Halter Ranch Rocks the 2012 Winemaker’s Cookoff

The Sassage


Kevin and Tony’s delectable creation wowed the crowd Saturday at the 2012 Winemaker’s Cookoff.  The Halter Ranch staff has pooled smartphone resources to provide the following photo journal. Thank you to all who took (and were willing to contribute) photos!   (more…)

A few sips of Rosé with HJW and EJ

Five Rosés for comparison


This past week we were given the opportunity to taste through a flight of Rosé alongside our Winemaker Kevin Sass, Hansjörg Wyss, and Ed Jaramillo.  It was a great experience both to taste the wines, and to discuss our reactions to them.

The flight was selected based upon price point (over $15 and under $30) and rating (every wine in the tasting–other than ours which has only recently been submitted–received at least a 90 point rating from a well known wine periodical). (more…)

Accolades for the Flagship: Ancestor in the Spotlight

2003 was our first vintage of Ancestor.  The blend consisted of 60% Syrah and 40% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Since then the composition of Ancestor has altered slightly each year, providing a consistent expression of the best grapes our vineyard has to offer as they work in concert to delight.

We are currently selling the 2008 Ancestor in the tasting room and true to form it is showing the great complexity and ability to age we have come to expect from our flagship blend.  The word has finally gotten out, Ancestor has received more recognition in the past six months than any vintage of the past including:  Best in Class at the Monterey Wine Competition, Gold Medals in Los Angeles, San Diego, the Central Coast Wine Competition, and Gold in the Sunset Magazine Wine Competition.

Ancestor is named after the largest California Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) on record.  The tree sits among the Syrah vines at the crest of Block 11, the oldest planting in our vineyard at sixteen years.  It’s trunk is 29 feet in circumference, it is 55 feet at its apex, and the branches span 106 feet at their widest point.  The California Live Oak is the only indigenous oak species that thrives in coastal regions. Influence from the sea in both air and soil is a major factor that makes west side Paso Robles ideal for producing wines of elegance and typicity.

2008 Ancestor is composed of 25% Petit Verdot, 24% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Syrah, 15% Merlot, and 12% Malbec.  It is available for tasting and purchase in the Halter Ranch tasting room 11-5 7 days a week.  Cheers!

Côtes de Paso Blanc and Rosé are Buzzing – Get them while you can!


Two pressing thoughts have come to the minds (or the mind) of the Halter Ranch collective over the past month.

Thought Number 1:  Beyond being stellar overall, our summer line up (ie Rosé and Côtes Blanc) has been performing excellently in both print media and competitions (see below for specifics).

Thought Number 2: Remaining quantities of Côtes de Paso Blanc and Rosé are rapidly depleting.

Conclusion: The time is ripe to secure these wines for your summer table, porch, barbecue, or cellar.    (more…)

The Barrel Experiment

The Line-Up


In order to stay ahead of the curve, and out of the inexhaustible need to experiment, Winemaker Kevin Sass takes the staff on a quarterly journey through a line up of barrels.  This practice is, in fact, common between barrel producers (coopers) and wineries, but it is a special treat for our staff to be included.  The process goes thus:

A series of barrels from various producers in varying styles (different levels of toast*, specific forest of origin etc.) are all filled with the same wine from the same vintage.  In our case we had 17 oak barrels, 1 neutral (as control), 2 New American, and 14 New French.  The wine we used was 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Block 41 in the eastern corner of our vineyard.  The task was to taste through them all and choose the top 3 and the bottom 2 among the French barrels, the preferred barrel between the two American, and to record overall impressions of each.

*To define our terms before embarking further:

Toast-refers to the degree a barrel was heated over a small bier during its construction.  The ‘toastier’ a barrel is the more it will typically impart a caramelized or ‘spicy’ flavor on wine aged in it.

Neutral-as an oak descriptor refers to a barrel that has seen at least one full season of aging with a wine.  As a result it imparts less flavor on subsequent wines.

New-refers to a barrel that is fresh out of the cooperage and in its first season of aging wine.

The various coopers we use, or are in consideration of using, send representatives to taste through with the winemaker.  They are challenged to identify which barrels are theirs.  After everyone has tasted through notes are compared and ultimately, it is revealed which barrel belongs to who.


Molly and Lucas focusing


It was fascinating to experience the varying impact a barrel may have on a wine based on the characteristics of each.  In this case, as a result of the cold 2011 summer, the wine in question had high acid and a more old world or cool climate character filled with dark brambly fruit, a cascade of lingering earthy tones, and a hint of vegetable edge one might typically associate with young Bordeaux.

