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 Pairing: 2014 Cuvée Alice and Pork Chops with Leeks in Mustard Sauce

halter_ranch_vineyard_2014_cuvee_alice

Our Silver Label Club members will have received their reserve wine shipment by now, and we hope our members are enjoying their wines. As part of their shipment, members receive recipe pairings from our Halter Ranch staff and favorite local chefs. Below is one of the recipes included from our Assistant Winemaker Molly Lonborg. It is a delicious hearty recipe, ideal for the cooler evenings we are experiencing and pairs perfectly with our Cuvée Alice.

Our Cuvée Alice wine is named in honor of owner Hansjörg Wyss’ mother, Alice Halter. This is the second vintage we have produced this reserve wine which is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Tannat. We have 17 different blocks and five different clones of Grenache on the Ranch so 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 for our winemaking team.

The varietals in the blend 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.

Recipe Pairing: Pork Chops with Leeks in Mustard Sauce

Ingredients

4 pork chops

2 tsp. coarse Kosher salt

2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

2-4 bacon slices, coarsely chopped

3-4 thinly sliced leeks (white & pale green parts only)

3 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup brandy

1 cup low-salt chicken broth

2 tsp. finely chopped fresh sage (optional)

2 tbsp. Dijon mustard

1/3 cup sour cream

Method

Pat chops dry with paper towels. Mix salt, thyme, rosemary, and pepper in small bowl. Sprinkle seasoning mixture on both sides of chops. Let stand at room temperature 1 to 2 hours. Heat large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon and sauté until crisp and lightly browned. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to small bowl. Increase heat to medium-high. Add chops to skillet. Sear until brown, 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer chops to small baking sheet. Pour off all but 3 tablespoons drippings from skillet (or add olive oil to make 3 tablespoons). Add leeks and sauté until soft, about 7 minutes. Add garlic and stir 1 minute. Add brandy, then broth and bring to boil, scraping up browned bits. Return bacon to skillet; add sage and stir to blend. Nestle chops in leeks in skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover; simmer 3 minutes. Turn chops over. Cover; simmer until thermometer inserted into thickest part of chops registers 140°F to 145°F, about 3 minutes longer. Transfer chops to platter. Tent loosely with foil to keep warm. Spoon off any fat from cooking liquid in skillet. Boil until all liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes, then turn off heat. Whisk in mustard, then sour cream; spoon mixture over chops and serve immediately.

The Silver Label Club is an add-on reserve level club. To be a member of the Silver Label Club you must already be a member of our Halter Ranch Club.


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.


A vertical taste through Halter Ranch’s Cabernets

Halter Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon Vertical Tasting

During the month of August our Wine Club members are offered a special complimentary Cabernet Sauvignon vertical tasting in our Member Lounge. The vertical allows members to sample three very different wines from Halter Ranch’s winemaking history.

More than a third of all vines planted in Paso Robles are Cabernet Sauvignon and our vineyard mirrors that statistic with 104 of our 281 acres of vines planted with Cabernet Sauvignon. It is an integral part of what we do; from our by-the-glass Synthesis, to our mighty Ancestor Reserve, the rich forward fruit, color and tannin structure of Cabernet Sauvignon paired with its deep back palate wow us every year.

In order to show off this grape we love, we have pulled from our library the 2008, 2010 and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon vintages. The 2008 vintage made by our previous Winemaker Bill Sheffer, the 2010 was begun by Bill and finished by current Halter Ranch Winemaker Kevin Sass, and the 2012 which is Kevin’s wine from start to finish. The three Cabernet’s are very different, due to winemaking style, age, fruit and harvest conditions.

A few notes about the vintages, in 2008 yields were down in Cabernet Sauvignon and related varietals due to an early Spring frost, causing small cluster sets and some shatter. The low yields however did produce some great wine. In 2010 Paso Robles experienced a winter with above average rainfall after three years of drought. Growers had to manage fruit/vine ratio and mildew pressure during the cooler year. In 2012 there were three weeks of extreme heat in late August and early September, bringing harvest forward by almost two full weeks. The fruit quality was high with round and robust flavors.


2008 Cabernet Sauvignon – 15.1% Alcohol

81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Malbec, 3% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Fermentation: Destemmed and fermented in closed-top fermenters, with punch-downs or pump-overs twice daily for 21 days.

Aging: Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 30% of which are new.

Lounge Tasting Note

Though it is blended with all five ‘Noble Bordeaux’ grapes, this wine is truly a classic ‘Paso Cab’ it’s huge fruit, bold tannins, and bright acidity can stand up to the bloodiest of steaks. Winemaker Bill Sheffer sought to highlight the beautiful back palate of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape, resulting in deep flavors of sage, earth, and chaparral.

Winemakers Tasting Note

Blended with traditional Bordeaux varieties our Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in color and deeply concentrated with aromas of blackcurrant and blackberry, interwoven with earth, sage, and spice. Big, ripe and juicy on the palate, its mouth-filling blackcurrant and dark plum flavors are balanced by round, supple tannins that guide the wine through a long, rich and smooth finish. Drink now or in the next two years, with grilled steak and lamb, prime rib, venison stew and other hearty meat dishes.


2010 Cabernet Sauvignon – 15% Alcohol

77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Malbec, 11% Merlot

Fermentation: Destemmed and fermented in closed-top fermentors, with punch-downs and pump-overs twice daily for 20 days.

Aging: Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 35% of which were new.

Lounge Tasting Note

Our last to feature the softening influence of Merlot, this wine was made as a collaboration between winemakers. Bill’s bolder, age-worthy style was quieted by Kevin’s delicate and fruit driven ethos. The result is an elegantly structured wine with soft integrated tannins and a smooth, rich finish.

