“A Rosé is a Rosé is a Rosé”

Photo: Noah Parker

-Gertrude Stein (well…sort of)

To say that 2017 was a unique vintage is a vast understatement; forty-three inches of rain brought an abundance of canopy growth, with great fruit set, and led to our largest vintage yet at Halter Ranch Vineyard (read Harvest Update blog for more information on the vintage). We recently sat down and tasted through all of the 2017 wines from barrels and tanks and we are confident that it was an exceptional vintage at the Ranch. We are so excited to share our first glimpse of the recent vintage with the recent release of our 2017 Rosé.

We saw some amazing yields from our Grenache and Mourvèdre blocks that we farm for Rosé. Our first grapes for Rosé were harvested on September 6, and we had a total of 14 fermentations with our last pick for Rosé on October 14; this was the first harvest where it felt like we were making Rosé all harvest long. Thankfully we added a new tank to the winery this year, an 1,800 gallon tall tank that is absolutely perfect for making Rosé. The slender shape of the tank makes it an ideal tank for cold settling and also for settling lees post fermentation. We bought this tank with Rosé in mind so it only seemed fitting to name her Rosie, after Rosie the Riveter.

Our 1,800 gallon tall tank Rosie the Riveter (far right)

 

The 2017 Rosé has a brilliant pink hue partly due to the increased percentage of Mourvèdre, and partly due to a slightly longer skin contact time (read last year’s blog for more information on how Rosé is made). This is one of our favorite offerings of Rosé; it is brimming with aromas and flavors of fresh strawberries, watermelon Jolly Ranchers, guava juice and dragon fruit. As always our Rosé is bone dry (0.6 g/L of residual sugar), has great acidity (3.11 pH) and comes in at a refreshing 13.2% alcohol making it easy to drink Rose All Day!

Come visit us in the Tasting Room to try our new Rosé, or pick up a bottle here for $26!

Molly Lonborg
Associate Winemaker


2017 harvest straight outta Halter

Wowza! As I sit here and look back on the 2017 harvest Wowza is the first word that pops into my mind.  As we all know every vintage is unique and intricate and presents its own challenges and rewards. If we knew exactly what to expect each vintage, our lives would become repetitive and much less exciting. I believe it is the challenges, and rewards of course, that make our job so interesting, and in my mind the best job in the world.

2017 was the first year with significant rainfall after five years of drought. We were very fortunate to have over 43 inches of rain recorded at the Ranch! This is pretty amazing because the so-called “typical” rainfall for our area is supposed to be around 25 inches to 28 inches a year, although we hadn’t seen anything close to that since 2011. It was amazing to drive through the Adelaide (colloquial term for the Adelaida District, the AVA where Halter Ranch is located), and see every reservoir brimming with water. There were ponds that popped up in areas I never even knew existed. If you visited the Ranch this year you probably noticed that even Tablas Creek was flowing for months underneath our covered bridge.

With the wet winter, we were all expecting to have an above-average harvest, as the vines had plenty of canopy growth and they appeared to be carrying a pretty good crop load. What we had expected to be an above-average year turned into a spectacular one; we ended up processing over 50% more fruit than last year! As I mentioned earlier, every vintage is different and the 2017 vintage had many unique characteristics, besides just yields, that will cement itself in our memories for years to come.

Harvest began on August 31 with around 3.5 tons of Viognier, and ended on October 31/November 1 with almost 50 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon. That is 62 endless nights that our vineyard team spent harvesting in the middle of the night (we pick all of our grapes by hand, in the middle of the night using LED light towers and headlamps; our crews typically pick from 8 p.m. till 6 a.m. (please let us know if you would like to apply for this job!), and 62 endless days that our cellar team spent listening to the noisy crush pad as the equipment and our team seamlessly destemmed and sorted all the fruit to prepare for fermentation. In fact, this year the harvest lasted almost a full extra month in the cellar, as we did not press off our last tank till the final week of November.

We are used to long harvests at Halter Ranch due to the fact that we grow thirteen varietals and we have a vast vineyard that has grapes planted on a broad range of hillsides and valley floor. The thing that we were not expecting this year was the stop and start nature of harvest, and the timing of when certain varietals were harvested (we harvested our last white, Grenache Blanc, on October 27).

