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.
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 email@example.com. or email our director Libbie Agran at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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
The word Amphora is Greco-Roman, dating back to the Bronze Age.
Italy: Anfore, also known as a Giare
Middle East: Dolium
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 are 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: October 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 28. A series of Meet the Winemaker Events with tasting is planned.
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.
Status: January 2022
The Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County has filmed six of the local Amphorae winemakers for the documentary film linking the ancient winemaking practices using amphorae for fermentation, aging and storage to the techniques used by our local winemakers. Some winemakers are experimenting with grape varieties grown 140 years ago in San Luis Obispo County and others are sourcing or growing Italian and Rhone varieties. Some of the “amphorae wine” produced locally are blends and others are 100 percent one varietal. Several winemakers have traveled to Italy and Spain to observe winemaking in amphorae firsthand.
Many of the amphorae used in San Luis Obispo County were imported from Italy and purchased through Manu Fiorentini who will also appear in the documentary.
In February we will be filming Dr. Patrick McGovern at the Archaeological Museum located at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. McGovern is the Scientific Director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory for Cuisine, Fermented Beverages and Health. He has been instrumental in analyzing samples of residues found in ancient clay pottery vessels to determine the origin of viticulture. National Geographic published an article on November 13, 2017 titled Oldest Evidence of Winemaking Discovered at 8,000-Year-Old Village by Andrew Curry which begins with the observation, “Contrary to stereotypes, Stone Age people had a taste for the finer things.” The research conclusively shows that people living on a small rise (Gadachrili Gora) about 20 miles south of Tbilisi, Georgia in mudbrick houses were the world’s earliest known vintners. They produced wine on a large scale as early as 6,000 B.C.E. Fragments of their rough pottery decorated with bunches of grapes were analyzed by Dr. McGovern and a team of other archaeologists. He found tartaric acid which is described as a chemical fingerprint that shows wine residues. These early winemakers were pressing their grapes near where they were growing grapes, fermenting wine in large vessels known as Kvevri and then transporting it in small clay vessels to their homes.
Dr. McGovern suggests that the wine was most likely a seasonal drink since no additives to preserve the wine were found in the residue. “It was the first pure wine.” According to Dr. McGovern, the people at Gadachrili learned the art of fermentation and also were breeding and harvesting Vitis vinifera. McGovern states “They’re working out horticultural methods, how you transplant it, how you produce it. It shows just how inventive the human species is.” He is the author of Ancient Wine – The Search for the Origins of Viniculture. We look forward to including his discoveries in our film and bringing him to San Luis Obispo County to our Fall Symposium on Winemaking in Amphorae to explore this early history with winemakers from around the world.
Status: March 2022
The Wine History Project completed filming of the ancient artifacts and our interviews with archaeologist Patrick McGovern and his staff at the University of Pennsylvania Archaeology Museum in Philadelphia last week for our film 9,000 Years of Winemaking in Clay Vessels. We plan to release the film in September.
We are also excited to report that we have discovered three more winemakers using the clay Amphora in their own winemaking style: John Alban of Alban Vineyards in the Edna Valley, Josh Beckett of Thibido Winery on Nacimiento Road in Paso Robles and Janell Dusi of J Dusi Winery in Templeton. We will be revising the Amphorae Trail Map once again.
One member of the Amphorae Project has moved to a new location. Lone Madrone, founded by Neil Collins and his sister Jackie Meisinger, announce the purchase and opening of the company’s first estate winery in Templeton. It is located at 3750 Highway 46 West and started serving on March 11. The facility includes a winery, two tasting rooms, a full commercial kitchen and an eight-acre dry-farmed vineyard. Lone Madrone is family owned and operated by Neil, Jordan, Austin and Jackie Collins and Jackie Meisinger. The Wine History Project sends load of congratulations on your new permanent home.
The exhibit Celebrating Amphorae: 6,000 Years of Winemaking in Amphorae and the Local Winemakers Who Continue the Ancient Tradition is on display at the Paso Robles History Museum in Paso Robles City Park through February 2022.
Local winemakers use the ancient traditions of amphora clay vessels to develop more complexity and nuances from their wines.
Falanghina is an ancient white grape, reportedly of Greek Origin. Around the 7th century BCE the Greeks explored Southern Italy and determined that the climate was perfect for cultivating vines.
