The Legend of Norman Goss
Renaissance Man – “A person of many talents or areas of knowledge.”
Norman Goss was a “renaissance man ”; he had a number of remarkable talents, passions, an extensive knowledge of international wine regions, and built multiple careers that spanned most of the twentieth century. He traveled the world, explored cultures and their cuisines, wines, music and arts. He was a Californian, born in Los Angeles, who traveled to Europe in the “Grand Tour” fashion with his parents as a child; he was raised in Pasadena which also became his home for a number of years in adulthood. He became an accomplished classical musician, an expert on California and European wines, a restaurateur, and cookbook author. He worked full time at Phillip’s Aviation manufacturing fuel gauges for North American P-51 Mustang fighter planes during World War II, which contributed to the success of Allied air attacks. He later moved to rural California to become a California rancher and dairyman.
He also made San Luis Obispo County wine history after researching the grape industry in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He understood that wine drinkers were trending toward California Chardonnay so he purchased land in the Edna Valley in 1972, founded Chamisal Vineyards. He planted the first commercial vineyard there in 1973. He was 57 years old and starting his new career 42 years after his first winemaking venture exploded in his mother’s basement.
Norm Goss – Impact on the Wine History of San Luis Obispo County
- The only Edna Valley winegrower to attend a luncheon hosted by pianist and composer Ignace Paderewski in Switzerland. Zinfandel wine made with grapes grown on Paderewski’s St. Ignacio Ranch in the hills west of Paso Robles was served to Norm and his mother, Madeleine. Norm was 15 years old at the time and said the experience planted the thought in his mind of one day becoming a winemaker.
- On October 23, 1941, Norm opened his first Stuft Shirt Restaurant in Pasadena which became famous for its dishes and recipes he collected from around the world. The wine list featured both European and California varietals listed under the categories white wine and red wine as was common practice at the time.
- First winemaker in San Luis Obispo County to be a member of the Southern California Food and Wine Society and the Pasadena Food and Wine Society.
- First restaurateur in Southern California to establish a wine list showcasing California wines on his menus. Norman believed in the rising quality of California wines and promoted them at every opportunity.
- The wine list at the Stuft Shirt restaurants featured wines from the most famous California wineries starting in the 1950s including Wente Bros., Concannon, Inglenook, Louis M. Martini, Krug, and Italian Swiss Colony.
- First major California restaurateur to recognize that his customers were shifting their preferences from red wines to white wines in the 1950s.. He also noted that wine sales were increasing and liquor sales decreasing with his clientele.
- First to determine that Chardonnay would be the white wine of choice for Californians in the 1960s and 1970s. In Norm’s words “Chardonnay appeared to be the hot ticket.”
- First to purchase 69 acres of land and design a 57 acre commercial vineyard in 1972 in the Edna Valley. This land was part of the historic Rancho Bolsa de Chamisal established during the Mexican era of occupation in 1837.
- First to plant Chardonnay on 47 acres and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes on 10 acres in an Edna Valley commercial vineyard in 1973.
- First to plant the Olde Montrachet clone from Cote d”Or where the great white Burgundies are grown. It was known as the Wente F02A Clone. It was planted on its own rootstock to allow the full development of intense varietal flavor in the wine.
- First to establish a winery in the Edna Valley styled after the great chateaux of France, using estate grapes to make just one wine each year – Chardonnay.
Norman “Norm” was born on April 24, 1915 in Los Angeles, California. Two years later his father was drafted to fight in France during the Great War (now known as World War I). His father returned home in 1919 and Norm’s childhood began in Pasadena with summers spent on Balboa Island on Newport Bay. He had two younger siblings, a brother Alan and a sister Vail.
Norm credits his maternal grandfathers for his love of food and fine music. His maternal grandfather, surgeon John T. Binkley, Jr. had traveled to Italy and mastered the art of making pastas, eggplant parmesan and numerous raviolis. Norm credits his grandfather’s tutelage for his own lifetime enthusiasm for food.
His great-grandfather on his mother Madeleine’s side, “Bonpapa” Leffingwell became an Episcopalian minister in the 1860s. He founded St. Mary’s School for young ladies in Knoxville, Illinois and accumulated much wealth from this enterprise. He was known as a prolific writer and composer as well as a lover of fine foods. He retired to California and planted an orange grove in east Whittier before moving to Pasadena. He built a large Mediterranean style home where he served wonderful feasts prepared by his staff.
Norm’s paternal great – grandfather, a resident of Iowa, was lured to California by the news of the discovery of gold. He survived the shipwreck of the Yankee Blade, was rescued and taken to San Francisco. He traveled to the gold fields and made his fortune and had the wisdom to bring it home to Iowa. He later fought in the Civil War as a Union general and became governor of Iowa. His wealth would be inherited by Madeleine and provide the funds for the family to travel and to live abroad for long periods of time.
A Musical Mother
Norm’s mother, Madeleine spent much of her childhood taking singing lessons and learning the piano in Europe; she eventually studied piano in Germany. All three of her children inherited her musical talent and took lessons on string instruments. Norm excelled on the cello, Alan on the violin and Vail on the viola. Madeleine played piano for her children and husband at their Pasadena home on Sunday evenings. She also had another passion – to write books about classical composers. She longed to start traveling in Europe to research musical history and immerse her children in French culture.
Madeleine started planning an extensive trip for the family of five in the summer of 1925. They boarded the Santa Fe Railroad in California and traveled to the East Coast to board a large ship, the Champlain, for their first trip to Europe. Norm remembers his fascination with the Santa Fe, especially the pullman berths and the Harvey dining cars where the waiters juggled their trays of fine food as they ran up and down the aisle serving meals to travelers. The family spent time in Paris and then “summered” in Switzerland. Norm learned to speak French and had his first experience as a “little chef” in the Swiss Alps, making soup with vegetables and wild greens.
Zinfandel Wine, Beethoven and Ignace Paderewski in Morges.
The family traveled in Europe to spend a full year starting in the summer of 1930. At the time Norm was studying the cello with the McCreary sisters, music teachers in Pasadena. He continued his musical studies in Switzerland while his mother worked on research in Lausanne for the book she was writing on Beethoven. Madeleine requested an interview with Polish composer and pianist Ignace Paderewski who lived nearby in his large estate surrounded with greenhouses and farm animals in the city of Morges, Switzerland.
Norm recalls Paderewski’s conversation when the family arrived at his estate. “You’re from California. Today I received my first shipment of wine made from my Paso Robles grapes. We’ll have some with lunch.” Fifteen year old Norm had his first taste of Paso Robles Zinfandel. This wine would win medals in the California State Fair in 1934. Of course Norm had no idea that almost 50 years later he would live about 30 miles south of Paderewski’s former vineyards in Paso Robles, owning and planting his own vineyard in the Edna Valley.
Madeleine Goss became a well-known biographer of classical composers including Bolero – The Life of Maurice Ravel ( published in 2007), Beethoven: Master Musician (1936), Deep-Flowing Brook: The Story of Johann Sebastian Bach (1938), Unfinished Symphony – The Story of Franz Schubert (1946), Modern Music-Makers; Contemporary American Composers ( published in 1970).
These books are available today and are found in music libraries throughout Europe and the United States. You can also find them on the website Goodreads.com.
Prohibition – Norm’s first winemaking experience.
Norm returned to California from Italy in 1931 after surviving a severe case of pneumonia. He remembers the long cruise home across the Atlantic to the East Coast, through the Panama Canal to the Pacific and finally docking in San Pedro, California. He also remembers asking the captain what he would be loading in the hold of the ship for the return voyage to Europe. The answer: “Wine from California. We deliver it to Bordeaux in France where they mix it with Algerian wine. It makes Algerian wine taste better.” This was 1931 – almost two years before Prohibition was repealed in the United States.
Perhaps this captain’s comment captured Norm’s dreams of being a winemaker. Norm’s mother, Madeleine, inherited a sizable fortune from her “Bonpapa” when he died in 1929. She decided to use some of her inheritance to build a large music studio with a full basement to host concerts in the backyard of their Pasadena home.
