It’s Monday in the tasting room at Ancient Peaks Winery in downtown Santa Margarita. What was pin-drop quiet minutes after unlocking the front door is bustling moments later. In an adjacent room, co-owner Doug Filipponi remains attentive while juggling a smartphone and mental calendars. He’s tying loose ends and stealing time for a meeting before leaving town the next day. It’s a busy life for this grape grower, well driller and cattle rancher. Doug’s many ventures all serve to underscore his affinity for the North SLO County terrain, in which he is well-rooted.
For Doug, forging good relationships with people is a foundational trait. Among those people is Ned Thompson, with whom he formed Filipponi & Thompson Drilling, Inc. in 1974. The company provides water well drilling services throughout the Central Coast, from Monterey to Ventura.
Nearly 20 years ago, Doug recalled that the idea of a winery first evolved when he and his friends bought vineyards from winemaking great Robert Mondavi. He joked, “You know, I told my wife to whack me with a frying pan if I ever got into making wine, and yet, here I am!” Indeed, he remains intact, as is his formidable influence in the SLO County community through involvement with the California Mid-State Fair’s Heritage Foundation, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, and nonprofit organization Lighthouse Atascadero, to name a few.
Together with business partners Rob Rossi and Karl Wittstrom, four generations of winemaking infuse every vintage of Ancient Peaks award-winning wine.
“All of the grapes are grown right here,” Doug said. He heavily credits Jaime Muniz (Vineyard Manager), Mike Sinor (Director of Winemaking) and Stewart Cameron (Winemaker) for Ancient Peaks Winery’s continued success.
“Food and wine should be shared together, which is why we serve food in the tasting room,” Doug said. Charcuterie, cheeseboards, soups, sandwiches and hamburgers made with locally-grown produce pair deliciously with Ancient Peaks wine for a true sense of terroir (“a sense of place”) in every bite.
The wine label draws inspiration from the neighboring Santa Lucia Range, which encompasses Doug’s Santa Margarita Ranch property, a 14,000-acre, picturesque landscape nestled between Atascadero and San Luis Obispo. The historic parcel, part of Father Junipero Serra’s Mission Trail in the 1700s, contains remnants of the 1878 stone walls of the Santa Margarita de Cortona Asistencia, (a former partner structure to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa). Those remnants are now protected by a barn, a generations-old ranch house and mission vineyard land — all dating to the days of the Franciscans.
“I’ve been involved somehow or other with this ranch since I was a kid and now to be a part of it and share it is pretty special,” said Doug of the beloved Santa Margarita Ranch he owns with Rossi and Wittstrom. “I want people to see how beautiful and special this place is. I want them to taste the wine, take it home, and let it bring back to them what they saw.”
Today, the preserved ranch sustains a natural beef program, a sustainably-grown Margarita Vineyard and a steam-powered Pacific Coast Railroad with 5/8-scale passenger coaches that date back to the 1950s for the public to enjoy. The ranch hosts gatherings large and small, from hometown weddings to Savor the Central Coast events by Sunset Magazine. Santa Margarita Adventures offers six zipline tours that glide more than 7,500 feet across the property and provide an eagle’s view and draws locals and visitors alike.
Born in Paso Robles and raised in Atascadero, Doug credits good mentors who helped develop his approach to business.
“It’s not about money,” said Doug. “Do what you love doing. If you don’t, you won’t be happy.”
Doug momentarily ignores a text message on his phone and the people waiting outside to share a final thought about the work ethic that fuels him and his crew:
“I’m personally proud of these folks. We have 40-year team members in our drilling business alone. It’s all about commitment and we’re committed to people who work for us. Anyone who has shown us that they’re willing to work hard? They’re just like family to us.”