In 1882 Andrew York purchased land in the Santa Lucia Mountains, northeast of Cayucos and established the vineyards that would become Ascension Winery in 1895, one of the first wineries on the California Coast. He soon renamed it York Winery, and the York family occupied this land, grew grapes, and made Zinfandel wine for three generations. It is the longest running family-owned winery in the history of San Luis Obispo County. York Winery was sold to Max and Barbara Goldman in 1970 and is now restored and owned by EPOCH Estate Wines.
Andrew Jackson York: 1830s to 1850s
Andrew Jackson York was born on March 3, 1833, in the Richland Township near Bloomington, Indiana to Pleasant York (1805-1868) and Rachel McPheatridge. He was the fifth of the ten York children which included: William Delano York, John Nelson York, James Milton York, Eli McLean York, Andrew Jackson York, Daniel O.York, Mary Katherine York, Pleasant Howard York, Matthew D. York, and Parris Cadet York.
Family lineage can be traced back to England, but they grew up with Midwest values and a love of the land. The York family grew wheat, corn, alfalfa, and potatoes. They also raised cattle and bees for making honey according to Lisa Oliva, a descendant living in the Sacramento area.
In 1852 the family moved to Osage Township in LaSalle County, Illinois. Andrew’s father, Pleasant, farmed and raised cattle. He later found coal on his land and founded the Streator Coal Mining Company.
Andrew first traveled to California with his brother, Eli in 1854 when Andrew was 21 years old. The two York brothers had a series of adventures on their trip to Nevada and California. They traveled in a wagon train with a team of oxen, helping to drive over 700 cattle, 50 horses and mules.
They worked in the mines of Nevada but found no riches; they decided to try farming in California. They moved to Napa where Eli settled permanently. Eli founded a nursery in Napa but no plant lists or descriptions of the business survive.
Eli McLean York: 1880 to 1900 – California
Andrew York’s brother Eli founded his own winery, York Winery, in 1880, on Lodi Lane in the northern end of St. Helena. An article in the St. Helena Star dated October 27, 1884, describes his grape harvest, “E.M. York has an immense crop of his own grapes – 230 to 300 tons – and was absent, getting more help to pick them, at the time of our visit. His young son informs us that some of his vineyards yielded as high as twenty tons per acre.” Eli grew Zinfandel and his vineyards flourished until around 1900 when the phylloxera epidemic destroyed the vines.
Eli replanted with prune trees. His grandchildren then used the upper floor of the winery as a skating rink and the lower floors as a stable. The winery was used once again to make wines as the California Wine Revolution began in the 1970s. Eli always had close ties with his brother Andrew and certainly consulted with him on selecting vines, purchasing equipment and making wine.
Andrew Jackson York: 1860 to 1872 – Midwest
In contrast to Eli, Andrew York was much more restless, moving around the United States and experimenting with a variety of farms. Andrew first farmed in Napa for two or three years and then married a local woman, Elizabeth (Louisa) Long, whose family had settled in California in the 1850s from Tennessee. He and Louisa moved to St. Joseph, Missouri, bought 120 acres, and established their farm. Elizabeth and James, their first two children, were born on the farm during those years.
Andrew decided to return solo to California in the spring of 1865 at the end of the Civil War. On his way, he stopped in Nebraska City, Nebraska. The American Indian Wars restricted his travels, so he began freighting between Julesburg and Fort Kearney for the U. S. Government.
In 1866 he sold his freighting outfit and decided to return to farming. He traveled to the Cherokee nation and received a claim for 160 acres in Baxter Springs, Kansas. He farmed the land for a few months without much success, decided to abandon the claim and return to his family.
Andrew then moved his family to Fannin County, Texas and farmed 60 acres of land for a year. Two more children were born. Daughter, Ida York in 1867 and son Thomas in 1869. The farming experiment did not work out for Andrew so he moved his wife and four children back to Granby, Missouri, purchased 200 acres and welcomed Walter York, his fifth child, born on May 15, 1871, in Granby, Newton County, Missouri.
Andrew Jackson York: 1873 to 1881 – California
Tragedy struck the family farm when a fire in their home took the life of Louisa York around 1873. There were five children to raise so Andrew decided to sell his farm and move to Napa, California, in 1873 to be closer to his brother. He stayed in Napa a short time before moving to San Luis Obispo. He arrived by boat with the children in Port San Luis and began looking for land to farm.
