A Walk Through the Caves with our Winemaker

 

Halter Ranch Vineyard

In the Caves

 

It has been an eventful week in westside Paso Robles:

This past Wednesday our accountant Julie Whitmore had the privilege of setting the final stone in the rock facing around our eastern cave entrance.

 

Caves - Halter Ranch Vineyard

Julie places the final stone

 

We achieved a full inch of rain with Superbowl Sunday’s storm and now we only need about 25 more to reach normal rainful.  Keep up those dances and downpour wishes for us!  According to local weather guru John Lindsey, our next opportunity for some serious rainfall is late next week.

Given how busy our schedules are, it is not often that I get to tour the caves and taste through upcoming vintages with Kevin. As such, when the opportunity presents itself I fall deep into ‘sponge-mode,’ absorbing as much information as possible to share in the tasting room and here on the blog.  Much of the discussion on this latest venture into the caves centered around the inherent variability throughout winemaking and the ways we account for that variability from vintage to vintage.  As the process begins in the vineyard each spring, every condition from the angle of sunlight, to the number of leaves on the vine, to the specific conditions of the ecosystem in and among the vines affects the final wine.  The more time I spend in the industry the more I become hyper-conscious of the vast potential for variation wine to wine and vintage to vintage.  Kevin opened by stating that vintage variation in the vineyard, coupled with experimentation in the type of oak and other fermentation vessels we use, accounts for the particular style, or more accurately, styleof wine we produce each year.

 

Caves - Halter Ranch Vineyard

Blurry Thieving

 

As I accompanied Kevin and two industry guests through the caves and listened to him articulate the fact that barrels also have a massive potential to impact the wine and huge variance themselves between forest of origin, cooper (who made them), their size, the thickness of the staves, and their toast level. Potential for variation encourages innovation both with a mind toward keeping a degree of consistency in style from year to year and in making slight changes toward continued honing and improvement of the wine we produce.  I suppose what I’m saying is that the more time I spend in the industry, seeing different choices and the effects of small details in the wine, the more I appreciate a wider variety of wine, and the more I want to share that variety with others.  Kevin states openly that a huge advantage of our operation and the philosophy behind it is the fact that we have the resources and the desire to make and wide variety of wines and to present them to our customers.  I find myself thinking that this honest truth, this innovative mindset, is a major part of what makes Halter Ranch and our wines so exciting.  In that spirit, having tasted a few of our upcoming vintages, I absolutely cannot wait to begin sharing them as it seems that with each year the overall message becomes a little more deliciously clear.

As I was typing this I received a phone call from Lucas out in the vineyard informing me that a pair of Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) were gracing the Halter Ranch Pond.  Fifteen minutes after the phone call, I caught these quick shots:

 

Caves - Halter Ranch Vineyard

At a Glance

 

As always, thank you for reading and check back next week for a look at a new and unique piece in the vineyard.  Cheers til then!

 

Halter Ranch Vineyard

Eagle In Flight


2013 Halter Ranch Rosé

 

2013 Rosé - Halter Ranch Vineyard

2013 Rosé

 

On Friday January 17 the esteemed Halter Ranch production staff bottled our 2013 Rosé.  Like its 2012 counterpart it is composed principally of Grenache (70%) with some Mourvèdre (10%), Picpoul Blanc (7%), and Syrah (10%).  Prior to bottling, we used a new cross-flow filter to remove any remaining solids and clarify the wine.  (more…)


Halter Ranch Vineyard on PBS with Original Fare

Halter Ranch Vineyard

Click the Photo to visit Original Fare

 

Original Fare is a PBS sponsored YouTube series revolving around farm to table cooking.  We were offered the privilege of hosting creators Kelly Cox and Lucas Longacre onsite for a few days while they produced the show linked to the photo above.  Beyond the fact that it provides great information about Halter Ranch, the video offers an excellent quick but complete look at the various stages and processes of harvest.  Check it out and let us know what you think on our facebook page here, Google+ here, and Twitter (@halterranch).  Also please go check out Kelly and Lucas’s Original Fare website and the PBS Food YouTube Channel.


Tasting through Tuscany, Bandol, Côte-Rôtie, and Paso Robles

Tasting - Halter Ranch Vineyard

A line up of 1.5 Liter friends

 

This past week we had the opportunity to take a tasting journey through 6 delicious and distinct wines from around the world.  The first third of the tasting included 2 wines from France.  A 2010 Domaine Tempier from Bandol and a 2005 Levet “Chavaroche” Cote Rotie.  The middle third was a comparison between our 2011 Côtes de Paso and Denner’s 2011 Ditch Digger.  The final third included a 2004 Justin Isosceles and a 2010 Fontodi Flaccianello Sangiovese.

