My General Philosophy.This is a description of my wine making
philosophy. I don't claim that it is necessarily the ideal way to
make wine, but it is how I feel about the art and science of making
I am a firm believer in the need to have good fruit in order to make
good wine. I have dealt with many challenges over the years due to
fruit that was less than perfect. As a result of that experience, I
have become much more choosey about whom I purchase fruit from. We
are meticulous about the management of our estate vineyards, and I
think it shows in the estate wines we produce. I try to craft wines
that meet specific customer preferences, which means that I have to
consider a spectrum tastes. Some people like big wines, some prefer
lighter. Some want white wine, while others only want red. I listen
to my customers, a great source of input about my wine and wine from
I will not bottle any wine that I know is flawed or does not meet my
personal criteria for drinkability. Wine that does not pass my
personal test for quality is distilled into brandy for use in making
fortified wines. I only use the best fruit for any Rose' that I make,
unlike many winemakers who produce Rose' from grapes that they
consider unsuitable for making red wine. I pay attention to all of
the details that are essential for making good wine. As my mentor,
Lum Eisenman, told me a long time ago, “it's not hard to make pretty
good wine, but it's even easier to screw it up by not paying attention
to the details”. I make that my mantra.
I consider myself a conservative winemaker. I stick with techniques
and processes that I know work, and avoid a lot of experimenting in
order to avoid unexpected results. I have never had a stuck
fermentation and rarely have to deal with wine flaws. I attribute
this to paying attention to processing details and being conservative
in my winemaking style.
I use new American and French oak barrels during the red wine aging
process. I like the flavor profiles of both, so I keep the wine in
new American oak for about 5 months, and then rack it to a new French
oak barrel for another 6 to 8 months. When I feel that the flavor
profiles from the oak are well represented in the wine, I transfer the
wine to a neutral oak barrel for additional aging for a total of 18 to
30 months, depending on the style that I'm trying to achieve with each
Our red wines are all filtered using a 1 micron filter system before
bottling. Our white wines are filtered through a combination of .45
micron filters and 1 micron filters. I taste all of our wines
frequently to determine that their development is coming along as
expected. I make amendments as necessary and make notes about
I use sulfites in my winemaking process for their antioxidant and
antibacterial properties. This is in order to offset the propensity
for the bacteria that create flawed wine to get a foothold in the
wine. It is a very useful tool in controlling oxygen in the wine,
which is essential. I use the bare minimum of SO2 to maintain my
wine's freshness, around 35 to 40 parts per million. In my opinion,
wineries who claim that they don't use sulfites have wine that is
almost certainly flawed in one way or another.
Notes of Annual Vintages
2017 is shaping up to be a good year. All of the rain will be very
helpful. Plan to apply nutrients again this year. The vineyard has a
lot of erosion damage due to the rain, so we'll be working on that. I
am now working as the winemaker at Old Julian Vineyard. We made their
first licensed wine in 2016, which is all developing very nicely.
2016 was a good year, finally. The late rains in 2015 helped to leach
away the build-up of salts around the root zones of our vines. I also
use some organic nutrients at the beginning of the growing season and
we carefully and meticulously managed our canape to assure optimum
sunlight, air, and control of leaf growth near fruit clusters. It all
worked, because we got a much better production of around 80% and the
wine is developing beautifully.
The white wines should be available in May 2017. The 2016 reds will
not be available until late 2018.
2015 was a disastrous year for production. Although we did get quite
a bit of rain at the end of summer, the damage from several years of
drought was done. We only got about 20% of our best production. I
was only able to produce one barrel of estate wine from our entire
crop, which I blended into Ranchers Red. That wine is still in the
barrel at this time and promises to be outstanding. Since we are a
boutique winery, I can only legally purchase enough grapes to make
another three barrels. I used merlot from Stone Lake Vineyard this
year, since I had to use all of our estate merlot in the Ranchers Red.
I also made small amounts of picpoulblanc, sauvignon blanc, and
viognier, which we quickly sold out in the summer of 2016. The
picpoulblanc was blended from Yeagley Vineyard and Sherri Edwards
Vineyard. The sauvignon blanc was blended from Magrini (formerly
Case) Vineyard and Old Julian Vineyard, and the viognier was from Old
None of the red wines from 2015 have been released yet. We expect to
bottle in May, 2017. All of the white wines sold out during the
summer of 2016.
