Art Norman was the first grower to purchase land on Vineyard Drive in 1971 and plant a vineyard in 1972 in the Adelaida region west of Paso Robles. Art was influenced by winegrower Louis M. Martini, who taught him that winemaking begins in the vineyard with the harvest of the finest quality grapes. Art sold those grapes to local winemakers who made award-winning wines from his premium red grapes; Zinfandel, Barbera, and Cabernet Sauvignon. He founded his winery, Norman Vineyards, twenty years later in 1992, hiring professional winemakers to make his Monster Zin and other varietals. Art continued working in the aerospace industry in Southern California and commuted to his vineyard with his family for over twenty years before moving to Paso Robles, thereby earning the nickname, “the weekend warrior.”
Impact on the Wine History of San Luis Obispo County
- The land on Vineyard Drive had been farmed with wheat, oats, barley, safflower, fruit trees, almond and walnut orchards, dairy and cattle for the previous 100 years. Art Norman was the first grower in the area to focus on planting high-quality red grapes, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Cabernet Sauvignon, in this region.
- Art Norman worked in the tasting room and sold wines at the Louis M. Martini Winery in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Louis M. Martini influenced and inspired Art’s dream. Years later Art made the decision to plant his own vineyard to grow premium grapes and provide local winemakers with the quality commodity for high-quality 100% varietal wines. This was unusual for the time.
- Norman Vineyards are the first vineyards to be planted on Vineyard Drive, west of Paso Robles in the Adelaida region of San Luis Obispo County; 40 acres were purchased in 1971, and vineyards were planted on ten acres in 1972. The legendary Zinfandel grower Mel Casteel was hired to design the layout of the vineyards.
- Art Norman is the first grower west of Paso Robles to plant Barbera commercially in his vineyard in the Adelaida region; the year was 1972.
- Art is the first grower to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay on Vineyard Drive in the Adelaida region; the year was 1976.
- Norman Vineyards became particularly well known for high-quality Zinfandel and Barbera grapes selling to high-quality producers including Castoro Cellars and Eberle Winery among others from 1975 to 2011.
- Art Norman founded his winery in 1992 due to declining demand for his Chardonnay grapes which provided him with the opportunity to make his own wine with his surplus. The winery was designed by architect Mark Jensen. Art was not a winemaker, although the winemaking tradition in his family dates back to the 16th century. He hired winemaker Robert Nadeau in 1992 to make his wines.
- Norman vineyards were known for their Zinfandels; the “Monster” Zinfandel became the most famous wine.
- The Norman Vineyards label designed by architect Mark Jensen is well known for his depiction of the mountain lion that left her footprints in the vineyards; the lioness kept the deer away from Norman’s Chardonnay grapes thereby increasing his yield by 6.5 tons. Art valued the wildlife in the area and championed it.
- Member and supporter of the Zinfandel Festival that was founded in 1983.
- Member of the Paso Robles Vineyard and Growers Association.
- Member of the Far Out Wineries, a group of winery owners who designed a unique trail of tasting rooms in the Adelaida and Willow Creek areas as a marketing concept to promote the wineries west of Paso Robles. Each winery owner had an unusual career prior to winemaking; Art was a vacuum engineer in the aerospace and technology industries.
The Norman Family Winemaking Tradition Dates Back to the 16th Century
Art Norman was born to Arthur and Marguerite Godon Norman on December 10, 1933, and raised in East Oakland which was a very rural environment at the time.
Art’s mother, Marguerite, was of French-Swiss heritage. Art was raised with wine in his home and on the family table. His parents and grandparents made wine during the Prohibition years but the family winemaking tradition has been traced back to the sixteenth century to his mother’s ancestors who grew grapes and made wine in Switzerland. In the family home, there was always a carafe of red wine at one end of the dining table and a carafe of white at the other end. Only one of these two carafes survived the San Simeon earthquake which struck Paso Robles with a magnitude of 6.6 in December 2003. The other remains in use by Lei Norman, the late Art Norman’s wife.
Art’s family had a profound impact on his love of food, horticulture, and red wines. Marguerite’s father, Eugene Godon, began his career as a chef during the Gold Rush period. He worked in two famous mining towns, Bodi, California, and in Virginia City, Nevada. The Crystal Palace Saloon in Virginia City, established in 1875, was a well-known establishment. Lei and Art visited both towns years ago to find his early residences and the saloon in Virginia City. Eugene Godon married his first wife in Virginia City and it is thought that they had one son but Art and Lei were not able to locate any family records.
Eugene Godon must have established a fine reputation. After he moved to the bay area in California, he was hired as a chef at the Palace Hotel, the most famous restaurant in San Francisco in the late nineteenth century. The hotel, still operating today, was established in 1875 and has remained an icon of the Gilded Age. Many years later when Art and Lei honeymooned in British Columbia in 1962, they had a chance encounter while dining at a Swiss restaurant. They met a man who actually knew Art’s grandfather. He had also worked at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and remembered Art’s grandfather Eugene Godon. He said that Eugene was known for his culinary skills as well as his fierce temper; Eugene was known for throwing knives during his rages in the hotel kitchen.
