A Visit to El Presidio Real de Sánta Barbara to Interview Mike Imwalle, Archaeologist
By 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 Presidio spans four city blocks in downtown Santa Barbara – over 5.74 acres. The Presidio was built as a military fortress in 1782 after the Spanish ruler, Carlos III (King of Spain 1759-1788) ordered the lands of Alta California to be colonized for Spain. The Spanish built four military fortresses and staffed them with soldiers to protect the newly built neighboring missions, pueblos and ranchos. El Presidio Real de Santa Barbara was the fourth and final fortress built in California. The commandant appointed to bring settlers and soldiers from northwestern Mexico to the Presidio was José Francisco de Ortega. Alta California Governor Felipe de Neve ordered El Presidio to be constructed to protect Santa Barbara from invasion by the Russians and the British who were interested in claiming Alta California as their own territory. El Presidio became the cultural, social and administrative center for European settlers living between the Santa Maria River and the Pueblo de Los Angeles. Michael H. Inwalle (Mike) is the archaeologist at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP) on the El Presidio site.

Mission Grape Vines – Original Mission San Gabriel Plant Stock

Mike attended the California Mission Studies Association annual meeting at the Mission San Gabriel in February 2000. During the event, Angelica wine, made from the original San Gabriel Mission grape stock, was served to the attendees. Mike was intrigued by this wine. At the end of the meeting, bottles of Mission Wine were available to purchase with a cutting from a dormant San Gabriel Mission Vine.

Mike took the vine home and placed it in a vase of water; the vine produced vibrant green leaves within a few days. He transplanted the vine to a pot and named the grapevine, “Vinny.”

A Home for “Vinny”

In 2001, ”Vinny” was planted in the garden of the Northwest corner of El Presidio by John Forsyth and his Organic Gardening Class. They trained the “Vinny” to grow along the rampart of the eastern defense wall of the fortress. Mission grapes continually astonish the viewer by their growth both vertically and horizontally. Within a year, “Vinny” had grown more than 30 feet in length. In the summer of 2002 “Vinny” produced more than 10 pounds of mission wine grapes. A second vine was propagated by the Organic Gardening Class which had grown to more than six feet in height by the summer of 2003.

Two years later in 2003, a historic Landscape Architect Thomas A. Brown was commissioned to research the early landscape of the Presidio and develop a landscape plan. Historic landscapes are consciously designed often by a landscape architect to design principles which include interconnected elements of unity, scale, balance, simplicity, variety, emphasis, and sequence as they apply to line, form, texture, and color. The Presidio Heritage Garden has been planted with heritage plants including citrus trees and is maintained by volunteers.

The Old Mission Huerta Project – Mission Santa Barbara

In 2003 the Old Mission Huerta Project was also established at Old Mission Santa Barbara. Michael Hardwick, author of Changes in the Landscape: The Beginnings of Horticulture in California Missions had identified the plants introduced by the Padres. The Old Mission Huerta Project is a living repository of mission-era plant stock and other mission-era plantings. Archival and archaeological research focusing on excavations have identified peaches, apricots, olives, beans, corn and watermelon as species planted by the soldiers and padres. Mike Imwalle joined the Old Mission Huerta Project in 2005.

First Vintage of Mission Grape Wine – Presidio Heritage Red

Gabe Smith, a Presidio Heritage Garden weekend volunteer, worked at the Oreana Winery full-time and suggested that he would like to make wine with the grapes in the spring of 2013. In September Gabe took samples of the grapes to determine their sugar and PH levels. The small sample was crushed by hand at the Oreana Winery. In October Gabe set the date for Mike Imwalle to harvest the grapes. On October 16th, Mike picked more than 600 pounds of California Mission Grapes that were growing on three vines within the park. He drove the harvest to Oreana Winery. Danny Miles, the winemaker, and Gabe Smith were assisted by staff members from the Presidio to crush the grapes gently with clean feet. 30 gallons of pulp were placed in a plastic bin to ferment for two months before being transferred to large glass jugs in the “wine cave”, also known as the basement of the Alhecama Theatre on the Presidio site.

On February 20, 2014, Gabe used his wine thief to taste the wine and determined that it smelled fruity but was dominated by alcohol and tannin flavors. Gabe added oak chip tea bags and sulfate. The wine was bottled a few months later.

The Wine History Project proudly announces that we have a bottle of this 2014 Mission Grape wine in our wine collection. The Mission Grape Vines to be planted as heritage vines in San Luis Obispo County originated with cuttings donated to us by Len Hoskins, sourced from the original cutting, “Vinny”, gifted to him by Mike Imwalle. The Mission Vines were propagated for the Wine History Project by the Wonderful Nurseries, who specialize in grapevine and tree sales. We are most appreciative of all the efforts by these individuals, businesses and institutions to collaborate with the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County to establish three Mission Grape Heritage Vineyards in San Luis Obispo County.