Wolff Vineyards, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County

      Wolff Vineyards, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, Photographs taken by Cindy Lambert

Edna Valley is surrounded by volcanic mountains. These mountains contribute to the soil by providing dark humus and rich clay which enhances the shale and coarse sand brought in by the ocean. 

In 1969, Jack Niven, with the advice of Vincent Petrucci, Fresno State and A.J. Winkler at UC Davis, asked them to determine and recommend the best area to grow grapes on California’s Central Coast. Jack and Catharine purchased their first vineyard in Santa Barbara County. They consulted with Jack Foott and then purchased land under the business name Paragon Vineyard Company. They purchased 547 acres in this valley located 5.4 miles from the Pacific Ocean in 1972. They hired vineyard manager Jim Efird, and received additional advice from Jack Foott, the local agricultural advisor to San Luis Obispo County. 

According to the business plan, they were to originally sell these premium grapes to producers throughout California. The chosen vines were Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Semillon, Gamay Beaujolais, and Chenin Blanc.

1970: Edna Valley: Five Vineyards and One Winery

Experimental Vineyard: planted in 1968 by viticulturist Jack Foott with grapes harvested in 1972 and 1973.

Chamisal Vineyards: 57 acres planted in 1973, the focus was on the single variety Chardonnay, planted in the Burgundian style. The clone was F02A, also known as the Old Wente Clone.  Norman Goss, proprietor, Uriel Nielson, vineyardist. Grapes sold to California winemakers.

Paragon Vineyard Company: 545 acres planted in 1973 and 1974. Jack and Catherine Niven proprietors, Jim Efird vineyardist. First harvest in 1977 produced two varieties: a Chardonnay that became a collector’s item under the Chaparral label and a Burgundian Pinot Noir. Grapes were sold to California winemakers and attracted Dick Graff, proprietor of Chalone winery in Monterey County

MacGregor Vineyard: 11 acres planted in 1974. Ten acres were planted to Chardonnay and one to Pinot Noir. Later, the entire vineyard was grafted to Pinot Noir. Viticulturist Andy MacGregor. This vineyard is sometimes referred to as the Price Canyon vineyard.

MacGregor Vineyard: 34 acres planted to Chardonnay in 1976. Viticulturist Andy MacGregor. 

Lawrence Winery: Established in 1979 by Jim Lawrence, Don Burns and Herman Dryer, this winery was designed to produce 250,000 cases annually plus a bulk wine business. The California mission style architecture reflected the land history of the Rancho Pedro de Coralles land grant. There were no vineyards planted on the property. Grapes were sourced from Central California. Jim Lawrence was the winemaker; he produced over 20 wines in the first vintage. His wines won multiple awards in international competitions, more than any other winery producing white table wines. He produced unusual varietals including Gewurztraminer Rosé and Chardonnay “Nouveau.”

Final EdnaValley-1970-01

                            Map prepared by Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County

Wine Grapes
vineyard landscape

 Biddle Ranch Vineyard, Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County  Photographs taken by Cindy Lambert

An American Viticultural Area

An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, as we discovered in last month’s newsletter is a delimited grape-growing region with specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish it from the surrounding regions and affect how grapes are grown.

Jack Niven championed the process of petitioning for an official AVA.

To become an AVA, a region must prove that it has unique qualities, like topography or microclimate; this means citing distinct soil differences compared to neighbors and drawing those boundaries clearly. To reiterate, San Luis Obispo County currently has five AVAs.  

Edna Valley AVA established 1982, amended 1987

Paso Robles AVA established 1983

York Mountain AVA established 1983, amended 1987

Arroyo Grande AVA established 1990

San Luis Obispo Coast AVA established 2022

As early as 1977, Edna Valley was appearing on wine bottle labels for where the grapes were grown for a particular wine, long before it was designated an AVA. On many of the labels, statements included “the valley has an ideal soil and microclimate for growing grapes.” Jack Niven led the way in the background work involved in getting the Edna Valley established and designated as an American Viticultural Area. He was assisted in this work, with Gary R. Mosby of Edna Valley Vineyard, Norm Goss of Chamisal Vineyard, James Lawrence of Lawrence Winery and Charles A. Mac Gregor of MacGregor Vineyard.