Norm and his Uncle Jack, who was just one year older than Norm, decided the cellar would be a perfect place to make and store wine. It was their first winemaking venture. Jack drove Norm to the vineyards of Cucamonga, 25 miles east of Pasadena, to purchase Zinfandel grapes. At the time, Cucamonga was one of the great wine areas in Southern California. Mission grapes were planted there in the 1830s. The Guasti family planted more than 3,000 acres of vines in the early 1900s, expanding to 15,000 acres by 1915 and over 25,000 acres during the 1920s. Sixty-four wineries were in production in the area shortly after the end of Prohibition in 1933. Zinfandel was a favorite in California.
Home winemaking in quantities not to exceed 250 gallons per household was legal in 1931. It was illegal to transport or sell liquor during the Prohibition years. The young men purchased the Zinfandel grapes. The grower gave them specific instructions on how to “avoid fermentation” since Prohibition laws were still in effect. He also helped them buy the equipment they would need for home winemaking: two one-gallon jugs, a rubber hose, wine bottles and corks. Jack and Norm returned to Pasadena and the cellar beneath the music studio. They secretly made their first vintage of wine by reversing the instructions on “avoiding fermentation.” According to Norm, “when the jugs stopped bubbling, you bottle the wine and lay it down.” Both Jack and Norm had heard their parents and friends discussing winemaking techniques while enjoying wine each day with their meals in Europe; the most important lesson was “aging is the key to fine wine.”
One evening six months later, Norm’s mother hosted a concert in her music studio starring a local opera singer whose soprano voice projected with great volume. Suddenly the sounds of multiple explosions interrupted the concert. According to Norm, “ whether it’s the heat in the basement or the singer’s high notes that shattered our bottles is of no matter. Our winemaking days are over.”
Norman Goss, second from the left, is playing the cello.
Norman Goss with his mentor, Maitre, demonstrating how to use the thumb position.
A Sherman Thacher Connection
Norm attended a boarding school, the Thacher School in Ojai, California during his junior and senior years of high school. Norm was interviewed as a prospective student in 1931 by the famous educator, Sherman Thacher, who founded the school in 1889. It is now the oldest co-educational boarding school in California. It is interesting to note that the great-grandson of Sherman Thacher, his namesake, is the founder and winemaker at Thacher Vineyard and Winery on Vineyard Drive in Paso Robles. Sherman Thacher is a participant in the Amphorae Project and the upcoming Wine History Project documentary on Amphorae winemaking.
Norm continued his music studies in Ojai at this famous school. He was a member of the Thacher String Quartet which performed for the public. However, when asked what impressed him most at Thacher School, Norm raved about the food. He described the chef, Quong Lee, a native of Canton, as a genius. All the food was delicious from “the best fried chicken I have ever tasted to spectacular Spanish banquets.” Quong Lee had arrived in 1914 and originally cooked all the meals for the students on a wood burning stove. Although, Norm also noted that he never once had a Chinese dish during his two years as a boarding student at Thacher.
Norm’s Musical Career in Paris, Pasadena and Los Angeles 1934 to 1947
Norm Goss was accepted at Stanford University but his cello teachers, musician John Pennington of the famous London Quartet and Los Angeles Times music critic Isabel Jones all recommended Norm pursue a musical career as a cellist in Europe. Norm spoke fluent French and loved both the food and the wine there. Norm moved to Paris to study with the world famous super-cellist, Gerald Hekking, at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris (CHSMDP) situated in the 19th arrondissement of Paris.
Norm’s father had died unexpectedly a few years before. During his years in Paris, Norm found time to travel with his mother and siblings to Japan, China, Hong Kong and to Viet Nam. They drove to the ruins of Angkor Wat, and visited the village of Phnom Penh in Cambodia before sailing on to Singapore. The travels continued to various islands of Indonesia, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and on to Africa. His travel notes discuss the cuisine, the spices and specialties of each country with little mention of the sights. There is no mention of the local music either.
A few years later, the family was involved in a serious auto accident in Europe which took the life of Norm’s brother Alan, and severely injured Madeleine, who survived. Norm was heartbroken about losing his brother but decided to return to Paris to continue his studies in Paris at the Conservatoire National.
The following summer Norm traveled with his teacher, Gerald Hekking, to the United States and watched him perform at the Hollywood Bowl. He continued to meet world famous musicians who inspired him to continue his studies; Norm spent four years at the prestigious Conservatoire National.
He returned to Pasadena to marry Jean Ericson in July, 1939. After the honeymoon they planned to move to Paris so Norm could complete his fifth year of study at the Conservatoire. However, on September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. The brutal war began and everyone’s life changed direction.
Norm and his wife decided to settle in Pasadena. Norm started looking for work as a classical musician. He was hired as the principal cellist for the Pasadena Orchestra almost immediately. Shortly thereafter he met with the great conductor, Leopold Stokowski, who had just joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Stokowski was expanding the size of the orchestra and adding more cellists. Norm was hired; he worked both jobs for the next four years. Norm continued as the principal cellist for 13 years with the Pasadena Orchestra and played with the Philharmonic until 1944.
The Stuft Shirt Restaurant at 1000 East Green Street in Pasadena
Norm’s main passions wherever he traveled were focused on food and wine. He collected recipes during his world travels and questioned chefs about their techniques and specialties. In 1941 he decided to pursue his dream and open a restaurant. He raised $16,000 in capital, leased space in Pasadena and hired Wallace Neff, a famous Los Angeles architect, to design his dining room around a cozy fireplace. This feature with an English Pub theme became the heart of the Stuft Shirt restaurant. It opened on October 23, 1941. Norm developed his menus based on his own culinary experiences adapting his recipes to serve his California clientele.
Please take the time to peruse the menu and the wine list below. His wine list includes wines from around the world but most interesting are the California wines. Champagnes from Fountain Grove and Eagle in Napa and Sonoma, Green Castler Riesling, and Italian Swiss Colony Asti Tipo Red and White Chianti are found along with California house wines at 25 cents per glass. The prices of the famous French wines are amazing too – 1928 Chateau Yqem at $9.00 a bottle and Chateau Mouton Rothchild at $7.00.
Pearl Harbor was bombed six weeks after opening day and President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared war against Japan. The nation was quickly mobilized and soon food was rationed. The shortage of food nationwide dramatically impacted the restaurant business. Norm and his staff designed a new menu each day based upon whatever local foods were available. The menu was handwritten in chalk on a blackboard each afternoon.
Fortunately Norm had gathered a collection of European wines during his travels over the years. Foreign wines were an important part of the restaurant business. The best sellers were Lancer’s Crackling Rosé from Portugal in the small brown crock and Pouilly Fuissé from France. The California Italian Swiss Colony Chianti with its chianti style bottle covered in woven straw basketry was also very popular for those guests who remembered the good old days in Italy before the German occupation. The bottles were often used as candle holders on the kitchen tables for the next decade.
Many young men enlisted or were drafted into the Armed Services. During the war, Norm worked on production projects, including army gliders and helicopter designs. He took a full-time job at Phillip’s Aviation where he worked on manufacturing a fuel gauge for the North American P-51 Mustang fighter plane. His restaurant staff ran the Stuft Shirt Restaurant until the war ended. Norm returned to managing the Stuft Shirt after victory was declared.
During these years Norm and Jean Goss became parents to four daughters, Heather, Shana, Devon and Briar. However, their marriage ended in divorce around 1950.
A New Era in Post War Restaurant Cuisine – the Steak, Baked Potato and Salad
Norm was busy for the first few years after the war rebuilding his menu and his clientele. Food tastes were changing and thousands of people were moving west to California. Norm began dating and soon there was a new woman in his life. Norm proposed to Carolyn Gibbon in 1952 at the Stuft Shirt. Carolyn was a great cook and enjoyed wine and travel. They honeymooned in a variety of places including New Orleans, Jamaica, and the Yucatan. But as soon as they returned to Pasadena, they tackled the new food trends emerging in local restaurants.
The continental-style cuisine served in the 1940s at Norm’s restaurant was no longer in vogue. Customers wanted foods that had not been available during the war – particularly beef. The steak, the baked potato and the fresh salad were the new preferences at the dining table. These new menu items also changed the economics of the restaurant business. Beef was in short supply in the United States and therefore the price was high.
Carolyn and Norm decided to raise beef on property that Norm had acquired after the war in the desert near Victorville, California. The investment group was not successful in developing the land but Norm and Carolyn saw a new possibility. They called it Wynding Ranch (because it was quite windy). They transformed the property into a working ranch, converted the old cement plant into a vacation home, planted alfalfa, and purchased 50 yearling steers to provide the beef for the new entrees on the Stuft Shirt menu. However the quality of his beef did not meet Norm’s standards; the cuts of meat were sold to local competitors. Norm had to purchase the fine quality cuts of meats he needed for his new entrees. However, within two years, he decided to give up raising cattle. It was not a profitable business.
