Uncover the Secrets of a Property That Dates Back to the 1800s'

Halter Ranch, first established in 2000, sits on an expansive 2,700-acre estate with a rich history dating back to the 1800s. The property has had a total of six owners in that time, including current proprietor Hansjörg Wyss. First purchased by Edwin Smith in 1880 and then known as Smith Ranch, the property was used to raise Thoroughbreds, farm grain, and sell hogs. The Smith family also built the Victorian farmhouse, which, after careful restoration, still stands at the entrance to the property today. In 1943, the MacGillivray family took ownership and expanded the Ranch to include an airstrip and a hunting lodge. They encouraged both community members and travelers from across the country to visit by hosting large BBQs, political rallies, and opening the property for hunting. Fast forward to the year 2022, Halter Ranch, now a vineyard and winery, continues to expand on what the founding family’s created while honoring the history that makes the estate so special and unique.

1880: Mr. & Mrs. Edwin Smith purchased the property to pursue agricultural interests and built the Victorian Farmhouse as their primary residence. The house burned down in 1885 due to a chimney fire but was rebuilt immediately after. The ranch consisted of approximately 2,000 acres of farm and pastureland.

1893: Miles of stone fencing were built on the Smith Ranch by Bernardo Mastagni, originally from Italy. However, due to the ranch being in debt, Smith never paid Mastagni for his services. The stone wall still sits near the current day Halter Ranch Delivery Truck Entrance.

1943: There were three owners whose names were undocumented between the end of the Smith’s ownership of the ranch in 1905 and 1943. In 1943, new owners, the John F. MacGillivray family, purchased the property for $56,000. Of the 1,640 acres, 1,000 acres were for pasturing cattle and 600 acres for grain production.

1960: Through the ‘60s and ‘70s, the MacGillivray family hosted barbecues, offered membership to their private hunting club on the property, and provided lodging to bring in additional income.

1967: The MacGillivray’s, with the help of neighbors, built a small airstrip on the property to accommodate guests traveling from various parts of the state. The community was often invited to the ranch to participate in short landing contests, flower sack bombings, and air shows. On any given day, there were about 15 planes on the ranch.

1970: Ronald Reagan flew to the ranch in his Aero Commander after being invited by the Paso Robles Republican Women’s Club for a barbecue event at the ranch. This event launched Ronald Reagan’s re-election campaign and drew in families from all over San Luis Obispo County.

1990: The movie “Arachnophobia” was filmed at the ranch, featuring the Victorian Farmhouse.

1992: John F. MacGillivray’s son, Fraser, published the book Adelaida which detailed the history of the area and its original settlers.

1995: The MacGillivray family started the process of planting a vineyard. A nursery and greenhouse were constructed to help with the growth of the new rootstock and prevent pests. Syrah, Zinfandel, and Mourvèdre grapes were planted.

2000: Hansjörg Wyss purchased 900 acres from the MacGillivray's and named it Halter Ranch after his mother, Alice Halter. His vision was to transform the property into a vineyard and winery that would use methods of farming that were not harmful to the environment while still creating superior wine.

2003: The first vintage of the flagship Bordeaux-style reserve blend was created. It was made to showcase not only the finest grapes from the estate vineyard, but also Halter Ranch’s commitment to preserving history while looking to the future of the property. The Ancestor wine is an homage to the ancient Quercus Agrifolia, more commonly known as Coast Live Oak, sitting on the property.

2006: Since the inception of Halter Ranch in the year 2000, there have been two snowstorms. They both occurred on President’s Day weekend – once in 2006 & then again in 2009.

2007: In September of 2007, Halter Ranch hosted its first annual Ancestor Dinner in the Historic Barn. This dinner celebrated their flagship reserve Bordeaux-style blend, the Ancestor. Guests were even able to taste the first-ever vintage of Ancestor from 2003.

2008: Halter Ranch was within the first group of wineries to be awarded the SIP Certification from the Central Coast Vineyard Team, after going through the initial pilot program. SIP Certified stands for “Sustainability in Practice,” which verified Halter Ranch had implemented sustainable vineyard and winemaking standards.

2009: The Covered Bridge was completed. The inspiration behind the construction was to transition from the historic to the contemporary portion of the property. Much of the modern architecture on the property was reminiscent of Wyss’ upbringing in Switzerland.

2011: The production facility was built with a mind toward ultimate efficiency, cleanliness, and quality. It was constructed into the hillside to utilize a gravity-flow system for fruit processing, reducing electricity consumption, and water use. The building functions to collect all water which goes to our reclamation ponds and used for irrigation.

