Alta Colina

Farming Practices

Every Alta Colina wine is estate grown and produced. That means we personally grow every grape and vinify every bottle. The wine never leaves our premises until you purchase a bottle and take it home.

Three generations of the Tillman family depend on the Alta Colina Vineyard—we intimately understand that we must sustainably farm our property. Not only to continue growing world-class wine grapes, but also to ensure that Alta Colina Vineyard will remain productive for future generations. Accordingly, we farm our property organically--no synthetic inputs are allowed. Our commitment is not only to our family but to the land and the grapes so we can continue making wine of the highest quality. We know that the vineyard determines the wines from year to year so we have focused on developing Alta Colina with a total commitment to growing excellent grapes.

Grapes are an amazingly resilient plant, so our real challenge is to farm the vines in a way that yields the very best fruit. The first step in getting this right is the site. We planted Alta Colina Vineyard off Adelaida Road in the Coast Range in an area noted for producing premium wine grapes. Our property varies in elevation from 1600 to 1780 feet, with steep North and South facing slopes. Soils are shallow, well drained loam with a high concentration of fractured shale throughout the growth horizon. Alta Colina lies on the hilltops of a 130 acre ranch, with 31 acres planted to vineyard. There are 15 blocks—each carefully matched with the optimum rootstock, variety, spacing, trellis, and orientation for the soil in that particular block.

The first winter after planting, we seeded cover crops between vine rows and around the edges of blocks. By late spring the native grasses (a blend of nearly 20 different species) overwhelmed the seeded crop, so we now depend strictly on native species for our cover crop. We mow as soon as the ground has dried to control the vigor of the native cover crop to preserve as much ground water for the vines as possible, and to eliminate habitat for field mice and voles that gnaw on our vines.

We meet most vine nutrition needs through the application of compost in the early winter months, so the rains can distribute the organic matter through the root zone. We collect leaf petioles in the spring for laboratory analysis to assess actual plant nutrition. We deliver additional fertilizer through the drip irrigation system as needed on an individual block basis. All fertigation utilizes organic preparations such as fish oils or compost tea.  On some occasions, foliar sprays of nutrients are applied to optimize micro-nutrient requirements. Our philosophy is to keep the vines in balance using the most natural approach that we can.  Block 2 (Syrah) and half of block 11 (Mourvedre) have been farmed fully organically since the vineyard's inception.  Commencing in 2013, the entire vineyard has been under organic methods.  

At minimum, we make 4 passes through the vineyard each season. In March, we prune the vines to set up the canopy and to determine the maximum fruit load for the coming year. Later in the spring, we go back through to thin shoots, removing pesky buds that have pushed in undesired locations. During the summer, we make a pass to drop fruit clusters above the quantity we deem appropriate for top wine quality. And finally, we hand harvest in the fall and take our crop to the winery! Fruit yields vary between blocks—the white varietals carry a heavier fruit load of 3-4 tons/acre, while the red varietals come in around 2-3 tons/acre.

We sell a portion of our grapes to Paso Robles’ best wineries. The remainder is utilized in the Alta Colina program.  We hope the personal dedication and investment is apparent as you taste all of the Alta Colina wines.