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In the world of wine, it’s easy to take the act of bottling for granted. Everyone likes to see vineyards and barrels, and to taste the finished product. But who goes out of their way to think about bottling?
Yet for those willing to take a closer look, bottling is, in fact, a fascinating ballet of moving parts. As we get set to bottle our 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, here’s a breakdown of what it takes:
First, cases of empty bottles are emptied onto a conveyer. From there, each bottle is sparged with inert nitrogen gas. Since nitrogen is heavier than air, it displaces any oxygen in the bottle.
Next, each bottle is filled along a wheel of 18 individual nozzles for simultaneous and continuous filling. At full speed, it can fill up to 60 bottles per minute, or one every second. And remember that nitrogen? Since it displaced the air from the bottles, the wine doesn’t come into contact with any potentially problematic oxygen as it fills the bottle.
At this point, the process for our Sauvignon Blanc and other screw-capped wines deviates from our corked wines. As the filled Sauvignon Blanc bottles continue down the conveyer, a laser detects each bottle, triggering a drop of liquid nitrogen into the top of the bottle, where it immediately turns into inert gas. That last drop of nitrogen is crucial, because screw-capped bottles have larger head space in the neck compared to corked bottles. The gas ensures an air-free environment to keep the wine fresh and vibrant.
Next, a screw cap is applied, and then crimped onto the bottle. From there, the bottles are labeled under the watchful eyes of quality control staff, who remove any bottles with crooked labels or other defects.
When things are really humming at 60 bottles per minute, our mobile bottling line can produce up to 300 cases per hour. So while bottling may not be the sexiest part of winemaking, it’s certainly action packed, and it’s the final step on the wine’s journey from ground to glass.
We are excited to share that Sunset magazine has named Ancient Peaks Winery as one of just four finalists in the category of “Best Vineyard / Brewery Experience” as part of its inaugural 2015 Sunset Travel Awards.
This honor is a resounding affirmation of our mission to offer one of the wine industry’s most distinctive and immersive tour experiences.
According to the magazine, “Sunset... introduced the Sunset Travel Awards to honor excellence and innovation in the tourism industry across the 13 Western states, British Columbia, and Alberta. The awards recognize achievement in lodging, dining, cultural tourism, outdoor adventure, environmental stewardship, and other categories.”
The “Best Vineyard / Brewery Experience” category aims to honor “a Western brewery or winery experience that offers beer or wine lovers and novices an immersion into the brewer’s or winemaker’s arts that is both educational and fun and is underscored by an opportunity to sample excellent beers or wines at the completion.”
This is exactly the type of tour experience that we’ve been developing and honing for several years now. In fact, we now offer two distinct yet compatible immersion experiences at our estate Margarita Vineyard on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
First, we offer intimate guided vineyard and food pairing tours every Saturday starting at 11:30 a.m. at our tasting room in Santa Margarita. Our hospitality staff personally drives you out to Margarita Vineyard for an intimate look at growing wine from ground to glass. Afterward, you return to our private tasting room annex for a wine and food pairing experience.
We also offer zipline canopy tours through our affiliated Margarita Adventures, including the 1,800-foot Pinot Express zipline that soars over a block of Pinot Noir. The tours conclude with an optional wine tasting at the Ancient Peaks tasting room in the quaint town of Santa Margarita.
With both of these tours, our aim is to provide a uniquely memorable perspective on winegrowing, sustainability, geology, history and the surrounding wildlife.
We hope that you will join us on a tour soon to see and taste why we are a proud 2015 Sunset Travel Award finalist.
Four years ago, we introduced a new wine with an iconoclastic twist. We called it Renegade, and it bucked tradition by merging a signature Rhône variety (Syrah) with two classic Bordeaux grapes (Petit Verdot and Malbec).
We wondered: How would the market react? You just never know when you release a new wine, let alone one that is inherently unconventional. But the 2009 Renegade was immediately embraced, and the reception even exceeded our expectations. Today, Renegade is still going strong with the recent release of the 2012 vintage.
Our experience with Renegade is partly a sign of the times. There was a time when California wineries almost unanimously toed the European line. Rhône grapes were blended with Rhône grapes, Bordeaux with Bordeaux, Italian with Italian, etc.
The European model is proven and definitely has its place. In fact, we belong to the Paso Robles Cab Collective, which is dedicated solely to advancing the cause of local Bordeaux varieties and blends.
