Wild Horse seems a fitting name for a winery located near Paso Robles, and one who, for 25 years has sought to create unique and compelling wines from the Central Coast. One of the things that makes Wild Horse Winery different, located just south of Paso Robles, in Templeton, is that they source fruit from 16 diverse AVA’s in California, including some of the smallest and largest appellations in the state.
From well know areas such as the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara, to Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo, and Monterey, to smaller AVA’s like Cienega Valley and the single vineyard Lime Kiln Valley, the goal has been to find compelling fruit. (AVA stands for American Viticulture Area, a federally recognized area, "as a delimited grape growing region, distinguishable by geographical features. Viticultural features such as soil, climate, elevation, topography, etc., distinguish it from surrounding areas," according to the Department of the Treasury).
In 1983 Wild Horse Winery, under the winemaking skills of Ken Volk, decided that Templeton would be a great place to plant grapevines, given the winery’s unique site and proximity to prevailing ocean breezes and underground aquifers,. Not to mention the wile horses that used to roam the property. Few people argued with the idea because few people lived in the area. Ken began planting grapevines with the purpose to showcase central cost wines in particular and, to "select the best fruit from some of the finest AVA's," he said. California currently has nearly 90 AVA's on record. Ken also experimented with pinot noir fruit from Oregon and zinfandel from Sonoma.
In addition to producing standard wines like chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon, Ken also planted weird "under appreciated" varieties like negrette, malvasia blanca, verdellho and others on his original home ranch in Templeton. “Some of these varieties make interesting and memorable wines in isolated areas, but have lacked the promotion of the mass marketed noble varieties to make it into the consciousness of the average wine drinker,” Volk says. Regardless of market forces, he still planted them and happily made interesting wines.
After Volk sold Wild Horse Winery in 2003, Mark Cummins, who was assistant winemaker since 1995, took over and continued Volk’s original vision of the vineyard, but decided to place his own stamp on the brand. Though Wild Horse was purchased by a large corporation, the “hands off” policy has enabled Cummins to explore his own identity. “A glass of Wild Horse is meant to be a window into the vineyard," Cumminns says. "We focus on harnessing traditional varietal character and vineyard specificity and building blends that focus on the unique nature of the Central Coast,” he added. Though Wild Horse wines vary from the standard everyday drinker to special occasion high end wines, the goal is always the same. “Stylistically, we walk the line between a lush, hedonistic, California mouthfeel and the elegant aromatics and bright acidity of old world acclaim,” Cummins said.
All that is good and well, but the fact remains that few wineries in California source fruit from such a broad spectrum of vineyards, and this has allowed Wild Horse to select grapes from the specific areas they feel is best to showcase a particular wine. An example of this was a recent pinot noir tasting I attended with Cummins. Ready for tasting, though still in barrel, were three pinot noirs. One was from Solomon Hills in Santa Maria, another from the well known Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara County, and the third was from Sierra Madre Vineyard, also in Santa Barbara, one of the coolest parcels in the central coast. Each pinot brought a decidedly different nose and palette to bear as Cummins blends together these wines to showcase Wild Horse’s premium pinot noir, Cheval Savage which translated from the French means, “wild horse.”
Wild Horse continues to explore the diversity of central coast fruit. The price to value standpoint has always been high, even under Volk, and now Cummins continues to be adventurous with crafting very good wines. At 150,000 cases and growing, Wild Horse Winery provides unique wines, different varieties and best fruit from the central coast of California.