2014 was another drought year, which is really impacting the ability
of our vines to produce fruit. Our estate production was even lower
this year. It was also a very hot year. Rabbits are girdling our
vines so I was forced to put grow tubes back on the mature vines.
Crazy! We thought that we might not continue with the winery since we
are planning to retire in 2016, so I reduced wine production of
purchased grapes as well. I ended up with a couple unexpected
deliveries of grapes though. Got some cabernet sauvignon from Miller
Vineyard. The fruit was not as good as I like, but the wine turned
out pretty good, exhibiting good varietal characteristics. Also ended
up with some Montepulciano from Temecula, which I blended as crush
with the skins from our picpoulblanc pressing. The estate merlot was
excellent, but not much of it. This continues to be our best seller.
Only produced a tiny amount of estate Ranchers Red this year, four
We still have 2014 estate merlot and Ranchers Red available, although
I have not released the Ranchers Red yet. We also still have 2013
Montepulciano and cabernet sauvignon available as well.
2013 was a drought year, resulting in less fruit production than
previous years. The fruit was quite good, but there was less of it.
The vineyards required more irrigation that previous years. We had
significant problems with ground squirrels and rabbits in the
vineyards. Despite the challenges, the estate wines produced from our
vineyards were excellent, especially the cabernet franc and the
cabernet sauvignon. The estate merlot continues to thrive in our
vineyard, requiring constant management of the vines to assure proper
light and air flow. The syrah vines are struggling for some reason,
but still producing good fruit. I decided to try my hand at making
port this year. Used estate petite verdot and 160 brandy distilled
from our 2010 cabernet franc, which I never bottled. Also introduced
a new "summer wine", blend of zin, cab and aglianico, which we call
Kickass Cowgirl. The zin came from Pyramid, while the cab and
aglianico came from Paccielo.
Estate 2013 syrah and Ranchers Red are still available, as is the
port, called Big John. A very small quantify of non-estate 2013
cabernet sauvignon is still available, as well as the Kickass Cowgirl
2012 was a good year for weather and growing conditions in the Ramona
Valley. The harvest hit early again for Hellanback Ranch, with all of
the grapes coming ready on Labor Day weekend. This is the second year
that this has happened. While it is hectic, it is nice to get it all
done at once. The heat on harvest day made it very uncomfortable for
picking. All of the 2012 estate wines exhibit what is now becoming a
consistent quality reflecting the terroir and care we give to our
vineyard. This was definitely a stand out vintage for our estate
wines. Our cabernet franc, merlot, and cabernet sauvignon were
particularly outstanding. We also bottled our petite verdot as a
single varietal and it was very popular. We also made wine from local
vineyards, Pacciello, Altipiano, Yeagley, and Crooked Cordon.
Unfortunately, none of the 2012 vintage estate wines are still
available. The only non-estate wine still available is a 2012
cabernet sauvignon made from Paccielo Vineyards fruit.
2011 was a very good year for the local vineyards in San Diego County.
We did have snow on April 1 (no April Fools). Glad that we prune
later than most local vineyards. Otherwise, the weather cooperated
the rest of the season and the vines in all the relatively new
vineyards are beginning to come into their own. All of our grapes
were ready for harvest on Labor Day weekend - very hot. Hellanback
Ranch introduced three new non-estate wines this year - Purgatory Pink
Rose' from Altipiano, Picpoul Blanc from Yeagley, and Syrah from
The only 2011 estate wine still available is our Ranchers Classic Red,
a Bordeaux style blend of cabernet sauvignon, petite verdot, and
cabernet franc. We also have a relatively light syrah made from
Yeagley Vineyard fruit still available.
2010 was a challenging year in San Diego County in terms of weather
and in the resulting fruit. We had more winter rainfall than usual,
which lasted well into April. We experienced the lowest temperatures
for any summer on record, including a record cold snap in late May and
an all-time record low for July. Then we experienced the highest
temperatures ever recorded for a one week period in September - right
at harvest. As if all that wasn't enough oddness, October was the
fourth wettest on record. Accordingly, acid levels were high in many
area vineyards with sugar levels stubbornly low. That added up to many
challenges in the winery. Nevertheless, we managed to make some pretty
good wine in 2010.
The only 2010 wine still available is the Sangiovese from Altipiano
Vineyard. This was the first vintage from their vineyard, so it is on
the light side, but exhibits an excellent aroma, and good flavors.