Ancient Peaks

/ Updated on January 14, 2018

This is my last article for 2017, so I thought I’d tell you about one of my favorite wineries.  Okay, it’s in Paso Robles. What can I say … I can’t tell a lie. I love how Ancient Peaks Winery represents the shared vision of three longtime local winegrowing and ranching families: the Filipponis, Rossis and Wittstroms. Two generations are actively involved in the winery’s daily operations; all dedicated to producing extraordinary wines from Margarita Vineyard.

Rob Rossi acquired Santa Margarita Ranch in 1999. His friends Doug Filipponi and Karl Wittstrom soon joined him as partners in the ownership of the ranch, which they had all regarded as a special property for many years. That same year, the Robert Mondavi family planted Margarita Vineyard on the ranch under a lease agreement. In 2005, the three families acquired ownership and control of Margarita Vineyard. The obvious potential of the vineyard ultimately inspired the three families to become vintners as well as winegrowers. They knew that they could cherry pick their favorite blocks and make distinctive wines with a strong sense of place.

The name Ancient Peaks was chosen to honor the towering Santa Lucia Mountains that border Margarita Vineyard. These peaks define the land’s complex geology and regulate the vineyard’s climate, ultimately shaping the character of the wines. Santa Margarita Ranch enjoys a long and illustrious cultural pedigree, beginning with the Chumash and Salinan Indians more than 10,000 years ago. In the 1770s, the ranch became part of Father Junipero Serra’s famed Mission Trail. Five different soils make up Margarita Vineyard: ancient sea bed, rocky alluvium, shale, volcanic and granitic. A winemaker’s dream.

Grapes were first planted at the ranch by Franciscan missionaries in 1780. Today, Santa Margarita Ranch remains one of California’s oldest cattle ranches in continuous operation. And it’s the southernmost subappellation of the Paso Robles region, just 14 miles from the Pacific Ocean. Rob, Doug, and Karl also have some awesome beef to go with their dynamic wines.

On my last trip there, I visited some wonderful folks at the winery. There, I tasted about 10 wines, seven of which are available to us on the east coast. Even though this field is crowded and we don’t have the space to carry every varietal from one winery, we have at different times carried five of our favorites from the Ancient Peaks lineup.

The limited-edition Chardonnay was hand crafted to exemplify Margarita Vineyard’s vivid sense of place. The palate is luscious and complex, unfolding into a balanced mineral finish. Only 20% was barrel fermented, creating a lush finish that’s not over-the-top oaky. We often face the wrath of certain customers (um, Tom Joyce) if we don’t have the Renegade or Oyster Ridge in stock.

The Renegade is a sublime blend of Syrah, Malbec and Petit Verdot that shows intense black fruits and baking spice. Defiantly bold and daringly bold. You must try it to love it. But perhaps if you’re in the mood for a truly distinctive wine that is a skillful blend of Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah, and Malbec, you’ll try the Oyster Ridge.

This cuvée honors the large white oyster fossils that cover the ground in Margarita Vineyard, fostering the type of calcium-rich soil that is coveted by winemakers worldwide. Each year, this cuvée comes from superior sections of the vineyard that are fastidiously farmed to maximize the fruit’s potential and meet the standards of the Oyster Ridge program. The final blend is assembled from only those barrels that exhibit exemplary complexity, structure and aging potential, often resulting in an unconventional union of varietals. The bottle must weigh 5 lbs. and the punt is about 5 inches deep. I do not dare hold it like a sommelier for fear of dropping the bottle!

With that, Kevin and I would like to wish each one of you and your family a wonderful holiday season filled with love, peace, and good wine!

Catherine Hester

About the Author

co-owner of Teller Wines in Lewes, DE with her husband Kevin, is a world traveler and shares their adventures at various wineries while offering thoughts on why she and Kevin order particular wines for their customers. Learn more about the Hesters by clicking here. View all articles written by Catherine Hester

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