Winemakers Tasting Note

This vintage is crimson red with a light purple hue. Deeply concentrated, this wine displays aromas of blackberry brambles, black currant, fig and a touch of cocoa. The attack on the palate is driven by an explosion of red and black fruit, framed by elegant structure. Soft integrated tannins guide this beautiful wine through a smooth, rich finish. Delicious now with grilled steak and lamb, prime rib, venison stew and other hearty meat dishes, it will age beautifully for another two to five years.


2012 Cabernet Sauvignon – 14.5% Alcohol

79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot

Fermentation: Destemmed and fermented in closed top fermentors, with open pump-overs two to three times daily for an average of 10 days.

Aging: Aged 18 months in French oak barrels, 40% of which were new.

Lounge Tasting Note

After the frost and challenging nature of the 2011 vintage, 2012 was Kevin Sass’ first great growing season with Halter Ranch. The hot Summer and Fall led to a beautifully expressive nose of dark red fruit matched by a silky, luxuriant mid-palate and delicately integrated tannins.

Winemakers Tasting Note

The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon possesses a classic profile with aromas of dark red fruits. Bright and rich on the palate, this wine is brimming with flavors of red currants and cassis and has an underlying minerality. A strong mid-palate and well integrated tannins lead to a long seamless finish. Delicious now, this wine will continue to develop for years to come. Pair with grilled steak, lamb and Italian cuisine.


The three Cabernet Sauvignon’s are available for purchase at $45 per bottle or $36 for Wine Club members and their guests. Wines are available as a three pack for an additional 10% off, at $94.50.

Reservations

Due to limited seating in the Wine Club Member Lounge, reservations are strongly suggested. All club members receive complimentary wine tasting with up to four guests. Larger groups are required to make a reservation.

Make a Reservation:

Email: memberlounge@halterranch.com

Weekdays Call: 805-226-9455

Weekends Call: 805-591-3634


Our New Tasting Room

TR Exterior right2

We are thrilled to announce that the doors to the new Tasting Room are now open!

Nestled between blocks of Cabernet, Syrah and Grenache, the new tasting room features floor to ceiling windows with sweeping views of the estate vineyards. The main tasting room has a large, open floor plan with multiple tasting bars to give everyone a little more elbow room. There are two smaller tasting rooms to accommodate private events and group tastings. A commercial kitchen was installed to expand our food and wine experiences. To the back of the tasting room is an indoor patio with a large fireplace and a variety of couches, chairs and tables. The outdoor patio is just as inviting and features teak tables and chairs, a large fireplace, a pizza oven and an oak pit Santa Maria-style barbecue. On the other side of the patio are two large wooden doors that open to the underground caves leading to the winery.

TR Interior H1The inspiration for the design of the tasting room came from the local rustic cabins and barns with various uses of wood, cedar siding and rusty metal roofing. Owner Hansjörg Wyss carefully hand-selected all the artwork for the tasting room. While his passion for architecture led the design process, the entire Halter Ranch team was involved. Hansjörg felt that each person brought a unique perspective and point of view with regards to what was important for guests at Halter Ranch.

This week, we welcomed our first guests to the tasting room. They came by car and by bicycle to check out our new space. We look forward to welcoming you too – just follow the signs past the barnyard and across the covered bridge – keep an eye out for the chickens crossing the road as they think they have the right of way. We are open daily from 11am – 5pm.

Wessel Group1  Bikers  Bailey_Dykzeul_Richardson

 


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.

Work and Play in the Summer Heat

Working in the Vineyard

 

Many know that great wine is made in the vineyard. Our production personnel and vineyard crew have been busy implementing this idiom at Halter Ranch. A block of Grenache in its third leaf was trimmed to one cluster per shoot. Elsewhere on the ranch, a block of Tannat had laterals removed on the morning side; it was also trained, and had wings removed from clusters. These practices produce the highest quality fruit possible, while simultaneously increasing the longevity of the plantings. Removing extraneous growth also takes fewer resources from the soil. Many staff members are raising these young vines while they raise their own children, each with tender loving care.

 

2014solstice1

 

Halter hosted its annual Solstice Dinner under the olive and fruit orchard adjoining the large historic barn. The barn was built in 1851 to house pioneer Edwin Smith’s teams of horses, and the orchard planted almost a decade later. Some of the olive trees exceed seventy-five years of age. The weather was ideally temperate, staying sixty-one degrees Fahrenheit until the dinner ended around 10:30. We began the evening enjoying amuse-bouches with our 2013 Sauvignon Blanc and 2013 Rose, which Sunset magazine recently awarded Best in Show of its rose panel. Sitting down to a beautifully set table, which included lights submerged in mason jar centerpieces abounding with olive branches, guests found a fresh loaf of bread inhabiting each bread plate. The appetizer featured exquisite burrata, couched with heirloom tomatoes and topped with micro greens, paired with Cotes de Paso Blanc. Second came halibut cheeks paired with our red Cotes de Paso. For the main course, Chef Chris Manning presented a perfectly prepared lamb sirloin that was exceptionally tender and flavorful, paired with 2011 Block 22 Syrah. Appropriate to the setting, the meal concluded with olive oil cake, paired with 2010 Vin de Paille. In spectacular fashion, Kevin and Skylar poured 2010 Ancestor from an Imperial six liter bottle. Thank you to Kendall, Jordan, and Tony for coordinating a luscious event. And thank you to Thomas Hill Organics for providing the menu, executed by Chef Manning. Happy summer!

 


A Bridge to Delicacy

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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…)

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