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While the harvest action is starting to reach its peak around Paso Robles, things remain relatively quiet here at our estate Margarita Vineyard.
“A lot of wineries are getting through their Cabernet Sauvignon picks right now, but not us,” says Director of Winemaking Mike Sinor. “Which is normal—those guys go, and we watch and come afterwards.”
Winemaker Stewart Cameron sums it up succinctly: “We don’t pick Cabernet this early. September and Cabernet equals ‘no’ for us.”
In other words, it’s business as usual at Margarita Vineyard, which occupies the Paso Robles region’s coolest growing environment, resulting in a long, late growing season.
“We got accustomed to things being a bit earlier the last few years, but right now we’re very much back to normal,” Stewart says. “We’ve picked some of the typical early varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but not Zinfandel, Merlot or Cabernet.”
“It’s going to be an October through early November harvest for us,” Mike adds.
The crop load is more vigorous compared to last year, owing to added winter rainfall. The overall yields, however, are not particularly high. “On Cabernet in particular, it seems to be a bit light,” Mike says.
Additionally, the Cabernet berries are small as usual (see photo above): “That’s one of the signature traits we see here with Cabernet, these small berries that provide rich, concentrated flavors,” Mike says.
Yet while it’s still largely wait-and-see time at Margarita Vineyard, that doesn’t mean the winemakers are taking it easy.
“Stewart and I were out in the vineyard yesterday, and we’re back here today,” Mike says. “We’re not waiting for the sugar samplers to bring their stuff to the barn and write it down. We’re out there looking over their shoulder, asking ‘What do you got?’ It’s a time of high anticipation.”
Geographically speaking, our estate Margarita Vineyard is at the tail end of Paso Robles, as it is the southernmost vineyard in the region.
But it’s also at the tail end in an agricultural sense, as it is one of the last vineyards to be harvested each year. The reason is simple: Margarita Vineyard occupies one of Paso Robles’ coolest environments—the Pacific Ocean is just 14 miles away—which translates to a long, late growing season.
Consequently, Margarita Vineyard is only just now entering the heart of veraison—the process whereby the grapes turn color and transition from the growth phase to the ripening phase (pictured above). Meanwhile, in many parts of Paso Robles, veraison is already completed. “Everything happens later here,” says Winemaker Stewart Cameron.
Yet while this means that the winemaking team will once again have to bide its time while other wineries start harvesting later this month, Stewart is not complaining.
As he explains, while a longer growing season does create a bigger window for inclement fall weather to potentially disrupt the harvest, the advantages of being late are significant. “With a long season like ours, there’s more time for the fruit not only to develop sugar ripeness, but also phenolic maturity and overall balance,” Stewart says.
In other words, when you taste Ancient Peaks wines, there is an undeniably direct connection between Margarita Vineyard’s singular climate and the correspondingly unique character of the wine.
We mentioned earlier that Ancient Peaks was named as one of just four finalists in the category of “Best Vineyard / Tasting Room Experience” for the 2016 Sunset Travel Awards.
Now, the final results have been published in the latest issue of Sunset magazine, and it has been revealed that Paso Robles took the title of Best Wine Country Town!
Here's what they wrote about Paso Robles: "The vibe is nothing if not laid-back. The historic town square is circled by shops and chef-owned restaurants. Highway 46 is a bucolic drive with more than a dozen wineries that pour in barns, cafes, underground caves, and cattle ranches."
Better yet, in the accompanying print story the Ancient Peaks experience was included as a highlight for the region.
Needless to say, we are thrilled to be recognized as one of California’s top winery guest experiences by such an esteemed publication, and equally excited to see our home region of Paso Robles in the spotight.
Just in time for summer, we have released our 2015 Blanco, a refreshing blend that pairs perfectly with warm afternoons and good times, not to mention several dishes offered at our Ancient Peaks Cafe.
Now available in our tasting room, this limited release (330 cases produced) wine is an unconventional union of Chardonnay and Muscat from our estate Margarita Vineyard, and specifically from vines planted to soils of granite and rocky alluvium. These stony soils, combined with cold fermentation and aging in stainless steel, yield a lusciously textured wine with a bright, fruit-forward character.
In the final blend, the Muscat provides a foundation of high-toned fruit, while the Chardonnay adds a measure of richness and complexity.
The 2015 Blanco's clean, quenching texture delivers flavors of peach, nectarine and lime with a suggestion of tropical fruit. The finish starts tangy and brisk, but ends with a lingering touch of viscous roundness. This is a wine to be enjoyed in its youth. Suggested pairings include classic summer picnic fare, cilantro lime grilled chicken, filet of sole, and mixed citrus green salad.
Come by our tasting room to try the 2015 Blanco, or better yet, hang out and have a glass with a sandwich or salad from our cafe.
Our 2013 Renegade red blend is on a roll right now…
In The Tasting Panel magazine, Anthony Dias Blue gave it 91 points, while California Grapevine followed with a 90 point rating and a “very highly recommended” designation. Laurie Daniel of McClatchy Newspapers named it her “Wine of The Week,” and we just got word of another high score around the corner.
We call Renegade our “outlaw” blend, as it is an unconventional union of Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot from our estate Margarita Vineyard. We asked winemakers Mike Sinor and Stewart Cameron to share their thoughts on the latest vintage:
What is Renegade, and what sets it apart?
Mike: 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.
Stewart: I think it’s the structure that sets the wine apart. 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.
What stands out about the 2013 vintage?
Mike: The weather was just perfect in 2013, particularly for Syrah. We got all of these big, rich flavors, but it still had quite a bit of backbone.
Stewart: The 2013 vintage marks the highest percentage of Syrah we’ve included in Renegade so far. Each year, it’s about making the best blend possible from these three varieties by deferring to the personality of the vintage. From that perspective, Syrah really merited playing the lead role this time.
We invite you to come by our tasting room to for a taste of the acclaimed 2013 Renegade!
We are excited to share that we have been named a 2016 Sunset Travel Award finalist in the category of "Best Vineyard or Tasting Room Experience," in tandem with our affiliated Margarita Adventures zipline tours.
We are one of just four finalists in the category, which is designed "to honor an outstanding Western tasting room or vineyard tour that illuminates viticulture and enology, has fun doing so, and offers guests a chance to sample excellent wines at the completion." Click here for more information.
So what was it about our experience that stood out from the crowd? Well, as we put it, "From high-flying adventure to hands-on wine education, Ancient Peaks Winery and our affiliated Margarita Adventures offer a vineyard tour experience like no other—one that can now be concluded with a bite at new Ancient Peaks Café at the winery tasting room."
In other words, by combining educational vineyard tours as well as zipline canopy tours along with a recently expanded tasting room and a new café, we have a lot to do and taste here at Ancient Peaks.
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.