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History (and great wine!) at Halter Ranch Vineyard

As I mentioned in my previous blog entry, I’ve just returned from a visit to the Central Coast AVA. We stopped in Santa Barbara County for a couple of days, but my main focus on this visit was to taste in Paso Robles. We had the opportunity to taste at many wonderful wineries, but today I’m going to focus on Halter Ranch Vineyard, located in the heart of Paso Robles’ Westside Adelaida District.

Full of history, Halter Ranch is one fun winery to visit. We were fortunate enough to embark on the full tour, hosted by our informative and personable guide Ray King. After checking out the Victorian farmhouse built in 1885 (which is a Paso Robles landmark!), we were loaded into a Jeep and crossed their picturesque covered bridge. Then off we drove into the 280 acres of vineyards!

We were shown some of their newly planted vines as well as a lot of old vine plantings. We stopped along the way for some breathtaking views, all while Ray was sharing a lot of the winery’s history and explaining which varietals were planted in which blocks, and why!

The highlight of the vineyards may not have been vines at all (although they WERE spectacular), but a huge, very old Coast Live Oak tree.  Thought to be about 600 years old, it is one of two largest trees of this variety in the world.  The tree sits in the middle of their Block 11 Syrah vineyard.  The rows of vines were planted in a radius around the Ancestor Oak (as they have named the tree) to twelve foot spacing so that the tractors could get between the rows when the vineyard was first planted back in 1996. This was definitely a photo op. As you can see by the picture, the branches have reached down into the ground and now help to support the massive tree.

At one point in the tour we hooked up with another group headed by Assistant Winemaker Molly Lonborg. Our two groups became one as we began the tour of the winery itself. 

Halter Ranch’s winery is the most state of the art I’ve seen. Architect John Mitchell worked closely with the winemaking team (headed by Winemaker Kevin Sass) to design this multi-level facility that employs gravity flow in all facets of the winemaking process. This allows the fruit to be handled in the gentlest way possible to get the grapes from the de-stemmer to the tank.

Molly showed us around the pristine facility, stopping to explain some of the many green aspects of the new facility, including rain harvesting water systems, the night cooling system, and a gravity based CO2 evacuation system. After showing off their new de-stemming machine and all of the other amazing features, she lead us to the cave where we saw barrels and barrels of fermenting juice!  

Next up was a visit to their lab. Again, the lab was immaculately clean and fascinating. Molly shared some of the fun (and not so fun) stories of their days in the lab.

Last, but certainly not least, we were led to a beautiful outdoor patio where Ray began pouring us some of the Halter Ranch wines.  This gorgeous spot was the ideal place to enjoy our tasting.

All of the Halter Ranch wines are good, but a few of them stood out for me.

Firstly, they make a rockin’ Rosé! Their 2014 is a blend of 71% Grenache, 9% Syrah, 13% Mourvèdre and 7% Picpoul Blanc. With aromas of strawberry and watermelon, it is made in the Provençal way and is refreshingly dry on the palate.

Another of my favorites was the 2012 Ancestor Estate Reserve. This is their flagship wine and is named after the “heart and soul” of their property, the Ancestor Tree. Comprised of 73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Malbec and 7% Petit Verdot, this lovely Bordeaux Blend has lots of dark fruit and mocha.

I also loved the 2012 Malbec Estate Reserve (76% Malbec, 20% Petit Verdot and 4% Cabernet Sauvignon) and the 2012 Syrah Block 22! Honestly, all of the wines we tasted were very well made and enjoyable.

So, if you’re in the Paso Robles area and would like to have a very memorable wine experience, be sure to put Halter Ranch on your list. You might even get really lucky and see the resident chickens.

Oh, and by the way … don’t forget to take your camera!

Halter Ranch is also SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified. To learn more, click here:

2011 Aaron Paso Robles Petite Sirah

Most wine lovers agree that wine is to be shared and enjoyed with friends.  It’s so much fun to share some of my favorites, and I also love when friends do the same for me.

Last week I was introduced to a new wine, and I enjoyed it so much that I knew that I needed to blog about it!