We began harvest pretty steadily due to nine consecutive days of 100 plus degree weather between the end of August and first week of September. The odd thing was that after the heat spike temperatures dropped and the vineyard seemed to stall a bit. All of a sudden, we were working short 10 hour days, and some of our staff even had weekends off. We had one intern this year working his first harvest and he mentioned how much easier working harvest was than he had expected…. we all told him “you just wait…” and in true fashion, by the beginning of October everything picked WAY back up again.’

Our lovely 10 hour days quickly turned into caffeine fueled 12 to 14 hour days where our only concern besides the grapes and cellar work was how to feed ourselves. If you know anyone that works production for a winery or vineyard you know that your relationship with that person pretty much is on hold for a few months. We spend more hours covered in juice and wine than we do with our loved ones. Sleep, social activities, and clean hands become luxuries that we cannot always afford ourselves. But, I must say, we do it all because we LOVE it. Having a great team, positive working environment and a shared end goal of making the best wine possible, makes it all worthwhile. When you come to work every Tuesday and the whole team is wearing our 2017 Harvest shirts for T-shirt Tuesday exclaiming “Straight Outta Halter” as we jam to some NWA, it’s hard not to smile.

We recently tasted through the dry lots from this harvest (about half of our red lots have finished the secondary fermentation called Malolactic fermentation where the malic acid is converted to lactic acid), and I must tell you I am so excited to taste through the rest and create some amazing blends. The wines are bright and focused with great concentration and beautiful acidity. Keep your eyes open for wines from this vintage as they are sure to impress.

Molly Lonborg, Associate Winemaker

Photography: Yvonne Goll Photography


Rosé All Day

Halter Ranch Rosé

 

Okay, so I have to be honest here, pink is not my favorite color. I have always considered myself a bit of a tomboy and pink just does not fit into my color choices. However when it comes to wine it is the complete opposite. Rosé is one of my favorite wines that we make, and also one of my favorite wines to drink. The recent popularity of rosé has changed how and when we drink rosé, and has catapulted this category to a year round favorite which I absolutely love.

Picpoul Blanc grapes on the vine

 

Unfortunately rosé has been given a bad rap due to the sweet Lancers and white Zinfandels of yester-year that used to flood the U.S. market. Today we are much more fortunate to be part of a paradigm shift which has pushed wineries to produce high quality rosé, and in turn has brought you (the consumers) a wide array of delicious, dry (not sweet) wines that rival many old-world favorites, all while at a price point that won’t break the bank.

At Halter Ranch Vineyard we take our rosé program very seriously. Let me take a quick step back here and explain the three main ways in which rosé is made: there is the Saigne method, a direct press method and a skin contact method.

Block 16 Grenache harvested at night to make rosé

 

In the Saigne method grapes are harvested to become a red wine; the grapes are de-stemmed, sorted, then sent to tank for cold-soaking (the grapes are held cold for a desired period of time before fermentation is allowed to begin, a common practice in red-wine production). Usually as quickly as possible a portion of the juice is bled off (Saigne means to bleed in French) and set aside to be made into rosé. For the tank this means that you will have less juice to skin ratio, which in turn will create a more concentrated red wine. The problem with this method is that the juice you are starting off with has the DNA of a red wine, that is to say the sugar is higher and the acid is lower. Generally speaking, to make an approachable rosé the winemaking team has to add water and acid to this juice prior to fermentation.

The direct press method involves harvesting grapes that are destined for rosé, and dumping them into a bladder press, where they are pressed off and the juice is fermented.

Picpoul Blanc being dumped into the bladder press

Picpoul Blanc being dumped into the bladder press

 

At Halter Ranch we take this one step further and opt for the skin contact method. Much like the direct press method, we actually farm certain vineyard blocks for rosé, meaning we can pick at the exact sugar and acid level that will result in a low-alcohol fresh wine that does not require any manipulation. All of our grapes are hand-harvested at night and brought to the winery where we de-stem and sort the fruit prior to crushing into half-ton macro bins. The bins are left in a cold storage room for approximately 24 hours where the juice is in contact with the skins and absorbs some of the color, flavor and aroma compounds that make our rosé truly unique. After the skin contact period the bins are dumped into our bladder press where they are pressed and sent to tanks to ferment.