Norm and Carolyn moved to the ranch as full time residents to start a dairy business around 1954. They purchased dairy cows and continued growing alfalfa to feed them. The cows thrived and were high milk producers. Norm and Carolyn created a profitable business by signing a contract with the iconic Knudsen Dairy in Southern California to purchase their milk. After a few years, Norm and Carolyn were anxious to move on. The dairy business and ranch were sold; the funds were used to open a second Stuft Shirt Restaurant in Upland, California on March 7, 1957.
By 1957 the Stuft Shirt menu included charcoal-broiled top sirloin steak, tenderloin steak, french lamb chops, brochette of marinated lamb, pork chops and a New York steak. There was also a choice of squab, duckling, spring chicken and guinea hen. Louisiana frog legs were added to the seafood menu featuring french fried shrimp, abalone steak, scallops, swordfish, lobster and mountain brook trout.
Their daughter Allyn, named in honor of Norm’s late brother, Alan, was born on February 27, 1956. Thomas was born on December 15, 1958.
Miniature Wine List and Menu for Stuft Shirt Restaurant from the Collection of the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County
A Tour of the California Wine World in May 1959
California wines were becoming more popular with the public in the late 1950s. Tasting and tours were available to those in the hospitality industry and occasionally to the public in Napa and Sonoma counties.
Carolyn and Norm decided to drive to Northern California to tour the finest California wineries; they wanted to add more California wines to the menus at their restaurants. Their first stop was Wente Bros. in the Livermore Valley where they tasted the Grey Riesling and the new Pinot Chardonnay with Ernest and his son Karl Wente, followed by a tasting of Wente Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc. Wente Bros. Winery was built in 1881 and was known for producing some of the best white wines in California.
Across the road they toured the Concannon vineyard with James Jr. and his grandson, Joe Concannon. They enjoyed the Chateau Concannon dessert wine. This family of winemakers came to the Livermore Valley at the same time as the Wente family. They produced sacramental wines for the Catholic Church which kept the winery open during the Prohibition years.
In Los Gatos at Almadén, the Gosses tasted Grenache Rosé and Brut Champagne, favorites of Stuft Shirt customers. Almadén was also famous for its Solera-blended Sherry and the Solera-blended port. The vineyard was planted in 1852 by founder Etienne Theé.
In Napa, the Gosses first visited Inglenook Winery whose red wines were considered among the finest in California, particularly their 1943 vintage of Charbono. The winery was founded in 1875 by Gustav Niebaum on 275 acres and is still known for producing many vintages at each harvest. Norm and Carolyn were most impressed with four wines – the Red Pinot, Pinot Noir, Gamay Beaujolais and the Cabernet Sauvignon.
Beaulieu’s Rutherford vineyards were founded by Frenchman Georges de Latour in 1900. In the 1930s he convinced André Tchelistcheff to leave France and take the position of enologist at his winery. André is frequently referred to as the “Godfather of American wine” because he introduced new standards of hygiene and quality in both the vineyard and the winery. His work elevated local wines to become prize winning world-class California wines
The Beaulieu wines, both the red and white, were excellent. Norm commented that the Pinot Chardonnay tasted like a Meursault and the Beauclair Johannisberg Riesling was more Alsatian than German. He described these whites as subtle as French lace. The exceptional reds included the Beaulieu Pinot Noir and the Beaulieu Reserve Cabernet. Norm describes the Rutherford reds as “diamonds”, and if forced to choose between the reds and the whites, he would choose Beaulieu’s Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
A highlight of the trip was visiting the winery founded by Charles Krug where a new California varietal was being introduced – Chenin Blanc. The Krug wines on the menu at the Stuft Shirt included Mountain Zinfandel, Sylvaner (Franken Riesling), Traminer, and Burgundy. Norm and Carolyn were skeptical about the new variety, Chenin Blanc until they learned that the wine making method as explained by the Mondavi brothers, Peter and Robert, had changed. Krug was now using a new pneumatic press which was gentler on the grapes. They were using nitrogen instead of sulfur dioxide to prevent spoilage. This eliminated the sulfur taste found in many white wines at the time. Peter Mondavi has purchased refrigerated glass-lined tanks to keep the white wines cool during fermentation which improved both the bouquet and the flavor of the wines. Norm and Carolyn ordered cases of this new Krug Chenin Blanc for their restaurants.
The last visit was to the Louis M. Martini winery. Louis had arrived in the United States at the age of 13. He was making wine at age 20 in San Francisco. He made his fortunes in the San Joaquin Valley in the “sweet wine” business but longed to produce Italian table wines. He planted Italian grape varieties in 1933 on lands he had purchased in Napa and Sonoma counties during Prohibition. Although the Gosses had six Martini wines on their menus, they purchased three more varietals after sharing a wonderful dinner at St. Helena’s Miramonte Hotel with Louis, his wife Elizabeth and his son, Louis P. Martini. The lunch at the cabin in Mount Rosso vineyards on the following day was prepared by “chef” Louis M. Martini who made his own bread and homemade pasta for the guests. They enjoyed 1955 and 1956 Martini Johannisberger Rieslings, a 1947 Zinfandel, and a 1951 Cabernet Sauvignon. Muscat Amabile was served with dessert. A few weeks later Louis M. Martini flew to Southern California to join Norm and Carolyn for dinner at the new Stuft Shirt located in Upland, California. They enjoyed serving him a fine meal which impressed Louis. After dinner Norm shared his opinion that the Martini wines could hold their own when compared to the best French wines. He proposed that they conduct an official blind tasting to compare the 1951 Martini Cabernet Sauvignon with the famous French 1949 Chateau Haut Brion. According to Norm, “The Martini Cabernet is richer, the other wine smoother and more elegant.”
Artist’s rendering of the the Terrible Ivan Restaurant featuring Russian Take-Out Food in Pasadena, California.
The Stuft Shirt Restaurant in Newport, California overlooking the Bay.
The Restaurant Empire Grows to Include Take-Home Food at Terrible Ivans in Pasadena.
I include this history just to give the reader a sense of the excitement in the 1950s and 1960s revolving around dining out, drinking sophisticated cocktails and discovering unusual ethnic foods at theme restaurants such as the Kon Tiki, Trader Vics or the Luau in Southern California. People made reservations in advance and dressed in their best clothes for the adventure. There was a growing desire to taste great food with California wines.
Teenagers were often found at fast food restaurants after school. Chef Julia Child, also from Pasadena, was teaching cooking classes on Public Television in Cambridge, Massachusetts and cookbooks were written and published by the thousands. The food and wine culture was very social. Friends and neighbors started joining wine clubs, gourmet groups and local food and wine societies. The Bar-B-Que was manufactured in all sizes and was considered a necessity for the man of the house.
Norm was fascinated by the fast food industry in the 1950s. He carefully observed the success of McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Wienerschnitzel hot dogs, all located on North Lake Street in Pasadena. He came up with a new idea which focused on steak since that was the favorite American meat – Terrible Ivan’s serving “terribly” good food. The menu had a Russian flair featuring the Steakabob with six beef chunks, green pepper and onions on a bamboo skewer. The Ivanburger, Rice Pilaf, and Beef Stroganoff were available with side dishes including the baked potato, a universal favorite. It was a short-lived business. Pasadena was not the ideal place for Russian take-out food during the Cold War but it received great reviews.
The third Stuft Shirt opened in Newport Beach, California in 1960 and was featured in Time Magazine as one of 22 restaurants in the United States worth a weekend trip for the wine and cuisine. It became a tourist destination. The architecture was Mid-Century, with windows from floor to ceiling on all four sides. It was designed by a prominent group of architects. The interior was full of light and views of Newport Bay with sparkling chandeliers and elegant furnishings. Norm organized new attractions to bring customers to his restaurant including a Beer Can Regatta held each Thursday night in July and August, the Christmas Boat parade and the two week Venetian Festival featuring gondola rides and singing gondoliers. He also offered authentic Hawaiian luaus.
