By Leslie Jones
Stretched out along the back roads of Adelaida, the golden hills, canopied oaks and endless rows of grapevines reward you with the sights and sounds of a Steinbeck novel. Working ranches and vineyards, weather-beaten barns, historic schools and cemeteries, and deer grazing the grassland all add to Adelaida’s unique charm.
Drive the winding country roads, turning right onto Adelaida Road after traveling 10 miles on Vineyard Drive. You’ll come across a magnificent Victorian farmhouse, built and originally owned by Paso Robles pioneer Edwin Smith in the early 1880s. Today it is known as Halter Ranch Vineyard.
As one of the area’s few SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified wineries, Halter Ranch Vineyard maintains its philosophy of good neighbor and employer. Currently sitting on the Central Coast Vineyard Team Board of Directors, Mitch Wyss, winegrower and vineyard manager for Halter Ranch Vineyard, thought it especially important to become SIP Certified.
“It’s a good checklist for vineyards to ensure we’re not moving outside any boundaries,” explains Bill Sheffer, Halter Ranch Vineyard’s Winemaker. “It doesn’t hurt to have it placed on our label and it enables us to remain respected by our neighbors.”
In order to qualify for vineyard certification, growers must farm in ways that protect both the natural and the human resources. A stringent set of standards are developed by the Central Coast Vineyard team in collaboration with wine growers and more than 30 state, federal, environmental, agricultural and university representatives.
In 2000, Swiss-born businessman Hansjorg Wyss purchased over 900 acres of the original ranch, renovated the historic barns and farmhouse and began enlarging the estate vineyard, first planted in 1996. Today there are close to 250 acres of vineyards with 19 grape varieties planted on the ranch in 48 different vineyard blocks.
Combining old world wine making methods and newer techniques, Halter Ranch specializes in varietal and blended red wines from Bordeaux and Rhone styles. Vines are planted on steep south-facing slopes reaching 1800 feet in elevation, and the soils are rich in limestone, a primary feature in many of the world’s finest vineyards.
Coastal fog allows the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly, developing rich, concentrated flavor. Furthermore, an abundance of winter rainfall lessens the need for irrigation during the growing season.
With a commitment to environmentally responsible grape growing practices, Halter Ranch Vineyard incorporates sustainable practices throughout the land, including organic fertilization, weed removal, pest control and mildew protection. Recycling is promoted in all areas of the winery’s operations along with the use of bio-diesel fuel and composting.
The tasting room first opened in spring 2005 and a Syrah from the 2002 vintage was released. Close to a dozen wines are now available for tasting including a vast sampling of flavorful whites and reds.
While slowly sipping the 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s obvious why it is an award winner in the Central Coast Wine Competition (Gold Medal, Best in Class) and San Francisco International Wine Competition (Gold Medal,). Paso Robles is well known for its world-class Cabernet Sauvignon and Halter Ranch’s version is an incredible example of this region’s finest.
The Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and very unique Ancestor (another gold medal winner) with an intriguing blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec and Syrah are all superb, as well.
Named Winemaker of the Year in 2008, Bill Sheffer is busy with his newest role overseeing the design of Halter Ranch’s new state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly winery. “We are looking forward to moving our sustainable practices beyond the vineyard,” said Sheffer. The new winery, opening in 2011, will feature a green building, solar power and gravity flow design.
“The gravity flow winery allows us to handle the fruit in the gentlest way possible, without pumping, from the de-stemmer at the top level, into the tanks, and ultimately into the barrel,” explains Sheffer “The new facility will allow us to improve the quality of our wines even more.”
There are panoramic views whichever way you turn from a newly erected covered bridge to the back portion of the property. An airstrip, beginnings of the new winery and endless rows of vineyards continue as far as the eye can see. Buddy the Vineyard Cat often offers to escort you around his vast territory.
It is impossible to travel through the Adelaida area without developing an appetite for its historical intrigue. In 1860 only a handful of hardy settlers were working with the largely inaccessible land. Quicksilver was soon discovered, and along with miners came farmers and stockmen. What they found was good soil and abundant rainfall.
Along with the rail service to Paso Robles in 1886, several major roads were constructed and a large Mennonite population moved into the area. By the 1890s, Adelaida was home to six schools, three post offices and approximately 700 residents.
As quicksilver mines opened and closed, the population began to falter. The largest mines, Klau and Buena Vista, saw several more openings as recently as the late 1960s. Today’s population is well below that of a century ago.
If you want a day trip that combines old California history, incredibly good wines and tranquility, the Adelaida area is well worth visiting. The winding roads are a reminder to slow down, breathe in the fresh air and let your mind escape the stress of modern living. Halter Ranch Vineyard’s historic buildings and SIP Certified status add to the area’s appeal. The vineyard is open daily 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Vineyard and Victorian farmhouse tours are available by appointment and are highly recommended during your visit. Please visit www.halterranch.com for more information.
Leslie Jones grew up in Santa Barbara and now lives in San Luis Obispo. She writes often about natural habitats, wildlife and sustainability and has written for WildBird Magazine, the California Coastal Commission and Friends of the Sea Otter along with numerous magazines in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.