Pinot Gris. Source: Foundation Plant Services - University of California, Davis. Pinot Gris (French) or Pinot Grigio (Italian)PINOT GRIS—ORIGINS The Pinot Gris grape origins are in Burgundy, France. It is one of the best known mutations of Pinot Noir. It is mentioned...
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 email@example.com. 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.
Status: January 2022
In 1970 three young California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo professors, Clif Swanson, Ronald Ratcliffe and John Russell, dreamed of establishing a summer music festival presenting classical music with performances in venues around San Luis Obispo County. In 1971 the San Luis Obispo Mozart Festival launched the first festival with multiple performances on the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo campus and in the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. Clif Swanson served as the Music Director from 1970 to 2005. Today, renamed as the Mozaic Festival, director, conductor and virtuoso violinist Scott Yoo presents a two week summer festival of more than 30 events held in historic and contemporary venues throughout the county. The Festival is celebrating 50 years of performances that include a wide range of concerts including early music, jazz, opera, classical, dance and dramatic performances. The Festival was organized as a non-profit shortly after its inception and has built a strong and unique organization of volunteers and supporters. The first supporters included the historic HMR Winery, the first modern winery built after Prohibition by Stanley and Terry Hoffman who hosted the first fundraiser in a winery. The iconic York Mountain Winery in Templeton owned by classical pianist Max Goldman, who purchased the winery from violinist Wilfrid York in 1970, poured his wines at the early concerts. Tom Martin, owner of the Paso Robles Inn and the Martin Brothers Winery, raised funds with a variety of folk and popular music concerts at their facility in Paso Robles.
The Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County is archiving the history of the wineries and highlighting those whose owners and winemakers were also musicians. We extend our thanks to Clif Swanson and to all those who have shared their memories and festival programs with us. The list will appear in the 50th Anniversary Commemorative hardcover book which contains the memoirs, stories and photos of both the Mozart and Mozaic Festivals from 1971 to 2021. You can order the book at www.mozaicfestival.org
Status: July 2022
The following wineries have contributed their wines in celebration of this year’s Festival Mozaic Concert Series; the Festival and the wine industry of San Luis Obispo County have grown together since 1970.
Cass Winery Mozart Quintet and Notable Encounter Dinner Event – July 26, 2022
Steve and Alice Cass love classical music and have supported Festival Mozaic for a number of years. They planted their first vineyard in 2000 and produced their first vintage in 2003. Scott Yoo introduced the Viola Quintet in G minor and the musicians with a discussion of the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Claiborne and Churchill Spectrum of Pinot Noir Tasting & Brunch July 24, 2022
Fredericka and Clay Thompson, proprietors of Claiborne and Churchill Winery in the Edna Valley in 1983, hosted the first wine tasting event in celebration of Festival Mozaic. Six vintages of Pinot Noir were served in their garden by winemaker Zack Geers. We hope this will become a tradition for supporting our Festival Mozaic.
Tablas Creek 20-Year Retrospective Tasting – July 29, 2022
Tablas Creek, bonded in 1989, is a pioneer in California’s Rhone movement. The late Robert Haas founded the winery and his family’s legacy of support for Festival Mozaic over two decades ago. His son, Jason Haas, and Winemaker Neil Collins welcomed guests to the first Retrospective Wine Tasting held in support of the Festival. Tastings of five vintages of their flagship wine Esprit de Tablas – 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, 2020 – were paired with vibrant discussions between Jason and Neil. Jason’s wife Megan has served on the Festival Board.
Steve and Alice Cass love classical music and have supported Festival Mozaic for a number of years. They planted their first vineyard in 2000 and produced their first vintage in 2003. Scott Yoo introduced the Viola Quintet in G minor and the musicians with a discussion of the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The AVA Project
An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is defined as a vineyard zone classified based on geography and climate. The purpose of AVAs is to showcase unique soil types, unique microclimates, and unique conditions for grapes.
Recently, the Wine History Project created a project within our archival files for information about the American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs of San Luis Obispo County. We are calling it The AVA Project. Original, right? The objective is to do four things:
- identify each one of these AVAs in SLO County,
- document unique information for each AVA by creating spreadsheets which categorically identify these acquired facts,
- maintain (or create) maps that would be available for reference and article purposes, and,
- help to share the history of the AVAs themselves with the public.