2012: The caves in the production facility were built into the hillside. To regulate temperature, fans open when the temperature gets low enough outside and pulls air in, while a fan on the other end opens and pushes air out. A cycling fan helps circulate air throughout the rest of the cave. It was designed to hold approximately 2,290 barrels which equals ~55,000 cases of wine!

2012: Hansjörg Wyss purchased additional acreage amounting to approximately 2,100 acres. 82% of the total property was dedicated to preserving wildlife habitats and oak woodlands.

2015: Halter Ranch completed its first harvest of the property’s 4-acre olive grove. Its first California Extra Virgin Olive Oil released was a Tuscan field blend, comprised of Frantoio, Leccino, Maurino, and Pendolino olives.

2016: Marked the opening of Halter Ranch’s new Tasting Room for guests to enjoy award-winning wines and stellar views. It is nestled between blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Grenache. The original Tasting Room was located in what is now the Member Garden area of the Victorian Farmhouse, and hosted guests from 2003 to 2016.

2017: The Halter Ranch Railroad carried on the tradition of the Swiss narrow gauge by paying homage to the trains from the birthplace of owner, Hansjörg Wyss. Halter Ranch utilizes three different trains, the Steam Locomotive, Krokodil, and Pullman Cars. All the trains are scale models of the historic trains that can still be seen and ridden when visiting Switzerland. The trains are approximately 1/3 scale of their full-sized counterparts.

2019: Member Garden officially opened. This space surrounds the Victorian Farmhouse. During the summertime, members can relax in nature while enjoying tastings or wine by the glass.

2020: Halter Ranch Olive Grove received Organic Certification from the California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF). As of 2021, the grove has grown to 17 acres with Picual, Frantoio, Maurino, and Pendolino olive trees.

2020: The Halter Ranch Vineyard solar system was installed to offset 100% of winery operations and 58% of overall site operations. The property’s 1,026 solar panels are equivalent to almost 1 acre of solar.

2021: Le Jardin du Chef became CCOF organically certified, and produce was harvested year-round for Halter Ranch’s Culinary Program.

2021: The Halter Ranch Airport was registered with the FAA as airport number 89CA. The airstrip officially opened to the public, and Wine Club Members were welcomed to fly in and enjoy the property as those did in years past.

2022: Named after proprietor Hansjörg Wyss' grandson, Thor's Mountain Cabernet was the first in our collector's series. Each year, the label will reflect another surface of this multifaceted family. Growing up near the Swiss Alps, the Wyss family shares a generational love and passion for the outdoors, especially mountains and the sport of snow-skiing.

Timeline Summary


1880: Mr. & Mrs. Edwin Smith purchased the property and built the Victorian Farmhouse.

1893: Miles of stone fencing were built on the Smith Ranch by Bernardo Mastagni.
1943: New owners, the John F. MacGillivray family, purchased the 2000-acre property for $56,000.
1960: The MacGillivray's generated additional income by making the ranch available for large barbecues, hunters, and visitors.
1967: The MacGillivray’s, with the help of neighbors, built a small airstrip on the property to accommodate guests traveling from various parts of the state.
1970: The ranch hosted a barbecue event/political rally that drew in over 2000 people throughout the county, and where Ronald Regan announced his re-election campaign for California Governorship.
1990: The movie “Arachnophobia” was filmed at the ranch.
1992: John F. MacGillivray’s son, Fraser, published the book Adelaida which detailed the history of the area and original settlers.
1995: The MacGillivray Family started the process of planting a vineyard.
2000: Hansjörg Wyss bought the property from the MacGillivray's and named it Halter Ranch after his mother, Alice Halter.
2003: First vintage of Halter Ranch’s flagship wine, Ancestor, was released.
2006: Halter Ranch saw its first snowstorm during President’s Day Weekend.
2007: First Annual Ancestor dinner was hosted on the ranch.
2008: Halter Ranch becomes SIP Certified.
2009: Construction of the Covered Bridge was completed.
2011: Construction of Halter Ranch’s new production facility was completed.
2012: Halter Ranch’s wine caves were finished.
2012: Ranch expanded to over 2,100 acres, with 82% of the property dedicated to conservation.
2015: Halter Ranch’s first olive harvest.
2016: The new Tasting Room opened.
2017: Replica Swiss Train and tracks were installed.
2019: Member Garden officially opened.
2020: Olive Grove became certified organic.
2020: Over 1,000 solar panels were installed on the property, offsetting 100% of winery operations and 58% of overall site operation.
2021: Le Jardin du Chef became CCOF organically certified, and produce was harvested year-round for Halter Ranch’s Culinary Program.
2021: Halter Ranch Airport officially opened.
2022: Release of the first-ever Thor’s Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon.

Date Published: June 14, 2022

Category: Blog

 Halter Ranch

Halter Ranch

Kristen Troxell, Marketing Assistant