Our Wine History Projects are Underway

The Wine History Project designs and initiates specific research projects to highlight and preserve local wine history in partnership with community members dedicated to preserving the viticulture history of San Luis Obispo County.

Introduction

This “Project Section” of our website describes the status of our current wine and vine projects in San Luis Obispo County. We update each project report monthly with text and photographs to keep you apprised of the latest developments. We welcome community participation and local volunteers to help us with our research, vineyard care, and educational outreach.

The Wine History Project designs specific ongoing historical projects that make the history come alive; we seek partnerships and community participation to achieve a specific goal for each project such as restoring an Experimental Vineyard planted in 1968 by Agricultural Advisor Jack Foott to study the impact of climate change on the vines; propagating Mission Vines originally brought by the Spanish padres in the late 1700s to plant in educational vineyards at historic sites; focusing on a specific historic vessel for winemaking such as the amphorae which have been in use for over 6,000 years. The Wine History Project is working with local winemakers to learn which grape varieties are fermenting in amphorae in San Luis Obispo County.

The Wine History Project’s mission to preserve the wine history of San Luis Obispo County is driven by three goals: collecting, archiving, and sharing the wine history of San Luis Obispo County. Local wine history is collected by our staff of professionals through ongoing research, oral interviews, and onsite visits to vineyards, wineries, wine industry associations, and professionals.

The Wine History Project shares the local history in a variety of ways: exhibits at locations throughout the county, on our website, in seminars, lectures, and wine tastings, and showing documentary films produced and directed by the Wine History Project in association with Partners2Media.

Please contact us at info@winehistoryproject.org. or email our director Libbie Agran at libbie@winehistoryproject.org.

The 1968 Edna Valley Experimental Vineyard

What is an Experimental Vineyard?

In the 1880s, the University of California established experimental agricultural stations in specific regions of the state to study the impact of soil, weather, and climate on agricultural crops. These were scholarly experiments which functioned as laboratories in the field for research by scientists. As agriculture in California developed, the California Legislature and the University of California worked to determine which dry-farmed crops would thrive in various regions throughout the state. Paso Robles became an important area of study in 1889 thanks to the passage of the Hatch Act of 1887 which provided funding for agricultural experiment stations.

Ten of the experimental agricultural stations planted in California focused on viticulture. Scientists noted which grape varieties flourished and which pests, diseases, and other challenges developed. They also studied irrigation and dry farming practices. This information was then used to provide educational resources to growers and winemakers including practical instruction and problem-solving.

The earliest Experimental Station in San Luis Obispo County was planted east of Paso Robles in 1889. Over 100 grapevines and many varieties of fruit trees were planted, all dry farmed. Both the Klintworth and Ernst families who settled east of Paso Robles in the mid-1880s contributed financially and physically helped plant the crops. William Ernst and his twin brother gathered research on local agricultural production in local vineyards and orchards for the University of California scientists. Local farmers adjusted their acreage and crops according to research collected and shared by the scientists from the Experimental Station Report.

20th Century Experimental Vineyards in San Luis Obispo County

Prohibition brought new challenges to agriculture in California. In San Luis County, vineyard acreage actually increased during Prohibition (1920-1933) in the Templeton area. Many of the Italians who settled there planted Zinfandel which was very popular with home winemakers who were allowed to make wine for their own consumption – 200 gallons per household. However new crops were introduced including almonds, grains, and garbanzo beans. John H. Foott (Jack) became the Farm Advisor in San Luis Obispo County in 1966. He advised on the cattle industry and many agricultural crops.

In the 1960s, he began to plant small experimental vineyards on private land in various regions of the county including Adelaida, Shandon, Edna Valley, Templeton, and on the Suey Ranch southeast of Nipomo. Jack also planted seven grape varieties at the California State Polytechnic College in San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) in collaboration with the Agricultural Studies Department.

Jack monitored all the vineyards, filed reports, and began to educate farmers about the possibilities of growing specific grape varieties based on the climate and terroir. 1966 he advised Stanley Hoffman to plant ten acres of Pinot Noir on his ranch in the rolling hills of the Adelaida Region. Stanley was the first to plant Pinot Noir in San Luis Obispo County. The vineyard still exists and is one of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in California.