Art’s grandfather, Eugene, married his second wife, a French-Swiss peasant who came from a village near Lucerne, Switzerland. Art’s mother, Marguerite was the youngest of three children. The family lived in an elegant two-story house built in 1898 which is still standing in East Oakland. The address is 1538 39th Avenue.
Both of Art’s grandparents survived the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. They expanded their family by opening their home to two French-Swiss girls who were homeless after the earthquake. They raised them with their daughter, Art’s mother, Marguerite. Unlike today, East Oakland was agricultural with small farms and dairies scattered throughout the landscape. Marguerite remembered her father having cows and a small dairy operation; Marguerite delivered the fresh milk to customers as a small child.
In addition to cooking fine food, Eugene Godon, made wine although it is not known if he had his own vineyard. Art, as a very young boy, learned to make wine from his father and grandfather. Art remembered his grandfather as a man who was very old and blind. Art remembers teasing his grandfather, grabbing his grandfather’s glass of red wine when he ran past his grandfather who was warming himself in front of the old wood stove.
Art discovers the California winemakers of Napa Valley in the 1950s
Art graduated from Fremont High School in Oakland and entered the University of California at Berkeley to study mechanical engineering in 1951. When a possible military action in Korea loomed on the horizon, Art was drafted into the United States Army for a term of four years in 1953. After serving in the military in the radar division and rising to become a Master Sergeant, Art continued to serve in the Army Reserve after leaving active duty. He enrolled in engineering classes at UC Berkeley, Stanford University, and San Jose State and enjoyed his leisure time. Art always enjoyed life – waterskiing and wine tasting were two of his hobbies. He enjoyed restoring a classic car over the years.
Art also continued to explore the art of winemaking. Art drove his convertible to Napa on the weekends to learn about California winemaking. Among other wineries, he often visited the famous Louis M. Martini Winery, which was founded in the Napa Valley after the repeal of Prohibition, licensed to sell wine beginning December 5, 1933. The business was originally established in 1922 and known as the Louis M. Martini Grape Products Company which focused on sacramental wine and grape concentrate for home winemaking during Prohibition. (See more information regarding Louis M. Martini later in this article.)
Art became friendly with one of Louis M. Martini’s winemakers, Julio. Art began working in the “tasting corner” almost every weekend. The small wine tasting area was set up in one corner of the cellar, surrounded by barrels and workers (cellar rats as they are known) working for the winemaker. Art was profoundly influenced by his exposure to Louis M. Martini vineyards and winemaking. Martini focused on growing quality grapes – the key factor in producing premium wines.
A few words about Louis M. Martini are appropriate because of his importance in California winegrowing. Art learned about the new grape varieties planted in the vineyards and tasted the wine varietals being produced in the Napa Valley during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Art’s favorite wines were the reds: Zinfandel, Barbera, and Cabernet Sauvignon – the three wines that Louis M. Martini was famous for producing.
It was life-changing because Art started dreaming……Art’s dream was to own a vineyard.
Winegrower Louis M. Martini – an important mentor to Art Norman
I include a brief biography of Louis M. Martini not only because he was an important influence for Art Norman as a grower but also because he founded one of the most famous wineries in Napa Valley after the Repeal of Prohibition. Louis was born in 1887 and died in 1974. He came to San Francisco from Italy with his family in 1900. His family acquired property in San Francisco and planted vineyards; they were experienced growers. In 1906, when the family decided to open their own winery, nineteen-year-old Louis was sent to Italy for 8 months in 1906 for formal training as a winemaker at the enology school in Alba, a town in the Piedmont region. When Louis returned to San Francisco, he made the wine at his family’s small winery, and later gained experience in commercial winemaking in the East Bay and in southern California.
During the Prohibition years, Louis formed a partnership with other investors to purchase the Italian Swiss Colony plant in Kingsburg California and formed a company called L.M. Martini Grape Products Co. The company produced products for home winemaking and sacramental wine for the Catholic Church. During this period, Louis decided to produce first-class dry table wines in the Napa Valley. Before Prohibition was repealed, he produced 40,000 gallons of bulk wine at the Old Brun and Chaix plant in the year – 1932. Louis used his capital accumulated during the Prohibition era to build his new winery in the Napa Valley just south of St. Helena and to found his own label in 1940.
To produce quality wine, he needed quality grapes so Louis M. Martini also focused on terroir. He wanted to grow his own varieties to assure quality control. He found the area which met his criteria for the best terroir for these varieties. He purchased the 240-acre Mount Pisgah Vineyard which had originally been planted in the 1880s by Emmanuel Goldstein who used Chinese labor to do the plantings. Louis renamed the vineyard, Mount Rosso, in 1938. This vineyard, located in the hills above Sonoma Valley, is where he selected the grape varieties to be grown for his premium wines produced as 100% varietals. He sold bulk wines but focused on building his own label growing premium grapes for his red table wine varietals – notably Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Zinfandel. These are the wines that Art Norman savored and inspired him to plant these varieties on Vineyard Drive in the Adelaida region west of Paso Robles.