To start out, let me explain that San Luis Obispo County has a total of five American Viticultural Areas, or AVAs, with an additional eleven sub-appellations or districts. That adds up to a total of sixteen different areas in the county that have been identified to be helpful to the wine customers or visitors. AVAs help to assist them with finding the type of terroir, climate, grapes, and wine they are looking to taste and then explore or learn more about.
American Viticultural Areas in San Luis Obispo County include:
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
According to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or the TTB website (TTB.gov), “any interested individual or group may petition TTB to establish a new AVA or modify an existing AVA. The complete process for creating and submitting a petition is outlined in their regulations.”
The AVA Project Historical Objectives
The Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County’s objective will be to archive the historic maps, letters, original petitions, and documents which were created and led up to some of the collaborative efforts to petition to establish our county’s viticultural areas known as AVAs.
Our approach to this project was first to research local information, both written and verbal, for the past forty years. From this initial research we will start the process of creating spreadsheets of information obtained. The spreadsheets will have limited facts but we believe that the archival of this information will lead to personal and privately held paperwork by members of the San Luis Obispo County community.
Here is a list of categories to be documented on these spreadsheets:
- Date the area originally established in the county
- Date the AVA was established
- Vineyard acres planted by 2022
- Notable history of area
- Primary grape varieties
- Terroir description
- Other miscellaneous information
To demonstrate this, I have utilized research found in Paso Robles AVA historical information created initially in the petition written in July 26, 1982 submitted to the Department of the Treasury Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in Washington, D.C. along with some information from a blog written from March 2020 to October 2021 by Christopher (Chris) Taranto, the Communications Director of the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance since 2007. And to continue, future information will make use of the additional research done by Larry Roberts and Carol Manning for the California Central Coast Wine Growers Association (CCWGA) along with WHP interviews with Gary Eberle, Noreen Martin, Victor Hugo Roberts and July Ackerman.
These major records, along with a variety of information from local winemakers, internet resources, and historical data from books and various newspaper and magazine articles throughout the years have been used as my starting point.
Much work and research will need to be done to obtain a fruitful and complete provenance on this topic. We will continue to update you on our progress of this information.
An example of what information is started for the spreadsheet on the Paso Robles AVA.
Date the Area Originally Established in SLO County
City of Paso Robles was founded in 1889. It has an important agricultural history.
Date the AVA Established
A letter was sent to the Director of the Department of the Treasury Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on July 26, 1982 on letterhead from the Martin Brothers Winery.
The letter states, “This petition is a joint and collaborative effort of the wineries and winegrowers in the proposed area.” It continues, “The unanamity (sic) of fourteen wineries and the grape growers of over 3,800 acres in the proposed area express the favorable opinion of nearly 100% of all those affected by the appellation”.
Included are documents, known as exhibits, to substantiate the criteria to seek approval of the appellation. The AVA was approved in 1983; which was large to accommodate all the existing vineyards and wineries at the time.
These documents now reside in the Paso Robles “file” of our WHP electronic archives.
Vineyard Acres Planted With Wine Grapes as of 2022
According to an article dated July 15, 2022, by the Wine Industry Advisor ( www.wineindustryadvisor.com ) Paso Robles Wine Country is California’s third-largest wine region and encompasses more than 40,000 vineyard acres and 200 wineries.
Notable History of Area
In 1981 the California Central Coast Wine Growers Association published the following list of 13 wineries in what became the Paso Robles Appellation.
Caparone Winery, Estrella River Winery, HMR, Las Tablas Winery, Mastantuono Winery, Pesenti Winery, Ranchita Oaks Winery, York Mountain, El Paso De Robles, Fairview Farm Vineyard, Martin & MacFarlane Winery, Old Casteel Vineyard, and Tobias Vineyard.
In 2022, more than 200 wineries in Paso Robles AVA exist. The Paso Robles AVA is part of the California Central Coast AVA. The area is situated on the inland side of the Santa Lucia Coastal Mountains in San Luis Obispo County. It is a rectangular shaped area approximately 35 miles wide by 25 miles long in northern San Luis Obispo County.