Norm, in his mid- fifties, and Carolyn decided they wanted to change their lifestyle and moved to a more rural area. The restaurant business was becoming more demanding and highly competitive. Norm was able to sell his lease in Pasadena and close his restaurant. He worked with his partners to sell the Upland Stuft Shirt and Motel in the 1960s. He continued to operate the Newport Stuft Shirt until 1975. Norm and Carolyn relocated to San Luis Obispo County to start a new business – one he had dreamed about since age 15.
The First Public Wine Auction in Orange County with 37 Lots of Rare Wines to Choose From.
The most important part of the Newport story is that during the 1960s, as California wines increased in quality, Norm decided to make a definitive move to support the California wine industry. He auctioned off his extensive collection of imported wines, including rare vintages, in 37 lots and decided to feature only California wines in all his restaurants. He had seriously collected wines for over 30 years and many vintages had increased greatly in value. He felt the auction should benefit a charity which began a new trend; he selected the Newport Boys Club. The auction created much excitement among wine lovers and the press. Wine columnist Robert Balzer covered the event in his column in the Los Angeles Times and encouraged wine lovers to attend. The most memorable press quotes include John Zallar’s comment, “Wine Sipping Prices Make You Gulp” and a more serious tribute, “Bravo Stuft Shirt! I understand that no more French wines will be purchased. This will not only fight the inflated prices of French wines but will bring recognition to our fine California wines.” Please note, this was long before the competition, the Judgment of Paris in 1976, which proved that California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon were equal to or greater than French wines in the competition.
The Newport Stuft Shirt was the first restaurant in Orange County and perhaps the state of California to present California wines listed, not as red and whites as they had been in the past, but as varietals. The list of red wines started with Cabernet Sauvignon, followed by Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, Petite Sirahs and Gamay Beaujolais. The California white wines began with Pinot Chardonnays, Johannisberg Rieslings, Chenin Blancs, and Semmillons. There was a list of rosés featuring Grenache and Gamay. Norm made a few exceptions on his menu: there was a special “die-hard” list at the bottom of the wine list featuring a few favorite imports beloved by long-time customers: Pouilly Fuissé, Liebfraumilch and Lancers from Portugal. On the business side, Norm noted that after he switched to California wines, his sales doubled.
Norm and Carolyn decided they were ready to leave the restaurant world and move to the rural country. They explored California and chose the Edna Valley in San Luis Obispo County. Norm stated that ever since he met Ignace Paderewski for lunch in Switzerland, he dreamed of someday being a winemaker.
At the final press party dinner in 1975 at the Stuft Shirt in Newport, the guests presented Norm with a menu and the following words of wisdom:
“For Norm Goss, best on the menu:
From pots and pans to bottles and bins,
One career ends and another begins.”
“ I can think of nothing finer than creating a great restaurant, except, perhaps creating a great wine. Good luck!”
Founding Chamisal Vineyard in the Edna Valley on the Central Coast
Norm described Chamisal Vineyard in his own words in 1990.
“When we first moved to San Luis Obispo County and bought this property, naming the ranch became a family project. Finally Carolyn Goss and her daughter Allyn found, on a map, the name of an old Mexican rancho that neighbored the property – Rancho Bolsa de Chamisal. The word Chamisal translated from Spanish means ‘place of chamise’. Chamise is a shrub which is indigenous to this area of California. The whole family loved the name. The word Chamisal was adopted and the shrubs called chamise that encircled the Goss family’s land found new company with a budding vineyard.”
The Chamisal label, was designed and printed by Blake Printery in San Luis Obispo.
The Chamisal label was designed with a color scheme of orange and green on an elegant white paper. The initial design was modified once to move the orange border away from the edges, a more prominent placement surrounding the leaf and name Chamisal Vineyard followed by the year, Estate Bottled, the place – Edna Valley – representing the AVA which was the first in the county, the varietal CHARDONNAY and the words stating “This wine is made exclusively from chardonnay grapes.”
The Viticulture And Irrigation
Norm and Carolyn researched the land, climate and grape varieties that would grow well in various viticultural regions in California. They were the first to purchase land in the Edna Valley in 1972 with the intention of planting a commercial vineyard. Norm selected 69 acres with alluvial soils that had been a part of an original Mexican land grant dating back to 1837 called Rancho Bolsa de Chamisal. The word Chamisal is from the Chumash word “Chamis”, which describes the place where the small chaparral plant grows in the coastal regions of Central California. Chamisal is a small white flowering plant that grows wild on the land. Chamisal was selected as the name for the vineyard. Chamisal was selected as the name for the vineyard.
The Edna Valley had a cool climate and a long growing season. It is known to have the longest growing season of any region in California. Norm spoke to the Agricultural Advisor to San Luis Obispo County, Jack Foott, about his research in the experimental vineyards he planted throughout the county. The experimental vineyard that Jack planted in the Edna Valley in 1968 is the first vineyard planted in the Edna Valley that the Wine History Project can document. In the fall of 1972 Jack was harvesting the four grape varieties including Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Chardonnay, he had grown in the Edna Valley experimental vineyard. He immediately transported the grapes to UC Davis for analysis; the enologists produced small quantities of wine from each grape variety to test the quality of the wine. Jack did not yet have the results to share the results of his research with Norm. However, in the following two decades, Jack and Norm became very close friends, sharing their life stories and expertise on wines and vines.
Weather records associated with test plots of grapevines planted at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo identified the upper valley region as Region 1. Therefore the vineyard would need sprinkler irrigation for spring frost protection. At the time of purchase, the land contacined a 10 horsepower pump producing 400 gallons per minute. Norm and his team installed moveable 6 inch aluminum pipelines and sprinklers with a 25 horsepower pump on 10-acre blocks before installing solid-set sprinklers with surface PVC lines down attached to the trellis in 1974 according to reporting in the California – Arizona Farm Press on Saturday April 6, 1991. Soon the lines were put on the ground to accommodate mechanical harvesting. In the early 1991, Norm and Tom made plans to to phase in drip irrigation because the groundwater supply had receded dramatically due to drought and nearby wells drilled to accommodate new residents and produce crops farmed in the Edna Valley. The water table was located between 8 and 15 feet below the surface. The water table dropped to 40 feet below in the late summer of 1990. The Goss family built a 10-acre-foot reservoir to feed their sprinklers when there is a danger of frost.
Tom developed a contingency plan for the summer of 1991. If he runs out of water by mid summer, and starts to lose foliage, he suggested three choices: abort some of the crop, pick grapes early or take a chance on vine damage.
The Grape – White vs Red
Norm had observed that his restaurant clientele were drinking more and more California white wines, gradually outpacing red wines. He noted that Chardonnay was more popular than other white varietals in the 1960s. He decided to plant Chardonnay in the Burgundian style on 47 acres. He planned to create an estate vineyard that produced just one wine each harvest following the tradition of great chateaus in France. The Edna Valley seemed to meet all the requirements for a successful harvest of the one varietal he was focused on – Chardonnay.
Norm needed to assemble a team to help prepare the soil, irrigation and plant a vineyard. Norm introduced himself to local farmers and hired the Righetti brothers, Don, David and Craig to help install the irrigation system in the vineyard. Jack Foote introduced Norm to Uriel Nielsen. His most important decision was to hire Uriel Nielsen who is remembered as the first vineyardist to establish vineyards in both the Edna Valley and Santa Maria Valley. Nielsen was a very knowledgeable viticulturist; his career began in 1964 when he planted one hundred acres of White Riesling, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon in Santa Barbara County. Uriel Nielsen was the Chamisal Vineyard viticulture advisor for many years.
In 1973, Nielsen planted 57 acres of the Chamisal Vineyard with 30,000 grapevines. The spacing was 8 x 12. Ten acres were planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and 47 acres were planted to Chardonnay, the Wente clone. Chamisal became Norm’s “experimental vineyard” – it took three years to determine whether Norm had made the correct choices in selecting both Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon varieties in the Edna Valley.
The Grape Clone – A Cutting Taken From An Existing Grape Vine and Grafted onto Rootstock
This centuries-old technique has been used by grape growers all over the world to propagate their very best vines. A grape clone is a cutting taken from an existing vine and grafted directly onto new rootstock. The “mother vine” is genetically identical to the original vine. Clones are taken from vines that have selected characteristics the farmer wants to reproduce – fruit quality, resistance to disease, suitability for certain climates, and grape color, just to name a few. Sometimes a farmer will plant a vineyard with a mix of clones rather than just one clone because each year the weather and climate change; a mix of clones may provide more options to produce the quality grapes for winemaking.
