Can you imagine—150 Vineyards in San Luis Obispo County in 1883?
The first commercial winemaker in the San Luis Obispo County, Pierre Hypolite Dallidet, planted his vineyards between 1860 and 1863. Twenty years later at the beginning of the economic boom of the 1880s, there were more than 150 vineyards in the county. Optimism was high among local businessmen that San Luis Obispo County possessed one of the finest climates in the state to grow quality grapes. The Mission grape was the first and most extensive grape cultivated in the county, but varietals soon flourished. Varietals such as Black Prince, Flame Tokay, Muscat, Black Hamburg, Black Morocco, Zinfandel, Riesling, and Frontignan were obtained by local nureseymen to sell to local growers and planted.
By 1883 the raisin and wine industries were on a rapid increase, and the profits were sizeable. San Francisco became the major market for California wines which were then often shipped to the east coast in large quantities. Local growers made their own wine and sold grapes to local dairymen, friends, and others at local markets and fairs.
The article below from 1883 describes the growers and the location of their vineyards in SLO County. Most of the grapes were dry farmed and head pruned. Growers visited with each other often and shared their knowledge. The local papers often had articles on the best growing practices, prize-winning grapes at local fairs, and competitions. Social life revolved around agriculture, food, and wine.
From an 1883 article on vineyards in San Luis Obispo County by Mr. P.H. Dallidet, Jr. (1857 – 1897) who was born in San Luis Obispo, California, and was the son of the first commercial winemaker in San Luis Obispo County, Pierre Hypolite Dallidet (1822 – 1909):
“From the information acquired from that and other sources in the last twenty years in the county, I am of the opinion that the wealth of San Luis Obispo County can and will be greatly increased by the planting of vineyards, because of the certainty and the abundance of their returns I will endeavor to give a few facts in a few cases of people living at considerable distances from each other in the county and anyone desiring the full particulars can write to them for further information, and I have no doubt that they will be pleased to give it.
“Mr. W.N. Short in the neighborhood of the Temblor Ranch on the eastern border of the county has a young vineyard which surprised him by the number of bunches each vine yielded in the fourth year, the bunches filling well and berries growing to perfection. On the Temblor and Cuyama Ranches, fifty miles apart on the same belt, there may be found trees and vines growing without attention that do wonders in the way of yield.
“Mr. Gillis, near Adelaide, told me three years ago, that his two-year-old vines Muscats, and wine grapes, bore from ten to thirty pounds each, berries very large and sweet, with a beautiful bloom on them. His place is thirty miles from San Luis Obispo in a northerly direction.
“On W.S. Hinkle’s farm, some three miles from this city are some ten vines in arbor form, which are literally purple with grapes of the Mission variety every year from the year 1860 to 1882, yielding three to five tons annually.
“Mr. Dolores Herrera, near Pozo, planted some vines near his house that have borne very well, but said Mr. Herrera, ‘I had a few cuttings left over after planting my vineyard; so I thought I would experiment and I, therefore, set them out on a dry-looking hill about half a mile away from the house and left them there to live or die as they chose. After some months I saw they grew nicely; so I pulled up some of them and left the others til next year. With my grapes ripening, I thought of the hill vines and went to see if they were yet alive, when imagine my surprise on finding from three to five bunches on each little vine, each bunch weighing from a half to three-quarters of a pound of the finest white grapes I ever tasted.’ Pozo is thirty miles east of us and forty miles from the ocean.
“Mr. E. W. Howe, near Morro, has a nice little vineyard which yields good crops of thirty pounds and upwards to the vine.
“F. Guillemin, just over the mountain to the east of us, has a small vineyard set out after the manner of his country, that is, the vines from two to four feet apart, which bear from five to fifteen pounds each, and of part of his crop he makes a light wine which connoisseurs pronounce to be equal to the famous petit vin du Jurat of France.
“Mr. Hasbrouck has some twenty acres or more of vines at the Ranchita which are growing very nicely. Mr. Henry Ditmas, of Musick, has some boxes of raisins made by him on his place that were equal in point of size, color and taste to the best San Bernardino raisins.
“Mr. P.H. Dallidet, Sr., has a vineyard from four to twenty in age, and he has taken from his oldest vines, which at seven of age had had good care, as high as twenty pounds to the vine, and out of eight acres of grapes made one season 6,300 gallons of wine.
“Hon. Frank McCoppin, Dr. W.W. Hays, E.W. and Hon. George Steele, J.P. Andrews. Goldtree Brothers, W.H. Taylor and E. A. Atwood, all have fine young vineyards and orchards. Besides these gentlemen who are largely interested, there are a great number of persons who have from one acre and upwards in full bearing who all say that vines are a success with only moderate attention. Out of perhaps 150 persons who have vineyards, I know of but two that irrigate, and that is because they have an abundance of water which would otherwise be entirely wasted. As it is, they get a good growth of wood, whether at the expense of quantity of fruit is a question, but certainly, at the expense of quality. Of the persons named above, only Mr. Guillemin irrigates.
“Having observed closely the yield of grapes for a number of years past, I can say without fear of exaggeration that vines of full bearing age will yield an average one year with another of thirty pounds to the vine.”