Recently, I spent some time rereading the book which Libbie Agran and Heather Muran wrote for the Wine History Project of San Luis Obispo County entitled, San Luis Obispo County Wine: A World-Class History published by American Palate, A Division of the History Press, Charleston, South Carolina in 2021. After reading through the first six chapters, I took a break thinking through the facts of what I had just read. There were many vineyards mentioned which had been planted in San Luis Obispo County decades earlier. Pierre Dallidet planted his first vineyard in what is now downtown San Luis Obispo in the 1850s. This is the earliest San Luis Obispo County vineyard which the Wine History Project has documented through local and state records. 

As a person who studied historic preservation, I am always inquisitive about any object, building, monument, archaeological site, or place that is over fifty years old as it may have importance in exploring and/or documenting our culture. The historian’s research on a cultural landscape focuses on what makes this place important in our cultural history and whether it continues to add significance to our culture. 

A Sense of Place – Is a Vineyard a historic cultural landscape?

The National Park Service (NPS) identifies four cultural landscape types: historic designed, historic vernacular, historic agricultural, and ethnographic. Shouldn’t vineyards also be identified nationally as historic agricultural cultural landscapes? There are wineries of historical significance listed and accounted for nationally within the records of important historic organizations and registers, but what about the vineyards where grapes are grown? Doesn’t their longevity make them important to the history of the culture of the winemaking industry in the United States?  California is leading the way in defining historic vineyards. Hopefully the NPS will follow California’s lead.

In a future article, I will share some of the methods of preservation utilized by the United States in recognizing a historic “sense of place.” But first, I will reveal how a remarkable organization in California is documenting historic vineyards of over fifty years of age. 

Historic Vineyards Define the “Sense of Place” for Viticulture

There are varying reasons to recognize the location of a vineyard:

  • Historical importance
  • Terroir
  • Grape varieties grown
  • Cultural Significance
  • Archaeological significance

The historic qualifications include age, integrity and significance.

Age: should be at least 50 years old

Integrity: it should look much the way it originally did

Significance: it is associated with events, activities, or developments that were important in the past

Vineyards are significant historically and culturally in San Luis Obispo County, creating a strong “sense of place” and identity.

Current Preservation Efforts and Recognition of Historic Vineyards in California

The Historic Vineyard Society (HVS) was established in 2011 as a non-profit 501 ( c ) (3) organization to identify and protect historic vineyards in California. It was established by growers and vintners who came together to celebrate the old dry-farmed vines in California, led by Tegan Passalacqua, director of winemaking at Turley Cellars. Some of these vineyards date back to the 1870s.

Mike Dildine, the secretary of HVS summarizes the philosophy of the organization: “HVS believes that living historic vineyards are deserving of special recognition and treatment due to their unique beauty, the information they provide as to past agricultural and social practices, their growing commercial significance and the fact that they provide an important living repository for wine grape bud wood and genetic material.”

The Mission of HVS is accomplished through Education on the Nature of these Historic and Treasured Vineyards. 

The objective of HVS is to compile a comprehensive, fact-based directory of California’s historic vineyards. Three criteria must be met:

  1. The vineyard must be currently active and growing grapes.
  2. The original planting date of the vineyard must be at least 50 years ago.
  3. At least one-third of the existing grape vines can be traced back to the original planting date.

As of October 2022, there are 162 registered vineyards and one unregistered vineyard recognized by the organization. Please visit the website below for a complete list. You may wish to submit information on your vineyard.

Historic Vineyard Society
P.O. Box #1592
Sonoma, California 95476

Preservation Recognition of the Vineyards of San Luis Obispo County, California

The National Park Service (NPS) states that cultural landscapes include neighborhoods, parks and open spaces, sacred places, farms, and ranches, etc. All cultural landscapes include tangible and intangible characteristics, including natural systems, features and spatial organization.