The clone selected for planting a vineyard will play an important role in creating the style of Chardonnay produced. The site and climate are also extremely important.
Importing a Clone From Outside the Country
The question of where do grape growers find their clones today is an important one. As a result of Prohibition, many vineyards were destroyed and grape varieties disappeared from the California landscape. After World War II, in the 1950s, American researchers began looking at and evaluating a wide variety of grape clones that could be used to diversify our vineyards. There are several clones for almost every grape variety.
The Foundation Plant Services was established in 1958 as a source for propagating and distributing clean (disease free) plant material. The clones are heat-treated in the process to eliminate any diseases. The ( Madison – this is a correction, replace the word Foundation for Fountain) Plant Services which is located on the grounds of University of California at Davis is the center of research, and their scientists catalog many clones. The staff tends to use a different vocabulary and often refers to different clones as “selections” to emphasize the elements of choice of specific characteristics. If a grower wants to import a clone from a foreign country, he/she will work with the Foundation Plant Services (FPS). The FPS will analyze and test the cuttings
Each clone is given an identification number once it is registered, like Chardonnay clone FPS 04. Currently, the FPS has identified over 80 Chardonnay clones. Sometimes this process of testing a clone takes years. Once cleared, the clone can be used to propagate the vines, usually at a commercial nursery.
Chardonnay – The Wente Clone
Chardonnay is the progeny of Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc, a less familiar grape. Burgundy is Chardonnay’s ancestral home. Clones 76 and 95 are among the most often planted clones in Burgundian vineyards.
The Foundation Plant Services describes the Chardonnay clones in detail on their website. The following is the description of Chardonnay 72 which also references Chardonnay FPS 02A, the clone planted by Norman Goss in his Chamisal Vineyard. “The source of Chardonnay 72 is the Wente Vineyards’ Monterey County production block planted with FPS Chardonnay 02A; FPS 72 arrived at FPS in 1991. FPS distributed budwood from former Chardonnay FPS 02A to Wente Vineyards in 1966. Oral tradition within the Wente family maintains that Chardonnay FPS 02A originated from vineyard selection efforts. Wente Vineyards planted the Chardonnay FPS 02A wood in a production block in Monterey County. The woods became very popular with Wente customers, who refer to this selection as the ‘old Wente clone’ or ‘Wente clone’. Plant material from one of the vines was donated to FPS in 1991. It first appeared on the California Grapevine Registration and Certification Program List in 2002.”
Clones are assigned identifying numbers but are often referred to by a name associated with their history. The Wente clone is the most famous clone in California. There are many variations of the Wente clone. Some variations were imported from France in the late 1880s and early 1900s. The Wente family established their vineyards and winery in Livermore in 1883. They are the oldest continuously operated family-owned winery in the United States. They were one of two commercially viable wineries to survive Prohibition because they produced sacramental wines for the Catholic Church. They shared their rootstock with many growers over the last 140 years.
Before the FPS was founded, the Wente clone was known as “Old Wente” but it was not a single clone, it was a series of field selections. It was known for its small cluster berries, intense flavors and lower yields per acre. The FPS clone known as 02A was planted in the Chamisal Vineyard in 1973. The Goss family expected to obtain the FPS 72A clone which produces large clusters and a yield of 3 to 31/2 tons per acre but were unable to acquire that clone. In the Edna Valley, the FPS 02A clone produces 1 ¾ to 2 ½ tons per acre of small clusters with excellent flavor depending on the weather.
Karl Wente was interviewed by wine writer Christopher Barnes in September 2016 for an article in the Grape Collective. Christopher stated that 80% of the Chardonnay in the United States is based on a clone that the Wente family developed. Karl is the fifth generation winegrower and winemaker for the Wente family. Karl explained that his great-grandfather was in the first graduating class at the University of California, Davis. One of his professors pointed out that a great white wine grape, Chardonnay, was planted in Burgundy but not California and he wondered why. The professor was introduced to the Wente Chardonnay vines in their Livermore Vineyards. From 1912 on, growers who wanted to plant Chardonnay in California would visit the Wente family to obtain cuttings for their own vineyards.
The vines were planted on their own roots in the Chamisal Vineyard. Research at the time indicated that vines planted on their own roots vs. those grafted onto disease resistant root stock provided 60% to 80% more varietal flavor.
The Fo2A clone produced a relatively low yield of approximately 2 ½ tons per acre. Tom Goss found it necessary to develop a new pruning method capable of producing more new growth each year. According to the Chamisal Brochure, “The result is a large number of small bunches of grapes with a high skin to juice ration. Most of a grape’s flavor lies directly below the skin so more skin means more flavor.”
The 1986 Chardonnay produced by winemaker Claiborne (Clay) Thompson scored 91 points from Wine Spectator. The bottle is in Wine History Project Collection, courtesy of Claiborne Thompson.
Norman, Carolyn, Tom and Allyn Goss – At Chamisal Vineyard circa 1989. Courtesy of Allyn and Tom Goss. Chamisal is a family of winegrowers and winemakers working together, dedicated to their grape growing region, their vineyard, their winery and their wines. Chamisal is more than a history – it is Chardonnay.
The First Harvest – 1976
The first harvest at Chamisal took place in the fall of 1976. The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes were disappointing; they did not ripen fully and were not suitable for making wine. In contrast the Chardonnay vines produced flavorful grapes, ripened to perfection.
The immediate challenge was to sell the Chardonnay grapes to producers in nearby counties since Chamisal Vineyard did not yet have a winery and there was no such facility in the Edna Valley. The 1976 harvest of Chardonnay grapes was sold to two small producers – the David Bruce Winery and Roudon-Smith in the Santa Cruz Mountains. These two wineries became famous for their quality wines. Norm saved a small batch of grapes from his first harvest to make his own homemade wine – the first since his teenage years with Uncle Jack.
Both customers were pleased with the quality of the Chamisal Chardonnay grapes and produced outstanding wines from this first harvest. The David Bruce Winery was founded in 1964 on the mountain tops above Los Gatos. David Bruce focused on making great Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs with local grapes. Roudon Smith was initiated by two women, Annamaria Roudon and June Smith who convinced their husbands, James Smith and Robert Roudon to join them in establishing a winery in the Santa Cruz mountains north of Felton. The first crush at Roudon-Smith was made with grapes purchased from local growers in 1972. Their focus was on producing red wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, but they also had a small estate Chardonnay vineyard of five acres. Roudon-Smith purchased Chardonnay grapes from Chamisal in 1976, also pleased with the quality.
According to bon-vivant Archie McLaren, co-founder of the KCBX Central Coast Wine Classic, “The David Bruce 1976 and 1977 Chardonnay wine produced from the Chamisal grapes are almost legendary.”
The association with Roudon-Smith became very important to Norm. Robert (Bob) was hired as his advisor and made Norm’s first three vintages of Chardonnay. In 1978 and 1979, Roudon-Smith produced Norm’s first two Chardonnays under the Chamisal label in small quantities. The 1980 vintages were produced by Roudon-Smith in Scotts Valley near Santa Cruz.
The Chamisal Label
The Goss family philosophy to care for one noble grape and create a great Chardonnay emerged as they set forth to tame their new land. Norm’s plan for Chamisal, was to produce just one estate wine each vintage, Chardonnay. Norm’s son Tom and his daughter Allyn joined their parents to help run the small family winery. Tom became the vineyard manager and Allyn worked on sales and marketing. Tom enrolled at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in the 1970s, majoring in Agricultural Business Management and simultaneously began working at Chamisal. Allyn enrolled in Wine Marketing and Sales classes at the University of California, at Davis.
The new Chamisal winery, a small stucco building was designed to produce 5,000 cases annually. It was the second winery built in the Edna Valley, completed in 1981. The current tasting room at Chamisal, located on Orcutt Road was once the winery, administrative office and tasting room.
Norm did not have the skills to make fine wine. However Norm was involved in every step of the winemaking process. He hired Scott Boyd, Allyn’s husband, to be the winemaker. Scott studied enology at Cal-Poly and UC Davis. He had worked a harvest with Robert (Bob) Roudon who continued to work as the wine consultant to Chamisal, supervising and training Scott.
