The Wine History Project celebrates Bob as the first new commercial grape grower in San Luis Obispo County since Prohibition. Bob Young grew grapes in Shandon in the 1950s. He was the first commercial grape grower to use irrigation after Prohibition and first grape grower in San Luis Obispo County that was also an Olympic Medalist. Bob was also known for mentoring other growers.
Robert (Bob) Young was born in Weedpatch, California, to parents Lewis and Gertrude Young. He attended Kern County Union High School. After graduation he studied and ran track at Bakersfield College. Bob had musical talent and took violin lessons. At age 19 he was playing the violin in the Bakersfield Symphony.
Bob applied to UCLA, moved to West Los Angeles, and lettered in track each of the next three years. He graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics in 1937.
Bob was an outstanding athlete; he was a relay runner and known for his performance in the 400 meters. He has been honored as one of the greatest athletes ever from Bakersfield, California. At the age of 20, Bob made the U.S. Olympic team and traveled to Berlin to compete in the Summer 1936 Olympics. He ran the fastest leg at 46.9 seconds in the 1600-meter relay. He was the youngest member on the team of four; the U.S. Team won the Silver Medal. Bob recalled in an interview, “Every day, Hitler would come into the stadium and everyone would give him the ol’ “Heil Hitler” salute…sometimes if the gestapo was not around, we would give him the finger.”
After Berlin, the U.S. Team took London by storm; the U.S. Team broke the world record for the two-mile relay in London on August 15, 1936.
In 1939 Bob married his sweetheart, Alice Gyder, who he met at Bakersfield College. They were married for 71 years and raised two sons, Michael and Gary.
Bob and Alice purchased a farm on 320 acres in Shandon in 1955. Bob and his partner John Young first planted alfalfa and then wheat on their land.
During the early 1960s, Bob developed a friendship with a man who owned a winery in Napa and made fine wines. He encouraged Bob to consider growing grapes commercially. Bob research the growing techniques and discussed dry farming with Frank Pesenti. He opted for irrigation.
In 1963, Bob and John laid out the vineyards and planted grapes. The first varietals they planted were Zinfandel and Carignan, a red varietal of Spanish origin but more likely found in French wine. His vineyards were known as the first to be planted with commercial irrigation systems in the Paso Robles area. Bob became a successful commercial grower, selling to many wineries located outside San Luis Obispo County. He did not purchase additional property but gradually added more varietals, focusing more on red wine grapes than white wine grapes. Bob worked with Jack Foott, the County Agricultural Advisor. The Cabernet Sauvignon varietal they added was successful but the Chenin Blanc was not. It was a period of trial and error, learning what thrived in the soils climate of Shannon.
In 1970, Bob bought John Young out of the business. The Youngs were friendly with other early growers including James Sinton, Gary Eberle, and Herman Schwartz. Bob Young was always helpful to other farmers and is remembered as a mentor.
Bob Young was honored for his pioneering contributions to the future and success of Paso Robles vineyards by the American Vintner’s Association in 2009.
He sold his vineyards and retired to Bakersfield in the late 70s or early 1980s. He died there on February 3, 2011 at the age of 95.
1916: Birth in Weedpatch, California, 10 miles south-south east of Bakersfield
1933: Graduated from Kern County Union High School in Bakersfield
1933: Entered Bakersfield College
1934: Met Alice at Bakersfield College and went out on one date
1935: Bob played the violin in the Bakersfield Symphony
1934: Entered UCLA
1936: Participated in the Olympics in Germany
1937: Graduated with a degree in Economics from UCLA
1939: Married Alice
1955: Moved to Shandon and purchased a farm. It was a large-scale commercial venture. He farmed alfalfa and then wheat. Partnership with John Young.
1962: By this time Bob had met a farmer in Napa who had a winery and was making good wine. He suggested that Bob plant grapes. Bob also consulted with Frank Pesenti about whether to irrigate or dry farm. Pesenti dry farmed.
1963: Planted vineyards with irrigation. He planted Zinfandel and Carrigan varietals. He continued to add varietals – a few white varietals and more red varietals. He did grow cabernet sauvignon.
1970: Bought John Young out. In 1970s: Sold farm and moved back to Bakersfield
2009: American Vintners Award
Published in Bakersfield Californian on Feb. 5, 2011.