It might be when you touch down at the San Luis Obispo airport and the lack of a connecting gate allows you to be greeted by miles of green and golden hills spilt before you. Or maybe it’s when you’re winding your way through shaded, wildlife -dotted country roads that stretch through some of the most verdant vineyards in the country. For me, it was the Victorian mansion. Wherever it hits you, there is the overwhelming sweeping feeling once in Paso Robles that you’re in wine paradise. The hills roll before you and appear to go on forever. The grapes, plucked freshly from the branches of growing vines, slide down your tongue with a sharp pinch at the back of your throat.
Dating back to the 1880s, the Victorian mansion of Halter Ranch Vineyard was built by New Jersey businessman Edwin Smith on part of a 3,600-acre holding that would eventually develop into what is now Halter Ranch Vineyard and Winery. The entire ranch, not just the Victorian, feels sacred — full of history.
Smith raised livestock and horses on the property until the early 1900s, when his business faltered and he was forced to divide the property. Enter the MacGillivray family, who in 1943 purchased 1,200 acres and farmed the land, planting the first grapevines here in 1996. In June, 2000, Swiss entrepreneur Hansjörg Wyss bought 900 acres from the MacGillivray family, renovated the historic Victorian, and began expanding the small vineyard. Hansjörg’s vision was simple: to produce quality grapes and wine on an environmentally forward ranch that he would be able to pass down to his children and grandchildren in a solid and sustainable form. Winemaker Kevin Sass was hired in 2011 to help make that vision a reality.
Sass is a Southern California native who graduated from California State University in Fresno with degrees in enology/wine production and agricultural business. He came to Halter Ranch after working at the well-respected Justin Vineyards & Winery, located just down the road, first as an intern and eventually as associate winemaker. Sass is passionate about Hansjörg’s vision, and maintains the property's SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certification — meaning that it conforms to strict rules governing habitat conservation, energy efficiency, pest management, water conservation, economic stability, and human resources.
I had that wine paradise feeling again up on vineyard block 52, beside rows of grenache vines, overlooking all of Halter Ranch and sipping the winery's 2012 Côtes de Paso Blanc (grenache blanc, roussanne, picpoul blanc, and viognier) beside the fire-pit with new friends, but it really overwhelmed me when Sass and his colleagues shared a delicious meal paired with some of the winery's richest offerings on the Victorian’s open-air porch. Maybe most impressive was Sass's first attempt with the classic Spanish grape tempranillo, vintage 2011, full-bodied, bold, and smoky — a booming success for Sass, and for Halter Ranch.