Scott’s first crush was in September 1981. The first vintage of estate bottled Chardonnay, 800 cases, was cold fermented in new stainless steel tanks and barrel-aged in 60 gallon French oak barrels. Norm stated that this combination creates a fruitiness from the cold tank fermentation and a rich, round flavor from the barrel fermentation. The winemaking style focused on creating a balance of ripe fruit and crisp acidity.
Norm described the process: “A bottle of Chamisal Chardonnay is a limited experience – harvest is limited by a naturally small production. Grapes are delivered immediately to the winery for crushing in order to maintain to retain maximum fruit freshness. Skin contact, prior to fermentation, is timed to give just the degree of color and flavor that is in keeping with the Chamisal style. The grapes are pressed and the clear juice racked for fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Each year we blend different varieties of yeast depending on the particulars of the vintage. After fermentation, all our Chardonnay is aged in French Limoussin and Nevers oak barrels. The wine is aged in French Burgundian cooperage just long enough to gain the proper oak complexity without masking the fruit flavor.”
A historical note on “Monster California Chardonnays of the 1970s.” Wine critics looking back at the 1970s describe a California Chardonnay style that was BIG, FULL, RICH, RIPE, HEAVY, OAKY, AND HIGHLY EXTRACTED. What was missing was elegance, balance, grace or restraint. The 1970s are remembered for these popular Monster Chardonnays, often described as novel and “tasting winners.” However, it was difficult to produce an excellent Chardonnay with enough fruit to balance the excess of oak, alcohol content, glycerine and extract.
Norm was focused on the Burgundian style of winemaking. He was influenced by the winemaking at Stony Hill. Please review the side panel on Stony Hill.
Praise for Chamisal Wines
“The biggest wine was the Chamisal Vineyard 1980 Edna Valley California Chardonnay. Grown, produced and bottles at Chamisal Vineyard of San Luis Obispo, it is the pride of owner Norman Goss. It is a big wine…a gorgeous and brilliant gold from aging in new French oak. Well balanced and rich, it’s a knock-out. Robert Lawrence Balzer, Los Angeles Times.
“From San Luis Obispo’s Edna Valley comes a rich, fruity Chardonnay. Chamisal, 1980, should please the full-bore Chardonnay lovers.” Nathan Chroman, Los Angeles Times.
“….for something wonderful and tasty but different….Try these wines from Chamisal….and expect French-style delicacy rather than California bluster.” Coleman Andrews, Metropolitan Home.
“The striking aspect of this Chardonnay is the extent to which the unsurpassed quality of Goss’ fruit shines forth. Hi-Time Gourmet Food and Spirits, Cellar Notes.
“This full-bodied and very stylish Chardonnay is bound to gain attention, and develop a following… it is big in style but at the same time restrained, showing the strong varietal character so typical of the Chardonnays produced from the Edna Valley Grapes.” Jerry D. Mead, Syndicated Columnist, Editor W.I.N.O.
The 1982 and 1984 vintages of Chardonnay were very special and were highly acclaimed. Wine critics such as Nathan Chroman, Norm Roby, Larry Walker and Robert Lawrence Balzer were enthusiastic about the Chamisal Wines. In fact the 1984 Chamisal Chardonnay was released and presented at the first Central Coast Wine Festival in 1986, held in late August at San Luis Obispo. Robert Lawrence Balzer praised the 1984 Chamisal Chardonnay in his column appearing in the Los Angeles Times.
In 1989 the Wine Spectator gave Chamisal Vineyard’s 1986 Chardonnay a rating of 91. However, that vintage was produced by a new winemaker, Clay Thompson.
Stony Hill Vineyard
Stony Hill Vineyard was founded by Fred McCrea (1898-1977) and his wife Eleanor (1908-1991) who purchased land in 1943 with the intent to build a summer cottage on a steep hill above Napa Valley. The name Stony Hill describes the land which was best used for grapes or goats. The McCreas began planting a few varieties of grapes after the war ended, a few acres per year. They consulted with UC Davis and other growers. They were introduced to Chardonnay and found the Wente clone to be most suited to their vineyard. They sold their grapes to those who had advised and supported their efforts, Souverain Cellars during the first few years. They made a small amount of their own wine in 1950 and decided to become a commercial winery in 1952. Their wines were so spectacular they were winning gold and silver medals immediately and developed a following of connoisseurs who loved fine wines. The Stony Hill Chardonnay aged into a fine wine and became recognized as world-class wines by enthusiasts of white burgundies. Norm Goss was one of those enthusiasts. This legendary winery produced legendary Chardonnays that avoided new oak and malolactic fermentation. You can read more about this family in an oral history in the Regional Oral History Office at the Bancroft Library by Eleanor McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyard: The Creation of a Napa Valley Estate Winery.
A New Winemaker joins Chamisal in 1986
Winemaker Scott Boyd became less attentive to the winemaking as his marriage to Allyn began to come apart. He had opened a new business, a cigar store which demanded his attention. Allyn’s health declined. She started having terrible headaches which resulted in the diagnosis of a brain tumor. She survived a brain surgery and gradually recovered. She was also raising two children. Scott Boyd left the winery early in 1986; Allyn and Scott’s marriage ended in divorce.
Norm called upon friend and winemaker Clay Thompson to help with the 1986 harvest and winemaking. Clay resigned from his job at Edna Valley Vineyard to found his own winery, Claiborne and Churchill in the summer of 1986. He had moved his barrels and tanks into a warehouse winery on Capitolo Way in San Luis Obispo. He was conflicted – he wanted to work in his own independent winery but was nervous about not having an income. Norm offered Clay flexibility, saying that Clay would make his own hours and receive “half a paycheck” to “keep the wolf from the door.” Norm also said that Clay would be working with his son, Tom Goss, who was the General Manager.
Clay was an extremely talented winemaker who had initially joined the staff in 1981 at Edna Valley Winery, a partnership between Paragon Vineyards and Chalone winery. Clay agreed and worked with Norm to produce the 1986 vintage.
I interviewed Clay in June 2022 and he described his experiences in great detail. These are his words:
“My first experience with Chamisal Chardonnay was with the fall harvest of 1986. I was unfamiliar with the vineyard and had a lot to learn about the equipment and winemaking practices there.”
At harvest the grapes were picked and placed in five ton gondolas that were then hydraulically lifted way up high and dumped into a large wooden handmade hopper. The grapes were then muscled off the hopper, crushed and fed into the Wilmes Press by means of a must pump and a long hose.
As the press went through its cycle (manually), the juice was pumped into a large stainless steel tank just outside the cellar. After settling, the juice was racked to two smaller stainless steel tanks located in the wine cellar. Part of it was barrel fermented and the rest cold-fermented in stainless steel. All of the wine was aged in a number of old, neutral, well-aged barrels on racks in the cellar.
Although the advice and influence of Bob Roudon and David Bruce were important to Norm, he made it clear to me that his real modes were the Chardonnays of Stony Hill. Norm wanted to make his Chardonnay without using new oak in the process.”
Clay continues, “I respected Norm’s guidelines, but I did have a few of the older barrels ‘shaved’. I did some barrel-fermenting. As it turned out, the 1986 Chardonnay (my first wine there) was spectacular. I do not, by the way, take all the credit for this. Although some of the methods I brought with me from Edna Valley Vineyard (barrel-fermentation, aging sur lie, and stirring) might have helped. In any event, everyone else was happy to give me the credit!).”
Clay Thompson continued to work with Chamisal, producing the 1987 and 1988 Vintages of Chardonnay. Clay also produced a delightful Cabernet Rose (accent on the e) from a row of Cabernet Sauvignon vines located long the fence on Orcutt Road. The Cabernet was harvested in 1987 before it was fully ripe. It was crushed and briefly pressed with the skins to achieve the pale color. The wine was fermented with grape sugar added. The rose (accent on the e) was not aged. It was bottled and ready to enjoy almost immediately. It was a hit with all the fans of Chamisal and sold out immediately.
Chamisal wines were brokered through the San Francisco Wine Exchange which was the largest broker in the state. The Wine Exchange handled the paperwork and shipped wines to many states outside California. The 1986 vintage was sold out within a few weeks. Later on the Goss family worked with Southern Wine and Spirits for Southern California distribution. Norm and Tom were dissatisfied and located a new distributor.
