Ancient Peaks Winery
Summary: A wonderful winery tasting room awaits wine travelers in the charming town of Santa Margarita. Visitors can taste a range of wines from the vineyard that has different distinctive soil types.
Ancient Peaks Winery is located in the southern most area of the Paso Robles wine region. The name was chosen to honor the Santa Lucia Mountains that border the vineyard and influence the growing conditions.
Ancient Peaks Winery was established on a 14,000 acre ranch surrounding the town of Santa Margarita. Because the ranch surrounds the town, urban sprawl is not a possibility. The winery tasting room is conveniently located in town.
Three ranching and wine growing families (Filipponis, Rossis and Wittstroms) founded the winery. In 1999, Rob Rossi purchased the Santa Margarita Ranch. Soon his friends Doug Filipponi and Karl Wittstrom joined him in partnership. The Mondavi family leased and planted the vineyard on the ranch property. At the time the Mondavi family was looking for land in San Luis Obispo County and was interested in purchasing the ranch; however, it was not for sale. Since the Mondavi family liked the soils on the ranch, they leased the property for a 35-year contract.
In 2004, the Mondavi winery and holdings were bought by Constellation Brands. The corporation was not interested in the ranch vineyards and did not want to continue the lease. This allowed the partners of the ranch to buy out the lease. In 2005, the three families acquired control of the Margarita Vineyard and sold most of the grapes. They did keep a few of the grapes deciding to start making a small amount of wine.
Although the Mondavi family leased and planted the vineyard, there were vineyards on this property as early as 1780. Franciscan missionaries planted a vineyard. A few vines of the Mission grape are currently grown on the property.
The Margarita Vineyard is located in one of the coolest temperature areas in Paso Robles. The vineyards spread across the horizon with the “Ancient Peaks” in the background. The vineyard consists of five distinct soils ranging from limestone from the ancient sea bed, shale, rocky alluvium, granite and volcanic soils. Many different grape varieties thrive on the 880 acres of vineyards. White grapes include: Chardonnay, Muscat Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Rousanne and Sauvignon Blanc. Red varietal grapes include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Noir, Malbec, Merlot, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Zinfandel.
The vineyards have received SIP Certification. Their Sustainability in Practice is implemented by deficit irrigation, natural cover crops, wildlife corridors, rotational groundwater usage and the use of compost tea rather than chemical fertilizers.
An outdoor patio wraps around two sides of the tasting room. There are a few tables with chairs and an umbrella over the tables. It provides a nice spot for those days when visitors prefer being outdoors. Inside there are two tasting rooms. The main tasting room has an L-shaped tasting counter. Behind the counter’s vertex, there are five cylinders holding the different soil types found in the vineyard. Below the cylinders there are symbols representing the soil types. These symbols are used on the back of the wine labels to indicate the type of soil the vines grew in for a particular wine. Tables and chairs are set up in the tasting room.
The second tasting room is smaller with a small tasting counter. This room has longer tables with chairs. Behind the tasting counter there is the head of Cinnamon, “A Great Cow.” The long horned cow roamed the ranch for three decades and became a part of the family. This VIP room is called the Cinnamon room to salute a friend of the ranch.
From 11:30 am to 5:00 pm from Thursday through Sunday, the Ancient Peaks Café serves food specializing in ranch-to-table fare. On the day of our visit they prepared a wonderful platter of nibbles to pair with our wine tasting.
All of the wines we tasted were from the Santa Margarita Ranch sub-AVA of the Paso Robles AVA. Ancient Peaks Winery is the only winery with a vineyard in the Santa Margarita Ranch AVA.
The 2015 Sauvignon Blanc was a light yellow color. The aroma and taste were reminiscent of lemon and mineral. The wine had a crisp finish. The winemaking team likes to experiment. The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Skin Fermented wine spent time on the skins and was aged in oak. This wine had a beautiful gold color with floral notes and cooked jammy fruits. The white wine had medium to bold tannins and a full body. The finish offered cooked jammy fruits. Those who would like to try a more ancient winemaking technique of skin contact for white wines, should sample this Sauvignon Blanc.
We also tasted several red wines. The 2013 Merlot was a dark ruby color. The wine had black fruits including blackberries and plums. It had mild tannins and a medium to full body. The fruity finish yielded to some spices. The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon was an opaque dark ruby color. It offered notes of cassis, blackberries and licorice. It had bold chewy tannins and a full body. The finish had layers of fruit, spice and mineral.
The 2013 White Label Cabernet Sauvignon was an opaque dark ruby color with a black hue. Blackberries, cassis and spices were noted on the aroma and taste. The wine had smooth bold tannins and was full bodied. The very fruity finish yielded to leather and spices. The white label 2012 Oyster Ridge was blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Malbec. The opaque ruby colored wine offered juicy red and black fruits with hints of leather and licorice. Bold tannins and a full body were accompanied by a very fruity finish.
Joining us during our wine tasting was Karl Wittstrom (pictured left), one of the partners. Karl spoke about the early history of the ranch and vineyards. He then led a group for ziplining over the vineyards. An affiliate, Margarita Adventures organizes the zipline tours.
In addition to the wine tasting, wine enthusiasts can make reservations for a guided vineyard tour. After visiting the vineyards and learning about viticulture, soils, climates and sustainability, they will return to the tasting room for a wine and food pairing.
Ancient Peaks Winery tasting room is located in a quaint town of Santa Margarita. Plan to spend some extra time and slow down and enjoy the visit.
Ancient Peaks Winery
22720 El Camino Real
Santa Margarita, CA 93453
GPS: N35º 23.347’ W120º 36.767’
Article written April 2016
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