James Anderson was a shipwreck survivor from Sydney, Australia and one of the founding viticultural pioneers of San Luis Obispo County, alongside his friend and neighbor, Andrew York. He was one of the only Australians to settle in San Luis Obispo County, and was the first Australian to settle on York Mountain and to grow Zinfandel and Burger grape varietals. He may even be the first to build a winery in the historic Ascension district. He was the first to own a redwood tank with a 16,000-gallon capacity. The tank was made in San Francisco and purchased in the San Jose area. James Anderson studied winemaking, was an experienced farmer, and had the money to buy good equipment.
More than 300,000 people immigrated to California in the second half of the nineteenth century from all corners of the globe. Some had dreams of owning their own land while striking gold was an alluring idea to others. Many were fleeing from poverty, oppression, drought and war. But the Anderson family was the exception, they had made their fortune in sheep raising in Australia. They decided to bring their fortune of over $100,000 to California to pursue new dreams. While San Luis Obispo County was settled by men and women of many ethnic groups, the county is unique in that many of the ethnic groups who settled here in the 1800s lived in close proximity to each other. They shared their culture, their labor, and friendships; there are many descendants of those various ethnic groups who still live in the area and maintain land inherited or purchased from their families of origin.
The Anderson family’s dangerous journey was the story of myths and legends at sea. In 1853, Andrew Anderson, James Anderson’s father, bought passage for his wife and six children on the ship Julian for San Francisco. The shipwreck occurred in the South Pacific close to Kanaka Island. Many lives were lost including one of the Anderson children, a young daughter. The possessions, including the $100,000 fortune belonging to the Anderson family sank to the bottom of the sea. The survivors who made it to the island were able to survive for three months on turtle eggs and the turtles themselves. Eventually those who survived were rescued and taken to San Francisco. Andrew was able to find work for a time in San Francisco but soon found a better opportunity on a farm in San Jose. The children were raised and educated in Santa Clara County. James was educated in horticulture and agriculture.
During the later 1860s and the first half of the 1870s, James Anderson worked a variety of crops in several counties and states. He grew grain in Hollister, California for the first three years out on his own. However, there were severe droughts during this period, so James decided to relocate in the Old River section south of Bakersfield in Kern County, California. He grew alfalfa for six years but became seriously ill, and almost died. When he recovered, he moved to Palouse and Walla Country in Washington. It was a period of unrest among the Native American tribes. James lived there for a while but eventually guided a party of settlers out of the country to safety after a series of narrow escapes.
He decided to return to California and to settle on the Central Coast in San Luis Obispo County in 1876. He must have accumulated some wealth; James purchased a farm on Toro Creek near Cayucos from Andrew York. He settled there and raised grain for three years.
In 1879 James Anderson decided to sell his farm on Toro Creek and move on to land in the Ascension District at the base of what is now known as York Mountain. He bought the farm he would live on for the rest of his life from Mr. Dunn. It was 163 and three-quarter acres. He set about clearing the land and planting an orchard and vineyard on twenty acres.
James selected a red wine varietal, Zinfandel, which was the most commonly planted red wine grape in San Luis Obispo County at the time and a white French varietal, Burger. James Anderson was the first to plant a white wine varietal in the York Mountain and he may have been the first to plant Zinfandel as well. Andrew York did not arrive until 1882. The land was located on Anderson Creek (named after him) at the foot of York Mountain, about half-way between Templeton and the Pacific Ocean.
A short time later, James Anderson built a winery and purchased winemaking equipment including a 16,000-gallon redwood storage tank. He traveled all over the Pacific Coast and studied soils and climate. He may have been the first person to build a winery in the Ascension District. We have not found any evidence of an earlier winery.
James married Miss Lizzie Gray in Bakersfield, California around this time. They had six healthy children, five of whom eventually settled near James.
James Anderson became a prosperous and well-respected viticulturist in San Luis Obispo County. The 1891 Directory of Grape Growers, Wine Makers and Distillers of California list James Anderson as a winemaker. He had 12 acres of bearing wine grapes. It records two varietals: Zinfandel and Burger.
His religion was the reorganized Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints. His father had been a minister in the faith. He was well-known as a great conversationalist with a vivid memory. James Anderson had a passion for education. He served as a trustee for many years for schools in the Ascension District. He enjoyed politics as well and was a life-long Democrat.
His wife died in 1899; James lived until 1921 and is buried in the Cayucos – Morro Bay District Cemetery. Their son Frank, who attended the Pacific Coast Business College, worked with his father managing the ranch until James’ death. He was survived by his six children.
Early 1830s: Andrew Anderson, the father of James Robert Anderson, lives in Scotland with his wife.
1840s: Andrew Anderson and his wife move to Australia. Andrew becomes a successful sheep farmers, and accumulates a fortune of over $100,000.
1852: James Robert Anderson was born in Sydney Australia on November 8.
1853: Andrew Anderson decides to move his family and fortune to California. On their voyage their ship, the Julian, was shipwrecked, and any survivors were stranded on an island in the South Pacific. The Andersons lost a daughter in the shipwreck and their fortune of over $100,000. They were stranded on the island for three months before being rescued and taken by ship to San Francisco.
1850s: The family arrived in San Francisco without any money to start their new life. Andrew Anderson soon found work on a farm in San Jose and moved the entire family to Santa Clara County. James Anderson was raised and educated in horticulture and agriculture in Santa Clara County.
Late 1860s and early 1870s: James Anderson moves from place to place to pursue jobs and various schemes. He worked in grain growing in Hollister, California. He raised alfalfa in Kern County. He moved to Walla Walla, Washington to explore the area.
1876: James Anderson returned to California and settled in San Luis Obispo County. He purchased a farm from Andrew York on Toro Creek and raised grain for three years.
1879: James Anderson sold the farm on Toro Creek and bought 163 and ¾ acres from Mr. Dunn in the Ascension District. He cleared the land, planted an orchard and vineyard of 20 acres. He built a winery.
1879 or 1880: James Anderson married Miss Lizzie Gray in Bakersfield, California.
1891: Directory of Grape Growers, Wine Makers and Distillers of California list James Anderson as a winemaker with 12 acres bearing wine grapes and two varietals: Zinfandel and Burger.
1899: Lizzie Anderson, James’ wife, dies.
1917: San Luis Obispo County and Environs published in 1917 lists the names of the six children: Lizzie, Mrs. Hames of Templeton, Maggie, Mrs. Swain of Cayucos, James, a farmer near Templeton, Frank, a graduate of the Pacific Coast Business College who is assisting his father on the home ranch, Clyde who resides in Hollister, and John who is clerking in Bell’s store in Paso Robles.
1921: James Robert Anderson dies. He has lived on his ranch, outside Templeton near York Mountain on what is known as Anderson Creek since its purchase in 1879. He is buried in the Cayucos-Morro Bay District Cemetery.