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 good wine.

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 other wineries.

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 wine.

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 potential blending.

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 Julian Vineyard.

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 cases.

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 Yeagley.

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.