Rancho Period


Hartnell, the inspector of the missions for the Mexican government, determines that Mission San Luis Obispo has the second largest Mission grape vineyard in Alta California, Mission San Gabriel is the largest.


Don Guillermo (William Goodwin) Dana and his family complete their two story adobe home with 13 rooms on Rancho Nipomo. He raises cattle, farms grains and orchards, develops soap-making and furniture manufacture. As a former sea captain, he is a proficient trader. His rancho becomes the center of trade and hospitality on the Central Coast. 

Notes: The Dana Adobe and Cultural Center is now open to the public focusing on nature education, local agricultural and cultural history. The Wine History Project has partnered with the Dana Adobe to plant a heritage Mission Grape Vineyard and develop educational panels on early agriculture at the site.


Don Miguel Avila owns Rancho San Miguelito located in the bluffs above the San Luis Obispo Bay. Port San Luis serves as the major harbor for shipping and receiving supplies. He builds an adobe house, raises cattle, horses, sheep, and farms corn, wheat and vegetables. He establishes a dairy around 1842. This rancho is now known as the town of Avila.

Nursery men in New England develop an interest in Zinfandel grapes as table grapes and wine grapes


James L.L. Warren, owner of a commercial nursery in the Boston area of New England, promotes “Zonfandel” in this 1844 nursery catalog, stating that the flavor is superior to to other grape varieties.


The former Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa and the one acre ranch property are purchased for $510 by John Wilson, James Scott and James McKinley. The mission became a parish church in the 1850s. A major restoration of the mission is completed in the 1930s.


The San Luis Obispo area comes under the control of the United States in 1846; it has been a farming center since the San Luis Obispo Mission was established in 1772.


Horticulturalist and author of a treatise on viticulture, John Fisk Allen describes grape varieties that he has worked with and describes Zinfandel extensively. He states the Zinfandel grape was grown first in the Boston area by Samuel Perkins, who obtained cuttings from George Gibbs of Long Island whose stock is believed to have been brought to the United States from the Imperial Botanic Collection at Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna.


After conferring with fellow members of the Boston Horticultural Society, James L.L. Warren travels to San Francisco to research the California climate and soils. He laments that the Mission grape does not produce a dry red wine and notes that Boston nurserymen have Zinfandel vines to sell.

Sea captain and horticulturalist Frederick W. Macondray moves from Massachusetts to San Francisco to import nursery stock, including Zinfandel grape vines, from Boston and market plants to the “forty-niners”. California founded September 9, 1850


San Luis Obispo County is established as one of 27 counties when California became a state. The census lists 336 residents, comprised of  former Californios of Spanish and Mexican descent, plus a few Americans and Europeans in the area of San Luis Obispo located around the former mission. Twenty-nine ranchos have been established by 1850. Spanish is the primary language. Native Americans, primarily members of the Chumash and Salinan tribes, are not included in the census.

San Luis Obispo is named the County Seat;  local officials rent three rooms from John Wilson, owner of the mission buildings to use as offices, a courtroom and a jail. Only one road passes through the town past the County Seat, later known as Monterey Street.

Rancho owners established their homes in the town of San Luis Obispo, primarily of adobe brick, to conduct business and socialize during the 1840s. By 1850 owners and their families begin moving to their ranchos to protect their property from squatters and the increasing lawlessness and violence in the town.

Rancho San Simeon is owned by sea captain Thomas A. Park who purchased it from the original grantee, Don José Ramon Estrada. Neither owner ever lived on the property. The rancho was originally part of the grazing lands of Mission San Miguel Arcángel and includes the San Simeon Bay. John Wilson has developed a landing in this bay for ships to bring goods for trading. This location had been in use since the late 1770s, supporting vigorous trade between the missions and sea captains. An ox cart road has been built to San Simeon Bay to connect the ranchos in the area with both San Luis Obispo and San Simeon Bay. It is now a California State Park thanks to the Hearst family’s donation of land after the death of William Randolph Hearst.

Rancho Santa Margarita is owned by Don Joaquin Estrada where he lives and raises horses. The ruins of Santa Margarita de Cortona, an agricultural outpost of Mission San Luis Obispo founded by Junipero Serra in 1775, as well as the family home and outbuildings of the Estrada family are preserved by the present owner Rob Rossi. A Mission grape vineyard was planted adjacent to the Asistencia before 1850 and additional Mission grape vines will be planted around 1863 on the trellis leading to the house.

Phylloxera is reported in Europe. British botanists gathering cuttings from American vineyards are thought to have brought the insect to Europe. Phylloxera will spread across Europe decimating the vineyards. French vineyardists living in California, including Pierre Dallidet of San Luis Obispo, will preserve many French grape varieties by planting them in healthy vineyards in San Luis Obispo County and returning them to France in the last three decades of the 19th Century.


