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Time flies when you are having fun, which is why it seemed almost surprising when we were able to stage a recent 10-year vertical tasting of Ancient Peaks Cabernet Sauvignon.
Indeed, while it seems like just yesterday that we launched our winery, our first Cabernet Sauvignon dates back to the 2005 vintage, and this was the first time we have lined this many up in a row to compare and contrast. And although we are naturally biased, we have to say that we were pleased with the results.
“I was pretty impressed with how they were showing overall,” says Winemaker Stewart Cameron. “The 2007 was a standout for me, as was the 2010.”
Stewart noted that our Cabernet Sauvignons tend to gain finesse after several years. “As nice as they are in their youth, they really do improve with some years on them. You might not be inclined to think of an $18 Cabernet as ageworthy, but I would say that ours is one of the exceptions.”
Vintage variation was evident in the wines from year to year, with cooler and warmer vintages showing different attributes. Nevertheless, Stewart said that there is a common thread throughout, owing to the strong sense of place exerted by our estate Margarita Vineyard.
“Putting it into words is difficult, but there is definitely a thread,” he says. “There’s a certain element of structure and elegance that is rooted Margarita Vineyard’s distinct growing conditions—the cooler climate and diverse soils. That’s what makes these Cabernets show so well as the age. Without that inherent structure, they would not age nearly as well.”
Another fun thing to note during the vertical was the evolution of our Ancient Peaks wine label, from the original 2005 vintage label through the latest one adopted last year. You could say that the original labels didn’t age as well as the wines, but we are confident that the new one will stand the test of time!
We are pleased to be rolling into the 2013 vintage of Renegade, a blend of Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot from our estate Margarita Vineyard.
As Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor puts it, "Renegade is our outlaw blend. It revolves around Syrah for its lusciousness and up‐front fruit. But it also relies on Malbec for mid‐palate juiciness and Petit Verdot for structure. So it has a lot of power and up‐front fruit, but it ﬁnishes with a sense of focus and balance."
Now, in certain winemaking regions in France, there are laws against blending Rhone grapes like Syrah with Bordeaux varieties such as Petit Verdot and Malbec. So, in other words, Renegade breaks French law for the greater good of creating a seamless blend that speaks to both Paso Robles and Margarita Vineyard.
A majority of the Syrah for the 2013 Renegade comes from Block 47 along slopes of ancient sea bed soils, where the fruit achieves dark fruit flavors with meaty richness. The remainder comes from nearby Block 43, which offers a more restrained fruit profile with notes of spice and mineral. The Malbec hails from Block 45, a southwest-facing hillside with shallow shale soils that produce sparse, intensely flavored clusters. The Petit Verdot comes from Block 44, where a sloping ribbon of sandstone and rocky shale yields firm texture with vivid varietal character.
"I think it’s the structure that sets the wine apart," says Winemaker Stewart Cameron. "It rings all of the bells of a yummy Rhone‐style blend, but it’s that Bordeaux-like ﬁrmness on the back end that brings it all together in a unique way."
We are excited to share that our estate Margarita Vineyard will soon be generating more electricity than it consumes with the installation of two new solar plants at the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.
The two plants will feed solar power into the electric grid to help our local utility serve customers during periods of peak consumption. Meanwhile, the vineyard’s irrigation facilities and other electrical demand will continue to be run largely during off-peak hours. The net result is that when the solar installations are fully operational this spring, we will be generating more electric than we use at Margarita Vineyard.
We are also converting our pumps from propane to electric power, further minimizing the vineyard’s carbon footprint. All pumps are also being outfitted with new variable frequency drives for enhanced energy efficiency. Other recent vineyard additions include wind machines for frost protection. Our total investment in the ranch’s solar plants and new high-voltage facilities will exceed $1 million.
As Ancient Peaks co-owner Rob Rossi puts it, "The new solar plants are the next chapter in our ongoing sustainability progression at Margarita Vineyard."
This progression dates back to the planting of the vineyard by the Robert Mondavi family starting in 2000. At the time, one observer said that the Mondavis’ environmentally conscious practices put Margarita Vineyard “at the vanguard of sustainable agriculture in the region if not the state.” We have endeavored to advance this commitment since acquiring the vineyard lease in 2005, ultimately earning Sustainability in Practice (SIP) certification in 2010.
As we've said before, sustainability is not just a buzzword to us. Rather, it is something that produces measurable benefits for our vineyard, our wines and the environment. And we are far from alone, as many local winergrowers subscribe to similar practices, which is a pretty cool thing to consider the next time you enjoy a glass of wine!
The vines at our estate Margarita Vineyard are now getting their annual haircut in preparation for the growing season ahead, as shown in the above photos taken this week.