Andrew explored the area and leased a ranch for five years in the Pecho Canyon near Los Osos. During that time, he met Huldah Matthews who was divorced and living with her two children and her parents. She had married an itinerant preacher, that preached “hellfire and brimstone” but did not take any personal responsibility for his family.
Huldah’s great-granddaughter, Marguerite Abbey, has done extensive research on the family and published her memories. She describes Huldah as a very spunky lady who divorced her husband and joined her parents on an immigrant train to California to join her brother, Jake Matthews.
Huldah decided to marry Andrew, 15 years her senior, a decision that stabilized both of their lives and led to financial security for the following generations. Huldah Matthews and Andrew York were married in San Luis Obispo on September 21, 1876. Huldah had an extensive knowledge of plants and their medicinal qualities and became well-known for her home remedies. She also developed skills as a midwife in the York Mountain area and delivered babies until retirement at age 60.
Around the same time as Andrew and Huldah married, Elizabeth York, Andrew’s eldest daughter, married Al Hazard and moved to Hazard Canyon (in Montaña de Oro). She would later raise five children there.
In 1877, Andrew and Huldah purchased a ranch on Toro Creek near Cayucos. Their daughter Louisa (Lulu) was born there on November 10, 1879. Their son, Silas, was born on March 14, 1882. There were nine children in total, five from Andrew’s first marriage, Leota and Justus Priest from Hulda’s first marriage, and their own two children, Lulu and Silas York.
Andrew Jackson York: 1881 to 1900 – York Mountain
1882 was a significant year for Andrew and Huldah York. Andrew looked at a property of 112 acres which was for sale by owner, located in the Ascension District, now known as York Mountain, in the Santa Lucia Mountains, northeast of Cayucos. The property had a residence, a vegetable garden, fruit trees and a small vineyard planted with Mission grapes. Jacob Grandstaff had purchased the property in 1875, farmed the land and established a fruit and vegetable stand. Seven years later, Jacob decided to sell and move to Texas; Andrew decided to buy the property and move his family to a site which is one of the most historic and important in SLO County’s wine history.
The York family occupied this land, grew grapes and made Zinfandel wine for three generations, a total of 85 years. It is the longest running family-owned winery in the history of SLO County. It was sold to Max and Barbara Goldman in 1970 and is now restored and owned by EPOCH Estate Wines.
Andrew began to clear land and add trees to the orchard in 1882. He planted 40 acres of vineyards with the varietal that was soon to be known as the “Heritage Grape of California,” Zinfandel. According to historian Charles Sullivan, he also planted the varietal Burger Grapevine. Andrew’s method of farming was dry farming. The York Mountain region received large amounts of rainfall.
According to Silas York, the grandson of Andrew York, “by 1886 the vineyards were extensive, and the cuttings came from Napa.” We have no written proof but suspect that Andrew York obtained some of his Zinfandel cuttings from his brother. By this date, Eli York had established his own winery and vineyards in Napa. The brothers kept in close touch and collaborated all through their lives.
Andrew sold his grape crops directly to customers during the first few years but eventually had a surplus of grapes. He decided to build a winery and make his own wine with that surplus. He engaged three of the sons, James, Thomas, and stepson Justus Priest, to collect boulders on the property and build a wine cellar. He studied the books and articles that were in print at the time to learn the equipment and methods to make wine. We suspect that he also conferred with his brother who had already established his own winery in 1880.
He may have read the popular manual of the times, “The Wine Press and The Cellar” written by E. H. Rixford in 1883. This book was still a part of the York library in 1993. Vicki Dauth, local historian, remembers that it offered all kinds of viticulture advice like suggesting that egg white should be added to the wine for fining and that wines not be racked under a full moon or during a storm.
In 1895 the winery was built, over the stone cellar, both adjacent to and into a hill, so that the grapes could be crushed on the second floor of the winery. Using the flow of gravity, the juice traveled to the first floor to be stored in redwood tanks for fermenting. It was then placed in barrels and sold to the public.
