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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.
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.
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!
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.
This isn't just another vineyard tour, but rather an immersive experience that you won't forget.
We personally guide you out to our estate Margarita Vineyard for an up-close look at growing wine from ground to glass on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
Along the way, you learn about our sustainable practices, remarkable climate, uniquely diverse soils and other viticultural insights that will enhance your wine appreciation.
Click here for more information and reservations.
Our new release 2011 Zinfandel comes from three blocks spanning three distinct soil types at our estate Margarita Vineyard.
We recently staged a tasting of barrel samples from our various Zinfandel blocks, and our guests were astonished at the profound differences in aroma and flavor—even though all of these Zinfandel lots came from the same vineyard, and several were of the same clonal selection.
Of course, these differences are also shaped by the weather exposure of a particular block and other factors. But there is no doubt that the rare diversity of soils at Margarita Vineyard enhances the distinctions between our Zinfandel components.
So what does this mean to the wine? It essentially gives Winemaker Mike Sinor and Assistant Winemaker Stewart Cameron more colors to paint with, allowing them to naturally build nuance, depth and complexity into a single estate grown Zinfandel.
We are confident that you will taste these qualities in our 2011 Zinfandel, which is now available in our tasting room.
It's flowering time at our estate Margarita Vineyard, whereby the baby clusters self-pollinate to set the crop for the upcoming vintage.
As our Assistant Winemaker Stewart Cameron explains in this video, the flowering process begins when the cap over the petals is shed, liberating the pollen and allowing for crop set.
This is the beginning of the fruit's life cycle, which will continue from now through the 2013 harvest. Stay tuned!
When you think of eco-friendly practices, big machinery isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But at our estate Margarita Vineyard, a couple of iron giants—specifically modern multi-function, multi-row tractors—have become an integral part of our sustainable winegrowing program.
Our two multi-row tractors, including the French-made Pellenc pictured here, have taken the place of six traditional tractors.
Because they serve multiple rows at a time and offer simultaneous function for mowing, trimming, pre-pruning and other uses, they have reduced our tractor passes (ie: travel up and down the vine rows) by more than 80 percent. This, in turn, has minimized soil compaction while cutting diesel fuel consumption.
Tractors are a necessary part of farming, but tractor passes cause soil compaction over time. Compaction results in stormwater runoff, which wastes precious water while exacerbating soil erosion. When the compaction becomes too great, the soil must be ripped—which requires more tractor passes and fuel consumption.
So ironically enough, these big machines have significantly lightened our environmental footprint at Margarita Vineyard. They were a huge investment for us, but also a wise one in the long run.
This is how a new vintage is born...After winter dormancy, the little buds on the vines break open every spring, a development that is known as "bud break."
From the buds comes the first new growth of the vintage, including young shoots and baby clusters. Soon, the baby clusters will "flower" and self-pollinate to set the crop, and within a few months the young shoots will turn into robust vine branches (called canes) and the clusters will swell in size.
Our estate Margarita Vineyard is the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA, and occupies one of the region's coolest locations, which makes for a long growing season. In other words, these new clusters are going to take their own sweet time to reach full ripening, but they are officially on their way!