From the end of 1700, when the Spanish monks planted vines in Santa Barbara County, until the end of the 19th century. In the 19th century, when French and Italian immigrants established nurseries and vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the central coast of California played an important role in the development of American viticulture.
Because much of this history has been lost over time, some wineries in the region are proud to house these chapters. But the best of these brands not only remind us of the past year. They are also progressive and constantly evolving to compete with the best wines in the world.
Few projects represent it better than Eden Rift in San Benito County, which revived a bucolic property first planted in 1849.
Southwest of Carmel Valley, Massa Manor has revitalized the old Durni vineyard, planted in 1968. In Paso Robles, the Ducey family perpetuates the centuries-old heritage of Zinfandel.
In the southern part of San Luis Obispo County, the Center for Effort has transformed a disused factory in the Edna Valley into a high-quality production center. And in the hills of Sta. Rita in Santa Barbara County, Peaks Ranch is a tribute to the former owner, late artist Channing Peak, and to the wine industry itself. It highlights the place where the regional pioneers established the new name more than two decades ago.
Together, these producers offer convincing lessons on how respecting the past can be an important strategy for a successful future.
Eden Vineyards Pinot Noir Terraces on the Lansdale Rift Slope / Photo by Jimmy Hayes van Eden Vineyards
More than 170 years of history
Eden Rift Vines
After nearly two years of trying to find a historic winery in California to buy, store and sell, veteran Christian Pillsbury learned from a ranch in the Cienega Valley in San Benito County.
I knew right away it was the right thing to do, he says. He had everything we wanted. She lost her way and risked losing herself forever.
The Frenchman Theophilus Vacher planted the first vines there in 1849 and was one of the first to plant Pinot Noir in California in 1860. The property, later renamed Eden Rift, had a beautiful mansion and Zinfandel vineyards, both dating from 1906 and jointly owned by Captain Jules Jacques St. Louis and his wife. Hubert, a winemaker, and a Chicago grain merchant, John Dickinson. It has survived many ups and downs, from the time it was known as Dickinson to its owners, Palmtag and Valliant.
cellar Eden Rift Vineyards in the original farm property / Photo courtesy of Eden Rift Vineyards.
When he bought the property at the end of 2016, Pillsbury began a quest that may never end.
What we did was remove the paint from that area and just understand what was there and when, he says. To find something that is the source of the true history of American and Californian viticulture is heartbreaking.
Photo courtesy of Eden Rift Vineyards
In 2017, together with winemaker Cory Waller, he started replanting most of the vineyard, which is now about 65% pinot noir and 30% chardonnay. They added terraced blocks of Pinot Gris, some Rhone grapes and a new block of Trusso that was also planted by Wash. The resulting wine, such as this historic Zin, is sold all over the world.
When you come from San Benito County, pride rises, they say, that the Pills buried a San Francisco resident. And if you’re from New York, Chicago or Tokyo, it’s great to discover something new lost in the fog of time.
Cabernet Vineyard, Massa Manor / Photo : Alli Pura
Care of Coastal Mountain Cabernet
That a vineyard of this age is located in the coastal mountains and is relatively unknown, when it is capable of such a quality, is simply unheard of, says Jan Brand, winemaker at Domaine de Massa. He helps Bill and Lori Massa, two old Monterey County farmers who bought the ranch in 2018, rejuvenate the vines by half a century and reopen the vineyard.
Seven hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon were planted in 1968 in the remote region of Cachagua in the Carmel Valley. It is known as Darny Vineyard and other acres will follow with Cab, Chenin Blanc and Pinot Noir. Their own cuttings, from the historic Mirassu vineyard in the Santa Clara Valley, are still flourishing today.
Stainless steel chapel and stained glass windows in Massa Estate / Photo : Alli Pura
Darney’s wines have long been a local legend, says Brand, who points out that 1978 is a particularly convincing year. But only a whisper of this fame has spread beyond the region.