Prior to the original petition written in 1980, these organizations purchased grapes  grown in the Edna Valley to make their wines:

Information List

This information was found in the original petition documentation written by Jack Niven. 

Edna Valley AVA – The First in San Luis Obispo County 

Edna Valley Township was established in the 1840s; considered to be the oldest township in San Luis Obispo County. San Luis Obispo County is one of the original twenty-seven counties in California. 1864 marks the end of the Rancho era. The Edna Valley begins the “Dairy Era” in 1865 and the small farms are settled by Portuguese and Swiss, among other ethnic groups. 

By 1866, wealthy dairyman Edgar Willis Steele buys four ranchos. Agriculture crops including garbanzo beans, oats, barley, wheat, hay are grown and orchards including apple, apricot, lemon, orange peach, and pears are also planted. Livestock including cattle, chickens, and horses are raised and grazed in the Edna Valley for the next ninety years.

Map Of San Luis Obispo County

   Map prepared by Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County

Jack Niven, former owner of the Purity Markets, had the vision and the marketing experience to formally establish the Edna Valley as a unique growing area within California worthy of becoming an AVA. He consulted with Andre Tchelistcheff on the formation of the AVA. Jack was the force behind the Edna Valley AVA until his death – he was very generous and paid the expenses for establishing the AVA – and for marketing the area through the Harvest Festival and Roll Out the Barrels Events. He was the one who brought wine writers to the Edna Valley and supported the Central Coast Wine Classics. He invited groups to tour the area and taste the wines of all the wineries in the 1980s. Catharine was also a marketing force – she contacted restaurants and wine shops throughout California and Hawaii to sell her wines and promote the Edna Valley. She invited Julia Child to her home and hosted a book signing for Julia’s last cookbook.

A petition and letter were sent to the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm, Department of the Treasury, Washington, D.C. on September 11, 1980 written by Jack Niven and undersigned by wine grape growers and winery operators situated in Edna Valley to petition for the establishment of a viticultural area describe to bear the name “Edna Valley”. It provided evidence that the name of the area is locally or nationally known, it provided evidence that the boundaries of the proposed viticultural area were as specified, and it provided geographical features which distinguished the proposed area from surrounding areas (climate, physical features, drainage, soils, boundaries) submitting evidence that the proposed viticultural area was distinguishable for adjacent areas. By providing this evidence they were requesting that the Bureau institute the necessary proceedings to have the area designated as Edna Valley. In 1980 the United States started designating American Viticultural Areas.

In May/June 1981 several people were involved in writing letters to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms to show their support of the petition that had been written the year previously. It was known that a written comment was to be sent to show this support by June 8, 1981. The following people wrote letters:

Tessa M. Cain (member of wine community), John H. Foott (farm advisor), R.A. Zuech (winemaker), James S. Lawrence (president, Lawrence Winery), Norm Goss (owner, Chamisal Vineyard), Andre Tchelistcheff (consulting enologist), J.R. Niven (president, Paragon Vineyard Co., Inc.), Jim Efird (vineyard manager, Paragon Vineyard Co., Inc.), Charles A. MacGregor (MacGregor Vineyard), and Richard H. Graff (chairman of the board, Chalone Vineyard).

After an initial petition is filed and approved the TTB begins a public comment period. During this time, anyone can voice support or opposition for the proposed AVA. 


Found in San Francisco Examiner
Page 20
Wednesday, May 16,1979
Article title “The New Glamour Wines From the S. Coast”

Original petition..
Edna Valley

Edna Valley AVA – Approved as the 10th AVA in the Country

The first AVA in the United States was the Augusta AVA, which occupies the area around the town of Augusta, Missouri and received that honor on June 20, 1980. The Edna Valley AVA was approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms on May 12, 1982. It was the tenth AVA established in the United States at the time and the first within the borders of San Luis Obispo County. Currently there are 266 AVAs in 34 states.

Sunset In Edna Valley
Fields In Edna Valley
Vineyards In Edna Valley
Vineyards And Hills
Rows Of Vineyards
Enda Valley Vineyard

   Various locations of Edna Valley, San Luis Obispo County, Photographs taken by Cindy Lambert

Date the AVA Established

May 12, 1982, amended June 1987

Vineyard Acres Planted With Wine Grapes AS OF 2022

Covering 28,858 acres of which approximately 2,923 is planted.