Sea Captain Macondray’s ship logs show the arrival of a large shipment of vinifera grapevines, including Zinfandel. It is marketed as a table grape.

Bernard S. Fox founds the San Jose Valley Nursery which became the largest nursery in Northern California.


Frenchman Pierre Hypolite Dallidet arrives in San Luis Obispo following his military service in Tahiti during the Franco-Tahitian War, a failed attempt to strike it rich in the California gold fields, abandoning his plans to walk to Mexico to join a French settlement.


James L.L. Warren established the California State Agricultural Society and started promoting the agricultural fairs (competitions) held in each county and at the state level. Sea Captain Macondray became the society’s first President.


San Luis Obispo is incorporated.


James H. Blackburn, Daniel Drew Blackburn, and Lazard Godehaux purchase Rancho Paso de Robles from Petronilo Ríos.


The California State Legislature passes a law to exclude vineyards from taxation to stimulate viticulture.

Viticulture and Winemaking in San Luis Obispo County


Pierre Hypolite Dallidet (1823 – 1909) built his home of adobe during the late 1850s, elevated above ground level, in San Luis Obispo to accommodate the building of the first wine cellar in the French style. (French are the first culture to purposefully build underground storage cellars discovering the benefit to preserving the wine underground). It is used for wine storage and for building barrels for their wine. He plants his vineyard on his property and becomes the first licensed commercial winemaker in San Luis Obispo County. He will plant over 100 grape varieties in the next three decades, sell cuttings and mentor local growers and winemakers. He will realize there is more profit in making brandy and becomes the first licensed distiller on May 5, 1891.

Zinfandel is promoted as a fine claret wine grape.


The United States government establishes the Department of Agriculture on May 15.

The Homestead Act, a law by which an applicant can acquire ownership of government land, is passed by Congress on May 20, during the Civil War.  This land is called a homestead. The Act accelerated the settlement and economic development of western territories by providing adult citizens of the United States the opportunity to file an application for a claim of 160 acres of surveyed government land. Each claimant is required to live on the land and work to improve it for five years before the final title of ownership is transferred to the new owner for a small registration fee. This Act enabled many families to settle in San Luis Obispo County. Many became farmers and vintners including Jacob Grandstaff and Henry Ditmas.

 San Luis Obispo Board of Supervisors established the township of Arroyo Grande.


Severe drought in California decimates the cattle ranching industry. Many rancho owners sell all or part of their lands to pay their taxes and debts.


The Southern Pacific Railroad is established as a land holding company.

The Dairy Industry is established. When the rains resume, cattle ranching is replaced by high quality dairy cattle. Thousands of Portuguese and Italian Swiss migrate to the coastal counties of California which closely resembled areas like the Azores and the Canton Ticino along the southern border of Switzerland.

Names of dairymen,Tomasini, Biaggini, Bassi, Fiscalini, Filipponi, Muscio, Maggoria, Storni and Tognazini  appear along the north coast. These families purchase grapes and wine from local growers and winemakers for the next 100 years.


The first Post Office is established in the place known as Hot Springs. In late 1867, the name was changed to El Paso de Robles.

First big year for Zinfandel. Report from the California Agricultural Commission praised Zinfandel for making a fine wine, resembling the finest brands of claret imported.


The newspaper Alta California reports a stampede of growers in seach of Zinfandel cuttings.


 Drury James arrives and purchases an interest in the town site of El Paso de Robles and begins to develop the area around the little hotel with the Blackburn brothers; they plan and build a new grand hotel.

 San Luis Obispo, after nearly a century of existence as a place of civilization and more than 20 years of American occupation, established a newspaper. Local growers and winemakers publish articles providing advice and technical assistance as well as praising local vineyards and wines.

On February 15 San Luis Obispo’s first newspaper, Pioneer publishes an article titled Winemaking on a Small Scale.”  Local winemakers eagerly learn about pressing grapes and the fermentation process. The article had been first published two years earlier in The American Agriculturalist in Volume 25, No. 1.

Pierre Hypolite Dallidet’s first bottling in his winery was in the fall according to the San Luis Obispo newspaper, the Daily Republic.


The Transcontinental is completed. A new wave of immigrants from Germany arrive, bringing their own wines and winemaking traditions in San Luis Obispo County.

The wharf is built at San Luis Bay (Avila) which increases trade and travel.

Cross-country railroad completed linking San Francisco and gold fields to cities in the Eastern United States. San Luis Obispo remains geographically isolated, relying on coastal shipping vessels for transportation.