Over time, the vineyard has grown to about 85 hectares. In 1996 the conversion to organic farming took place, then still under the name Heller Estate. When Massas bought the property, the first objectives were to improve the health of the grapes and bring the grape buyers into contact with the right winemakers. So far these are Megan Glockenwein Margins, Joshua Hammerling blue Ox, Matt Nagy of Benevolent Neglect, Jaime Motley and Rajat Parr.
The plans include transforming the existing buildings, including a small chapel, into a place of retreat and events and making the basement functional.
Cabernet Sauvignon vines in the Manoir de Massa / Photo : Alli Pura
It has been equipped with the latest technology since 1980, says Brand. The idea is to move the entire production there.
According to him, several young winemakers are interested in a full-time job if possible.
People want him to sing again, says Brand, who is just as enthusiastic about Massa’s potential as he is about the many old vines he has discovered in the area.
The fact that in these rugged areas we can push a few miles off the coast and absorb the cooling effects of broken sunlight and fog, all at high altitude, is something quite unique to California and unique to this part of the central coast, he says.
It is a story that needs to be told and considered further.
grapes harvested at J. Dusi Wines / photo courtesy of J. Dusi Wines
J. Dusi Wines
Growing up, this was our life, said Janelle Ducey, minutes after picking morning zinfandel from the family farm planted in 1926 in Paso Robles on the east side of Highway 101.
Everything was expected of us, said his brother Matt Doocy. You’d be ashamed if you didn’t show up.
In 1907 Sylvester Ducey left the northern Italian village of Ono Degno, near Lake Garda, to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. He then went west and opened a hotel in Paso Robles in 1921.
The following year he married Caterina Gazzaroli, who had come from Casto in Italy to work at the hotel, and four years later they planted vines. Their sons, Guido, Dante and Benito, continue the family hospitality and activities in the vineyards. In 1945 they planted another Zinfandel, just west of Highway 101.
Sylvester Doocy on the Doocy Home Ranch in the late 40’s and the original Doocy wine bottle from the family business, printed in 1942 / Photo courtesy of J. Doocy Vines.
Although they mainly sold grapes, the Dusis made commercial wine when the price of the grapes fell in the 1950s. They sold it in a small tasting room on their ranch, the first in 101 years. The building is still standing and the shelves are filled with 50 year old bottles. For the next 50 years, the family will focus on agriculture, which remains one of its most important activities. The grapes are sold to Ridge Vineyards, Turley Wine Cellars, Tobin James Cellars and other Zinfandel stars.
But in 2005, the fourth generation of winemakers, Janelle, who created her first house wine at the age of 13, launched J. Dusi Wines, bringing the brand back to its family name. Seven years later, after a long search for a new vineyard, his father, Mike Ducey, bought 360 acres of rugged land near Willow Creek. He has planted almost 110 hectares with 11 varieties on four hills. The Paper Street vineyard soon became a sought-after source of grapes for the Paso Robles winemakers.
Grenata in the vineyard of J. Ducie Paper Street / photo courtesy of J. Ducie Vines
Janelle, Matt and their brother, Michael Dusi, all work in the family business, which is still based on the original Zinfandel vines. They get more attention because the family works with Cal Poly to better understand the old vines, not the new ones.
Many trips are not quite right for a change, says Janelle. The small berries are too intense and the large ones too watery. You need both to make a complex wine.
Vineyard in the Zuigcentrum / Photo courtesy of the Zuigcentrum.
Historical site development
When the company was founded in 1979 with a quarter of a million businesses, the ambitious Lawrence Winery put Edna Valley on the California wine list.
Two years later it was renamed Corbett Canyon Winery, which was taken over by The Wine Group in 1988. It has become one of the most popular brands in the country, thanks to its affordable prices and striking advertisements that still sound in people’s ears today.
Viticulture on the grounds of the Lawrence Winery / Photo courtesy of the Success Center.
