Halter Ranch History in Photos

Ranch-Aerial-Late-50s-early

This aerial shot from the late 1950s shows the unpaved Adelaida Road on the right, and the driveway leading into the barnyard. Look closely at the barn toward the top of the photo. This is the barn we call the “Silo Barn”. The photo was taken prior to the installation of the big red silos that distinguish this barn today. The silos, which are old oil containers, were used for grain storage. In 2012 we restored this barn and the grain storage system was left intact.

Ranch-House-Late-50s-early-

The Victorian Farmhouse is shown here in this aerial shot looking south. The small building in the back is the “bunkhouse” which now serves as the restrooms for our tasting room. It looks like this was an excellent rain year, with lush winter grasses everywhere. This neighborhood was quite isolated and very rural in those days. The phones were shared “party lines” well into the 1960s.

Ranch-Mid-50s

Jump forward to summer or fall season also from the late 1950s. This view is looking north over the barnyard onto the hills which are now planted with wine grapes. During those days ranchers produced dry farmed barley during the winter and grazed cattle.


2014 Harvest Reflections

The 2014 harvest is officially behind us. Rain is hitting the ground and we are preparing for the December bottling of our 2014 Rose. The rest of the 2014 wines are completing malo-lactic fermentation and we can now start reflecting on the harvest.

 

  • Warmth- The warm weather started early. In January many regions in California reported bud-break 2 months earlier than normal. Although we had bud-break in March here at Halter Ranch, I firmly believe that the vines’ metabolism jump-started in January. Grapevines have an internal clock which dictates the amount of energy the vines need to ripen fruit.  Once this clock starts ticking it can’t be stopped. Weather patterns may accelerate or slow down specific growing stages (ex. warm weather will speed up veraison- the changing of color from green to red in red wine grapes), but the overall growing cycle of vines is difficult to stop. Harvest was the earliest I’ve seen in my 15 years of winemaking. This was the first year I spent Halloween with my kids instead of worrying about a fermenting tank. The grapes were harvested because they were ripe. Inclement weather never forced our hand. We had a small amount of rain on Halloween, and then nothing until late November. The grapes could have stayed out longer, but their internal clock struck twelve in late October….

 

  • Dry Ground- The last three years it has felt quite different when stepping into the vineyard. The ground is dry, grasping for any moisture available. There is no “bounce”, no sponge type feeling that comes when you get good rain. I think the effect of this lack of rain is a much bigger problem than most realize. We have plenty of water in our wells, and yes we can irrigate. But a grapevine’s root structure spreads underground. Think of it like an oak tree. An oak tree’s root structure is roughly the size of its crown. Grapevines’ roots spread underground in the same way. Irrigation emitters on a drip-tube drop water in one place on each side of the vine. The water percolates but never reaches a lot of the roots that are outside the linear line of the drip tube (as compared to rain which acts like a shower and soaks everywhere) . Those roots then have a harder time up-taking nutrients. Lack of nutrients results in less canopy growth (less leaves). Each leaf on a vine is a photo-voltaic energy source for ripening the vine’s grapes. Low rainfall equals fewer leaves, fewer leaves equals less energy, and less energy equals less fruit that can be ripened. I’m glad it’s raining outside right now….

 

  • Early is good- 99% of the time, early harvests are good harvests. And I’m not saying that because I like Halloween. Winemakers like to pick grapes at optimal maturity (and each winemaker has their own idea of what that is, and that’s a whole different Blog Post…. and a controversial one!). Optimal maturity can never be achieved if our harvest decisions are forced by mother nature. In cooler vintages there are two obstacles to reaching optimal maturity. First is the scary question –“are we going to get there?” As the season progresses the days get shorter, the weather gets cooler and those little photo-voltaic leaves produce less energy. Ripening slows, and everyday seems like an eternity. This was the case in 2011. Cooler parts of our Ranch, cooler parts of our region, and cooler parts of California struggled to achieve sugar and flavor development. The second obstacle is rain. We all know that the later we get into Fall, the greater the chance for rain.  In cooler vintages grapes ripen at a slower rate, potentially extending harvest into late October and early November. If rain is forecasted, winemakers are forced to make a decision—harvest before optimal maturity, resulting in potentially “green” flavors, or risk leaving the grapes on the vine. If the latter is chosen you could face the following consequences:

o    Dilution- Rain is an unnecessary irrigation. Water at this stage of maturity results in the grape absorbing the water like a sponge, and consequently in the dilution of acid and flavors.