The Wine Industry Thrives in the 1870s


Walter Murray, the first editor of the Tribune, describes San Luis Obispo County:

“Its population, according to the returns made by the Surveyor General, is 6,440. Its voting population, according to the Great Register, is nearly 1,500. It is divided by a range of mountains into two sections: one next to the coast, being suitable for agriculture and dairy purposes; the other the trans-montaine portion, being for the most part only adapted to the pastures of cattle and sheep. Its width is equal to its length. It is divided into about 15 school districts, all save two being on the coast side of range of mountains referred to, and in each of which is a school maintained. Its total value of assessed real and personal property in 1869 was over one and a half million dollars. This year it will probably reach two million”. 1870

San Luis Obispo County has two towns – San Luis Obispo and Cambria. Editor Walter Murray describes them as follows:

Town of San Luis Obispo: “which boasts a population of over one thousand souls by actual count six months ago. It has two churches, one Roman Catholic which is the prevailing religion and the other Methodist, the latter being an innovation. It has one public school, graded into departments and no private ones. A Catholic school, private under the auspices of the Church, is threatened.”

The other town he describes is Cambria.

“Situated 33 miles up the coast, near the Port of San Simeon. Unlike San Luis Obispo, which is peopled from every nationality on the earth’s surface, this town and its vicinity are inhabited mostly by Americans. It has three stores, a masonic Lodge, A Lodge of the Knights Templars, a good hotel, one or more restaurants, two black smith shops, several saloons, one large hall, the largest in the county, for public meetings and balls, and a number of minor establishments.”

Hot Springs in San Luis Obispo County. Editor Walter Murray describes the Hot Springs as follows:the place which nearest approaches to the dignity of a town or village is Hot Springs, situated on the stage road, 34 miles north of the town of San Luis Obispo, where there is an establishment for the accommodation of invalids, who come to taste the sulfur water and be cared for. Note that at that time the city of Paso Robles did not exist and was known as the Springs or Hot Springs.

 In France, grape phylloxera, an insect pest found in grapevines worldwide, has decimated French vineyards. The Franco-Prussian War in the French regions of Champagne and Burgundy destroys the vineyards and results in an acute shortage of wine in Europe and the United States. Phylloxera reduced French wine production by 35 percent between 1870 and 1885.

The Adelaida District, located west of Paso Robles on Adelaida Road is a busy hub of activity, with 600 to 700 residents. Cattle and farming are principal occupations. Most residents plant small vineyards and vegetable gardens to support their families. Many also add dairy operations. 

An article published in the October 15, 1870 Democratic Standard titled: “Our County –Its Climate and Resources” lists four different grape growers in the San Luis Obispo county.

  • In Arroyo Grande, Mr. D.F. Newsom of the White Sulphur Springs was growing Muscat of Alexandria.
  • J.P. Andrews had a vineyard  that had “Old Mission Varieties” alongside several of the choicest foreign kinds. 
  • W. T. Sheid farmed land on the Estrella plain,  growing Black Prince and Muscat of Alexandria, among others not specifically named.
  • At Rancho of San Ysabel, the Messrs. Dore were resuscitating and improving an old Mission Vineyard.


The article Profits of Grape Growing published in the January 28, 1871 issue of the Democratic Standard gives accounts of two specific grape growers:

  • Mr. Shaw saw a good profit being made through his Muscat of Alexandria vines.
  • The Meister Brothers had a great variety of grapes that lead to very high profits: Muscat of Alexandria, Black Hamburg, Black Malvoise, Golden Chasselas and White Tokay.

The Tribune announces a Column for Farmers.” Over the next year, eight articles relating wine history and grape growing were printed in this column.


Isaac and Nathan Goldtree emigrate from Germany. They are listed as Rhineland Vintners; they were involved in many business ventures and plant a large vineyard in the city of San Luis Obispo. (It was located on the land where the Sinsheimer School is located today.)


 Early county tax records show over 40 acres of grapevines had been planted.

Panic of 1873 triggers America’s first great industrial depression; the wine industry suffers a collapse.


Jacob Grandstaff, a blacksmith from Texas, submits an application to homestead land on York Mountain. His homestead is granted by President Grant. He plants a vegetable garden, an orchard and small Mission Grape vineyard. He builds a fruit stand and sells his produce to people traveling between the seacoast and inland plains.


George W. Hampton, according to the Tribune on June 17, plants 1,000 vines on two acres of his farm with nine varieties: Muscat of Alexandria, Chasselas Fountainbleau, Fisher Zagos, Black Malvoisia, Black Morocco, Rose of Peru, Flame Tokay, Early Victoria and Black Hamburg.