Primary Grape Varieties
Today there are over 50 grape varieties planted. The heritage grape is Zinfandel, first planted in the second half of the 19th century. After Prohibition, other grape varieties were slowly re-introduced in the North County.
The agricultural advisor, Jack Foott, planted experimental vineyards with Pinot Noir, Pinot Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling throughout the county in the 1960s. He assisted growers in selecting the varieties most likely to thrive in each vineyard.
In the late 1960s, large commercial growers planted vineyards with irrigation, selling grapes to winemakers throughout California. Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay were in demand as the California Wine Revolution took hold. Italian varieties were researched and planted in the 1980s. Rhone varieties were widely planted in the 1990s.
In this giant AVA there are over 45 different soil series, including – granite, sedimentary, volcanic, sandstone, and the largest Calcareous based soil formation in all of California. Some soils are clay-based with high lime content which produces higher pH levels. Other soils are primarily bedrock, composed of weathered granite, volcanic and marine sedimentary rocks overlayed with sandstone, mudstone or calcareous shales.
Paso Robles AVA has warm weather. Paso Robles is known for its heat during the day time and cool weather at night. Average daytime temperature in the growing season can reach 105 degrees/Fahrenheit. Night temperatures drop by 40-50 degrees/Fahrenheit. The area is close to the Pacific Ocean which accounts for the fog, breezes, and temperatures. Rainfall levels vary from desert-like 10 inches/year up to 40 inches in the higher elevation regions. Elevation starts around 700 feet in the east and reaches up to 2400 feet on the west side of the Paso Robles AVA.
Additional Miscellaneous Information
By 1996 many more vineyards, grape varieties, and wineries were established.
There was a great focus on marketing and making Paso Robles a tourist destination. Hotels and restaurants were established. Many wineries established tasting rooms and wine clubs to sell their wines.
In 2007 a conjunctive labeling law (AB87) was passed, which preserved brand awareness of the Paso Robles AVA. This meant that the Paso Robles AVA and the designated districts(s) would appear together on any wine label. In 2009, this proposal was withdrawn.
In 2014, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau issued a final rule in the Federal Register which established 11 new District AVAs within the existing Paso Robles American Viticultural Area.
Each of the sub-appellations, or districts of the Paso Robles AVA have differing information which will be detailed and shared within their own spreadsheets at a later writing. These sub-appellations include:
Adelaida District AVA established 2014
Creston District AVA established 2014
El Pomar District AVA established 2014
Paso Robles Estrella District AVA established 2014
Paso Robles Geneseo District AVA established 2014
Paso Robles Highlands District AVA established 2014
San Juan Creek District AVA established 2014
San Miguel District AVA established 2014
Santa Margarita District AVA established 2014
Templeton Gap District AVA established 2014
Paso Robles Willow Creek District AVA established 2014
Currently, there are over 200 in the Paso Robles area.
The Wine History Project has a large collection of artifacts used during the 19th and 20th centuries in the vineyards and for winemaking. If you wish to make a donation to our collection, or have documented information or personal stories regarding the AVAs, please contact Cindy Lambert at firstname.lastname@example.org
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!
Mission Vine propagated by archeologist Mike Imwalle from the mother vine at the San Gabriel Mission. The vine is located at the Santa Barbara Presidio.
Archaeologist Mike Imwalle, Associate Executive Director of Cultural Resources – Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation
After two suspenseful years, retired viticulturist Jim Efird and WHP Director Libbie Agran, were reunited with 28 vibrant Mission Grape Vines on the morning of April 7th. We are grateful to Dr. Jean C. Dodson Peterson, Associate Professor of Viticulture at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and the Wonderful Nurseries in Wasco, California, for working with us to establish these vines on their own rootstock.
An update on the Heritage Mission Vineyard Project at the Dana Adobe: Twenty-eight Mission vines propagated from the vines growing for centuries at the Mission San Gabriel will be planted at the historic Dana Adobe in late April or early May. The vineyard will be surrounded by a stone wall to be built in April which in turn will be surrounded by a garden of native plants and cactus. This project is supported by many local residents, viticulturalists: Jim Efird, Randy Heinzen, Don Campbell, and Rod Gross with the support of Dana Adobe board members and volunteers Jim Corridan, Len Hoskins, Garrett Dana, Bill Weiger, Tara Machin and Nick Wilkinson. If you would like to support this project please visit the Dana Adobe website and donate to this historic and beautiful project.