Jack’s research confirmed that the Regional Classification of the grape growing area “affects the grapes’ sugar and /or acid content and therefore affects the value for various uses.” He explained that in California grape-producing areas fall into one of five temperature groups or regions. Regional classifications are based on the amount of heat received during the growing season. He noted that the quality and yield of a specific grape variety will vary from region. The most important discovery was that most of the top grape varieties produce their best quality fruit in only one or two climatic regions.

Jack described this further under the category of composition. He stated that table wine grapes are influenced by two factors – the amount of crop on the vines and environmental conditions during the growing season. For example, he stated that dry table wines require grapes of fairly low pH (3.0 to 3.35), high acidity (0.65 to .90 percent), and moderate sugar content (19 to 23 Balling) which is the measure of the total soluble solids content of the grapes or as we more commonly describe it, the percentage of grape sugars in the juice or Brix.

Jack’s research, education, resources, and consultation changed the landscape in San Luis Obispo County. Vineyards were staked out and planted with new varieties in areas where vineyards had never been planted before including the Edna Valley.
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At harvest, most of these grapes were shipped outside the county to winemakers in Napa, Sonoma, Lodi, and Los Angeles.

1968 – The Edna Valley Experimental Vineyard

Jack planted four grape varieties in the foothills of the Edna Valley: Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir in 1968. What is important for our local wine history is that Jack harvested all four varieties on September 6, 1972. They were driven directly to UC Davis where wine was made from each variety. This research established that the Pinot Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir produced a good quality wine.

There was a second harvest in 1973. The Cabernet Sauvignon was harvested later on October 2, 1973. Both the Pinot Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir were harvested on September 17. The Pinot Blanc was not harvested. The conclusion was that Pinot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir can be grown successfully in the Edna Valley. Cabernet Sauvignon grows better in a warmer climate region with a longer growing season to ripen fully.

Discovery – The Wine History Project and the 1968 Experimental Vineyard

The Wine History Project has rediscovered the only remaining Experimental Vineyard planted by Jack Foott. It is located in the Edna Valley. The four rows of vines have survived; the Cabernet Sauvignon vines have been the most successful to our astonishment. Deer and other wild critters have enjoyed the fruits of the vines over 53 years and climate, drought, and other factors have also impacted the vines.

The Wine History Project wishes to express gratitude to all those volunteers, the University of California, and the Foundation for Plant Sciences who are collaborating with us on this project.

Status: August 2021

The Wine History Project is happy to report that the vines appear to be healthy. We are very thankful that the current owners of the property where the vineyard is located recognize the value of this vineyard for historical and research purposes. They were teenagers when it was planted and they have protected it, letting this vineyard grow without human intervention.

The goals of the Wine History Project are to restore the vineyard with the help of the owners and local experts in viticulture including Jim Efird Rod Gross, and Mark Battany, University of California Cooperative Extension – Water Management and Biometeorology Advisor to San Luis Obispo County have joined our team of experts. Mark has engaged UC Davis and the Foundation for Plant Sciences to determine each variety.

Mark and volunteers will harvest the grapes on September 6, 2021. Mark will coordinate the research to determine if climate change has impacted each grape variety on the vineyard.

The Wine History Project will continue to monitor the vineyard, report on the program, and help preserve this Experimental Vineyard – a historical treasure.

The Amphorae Project

The Wine History staff is often asked: when did man meet the vine and start making wine? We decided to develop the Amphorae Project to answer this question and to demonstrate the ancient winemaking techniques that originated during the last 6,000 years and are still being used today, right here in San Luis Obispo County.

Ancient History

There is archaeological evidence that winemaking originated over 8,000 years ago. Neolithic farmers eventually domesticated the wild grapevines they favored as they transitioned into village life and settled in areas near fertile soil and water.

Ancient clay pots, known as Qvevri, have been found in villages in the Transcaucasus region where today winemakers in the Republic of Georgia are rediscovering their ancient winemaking traditions dating back six thousand years ago. Thousands of years ago winemakers would prepare for harvest by hollowing out a tree trunk and making or acquiring a large clay pot, fired in a kiln, and shaped like an egg. The Qvevri were made from the clay soil and buried in the same earth, lined with beeswax to seal the interior walls to make them airtight, preventing spoilage. The opening was located just above the ground surface.

Making wine was a community effort. The grapes were placed in the tree trunk; people would climb in and stomp the grapes. The crushed grape pulp, pips, stems, and juice were placed in the Qvevri and sealed with a lid. Fermentation took place within the vessel with natural yeast. and the clay vessel was opened 6 to 12 months later. The wine was ladled into pitchers and jugs for home consumption. The Georgians called it GVINO – perhaps the origin of the word, wine.

