Hilliard Bruce Vineyards – Part 2: On Sustainability

Lily pad in Pond

Part 2 of a 4 part series on our trip to Hilliard Bruce in the Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County.

 

On Sustainability

The vineyard is SIP Certified as Sustainable.  For several years they farmed “organically” but John wanted to move past this and address the efficient use of water and electricity.  SIP Certification addresses a broader goal of sustainability including water conservation, pest management, energy efficiency, habitat conservation, economic stability as well as human resources.

Hilliard Bruce Solar panels

Power

The property is solar powered by 35 Kilowatts of solar panels that provide at least 80% of the power needed.

Hilliard Bruce lake view

Water

They hired a bioreclaimation company for industrial sites to create a 6 acre reservoir.  The reservoir holds 1.5 million gallons of water and originally had a v-8 car engine to power the pumps.  In 2011 this was put to good use preventing frost damage that year in April.  Spraying all 21 acres with the water raises the temperature above freezing keeping the vines from being damaged.  In addition the reservoir is also used for irrigation.  The reservoir sits on a hill top so much of the irrigation is gravity flow.  There are 1500 square feet of floating islands in the middle of the pond, made of recycled water bottles.  This island with it’s plants filters out heavy metals and excess nutrients from the water.  The water is then conditioned so that when it goes into the irrigation lines there is not alkaline bicarbonate build-up which can cause clogs and keep the lines from irrigating evenly.  They also have cutting edge computer telemetry to monitor the vines for when they need water.  They use drip, double drip and overhead sprinklers for watering. And the trickle down effect is measured in, so….the vines at the bottom of the hill don’t have as much coming out of the drip as the top of the hill, because the excess water from above will be already trickling down to them.  Brilliant!

Composting

The Static Aeration compost building is pretty amazing.  The compost is aerated from below to get the micro-organisms going faster.  This compost is made from Horse Manure from their stables with Arabian horses that they raise.  The building has a blower system underneath to inject air into the compost from below.  They use the manure for the 20 Arabian horses to create compost in 30 days without turning the pile!  The entire compost needs of the vineyard are taken care of internally from this compost building.

 

Tomorrow We will get into their amazing canopy management and talk about the wines.

Halter Ranch – Tradition and Innovation

Halter Ranch Winery

In 1874 when Edwin Smith moved to Paso Robes the area of Halter Ranch was still known as Las Tablas.  This is the name of the creek that runs through the property and gives it’s name to the Haas/Perrin winery just over the hill. It wasn’t until the MacGillivray family purchased part of the property in 1943 that the first vines were planted.

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

Halter Ranch Spring Vines

Halter Ranch, as we know it today came about in 2000 when Hansjorg Wyss purchased 900 acres.  Halter is his mother’s maiden name. In 2008 he was ranked number 164 of the Forbes list of billionaires and he is the 2nd richest person in Switzerland.  Here we see his money being put to good use for wine lovers.  He is known for his philanthropy.  His Wyss Foundation places large parcels of land under government protection.  He is a by nature conservationist.

The vineyards here have been growing grapes and selling them to the best of the area’s wineries. They now have to wean wineries of their grapes as they establish their own label.  The ranch itself is over 1000 acres with less than ¼ of it devoted to vines.  They focus on Rhone and Bordeaux varieties.  Mr. Wyss conservationist attitude can be seen here.  The property has wildlife corridors for local mountain lions, badgers, bobcats and coyotes.  These corridors allow the animals to roam over large portions of land as they are meant to, rather than simply running into fences.  On the ranch you will also find the Ancestor Oak.  This Coastal oak is the world’s oldest.  It is 324 inches around, 55 feet tall and has a 104-foot crown.  On the property you will find insectaries, owl boxes and raptor perches.  They have a mobile chicken coup that was used to keep pests down, until they realized that the raptors loved chicken for lunch!

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

Halter Ranch Gravity Flow

They began their own label in 2002 and the new winery is stunning.  They wooed Kevin Sass from Justin Winery here.  How could he resist!  The winery is gravity flow, which is great for the wines and lower in energy use.  Gravity flow is noted for producing smoother wines free of astringent tannins.  The winery has 4 self contained temperature controlled rooms and naturally cooled caves in the side of the mountain for barrel storage.

With 57 separate vineyard blocks and soil types from calcareous clay to clay loam with shale and sandstone deposits and a computerized tank monitoring system with enables Kevin to monitor and regulate the fermentation tanks temps from his desktop or phone, this is a winemakers dream.