Winter pruning is not only a fundamental act of vineyard cultivation--it can also have a significant impact on the quality of the vintage to come. In the words of Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor, "Pruning is something that is critical to making the wine taste great. Winemaking isn't something that just happens at the winery, but something that happens all year long, starting in the vineyard."
For this reason, we are vigilant when it comes to pruning, to ensure that the vine grows in a balanced manner through the growing season, and to keep yields in check for the development of rich, concentrated fruit.
After harvest and when the winter season sets in, we are left with a skeletal vine with bare branches, called canes (see top photo). When we prune these canes, we leave just two buds per spur (the little knobs on the cordons, or arms, of the vine). These buds will later push new canes, and these canes will bring forth the new fruit of the growing season ahead. By limiting the amount of buds, we control the eventual grape yield.
But it's not just a matter of flying through the vineyard and cutting the canes according to the two-bud rule. In fact, pruning is an art, whereby the vineyard team must also choose where to make the best cut and which buds to leave. From a quality standpoint, the ideal vine will have clusters and canes that are evenly spaced, with enough room for air to flow through the canes, and diffuse sunlight to filter through.
And that's exactly what Vineyard Manager Jaime Muniz and his crew are aiming for right now with their pruning activities, so that we can get the most out of our upcoming 2016 vintage wines.
As we've noted before, sustainiability isn't just a buzzword for us. It's a real tool that produces measurable results that benefit the vines, wines and environment at our estate Margarita Vineyard on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch. You can read more about our sustainable practices here.
But sometimes sustainability is experienced in more ethereal ways, such as yesterday, when our affiliated Margarita Aventures zipline canopy tours joined with Pacific Wildlife Care to release a native golden eagle back into the wild, right here on Santa Margarita Ranch.
The drama began earlier in the week, when a citizen saw the golden eagle strike a power line alongside Highway 58. The bird was immediately distressed, and it was placed under the care of a veterinarian at Pacific Wildlife Care, whose mission is to support San Luis Obispo County wildlife through rehabilitation and educational outreach.
“Pacific Wildlife Care reached out to us, because they knew about our commitment to wildlife education, and because they understood that Santa Margarita Ranch would be a fitting and safe environment ,” says Sherryl Clendenen, staff naturalist at Margarita Adventures.
After the eagle was nursed back to health, it was released yesterday--a joyful moment of all involved.
Moments like this reaffirm why we have worked hard to maintain wildlife corridors, wetland setbacks and other sustainability practices that nurture the natural habitats across the ranch.
Deer, mountain lions, bobcats, turkeys, boars, bears, bald eagles and, yes, golden eagles are among the many wildlife that have been spotted in and around Margarita Vineyard. We truly believe that the wild beauty of our vineyard contributes to the soul of our wines, and we hope to see this young eagle again in the skies over our vines.
The next vintages are starting to roll into our tasting room and into the market, and the new year is near. So before 2016 arrives, we thought we would take a look back at some of our greatest hits from 2015:
2012 Cabernet Sauvignon
"92 POINTS...EDITOR'S CHOICE...Fresh, lively black cherries and blueberries...All held together by smooth tannins."
“93 POINTS…Minerals, lilacs, black pepper, and plump blueberry in an edgy, modern unfolding.”
-Meridith May, Tasting Panel Magazine
“90 POINTS…Quite Rhone-like in character…Very good spicy persistence.”
-Josh Raynolds, Vinous
"90 POINTS...From a unique vineyard atop the Cuesta Grade...Black licorice, dark blackberries, rustic elderberries and a cedary, asphalt-laden grip power the palate."
2011 Petite Sirah
“93 POINTS…Bacon fat, blackberry extract, dark chocolate and freshly ground espresso, with a peppery roast-beef crust on the finish…Wondrous flavors.”
“90 POINTS…Fleshy on the palate, with nicely focused blackberry, mulberry and plum flavors.”
-Josh Raynolds, Vinous
2011 Oyster Ridge
“94 POINTS...Named to YEAR'S BEST U.S CABERNET'S & BLENDS LIST...It’s a wine that channels Paso’s abundant sunlight toward precision and purity rather than richness and concentration…Its bright, compact structure is poised to gain complexity with another eight to ten years in the bottle."
-Wine & Spirits
“92 POINTS…German chocolate cake, blackberry jam, violet extract and night jasmine on the detailed nose.”
You will sometimes hear us throwing around the term “AVA,” particularly now that our estate Margarita Vineyard is part of the new Santa Margarita Ranch AVA.
So what is an AVA? It’s shorthand for “American Viticultural Area,” which is a term for a federally recognized and defined winegrowing area.
By default, an AVA can be mere political boundary such as “California” or “San Luis Obispo County.” But it is more frequently meant to describe a specific geographical area unified by climate, soil and other geographic factors that consistently influence the characteristics of wines grown in that area.