Our viticulture and wine history in San Luis Obispo County originated with the Spanish Crown seeking new lands to conquer and sending explorers to the Pacific Coast. The grapevines, Vitis vinifera, were brought by ship from Spain to Mexico and became known in the New World as Mission Grapes. The grape variety was identified as Listán Prieto in the 21st Century. The first chapter of California wine history is defined by twenty-one missions with chapels, agricultural crops and vineyards managed by the Spanish Franciscan padres who made a dull unstable red wine and an exciting distilled brandy to fortify their wine.
A Visit to El Presidio Real de Sánta Barbara to Interview Mike Imwalle, ArchaeologistBy Libbie Agran El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park, Santa Barbara, California. I met with Mike Imwalle at El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Park (El Presidio). El...
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.
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.
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 2022.
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.
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.
Status: January 2022
We have added a brief biography and photo of Agricultural Advisor Jack Foott who helped to promote the planting of vineyards with grape varieties appropriate to the elevation of the vineyard, terroir and microclimate in several regions of San Luis Obispo County starting in the 1960s. He planted this Edna Valley Experimental vineyard with four grape varieties on private property, monitored and harvested the grapes. He drove the grapes to UC Davis in 1972 so enologists could make wine from each variety and determine the quality. He kept notes that are now in the Archives at UC Davis.
Today we have a Viticultural Committee which includes Mark Battany, Water Management and Biometeorology Advisor to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties, retired Viticulturists Jim Efird and Rod Gross. The committee is working with the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County to determine how to move forward with research and protection of the vineyards.
We had planned to harvest the four grape varieties in October but either the bears or the birds arrived before us and stripped the vines. Mark Battany would like to study the impact of climate change in these vineyards. The vineyard which is almost 54 years old is not in good shape and may have a virus. Cuttings have been sent to UC Davis for testing.
The vineyard consists of four trellised rows of twelve vines each. The first row, and the one of most interest, is Cabernet Sauvignon. It is in the best shape of the four. The second row is Melon, thought originally to be Pinot Blanc, but later discovered to have been mislabeled. As a result, it is of the least interest of the four. The third row is Pinot Noir; the clone is unknown. It is in bad shape and may not be salvageable. The fourth row is Chardonnay, and it is in the worst shape of the four.
If the vines are not infected with a virus, then Mark would like to conduct a follow-up study to Jack Foote’s original work and see if the Cabernet Sauvignon might be better suited to this area under current climate conditions than during the 1970’s when the original measurements were made. If we could resurrect un-infected vines and get a viable crop, UC Davis could redo their original measurements and see how much they have changed over the past 50 years. Results could then be published, with Jack Foote as a co-author of the paper. Timeframe for all this to be completed is 3-4 years.
The Final Analysis
The University of California, Davis, ran a series of tests on the cuttings taken by Mark Battany in the Experimental Vineyard in the Edna Valley. Here is the email I received from Mark Battany, the Agricultural Advisor at University of California Cooperative Extension on March 7, 2022:
“I got the virus test results back from UC Davis. Unfortunately the sample came back positive for grapevine leafroll 2, 3 and 4. These viruses will preclude me from being able to use the vines for evaluating how ripening may have changed over time. Best that the vines be pulled out in my opinion.”
We discussed a variety of strategies but have decided to follow Mark’s recommendation that the vineyard be removed. We will always treasure our memories of discovering the vineyard and Jack Foott’s contributions to the research on growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in the Edna Valley.
I want to thank those who participated in the discovery and research on this Experimental Vineyard – the last in San Luis Obispo County.
The Wine History Project expresses our gratitude for maintaining the vineyard for the 54 years to David, Don and Craig Righetti. We thank Mary Battany for his analysis of the vineyard and working with the University of California to test the health of the vines in anticipation of further research on the impact of climate change in the Edna Valley. Thank you to our viticulture volunteers, Jim Efird, Rod Gross and Mike Sinor, who provided the Wine History Project with their expertise on this vineyard project.