Year End Holiday Round Up
As 2020 comes to a close, we acknowledge it’s been a challenging year, but nonetheless, we are grateful. Grateful for our crew’s enthusiasm, their endurance, and most of all, their belief in our mission to create excellent wine and cider. Grateful for the bounty nature has given us this past year culminating in a abundant harvest this season. Most of all, we are grateful for those of you who purchase and enjoy our products and continue to believe in the mission of Sycamore Ranch. As I reminisced on the photos from the past 12 months, I was struck by how busy we were. We have accomplished much against the strong headwinds of 2020 and for that we are grateful as well.
Elizabeth and I attended CiderCon in Oakland, the National Convention for the American Cider Association. It was our first time, and we had a great time meeting other aspiring cidermakers obsessed with their craft and striving to get product to market. One of the highlights was an event hosted by Point Reyes Farmstead that opened my mind to how well dry ciders pair with cheese. We toured local ciderworks and enjoyed the chance to network and share our own ciders at the closing “Cider Share” event
We teamed with the Lake Arrowhead Taproom and they featured our “Belezza” hard cider on tap. It was a big hit with their customers, and it sold out much faster than expected. We also started pruning our recently acquired, four acres of 100-year-old, dry farmed heritage apple trees. The Ranch Hands worked through several orchards pruning hundreds of old trees to bring back vigor, balance, and productivity after decades of neglect.
Orchard pruning continued, and we also began pruning our estate Zinfandel and Syrah vineyards. In addition to the monthly barrel topping, we prepared for our wine club pick up party on the fourteenth. The cool weather made for a light turn out, but as the last gathering before the Covid restrictions were enacted, everyone had a wonderful time previewing our new releases and catching up with dear friends. As fate would have it, the State shut down wineries for in person tastings the following day. Still, optimism reigned with the first sign of budbreak in the orchards and the beautiful pink apple blossoms signaling spring was on its way.
The rehabilitation our Big Moon Orchard began with the grafting of scionwood from our on-site heritage apple varieties to M-111 rootstock to replace long missing trees. We also obtained scionwood of other well-known cider apple varieties such as Wickson Crab, Golden Russet, Ashmead's Kernel, Roxbury Russet and Dabinett. All will add great variety to our cider program. It is rewarding to know that our old Dart Canyon orchards will become productive and relevant again for a new generation of apple lovers. Cider production continued with the bottling of our “Scrumpy” Hard Cider, but with no in person tastings allowed, we began an internet sales and shipping program to get our wines and ciders to the public. In spite of the shutdown, we are grateful for the internet orders and the knowledge that people staying “safer at home” were still be able to enjoy our products.
It was feeling more like Spring as budbreak began in our vineyards. With the anticipation of warmer weather and a demand for summer wines, we bottled our Rosé and our bubbly and refreshing “One Frog” Hopped Cider for release at our June wine club event. The gardens on the Ranch began blooming and, with the help of our son Andrew, sheltering in place with us during the Covid stay at home order, we planted what turned out to be beautiful summer vegetable gardens.
Just in time for summer pick up party, Covid restrictions were eased, enabling us to once again open for outdoor tastings. This was such a relief for us and actually a welcome blessing. Outdoor tastings actually allowed us to increase seating within Covid compliance guidelines by featuring separate tables underneath umbrellas, which everyone seemed to enjoy. We also had great grape set in the vineyards and were able to watch the Apples slowly swell in size on the trees. Recognition of our efforts also arrived for our hard ciders in the form of a Gold Medal and several Silver Medals from the Seattle Cider Awards competition.
Elizabeth and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary by taking a long, slow and relaxing two week drive up the California coast. It was a great time to rekindle our relationship and enjoy the fruits of our labor. In July, we were informed that the wines we entered in the Sunset Magazine International Wine Competition received high recognition, including a Double Gold Medal, 95pt. rating for our SGM blend and a Gold Medal 92pt. rating for 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon.
The heat brought in more ripening apples from the orchards. The sunflowers bloomed, framing the grapes as they began to turn purple during veraison, signaling that it was time to net the vines to keep hungry birds at bay. We also finished off the gravel parking area at the eastern end of the property with the addition of craftsmen style columns decked out with custom SRV tile markers. The parking area has really helped ease the burden of on street parking to our neighbors in Dart Canyon.
Harvest season began in earnest with Primitivo from Paso, as well as early ripening apples such as Jonathan and Newtown Pippin being picked and pressed. We welcomed new Ranch Hand Eugene Arellanes, a level 2 certified Sommelier, as a harvest intern at the winery. His knowledge of wine, excellent palette, and thirst for learning, is a great benefit to our team. Results were announced for the Central Coast Wine Competition at the Paso Robles Mid-State Fair. It was an honor to compete with so many great wineries and to be recognized with “Double Gold, Best of Class” for our 2018 Merlot, “Double Gold” for our ’18 Ranch Red blend and Gold Medals for our Primitivo and Syrah. All of our other entered wines received Silver Medals. This felt darn good.
Harvest season really heated up! Working what seemed like eight days a week, it was an endless parade of grape bins and ripened apples for processing. Varieties included Roussanne, Grenache, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, and Mourvedre from premier vineyards in Santa Barbara County and Paso Robles AVA’s. We made seven round trips that month, hauling over 24,000 pounds of beautiful fruit. I am thankful that Craig “Batch” Pearson was able to accompany me and to help with driving and heavy lifting. Our new diesel-powered truck and trailer proved to be a reliable transport for the precious cargo. This month also saw us processing the bulk of our apples including Rome Beauty and Northern Spy varieties. Lastly, at month’s end, more blessings were realized with the most bountiful and ripened (at 25°+) harvest yet of our Zinfandel and Syrah vineyards, destined for our two-year barrel aged Altitude 4576’. It will be something special to look forward to in 2022.
After an exhausting October, our attention turned to readying the barreled 2019 vintages for bottling, as well as transferring the 2020 bulk wines to barrels for aging. A large part of the process is developing the 2019 blends prior to bottling. Eugene and I carefully evaluated over 50 different blend samples, narrowing them down to a select few in preparation for the final tasting notes featured on our labels. Once the blends were determined, the real work began with our crew working over 7 days straight, transferring wine and producing the final blends for bottling. We calculated wine volumes, ordered bottles, printed new labels, all culminating with the scheduled arrival of the bottling truck on December 12. And if that wasn't enough, we still had late ripening apples to handle including the beautiful Arkansas Black and White Winter Pearmain apples, which were picked and then pressed at Law's Cider Mill in Oak Glen. As I write this note those ciders are still undergoing fermentation at the winery.
As the year closes out, we are pleased to report that the bottling went well. With the help of our Ranch Hands and Marathon Bottling, we were able to bottle over 700 cases in a single day. If things go as planned, the wines will be ready for their debut in early spring. So, now our attention turns back to the craft of winemaking to ensure that the 2020 harvest continues to evolve and mature into another year of satisfying, award winning wines. We soldier on, ready to repeat the process again next year.
If you've gotten to here in this missive, I hope that you've enjoyed the photos highlighting the annual rhythm– the ebb and flow of life at Sycamore Ranch. We are blessed to live this life and share the felicity of our work with each of you. The beauty of our winemaking lies in the wonderful friendships we have made sharing them along the way.
We are grateful for these friendships inspired, enriched, and enjoyed.
There is Still Time to get your Wines and Cider Rations before the Holidays.
Pick-Ups Only are Available until December 23rd.
Order Online or Call the Ranch (909) 338-1725 and We’ll get you Hitched Up!