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You can almost taste the fresh juice 

Travel along any of the Central Coast’s many wine trails and you’ll find the heady, sweet aroma of freshly crushed grapes wafting through the air. It’s the busy harvest season, when winemakers don’t have much time to think of anything other than the next load of grapes arriving at their crush pads. Yet there’s always a mood to applaud the new harvest despite the heavy workload, which is why there are so many celebrations during the grape harvest months of September and October. Consumers love the experience, be it educational or frivolous in fact we wine aficionados love it both ways.

FRONT MAN :  Mike Sinor (center front) makes the wines at Ancient Peaks Doug Filipponi and Rob Rossi (from left) own the winery, along with Karl Wittstrom (right). Amanda Wittstrom, next to Karl, handles sales and marketing. - PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FRONT MAN : Mike Sinor (center front) makes the wines at Ancient Peaks Doug Filipponi and Rob Rossi (from left) own the winery, along with Karl Wittstrom (right). Amanda Wittstrom, next to Karl, handles sales and marketing.
The annual Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend is upon us, happening Oct. 17 through 19, and it’s not too late to get into some of the best harvest parties in wine country. Don’t wait any longer than it takes to check out these highlighted wineries to call in your reservations or you’ll be left home alone. Unlike the big festival in Paso Robles Downtown Park in May, the harvest events take place at the wineries.

Among the highlights: At Opolo you can act out that famous scene of Lucy Ricardo stomping grapes in Italy in I Love Lucy sit down for an educational seminar on farming practices with the 16 “Far Out Wineries” while tasting their fine wines (faroutwineries.com) become an artist at blending wine at Chateau Margene spend the entire weekend camping out at Cass Winery with breakfasts and dinners prepared by winery chef Brandon McPartlan and there’s hot pizza coming out of the homemade, wood-burning oven at Pipestone, the greenest winery I know. For details on the events at all participating wineries and wine trail maps visit www.pasowine.com.

Paso Robles Harvest Wine Weekend Highlights: Ancient Peaks and D’Anbino Ancient Peaks, the newest tasting room in the Paso Robles wine region, is opening its doors for the first time on Friday, Oct. 17. Although the brand is new, after Wine Spectator rated their 2006 Zinfandel an awesome 93 points for a $16 wine, it’s no longer a Central Coast secret. Sunset magazine named it “steal of the year.” Ancient Peaks’ first wines, the 2005 vintage, were released into the marketplace last year, and became a top choice among value brands. Santa Margarita was a logical spot for the tasting room, with their premium Margarita Vineyard just ten minutes away.

Throughout the weekend they’ll be serving their line-up of wines with appetizers. While they’ll normally charge a $5 tasting fee, tasting is complimentary during harvest wine weekend, Friday through Sunday. You can also visit their Margarita Vineyard they’re providing free tours from the tasting room.

An Ancient Peaks’ winemaker’s dinner will be held at the Range Restaurant in Santa Margarita on Friday evening, Oct. 17. I attended last year and loved it. We enjoyed an array of the wines paired with a multi-course dinner prepared by the talented chef Jeff Jackson.

PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

During harvest weekend they’ll also be pouring a new reserve brand they call “the white label,” named Oyster Ridge. The name was chosen because of the fossilized oyster shells that riddle the soils of Margarita Vineyard. Marketing manager Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, whose family co-owns Ancient Peaks with the Rossi and Filipponi families, said Oyster Ridge features alternative varietals: Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, and Malbec. Each will be bottled 100 percent varietal and labeled with the name of the Paso Robles vineyard where it’s grown.

The Oyster Ridge label also has a limited edition cuvee: Cabernet Sauvignon blended with Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, and Syrah. Wittstrom-Higgins said: “We call it our halo wine because it’s the best wine we made in 2006.” Winemaker Mike Sinor, previously at Domaine Alfred in Edna Valley, makes Ancient Peaks’ wines. After reading the rave review of his Zinfandel, which deserved the score, I can’t wait to taste the Oyster Ridge cuvee.

At D’Anbino Winery they’ve got quite a treat planned for guests who visit during the annual Harvest Wine Weekend. If you’ve experienced their unique tasting room in the historic train station, you’ve seen the Emmy’s and gold records owners Carmine Rubino and John D’Andrea have earned for their hit songs. The duo grew up like brothers in Newark, New Jersey, although Carmine is John’s uncle. Like music, wine played an important role in family gatherings—after dinner they always jammed together. Now they’re offering guests a lesson in pairing wine, food, and music. Tasting room managers Sharon and Mike Rubino, Carmine’s son who’s a composer in the film and advertising industry in L.A., came up with the idea of a wine and music pairing for the harvest weekend.

“It’s based on artistic experimentation and fun,” Mike laughed, crediting online writer and winemaker Clark Smith, who offers a wine and music pairing chart at grapecraft.com. “The mood of the music brings out certain flavors in the wine,” Mike said. With Cabernet Sauvignon, he said something heavier and angrier is needed to mellow out this big wine, like “People are Strange” by The Doors. If you played their music while drinking Chardonnay, Mike noted, it wouldn’t fit. Play “Don’t Worry Baby” by the Beach Boys and you have a match for Chardonnay. The D’Anbino Family Band is still experimenting with the pairings for the event. Mike thinks the Rolling Stone’s would pair with the Cabernet, too.

Guests will hear the family band play a specific piece of music while they taste a D’Anbino varietal or blend with an appetizer to complement it made by chef Robert Rubino. A few tasty pairings planned include Cabernet Sauvignon with beef tenderloin crostini and Port with chocolate truffles. There will be two seatings on Saturday and Sunday—one at 2 p.m. and one at 4 p.m.—for only $10 per person, just to cover food costs. RSVP is required at danino.com, and payment will be accepted at the event. Of course, just hearing this talented band perform is a treat in itself.


You can reach New Times’ Cuisine columnist at khardesty@newtimesslo.com.

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