Nestled in the rolling, oak laden hills just 20 miles from Paso Robles is SHELL CREEK VINEYARDS. The 125 acre vineyard, planted in 1972, is a part of a larger ranch that has been in our family (the Sinton’s) for over 100 years. We are sixth generation Californians and take pride in the fact that the family continues to operate both the ranch and the vineyard. Varietals planted include Petite Sirah, the hallmark of the vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc and Valdiguie.
The vineyard is planted on a gentle hillside beneath limestone cliffs. The terroir is alluvium overlaying a layer of marine limestone, giving the soil a unique character. The vineyard name, SHELL CREEK is derived from layers of marine fossils that are in the hillsides as well as the seasonal creek that runs the length of the canyon where the vineyard is located. Being in the Central Coast area, the days are warm while the nights are cooled by the sea breezes—-a perfect combination for award winning wine, which Shell Creek Vineyards grapes have consistently produced since 1977.
The original 100 acre plantings in 1972 consisted of Napa Gamay, Petite Sirah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. They were all planted on their own rootstocks and for those varieties that remain, have grown into classic gnarled old vines.
Our famous Petite Sirah occupies nearly 60 acres of our vineyard. Some of it is part of the original planting and some has been added over the last fifteen years. In 1977 we became aware of the possibilities for this grape when wineries all across California won gold medals at local, regional and statewide wine competitions. Our 1989 grapes became the sole source of Benziger Family Wineries’ incredible win at the World Wine Competition in Paris with a 98 score. We continue to see our partner wineries win gold year after year.
SHELL CREEK VINEYARDS is known in the wine world for its Petite Sirah. Numerous wineries have vineyard designated and received gold medals from Shell Creek Vineyards Petite Sirah grapes, including Imagery Winery, Benziger Family Winery, Caymus, Broc Cellars, Meridian Winery, Castoro Vineyards, Bogle Winery, Bending Branch, Hitching Post, David Bruce Winery, Au Bon Climat, Hitching Post, Hope Family Wines, Nelle, Fabelist, Field Recordings, Ursa Vineyards, Sextant and La Filice Winery.
The Cabernet Sauvignon was our first block of grapes to receive a unique, collapsible spread trellis system. In order to get the vigorous foliage in balance with the grape production, we sought out a way to spread out the foliage over parallel wires, while still being able to machine harvest the grapes. We were one of the first in the country to implement this system and it has rewarded us with outstanding color and flavors in the wine.
After just a few years of production, it was decided that the Merlot was not the right clone and we grafted that block to Chenin Blanc. The Chenin produces a crisp, lighter wine that does very well when picked around 22º Brix.
More recently the federal government changed the name of Napa Gamay to Valdiquie. This grape makes a lovely stand alone, fruity wine and Rosé as well as an important flavor element in several pinot noir programs.
Shell Creek Vineyards has been certified sustainable for several years, most recently securing the coveted SIP (Sustainability in Practice) certification. Our family has consistently sought to improve our vineyards to achieve high quality, not only for the grapes, but the environment. We have used a variety of cover crops, including wild flowers, between the vine rows to limit erosion, increase the organic content of the soil and provide habitat for beneficial insects. Those insects help control pests and significantly reduce our need for chemical controls. When there is an outbreak of grasshoppers or leaf hoppers, we always select the reduced risk material with the shortest possible residual.
Shell Creek Vineyards uses no herbicides. We control weeds that might rob our vines of moisture by mechanically removing the unwanted plants and hoeing invasive weeds in our cover crop. We also use compost to improve soil quality and “compost tea”, a brewed product made on the ranch from worm castings and applied through the irrigation system.
We help control rodents by placing owl boxes around our vineyard. Owls also roost in our planted trees and in our barns. Hawks and eagles are found on our ranch, which also helps with rodent control. Even the coyotes help control those pests.
To reduce our water use, we rely on drip irrigation after frost protection. Drip is much more efficient than sprinklers. In addition, we utilize buried moisture sensors to better time the application of water, further reducing the overall water consumption of our vineyard. We also believe that well regulated water applications improves the intensity of flavors in our grapes.
Many of the things we do are for quality, such as shoot thinning, pruning to limit crop size, and installing spread trellises to balance the grapevine canopy with the quantity of fruit. Other measures, such as providing wildlife corridors, are simply the right thing to do. This land has been our responsibility for generations, and sustainability is key to our successful past as much as it is to our future.