“Cinnamon” now holds the place of honor at the ranch, above the bar in the Ancient Peaks Winery tasting room. Cinnamon – an old-style, short-horn, brood cow – came to the Santa Margarita Ranch in 1980 and produced a calf each year until her very last years then passed in 2013. Cinnamon was deeply loved. “We figure Cinnamon was about 35 years old. She was an integral part of our ranch,” expressed Doug Filipponi, Santa Margarita Ranch co-owner (along with the Rossi and Wittstrom Families) and rancher. Honoring Cinnamon is a prime example of the deep connection the three families who own and run Santa Margarita Ranch, home of Ancient Peaks Estate winery, Margarita Vineyards and Margarita Adventures have with their beloved ranch and vineyard.
Santa Margarita a Connection Place
The town of Santa Margarita, home to the Santa Margarita de Cortona Asistencia, was put on the map in 1889 as a congregation place for travelers making their way from San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles. A stagecoach was the only way to travel between two train-lines one stopping in San Luis Obispo and the other starting in Paso Robles. The town of Santa Margarita blossomed when train travel replaced the stagecoach that connected the two Central Coast towns.
Running Range Cattle
Santa Margarita Ranch is one of the oldest running cattle companies in California. “Cattle have been on this ranch since the 1770’s. The Franciscan missionaries, who built the original 70 Adobes that were a part of this ranch, started it all,” explained Doug, a cattle-rancher most of his life, as he took me on a tour of the ranch.
Cattle still run the ranges around the vineyards and make up one integral part of the Santa Margarita Ranch operations. The cattle mainly feed on the native grasses which recover well due to rotational grazing practices. The ranch manager, and the ranch families, aided by four ranch dogs, move the cattle about every 30 days. Permanent pasture is irrigated starting around June/July, depending how much rainfall was received during the rainy season. This practice honors the natural grass provision for the cattle and demonstrates concern for the environment.
Preserving the Past
The families have also honored the work of the Franciscan monks who hand-built the “Asistencia” a stone-and-mortar meeting hall or church which was a sub-mission of Mission San Luis Obispo. The Santa Margarita de Cortona Asistencia has been restored and now functions as an event venue.
The original walls are exposed inside, but the outside has been extended and is covered with wood. Today, the Asistencia looks more like a barn and the roof extends past the original walls. Butting up to the original outside walls are stalls which at one time housed the draft horses which worked the land and provided transportation. The stalls are intact outside the original walls and under the cover of the extended roof. Today, one can easily imagine the horses in their stalls, and if you listen closely enough, you can almost “hear” the snorting of the horses as they nuzzle into their feed at the end of a work day.
Honoring the Environment
Environment-honoring, sustainable viticulture practices are the backbone of Margarita Vineyard the grape source for all Ancient Peaks wines. Owl boxes encourage natural rodent reduction, water run-off is managed and minimal pesticides and herbicides are used in the vineyard. Five distinct soil types with unique microclimates provide ideal growing conditions for a variety of wine grapes. The vineyards weave through the existing oak tree clusters which appear throughout the 14,000 acres of Margarita Vineyard. “We don’t pull out any healthy oak trees; the vineyards are planted around the trees. This is how the original vineyard planter Robert Mondavi did it, so we do too,” Doug explained.
Zipping over Zinfandel
Care, concern and creativity which are on display in all Santa Margarita Ranch enterprise operations are also quite evident in the newest enterprise: Margarita Adventures. Five single ziplines and one double zipline provide adventure seekers an Agri-tour they won’t readily forget. Guests enjoy zipping over the grapevines from peak to peak giving them a bird’s eye view of the ranch. In addition they are introduced to the history, practices and vineyards of Margarita Vineyards. The zipline “tour” ends in a mineshaft with the warning sign “Danger, Do Not Enter”. Zipline guests end the adventure meandering around the mining town surrounded by beautiful vineyard views, against the Santa Lucia mountain range. A coupon for wine tasting can be used in the tasting room to end a perfectly lovely adventure.
Connecting Horses and Wine
Horse enthusiasts will feel at home in the Ancient Peaks Winery Estate tasting room as a nod to the western life is evident in the décor. A cowhide rug under tractor seat stools and western pattern pillows make the lounge area quite comfortable. Here in the tasting room many Ancient Peaks wines are poured. Tasters can try the popular Cabernet Sauvignon, the unique Renegade blend, and enjoy the consistent yet-different-every-year, Oyster Ridge blend. Knowing that a working cattle ranch is an entity draws horse enthusiasts to this unique winery. However, the only cow visible from the tasting room is Cinnamon. So for a more in-depth look, tours and as well as zip line adventures will bring you up-close and personal with the goings on at Santa Margarita Ranch home of the Ancient Peak Estate Winery and Margarita Vineyards.
Photos: Sharon Jantzen