The dreams of two young men – law and lifestyle
Robin Baggett and Bob Schiebelhut were working as young lawyers in San Francisco soon after graduating from law school. Within a few years they were both dreaming of moving to an area with a more laid-back and idyllic lifestyle. The dream of living in a beautiful area on the Central Coast of California found its roots in childhood. Both men had family backgrounds “steeped” in agriculture.
Robin’s grandparents were living in Texas prior to the Great Depression in the 1930s; severe heat, dust storms and lack of rain caused the fields and crops to wither. They decided to move to California to farm and chose to settle in the Salinas Valley. They became cattle ranchers in Monterey County. Robin is the fifth generation in the Baggatt family with Texas heritage.
Bob grew up in the Central Valley of California, where orchards and vineyards have been farmed for 150 years. Today (2022) this area produces 25% of the food in the United States, including 40% of the nation’s fruits, nuts and table foods. Bob’s family farmed orchards and vineyards including the iconic table grapes – Thompson Seedless. Bob learned to drive his first tractor with his grandfather at age 4. However, Bob decided not to become a farmer.
Both men focused their careers on the legal profession. Bob graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1969 and Boalt Hall School of Law in 1972. Robin attended Cal Poly University on a baseball scholarship and graduated with a business degree in 1973. He attended California Hastings College of Law; following his graduation in 1976 he clerked for California Supreme Court Justice William Clark and Judge Samuel Conti seated on the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
Almost a decade later, Bob moved to the Central Coast. He had received a phone call from law school classmate Warren Sinsheimer asking him to consider joining him to practice law in the City of San Luis Obispo. In 1984 Bob joined Warren in the law firm that later became known as Sinsheimer, Schiebelhut and Baggett; Bob continued to practice until 2002, specializing in Business Litigation and Transactions as well as Real Estate Development. He also decided to start farming – the career he had decided early on, not to pursue. How did this happen? Bob fell in love with the Biddle Ranch Road area in the Edna Valley. Most of the land was already being farmed but he was able to purchase thirty-three acres at the south west corner of Orcutt Road and Biddle Ranch Road. Soon there was a barn filled with Arabian horses on the property.
Robin moved to the Edna Valley, and also joined the law firm which became known as Sinsheimer, Schieblehut and Baggett. He continued practicing law for the next 25 years. He served as general counsel for the National Basketball Association’s Golden State Warriors for eight years. In 1988 Robin decided to purchase a ranch of 728 acres in Morretti Canyon, named after the Italian Swiss dairy family who farmed this land. Following his family’s ranching traditions, Robin began running cattle on his new ranch. However, he soon realized that grape growing would be a much better option in the Edna Valley.
Both men recognized their love of the land in the Edna Valley and were ready to dig into the soil.
Sense of Place – A Shared Connection to the Land
Robin stated, “one of the main reasons we moved to San Luis Obispo was that I knew it would be the only chance of having significant land in a pleasing rural California setting.” Robin described his feeling of substance with respect to agriculture in the following words, “As a lawyer, the work you do could arguably be productive; however, agriculture is most definitely productive and satisfying. A product from the land is created that others enjoy.”
Bob’s connection to his land was described in the Summer 2001 Edna Valley- Arroyo Grande Vintners’ Association Newsletter as “very strong” and his view of a vineyard as “a manicured garden.” Bob stated, “I had the idea that there was a wonderful simplicity about returning to my roots. I enjoy getting dusty and dirty and working with my hands.” He envisioned his return to roots as “something of the tradition of his family.”
Planting Vineyards in the Edna Valley
The first commercial vineyards were planted in the Edna Valley in 1973 by Norman Goss (founder of Chamisal Vineyard) followed by Jack and Catharine Niven (founders of Paragon Vineyards) six weeks later. Both vineyards became well known for their high-quality fruit and the wines produced from their locally grown Chardonnay grapes in the 1970s.