Art’s Career in Aerospace in the 1960s
1959 was the year that was marked by significant changes in the aerospace industry, first and foremost in technology. According to the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) of America, Inc. in their publication of AeroSpace Facts and Figures in 1960, the impact of new technology on the aerospace industry resulted in reduced weapons inventories and reduced volume production; focusing on precise fabrication of weapons in limited quantities. The impact reduced the number of production workers and increased the need for engineering and technical skills. The aerospace industry shifted its focus to the research and development of manned and unmanned vehicles to be used in space travel.
In 1958 and 1959 the aerospace industry generated 11 billion dollars in sales for each of those years. However, the industry was dependent on military contracts. In the same years, 1958 and 1959, the production of military aircraft declined from 3,700 units in 1958 to 2,400 units in 1959. Again, the new focus was on research and development. It is interesting to note that several of our legendary winegrowers including Andy McGregor and Meo Zeuch in the Edna Valley AVA and Art Norman in Paso Robles AVA brought their research skills and precision from aerospace to vineyards and winemaking. They all worked with the new technologies in the space industry.
Art Norman met Lei, the woman he would marry, in Berkeley, California in 1960. Both were working for a small engineering company in Berkeley, Lei as a secretary and Art as an engineer. Art’s specialty was vacuum engineering and he worked as the production engineer in this small company.
Lei and Art Norman
Romance and Space Simulators
Lei and Art started dating in 1961 after Art left the engineering company in Berkeley. Lei also changed jobs; she applied and was hired to work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), located in the hills of Berkeley overlooking the campus of UC Berkeley. Art and Lei were married in 1962 on April 21st. Art was working in aerospace technology at a small company working on developing a space simulator chamber. This space simulator was later used by the astronauts to practice for their walk on the moon.
Art developed his career in the field of vacuum engineering. His daughter Julia once described his job in a show and tell period at her elementary school as “my dad works on big and little nothings.” As a toddler, Julia would always say “daddy” whenever she saw a photo of the simulator on TV.
In 1964 Art was hired at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) where he worked on the Sherwood Project. The LLNL is a federal research facility located in Livermore, California, and founded by the University of California at Berkeley in 1952. It was originally a branch of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It became autonomous in 1971 and was designated a national laboratory in 1981. Later that year Art left LLNL and went to work for a small company that was bought out by Whittaker Corporation, a manufacturer of aircraft values, established in the 1940s, which grew to be a highly diversified technology company in the aerospace industry. Art accepted a job offer to set up this new company in northern California. The new job offer included a higher salary so Lei and Art moved to Dublin, California to purchase their first home. However, within two years the aerospace industry restructured or “fell out” as engineers often describe it. The company Art worked for was sold to Whittaker Corporation.
In 1965 when the aerospace industry began to “fall out of favor,” Art was offered a job with Whitaker Corporation in southern California which provided both career and financial opportunities. The office was located in North Hollywood, so Art and Lei sold their home in Dublin and moved to the community of Northridge. They envisioned living there for just a few years before returning to northern California but it became their home for the next 28 years as Art built a successful career in vacuum technology.
In 1969 the Whitaker division that handled vacuum productions and technology was sold to General Technology which was headquartered in Los Angeles. Art worked there for 24 years. In addition to a generous salary, Art was provided with a car, a snazzy white and orange Monte Carlo with white upholstery which Art enjoyed driving. It was totally impractical in a family with two young children and a vineyard but Art loved it.
Art and Lei Norman Pursue Their Dreams of Owning a Vineyard
Art and Lei decided to purchase land in California to plant their own vineyard. It was Art’s dream to raise grapes in his own vineyard. Lei and Art favored the red varieties, particularly Zinfandel, Barbera, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
After much research by Lei and Art, they decided to purchase land in the Paso Robles area. However, the terroir that appealed to them was not located in the areas where grapes had traditionally been planted for generations. They were interested in the rolling hills of the Adelaida region where cattle grazed and oats, barley, fruit orchards, almond, and walnut groves had been planted for more than 100 years. They found 40 acres of land for sale on Vineyard Drive, a road running from Adelaida Road south to Highway 46 West. The address was 7450 Vineyard Drive. The sale was completed on September 15, 1971. Their first impressions of the Vineyard Drive property were described, “There were barley fields and safflower fields; the crops were rotated because safflower can only be planted once every few years. There were cattle grazing nearby in the rolling hills when they first visited the property. There were very few homes or buildings in the area. The 40-acre property also had a creek running through the fields.