Rosé tank samples used for blending trials

 

Post fermentation we generally have between four and eight tanks of rosé, which results in the grueling task of blending. When we are getting ready to blend the rosé we will taste every tank on its own, then decide what quantities of each are required to make the most delicious cuvée. Because we love rosé so much, and want to get the finished product to you as soon as possible, we bottle this wine in early December so it has a couple of months to rest before being ready to consume around Valentine’s Day.

Our 2016 Rosé is made from Grenache, Mourvèdre and Picpoul Blanc. Grenache provides aromas and flavors of wild strawberry and red fruit, while the Mourvèdre brings hints of watermelon and guava. The Picpoul Blanc (which literally translates to Lip Stinger in French) brightens the palate with crisp acidity while also bringing weight to the mid-palate. The 2016 Rosé is bone-dry and comes in at 13.2% alcohol which means you can enjoy more than one glass at a time and not feel like you have over-consumed!

We released our rosé on Friday, February 10, and we couldn’t be more excited. Last year our rosé was sold out in the tasting room by September, so it’s time to say “Yes Way Rosé” and come see us to pick-up a bottle (or case) of your favorite pink beverage!

Our 2016 Rosé retails for $24 and is available through our website, by phone (805) 226 9455, or in the tasting room.

Molly Lonborg

Halter Ranch Assistant Winemaker


Silver Label Club

Halter Ranch Silver Label Club 2014 Vintage

Our Silver Label Club members will soon receive their annual Halter Ranch reserve wine shipment. This year’s shipment includes two bottles of the 2014 Tempranillo and one bottle each of the 2014 Malbec, 2014 Block 22 Syrah, 2014 Cuvée Alice and 2014 Tannat.

One of the benefits of being a part of our Silver Label Club is that our members will always be at the top of the list to receive our newest reserve level wines. Our reserve wines express the fruition of all our grape-growing and winemaking efforts and are bottled in our elegant silver label.

Read below for an introduction to the vintage and notes from Halter Ranch Winemaker Kevin Sass.

Introduction to the vintage

I’m often asked how we decide what wines are used to blend into our reserve program, and how we determine if they meet the criteria. Some of our wines are determined from the time they are planted, others by the process they go through in the winery.

For example, our reserve 2014 Tempranillo is made from a specific clone (Clone 770) isolated from the Rioja region of Spain. The 2014 Tannat and Block 22 Syrah are made using a specific winery protocol to enhance the grape varieties’ qualities. The grapes are fermented in small, new 59 gallon barrels with their tops removed. This fermentation process incorporates oak faster, a technique these two varieties can handle due to intense mid-palate weight and tannin structure. Our Malbec thrives in Paso Robles; warm temperatures ripen the grapes beautifully, and the resulting wine is fruit driven, rich and round, deserving of “reserve” status.

With 17 different blocks of Grenache and five different clones on the Ranch the source of our Cuvée Alice can change every year. With four different varieties used in the blend, it makes for an extensive blending trial. Each reserve wine has its own origin, its own story, its own path. Each has a reason to be “reserve”.

Kevin Sass, Winemaker

2014 Tannat

Tannat is generally associated with the Madiran region of France at the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, and it is also the national grape of Uruguay. Although usually used as a blending component at Halter Ranch, for the second time in 2014 we decided to bottle 125 cases of Tannat on its own. This wine has aromas of dark brambly fruits with coffee and allspice. Bright flavors of blackberries and baking spices complement the rich, full-bodied palate which leads to a long structured finish. Drink this wine with roasted and grilled meats with reduction sauces, or on any special occasion.

2014 Cuvée Alice

When Hansjörg Wyss bought this historic property he named it Halter Ranch in honor of his mother, Alice Halter. With the second vintage of this reserve blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Tannat, we are honoring her once again with the name Cuvée Alice. The aforementioned varietals were co-fermented in order to promote an environment where the specific attributes of each varietal are able to harmonize to create a balanced, well-structured wine right out of the fermentor. This wine presents aromas of marionberry and raspberry with flavors of red and blue fruits. Vibrant and bright on the palate this wine has supple tannins that lead to a long lasting finish. Cuvée Alice will age beautifully for years to come.