o    Spoilage organisms- Moisture and sugar are prime nutrients for all types of yeast, bacteria and molds. All of these buggers live on the grape skins and thus in the fermenting tank and wine and can ultimately cause problems in the cellar during ageing.

o    Loss of crop- Weathermen aren’t always right. One storm can turn into more. Muddy ground prevents tractors from getting in the field  to harvest, and eventually the crop wilts away. Now you have a lot of explaining to do…..

Early harvests are usually the result of warm weather. Warm weather results in complications as well, such as vine shut-down, due to water stress, and dehydrating fruit. Water stress can be dealt with by the proper use of irrigation, and sorting tables at the winery can remove dehydrated fruit before it reaches the fermentors. Early harvest complications can be resolved, whereas late harvest complications make you lose sleep….

 

Overall 2014 was a huge success. The quality is exceptionally high.  We processed record tonnage for Halter Ranch and had a team that executed our winemaking plan to perfection. There is rain outside my window, we will have Rose to drink within a month, and my kids plastic pumpkins are filled with candy….and I got to help them fill them. That’s a good 2014!

 

Kevin Sass

Winemaker


Wine is an expression of terroir. Or is it?

In a recent issue of the Wine Spectator Jim Laube wrote a column titled “Dim Somms”. This article touched in part on a group of American sommeliers who are expressing an antipathy for wines with elevated alcohol levels. Our winemaking team here at Halter Ranch does a lot of comparative tastings, and the level of alcohol in a wine is always salient to the discussion of a wine’s character. A wine’s alcohol level is one of its most important attributes. Over the past few years there has been a seemingly global rising of the level of alcohol in wine. Many of the most highly rated wines now approach alcohol levels that have traditionally been reserved for dessert wines like Port. Often, when I query winemakers about these changes in winemaking styles I am provided an explanation of the term terroir, generally accompanied by the sentence “I am just working with my terroir”.

This, in turn, has caused me to ponder the concept of terroir. To my mind, terroir refers to influences on a wine that are ecto-anthropic (my word), meaning outside of human influence. Examples of terroir influences would be topography, soil type, rainfall, and temperatures. These influences are either immutable (topography and soil type), or otherwise out of man’s control on an annual basis (temperature and rainfall). In the world of wine, what other influences is terroir up against? The following is my attempt to conceptualize and organize the various influences on a finished wine.

I have divided up the anthropic influences into three groups: planting, cultivating and viniculture. These groups roughly correlate to activities that happen once when a vineyard is first being planted, activities that happen in the vineyard on an annual basis, and activities that happen once the fruit has been harvested.

Planting: Initially someone must select a site for a vineyard. In doing so, they implicitly select a certain terroir as mentioned above, topography, soil type, rainfall and temperatures. Upon this terroir are layered decisions about root stock, clones, row orientation, plant density, trellising system and whether the vineyard will be set up to be dry-farmed or irrigated.

Cultivating: Following installation, the vineyard crew has their protocols, each of which is meant to illicit from the vineyard specific influences on the crop’s quality and qualities. These include pruning, spur positioning, trellising, canopy management, whether or not the vines are irrigated, cluster thinning and finally, yield.