Art decided to ask his parents to join him in this vineyard venture. Arthur and Marguerite agreed and sold their home in Oakland; they purchased a mobile home which was moved to the site. Arthur and Marguerite resided full-time at 7450 Vineyard Drive to provide the day to day supervision and maintenance of the property. Lei and Art continued to live and work in Northridge, traveling with their two young children in the snazzy Monte Carlo to plant and maintain the vineyard on the weekends. They became known as “the weekend warriors.”
The first year, the land was leased to a local farmer, Floyd Miller, who grew safflower and barley. The Normans realized a profit of $25 in the first year. During this time Art started the research and planning of his vineyard and grape varieties, hiring Mel Casteel, the famous Zinfandel grower, as his consultant. Mel Casteel was raised in the area and is remembered as a mentor to many Paso Robles growers and winemakers in the 1960s and 1970s. He was famous for the extraordinary Zinfandel vines and grapes he grew. Mel laid out the vineyards and educated Art on the varieties and terroir.
Art, Lei, their two young children, Jim and Julia, and Art’s parents, Marguerite and Arthur, planted the first ten acres in 1972, the same year that Gary Eberle was planting the vineyards at Estrella. The first ten acres were planted on one side of the creek running through the property. The children who were ages 4 and 6, have vivid memories of planting “every bloody vine’” because the children were “so close to the ground.” Jimmy learned to drive the tractor, affectionately known as Smokey Joe, at age 6.
The first grape variety to be planted was Zinfandel – a total of 1500 vines. The vineyards were dry farmed. Art later added drip irrigation for fertigation; which is the process of injecting fertilizers, soil amendments, water amendments, and other water-soluble products into the soil through irrigation. The children continued to help maintain the vineyards over the years; they have fond memories of enjoying dinners at Jocko’s in Nipomo or Carl’s Junior on the Sunday evening drives from Paso Robles to their home in Northridge.
Art was focused on growing grapes for the next 20 years, he had no interest in becoming a winemaker. He wanted to grow the best quality grapes possible for local winemakers. Quality was always his goal.
Zin and Barbera – New Varieties on Vineyard Drive
The first two varieties Art planted were Zinfandel and Barbera because he loved the red wines made from these two varieties. Barbera is a red Italian grape which is the third most planted variety in Italy as of the year 2000.
Art bought his Zinfandel rootstock through Bill Gerst. Bill and his wife, Mary lived in the Adelaida region on Chimney Rock Road. Bill was in the business of selling fruit trees and agricultural plants. He bought his inventory from commercial nurseries. The Gerst’s were highly respected growers and provided much information to Art Norman. They had a long history in agriculture in the Adelaida region. Bill’s grandfather, Michael Gerst, homesteaded property west of Paso Robles in the 1880s. He was famous for growing almonds and for entering his almonds in the 1903 St. Louis Exposition where he won a blue ribbon and a letter of commendation. As the Paso Robles area became famous for their almond industry, the reader could find advertisements listed in the 1919 Sunset Magazine issues and national publications stating, “ALMONDS, $2500 TO $3000 a Year from 10 Acres” advertising them as investments. The ads suggested that if you invest $25 per month, you will only be paying cash for half the investment, “your crops will pay the balance.” Paso Robles was advertised as the “Cream of California’s Almond District” and touted, “ We Plant and Care for Trees – Harvest Crops.” In the 1930s, almond orchards are estimated to have covered more than 25,000 acres of land in the Paso Robles area.
Art purchased his Barbera rootstock from Gary Eberle who was the first to plant Barbera in San Luis Obispo County at Estrella River Winery. (LINK to Gary) Gary purchased this grape variety from Art for approximately twenty years. Art honored a contract with Gary made with a handshake that Norman vineyards would continue to sell the entire Barbera harvest to Gary as long as he was making Barbera wine. Art honored this agreement even after he had opened his own winery in 1992 and was longing to use his own harvest to produce his Barbera.
Art’s first harvest was in 1975. One of his first customers was his friend Gary Eberle, the partner and winemaker at Estrella River Winery who introduced Art to the small but growing group of winemakers in the Paso Robles area. Art sold to other local winemakers and to other individuals who bought boxes of grapes for their own at-home winemaking.
From 1975 to 1982 Art and Lei continued commuting to Paso Robles on the weekends, growing and selling grapes. In the early 1980s Art developed plans for expanding his vineyard and planting the land on the other side of the creek. His parents were aging and were no longer able to work the vineyards. Joe Ballisteros was hired as the vineyard manager in the early 1980s and worked on the property through 1995. Joe and his wife Bea lived on the property in the little two-bedroom apartment attached to the garage and watched over Arthur and Marguerite. The labor contractor was Lazaro Morones, Tobin James’ father-in-law.
Norman Vineyards plants an additional 26 acres – Cab and Chardonnay
In 1983 Lei and Art applied for a second mortgage on their home in Northridge to provide the funds to plant the next 26 acres. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. After planting the 26 acres, they crossed the creek and planted Merlot on the 10-acre site next to the Zinfandel vines.