Should the National Park Service (NPS) identify historic vineyards as cultural landscapes?  There has been no mention of vineyards in their documentation but that doesn’t mean that the designated committee would not be open to considering vineyards as cultural landscapes worth documenting and listing in the National Register. We should be advocating for vineyards.

American culture celebrates different types of agriculture, land forms, rivers, types of transportation, just to name a few cultural landscapes. Each impacts land-use patterns and creates a unique sense of place for a society. When I think about it this way, vineyards which have been planted and utilized in this county for decades helped to create cultural landscapes important to the history of our county. Hopefully, the six vineyards below will be designated as cultural landscapes by the National Park Service in the future.

We are Celebrating Six Historic Vineyards in San Luis Obispo County

These six San Luis Obispo County vineyards are listed amongst the Historic Vineyard Society (HVS) database of important historic California state vineyards: 



HMR Vineyard

HMR Vineyard

Benito Dusi Vineyard

Benito Dusi Vineyard

Saucelito Canyon

Saucelito Canyon

Dante Dusi Ranch

Dante Dusi Ranch

Pesenti Vineyard

Pesenti Vineyard

  Saint Marie Vineyard - Richard Sauret

  Saint Marie Vineyard – Richard Sauret

Vineyard Known as: Location Date Planted By Whom
Benito Dusi Paso Robles 1920s Sylvester and Caterina Dusi
Dante Dusi Ranch Paso Robles 1940s Sylvester and Caterina Dusi, Guido and Dante Dusi
HMR (Hoffman Mountain Ranch) Paso Robles 1960s Dr. Stanley Hoffman and John Whitener
Pesenti Paso Robles 1920s Frank and Caterina Pesenti
Saint Marie Vineyard Paso Robles 1960s Richard Sauret
Saucelito Canyon San Luis Obispo 1880s Henry Ditmas

Historic Vineyard Society (HVS) Supports Cal Poly Viticulture & Enology Old Vine Research

Cal Poly Wine & Viticulture Department led a research team in 2019 assessing samples of young vines, old vines, and a control group through the growing season. They studied both chemical and sensory analyses of the wine they made from the three groups of vines.  The theses for this study can be found here 

In 2020 they received a grant from the Agricultural Research Institute which required a cash match and paid the salary of a grad student along with funding laboratory analysis for this research. It provides important data needed for the project.

HVS matched the first 50% of the in-cash requirement and also was able to help in raising funds for the second half of the cash match for a total of $6,305 for the Cal Poly research team in order to release the grant funds for this project.

Timeline of Grapes, Winemaking, and Vineyards – Fun Facts

Who created the first vineyard?
The Book of Genesis in the Bible tells the story that as soon as the great flood waters receded around 2350 B.C. Noah, his family and the animals, two by two, disembarked. Nearby, Noah found a plot of land, and began to plant a vineyard.

What is the oldest grape-producing vine alive in the world today?
The oldest known grape-producing vine is a Žametovka. The red grape variety originates from Slovenia, which was part of the old Austria/Habsburg monarchy. The late ripening vine is sensitive to frost and yields red wines with high acidity. 

A vine growing in Maribor in Slovenia, which is known to have been alive in the 17th century according to ampelographic work from 1820 produces only about 35 to 55 kilograms (77 to 121 lbs) of grapes each year. The vine is in a vineyard of 822 hectares, equivalent to 2,031 acres (or 3.17 square miles). The grapes are crushed and fermented. The wine is stored in 100 miniature bottles hand crafted by a glass artist.

wine grape

When was the first vineyard planted in Alta California?
The first vineyard planted in Alta California was at Mission San Juan Capistrano with Mission grapes.

What is the oldest vineyard in the United States?
Nestled in the lush green hills of Marlboro you will find Benmarl Winery. Overlooking the historic Hudson River Valley, its 37-acre estate lays claim to the oldest vineyard in America. This winery also holds New York Farm Winery license no.1.

What are the oldest vines in California?
The oldest living vine in California is in Southern California. The Vina Madre (mother vine), was planted at the San Gabriel Mission in the 18th century.