Primary Grape Varieties

The complex flavors of the premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes are unique manifestations of the Edna Valley terroir.  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were the first grapes to bring fame to the Edna Valley for their quality and flavor in the 1970s. The Judgment of Paris in 1976 established California Chardonnay as a wine equal to the finest in France. The Edna Valley became the source for quality Chardonnay grapes throughout California. Gradually additional grape varieties have been planted including Albarino, Grenache, Lagrein, Merlot, Mourvedre, Petite Syrah, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Teroldego and Viognier in the Edna Valley.

The Unique Terroir 

The history of the soil stretches back millions of years. Sea levels rose as glaciers melted at the end of the Ice Age, 18,000 years ago. The rich marine sediment deposited in the valley was formed over 25 million years ago and includes fossils of tiny marine animals and shells. Fourteen ancient volcanoes stretching from below sea level (under the Davidson Seamount, recognized as a pristine undersea mountain habitat off the coast) in the Pacific Ocean west of Morro Bay to the Edna Valley, southeast of San Luis Obispo, have been eroding over millennia.

Much of the valley was once part of the Pacific Ocean and ancient marine sediments have left a fertile base of calcareous shale and coarse sand. These ancient volcanoes contribute tufa, a porous rock composed of calcium carbonate, downgraded granite and volcanic ash to the alluvial mix of soil. The soil is further enriched with dark humus, loam and clay. 

The soil and climate create wines that aren’t found in other regions of California. For this reason, many wineries, which are not located in the area, purchase grapes from the region to produce wines.  

The Unique Climate and The Pismo Venturi

With one of California’s longest growing seasons, the small but fertile Edna Valley offers wines having the complex flavors associated with California’s great cool-climate regions. Located in the southern corner of San Luis Obispo County, the Valley is most famous for its Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production. San Luis Obispo County’s wine culture began with the colonization by Spain and the Spanish missionaries who planted grape vines, fruit trees, grains and vegetables around the Missions they established in the communities of San Luis Obispo and San Miguel over 200 years ago.  The first commercial vineyards were planted in 1973 by Norm Goss with Uriel Nielson as his vineyard consultant in the Chamisal Vineyard. The second was planted a few weeks later by the Paragon Vineyard Company founded by Jack and Catharine Niven.  

Edna Valley wines are often grouped with those of the contiguous Arroyo Grande Valley. But the hilly, east-west Edna Valley, shadowed by volcanic mountains, is a distinct Central Coast microclimate, benefiting from black humus and clay-rich soils, cooling Pacific winds and morning fog cover. 

The maritime influence is powerful in the Edna Valley, more dominant than that of any region along the Pacific Coast. The transverse valley has moderate sunshine and cool maritime fog which flows southeast with the cool Pacific Ocean breezes from Morro Bay into the Edna Valley. A phenomenon known as the Pismo Venturi effect clears the evening fog from the valley. The climate provides the longest growing season in California. This extended growing season provides for later harvest dates than other AVAs in the county.

Other Miscellaneous Information

The Edna Valley AVA is distinguished by its proximity, approximately five miles,  to the Pacific Ocean. The hilly valley is oriented along a northwest to southeast alignment and runs about 10 miles. It is located on average, about 600 above sea level. This allows the cool Pacific breezes and morning fog to enter the valley from Morro Bay, through a gap in mountains known as Los Osos Valley. Edna valley is roughly bounded by Lake Lopez to the south, Islay Hill to the north, the Santa Lucia Mountains to the west, and Los Machos hills to the east.

The volcanic range, known as the Nine Sisters, helped create the soil found in the valley. This volcanic range starts with Morro Rock in the northwest and ends with Islay Hill in the southeast. 

The extended growing season gives complex flavors to the grapes, with more balance in terms of sugars and acidity. 


The Edna Valley is small. There are only 23 “resident” (production facilities or estate vineyards) wineries in Edna Valley AVA, but the close proximity to Hwy 101 makes it a popular stop for wine lovers. According to the SLO Coast Wine Collective, Edna Valley is also the AVA with the highest percentage of sustainably farmed vineyards, certified under the SIP (Sustainability in Practice) Certified™ program.