Viniculture: Ultimately the winemaker will call for the pick and the fruit will be brought in—at a certain brix level. (Brix is a measure of solids dissolved in a liquid, in this case sugar dissolved in the grape juice.) If left undiluted and fermented dry, the brix level determines the eventual alcohol level. Once the fruit is brought in to the winery there are a whole host of new decisions and activities: do we de-stem the fruit or ferment whole cluster, do we crush the grape or leave it intact, what pre-fermentation protocols might we employ (cold soaking, pump overs), once the juice is fermenting do we punch down the cap or pump over it, what type of vessel do we ferment in, at what temperature do we ferment, and then when do we drain the tank and call it a day? Now that we have finished fermenting the wine, it is time to age it. This requires a new set of decisions; what kind of vessel do we age the wine in — stainless steel tank, barrel (new, used, French or American), or concrete — do we undergo malolactic fermentation, do we stir the lees, how often if at all do we rack the wine (and if so, how do we rack the wine), length of aging, filtering or fining and finally, what type of container do we put the wine in (bottle with cork, screw top or keg)?

Our winemaker, Kevin Sass, and his winemaking team do a lot of experimenting, both in the vineyard and in the winery. We know from experience that all of these decisions and activities greatly influence the ultimate product. (Why else would we have selected practices?) Which brings me back to the concept of terroir and alcohol levels. There is no doubt that a vineyard’s terroir greatly influences the resulting wine. My supposition is that the lighter the hand (the more neutral the protocols) in the winemaking, the greater will be the vineyard’s terroir’s resultant influence. At Halter Ranch winemaking begins with our vineyard’s terroir, and our vineyard and winery protocols are selected by us in order to craft a final wine in the style we are seeking.   We determine yields, brix levels at harvest and the subsequent winery protocols very conscientiously, with specific desired outcomes for each wine that we make. Certainly, vintage conditions and terroir set the stage on a macro level, but we humans exert an enormous amount of influence at the micro level. Alcohol levels are part of this decision making. process.

Few wine lovers want to drink the same wine every day. What I select to open depends on my mood, my company and my meal. Some occasions call for light wines, others demand richer, heavier wines. Tant mieux. Let’s all celebrate the diversity of our winemaking community and the myriad options they offer us.

Can everyone say cheers!


Paso Robles Wines in Context

I love wine. I love tasting wine in all of its myriad expressions. My personal introduction to wine drinking happened while I was living in France and Italy in the early 1980’s. Oh, the many wine trips my friends and I took! Albarino and Cornas. Condrieu and Super Tuscans, Chablis and Barolo. Sancerre and Rioja. Some wines were lighter and some bolder and some seemingly impenetrable. As my friends and family introduced me to their respective favorite regions, the intro came with at least a modicum of education. One learned that Cornas was not a Beaujolais and should never be consumed before at least 5, but better 10-15 years. Ditto Barolo. Rose was the wine of choice when warm Mediterranean climes dictated cold wines, but when many of these regions were still producing mostly insipid white wines. Chablis and Sancerre accompanied oysters. It was all so much fun……and from my perspective, logical. I think that I was lucky to be introduced to wine by French and Italians who were so very passionate about their countries’ viticultural treasures. I am not sure that it is even common for young French and Italians to learn about wine the same way now.

When I moved to Paso Robles 18 years ago I found myself working with a new group of wine lovers. This group was unencumbered by my former wine education and often by any formal wine education of their own. There was no need for context for their wine enjoyment. You can grow anything anywhere, and blend however you want as long as it has the requisite level of deliciosity. Standards were passé. You needn’t worry about ‘thinking outside the box’, because there was no longer even a box.

Now I am observing a new trend. My colleagues here at Halter Ranch are eager for more wine education and are clamoring for more wine tastings. They especially love comparative tastings where we taste wines with similar varietal make ups from different regions of the world. We are discussing wines in terms of ‘traditional’ and “international” styles. They are raising questions about weight and texture and alcohol levels. They are more and more interested in tasting wines from outside of Paso Robles and California. I am sensing a growing interest in context. And as the General Manager here at Halter Ranch, this trend excites me. In the next couple of blog posts I am going to share with you some of these discussions we are having here at Halter Ranch.