The Tempier, a Mourvedre based blend that exhibited a hint of Brettanomyaces on the nose and palate, offered lush spicy fruit just beneath the surface and these latter qualities became more apparent as the wine opened up.  The Côte-Rôtie is Syrah based and was distinctly spicy and earthy out of the bottle.  Some brambly red fruit began to arrive as more air arrived to open things up.  Tasting our Côtes side by side with Denner’s Ditch Digger was very interesting given the similarities between the two blends.  Both are composed predominantly of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, but the Côtes has a little Tannat in it and the Ditch Digger contains some Counoise and Cinsault.  Both blends were notably fruit forward but the Côtes seemed to lean more toward spicy red fruit while the Digger tended more toward the dark plummy end of the spectrum.  Judging from our own wines, the 2004 vintage was very warm and the ripeness of the 2004 Isosceles seemed to support this.  The wine was distinctly dark and viscous when compared with its compatriots up to this point.  Our final taste was the 2010 Sangiovese which was probably the staff favorite among the  larger format bottles at first taste (the Halter Ranch and Denner tastes were from more standard 750 ml sized bottles).  It was relatively fruit oriented compared to the Bandol and Côte-Rôtie while displaying enough acid and tannin to pair well with food and potentially cellar for 5-10 years more.

Expect similar posts as our staff tasting journeys continue.  As always, thanks for reading and cheers!

 

Tasting Room Glasses

The Tasting Room Team


Useful Analogies

 

Analogies - Halter Ranch Vineyard

Extracting More Flavor and Texture

 

In the tasting room we often use analogy to convey method when describing the winemaking process.  The following two analogies were provided by Winemaker Kevin Sass and General Manager Skylar Stuck.  They describe how Barrel Fermentation and Cap Management work using similar concepts in coffee and tea preparation.

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Ancestor Dinner 2013

Halter Ranch Vineyard

2011 Ancestor Estate Reserve

 

Each October we choose one evening to pause harvest and dress up the old Smith family barn for the Ancestor Release Dinner.  This past Saturday marked the presentation of the 2011 vintage with a delectible coursed meal provided by Lido.  We have made the Ancestor Estate Reserve each year since 2003 and it typically is composed of our most concentrated and expressive red lots.  The 2011 blend is 49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Petit Verdot, 6% Malbec.  It spent 14 months in French Oak.  60% of the barrels were new and 40% had been used to age wine at least once previously.

As a vintage, 2011 is particularly exciting as it marks the first year we made wine in our new gravity fed winery with Kevin at the helm.  Due to cool weather throughout summer 2011, we made only 324 cases of this absolutely delicious wine.  As a result, it is available only to Wine Club Members at this time.

What follows is a photographic journey through the appetizers, courses, and wine at this year’s Ancestor Dinner.

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Night Picking – A Journal in Photos

Picking - Halter Ranch Vineyard

Cool Grapes

 

This is just a taste of the awesome activities we partake in late at night during harvest season.  Welcome to the latest update on our staff vineyard project.  The three teams–New Kids on Block 3, Oscar’s Grouches, 21 and Holding–have all successfully harvested their respective vineyard blocks as of this morning. (more…)


Fermenting in Barrel

 

Halter Ranch Vineyard

Arnaud guides Block 8 Syrah berries into new French oak.

 

Since the 2011 vintage a portion of Syrah and Grenache have been sorted and crushed directly into French Oak barrels, some new (which means freshly toasted and constructed from the cooper, as yet untouched by wine), some neutral (neutral means that the barrel has had wine in it over the course of at least one year–this is our definition, some winemakers distinguish between barrels that have been used just once and those that have been used 2 or more times).  These special Rhone lots go through both primary (yeast eating sugar to create alcohol) and secondary (acetobacter eat malic acid-the variety of acid that comes from fruit-to create lactic acid-the type of acid associated with dairy, red wine, and some white wines) fermentation in barrel. (more…)


Block 11 Historical Society

IMG-20130912-00768

 

Last Thursday we harvested Block 11 Syrah which is one of two remaining blocks from the 1996 MacGillivray planting four years prior to Halter Ranch becoming Halter Ranch.  The pick began at 12:30 am on Thursday September 12 and carried on until 6 am.  12.2 tons of fruit were delivered to the upper crush pad at a temperature of 52 degrees Fahrenheit.  8.5 tons of Syrah from Block 11 were destemmed and combined with 1.5 tons of Viognier from Block 35 and will comprise our Syrah/Viognier coferment for 2013.  The remaining syrah clusters were destemmed and will be fermented separately.  Beyond the excitement of being one of the first red blocks to be harvested this year, 11 is special because it represents an abundance of both Paso Robles and Halter Ranch history.