But there is a rebellious streak that is also gaining ground in the wine industry, and particularly here in Paso Robles. Winemakers are pushing the envelope and exploring blends not based on tradition, but on our local terroir and stylistic vision.
Which brings us to Renegade. The original winemaking vision of Renegade was to craft a rich, boldly flavored wine with structure and finesse. We knew that Syrah from our estate Margarita Vineyard could deliver the bold fruity character, but we found ourselves gravitating to Malbec and Petit Verdot to achieve the sense of structure and overall style we were seeking.
So that’s how Renegade was born, not by looking toward the past, but rather by exploring possibilities. In the world of wine, both have their place.
The irony of sustainability is that the more popular it becomes, the more it risks sounding like an empty buzzword.
But at our estate Margarita Vineyard, we can assure you that sustainability is not only real, but impactful.
It helps that our vineyard is Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certified. This certification program is one of the most stringent of its kind, and it lives up to its name by providing real definitions and parameters to the word sustainability.
Even then, however, one can be forgiven for wondering what it all means in the long run. On that note, we are increasing our efforts to quantify the results of our sustainable practices, in order to make them more understandable and relatable. Following are some key examples:
We maintain raised worm beds to produce "vermicompost," a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner. We brew this compost into a liquid form called "compost tea," which is then delivered to our vines via our irrigation system. The vermicompost stimulates micro-organisms that break down micronutrients for plant uptake, resulting in healthier vines. Reduction in Synthetic Fertilizer Use: 50%
Our two multi-function tractors serve multiple vine rows at a time and offer simultaneous mowing, trimming, pre-pruning and other uses, significantly reducing our tractor passes through the vineyard. This, in turn, has minimized soil compaction while cutting diesel fuel consumption. Reduction in tractor passes: 60%
The progressive pulse emitters installed at Margarita Vineyard are much more efficient than traditional overhead sprinklers when used for frost protection. These emitters generate a fine mist targeted directly onto the fruiting zone. Frost protection water savings: 65%
Bird Boxes, Wildlife Corridors and Wetlands Setbacks
Vineyard pests are managed naturally by promoting habitats for native predators, a program that includes bat boxes, owl boxes and raptor perches. Meanwhile, dedicated wildlife corridors enable animals to pass freely through and around the vineyard. We employ goat herds to provide a low-impact herbicide alternative for vegetation management. We also exceed all requirements for wetland setbacks.
These are just a few examples how sustainability isn’t a buzzword at Margarita Vineyard, but rather a real application that is making a difference.
Sometimes you’re defined not just by the wines you make, but by the wines you don’t.
A case in point is our 2011 Petit Verdot, or more specifically, what might have been our 2011 Petit Verdot.
Petit Verdot has been a mainstay of our White Label reserve series for many years, along with Malbec, Petite Sirah and the Oyster Ridge red blend. But in 2011, the Petit Verdot just didn’t measure up to our White Label standards, so we didn’t bottle it.
“Petit Verdot is always the last grape to ripen at Margarita Vineyard,” says Mike Sinor, our director of winemaking. “We had a cool year in 2011, and the Petit Verdot fruit just never developed the intensity we were looking for at the White Label level. It was close, but in the end, we decided not to bottle it.”
He adds, “It was hard. That wine has a fan base, and we were walking away from revenue. But one reason it has that fan base is because of the White Label standard of quality that we’ve set.”
Such decisions are part of a larger culture here at Ancient Peaks, where ownership and staff routinely taste our wines together and push each other for honest feedback (one such tasting pictured above!). As Mike says, “You can get so caught up in cutting wood that you forget to sharpen your saw. It’s easy to lose sight of that when things get busy, but we’ve made it a priority here to set aside time for gut-checking ourselves.”
We also conduct comparative tastings of different varietals and wine regions from the U.S. and beyond. “It’s easy to develop what we call a ‘house palate,’ where you become too focused on your own wines,” Mike says. “It’s critical to have more of a global view of wine, and to understand where you fit into it.”
So there you have it—the true story behind a wine that we didn’t make.
As the famous holiday song goes, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”—and it certainly looks that way at our estate Margarita Vineyard right now!
The accompanying photos were taken yesterday amid sunny skies and mild temperatures that nevertheless managed to exude a wintry ambiance.
Recent rains have generated a fresh carpet of lush green grass along the vine rows, providing a colorful complement to the fiery seasonal hues of the remaining vineyard leaves. The result is a quintessential holiday season scene in the Paso Robles wine country.
We invite you to come out and enjoy it yourself during one of our guided vineyard and food pairing tours offered every Saturday.