According to Andrew’s grandson Silas York, “Andrew purchased fifteen 1,000-gallon tanks at $16.00 each, a hand crusher, and an old press for $75.00 from his brother, Mack (Eli) York who was a wine grower in St. Helena. Eli had no further use of the equipment because phylloxera had gotten into his vineyard and he had to pull up the vines and plant prunes.” Silas explained, “the fifteen tanks took up more room than anticipated and so the barrels had to be kept in a dugout under his residence nearby.” Silas describes, “the customers were mainly teamsters, who, having hauled their loads up one of the steep grades on either side of the mountain, had to pause to refresh their horses at the water trough placed there for their convenience.” The Swiss Italians and Portuguese from Cayucos and Cambria were loyal customers. Within a few years, the small winery was producing 1500 gallons of Zinfandel Wine.
Andrew built a two-story wood house across from the winery in 1898 as his family expanded. The home is still standing in the same location today in 2019.
By 1900 the winery was producing 30,000 to 35,000 gallons of wine. According to historian Charles Sullivan, Andrew York developed a good reputation for his table wine.
Walter York and Silas York
Originally named Ascension Winery, for the local school district, Andrew changed the name to A. York and Sons in 1896. His sons James, Thomas, and stepson Justus were involved in building, harvesting and winemaking, but it would become Walter and Silas who took over as the family winery’s second generation.
Andrew’s sons and daughters began to marry and move to their own homes. Most of them stayed in the York Mountain area except for Thomas and Ida. Thomas loved the life of adventure and moved to Alaska, joining the Gold Rush in the Yukon. Ida York Nelson settled in Healdsburg, California. Thomas sold his interest to Walter, and Walter continued to work with his father. In 1902 Silas, the youngest York, was admitted to the partnership, and the name changed to York and Sons Winery.
Walter York married Lillian (Lily) Petersen and built their home near York and Sons Winery. Walter and Lillian had five children: Miles, Wilfrid Spencer (Bill), Lillian, Roland, and Sidney. Walter’s son Wilfrid who would continue in the winemaking business and in the 1940s become the third-generation grower and winemaker.
By 1902 the winery was producing 40,000 of gallons per year. 20,000 gallons of wine were being shipped to the East Coast. The wine was sold locally, but some wine was shipped in horse-drawn wagons to the San Joaquin Valley and over the hill to the Central Coast. Wine was also shipped to San Francisco. It was transferred to large barrels, known as puncheons, each held 150 gallons, and hauled by wagon over winding and steep mountain roads to the Southern Pacific Railroad freight station at Templeton. Upon arriving at the railroad station, the puncheons were unloaded from the wagons and wine was hand-pumped into the railway cars. In later years, the wine was pumped into tank trucks and driven directly to the Southern Pacific Railroad freight station at Paso Robles where it was pumped into tank cars with electric pumps.
In 1906 as production increased, Andrew, Walter, and Silas decided to expand the winery. They purchased additional land, planted more vineyards. According to Vicki Dauth, small plantings of Grenache, Carignane, and Alicante Bouchet were added. Andrew hired a local brickmaker to teach the family how to build a kiln and mold the bricks from the clay soil found on the property. The bricks were manufactured in the homemade kiln on the site and used to expand the winery in the front and to the south. Some reports state that over 100,000 bricks were manufactured on site and used in the expansion. The wood for beams and the ceiling was salvaged from the old Cayucos pier and a bridge near Jack Creek and driven by wagon to York Mountain.
In 1907 the winery addition was completed with the help of several employees paid wages of $1.50 per day and a boss bricklayer at $4.00 per day. The total cost for the addition was about $3,000.00 according to grandson Sid York. He also described the purchase of additional tanks. The 7,000-gallon tanks cost between $120 and $175 each. The 5,000-gallon tanks sold for around $75 each. Andrew also purchased a gasoline engine and a new crusher which continued to be used until 1970.
There were 80 acres in production, and the grape harvest was successful in 1907; Andrew York called it the best season in 20 years.
York and Sons Winery signed the largest contract ever negotiated in San Luis Obispo County prior to 1910. A San Francisco firm purchased large quantities of Zinfandel wine and negotiated specific directions on how the wine had to be stored, aged and transferred from the winery to the trains to maintain the quality and stability of the wine. By 1911, the winery was producing over 100,000 gallons of wine. However, Andrew York began to have health issues, so Walter and Silas took control of the winery in 1911.
