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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:
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.”