Photo below credit LiLi Tan, KSBY:
We invite you to take a break from the stress of the season and get into the holiday spirit with us as we host three timely events over the next week:
Thursday, December 4 – Essential Holiday Wine & Cheese Plate
Get a jump on your holiday hosting and learn how Ancient Peaks wines can be highlighted with fine cheeses from around the world. The experts from Fromagerie Sophie will show you how to create the essential wine and cheese plate for all your entertaining needs. Featured wines will be tasted with selected cheeses, additional wine available for purchase by the glass or bottle. Just $15 per person, click here for RSVP info.
Saturday, December 6 – Holiday Open House
A winter classic is back as we host our annual Holiday Open House with complimentary Reserve tastings, festive nibbles and a Toys for Tots charity drive. Along the way, ask us about our wine club as the perfect gift for your wine-loving friends and relatives. We will include shipping on the first shipment as a special promotion this December. The open house runs from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and no RSVP is necessary, just pop in!
Wednesday, December 10 – Holiday Cork Art & Craft
We have asked one of the craftiest gals we know, Zoe, to share her tricks for turning corks into art and fun tips for sprucing up your gifts and more! A glass of wine and light bites will be included. Specials on select wines will be offered during the event, and additional glasses will be available for purchase. Just $15 per person, click here for RSVP info.
We look forward to celebrating with you!
We often talk about the diverse soils and complex geography of our estate Margarita Vineyard, which spans a variety of different slopes, aspects and elevations.
If you’re inclined to ask, “Why does it matter?”, we’ll forgive you—and then pour you a glass of our 2012 Zinfandel, which is a perfect example of why it matters.
As Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor explains in the short video above, the 2012 Zinfandel is a blend of three separate blocks grown in three distinct soil types at Margarita Vineyard.
Fruit from the volcanic soils of Block 32 brings a core of varietal spiciness to the wine, while a contribution from the shale soils of Block 49 adds a layer of dark, ripe fruit. Lastly, the cooler climes and alluvial soils of Block 39 bring enhanced structure and backbone.
The nuance doesn’t end there. As Mike explains, he and Winemaker Stewart Cameron target specific subsections, which you might call “blocks within blocks.” So from Block 32, they choose fruit from the middle of the block, which they call the tenderloin. In Block 49, they focus on the elevated crown of the block. In other words, a slight change in aspect or elevation can be the difference between good and great.
The result is that Mike and Stewart have what they call “different colors to paint with” when assembling the final blend. It allows them to craft an estate-grown wine that naturally exhibits fullness and complexity, qualities that you can taste in our 2012 Zinfandel.
You could say that a superhero flew over our estate Margarita Vineyard yesterday…
Indeed, Stephen Amell, star of the hit superhero show Arrow on the CW network, came out to Santa Margarita Ranch on Sunday for a zipline tour with our affiliated Margarita Adventures, followed by a tasting of our wines.
Stephen and his friend Andrew Harding were in the Paso Robles wine country working on a new pilot show project focusing on the wine experience. Stephen and Andrew are also partners in their own wine label, Nocking Point Wines.
After they zipped over our Pinot Noir block on the Pinot Express zipline, Ancient Peaks co-owner Karl Wittstrom treated them to a tasting of Ancient Peaks wines. Pictured above are (left to right) Andrew, Karl and Stephen enjoying our 2012 Renegade red blend.
Thanks to Stephen, Andrew, producer Alan Miller and his crew for turning their spotlight on the Paso Robles wine country. The pilot show featuring Margarita Adventures and Ancient Peaks Winery is set to air this winter, stay tuned for details.
We earlier shared the news about the establishment of the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA as one of 11 new sub-appellations of the umbrella Paso Robles AVA.
Now we're going to dig a little deeper into the distinguishing characteristics of the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA, including the rare diversity of soil types pictured below.
The Santa Margarita Ranch AVA is situated along the foot of the coastal Santa Lucia Mountain Range, roughly 25 miles southeast of the city of Paso Robles and just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the west. Our estate Margarita Vineyard now enjoys the rare distinction of being the only vineyard located within its own namesake AVA
Below are highlights of the growing conditions found in the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA. All quotes are from the adopted Santa Margarita Ranch AVA petition:
These distinctive growing conditions impart a pronounced sense of place in our wines. Paso Robles is our home, and we will always lead with the Paso Robles message on our labels and elsewhere. But the establishment of the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA allows us to drill down more clearly into what makes our location distinctive, and why it matters to our wines.