The winery is also SIP certified which means they are sustainable not only in vineyard and winery practices toward the grapes, but also toward the staff also.  The winery has concrete catwalks so that the staff can easily get to the top of the tanks.  They also have the tanks on concrete pads to raise them making it much easier to clear out the must.

Halter Ranch Covered Bridge

Halter Ranch Covered Bridge

In addition to the stunning winery the property also houses a gorgeous covered bridge that connects the older buildings of the property with the new.  Across the bridge you will find the Historic Victorian Farmhouse that was built in the 1880s and was completely restored in 2001-2003 and the Silo Barn that was restored in 2012.  This property is a photographers dream!

Halter Ranch buildings

Halter Ranch buildings

And yes, the wines are lovely.

Halter Ranch Wine Glass

Halter Ranch Wine Glass

Shale Oak – a holistic sense of sustainability

Shale OAK Winery

In researching for our trip to Paso, I came across CellarPass.  Cellar Pass provides online reservations for tastings at wineries.  I found Shale Oak through them and scheduled a 10 am tasting.

This stunning tasting room is off of 46W on Oakdale road. The winery released it’s inaugural vintage in May of 2011, and opened their tasting room later that year.  This winery was built to be sustainable and the building is LEED certified.  At least 1/3 of the wineries energy needs are supplied by the solar photovoltaic panels on the building. The redwood used on the building is 100 year old reclaimed wood from Vandenburg.  All the items in their gift shop are repurposed items.

The owner Al Good was raised in Virginia and is an entrepreneurial farmer.  He has developed a holistic approach to the agriculture business.  The sense of land stewardship is what drives Shale Oak.  Their winemaker Curtis Hascall is in his early 30’s and grew up in Watford England.  He graduated from Cal Poly with a degree in food-science.  He worked with Consulting winemaker Kevin Patrick Riley before coming on board with Shale Oak.  Consultant winemaker Kevin Riley is well know in Paso and consults for several wineries as well as owning and running Proulx with his wife Genoa. His adventure style shows in the wines.

Before we began our tasting our pourer got us each a small glass of a palate cleanser called evo that was developed by a couple for their senior project at Cal Poly.  The pH is the same as wine, so it is better than crackers or water.  Our tasting began with the 2011 Sui.  Sui is the second element in Japanese philosophy and represents water, fluidity, magnetism and suppleness.  This blend of Viognier, Grenache Blanc, Albarino, Pinot Grigio is bright and clear with honeydew melon and a nice minerality.  We next moved on to the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon.  I know…Cabernet as the first red on a menu?  Seems a little out of order doesn’t it?  But this is  a lovely approachable soft cab with just a little petite Verdot.  The Cab has a very interesting nose.  It is deep rich and smoky.  On the palate it is lighter bodied almost with a Pinot Noir mouth feel, but still a very deep nose.

The 2009 Syrah had berries on the nose and was meaty and smoky on the palate.  This is a fruit forward new world style wine.

The 2009 Petite Sirah has a sense of caramel, this is a bigger wine, but very approachable.  You get violets on the nose.  Unlike many Petite Sirahs this is not heavy or inky.  It has great aromas and flavors but is lighter on the palate.  They once did a pairing of this with an ice cream with a caramel ribbon (yum).

The 2009 Petit Verdot is dry but not as dry as a typical Petit Verdot.  You get a burst of raisin with this.  This one sits at 16% alcohol but is not hot.

The Cabernet and all of their whites are grown on their Pleasant Valley Vineyard on the East side. Here on the property by the winery they grow Syrah, Grenache and Zinfandel.  The Zin is young and not producing much yet so they supplement their Zin by buying fruit from Willow Creek Farms right down the road.  Willow Creek is owned by Kevin Riley.

Their white wines are aged in stainless, and the reds in oak.  Their 2012 Zin is currently aging in New Oak.

The tasting room is stunning with vaulted ceilings and stained glass windows on the front, clean lines and a sense of peacefulness.

They have a beautiful patio where they have music on the last Sunday of each month.  They sell wine by the glass and encourage people to bring their lunch and enjoy the patio.

Really this place is stunning and the wines were really wonderful.

If you need a little Zen time, this is the place to come.  Bring a snack, get a glass of one of their wines and relax and rejuvenate on the serene patio with the beautiful water features.