The Paragon Vineyard Company was a much larger commercial vineyard. Jack Niven hired Luis Lucas of Tepusquet Vineyards in Santa Maria in 1972 to plant his first two vineyards – the first, Riverbench, in the Santa Maria Valley, and the second in the Edna Valley, owned by Jack Niven’s Paragon Vineyard Company. Jim Efird was hired by the Niven family as the viticulturist for Paragon Vineyards in April 1973 and worked with Luis Lucas to prepare, irrigate and plant the Paragon vineyards on 550 acres purchased by Jack and Catharine Niven in 1972.
Pioneer Jim Efird became a key figure in the development and management of a number of vineyards established in the Edna Valley, including Edna Ranch Vineyards, between 1973 and 2015. In 1978 Jim was promoted to Vice President of Paragon Vineyards with full responsibility for the management of both Riverbench and Paragon vineyards. Between 1976 and 2004, grape sales contracts were established with over 160 different wineries under Jim’s management which included a growing number of vineyards.
In 1988, Jim partnered with Paragon Vineyards to form the Pacific Vineyard Company, which soon expanded with staff to manage over 2,000 acres of vineyards. Jim became well known as the viticulture expert in the Edna Valley. In the 1980s, he became an advisor and vineyard manager for the owners of Edna Ranch Vineyards, working directly with Bob Schiebelhut and Robin Bageatt to develop a long-term business plan.
Both Robin and Bob became enamored with Edna Valley Chardonnay in the 1980s. Bob had developed a fondness for Pinot Noir as well, describing it with these words, “The thing that enamors me of Pinot Noir is its rose petal aroma. The aromatics are unbelievable, but only when they really show through; that is one of the reasons that Pinot Noir is the holy grail. I look for aroma, not the typical California tannic style.”
In 1992 Bob made the decision to plant a vineyard of twenty-four acres, eighteen to Chardonnay and 6 to Pinot Noir. He named his vineyard SALAAL for his three daughters, SArah, LAurel and ALlison. The name is a tribute to the Arabian horses the young women-owned and loved.
His first harvest, in 1995, sold almost immediately to small wineries, establishing the reputation for high-quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The quality of his harvest changed Bob’s vision of the future; he began exploring the idea of making wine from his own grapes grown in the Salaal Vineyard.
Edna Ranch Vineyards – A Partnership
Bob and Robin created a viticultural vision and a partnership. It became known as Edna Ranch Vineyards. They needed to acquire the land with the terroir that would produce the finest grapes in Edna Valley.
They purchased land from Italian Swiss farmers who had emigrated first to the Cayucos Coast in the late 1800s and then moved to the Edna Valley, acquiring land to grow grains, vegetables, fruit trees and establish dairy farms. Robin purchased his first property in 1988 in Morretti Canyon. He was able to purchase two more family-owned dairy ranches the following year in 1989 – the Stornetta and Poletti Ranches and the Jay Stream Ranch in 1990.
The Edna Ranch Vineyards, jointly owned by Robin Baggett and Bob Schiebelhut, had grown to 532 acres by the summer of 2001. Here is a description, found on the Edna Ranch Vineyards website, that captures the magic: The Edna Ranch has six distinct vineyards with terroir that may have first developed over 100 million years ago in the ancient sea bed. “Remnants of volcanic eruptions, fueled by clashing continental plates, share the landscape with calcium-rich sediments from tiny shells deposited on an ancient sea bed and estuary. Degraded granite meets tufa precipitated in a vanished sea. Heavy clay fills the valley floor while sandstone and clay loam cover the hillsides.” According to the Tolosa Winery website, there are 60 different types of soils and a number of microclimates in the Edna Valley. It is known to have the longest growing season in California. However, each district (vineyard) has a different topography, several soil types and distinct microclimates.
They ultimately decided to grow grapes in six locations on the Edna Ranch. Pacific Vineyard Company (Jim Efird) planted and maintained the vineyards. Briefly, the ten-year timeline includes 226 acres planted in 1991 on both sides of Orcutt Road with 220 acres to Chardonnay and 6 acres to Pinot Noir. By 1998, an additional 225 acres had been planted to Pinot Noir, eight to Viognier, five to Grenache, seven to Pinot Gris and five to Petit Syrah. They planted 32 acres in 2000 to Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Merlot was added in 2001.