Silas York married Rachel Wilkins. Rachel, lived in Napa and had often brought Eli York, now in his late 70s, to visit his brother Andrew at York Mountain. Silas and Rachel fell in love and married just as Andrew and Huldah were experiencing poor health. They moved to York Mountain area to help care for Silas’ parents. Silas and Rachel had two children, a daughter Mildred and a son Howard who would also work for a few years as the third generation in the winery with his cousin Wilfrid before pursuing a career in engineering.
Andrew York died on December 1, 1913. The winery officially passed to the second generation of York winemakers Walter York and Silas York who purchased their interest from their father’s estate and changed the name from York Winery to York Brothers. At the time, the York Brothers Winery was the largest in the county.
During their years together, three major events occurred: World War I, Prohibition, and the Depression. During World War I, local agriculture shifted from fresh produce to growing beans and other crops that could be dried and shipped to the population and later, the troops in Europe. By 1910 San Luis Obispo County was listed as one of the six leading counties in California for its bean production according to the California Statistical Report of 1910.
The Eighteenth Amendment, which established the era we now know as Prohibition, was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. This law was passed by the United States Congress and ratified by the states; it was in effect from 1920 to 1933. It was not illegal to drink, however. In fact, any wine, beer, or spirits in the possession of an American in 1920 could be enjoyed and consumed at home. Prohibition history varies state by state in America. The Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act stipulated that individual states should enforce Prohibition according to their own laws. Although some states did not enforce the laws, local law enforcement in San Luis Obispo County was vigilant, harsh and terrifying. People were arrested, jailed and paid large fines for making and selling wine. The York family members were not among this group. They were able to keep their vineyards producing all through the era from 1920 to 1933.
The California State Board of Agriculture issued a Statistical Report in 1910, stating that the number of bearing grapevines was 265,281. By 1920, the number listed was 148,842, a sharp decline possibly due to the incoming passage of the Volstead Act and Prohibition.
A celebrity arrived in Paso Robles in 1913 which was propitious for the York Brothers Winery. He was a world-famous pianist and Polish patriot from Switzerland, Paderewski, who experienced great pain in his hands during a California concert tour. The tour was cancelled, and Ignace Paderewski advised to “take the healing waters in Paso Robles” as a cure. He resided at the famous Paso Robles Inn and in 1914 purchased a 2,000-acre ranch in the Adelaida district, west of town. He planted fruit trees and nut trees. At the end of World War I, Paderewski was instrumental in Poland being reestablished as a free country with the help of Woodrow Wilson; Ignace served as Poland’s first Prime Minister after the Great War. He returned to the United States and to the Paso Robles Inn in 1922.
Paderewski was aware the price of grapes was rising and decided to consult with two professors from UC Davis, F. T. Bioletti and Horatio Stoll, on the varietals to plant on his ranch. In 1923, his ranch manager, J. Gnierciah, cleared 200 acres and planted Zinfandel vines purchased from a nursery in Riverside with small amounts of Béclan and Petite Sirah, all planted on their own roots.
Paderewski’s ranch manager sold the grapes to locals and the Swiss-Italian dairies in the Salinas Valley. As Prohibition was coming to an end, the Paderewski Zinfandel grapes were taken to York Mountain Winery to be pressed and made into wine. Paderewski entered his wines in the first competitions after Prohibition and won gold medals, bringing fame to York Brothers Winery.
The York Brothers Winery was not able to sustain its previous large production during Prohibition but found a way to continue to stay in business selling grapes. They pressed grapes to make grape juice but quickly found there was not much local demand for the juice. However, there was a market for their Zinfandel grapes. The demand for grapes was fueled by two factors: the growing black market for wine, controlled to a great extent by organized crime, and the rise of the home winemaking industry.
The York Brothers focused on the local market and sold grapes to dairy families along the coast of Cayucos and Cambria as well as in Salinas and to the Basque populations in the Bakersfield area. York Brothers also pressed grapes for locals and sold sacramental wine as well as wine for medicinal purposes, according to local historian Vicki Dauth.
Another important fact about the York Brothers Winery is that no phylloxera, the deadly pest that destroyed a significant amount of wine grapes around the world, entered the York vineyards, so the vines aged, producing healthy, high-quality grapes. Dry farming continued to be the farming method.
Wilfrid (Bill) York: 1940s
In 1944 ownership of the York Brothers was transferred to Walter’s son Wilfrid (Bill) York (age 40) and Silas’ son Howard York (age 30).
