself to some seasonal magic at our annual Holiday Open House this Thursday, December 12 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
This complimentary event at our tasting room includes light nibbles, sweet treats, hot cocoa, wine tasting, wine specials and…drumroll…a singing Santa! The Holiday Open House has become a festive tradition here at Ancient Peaks, and it’s always a lot of fun. And the cold weather this week will ensure that it feels a lot like Christmas.
Then, throughout the weekend, we will offer a trio of culinary craft workshops. Click here for more details.
We are also excited to share that our own Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins was on the What’s Cooking on Wine show on CRN Radio last night. During the interview, Amanda shared details about our Holiday Open house and our Paso Robles winery tours, as well as the unique qualities of our estate Margarita Vineyard and how they shape our wines. Click here to listen to the interview (fast forward to the 30-minute mark to hear Amanda).
We hope to see you at our open house, or anytime this holiday season for Paso Robles wine tasting, wine gifts and more.
You may have tasted our Pinot Noir—and now you can fly over it…
Indeed, our affiliated Margarita Adventures has just opened the “Pinot Express,” the newest addition to its zipline canopy tours on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
The Pinot Express is now the highest, longest and fastest of the five ziplines—and it zips right over the Pinot Noir block at our estate Margarita Vineyard.
(Pinot Noir in Paso Robles?—yes, as we explained in this recent blog post!)
Margarita Adventures’ 2.5-hour zipline canopy tours also include a guided tour of the historic Santa Margarita Ranch, which was first planted to vines by Franciscan missionaries in the late 1700s. The tours touch on the ranch’s sustainable ranching and winegrowing practices, as well as its diverse wildlife and remarkable geology.
The tours conclude with an optional Ancient Peaks wine tasting. Tour guests receive 20 percent off wine purchases, and the tasting fee is waived with a purchase of one bottle or more. Also, Ancient Peaks wine club members save 20 percent off the Margarita Adventures tour price.
And if you prefer your Paso Robles winery tours to be a little less adventurous, you can always come out for one of our guided vineyard and food tours offered every Saturday.
Syrah is back at Ancient Peaks, and it’s the best we’ve ever made.
Earlier this year, we told you about how winemakers Mike Sinor and Stewart Cameron tasted through all 177 barrels of Syrah from the 2011 vintage. Their goal was to select Syrah for incorporating into our Renegade red blend. But along the way, they also selected four barrels for special treatment and extended aging.
Fast forward to this week’s release of our 2011 “Jackpot” Syrah, which is now available in our tasting room. This is the wine made from those four standout barrels (all French oak, half of them new), and it is the first varietally bottled Syrah we’ve made in three years.
“We set out to produce a Syrah that is loaded with fruit and bigger in style, with a high ‘yummy’ factor but also nice structure,” says Stewart. “It’s opulent in the mouth, with layers of dark berry fruit. On the finish, though, you get the backbone that’s a signature of our estate Margarita Vineyard.”
The 2011 Syrah comes from Block 47 (75%) and Block 43 (25%) at Margarita Vineyard. Block 47 faces the southwest, allowing for enhanced sun exposure and the development of velvety dark fruit flavors. Block 43 is shielded in the afternoon by the adjacent mountain peaks, creating a cooler orientation that nurtures the varietal’s trademark spice and meatiness. Because Margarita Vineyard occupies one of the coolest growing environments in Paso Robles, it allows the Syrah grape to achieve intense varietal expression.
We felt that this wine merited our Jackpot designation, which is reserved for exclusive one-off bottlings that are exemplary of varietal, vineyard and vintage. We invite you to stop by during your next Paso Robles wine tasting tour and enjoy a taste of this standout Syrah.
Also, we are excited to donate $12 per case sold of our 2011 Syrah to MUST Charities, which is dedicated helping nonprofit organizations succeed and make a difference in the local community of northern San Luis Obispo County.
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.