Amphorae Around the World

Georgia: Talha
Spain: Tinaja
Portugal: Talha
Italy: Anfore, Orci of Giare

Ancient amphorae were handmade rather than cast in molds. Artisans selected their clay carefully looking for certain properties to enhance fermentation. The materials were usually solid and had to be crushed before mixing them with water. The artisan constructed the egg-shaped vessel from the ground up, using coils of clay. Each layer must dry before the next one is added to the structure. When the vessel is finished it is fired in a kiln. In ancient and modern times the artisan constructed a kiln around the large vessel before firing it. Ancient Qvevri could hold as many as 2300 gallons. Winemakers in San Luis Obispo County use vessels that range between 80 and 210 gallons in size. Most of the local amphorae are made in Italy, Spain, or Portugal. The amphorae is porous, allowing for natural microoxygenation and other benefits.

The Wine History Project is collaborating with Scott Semple to learn about the ancient techniques of construction. Scott is a potter who lives in Los Osos and has made hundreds of amphorae in his career. On October 16, 2021, Scott will be making an amphora from white clay in the Paso Robles City Park in front of the Paso Robles Museum, demonstrating the ancient techniques of the artisans. The public is invited to watch from 9 to 3 PM and sign the vessel at a ceremony at the Paso Robles City Museum at 4:00. We invite the public to join our staff and local amphorae winemakers to join us in this celebration.

Winemaking in Clay Amphorae – San Luis Obispo County

The Wine History Project is researching the use of the amphorae in local winemaking. There are at least fourteen local winemakers who are using the amphorae in the fermentation process of both red and white wines.

The staff is interviewing each winemaker and recording data on the initial inspiration and decision as well as the selection and purchase of the amphorae. The red and white grape varieties selected and the wine varietals produced at each winery are being recorded. Oral histories and photographs of each winemaker are being collected for our archives.

The Wine History Project is appreciative of all those who are contributing to this project including Cynthia Lambert, Tim Clott, Noel Resnick, Kimberly Morelli, Manu Fiorentini, Scott Semple, Sherman, and Michelle Thacher, Daniel Callan​, Brian Terrizzi, Stephanie Terrizzi, and Gina DeGirolamo, the staff at the Paso Robles History Museum, and all the winemakers using amphorae in San Luis Obispo County.

Status: September 2021

The Wine History Project invites the public to an exhibition showcasing 6,000 Years of Winemaking in Amphorae and the winemakers of San Luis Obispo County. The exhibit will be on view at the Paso Robles History Museum from October 16 to February. A series of Meet the Winemaker Events with tasting is planned.

EXHIBIT OPENING: OCT 16. Master potter and artist, Scott Semple, will be making a clay amphora in front of the Paso Robles History Museum Saturday morning between 9 AM and 3 PM, building the winemaking vessel layer by layer. At 4 PM all those present will be asked to sign the Amphora. Winemakers Sherman Thacher, Daniel Callan, and Brian Terrizzi will be joining us to discuss the use of the amphorae and their varietals at 4:00 PM at the History Museum. Please join us to sample their wines. Docents will provide tours of the exhibit at the museum from 10 AM to 5 PM.

A documentary film featuring local winemakers Sherman Thacher, Daniel Callan, Brian Terrizzi, and grower Stephanie Terrizzi will be released in November and submitted to Film Festivals across the county in association with Partner2Media.

Festival Mozaic Archival Project

Pairing Wine and Music

There are extraordinary connections between music and wine on the Central Coast of California. There is a link between what you hear and what you taste. The musical sounds may stimulate the part of your brain where taste and aroma are processed according to research published in the British Journal of Psychology. Music lovers often enjoy performances while sipping our local Pinot Noir, Chardonnay or Sangiovese. The Mozart Festival, founded in 1970, formed lasting relationships with local wineries to host concerts and musicians, donate wines for events and provide financial support.

The philanthropic support for Festival Mozaic and its predecessor, The Mozart Festival, is extraordinary. Almost every major winery in San Luis Obispo County has contributed to a fundraising model which has sustained the Festival over the last 50 years. The Wine History Project with the help of Mozart Festival founder Clif Swanson is documenting and archiving the participation and contributions of each local winery by providing the venues, hosting fundraising events, pouring wines, and financial support.