San Luis Obispo becomes a charter city.

The new county road, Stage Coach Road, is authorized to be built along the edge of  the Cuesta Pass. The road led north from San Luis Obispo to Paso Robles, San Miguel and the Southern Pacific Railhead at Soledad. Side roads led north and east to Pozo, La Panza, Carrisa and Cholame in San Luis Obispo County.

Stage Coach is the first road connecting the city of San Luis Obispo to Santa Margarita and points north. This road connected north county communities to San Luis Obispo and Port Harford. Agricultural products raised throughout the county were shipped directly from Port Harford to markets in Los Angeles and San Francisco.


The founders and builders of the Eight Mile House, a two-story hotel located on Stage Coach Road, brothers Reuben M. Bean and Edwin P. Bean, are pioneers involved in the hotel and hospitality business, early horticulture, commerce and politics. They plant a vineyard  and build an arbor of 100 feet in length supporting additional grapevines. Stage Coach Road is the only road between North County and San Luis Obispo to transport goods through the Cuesta Grade before the railroad was built.


Englishman Henry Ditmas emigrated to the Central Coast with his cousin to start a sheep herding business in 1871. He filed a government claim seven years later to homestead government land adjoining Ranchita Arroyo Grande in the Upper Arroyo Grande Valley. He named his 560 acre property, Rancho Sausalito, for the willow trees growing on the borders of his land. He cleared the land and planted Zinfandel and Muscat grapevines, believed to be imported from France and Spain in 1879. 

Henry’s grapes were praised for their quality and were sold to winemakers, particularly his neighbor A. B. Hasbrouck who founded the Remy Winery in the Upper Arroyo Grande Valley. Saucelito Vineyard is still producing old Zinfandel grapes. It is the oldest documented vineyard in existence in San Luis Obispo County.


Henry Ditmas clears his land and plants Zinfandel and Muscat grapevines. Horticulturalist David R. Newsome gives Henry more grape varieties that are suitable for the warmer climate of Rancho Saucelito.

Australian James Robert Anderson (1852 – 1921) purchased a farm at the base of York Mountain from Mr. Dunn and planted the first vineyard on the property with Zinfandel, a popular red variety and Burger, a French white variety. He built a winery (the first documented to date on York Mountain) and purchased a 16,000 gallon redwood storage tank.


The economy is booming. More than 150 vineyards are planted in San Luis Obispo County. Many of the landowners had made their fortunes elsewhere but were attracted to San Luis Obispo County by its thriving agriculture. Vines of full bearing age average 30 pounds per vine. 

Viticulturalists include: Mr. R.N. Short near Temblor Ranch, Mr. Gillis near Adelaide growing Mission and Muscat, W.S. Hinkle three miles from downtown SLO planted MIssion grapes in 1860 which  yield of three to five tons annually from ten vines on his arbor, Mr. Dolores Herrera, near Pozo, Mr. E. W. Howe near Morro Bay whose vines yield up to 30 pounds per vine, Mr. F. Guillemin who sets out his vines in the tradition of his native France and makes wines  equal to the famous Petit Vin de Jurat of France, Mr. A.B. Hasbrouck has some 20 acres of vines at the Ranchita, Mr. H. Ditmas has boxes of raisins that are equal in size, color and taste to the finest grown in San Bernardino. Mr. Dallidet’s made 6,300 gallons of wine from his harvest on eight acres. More recently the Honorable Frank McCoppin, Dr. W.W. Hayes, E.W. and the Honorable George Steele, J.P. Andrews, the Goldtree Brothers, W.H. Taylor and E.A. Atwood all have fine young vineyards and orchards. There are many people in the county who have one acre or less of vines. All but 2 of the 150 farmers dry farm. Mr Guillemin irrigates.


Andrew and Huldah York purchase a property of 112 acres in the Ascension District in the Santa Lucia Mountains. This area is now known as York Mountain. The family purchased the property, expanded the small Mission grape vineyard to 40 acres of dry farmed Zinfandel and White Burger.


Bostonian Abram B. Hasbrouck buys the 4,437 acre Rancho Arroyo Grande and established the St. Remy Ranch on the property. Hasbrouck plants 30 acres of vines and builds the St. Remy Winery, the first in the upper Arroyo Grande Valley. He produces wines with grapes from the vines of both St. Remy and Rancho Saucelito vineyards.

First signs of “Anaheim Blight” are noted in the German Colony’s Mission Grape Vineyards; it is later identified as Pierce Disease.

Gerd Klintworth and his wife emigrated to Los Angeles County and settle in the German colony in Anaheim.