2014 Tempranillo

Tempranillo is a varietal indigenous to Spain, and its name is derived from the Spanish word temprano, meaning early, a reference to the fact that Tempranillo often ripens weeks before its other red grape counterparts. This wine has aromas of graphite and forest floor, with flavors of red currants. Great acidity and a bright linear palate lead to a long structured finish. Although this wine can be enjoyed right away, we feel great about its ageability, and if you can wait, we recommend laying it down for a future special occasion. Enjoy this wine with roasted meats, charcuterie and Spanish cuisine.

2014 Syrah – Block 22

The soils of Block 22 Syrah are rich in limestone, producing grapes that maintain acidity throughout the growing season. For this wine we employ a rare winemaking technique where the Syrah is destemmed and crushed directly into brand new 59-gallon French oak barrels, where the barrel becomes both the fermentation and the ageing vessel. The fruit was cold-soaked for six days prior to each barrel being hand inoculated. Four punch downs daily helped to extract flavors and tannins from the fruit and the oak. After fermentation the wine was drained and returned back to the barrels it was fermented in. This full-bodied wine has a vibrant hue with aromas of blackberries and brambly fruits. Rich on the palate, our Reserve Syrah has flavors of black fruit with good structure and firm, silky tannins that provide a lusciously long finish.

2014 Malbec

Traditionally at Halter Ranch we blend Malbec and Petit Verdot into our estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Ancestor wines. With this reserve offering, the Malbec is able to shine with some help from its Bordeaux counterpart, Petit Verdot. Malbec’s big juicy fruit combines beautifully with the structure and depth of Petit Verdot to create a balanced, delicious wine. Aromas of blueberries and graphite lead to flavors of strawberry and rhubarb. The good acidity and fine tannin structure of this wine make it a good candidate to cellar for years to come.


Beat the Heat! – Q & A with winemaker Kevin Sass

Kevin

As I’m sure many of you are already well aware, it has been a little toasty here in Paso Robles, with temperatures in the triple digits. With this heat wave the first thing that comes to mind is what effect this will have on our vineyard (besides how soon we can open the next bottle of Rosé). We have the same questions you do: Can grapes get sunburnt? If so, what kind of sun lotion should we use? Or maybe, do they like to sunbathe? I bet they’re thirsty; will they be able to get enough water? We turned to our Halter Ranch winemaker Kevin Sass for all the answers.

It’s been over 100 degrees for several days, does this hurt/burn the vines? 

The vines don’t get hurt, but they have a tendency to shut down and stop photosynthesizing. Much like we do when we can’t sweat to cool ourselves down.

How do the high temperatures affect a vintage? 

Depending on how exposed your clusters are to the sun you can have “bleaching”, where the grapes skins get burned and don’t accumulate color. As a result those grapes are usually sorted out on the sorting table, but for people who don’t sort, it can impart unripe flavors. Luckily, we keep a close eye on protecting our vines.

Do you need to irrigate the vines more during these hot days? 

No, at this point we still have active growth from the 16 inches of rain that we received. This heat (when less than 100) will help slow down the vines and start them to think about ripening grapes and not reaching for the sky with their shoots. It can be helpful in many ways….

When do you expect veraison in the vineyard this year? 

We are looking to be three weeks from now until veraison.

What is your favorite ‘hot day’ activity when you aren’t at Halter Ranch? 

Drinking Rosé (Including ours!)

Still have some unanswered questions for Kevin? Come on into the Halter Ranch tasting room and ask us. And don’t worry we have the air conditioning cranking.  As always, we hope to see you soon!

-Halter Ranch

 

 


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


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…)


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…)


All Bottled Up

 

Bottled - Halter Ranch Vineyard

 

Last week we bottled 3 wines from the 2012 vintage and 2 wines from the 2013 vintage.  As each harvest season passes and we begin to taste whites and rose from the immediately preceding vintage and reds after barrel ageing for 18 months it is amazing and exciting to see the combination of similarity and subtle differences each new vintage lends.  As each season turns, the vines mature a little more, digging their roots in deeper through soil, rock, and the history contained therein.  In subtle ways the wines seem to react to this maturity, gaining depth, brightness, and length with each new year. (more…)

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