Aaron Jackson is the owner and winemaker at Aaron Wines, located in the Paso Robles region of California’s Central Coast.   He’s a young guy who loves surfing and loves wine.  In fact, he knew at a very young age that he wanted to be a winemaker, and I for one am glad that he is!

The wine I had last week was his 2011 Aaron Paso Robles Petite Sirah.  As you probably know, Petite Sirah is NOT Syrah.  This is a common mistake made by many casual wine drinkers.  These two varieties do, however, share some similarities and perhaps some geographical history.  Petite Sirah vines have grown in California since the 1880s, and DNA research has suggested that this grape is likely Durif, a cross of the grapes Peloursin (an ancient Rhone varietal) and Syrah (another Rhone varietal), which was created in France in the 1880s. 

The 2011 Aaron Paso Robles Petite Sirah is Jackson’s flagship wine, and is a blend of his very best barrels of Petite Sirah.  The ’11 is a deep purple in color.  On the nose are blackberry, black currant, pepper and some leather.  The palate confirms the blackberry and black currant and has wonderful mocha flavors on the mid palate.  It has great complexity and yet is made in a pleasant easy to drink style.  After tasting this I was shocked to see that it contains 15% alcohol.  The wine is so well balanced that I would never have guessed that the alcohol is that high!

While I know nothing about Aaron Jackson’s surfing skills, I can certainly tell that he’s a darned good winemaker!  I also know that I will seek Aaron Wines out the next time I’m in Paso Robles.

If you’d like to learn more or purchase some of his wines go to:


Calcareous Vineyard

If you read my blog on a regular basis you’ll know that I’m a sucker for the Rhone varietals.  The Rhone Valley in France is my wine heaven, but Paso Robles is an area that is doing fabulous things with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre and the rest of the Rhone grapes.

Lloyd Messer and his daughter Dana Brown, both experienced wine distributors in Iowa, founded Calcareous Vineyard in 2000.  They shared the dream of owning and operating a winery of their own and after researching many renowned wine regions around the world decided that California’s Central Coast was where they wanted their dream to come true.  They named their winery “Calcareous” after the Latin word describing the white colored lime deposit soil.  Their goal and motto has been to “Let the Soil Speak”, and you can taste it in their wines.

Sadly Lloyd Messer passed in 2006, so today Dana and her sister Ericka are keeping the dream alive!

I opened the 2010 Calcareous Vineyard Grenache-Mourvedre tonight, which is 57% Grenache and 43% Mourvedre.  After first pouring a glass the oak was overwhelming, so I decided to decant it for a bit.  Ahhhhh … what a difference an hour can make.

On the nose are plum, cherry, black pepper and cinnamon.  The palate confirms the aromas with the cinnamon even more pronounced, but in a good way.  I love it!  There is also some licorice there that adds to the overall taste and finish.  After giving it the time to decant, it is a well-balanced wine with some really fun things going on and a medium-plus finish.  I’m definitely going to be checking out more wines from Calcareous Vineyard!

If you’d like to do the same, here is Calcareous’ website:

Tasting Paso Robles

I attend a lot of wine tastings around Florida and beyond, and the tastings at Tim’s Wine Market in Orlando are always very special.  Tim has loads of wine credentials and an enormous wealth of knowledge, which make his tastings very informative, but he always adds a fun factor too!

Last week he hosted a tasting “What I Did On My Summer Vacation”.  I got a kick out of his subtitle “Three days in Paso Robles I barely remember and will never forget”!

The Paso Robles AVA is located in San Luis Obispo County, about 3½ hours south of San Francisco and 2 hours north of Santa Barbara.  Set farther inland than other parts of the Central Coast, Paso Robles is shielded from the cool, maritime influence of the Pacific Ocean by the Santa Lucia Range to its west.  The days are long, hot and dry, but the nights are usually chilly which provides the perfect temperature for Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Syrah and other Rhone varietals.

First on the agenda was a brief history of the region, while we sipped the pleasant 2011 Clayhouse Winery Adobe White, which retails for $15.