With the growth of Corbett Canyon, the Vine Group has consolidated its production elsewhere. In 2008, Raytheon’s former president Bill Swanson and Rob Rossi, a developer and winemaker, bought the huge facility, which Rossi helped design, along with neighboring vineyards planted in 1997. They called their brand Center of Effort.
Swanson became full owner in 2016 and under the leadership of General Manager/Winemaker Nathan Carlson, the vineyards were replanted and expanded to almost 80 hectares. The winery is the hub of the in-store and large-scale production, and sustainability is at the heart of the project. This year, the Centre of Effort was certified as Sustainable in Practice (SIP) in both the vineyard and the winery – only the fourth brand to receive this double award, and the first with Crush customers.
Aerial photo for the opening in 1978. / Photo courtesy of the Center for Effort.
The focus remains on the luxury Pinot Noir and Chardonnay of the winery, but Carlson has returned to the Edna Valley, once home to Chenin Blanc, and has also experimented with Rhone grapes. In 2019, the property underwent a multi-million dollar renovation focusing on hospitality, with a new show kitchen and outdoor entertainment areas.
It’s about having a place where you can really tell the story of the centre’s efforts, says Carlson, who grew the wine club even during the pandemic. We offer a special place where our members can feel safe and cared for.
While processing fruit for large customers in a refurbished facility, Carlson leases the basement space to smaller brands such as Coby Parker Garcia’s El Lugar Wines and John Niven’s Cadre Wines. Niven’s family was the first to plant wine grapes in the Edna Valley in 1973.
We don’t make a lot of money having Kobe and John here, but it’s people we want to support and brands that have integrity, Carlson says. We want them to succeed, and it’s a good thing that our basement is surrounded by people with good and different ideas.
Channing Peak, former owner of the land that became the Peak Ranch, drawing under a tree / Photo courtesy of Peak Manor.
We want to preserve the spirit of this place as an artistic and agricultural mecca, says John Wagner, who owns 107 hectares of Southeast Sta. Rita Hills in 2009. He called it Peak Ranch, after the late cowboy artist Channing Peak.
Developed at the end of the 19th century by a Danish dairy farmer whose stone water reservoirs are still in the hills, Peake bought the then 1,600 hectare ranch in 1938. He spent the next two decades in what he called Rancho El Jabali.
He got up in the morning, did his cowboy thing, and in the afternoon he went to the studio, which was an old cowshed, and painted, Wagner said. That’s why all the Peak Channing paintings float around Santa Barbara County. A handful of these can be seen in the tasting room of the Peake Ranch, which opened with the new vineyard in 2019.
Pruning Chardonnay vines with tractor on Peak Ranch / Photo : McDuff Everton
The old buildings were also home to pinot noir pioneer Richard Sanford from the 1980s to early 2000, where he and others planned the New American Wine Region (AVA).
Everyone came together in this hay barn that Richard built 40 years ago to plan the stadium. Rita Hill’s ABA, Wagner said. We wanted to preserve it because it is part of the heritage of our region.
Based on his experience as the owner of the nearby John Sebastiano vineyard and the Sierra Madre vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, Wagner planted 43.5 hectares of grapes on the property. They are supervised by vineyard manager Mike Anderson, who was Oakville Station, a University of Davis research vineyard, for decades, and winemaker Wynn Solomon, who grew up in Sonoma County before heading south.
John’s wife, Jill, oversaw the design of the winery and the tasting room.
She wanted to build a winery that was not in the limelight, explains Wagner, who prefers to concentrate on the vineyard, the stream, the mountains and the old buildings. We always thought we wanted to integrate the basement into a 15,000 square metre ship.
The best proof of their success? Peake’s fifth and youngest wife, Sheri Peake, visits him often. The history of this place is part of what is so fascinating, says Wagner. People have been trying to do something in this canyon for 150 years.
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