Currently, we have reviewed the history from 1970 to 2005. Anyone who wishes to share a memory of their favorite wines poured at a concert or who has memories to share regarding wine-related venues should contact the Wine History Project at info@winehistoryproject.org. This information will be posted on the websites of the Wine History Project www.winehistoryproject.org and Festival Mozaic www.festivalmozaic.org. In September 2021.

A Musical Tapestry of Growers and Winemakers

Many of the grape growers and winemakers on the Central Coast are also musicians, from Zinfandel grower and classical pianist Ignace Paderewski and violinist Wilfrid York, third-generation winemaker at the historic York Mountain Winery to musicians playing with Symphony of the Vines. San Luis Obispo County is also home to winemakers who perform in jazz, vocal, rock, folk, and fringe groups who support the Mozaic Festival.

Read our article, San Luis Obispo County Musicians and Wine – Historic Pairings.

The Mission Vineyard Project

The Wine History Project Plans for a Mission Vine Vineyard in San Luis Obispo County

In 2019 The Wine History Project decided to focus on the first domesticated grapevines planted in San Luis Obispo County. These vines were brought by ship from Spain to Mexico around 1540. They became known in the new world as Mission Grapes. The red grape is believed to have originated in the Castilla-La Mancha region of Spain. Five centuries later the grape was identified as Listán Prieto. Cuttings from these Mission grapes were transported to New Mexico, which was then a Spanish territory, in the 1620s and to Alta California by the Franciscan padres who supervised the building of the Missions and planting of the vineyards in the late 1700s and early 1800s. The San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Mission and the San Miguel Arcangel Mission planted large vineyards of Mission Grapes and produced large quantities of wine for sacramental use and commercial trade.

The Wine History Project began to document and map the location of any old Mission Vines still growing in San Luis Obispo County. We were surprised to learn that new Mission (Listán Prieto) vines are being planted in the county, often in field blends.

The vision of establishing a historical Mission grape vineyard in San Luis Obispo County for educational purposes was still front and center for the Wine History Project in 2020. We learned that a volunteer at Dana Adobe, Len Hoskins, had received a gift of a Mission Vine rooted from the “mother Mission grapevine” originally planted at Mission San Juan Capistrano and Mission San Gabriel.

Read our article, The Mission Grape – Five Centuries of History in the Americas.

Over the next few years, Len watched his grapevine grow into a very large plant in his small backyard. This is not surprising because it is common knowledge that a Mission grapevine often grows as high and wide as a large shade tree. In the Mission era, the padres often grew a few vines into tree-like shapes to provide shelter from the sun.

Planting 18th Century History

Len realized he needed to find a new home for the Mission vine. Len consulted his cousin, Bob Steinhauer who is a well-known viticulturist in the Napa Valley. Bob introduced Len to Jim Efird, a viticulturist and partner in the Tolosa winery in San Luis Obispo. A second important collaboration was soon established. Jim agreed to plant the Mission vine at Tolosa. Jim also agreed to provide Len with access to this large and healthy vine so he could harvest cuttings for future projects. Although Jim has retired, Tolosa continues to care for the vine, protecting and celebrating an important piece of viticultural history. Len has continued to harvest the cuttings with the goal of “planting 18th Century History” on its own roots.

Meanwhile, Len grew his new cuttings in his backyard and prepared them to be planted in a Mission vineyard. The Dana Adobe was not yet ready to join the project so the Wine History Project searched for another location since it was time to plant the vines that Len had nurtured. Len donated eight Mission vines to the Wine History Project. The Wine History Project, in turn, donated cuttings from the vines to California Polytechnic State University College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences Wine and Viticulture Department. With Len’s help, the Wine History Project donated the funds to pay for the process of testing the vines at UC Davis to make certain that they were free of disease. We waited to see if we could grow healthy vines from those cuttings in 2021.

Collaboration among professionals, historians, wineries, and volunteers preserve our wine history and provide a living history for the public that is crucial for our mission. The Wine History Project both thanks and salutes Mike Imwall, Len Hoskins, Jim Efird, Heather Muran, Libbie Agran, Jean Dodson Peterson, Associate Professor of Viticulture at Cal Poly, and Tolosa Winery for collaboration and for honoring our wine history in San Luis Obispo County!

