A. B. Hasbrouck and Rosa, circa 1888.

The Story of A. B. Hasbrouck and St. Remy Winery – A Legend in the Arroyo Grande Valley

Written by Libbie Agran

The first winery built in the Upper Arroyo Grande Valley was built by a man who grew up in a wealthy family in upstate New York but who longed for adventure. He had a style and grace that made him a legend in hospitality on the Central Coast and a beautiful English wife who owned her own cattle brand and was famous for her roses and love of English gardens.

Abram Bruyn Hasbrouck was born into a wealthy family of Dutch Huguenot ancestry in Kingston, New York on January 15, 1845. His grandfather was a college president and his father a successful banker. However, A.B. dreamed of sailing around the world as an explorer or moving west to become a cowboy. Perhaps his dreams were fueled by his parents’ friendship with the aunt and uncle of Richard Henry Dana, author of “Two Years Before the Mast” who sailed on a merchant vessel as a boy of 20 and later wrote his masterpiece. A.B. decided to run away from home and join a crew at sea. His father reacted by apprenticing teenager A.B. to a severe disciplinarian sea captain, sailing out of Philadelphia. A.B. learned a great deal from his voyages and traced his journeys on old maps which are still in his family’s possession. When he returned from sea, he tried to please his father by entering medical school. He dropped out after the first dissection. The Civil War had been declared, and A.B. found a civilian job checking the freight on the Boston wharves. A.B. was restless and unhappy with the pressures of social life in New York and Boston; he dreamed of traveling west. As the war ended, A.B.’s father died, and his uncle gave him $10,000 to pursue his dreams.

A.B. traveled to Colorado and quickly lost his fortune; he invested in a silver mine in Central City, Colorado. He pondered his next adventure and contacted old friends of his father, brothers George and Edward Steele, owners of the Corral de Piedra and Bolsa de Chemisal Ranchos in the Arroyo Grande Valley. They ran a profitable cattle and dairy business and offered him a job. He learned quickly and loved the land. By 1869 he was sent to the Ranchita Arroyo Grande as major domo of the Steele dairy and cattle rancho. By 1873 A.B. decided to become his own boss. He convinced the Steeles to lease the Ranchita to him for ten years. He formed a partnership with N. Palmer. The Hasbrouck-Palmer Brand was recorded on May 26th, 1873 and assigned to A.B. Hasbrouck in 1876. He raised cattle and developed his dairy and cheese businesses.

At the end of his lease in 1883, A.B. purchased the Ranchita Arroyo Grande from the Steeles for $27,000. A. B. named his home, St. Remy, in honor of his grandfather Bruyn’s estate in Holland which was owned by the family before they came to America. He acquired a total of 9,000 acres with additional purchases of private and government lands. The cattle and dairy operations thrived; the dairy was mainly devoted to cheese making. And A.B. planned his next entrepreneurial adventure.

A.B. built a home, planted lawns, hedges, rose and flower gardens on the upper rancho in 1884. He also built a summer house, later known as the tea room, with furnishings made of native woods growing on the rancho. It took six months for pieces of white, red, and iron oak, manzanita, lilac, sycamore, laurel, and willow woods to be gathered from the canyons and hills. When the summer house was completed, A.B. Hasbrouck became famous for his invitations and hospitality. Many folks from SLO and Santa Barbara counties had luncheons and picnics at the ranch after they made the four-hour carriage trip up the mountains to the upper Arroyo Grande Valley.

His next project was to prepare 30 acres for vineyards surrounding his gardens on two sides in 1885. He planted Rośe of Peru in 1885, Muscat in 1886 and 1887, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Malaga in 1889. He had made the acquaintance of his neighbor, Henry Ditmas, who planted the first Zinfandel grapes in the Upper Arroyo Grande on land in Saucelito Canyon in 1878 and they shared information and rootstock. According to his granddaughter, Hasbrouck experimented with many types of grapes including Mission grapes. He purchased mission rootstocks from Pierre Hypolite Dallidet and grafted cuttings of Muscat and Zinfandel.

In 1886, A.B. built St. Remy winery to make wine with Rancho Saucelito grapes grown by Henry Ditmas. The stones of the foundation are still visible on the land at St. Remy. However, as the marriage of Henry and Rosa Ditmas soured, so did the friendship of A.B and Henry. Henry divorced Rosa, transferring his land holdings in Arroyo Grande and Avila to her. He moved to San Francisco and later to Boston and died in 1892.

A. B. married Rosa on July 24, 1887. Rosa and her son Cecil moved to St. Remy Ranch. Rosa continued to manage the vineyards in Rancho Saucelito to produce grapes for the St. Remy winery.

According to the SLO Tribune and the Daily Republic on October 16, 1889 “the indications are that within a very short period importations of wine to this country, at least for ordinary table use, will practically cease. Most of our vineyardists, Johnson, Hays, Dallidet, and others in this vicinity and Hasbrouck and others further south of us, will make their own wine in large quantities, making large exportations probably in the near future.” By 1889, Hasbrouck had expanded his vineyards to include land in the valleys of the Santa Lucia. Much of his grape crop was destroyed in the fall of 1889, but the Herald Newspaper reported on November 30 of that year that “A.B Hasbrouck had made 3,000 gallons of wine this fall”.

A.B. continued to be active in the agricultural community of South San Luis Obispo County, entering his produce in local fairs, mentoring others and hosting visitors with Rosa from all over the world. According to the Herald, October 14, 1893 “a five-pound bunch of grapes found its way to our office from Mr. Hasbrouck’s vineyard, and it has been the object lesson on the fertility of the upper Arroyo Grande ever since. A section that can grow such products is bound to come to the front.” The years 1895 to 1919 were the peak years of winemaking in SLO County. In 1896, St. Remy wines took first place in the California State Fair. By 1906, over 15,000 gallons of wine was made from grapes grown on the Saucelito and St. Remy Rancho vineyards.

A.B. lost his ranch to foreclosure; the mortgage with a high rate of interest was held by the Associated Oil Company. One of his loyal friends who was an executive at the oil company purchased and deeded back 80 acres of land with the vineyards surrounding their home, barns and other ranch buildings to A.B. and Rosa. Although the water rights were lost, the use of the water and pipeline right of way was deeded to A.B. Hasbrouck and his heirs and assignees forever. In 1913, A.B Hasbrouck imported varietals from France to replace old vines; however, they were not grafted to mature stock. During the subsequent drought, the vines began to die, from phylloxera.

In 1915, A. B. died at his summer camp at Avila within sight of the sea as his grape vines died in the vineyards. He celebrated as a legendary winemaker in the Arroyo Grande Valley and remembered for his adventurous spirit, his generosity and hospitality.

Rosa closed the winery just before Prohibition became law. After closing the winery, she leased Rancho Saucelito to various tenants who tended the vineyards throughout the Prohibition years and into the 1940s. Rosa died in 1927, leaving St. Remy Ranch and Rancho Saucelito to her son Cecil. He lost St. Remy due to financial difficulties. Cecil retained Rancho Saucelito and willed to his daughters Margaret Ditmas Coyner and Barbara Ditmas Tanis who sold the property to Bill Greenough, a Santa Barbara native, in 1974.

Sources: According to Madge by Madge Ditmas, newspaper articles in the San Luis Obispo Tribune, the Herald and the Daily Republic, articles in the archives of the Wine History Project of SLO County, interviews with Ralph Haslam, and tours of St. Remy Ranchita.

See also, ZIN|SLO exhibition.