In the 1980s the area west of Paso Robles began to attract more growers who established vineyards and wineries. The community of growers and winemakers worked closely together, sharing information, their wines, equipment, and physical labor to support one another. The Paso Robles Vintners and Growers Association was established; the Paso Robles AVA was approved in 1983. Marketing became the focus of both growers and winemakers. The first Paso Robles Wine Festival was organized and featured seventeen wineries in May 1983, attracting over 1,000 visitors.
Art’s parents died shortly thereafter: Arthur in 1983 and Marguerite in 1985. Both had been born in 1900 and witnessed over 8 decades of innovation and change from the age of automobiles to travels in space, both passions for their son, Art Norman.
Art Norman crushing grapes
Redwood tank on the Old Kentucky Ranch across from the entrance to Thacher Winery on Vineyard Drive.
Surplus Grapes lead to Commercial Winemaking at “The Alamo”
In the mid-1980s Art found himself with a large surplus of Chardonnay grapes after the 1986 harvest. This seems to be the event that convinced Art to establish his own winery and hire a professional winemaker. Art had no intention of becoming a winemaker but in 1986, confronted with a crop of Chardonnay he could not sell, he decided to make Chardonnay wine. He worked with his friends Charlie Poalillo and Robert Nadeau to make his first Chardonnay.
Art and Lei Norman had become known as the “weekend warriors”, acknowledging their weekend commute from Southern California to work in their vineyards. They were a gracious and sociable couple and made many friends in the Paso Robles area. Saturday afternoons neighbors and friends would gather spontaneously with bottles of wine and food at the Normans to share their love of wine and viticulture. These legendary gatherings are still discussed among those who live on Vineyard Drive and savor the early Legends. Many wines were made and sampled in the Norman vineyard and shed.
Art and Lei decided to build a commercial winery. In 1986 they approached architect Mark Jepsen, who had received his degree in architecture from CalPoly, to design and build the winery. Mark drew the plans for the building that became known as the “Tin Shed” but Art needed a visual to see what the winery would really look like when completed. Mark did the drawing of the “Tin Shed.”
The drawings gave Art and Lei and confidence to proceed with their plan for the “Tin Shed” Winery. As the plans developed, the winery grew in square footage. Mark Jensen changed the design from “Tin Shed” to the “Alamo.” The wine cellar was constructed first, followed by the tasting room and residence above. The dramatic change in design from a modest tin shed to an imposing more Spanish style led to the nickname, The Alamo, for winery building. Equipment was soon purchased including a large redwood tank for fermentation. This tank was purchased from a grower in the Cucamonga area from whom Art sourced old vine Zinfandel grapes for his own Old Vine Zin and Late Harvest Zin winemaking. The tank was used for years and eventually replaced with newer equipment. The tank was moved from the winery by neighbors Cindi and Bruce Ebelherr who placed it in a meadow on the Old Kentucky Ranch across from the entrance to Thacher Winery on Vineyard Drive. It stands proudly with the Bar KR brand in large letters on the side with a small plaque saying this Tank was a gift, Art and Lei Norman Vineyard and Winery established 1971.
Art made wine with the help of his friends from 1986 to 1992. A favorite memory of Art’s was the making of Zinfandel wine with Charlie Poalillo, who had purchased Mel Casteel’s Zinfandel vineyard in 1972; Art and Charlie combined grapes from each of their Zinfandel vineyards and collaborated on producing their Zinfandel wine. Both men entered the same Zinfandel wine under their own labels in two local competitions; in the first competition Art’s wine won the Gold Medal and Charlie’s wine received no recognition. In the second competition, Charlie’s wine won the Gold and Art walked away empty-handed. They both laughed over the years at the judging.
Art and his friends continued making single varietal wines for his family from his own grapes; he was pleased with the quality. He used the tractor shed for these “home winemaking projects.” Chardonnay was grafted over to Cabernet Franc which was much more successful in the Norman vineyards. Chardonnay grapes for winemaking were sourced from the Edna Valley. For almost twenty years Art and Lei had sold their grapes to local wineries that had made award-winning wines from their finest grapes. By this time Niels Udsen, founder of Castoro Cellars had become a major buyer of Art’s grapes, including Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay.
Norman Vineyards was incorporated on April 30, 1992. Art was elected as President and Lei as Chief Financial Officer. At the time, their grapes were selling at $400 a ton. The winery was completed in 1993, financed with the profits for selling the grapes.
Norman Vineyards – The “Alamo” and Winemakers Cliff Hight and Robert Nadeau
The first commercial vintage of the wine, however, was made in the cellar of the new winery in 1992. The winery was bonded in 1992; the bond number was 5660. The winery officially opened on October 1, 1992. Winemaker Cliff Hight, formerly winemaker at Rolling Ridge Winery in San Miguel, worked with Art on the first vintage. Robert Nadeau became the winemaker in 1993 and produced Norman wines for the next ten years.