Clay states that, “This was probably the high point in my brief career at Chamisal. I did make a few more vintages and found a use for the little bit of Cabernet grapes on the property by making a slightly sweet rosé.”
The Final Years at Chamisal
In 1990 Norm published his memoirs with a collection of recipes. It is entitled, 239 Beans in a Cassoulet – A Lifetime of Food and Wine Experiences with Menus and Recipes to go with them. Norm had a hilarious sense of humor. He claimed he had not named his memoir, 240 Beans in a Cassoulet, because it would be too “farty.”
By 1990, Tom and Norm recognized that the current winery would never be profitable. To increase profits, the owners would have to select a new clone to replace the FPS02A clone and replant the Chamisal vineyard. After much discussion, the Goss family decided to sell the vineyard. The timing was difficult. The United States entered a serious recession in 1990 which lasted 8 months until March 1991. It was caused by consumer pessimism, sharp increase in oil prices after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, a credit crunch in the banking industry, and a high rate of inflation. The real estate market slowed and property vlaues fell as interest rates rose.
Norm set the sales price at $2,500,000 because he valued his achievements and felt this price reflected the value of his legacy. It is difficult to monetize a legacy. The market value of the property, buildings and equipment was closer to $1,500,000 because of the economic environment at the time.
Tom ultimately convinced Norm to lower the price to $1,500,000 during the next two years. The real estate market did not recover. Chamisal was sold to John Hyashi before Norm’s death for less than $1,000,000 in 1994. However Norm died in 1994 before the escrow was completed and his estate went into probate. John agreed to delay the closing of the sale until the probate was completed, a lengthy process.
After the Norman’s death, Carolyn moved to a new home in Arroyo Grande where she resided until her death.
When the sale was completed in 1994, the property was immediately transferred to Alfred “Terry” Speizer.
The ending is sad but Norm’s life was well-lived and full of joy, great wine, great food, a loving family and friends. Norm had contributed so much to the food and wine culture of Southen California. His Legacy in the history of wine and cuisine in California is firmly established. Thousands of people praised and enjoyed Chardonnays produced from grapes grown in the Chamisal Vineyard from 1977 to 1990.
Chamisal was sold to a new owner, Terry Speizer. Watch for his story of the revival of the Chamisal Vineyard and the founding of a remarkable winery, Domaine Alfred.
The Chamisal Vineyard
Norman Leffingwell Goss
Early music education: Cello
Collector: European wines and California wines.
Careers: Cellist for Pasadena Symphony and Los Angeles Symphony, Gourmand, Restaurateur – Founder of three Stuft Shirt Restaurants in Southern California, Cattle Rancher, Dairyman, Grape Grower, Winemaker, Founder of Chamisal Vineyard and Winery,
1914: Joseph Goss and Madeleine Binkley, future parents of Norman Goss are married in Pasadena, California.
1915: Norman Goss is born on April 24, 1915 in Los Angeles, California.
1917: Joseph Goss is drafted to fight in World War I.
1919: Joseph returns home from the war in good health.
1922: Madeleine and Joseph Goss purchase and install a prefab home on Balboa Island in California as their vacation home.
1925: Norman travels to Europe with his parents on the French ship line to France, dining on French cuisine and drinking wine at every meal. He develops an interest in European cuisine, learns French and summers in the Swiss Alps. Fine cuisine becomes his passion. Shortly thereafter he starts cello lessons with the McCreary sisters in Pasadena.
1928: Carolyn Gibbon is born in Los Angeles, California to Thomas and Jeanette Gibbon. (She is Norman Goss’ second wife.)
1929: Norman Goss enters Montezuma Boy’s School in Los Gatos, California at the age of 14 for the fall semester.
1930: Norman and his Uncle Jack make their first wine with Zinfandel grapes in the cellar under his mother’s music studio. The experiment ends six months later when the bottles shatter during a musical concert by a famous soprano in the music studio above. He attends school at University School near Cal-Tech in the fall, entering Grade 10.
1930: Norman Goss travels to Europe with his family in the summer; they continue traveling in Europe for the next 12 months. Madeleine arranges an interview and luncheon with Ignace Padereski at his estate in Switzerland. Norman is invited and both are treated to Paderewski’s Zinfandel wine bottled in Paso Robles. Norm wants to pursue his musical education; he considers a career as a classical cellist. His parents purchase a modern French cello for him and he takes lessons in Vevey.
1931: Norman Goss enters Thacher School in Ojai in fall semester at age 16. He continues music lessons on his cello and plays in the Thacher Quartet.
1932: Joseph Goss dies of a heart attack.
1933: High school graduation from Thacher School in 1933. Norman is accepted to Stanford University but his family, music teachers and the music critic for the Los Angeles Times suggest he pursue a career in classical music and study in France. He moves to Paris and studies with Gerald Hekking, a famous cello teacher.
1934: Norman is accepted into the Conservatoire National to study with Gerald Hekking and other masters. He studies there for the next four years.
1938: A tragic car accident in Europe kills Norman’s younger brother Alan and severely injures his mother, Madeleine. She is not able to continue playing the piano due to injuries to her wrists. Norman is not injured. His younger sister Vail is traveling elsewhere in Europe and not riding in the car at the time.
1939: Norman Goss, age 24, marries Jean Armour Ericson in Pasadena on July 7. They honeymoon in Honolulu. They plan to live in Paris, France.
1939: Hitler invades Poland, September 1 to October 6. Jean and Norman Goss return to Pasadena, California. It is too dangerous to return to Paris. Norman does not finish his fifth year at the Conservatoire National.
1939: Norman is hired by Richard Lert, conductor of the Pasadena Symphony, as principal cello.
1939: Leopold Stokowski, the great conductor, has just been hired at the Los Angeles Symphony. He is expanding the orchestra and hires Norman as a cellist.
1939: Norman plays in his first concert at the Hollywood Bowl in the Los Angeles Symphony.
1940: Norman tours South America in the summer with the All American Youth Orchestra. He is considering changing careers and opening his own restaurant. Food has always been his first passion. He raises $16,000 in capital to make the investment.
1941: Daughter Heather is born to Norman and Jean on September 9.
1941: Norm opens his first restaurant, the Stuft Shirt, designed like an English Pub on October 23 in Pasadena. The iconic California Fountain Grove Sparkling wine (Champagne) is on the wine list.
1941: Pearl Harbor is attacked by the Japanese on December 7. War is declared. Norman works on various war projects involving army gliders, new ideas for helicopters and fuel gauges. He is hired by Phillips Aviation to manufacture fuel gauges for the North American P51 fighter plane.
1942: Food is rationed and Norman changes to a daily menu written on a blackboard that changes based on what food is available. The Stuft Shirt becomes the first non-regional restaurant to offer a choice of rice as well as a baked potato.
1943: Daughter Shana is born to Norman and Jean on May 17.
1944: Norman resigns from the Los Angeles Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra.
1945: Daughter Devon is born to Norman and Jean on April 28, just prior to V-E Day.
1947 Daughter Briar is born to Norman and Jean on April 14.
1940s: Norm is invited to join the Southern California Food and Wine Society, an organization with 100 members.
1948: The Pasadena Food and Wine Society is formed with 50 members; Norman is a founding member. It becomes well known for featuring world cuisines and many of the events are held at all three Stuft Shirt Restaurants in future years.
1949: Norman invests in a land-development project in the high desert located on the Mojave River between Victorville and Barstow.
1950s: The new menu, shaped like a life size overstuffed shirt is designed and attracts new customers.
1950s: Norman and Jean divorce.
1952: Norman resigns from the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra. He has become more a restaurateur and businessman than a musician.
1952 Norman Goss marries Carolyn Gibbon and they honeymoon in the French Quarter in New Orleans, the Tower Isle in Jamaica, Havana, and the Yucatan. Carolyn grew up in Pasadena, California and attended Anoakia School for Girls and Smith College in Massachusetts.
1953: Carolyn and Norman visit his desert property which failed as a land investment. They consult the local farm advisor, install irrigation and plant a Chilean strain of alfalfa. They convert an old concrete plant into a vacation home and purchase 50 yearlings steers to raise beef for the Stuft Shirt menus. The quality does not meet Norm’s culinary standards. They rename the property Wynding Ranch.
1954: Norman and Carolyn move to the Wynding Ranchas full time residents and convert the barns and pastures to a dairy farm. It is a successful business.
