To get to Six Sigma Ranch, you have to want to get there. It’s not the kind of place to swing by for a quick taste. No, once you turn off Spruce Grove Road, bump over the cattle grate, and see the sheep grazing in the vineyards, you enter a place that exists in a different timeline than the rest of the world.
The gravel road winds along Asbill Valley, weaves between huge, knobbed oak trees, then curves around a flood plain. The creek, still running high, grinds out a muffled roar. After heavy rains, it’s possible to see a large waterfall cascading down the volcanic rocks into the valley, a wedge of white against the landscape that’s just beginning to green into Spring.
On the left, a rusted corrugated tin barn angles lopsidedly, surrounded by cattle. You might have to slow down to move around them, their dark eyes staring blankly at you. A little further down the road, lambs are in pasture, frolicking against their lethargic mothers. Just when you’re certain that Google Maps steered you wrong, the tasting room appears on the left. It’s been converted from an old stage stop and sits above the creek, its full-length porch facing the water.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to hit three or four wineries in a day, perhaps Six Sigma isn’t for you. It doesn’t lend itself to the whole “taste and go” mentality. Rather, it begs for some of your time. Perhaps that is why Six Sigma has such a committed local following. Regulars consistently show up to hike or bike the many trails that wander the 4,300-acre ranch, have a tasting, then spend the afternoon picnicking. On sunny spring days, it’s common to see people sipping wine at one of the tables on the porch, tossing beanbags in a game of cornhole, or hanging out with Topper, the pot-bellied pig who lives just behind the tasting room. It’s always a pleasure to wander up to see him waddling around his enclosure. He’s like a big, friendly, snuffling dog, who’s usually willing to say hello and get a scratch behind the ears.
It’s early spring in Lake County, and the grass is just poking through the dead leaves. Soon wildflowers will begin to bloom, and the ranch will turn into a giant flower garden. On those glorious days, when the roads are dry enough and the sky blues to the color of emerald so bright it hurts your eyes, be sure to make a reservation for the Pinzgauer tour. Hop in the back of the old military transport, plop down on a bench seat, and see some of the best parts of Six Sigma. The tour bumps along dirt roads and past several different vineyards. there you’ll learn the storied history of the Asbill Valley and the many homesteaders who settled there over a hundred years ago. The best part, though, comes when you reach the top of the vineyards, and Kaj Ahlmann, founder of Six Sigma Ranch, or his son, Christian, pulls over the Pinzgauer and pours everyone a glass of wine. From up there, slivers of Lake Berryessa appear, and the view stretches far across the mountains. It’s a good time to take a moment, sip on your wine, and soak in the incredible natural beauty of the ranch.
Those vineyards that sweep below you create incredible wines. Six Sigma’s Tempranillo has won international acclaim, and the Cabernet Sauvignon is liquid poetry. But this March is special. Every weekend in March, Six Sigma has chosen to pour a selection of their library wines.
The tasting begins with the Tempranillo Rosé, then slowly works its way through the reds, finishing with the library wines. Today Rozette is pouring the 2012 Cuvée Annette, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. She hands you the tasting glass; an ink-dark wine sits in it, long-legged and syrupy. Then the bouquet hits your nose, a blend of floral, dark berry and mineral notes distinctive to Six Sigma’s wines. Breathe in deeply; it’s a scent of volcanoes and dry soil, sunshine
It’s worth visiting Six Sigma Ranch for their wines alone. Every wine Six Sigma produces has profound depth and a unique, volcanic flavor distinctive of Lake County. But the ranch has much more to offer–so much that it’s impossible to see it all in one visit. If you get the chance, pick a sunny spring day and make the trip. But don’t rush it, or you’ll miss something.
For more information, take a look at The Bloom’s Wine Calendar, or visit sixsigmaranch.com
Six Sigma Ranch
13372 Spruce Grove Rd
Lower Lake, CA
This article first appeared in The Bloom on March 14, 2019.