Terry and Kathy Sullivan
Summary: Halter Ranch’s new tasting room opened in February 2016. The tasting room’s setting is in the vineyards with dramatic views.
Halter Ranch Vineyard is located in California’s Central Coast region. The property dates back to the late 19th century when it was a part of a larger property with 3,600 acres owned by Edwin Smith. A century later, Hansjörg Wyss purchased 900 acres with the intent of enlarging the vineyard and making wine. The property included an airstrip. Ronald Reagan landed on the airstrip and announced his candidacy for a second term as California’s Governor. Today the airstrip is flanked by vineyards.
Halter Ranch is owned by Hansjörg Wyss who was born in Bern, Switzerland and later attended Harvard. Wyss worked for Synthes, a producer of medical supplies, for more than 30 years. While working for Synthes, Wyss met people all over the world. Eventually, Wyss found his way to Paso Robles where he purchased the ranch property.
Wyss named the winery for his mother whose last name was Halter. In Switzerland, Halter is a common name. Today, Halter Ranch has more than 2,000 acres that includes oak woodlands, a wild life area, vineyards and a gravity flow winery.
Vineyards at Halter Ranch
Halter Ranch Vineyard has SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certification. The sustainable vineyards consist of 281 acres that are divided into 81 vineyard blocks. The largest block has 18 acres and the smallest just under one acre. Grapevines are planted at 1,800 feet elevation on limestone rich slopes. Many Bordeaux and Rhone varieties are planted including: Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Grenache noir, Mourvedre, Syrah, Tannat, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Petite Syrah, Tempranillo, and Carignane.
Grape harvests are done during the night to help keep the grapes cool. Harvesters place the grapes into ½ ton bins that are then taken to the winery. If the grapes are not processed immediately, they are placed in a refrigerated area within the winery.
In the beginning, the Halter wines were produced in an old airplane hangar. In 2011 a new winery state-of-the-art building was built. Rocks used in the construction of the main winery building were gathered from the property. Some have fossil imprints on the rocks, reminding visitors that this land was once under water.
Inside, there is a special area for wine club members as well as office space for the staff. The tank room has many gleaming stainless steel tanks, accessed from the top of the tanks by a walk around area. The railings around each tank are arched so as to permit a stainless steel bin to fit over the tank top opening and drop grapes into the bin. From the crush pad area, the winery uses gravity flow to gently move grapes around.
In 2012 Halter Ranch added 20,000 square feet of wine caves. The caves have a barrel capacity of 2,200 barrels. The caves are built 40 to 60 feet below the surface vineyard. Oak barrels, stacked two high, outline the sides of the curving tunnels. In one alcove puncheons and concrete hippos were aging wines.
A covered bridge over the access road leads past vineyards to the tasting room and winery. The new tasting room is bright with plenty of windows overlooking vineyards. In the center of the large area, there is a rectangular shaped tasting counter. Other tasting counters are along the two longer walls. Adjacent to the main tasting room there are enclosed rooms that are used for meetings and for lounging. Outside the tasting room there is a large patio leading to the wine caves. On the patio, there are numerous tables and chairs as well as shade providing umbrellas. This outside area also has a grill and oven. Along one end of the patio, vineyards gently slope up over the wine caves.
Halter Ranch Wines
We tasted several wines at a tasting area overlooking the vineyards. We started with the 2015 Rosé, a blend of Grenache, Picpoul Blanc, Mourvèdre and Syrah. The light orange colored wine had notes of light red berry fruits. The finish was citrus yielding to mineral. At the bottom of the bottle there were white crystals. The winemaker, Kevin Sass, wrote a note for the visitors stating that the crystals were natural and reflected the calcium limestone soils in the vineyards. There was a faint hint of salt on the rosé’s finish.
The 2013 CDP was a Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Tannat blend. The somewhat translucent ruby colored wine offered blackberry and blueberry notes. The wine had mild tannins and a full body. The finish was crisp with plenty of fruit. The 2013 Syrah was a blend of 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier. The opaque dark ruby colored wine had notes of spice, black fruits and a touch of floral. The wine had bold chewy tannins and was full-bodied.
The 2013 Ancestor was a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot. The wine was an opaque dark ruby to purple color. It offered blackberries, black cherries, baking spices and some licorice. The wine had bold chewy tannins and was full-bodied. The finish was crisp and fruity. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was mostly made with Cabernet Sauvignon and a splash of Malbec and Petit Verdot. The opaque dark ruby colored wine had blackberry, blueberry and a hint of black cherry notes. The wine had bold tannins and a full body. The crisp finish was fruity.
In addition to regular wine tastings, wine enthusiasts can attend different tours. The Winery & Cave Tour is a walking tour that looks at the vineyards and walks through the winery and caves. The complimentary tour lasts an hour. The Excursion Tour is a tour in the vineyard in a Land Rover. It too includes a walking tour of the winery and caves. It ends with a tasting in the members’ lounge. The tour lasts three hours and cosst non-members $45 and members $35. The Barrel Tasting Tour takes guests into the caves to taste wines from the barrels. The tour lasts an hour and costs $25 for non-members and $20 for members.
Whether you take one of the special tours or just visit the new tasting room, plan to spend some time in this wonderful setting.
8910 Adelaida Road
Paso Robles, California 93446
GPS: N35º 38.521’ W120º 51.339’
Article written April 2016
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