1956: The Wynding Ranch is sold. Land is purchased in Upland to build a second Stuft Shirt Restaurant and the Uplander Motel. Groundbreaking is August 18, 1956 after raising the cash from investors to build the projects. Norman and Carolyn move to Brandbury.
1956: Allyn Goss is born to Carolyn and Norman Goss on February 27.
1957: The Upland Stuft Shirt restaurant opens on March 7th.
1958: Thomas Gibbon Goss is born to Norman and Carolyn Goss on December 15.
1959: Norm Goss is the first to list California wines on the menu in a section noted as California wines rather than listing wines in categories of red or white. He is an early promoter of California wines in his restaurants. Carolyn and Norman travel to Central California, Napa and Sonoma to taste the best California wines produced to expand their wine list in both restaurants.
1960: Norm notices that there is a definite trend showing that his customers are favoring white wines over red wines.
1960: The Stuft Shirt restaurant at Newport Beach opens. It is featured in Time Magazine as one of 22 restaurants which are destinations and worth the trip for a fine dining experience. Norman is the first to list California wines on the menu by each varietal.
1960s: Norm auctions off his collection of international wines, collected over 30 years, to raise money for charity. He vows to serve only California wines at his restaurant. The Stuft Shirt restaurant in Orange County was the first to present a wine list of California wines, exclusively. He followed the trends of his clientele closely and noted their preference trending toward white wines.
1972: Norman and Carolyn Goss purchase 69 acres of farmland in the Edna Valley. They hire Uriel Nielsen as their vineyard manager. The vineyard is named Chamisal in honor of the native flowering plant that grew on the land. The Righetti brothers, Don, David and Craig, were hired to help install the irrigation system. Norm and Carolyn live in a home located on the property.
1972: Uriel Nielsen is hired as the vineyard consultant to Chamisal.
1973: Uriel Nielsen supervises the planting of 30,000 vines in the Chamisal vineyard in February: Cabernet Sauvignon on ten acres and Chardonnay, the F02A Clone often referent to as the Old Wente Clone, on 47 acres.
1974: Central Coast Winegrape Growers Association is formed. At the time there was substantial acreage planted in grapes (acreage not known at the moment) and eight wineries.
1974: Allyn Goss (daughter of Norm and Carolyn Goss) moves to the Central Coast to help her family establish Chamisal, the first commercial vineyard and winery in the Edna Valley. The staff includes: Tom Goss who studied viticulture and becomes the vineyard manager and general manager, Allyn Goss who is in charge of marketing and Scott Boyd, holding degrees from Cal Poly and UC Davis, hired as the winemaker. He had previously worked at Roudon-Smith vineyards in Santa Cruz County.
1975: Norm closes the Newport Stuft Shirt restaurant and retires permanently from the restaurant business.
1976: First vintage of Chardonnay grapes in the Chamisal Vineyard is harvested. The Cabernet fails to thrive. David Bruce Winery and Roudon-Smith in Santa Cruz County purchase the first vintage of Chardonnay. Norman returns to home wine making, producing a small batch of Chardonnay.
1977: Second vintage of Chardonnay grapes is sold to David Bruce Winery and Roudon-Smith.
1977: Norm Goss produces a small vintage of 1977 Cabernet Sauvignon.
1977: Tom Goss attends Cal Poly, majoring in Agricultural Business Management. He takes all the viticulture and fruit science classes but does not complete his degree.
1978: The Chamisal Wine Label is produced locally at Blake Printery which became the premier producer of wine labels in the United States.
1978 and 1979: Roudon-Smith produced Norm’s first two Chardonnays under the Chamisal label in small quantities.
1979: Norman decides to build his own winery.
1980: First vintage of Chamisal produced at Roudon-Smith under the supervision of Robert Roudon.
1980: The first Central Coast Wine Competition is sponsored by the California Central Coast Winegrape Growers Association. It features wines with GRAPES from just two counties: San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. This is the first organized effort to connect grapes grown in local terroir with the quality wines being produced in both counties. All other regional competitions were judging wines made in local areas regardless of where the grapes were grown. These competitions were focused on the winemaker and winery. Every year the judges are chosen from a carefully selected group of well known members of the wine and food press.
1981: The California Central Coast Wine Growers Assoication awards a Silver Medal for the 1979 Vintage of Chamisal Chardonnay and the 1977 Vintage of Chamisal Cabernet.
1981: Winery is completed. Scott Boyd is hired as the winemaker. The first crush produces 800 cases of Chardonnay.
1981: The winery is completed in time for the 1980 Estate bottling and the family begins shipping the well-known Chardonnay throughout the United States.
1982: The federal government grants the Edna Valley a viticultural appellation (AVA), the tenth in the nation.
1982: The 1982 and 1984 vintages of Chardonnay are very special and highly acclaimed. Wine critics such as Nathan Chroman, Norm Roby, Larry Walker and Robert Lawrence Balzer write enthusiastically about the Chamisal Wines.
1986: Scott and Allyn divorce and Scott leaves the winery to establish his own business.
1986: Clay Thompson, founder of Claiborne and Churchill, is hired as the winemaker. He organizes the cellar and production for fall harvest.
1986: The Sixth Annual Central Coast Wine Competition is held at the Santa Maria Inn in Santa Maria on July 31 and August 1. The judging categories are best white wine and best red wine. This year an additional category of sparkling wine is added.
1986: The harvest at Chamisal Vineyard has a low yield but the grapes produce an intense flavor. Clay Thompson produces an extraordinary Chardonnay and submits the wine to the Wine Spectator.
1987: Winemaker Clay Thompson produced a highly acclaimed 1987 Chardonnay. He produces the first vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon Rose (accent on e).
1988: The 1986 Vintage of the Chamisal Chardonnay wins a Silver Medal at the Los Angeles County Fair.
1989: Wine Spectator awards the 1986 Chamisal Chardonnay a score of 91. This is the first Edna Valley Chardonnay to receive this score. The 1986 Chardonnay is sold out immediately. The remaining 1985 Vintage and the 1986 Vintage are sold out in a matter of weeks.
1989:The 1987 Chamisal Chardonnay receives an excellent review in Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine published in June 1989. It receives a rating of two blooms of a possible three which means the wine is distinctive and memorable.
1989: The 1987 Vintage of the Chamisal Chardonnay wins a Gold Medal at the Atlanta International Wine Festival.
1990: The 1988 Vintage of Chamisal Chardonnay is produced by winemaker Clay Thomspon.
1990: Norman publishes his memoir with recipes, 239 Beans in a Cassoulet.
1990: The United States entered recession in 1990 which lasted 8 months until March 1991. It was caused by consumer pessimism, sharp increase in oil prices after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, a credit crunch in the banking industry, and a high rate of inflation.
1991: Norman’s health deteriorates. Norm and Tom Goss decide to sell the winery and retire. Norm sets the sales price at $2,500,000 because he values his legacy and feels this price reflects the value of his legacy. The market value was closer to $1,500,000 because of the economic environment.
1992: Norm has a stroke and lives his remaining years in a nursing home, Oak Park Manor, dying in 1994 at the age of 79.
1992: Tom Goss continues to market the property during a serious economic downturn and decline in the real estate market during the next two years.
1992: The Chamisal label was adopted by the third owners to the Southern California distributor of Chamisal Wines and used as the label on premiums wines after production of Goss Chamisal Chardonnay ended. It was important to keep the Chamisal label alive to make it available for future owners of the vineyard. In 2008, the Chamisal label was licenced to the third owners of Chamisal Vineyard and Winery and is still in use today.
1992: The vineyards are left to survive on their own. Tom continues to market the property and lower the price.
1994: Chamisal is sold to John Hyashi before Norm’s death for less than $1,000,000.
1994: Norm Goss dies on May 13 and is buried in the Los Osos Valley Cemetery. Norm’s estate enters probate and the closing of the sale is delayed until the end of probate. Carolyn Goss moves to a new home in Arroyo Grande where she lives until her death in 2007.
1994: Chamisal Vineyard and buildings on the property are sold to a new owner, Terry Speizer.
1995: Allyn Goss married James Neil Wallace.
1995: Tom pursues a career in graphic design.
2007: Carolyn Gibbons Goss dies on March 19 in her home in Arroyo Grande after a lengthy illness.
2014: Allyn Goss Wallace, age 58 dies in her Los Osos home on November 3.