Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Halter Ranch Vineyard: SIP & Sip
Two years ago, I visited the Paso Robles region and was especially impressed with many of their Rhône-style wines, made from a variety of Rhône grapes, including Syrah, Grenache, Carignane, Marsanne, Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and more. Interestingly, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot make up about 50% of all plantings in Paso Robles. Part of the reason is that a number of wine makers indicated that Rhône-style wines are a tough sell with many consumers. Those consumers are missing out on some excellent wines and Paso Robles is a region that you should explore, either by visiting the area or tasting their wines.
I recently received three samples from Halter Ranch, a Paso Robles winery, and it included two Rhône-style wines and one Bordeaux-style wine. At a local food event, I previously tasted the 2007 Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso, a Rhône-style red, and was impressed. So I looked forward to tasting some of their other wines.
The history of the Halter estate extends back to 1881, when Edwin Smith purchased a 3600 acre estate, though there would not be vineyards on the property until over a hundred years passed. Edwin was born in New Jersey but eventually moved to San Francisco to become a wholesale butcher. In 1874, he then moved to an area west of Paso Robles. Once he purchased the Halter estate, Edwin became a dealer in produce and livestock, as well as investing in silver mines and owning thoroughbreds. He constructed a large Victorian farmhouse on the estate, which remains a landmark even today.
Eventually, after a number of years of success, his businesses began to fail, and in the early 1900s the estate was broken up and sold. In 1943, the MacGillivray family bought 1200 acres of the estate and they owned it for over fifty years. But it was not until 1996 that they decided to plant some grape vines on the property. It would not be until June 2000 that wine would become much more important to the estate when Hansjörg Wyss, a Swiss businessman, bought 900 acres of the ranch, enlarging the vineyards from 40 to about 250 acres. There are even plans to plant more acreage this year.
The ranch is located in the west side of Paso Robles, about 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. The vineyards occupy very steep, south-facing slopes and are planted with about 20 grapes, separated into 57 separate blocks, delineated primarily by soil type. About 60% of the grapes are Bordeaux varieties and 40% are Rhône grapes, with a smattering of Zinfandel, Tannat and Tempranillo. Their new production facility, which uses gravity flow in all aspects of production, was recently completed in 2011 and they continue to use many Old World wine making techniques.
Halter Ranch received SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Vineyard Certification in 2008, indicating its commitment to "environmental stewardship, equitable treatment of employees, and economic viability." This commitment goes beyond organic agriculture, extending to many other areas of winery management. Sustainability is very important to Halter Ranch but their concerns extend beyond the vineyard and should be commended for their commitment to the SIP principles.
Of the three wines, my clear favorite was the 2011 Halter Ranch Cotes de Paso Blanc ($24), an enticing Southern Rhône blend of 33% Grenache, 26% Roussanne, 20% Picpoul Blanc, 12% Marsanne, and 9% Viognier. It was fermented in French oak, stirred twice a week to mix in the lees, and did not undergo malolactic fermentation. It was then aged Sur Lie for four months in neutral French oak and has an alcohol content of 14.2%. The aroma was spectacular, a complex and harmonious melange of floral, fruit and herb notes, all of which also came out on the palate. Peaches, lemons, melons, white flowers, minerality and so much more. Well balanced, complex, a lengthy and satisfying finish, and excellent acidity. When the bottle was empty, I was craving another. A highly recommended wine.
Check out Paso Robles wines, especially the Rhône-style wines, and Halter Ranch's wines would be a good start.