Wine from the neutral barrel was predictably showing the characteristics described above, but distinction in flavor profile among the rest of the running was pronounced and stunning.  Some barrels seemed to impart very little character on the wine while others seemed to dominate it.  Surprisingly one of the ‘low impact’ barrels was American, this runs against the grain (haha!) given the higher concentration of Lactones (responsible for ‘oaky’ flavor) in the wood from American Oaks.  Higher impact barrels seemed to alter the texture of the wine, possibly by masking its acidity, lending a creamy mouthfeel and sweet spicy zest to the flavor profile.  Overall the staff seemed to prefer the higher impact barrel in the American pair.  Within the French group preferences were more varied but the barrels that received the most votes were those that provided the creamy texture mentioned prior while maintaining a pleasant balance between the character of the wine and that of the barrel.  It is important to note that the impact of a barrel and the character it will contribute to a final wine changes as the wine ages inside.  To account for this, Kevin revisits the experiment quarterly leading up to the point when the wine is bottled before making any final choices about barrels to use for the following season.

As always, thank you for reading and don’t hesitate to hit us up with questions or comments!


Not so Neat Notes

Hot Weather and Young Buds

In the midst of our current heat spell (97 degrees F yesterday and mid-90’s today) we have had multiple customers ask about the effect on the vines given that budbreak is underway throughout the vineyard. To attempt a coherent answer in regard to this question we will refer to the wise words contained in our trusty Oxford Companion to Wine:

weather,probably the single most exasperatingly unpredictable variable in the viticultural equation, as in most other farming activities.   (more…)

The Narrative

Halter Ranch is in the midst of change.  Like the vines we grow and the wines we produce we are vitally, necessarily, and wonderfully alive.  We are growing roots, maturing in the bottle, breathing through our corks; just itching to be freed from our glass and poured into yours.

Intentions here have always developed with an eye toward the future.  We carefully dole out water and nutrients to our vineyard in the interest of extending its life.   The property itself is nothing if not a beautiful legacy we steward for innumerable generations to come. Each new vintage of Halter Ranch wine expresses very directly the flavor, history, and progress of this beautiful site and all these aspects contribute to the overall narrative we seek to share with you.

Toward that end…


-Rumor from the winery is that the caves (passive cooling and barrel storage) will be completed in approximately six months (Just in time for Harvest 2012)!

-In the vineyard we are placing end posts on the last few new blocks to be planted over the next month or so.

-Pruning on our 200,000 grape producing rock stars is nearing completion as we prepare for budbreak (hopefully toward the end of April and safely beyond the risk of a late frost).

-In the tasting room we are gearing up for ZinFest next weekend!

Thanks for reading!  Check back later this week for a discussion of Syrah’s many faces.

P.S.  A fun fact for those of you who enjoy sparkling wine:

Though it likely cropped up throughout history as an accidental result of cold weather during the winemaking process, sparkling wine appeared in Britain as an intentionally produced consumable good prior to its appearance in France.  This is the result of two technological developments in Britain during the mid 1600?s:  First-The British rediscovered cork (the practice of using corks to seal liquids in jars disappeared during the dark ages) before the French who continued to use simple wooden bungs as stoppers until the early 1700?s.  Second-The British also developed reinforced glass that was structurally able to contain the natural exuberance of sparkling wine.  Today’s fact was sourced from this excellent book by Tom Stevenson.

Early March Update

In the Vineyard: Pruning is nearly complete throughout the vineyard.  As of this afternoon Block 2 Grenache (dry farmed, head trained) was looking clean and ready for bud break.  That said…we’d much prefer the buds (and this warm weather) hold off to get us through the last few weeks of frost season. (more…)

Halter Ranch Vineyard – Barn Projections

The barn to the left is our primary location for large gatherings onsite.  It was originally a livestock barn for the Smith and MacGillvray families when they occupied the property.  During the restoration of the Victorian farmhouse, the barn was also retrofitted so that it remains in an arrested state, preserving the 19th century aesthetic while remaining sturdy!

We have similar plans for the silo barn pictured below.  This second barn functioned as a storage and processing facility for the barley, safflower, and other dry growing grains farmed by the MacGillvrays in the the early-mid 20th century.

Ultimately, with the completion of the new facility and the restoration of the second barn, the lower half of our property including the current tasting room/victorian/bunkhouse area will become a picnic and special event area.  It will be a year or two more, but the tasting room will probably migrate up the hill to complement the winery.  The current building may then become more of a visitor’s center or *fingers crossed* a kitchen and dining area!

Vineyard Views

The morning’s rain made for more stunning views in the vineyard and around the new facility.  It is amazing to see the weekly change as it happens among the vines and on our various construction projects!

Monday looks to be big in regard to progress on the area surrounding the new tasting room.  We will be pressure washing the patio and letting it dry out before sealing it on Tuesday or Wednesday.  All this will take place as we prepare for Wine Festival next weekend!

In the new winery just 7 of the tank pads remain empty and the reverse osmosis system, a fundamental component of the winemaking process, is waiting on its last few pipe connections.

The Vineyard Drive entry gate is essentially complete but for the last bit of fencing immediately around it and the automatic mechanism for the gate!  Looking out the window every few minutes, the beauty of the day seems–miraculously!–to be increasing.

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