Feeling pretty certain this is a day that I will not be able to replicate … in any other wine region. And how cool is that?
We arrived at Ancient Peaks Winery, which was the vision of three local winegrowing and ranching families, who dreamed of producing great wines from the Margarita Ranch region. Fun fact – Robert Mondavi planted the Margarita Vineyard under a lease agreement until 2005 (when the Constellation acquisition happened) when the families decided to make the wines from their vineyard. Ancient Peaks was chosen as the name due to the mountains that border Margarita Vineyard. Santa Margarita Ranch first had grapes planted by Franciscan missionaries in 1780 and today is one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches. With five distinct soil types and over 50 vineyard blocks, this is a winery that happens to have a town located in the middle of the ranch property.
We started our day with VP of Operations, Amanda Wittstrom Higgins, and Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor, with a safety lesson, a release form, tons of equipment ranging from a helmet to a harness to gloves and we set up the mountain to begin our adventure. It was time to go zip lining across the pinot vineyards … and how cool is that? Click here for my Paso Robles Zipline experience. We had a few folks on the team that opted out, but the rest of us were ready to go and seek adventure. And what an adrenaline high!
Director of Winemaking, Mike Sinor
After our zip line experience, we adjourned to the tasting room to learn more about the vineyard and the wines. I loved the story about evolving from a corporate relationship to a small family-owned business based on wine quality and a focus on a sense of place. Sinor said, “we want to let the vineyard speak and make wines that express the vintage for a price that over delivers.”
Our next stop was my favorite food experience (with fantastic wine) of the entire trip. Niner Wine Estates is a LEED Certified Winery at Heart Hill Vineyard, a vineyard that has a natural heart-shaped growth. We were hosted by Andy Niner, General Manager, and Molly Bohlman, Winemaker, who talked candidly about the struggles of pulling off a big estate vision – planting and harvesting three wineries, launching one restaurant with well-known chef Maegan Loring and making the decision to focus on estate wines – mostly Bordeaux and Rhone varietals.
Our lunch was amazing (I am still dreaming about the carrot soup which shockingly was fantastic with the Sangiovese) and we had the chance to visit the chef garden, which was an exercise in frenetic harvesting, in motion. The experience was an artistic vison of how each wine should go with the food.
We briefly visited Tin City, a business park of small production wineries. We toured Field Recordings, where we saw some innovative wine canning and packaging, and Broadside Wines, which had some off the beaten path Italian varietals. The next stop was ONX Wines, which was one of my favorite wineries of the trip. ONX only makes 4,000 cases and is the only estate vineyard in the Tin City complex. I loved these wines and would have shipped them home, but many of them were sold out due to the small production quantity.
Our next stop was Eberle Winery, the oldest continuously owned winery in Paso. Gary Eberle is often referred to as the “godfather of Paso Robles” and was instrumental in establishing the AVA in 1983. After graduating from Penn State with a football scholarship, he joined the SEC with a graduate focus on cellular genetics. After developing an appreciation for wine due to a professor who introduced him to great French wines, he headed to U.C. Davis for his enology degree and moved to Paso Robles in the early 1970s. This led him to a decision in the late 70’s to produce his own wine and he founded Eberle (German name for small boar).
He also asked the Steinbeck Family, who has evolved from growers to vintner ten years ago, to show their small production wines. These wines are fantastic but a gift to those who visit Paso and Eberle.
Eberle built the first wine caves in Paso Robles, which now total 16,000 square feet of underground caves. He decided to create a community – tastings are free and the vibe is “family reunion.” Gary personally cooked his world-famous BBQ paired with Eberle and Steinbeck wines as we watched the sunset over the vineyards. Such an iconic ending with a Paso pioneer.
So let me end with the only caveat of the trip – the San Luis Obispo airport. Be afraid – you will hear how easy, how fast, how simple your check-in will be. This is false. You need to allow for the 90 minutes you hear about and frequently ignore. We didn’t do that. Four out of six (unable to give up the wine because we couldn’t check luggage) did not make our original flight. I made my connection (18 minutes in between) from Phoenix to Dallas doing a quintessential OJ Simpson (pre-murder) and I still feel bad for my poor seatmates.