In the middle of Block 11 sits the Ancestor Oak.  This ancient Quercus agrifolia (Coast Live Oak) is one of the two largest trees of this particular variety on the planet.  Rows of vines were planted in a radius around this huge tree to twelve foot spacing.  The wider rows in this block allowed the MacGillivray family to drive their normal (as opposed to vineyard specific) tractors up and down the block.  Syrah planted to 11 is the Estrella clone which originated in the vineyard of same name on the east side of Paso Robles.  The cuttings themselves were sourced from the now famous James Berry vineyard back in 1996.  Jim Smith gave the MacGillivrays permission to take cuttings from his vines prior to pruning.  Due to the cost of rootstock and grafting, the cuttings were planted on their own roots as opposed to being grafted to new world rootstock.  A quick aside: due to the risk of soil bound pests such as phylloxera most plantings of the last century are grafted to the root portion (rootstock) of vines from the new world that has resistance to said pests and is acclimated to the soil on this side of the Atlantic.  In Block 11’s, cuttings from the established James Berry vines were not grafted, but stuck directly into the soil to sprout their own roots a testament to the vigor and enthusiasm of grapevines!

Expect to see Block 11 as one component in our core Syrah for 2013.  Given the history and high fruit quality from these 17 year old vines, this block  may eventually join the ranks of our reserve line-up alongside Ancestor, Tempranillo, Block 22 Syrah, and Block 41 Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

IMG-20130912-00775


2011 Côtes de Paso

 

Monumental.

Monumental.

 

In the bustle of modernity, among the massive number of humans and activities taking place at any given time across the earth, it is unlikely one wouldn’t find a day or even a moment in time that is not monumental somewhere from someone’s perspecive.  At the moment, in our small corner of the wine world, today and this moment are monumental because we are releasing the first core red wine made from start to finish in our new winery and entirely under the watchful eye and attentive hands of our winemaker Kevin Sass.  2011 Côtes de Paso is composed of 48% Grenache, 27% Syrah, 19% Mourvedre, and 6% Tannat.  It is a delightfully smokey exhibition of dark fruit and spice with the versatility we’ve come to rely on from Côtes de Paso.  To use Kevin’s terms, this wine is ‘dangerously juicy’.  For clarification, and before either descriptor incites panic, dangerous in terms of how easily it is to move through a bottle and juicy in a fruit forward, full bodied, but not sweet way.

 

The component tasting.

The component tasting.

 

Kevin and General Manager Skylar Stuck took the time on Tuesday to guide the staff through a component tasting of  the four individual grapes that make up 11 CDP.  Here are a few facts and notes gleaned from the experience:

-A portion of the Grenache in this wine was fermented in neutral oak barrels.  This unusual practice consists of removing the head from a group of barrels (in this case barrels that had been used at least once to insure the delightful fruit character of Grenache Noir would shine through) and crushing the grapes directly into them.  Punch downs are then performed, by hand, on each individual barrel for the duration of fermentation.  Each group of three barrels containing juice and must produces one barrel of finished wine.  While more labor intensive and delicate than fermentation in tank, we have found the effect of barrel fermenting a portion of the fruit for Côtes Red has a very interesting and (we believe) absolutely delicious effect on the final blend.  You may expect additional barrel fermented offerings, and additional coverage here on the blog as we move forward.

-Unlike 2010 Côtes de Paso, the Syrah portion of 2011 CDP spent a little time in new oak barrels.  The effect on the wine is some subtle smoke throughout, a little meaty character on the palate, and a hint of vanilla in the aroma.

-The Mourvedre used for this wine was from Block 15 which saw it’s third leaf in 2011.  This means it was the first year the vines produce fruit and is generally considered a benchmark year in terms of grape quality.

-Tannat in this wine offers some delightful fleshy fruitiness, in contrast to its typically very tannic and structural role in other wine regions, and some delectible earthy spice.

It may be obvious at this point, but we can’t help saying regardless, we are very excited about this wine and about the opportunity to share it with you.  SO!  If you’re interested in experiencing it, swing out to the tasting room any day of the week between 11 and 5 and come prepared to be blown away in the most positive sense of the phrase.

As always thanks for reading, happy Thursday, and cheers:

 

Côtes de Paso

Let salivation commence.

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