Edna Ranch Vineyards – Six Estate Vineyards in 2022
The old Monighetti Vineyard currently surrounds the Tolosa Winery and Tasting Room located at the intersection of Edna Road and Buckley Road. It is now referred to as the Baggett Vineyard and is located just south of the city of San Luis Obispo with views of the Nine Sisters (volcanic cones) rising at Morro Bay on the ocean and ending at nearby Isley Peak. It is the first vineyard of the Edna Ranch that is cooled by the Pacific winds flowing toward the Edna Valley from Morro Bay. The vines, Dijon 667 and 777, are planted on rootstock 101-14 and 1103P. There are two soil types – Tierra sandy loam and Cropley clay.
The Salaal Ranch vineyard is planted with Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache. It is located on the property at Biddle Ranch Road and Orcutt Road. This vineyard has the West Corral de Piedra Creek on its southern border. Salinas silty clay borders the creek. The land is relatively flat and other soils include Salinas loam and Cropley clay. Grenache and Syrah are planted in this vineyard.
Morretti Canyon Vineyard is located on the east side of Orcutt Road in a canyon between the sloping hillsides of the Santa Lucia Mountains. The East Corral de Piedra Creek meanders through the vineyard. Salinas silty clay loam borders the creek with Zaca clay on the outskirts. The geography contains rolling hills; the vines are grown on vertical trellising. This vineyard was originally planted with one third allocated to Chardonnay and two thirds to Pinot Noir. It now contains the Pinot Noir block (clone 777). It is also planted with other varieties including Sauvignon Blanc.
The fourth vineyard is known as Stornetta which has blocks of Viognier and Pinot Noir and is accessed on Orcutt Road.
The Poletti Vineyard, also located on the east side of Orcutt Road, contains the prized Chardonnay. This vineyard is located at the base of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the section of the Pacific Range located on the east side of the Edna Valley. The rolling foothills range in elevation between 320 to 500 feet. Soils are of three types: Salinas silty clay loam, Zaca clay and Tierra loam. Some of the Chardonnay is planted on its own root stock; it was planted from cuttings (Tepequest) obtained in Santa Maria and are the only vines on the Edna Ranch growing on their own rootstock. The featured clones are the Tepequest clone (#76) and the Dijon clone (#96). Petit Sirah, Syrah, and white varieties, Viognier and Pinot Gris are also planted in the long rows on the rolling hillsides.
Hollister Vineyard is located between Orcutt and Edna Road (Highway 227). It is closest to the Pacific Ocean, about five miles away. The farming is challenging in rocky soils and the hillsides. The slopes range from 5% to 50% and are covered with Arnold loamy sand soils. The Pommard clone and Pinot clones 777 and 828 grow in this vineyard. There is a limestone slab at the top of the hill. Some of the vines were sourced from the historic Hoffman Ranch Vineyard in the Adelaida District just west of Paso Robles. Syrah was originally planted here.
When Bob and Robin decided to produce their own Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, they recognized the need for a custom crush facility in Edna Valley. This led to expanding their partnership to include Jim Efird in 1998. They built a crush facility known as Courtside Cellars on the land closest to the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by the Monighetti Vineyard. Winemaker Stephen (Steve) Dooley, founder of Stephen Ross Wine Cellars, worked on the design and the construction of this facility. This space was used to provide custom crush services to many customers including Robert Mondavi.
The partnership soon built and established the winery we know as Tolosa with the capacity to process up to 10,000 tons of grapes (equivalent to 680,000 cases of wine). The Edna Ranch Vineyards were producing 2500 tons of grapes by 2001.
The first vintage of wines, the Heritage Series, was produced in 2000. Fifty tons of grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah – were sourced from Edna Ranch Vineyards for their first vintage. The remainder were sold to other winemakers. Bob emphasized, “We want the Tolosa brand to be the very best wine that can possibly be made from the Edna Valley grapes.
In 2015, Robin Baggett and his investor group bought the shares owned by Bob Schiebelhut and Jim Efird. Both men retired. This story will be continued in 2023….