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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:
They say that the best things in life are free—but they also say that nothing’s free anymore.
Well, they’ve got it half right, because we recently hosted our fall A-List Wine Club pickup party, complimentary to all members, and it was an evening to remember!
The event was held in our enchanting Estrada Gardens on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch. The festivities included wine tasting, live music and wood-fired pizza from Cahoot’s Catering. Mother Nature blessed us with warm air and beautiful blue skies, and we were delighted to welcome a crowd of club members to the party.
We take pride in offering a wine club experience like no other. If you aren’t a member yet, we invite you to check out our Member Lounge and signup page—and hope to see you at our next club event!
We were honored to receive the following feedback from some of the attendees at our recent party:
Brenda: Another truly amazing event with Ancient Peaks! The Ancient Peaks family and staff always makes us feel a part of their family. Thank you for everything you do for your wine club members!
Deborah: We had a great time! The AP staff are so friendly and accommodating! Good food and of course the best wine. Thanks for another great event!
Linda: This was so fun! Loved the wine and the food was great! Good friends and music, too...whooo hoo!
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!