My first visit at Halter Ranch was in the spring of 2002, provided by the uber talented Steve Glossner who was hired as its first winemaker. While I have always liked their premium quality wines for their fair prices, a recent visit to this popular tasting room impressed me.
The historic ranch originally dates back to the 1880s when it was part of a 3,000-acre ranch owned by Edwin Smith. His restored Victorian home built in 1885 still stands as a landmark next to Adelaida Road. The ranch was purchased in 2000 by Swiss billionaire Hansjorg Wyss, who was enamored with the burgeoning Paso Robles wine appellation.
Wyss named it after his mother, whose surname was Halter. From the start, Wyss wanted to concentrate on making the best wines in the region, which is why he wanted one of our best Central Coast winemakers. Glossner had earned the prestigious Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande Trophy in France for Justin Vineyards' 1994 Isosceles, a Bordeaux blend grown in Paso Robles. That was Glossner’s previous job. He now owns and operates ROXO Wine Cellars in Paso Robles.
During the first tour, I also met the vineyard manager Mitch Wyss, no relation to the owner, who was dedicated to sustainable farming practices. He was hired to improve the existing vineyards, plus expand and manage them. Halter Ranch has come long way since that early but quiet start. They sold most of the grapes to their neighbors. They entered the major marketplace several years later as the brand grew. Today, everything has changed, except for their dedication to environmental qualities making great wines at fair prices.
Recently, I was invited on a media tour of the estate where I met Executive Director of Winemaking Kevin Sass, who previously spent 11 years at Justin Vineyards, and General Manager Skyler Stuck, who previously was the director of wine sales at Hope Family Wines. They both provided a fascinating and educational tour of the recently opened, new winery and tasting room at Halter Ranch.
“Initially, we sold 85 percent of the grapes grown on the estate,” Stuck noted as we walked through the impressive new winery that’s cooled through night air ventilation so there’s no need for air-conditioning. They also added skylights to let in natural light in daytime hours, which he explained makes for happier employees.
“Kevin and I decided to concentrate on what we do best," Stuck said. "We removed Counoise and zinfandel vines to replace them with more Rhone varieties like Malbec and petit verdot. We’re selling very little fruit now, but we’re making more wine. Then, we select the best wine lots for our brand and sell the remainder to the bulk market.” He added that they’re selling less bulk-wine, which speaks highly about the improvements in overall quality year to year.
Their upscale wine experience for the public has already earned kudos from Sunset magazine which named them “The Best Vineyard Experience” in 2015. Believe me, this benefits every Central Coast winery. They are shining a spotlight on the Paso Robles wine country by showing their ability to produce world-class wines in their state-of-the-art winery. And that appeals to wine connoisseurs worldwide.
I recommend trying the total wine country experience. You’ll be escorted in a classic Land Rover to the top of the property for a panoramic view of the 900-acre estate; visit the champion Ancestor Oak tree, which is the oldest and largest oak tree in the region with a 110-feet-wide crown spread; tour through the winery and caves, where they’re aging 2,000 barrels of wine and they aren’t at capacity with 20,000 square feet of caves; and conclude with a private tasting in the member lounge (not the tasting room with the general public). It’s priced fairly at $45 per person and $35 for club members for a three-hour tour.
You can also take a one-hour tour of the winery and cave that’s complimentary. Or better yet, a one-hour barrel-tasting tour in the caves to taste wine from three different barrels highlighting one varietal, like cabernet sauvignon or syrah. It’s a great experience to learn how different each one tastes depending on the vineyard where it was grown, and because of the type of barrel it is aging in, only $25 per person, $20 club members. If you haven’t done it before, it’s a great learning experience to recognize the complexities in future wines you buy.
During the tasting of five of their premium wines with Sass, I was impressed overall in the beautiful balance and classic fruit characters in each one. The line is mostly red Rhone varieties, each a delightful blend of varieties in the rose and red wines. It’s a testimony of the winemaker’s talent and his passion for these fine wines, all of which were quite reasonably priced in the $21 to $55 category.
“We don’t make rose in the saignee method (bleeding juice from grenache, or any other variety, after limited contact with the grapes skins),” Sass explained. “We grow grenache, Picpoul Blanc, Mourvedre and syrah specifically for making our Roses.” I could taste the quality in it just as well as I could in their flagship reserve wine, a cabernet sauvignon, Malbec, and petit verdot blend they nobly titled Ancestor.