Wilfrid (Bill) left York Mountain and the winery around 1929 to enroll at UC Berkeley in the College of Science and Engineering. After graduation, Wilfrid worked in San Francisco for Wells Fargo Bank. He also taught music at the San Francisco Conservatory and played in the Wells Fargo Symphony Orchestra. He played two instruments, the piano, and the violin and also had a beautiful singing voice. He loved classical music, opera, and played chess. In 1934 Bill married Dorothy May Osborne, who was from San Luis Obispo, and they had two daughters. When his father indicated that it was time for him to return home, they moved back to York Mountain with their daughter Joan who was born in 1936. A second daughter, Janice, was born in 1945.
Howard had served in the Army. World War II was close to ending and soldiers began to return home in 1945. The economy in the United States began to open up to new possibilities as soldiers used their G.I. benefits to secure an education and new industries thrived developing homes, cars, and goods for the generation looking forward to change and peace ever after. Howard worked with Bill for ten years.
Walter York died on September 15th, 1952. Howard sold his ownership to Bill in 1954. He decided to pursue an education in civil engineering.
Bill York renamed the winery York Mountain Winery and mapped out his own plan for expansion of wine production. Dorothy York’s brother, Bob Osborne, made the famous York Mountain wooden sign.
Bill bought grapes from local growers including the Busi, Dusi, Ernst, Nerelli, and Venturini families. He had only one employee, Ermino Vost, who tended the vineyards, and lived in a small house on the grounds.
By 1953 Bill York was producing 80,000 gallons of wine including Zinfandel, Claret, and Burgundy. He won five State Fair Awards in the 1950s. The silver was awarded at the Sacramento State Fair in 1953 and a gold in 1960. At the Los Angeles County Fair, York Winery won golds in 1954 and 1960 and a silver in 1957.
Dorothy became an active partner in the winery. Most of the wine was stored in barrels for delivery. Bill drove the truck to the Basque customers in the Bakersfield area; Dorothy soon took over the route. Dorothy delivered barrels to customers in the Santa Barbara area, driving over 100 miles each way. Local markets and liquor stores carried the York Mountain Wine such as the Soto Market in Cambria.
Harvests were shared with friends, neighbors and family members. Ted Dellaganna, a rancher and neighbor, often helped with the harvest. There was a great sense of community and cooperation. Bill was a man of many talents. He was a painter of landscapes and seascapes who entered his paintings in competitions. He loved music and continued to play all during his adult years.
Bill pursued knowledge and possessed a broad range of intellectual interests. He loved the sky and stars and shared his passion with his grandchildren and friends. He is remembered for building his own telescope including grinding his own telescope lens. Tom St. John still has the telescope and has fond memories of discussions about stars, planets, galaxies, and constellations.
The 1960s were a turning point in the history of York Winery. York Winery was awarded the gold medal for Zinfandel on September 16, 1960, by the Los Angeles County Fair Association in Pomona, California. The document was signed by the Superintendent of the Wine Department George D. Hussey.
A series of events destroyed crops and wine production at York Winery. In 1962, an invasion of deer destroyed the vineyards. In 1964, a tornado hit York Mountain and ripped off the roof of the winery, damaging one fermentation tank and destroying the other. In 1968 a snow storm on York Mountain damaged Zinfandel grapes.
In 1970, Bill decided to retire and sell York Winery, established in 1882 by his grandfather Andrew York and owned by three generations of York family growers and winemakers, to enologist and winemaker, Max Goldman.
The story goes that Max Goldman had retired to Malibu, California with his wife Barbara, after a long and successful career in the wine industry, starting at Roma Winery in Lodi, California in 1933 and finishing at the height of his career in the champagne industry in upstate New York in the late 1960s. Both men and their wives were guests at a dinner party in Cayucos. During the evening Bill mentioned that he was thinking of selling the winery. He described the history and mentioned that Paderewski had chosen York Winery to press his grapes and make his famous award-winning Zinfandel. Max was overcome with emotion. He had been an accomplished pianist since childhood, and the works of Paderewski were among his favorite compositions. It seemed as if the fates had conspired to bring these two winemakers together to pass the baton and continue the winemaking history on York Mountain.
Bill York died June 9, 1984, leaving a rich legacy in San Luis Obispo County.