Let’s use the Paso Robles region as an example…
The Paso Robles AVA was established in 1983 to recognize the common characteristics of wines from this region.
Over the ensuing 30 years, the Paso Robles wine industry flourished, and in time certain areas within the Paso Robles AVA began to exhibit their own unique characteristics—much in the way that “Oakville” and “Stag’s Leap District” have become recognized pockets within the Napa Valley AVA.
So the next step was to establish “sub-AVAs” of Paso Robles, to further drill down into the diversity of our region. This was not some whimsical exercise—it was a very involved process born of demonstrable distinctions that were officially recognized by the federal government.
Thus, 11 sub-AVAs of Paso Robles were established last year (pictured above), and one of them is the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA. In fact, our estate Margarita Vineyard is the only vineyard in the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA, which truly sets out wines apart.
So now you know the story of why our wines going forward will include references to both “Paso Robles” and “Santa Margarita Ranch” on the label, to celebrate our unique sense of place.
We just got an awesome aloha from Chuck Furuya—master sommelier, wine writer, restaurateur and friend of Ancient Peaks.
He shared photos from his recently remodeled VINO restaurant in Honolulu, which now includes a “rock wall” of soil samples inspired by a recent visit to our tasting room, which includes a similar display of the five soil types found at our estate Margarita Vineyard.
According to Chuck, there was a wall in the restaurant that needed some “loving.” After seeing our display, Chuck recalls thinking, “What an idea!”
Says Chuck, “I thought of all the restaurants that showcase pictures of the owner or chef standing next to some celebrity, or in front of some iconic restaurant somewhere in the world. I have also seen other eateries featuring pictures of farmers and fisherman they work with. Well, for us, with a name like VINO, we look to feature the soils from some of our favorite vineyards in the world.”
The result is a magnificent cross-continental display of soils in glass cylinders from five different sites:
Schist from southern France (Domaine La Tour Vieille); clay-limestone from Burgundy (La Genelotte); red slate from the Rheinhessen region of Germany (Nackheimer Rothenberg); black-grey slate from the Mosel region of Germany (Wehlener Sonnenuhr); and fossilized oyster shells from our own Margarita Vineyard (Ancient Peaks).
We are honored to have our soil included in this display, and to be a part of the magnificent VINO dining experience.
California's (and Paso Robles') heritage grape is getting the royal treatment at Ancient Peaks Winery on November 18, a.k.a. National Zinfandel Day.
For the entire day, our acclaimed 2012 Zinfandel will be available for purchase at the tasting room and online for a full 30 percent off the already enticing regular price of $18.
This is an estate-grown Zinfandel that was declared a “Best Buy” by Wine & Spirits Magazine, so now is the time to stock up on a screaming deal--particularly because it offers a perfect pairing for holiday turkey.
Indeed, the 2012 Zinfandel comes from our estate Margarita Vineyard, the southernmost vineyard in the Paso Robles AVA. Here, cooler conditions foster a Zinfandel style that exhibits full flavors with elegance and restraint.
As such, the 2012 Zinfandel is a perfect match for classic holiday turkey. The wine’s bright berry fruit and spice elements provide versatility with traditional fixings, while the balanced character ensures that the turkey meat will be complemented, not overwhelmed.
As a region known for its warm summer temperatures and mild fall weather, Paso Robles isn’t exactly a hotbed for ice wines.
But here at Ancient Peaks, we employed a bit of winemaking improvisation to produce an ice wine-style Roussanne from the 2013 vintage, which is now available in our tasting room.
Wikipedia sums up ice wines quite well: “An ice wine is a type of dessert wine produced from grapes that have been frozen while still on the vine. The sugars and other dissolved solids do not freeze, but the water does, allowing a more concentrated grape must to be pressed from the frozen grapes, resulting in a smaller amount of more concentrated, very sweet wine.”
Germany is the European epicenter of ice wines, while Canada has paved the way in the New World.
And then there’s our estate Margarita Vineyard here in Paso Robles, where waiting for grapes to freeze on the vine would be a fool’s errand.
So how did winemakers Mike Sinor and Stewart Cameron pull it off? The trick was placing the freshly harvested Roussanne fruit into a cold box at freezing temperatures for three days to mimic the German model.
The frozen grapes were then lightly pressed, yielding only the most sugary juice. Fermentation was halted when just the right balance of sweetness and acidity was achieved, with the residual sugar maintained at 22 grams per liter.
The beautiful thing about this wine is that while it is definitely rich and sweet, it is not cloying. The finish is surprisingly light and lifted, and the balance is impeccable.
Even if you’re typically not a fan of dessert wines, we encourage you to give this one a try. We think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.