As documented on an April 20, 1884 map, Abram Hasbrouck lists what he planted and where in his St. Remy Vineyard. Champagne, Muscat of Alexandria, Malaga, Black Hamburg, Rose of Peru, Malvoisie and Lenoir grapes all had delegated spaces. In 1889 notes on Hasbrouck’s map show that Zinfandel, Charboneaux, and Malaga grapes were added to vineyards.


John Ernst plants first vineyard in the Geneseo area. His twin brother Will and younger brother Martin plant vineyards. The three brothers found their own winery and become well known for producing quality wines. John is credited with naming the area Geneseo in honor of his home in Geneseo, Illinois, where he and his family settled when they emigrated from Germany.


The economic impact of the “Anaheim Blight” exceeds 10 million dollars.

Gerd Klintworth buys 80 acres with a partner 11 miles east of Paso Robles in the Geneseo Area, an area settled by German Lutherans from the midwest in the 1880s. The name Geneseo roughly translates to shining or beautiful valley in the Iroquois language.  He buys his partner’s interest and builds a home on the property. He plants a 40 acre vineyard the following year with varieties Zinfandel, Burger and Muscatel.


Templeton is founded in 1886. 160 acres are  surveyed by R.R. Harris for the West Coast Land Company to be laid out in parcels ranging from 5 to 12 acres for business and residential sites. Templeton became the last stop for passengers traveling south on the Southern Pacific Railroad from northern California. Stagecoaches ran between Templeton and San Luis Obispo, through the Cuesta Grade. Construction continues on the railroad tracks for one more year to the next stop, Santa Margarita.


Santa Margarita is established as a town near Cuesta Peak on the original land grant Rancho Santa Margarita, owned by Joaquin Estrada who sold the Ranch to the Martin Murphy family in 1860. Patrick Murphy restored the Rancho to a working agricultural ranch. The Southern Pacific Railroad reached Santa Margarita on April 20.

El Paso de Robles (Pass of the Oaks)  is established on the Salinas River approximately 30 miles north of San Luis Obispo.

The University of California Agricultural Experiment is founded with funding from the California legislature to determine which dry-farmed crops would thrive in areas farmed around the state. Madison – Please link to the article on University of California –  Experiments with Deciduous Fruits in the Geneseo Settlement, Paso Robles.


Gerd Klintworth applies and is granted license to produce and sell wine. His first four varietals are Zinfandel, Claret, Burger and Muscatel. The wines are sold in bottles and in jugs.


Wine Industry starts to decline in California. Phylloxera wipes out some of the finest California vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Santa Clara and Livermore. It does not strike in San Luis Obispo.


Frenchman Adolph Siot arrives in Templeton and purchases 140 acres from the West Coast Land Company. He is the first to plant a Zinfandel vineyard and the first to build a commercial winery. According to historian Louisiana Clayton Dart in an article which appears in Discovering San Luis Obispo County, he ran a simple operation with three casks. Siot becomes a mentor to Joe Rotta and many early Italian immigrants in the early 1900s.

Pierre Hypolite Dallidet is licensed to distill brandy from peaches, apples and grapes. He is the first licensed distillery in San Luis Obispo County.


Viticulturists and winemakers blame Zinfandel for the decline in the wine industry.


Panic of 1893 and the collapse of the national economy. The economic depression becomes a national disaster. The bottom falls out of the wine market causing many growers and winemakers to declare bankruptcy in California. The Wine History Project has not yet documented any bankruptcy in California. Farmers in San Luis Obispo County tended to be smaller and farm a diversity of crops. According to the Economic History Association, “The National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that the economic contraction began in January 1893 and continued to June 1894. The economy then grew until December 1895, but was hit by a second recession that lasted until June 1897.


The Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in San Luis Obispo in 1894. Gold had recently been discovered in the county and both events brought prosperity to the county.


Andrew York and his family build a winery over a stone cellar with handmade bricks made from soil on the property by the York family. He purchases winemaking equipment from his brother, Eli York of Napa California, who lost his vineyard to phylloxera. Andrew York is producing 1500 gallons of wine annually by the end of the century.


William and John Ernst provide valuable research and data on each farmer who planted and dry-farmed crops in the area ranging from Geneseo to Creston to the University of California Agricultural Experiment. The period covered is 1889 to 1899 and describes the soil, grape variety, rainfall and climate of each farm. The grape varieties  were sourced from the UC Agricultural Experiment Substation which included vineyards, orchards and gardens. William Ernst is producing 1500 gallons of wine, John is producing 1500 gallons and Martin is producing 700 gallons by the end of the century. Their wines were sold outside the county and in European markets.