Local wineries such as Eberle had had great success in winning awards for wines made with the Zinfandel and Barbera grapes purchased from Norman Vineyards. The assistant winemaker at Eberle, Robert F. Nadeau, had shown his talent and appreciation for those grapes as he started his winemaking career with a degree in chemistry at the “Eberle Institute of Winemaking.” Robert had expressed to Art his appreciation for the Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel grown in the Norman vineyards.
Robert F. Nadeau subsequently worked as a winemaker with Nick Martin at Martin Bros. Winery. These experiences taught Robert how to work with grapes varieties sourced from an array of local vineyards. He established his own vineyard and later his own winery on Peachy Canyon Road in the 1990s.
Robert F. Nadeau was hired as the winemaker in the early 1990s at Mission View Estate, a vineyard and winery located in San Miguel. Mission View Estate was a small winery with a 40-acre vineyard planted with Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Caneli, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Mission View sold their fruit, praised for its quality, to many local wineries including Adelaida Cellars, Castoro Cellars, Wild Horse, and York Mountain. This new trend of selling to local winemakers who were crafting small production quality wines was in stark contrast to the past 50 years when an estimated 125 growers sold 90 percent of their grapes to wineries outside of San Luis Obispo County. Mission View Estate had a similar business model to the one that Art and Lei Norman were developing.
When Robert became the winemaker at Mission View Estate, he worked only with the fruit grown on the estate. Robert applied his skills to produce small quantities of wine with a distinctive character that he blended for complexity and depth. His wines did well in national and international competitions; he became known for his wine crafting skills. Art had been impressed by Robert’s skill and philosophy. He asked Robert to help him make the Norman wines in 1993. Robert accepted and was able to work as a winemaker in both wineries.
The First Vintage of Norman Wines – 1992
Zinfandel was the most famous of the Norman wines; Monster was made from Norman Zinfandel grapes as was the “No Nonsense Red” and “Classic Zinfandel”. As the demand for Norman wines grew, additional Zinfandel grapes were sourced from three growers, Barbara Wyatt who purchased the vineyard founded by Mel Casteel, Newland Hastings who was both a local realtor and grape grower, and a third vineyard located on Vineyard Drive. The Cabernet Sauvignon was also made from grapes grown in Norman vineyards. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were sourced from Edna Valley. Lei and Art also sourced grapes from Dr. Bill Cane in Willow Creek. He was an ER doctor at French Hospital.
The white varietals included Sauvignon Blanc produced from 1995 to 1998 with grapes purchased from Joey Morrow who later sold her vineyard to Ed Dutton; Pinot Grigio with grapes sourced from Mike Dusi and “Nonsense White” with grapes sourced from Will Webster. At this time women growers were becoming known for the quality of their grapes
The White Zinfandel was made with Norman estate grapes by winemaker Tom Myers at Castoro Cellars; Niels Udsen, founder of Castoro Cellars, reminisced in 2020 about Lei and Art Norman. He emphasized that everyone helped each other out in those days – no matter what the challenge. He remembers that Lei Norman loved Castoro’s white Zinfandel. Niels’ winemaker, Tom Myers, was known to make the best white Zinfandel in North County.
Additionally, Niels remembers when Art created his “Red Monster Zin” – an unforgettable bold Zin – the most popular of all the Zins made by Norman Vineyards.
The Norman wine label has a cougar on it. The female mountain lion was seen roaming the Chardonnay vineyard in 1983 and Art felt great respect for the animal. She had kept the deer out of the vineyard and as a result, the Chardonnay vineyard produced an extra six tons of grapes – a total of 11 tons – under her watch. He decided to place her on his label to honor her contribution to his success. She also left her paw prints. Mark Jensen designed the label and the rendering of the mountain lion is his creation. Mountain lions continued to visit the vineyards in the 21st century.
Over the years the following labels were designed for these varietals:
- 1992, 1993, and 1994 Chardonnay produced and bottled by Castoro Cellars
- 1995 Chardonnay produced and bottled by Norman Vineyards
- 1997 Chardonnay produced and bottled by Norman Vineyards, San Luis Obispo County AVA
- 1999 Chardonnay produced and bottled by Norman Vineyards, Central Coast AVA
- 2001 Chardonnay produced and bottles by Edna Valley
No Nonsense Red (paired with hearty food like stews and hot dogs)
- Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot
- 1992 through 2007 produced and bottled by Norman Vineyards
- The label was designed by Mike Lucas at Poor Richard Printing
- Blend of Chardonnay and Viognier
- 2004 through 2009 produced and bottled by Norman Vineyards
- Petite Sirah
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Cabernet Franc with grapes grafted over the Chardonnay vines
- Vino Rosado (a dry rośe)
- Rhône Rośe
Buzzard Label (Secondary label for 2004 and 2005 Vintages)
- Petite Sirah
- Tres Buitres
The Challenges of Marketing Local Wines – Tasting Rooms, The Zinfandel Festival and the Far Out Wineries
Art did the marketing and handled the sales and distribution. The majority of wine was sold through distributors. Lei was the business manager and bookkeeper. She worked 24/7.