Status: August 2021

Forty health Mission Vines have been propagated for the Wine History Project at a California commercial nursery. They will be planted in early 2022. One-third of the vines will be planted in an educational setting at the Trestle Vineyard at CalPoly for the viticultural students. Plans are underway to plant the remaining vines in historical settings to provide exposure and education for the public.

Len Hoskins has rooted more vines and donated one to Steve Autry, founder of Autry Cellars in San Luis Obispo, and four to Mike Imwalle for the Presidio in Santa Barbara. One vine has been planted in the historic garden at the Dana Adobe, built in 1839. This garden focuses on the plants that grew on the property in the Rancho Period when the Dana Adobe was built. The Dana Adobe landscape plan includes a historic Mission grape vineyard.

The Pavilion in the Vineyard - A Collaboration with CalPoly University

The Wine History Project shares the local history in a variety of ways, including exhibits on grape varieties, legendary winemakers, harvesting and making wine at historic locations throughout the county. Currently the exhibits may be located in the tasting room, a restaurant, in the vineyard or hanging on the outside walls of a winery – each a museum without walls that immediately engages the viewer.

But imagine a new concept – a portable learning pavilion that you can load into a truck or a trailer to move from place to place in San Luis Obispo County. The Wine History Project has developed a new vision – a museum without walls.

Imagine small mobile pavilions where wine history and artifacts can be displayed in a vineyard, a hiking trail or a city park.

Partnership with CalPoly Architecture, Architectural Engineering and Construction Management Departments

The Wine History Project partnered with CalPoly University in San Luis Obispo to design a small light weight structure (the pavilion) that can be easily transported to an outdoor site to provide a visual experience packed with wine history for the visitor. The Wine History Project selected a local winery with a tasting room in the Edna Valley, Saucelito Canyon Winery, owned by Nancy and Bill Greenough as the site for the first pavilion.

Cal Poly faculty members Margaret Kirk of the Architecture Department; Dennis Bashaw of the Architectural Engineering Department; and Gregory Starzyk of the Construction Management Department took the lead in the pavilion structure, in collaboration with Bill and Nancy Greenough and the Wine History Project staff.

For the design proposal phase, Cal Poly received a grant through LPA, a fully integrated firm of architects, engineers, interior designers and landscape architects with offices throughout the state. The firm worked directly with the students to develop concepts and designs.

The theme for the pavilion is “Connection”, providing educational opportunities to connect visitors to the history of viticulture throughout San Luis Obispo County.

The project is structured as a one year project with three phases.

Phase 1

The first phase focused on the concept of an exhibit space pavilion at a specific outdoor site, the building specifications, mobility and exposure to elements of weather. Thirty-six students, working in eight teams from Cal Poly’s College of Architecture and Environmental Design (CAED) spent the 2019 fall quarter working to create a temporary structure designed to house exhibits and collections for the Wine History Project, which will provide the displays to educate the public about the history of San Luis Obispo’s wine industry.

Student teams presented the final eight designs during a public Open House event at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden in Phase 3 in December 2019. The “Flow” pavilion, designed by Architectural Engineering student Isaac Cameron, Architecture students Isha Sharma and Khanh Nguyen, and Construction Management students Antonio Rosales and Andy Compian, was selected as the selected choice of the competition. The students used biomimicry, the design and production of materials, structures, and systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes, to create models of the pavilion structure. The “Flow” pavilion is based on the earwig insect, with the team drawing inspiration from its retractable wings.

Move-ability and adaptability were two main focus points the Wine History Project and Cal Poly professors used to critique each project.
Several projects were announced during the event as runners up, and included “Kaleidoscope” and “In/Bloom”. Attendees also had the opportunity to select their favorite pavilion concept. “Primitivo” was selected as the People’s Choice award.

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Phases 2 and 3

The second phase is to study the type of materials to meet the engineering and construction standards of the prototype. The students also had to develop a cost analysis for the project at $10,000 or less. The final stage, Phase 3, is the actual construction and installation of the pavilion by a team of CalPoly students.

The Wine History Project is most appreciative of all those who have participated in this project including Margaret Kirk, Dennis Bashaw, Gregory Starzyk, the thirty six CalPoly students with their designs, Bill and Nancy Greenough, Cynthia Lambert, Aimee Armour-Avant, Heather Muran, Libbie Agran, Vivian Hanover and the Staff at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden.

Status – August 2021

Phase two was interrupted by the Coronavirus Pandemic in March 2020. The project will advance in 2021 and 202