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Halter Ranch Vineyard - May 17, 2018


8910 Adelaida Road, Paso Robles, CA 93446, USA


My husband and I joined a three hour Excursion Tour at Halter Ranch on Thursday, May 17th.  This comprehensive tour was led by our extremely knowledgeable guide, Noelle, and undertaken in a restored 1984 Land Rover Defender 110 shipped over from Cape Town, South Africa.


The tour took us all around the historic ranch including a drive up to Lion’s Ridge, the highest point in the vineyard, where we were treated to a cool, refreshing glass of 2017 Rosé.  We also enjoyed a glass of 2015 Ancestor under the 600 year old Ancestor Oak, the largest living coast oak tree in the world; 55 foot high and with a circumference of 324 inches.  The final part of the tour included a visit to the stunning custom built, gravity flow winery and man-made caves, and a fabulous tasting.


Halter Ranch was acquired in 1881 by Edwin Smith, a businessman from New Jersey.  Edwin previously worked as a butcher in San Francisco and relocated to Paso Robles in 1874.  He built a large Victorian farmhouse on the estate which burnt down in 1885.  Having rebuilt the property, he spent a number of years there before his business empire collapsed. 


The estate was broken up in the 1900s.  In 1943, the MacGillivray family acquired 1200 acres, farmed the land for the next fifty or so years and started planting vines in 1996.


In June, 2000, Swiss entrepreneur and businessman, Hansjörg Wyss purchased 900 acres of the ranch.  He renovated the old farmhouse and increased land under vine to its current 281 acres.  The farmhouse was originally used as a tasting room, but is now available for private hire.  The film, Arachnaphobia, was filmed there. 


There is a magnificent barn on the estate which Edwin Smith lived in whilst the farmhouse was being built.  The barn had to be taken down and rebuilt a few years ago to bring it up to code and is also now used for private events, particularly weddings. 


The vineyard uses methods which are “Sustainability in Practice” (“SIP”) certified.  The SIP seal is an assurance that all activity being undertaken cares for, preserves and protects the natural environment.  In terms of water conservation, rainwater and drain water is collected so that when vines need to be irrigated, they use 100% recycled water.  Safe pest management is practiced, tractor usage is minimised, cover crops are planted to assist with vineyard health and a wildlife reserve has been created to help maintain biodiversity. 


The estate incorporates a large number of Spanish and Italian olive trees and English walnut trees.  There is also a fruit orchard with apples, peaches, cherries and figs, and a kitchen garden with artichokes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and beans. There is also a large man-made pond which holds recycled water for irrigation and contains Bass, Bluegill and Carp.


A chicken coop has been installed with a solar powered door; chickens are helpful in managing the ant population.  Sheep and cows are “borrowed” from neighbouring farms in order to control the grass.  Eagles and hawks help control the rabbit, gopher and ground squirrel population; the biggest hazards to young vines, whilst Turkey Vultures and Bald Eagles dispose of dead animals.  36 owl boxes are located throughout the estate for Barn and Screech Owls to nest in.  Owls can eat between four to six rodents per night. 


Hansjörg added a beautiful covered bridge a few years ago; strong enough to take the weight of a fire engine.  It was built in Oregon before being shipped to Paso Robles and took two cranes two days to re-assemble it.  Dinners are held there twice a year.


Hansjörg is fascinated by trains and built a 2 mile long train track through the vineyard, which took six weeks to complete.  He has a train which is a 40% scale model of the Swiss train on which it is based and regularly drives this when staying on the estate. 


As for the vineyard, out of the 281 acres under vine, 115 acres are Cabernet Sauvignon.  Other Bordeaux varietals include Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Red Rhône varietals occupy around 88 acres and consist of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Tannat.  In terms of whites, there are small plantings of Picpoul Blanc, Grenache Blanc and Viognier.  Finally, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo and Carignane account for the final 12 acres.  A crew of twelve work full-time in the vineyard.  Contractors are brought in for seasonal activities such as pruning and harvesting.  Harvesting generally starts in late August and is done by hand at night when the temperatures are cooler.


The winery itself is state of the art and one of the most impressive I have visited. An enormous amount of time and effort has gone into designing this multi-level, gravity flow facility, where each stage of the winemaking process drops down a tier, thus reducing the need for trucks and pumps. 


Barrels are aged in man-made caves which are temperature and humidity controlled.  They cover an area of around 22,000 square feet.  Hungarian oak, French oak and concrete tanks are all used for ageing.


Wine kegs are supplied to the on-trade to enable them to serve wine by the glass.  Due to their design, the wine never comes into contact with oxygen and so it stays fresh for longer.  Even the wine kegs are 100% recyclable.


After our amazing tour of the estate, winery and the caves, we took our seats outside on the bright sunny patio to enjoy a selection of the latest offerings.


The Tasting:

2016 Grenache Blanc: 75% Grenache Blanc, 21% Picpoul Blanc, 4% Viognier

Created to reflect wines from Southern France, this is vibrant and fresh with white flowers, green melon, ripe pear and a hint of honey.


2017 Rosé: 64% Grenache, 26% Mourvèdre, 10% Picpoul Blanc

This rosé starts off with an amazing blast of strawberries on the nose which follows through on the palate.  It has bright acidity and good minerality.


2016 CDP: 75% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 8% Mourvèdre, 7% Tannat

An abbreviation of “Côtes de Paso” in homage to the Southern Rhône Côtes du Rhône, this medium-bodied red is soft, velvety and dangerously easy to drink.


2015 Syrah: 100% Syrah

With blueberries on the nose and dark fruit compote on the palate, this is big, bold and earthy.


2015 Cabernet Sauvignon: 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec, 6% Petit Verdot

An explosion of red and black fruit, combined with cedar, wood and spice; this is extremely elegant.


I would like to extend my personal thanks to Noelle for making our visit so informative and yet so much fun.  It is no mean feat driving that “stick-shift” Challenger over some very steep and rough terrain, and I am thankful to Noelle for keeping us upright - and the fact that she managed to avoid a couple of quails who appeared to be trying to outrun the Defender at one point!


The Halter Ranch estate is truly something special and the very clever and well thought out design of the beautiful winery is so impressive.  Add to that, some amazing wines, and I have no hesitation is recommending this enchanting and magical place.


Copyright of - May 2018



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