Tasting rooms became an important marketing tool. The tasting room at Norman Vineyards was located in the winery on the floor above the wine cellar; it was very cozy and homey with a large comfortable sofa and a wood-burning stove. The bar top was a light birds-eye maple with dark trim. A grand piano sat in the tasting room for any guest to play. Visitors were encouraged to bring a picnic to enjoy with the wines near the vineyards. The tasting room was the place for the wine club members and the public to taste the Norman wines. Norman wines were sold directly to the public. The tasting room managers are fondly remembered: Jennifer Plain, Paula Gendren whose husband founded JanKris Winery, and Jo Bello of J & B Winery who has moved to Hawaii.
The Zinfandel Festival was established in 1992 by the Zinfandel winemakers. Doug Beckett, founder of Peachy Canyon Winery, and Doug Filipponi, winegrower and partner in Ancient Peak Winery. The annual event included tastings in booths, music, and art. Many of the local winemakers were joining a new organization known as the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) which promoted Zinfandel growers and winemakers throughout California and hosted a large annual Zinfandel tasting hosted by California producers in San Francisco that attracted thousands of visitors each January.
Art joined the Wine Institute in 1995. It is the only organization in the United States that advocates for wine at state, federal and international levels; founded in 1934 by the Wine Producers Association and former Grape Growers League of California. It provides scientific and educational programs to benefit the wine industry in California.
By 2001, the small wineries west of Paso Robles came together to develop a joint marketing strategy. Art worked with local wineries in the Adelaida region including Adelaida, Justin, and Peachy Canyon Winery to develop a marketing plan for the fourteen wineries located in the area. They created a brochure and map describing the uniqueness of each winemaker and winery. The introduction of the Far Out Wineries of Paso Robles opens with “We were once chefs, photographers, investment bankers, far out hippies, actors, international financiers, studio drummers, wine importers, engineers, developers and alas, even an attorney, but we are all now winemakers with a passion for the wide spectrum of flavors arising from vineyards planted in the gnarly limestone hills west of Paso Robles.”
Health Issues – The Heart of 1992
A health disaster struck the Norman family. In 1992, Art had a stroke. Lei and Art were still living in Northridge and commuting to their vineyards on the weekends.
Art recovered and decided to retire in Paso Robles. They sold their home in Northridge and prepared for the move in 1993. Just as escrow was closing doctors advised that Art’s health was declining and he required by-pass surgery on his heart immediately. Lei actually had to cancel the movers and postpone the move because of the by-pass surgery. As soon as Art had recovered enough to travel, they moved to the mobile home where Art’s parents had lived near the vineyards. The winery was almost completed and based on their building and occupancy permits, the Normans had to complete the tasting room by November 1993. They met the deadline and moved into the tasting room area and lived there until 2000.
Art had a second operation of by-pass surgery at French Hospital with an excellent surgeon.
In 2000 Art and Lei built and completed their new residence on the spot where the mobile home had been located. They settled into their new home after being tasting room residents for seven years. They continued to operate the winery and vineyards successfully.
In February 2006 Art passed away. A few days before his death, Lei describes an old tree near the tasting room – it was suddenly the roost of many “buzzards” sitting on three barren limbs – these are the same species of birds depicted on the new Buzzard label in 2004 and 2005. Within hours of Art’s death the buzzards disappeared and the tree dropped two of its limbs to the ground. Art was mourned by all who knew him and cherished his friendship, laughter, kindness, and his Monster Zin.
In 2012 Lei Norman sold the winery and vineyard to Hackett Pacific Investments (HPI). HPI remodeled the winery and reopened as Brecon Estate. The designer of this new winery is the San Francisco firm of Aidlin-Darling Design who received recognition as the 2014 “Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Designer of the Year.”
The old wooden tanks were removed and replaced with modern winemaking equipment. They were sold to various brewers during the remodeling. A few were converted to pieces of furniture according to Founding Winemaker of Brecon Estate, Damian Grindley, who also had one historic tank near his home.
1844: José Pedro Narváez obtained the six square league land grant or 25,933 acres, Rancho Paso de Robles. He served as captain of the port of Monterey from 1839 to 1844. He served in the Mexican Navy.
1845: Narváez sells his land grant to Petronilo Ríos.
1857: The entire rancho is purchased by James H. Blackburn and Daniel Drew Blackburn of Virginia and Illinois on August 1 from Ríos.
1868: Drury James purchases fifty percent of the grant and together over time Drury James and James Blackburn developed the town of Paso Robles and surrounding areas with partners, business owners and ranchers.
1933: Arthur Norman is born in Oakland on December 10.
1951: Graduates from Fremont High School in Oakland California.
1951: Enrolls in the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in Mechanical Engineering.
1953: Is drafted into the United States Army. Serves four years in the radar division at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey. Is promoted to Master Sergeant.
1957: Leaves active duty but remains in the Army Reserves.