Paso Robles AVA

A huge shift in how the Paso Robles wine region will be viewed is about to take place. When the original Paso Robles American Viticultural Area (AVA) was established in 1983 there were only 10 wineries in the area and 5,000 acres under vine.  By 2005 the number of wineries had grown to exceed 280 and the area under vine had surpassed 32,000 acres.  Astonishingly, these 32,000 acres of vines were spread out amongst an AVA whose area comprised 600,000 acres measuring 42 miles east to west and 32 miles north to south.  With an area covering over 600,000 acres, the original AVA really only defined a vast location, but nothing inherently descriptive.  In 2005 there was a dialogue amongst Paso’s wineries centered on a proposal to create 11 AVAs within Paso Robles.  Topography, rainfall, soil types, and temperatures — distinctions we generally refer to as “terroir” — vary significantly within the original Paso Robles AVA. Wineries in favor of creating these new AVAs felt that there would be value to them in codifying these differences and creating smaller, more meaningful AVAs. Well, reason prevailed and those 11 AVAs are about to be unveiled.

 

Knowing that this move would be in some ways divisive, when the documents for the AVAs were drawn up, there were two very important provisions included.  One, no winery would be required to use its AVA on its labels, and two, for those who choose to include their  new AVA on the label, the words ‘Paso Robles’ must be included at least as prominently as the AVA, ensuring that we will all remain Paso Roblans foremost.

 

Halter Ranch is located in the center of the new Adelaida District AVA. Other wineries in the Adelaida District include Thacher, Tablas Creek, Adelaida Cellars, DAOU Vineyards and JUSTIN Winery—-pretty swell company.   My guess is that, initially, the new AVAs will ruffle a few feathers, but that ultimately they will serve a worthy purpose, helping consumers navigate their way through the Paso Robles wine growing region.


A Bridge to Delicacy

IMG_5659

 

The 2014 Bridge Dinner sold out before we even officially announced it.  In the past it has been popular among all the dinners we hold onsite, but this is the first time I can recall things moving so fast.  Beyond the beautiful setting and Kevin’s delicious wines I we must credit the reputation and absolutely delectible culinary creations of Suzanne Tracht and her crew from Jar Restaurant in Los Angeles for the rabid and rapid response from our patrons.  On that note, this meal was unforgettably stellar.  (more…)


A Taste of 2012 Tempranillo

Tempranillo - Halter Ranch Vineyard

 

This past Saturday we began a soft release of our first 2012 red.  Also a member of our new Silver Label Reserve line up, this fresh red is ripe for knocking off socks. (more…)


Seeing Pink – Paso and Provence

 

Pink - Halter Ranch Vineyard

The Last Tasting

 

Last Friday the Halter Ranch Winery team sat down to taste a series of pink wines (also known as Rosé) from Provence against our own 2013 HRV Rosé.  The goal was to see how our Rosé stood up to the old world cousins who are credited with stylistic influence in its creation and color.  What we found may shock you.   (more…)


The Collective

Sunset

 

As we have been alluding to on the blog over the past few months, the Paso Robles Cab Collective will be holding a series of events focused on Cabernet Sauvignon this coming weekend (April 24, 25, and 26).  You may recall a previous post featuring our 2011 Cabernet and a discussion as to why Paso Robles is uniquely suited to producing Cabernet Sauvignons of distinction.

2011 Cabernet Sauvignon is in a particularly delicious phase at the moment so we’ve decided to included some tasting notes and pairing recommendations here. (more…)


Distinctive

 

Poppys and Winery

Poppys and Winery

 

Given proximity to the Cabs of Distinction Weekend I’ve decided to devote this week’s post to the concept of distinction.  Specifically what might make a wine distinct, or not so distinct–perhaps even indistinct or homogeneous.  First, some definitions:

distinct

: different in a way that you can see, hear, smell, feel, etc. : noticeably different

: easy to see, hear, smell, feel, etc.

: strong and definite

homogeneous

: of the same or a similar kind or nature

: of uniform structure or composition throughout  (more…)
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