We need to do a rain dance!

 

 

 

fire helicopter fire helicopter verasion 051 fire helicopter verasion 046 fire helicopter verasion 045

Let’s hope we don’t have to repeat this scene from summer 2004. Cal Fire (previously CDF) dipped into the Halter Ranch pond during a small wildlands fire here in the Adelaida neighborhood. During an event firefighters will use any available water source to fight the blaze, including your swimming pool if it is most convenient. The 2004 fire was minor and there was no structural damage or injury to people.

We have received the 9″ of rain here at Halter Ranch this season starting July 1, 2014. Nine inches was the total rainfall last year. We need to do a rain dance!


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…)


Fresh Greenery and Fresh Plans

Basil!

Basil!

 

There are weeks when it becomes clearly evident just how fast the conceptual Halter Ranch train is moving. This is one such week.  The happenings are as follows.  (more…)


Happening Season

Old Speedsters and Winery

New looking old cars and new looking new winery

 

Event season is upon us!  Over the course of the next two months multitudinous opportunities to taste, and eat, and all around wine will be presenting themselves.  What follows is an update on various events (Incoming!) and a few details as we break ground on an exciting new project here at the ranch. (more…)


Our Latest Wildlife Photos

The increasing diversity of wildlife caught by cameras strategically placed throughout Halter Ranch Vineyard is absolutely stunning.  Our latest captures are posted below:

 

wildlife - halter ranch vineyard

A Waldo

 

A down on its luck Waldo is captured on film filching a drink from one of the natural springs on the Halter Ranch property.  Has it no shame?!?

(more…)


Weather News

Weather - Halter Ranch Vineyard

The Weather Station

 

After much consideration and planning, a shiny new weather station has been installed along the Halter Ranch airstrip by Joe Thorp of Signature Ranch Technologies.  Given distinction between weather here on the ranch and weather nine miles east of us in Paso Robles proper, we’ve been relying on readings from Tablas Creek’s weather station up to this point.  For each mile you move away from the town of Paso Robles toward the coast you may add approximately an inch of rainfall and about half a degree of decreased temperature.  As a result we tend to average 25-30 inches of rainfall, and about 5 degrees fahrenheit less on average over the course of a year than Paso Robles proper and vineyards east of highway 101. (more…)


Bird Sightings and Event Updates

Bird - Halter Ranch Vineyard

The Winery as our Vineyard Sleeps

 

Over the past week we’ve had two vineyard hikes and were the featured wine for guest chef Suzanne Tracht’s Monday Night Supper at Artisan Paso Robles.  Suzanne hails from Jar in Los Angeles and is close friends with Chef Kobayashi. According to staff and club members who attended, the dinner was absoutely stellar.  If you haven’t yet, we’d highly recommend a visit to Jar in Los Angeles and to Artisan in Paso Robles.  Our next winemaker dinner will be taking place at Robert’s in Paso Robles on February 25.  For additional information check our events page.

Sunday’s hike took guests up the old airstrip to visit the Ancestor Oak before heading out to block 52 where guests caught a nearly bird’s eye view of the entire vineyard.  A similar hike with a slightly different route will take place on  February 15, sign up information is available here if you’re interested in partaking.

 

Bird - Halter Ranch Vineyard

Hiking up to the Ancestor Oak

 

Monday, Mitch hosted our yearly birdwatching trek accross the property where the following list was compiled by the group and generously provided for the blog by Neil Gilbert and Mary Hirsch: (more…)


2014 in the Vineyard

The Vineyard

View of our Vineyard from the Ridgline

 

During last week’s excursion Lucas and Eusebio discussed plans for the vineyard as we begin the new year. Contained herein is a summary of their discussion with clarification of viticulturalist lingo.

As of Monday we began the process of pre-pruning the vineyard.  Pre-pruning is when we trim down the mass of canes left from last year’s growth to prevent entanglement when the vineyard team begins more detailed pruning in the coming months.

On our younger head trained plantings of Grenache, Carignan, Tempranillo, and Tannat, which account for about 1/3 of the planted acreage, we applied some water and allowed an abundance of growth in 2013 to encourage them to establish a substantial root system.  As we prune these adolescent vines for 2014, we will cut all that abundance back to just two buds, this way the vines may focus a maximum of nutrients into a minimum of buds, shoots, leaves, and, finally, fruit.

In our more established plantings, the remaining 2/3 of our 281 acres, we will be delaying primary pruning in the hope of pushing budbreak beyond April frost. There is a degree to which we are at the weather’s mercy once the vines begin awakening in early Spring.  Typically we begin pruning in early to mid December, this year we’ve waited until January to see if it is possible mitigate that risk.

Check back next week for a new culinary masterpiece and pairing.  In the meantime, happy January and cheers!

 

Where's Eusebio

Hiking on the Ridgline

 


Return to the Wild

Halter Ranch Vineyard

The Wild Side

 

14 months later, we finally ventured back into the wild side of Halter Ranch with viticulturalist Lucas Pope and vineyard foreman Eusebio Rico as our guides.  The goal on this excursion was to document the locations of our wildlife cams to give context to the photos we’ve begun posting here and on facebook.  Additionally Lucas and Eusebio wanted to check the status of a well on the old Curran property which is part of the 1300 acre oak and wildlife preserve on the northeast end of the vineyard.

 

Halter Ranch Vineyard

Old Power Lines

 

While en route we discovered the skeleton of a wild pig, revisted the old harvester from last year’s explorations, and examined the state of flora and fauna after another distinctly dry year.  Below are some photos and thoughts from the adventure. (more…)

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