1957: Works in Louis M. Martini’s Tasting Room in the Napap with customers conducting tastings and wine sales. Becomes inspired by the viticulture and winemaking practices of Louis M. Martini during the next five years.
1957: Enrolls classes in engineering at Stanford University and San Jose State University.
1958: Starts career in the aerospace industry in a small engineering company in Berkeley.
1960: Lei Vandemark is hired at this engineering company in Berkeley where she is introduced to Art Norman.
1961: Art is hired by the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory. Lee and Art begin dating.
1962: Art and Lei are married on April 21.
1964: Art and Lei move to Dublin, California.
1965: Art is hired by Whittaker Corporation with offices located in North Hollywood, California.
1965: Lei and Art move to the town of Northridge in Southern California and purchase their home.
1966: Son James Scott is born.
1968: Daughter Julia Ann is born.
1970: Lei and Art decided to purchase a vineyard and fulfill Art’s dream of growing the finest quality grapes possible and sell their fruit to small winemakers crafting premium varietals. They explore California and decided on Paso Robles.
1970: Arthur and Marguerite Norman, Art’s parents, decide to partner with Art and Lei in the vineyard project.
1971: Art and Lei purchase 40 acres on 7450 Vineyard Drive in the Adelaida region west of Paso Robles and found Norman Vineyards. Art’s parents, Arthur and Marguerite Norman, move from Oakland to a mobile home on the new property.
1972: Art and Lei drive to Paso Robles on the weekends to work in the vineyards. Art and Lei become known as the “weekend warriors.”
1972: Mel Casteel plans the layout of the vineyard and mentors Art in vineyard management. Art plants 10 of the 40 acres in Barbera and Zinfandel grapes on rootstock purchased from Bill Gerst who has a nursery on Chimney Rock Road in the Adelaida region.
1983: Norman Vineyards expands; Art and Lei Norman borrow against their home in Northridge to finance the planting of the next 26 acres. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are planted. This is the first Chardonnay planted on Vineyard Drive.
1983: Merlot is planted in Norman Vineyards on a section of the original 10 acres near the Zinfandel vines.
1983: Paso Robles AVA is established.
1983: The Paso Robles Wine Festival is established.
1983: Art’s father, Arthur Norman, dies.
1985: Art’s mother, Marguerite Norman. dies.
1983: Joe Ballisteros is hired as Vineyard Manager and works until 1995.
1983: First annual Wine Festival was held in Paso Robles.
1986: Art and Lei decide to build their own winery because their vineyard is producing a surplus of Chardonnay grapes that Art could not sell to winemakers. They continue to live in Northridge; Art continues to work at his “day job”.
1986: Architect Mark Jepson is hired to design and produce drawings for the “Tin Shed”, Norman Winery. The design changes to the “Alamo” design.
1987: The winery is built over the next six years, financed by proceeds from the sale of grapes to local winemakers.
1992: Norman Winery is completed and opened in October.
1992: Winemaker, Cliff Hight, former winemaker at Rolling Ridge Winery is hired to produce the first vintage.
1992: First Zinfandel Festival is held in Paso Robles.
1992: The first vintage of Norman wines are produced in the cellar of the new winery. The following wines were produced in the 1990s: Whites: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, White Zinfandel, and Nonsense White. Reds: Pinot Noir, Zinfandel – No Nonsense Red, Zinfandel – The Monster, Zinfandel – Classic, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.
1992: Art has a stroke and resigns from his job in Southern California. Lei coordinates his health care and recovery.
1993: Art has heart by-pass surgery in Southern California and regains health. Lei and Art sell their house in Northridge and move to the mobile home on their property on Vineyard Drive.
1993: The tasting room at the winery completed. Wine Club is established.
1993: Robert Nadeau is hired as the winemaker.
1993: Art joins the Paso Robles Growers and Producers Association.
1995: Art becomes a member of the Wine Institute.
2000: Lei and Art move into their new residence on the property, replacing their mobile home.
2000: Art collaborates with local wineries to develop a marketing plan to attract customers to tasting rooms and local wine clubs with the goal of selling wines directly to consumers in the Adelaida region.
2001: Fourteen wineries form Far Out Paso Robles Wineries and designed the Far Out Trail stating “We were once chefs, photographers, investment bankers, far out hippies, actors, international financiers, studio drummers, wine importers, engineers, developers and alas even an attorney, but we are all now winemakers with a passion for the wide spectrum of flavors arising from vineyards planted in the gnarly limestone hills west of Paso Robles.”
2005: New varietals are added at Norman Vineyards wines including a small production of Petit Sirah, Vino Rosado (a dry rose), and a Rhone Rose.
2006: Art Norman dies on February 9, 2006.
2006: Lei Norman and her son, James Scott Norman, continue to manage the vineyards and winery.
2012: Lei Norman sold the winery and vineyard to Hackett Pacific Investments (HPI). HPI remodeled the winery and reopened as Brecon Estate.