Tim then moved on the sharing some fun facts about the wineries, while we tasted a few from each he visited.

Clayhouse Winery has many, many acres of vineyard, and only uses between 5 – 10% for their own wines.  The rest of the grapes they sell to other wineries.  Their name comes from a 150 year old adobe structure that sits in the middle of their vineyard acreage, which has become their symbol.  Other Clayhouse wines we tasted were:

2010 Clayhouse Malbec ($15) This wine (100% stainless steel) has cherry and raspberry on the nose and it’s very bright fruit explodes on the palate.

2010 Clayhouse Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles ($15) With grapes from their Red Cedar Vineyard, this wine spent 12 months in oak and has aromas of raspberry and cherry.  These fruits also come through on the palate, along with licorice, vanilla and spice.

Sans Liege Winery is a one-man operation.  That man is Curt Schalchlin, whose passion for the vine and vision of being a partner with the fruit is aiding him to make some very intriguing wines.  His other label is Groundwork, and here’s what we tasted:

2012 Groundwork Grenache Blanc ($20) – Aromas of passion fruit, pear and melon come from the glass.  On the palate was baked apple with a hint of cinnamon.  It was delightfully like eating apple pie.  This wine was fermented for 14 days (which is very long) and has lees contact for 14 months.  The acidity and alcohol are balanced perfectly.

2010 Groundwork Grenache ($20) – On the nose of this wine are chocolate covered cherry, fresh raspberry and rose petal.  The rich palate has some licorice and sweet fruit.  The almost 15% alcohol sounds shocking, because the harmony in the glass keeps the wine from being too hot.

2010 Sans Liege Pickpocket Grenache ($49) – One of my favorite wines of the night, this was a big wine full of ripe red fruit, spice and some wet earth to balance it all out.  This is a lovely wine.

Halter Ranch Winery is located in the heart of Paso Robles’ Westside Adelaida District.  They make estate-grown wines, which are sustainably grown.  Their winemaker, Kevin Sass, was formerly the winemaker for Justin Winery.  Their wines of the night were:

2012 Halter Ranch Rosé ($18) – This is a salmon colored wine made of 68% Grenache, 15% Mourvedre, 12% Picpoul Blanc and 5% Syrah.  With strawberry, watermelon and a touch of pipe tobacco on the nose, this is a refreshing, crisp Rosé that reminds me a lot of the Rosés I drank earlier this summer in Provence.

2011 Halter Ranch Synthesis ($25) – This is a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon and 22% Syrah.  The nose is spicy, which also comes through on the palate, along with some cherry and plum.

2009 Halter Ranch Syrah ($29) – Aromas of plum, black currant and black olives, with cherry and vanilla on the palate, this is a pleasing wine.  There is also a little pepper on the finish.

AmByth Estate Winery is certified Biodynamic and 100% dry-farmed.  Their wines are 100% Estate, unfiltered, unfined and use native yeast.  “AmByth
is a Welsh word meaning ‘forever’, so it’s the perfect name for this winery.  Owners Phillip Hart and his wife Mary are passionate about keeping the land healthy for the rest of their lives, as well as future generations.  And their wines rock! 

2010 AmByth Estate Viognier ($34 at winery) – This wine spent 16 weeks with the skins, which is very rare for a white wine.  The honeysuckle and gardenia leap from the glass and compliment the peach on the palate.  No sulfites are added to this wine.  This is one of the best bottles of California Viognier I’ve ever had.

2010 AmByth Playground (N/A) – A Mourvedre blend (70% Mourvedre) this is a fabulous wine with raspberry and earth, along with an essence of caramelized white mushroom.  The Playground will benefit with more time in the bottle, or some serious decanting.  This was another favorite of mine.

2010 AmByth Mourvedre (N/A) – Another wine in need of time or decanting, this shows some cherry, soil and sage.

I bought a bunch of these wines, and Tim did a great job of making me want to visit each of these wineries the next time I head to the Central Coast region.

You can check out more about Tim’s at:

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