A brief history
Where to begin? Maybe all the way back to my great grand parents who started farming in Napa before the turn of the 20th century. Recalling my “Bisnonno” having what at the time I thought were gigantic barrels, in the basement, full of wine he made the previous season. Despite my parents admonishments, he would hand us kids a glass of half wine/half water and say “it will do you good and help you too”. Not that the wine was anything to remember, but somehow that experience was imprinted in my memory.
Fast forward about 55 years, after a very enjoyable career as a research scientist for our government’s space systems in Los Angeles, my wife Pam and I began to look for retirement options. Since neither one of us could hit a straight tee shot, golf was not on our list. We enjoyed being in the country, and especially the wine country. By this time Napa had changed so much as to be unrecognizable from my childhood memories, not to mention unaffordable. Living in LA, we would make trips to the Santa Barbara wine country. Then, long-time friends and official wine geeks asked us to go along for a weekend in Paso Robles. As an undergrad at UCSB in the 70’s, I would stop for gas in Paso on my way to school after breaks. That’s all I knew about the place. I didn’t even know it had a “downtown”. That weekend visit we drove the back roads to a number of wineries, and Pam and I fell in love with the place, especially the west side. The downtown area with its lovely park was so old-fashioned and quaint. No parking meters! We started looking for property with the idea of planting a small vineyard, ten acres at most. We tried to buy a few places with about 20 acres, but it was the height of the real estate boom, and we were out-bid. We decided to keep looking, but were a bit discouraged.
That’s just when the economy imploded and the great recession set in. Bad for many, lucky for us. We found a spectacular piece of property just off Adelaida Road, on the west side of town. At 160 acres it was a whole lot bigger than we were looking for, but the price had been cut in half, and it just felt right. It had three good wells and about 40 acres of plantable terrain. At one time, just after the First World War, it was owned by the famed Polish concert pianist and politician, Ignace Paderewski. He had purchased the property and named it Rancho Santa Helena, for his wife. By the time we arrived the almonds he had planted a hundred years before, had mostly been removed. We started with an empty slate and decided for a number of reasons, both good and bad, to establish a “dry farmed” vineyard. Fortunately we had enough sense to consult a few of the local experts on dry farming grapes, such as Dave Osgood and Tomas Mendoza, then jumped in and planted the first 12 acres as dry farmed red wine grapes. Dry farming depends upon rain for irrigation, no drip, drip, drip. That was in 2012. The last time for five years there would be rain in California. We were sure we had caused the drought, so perfect the timing. Talk about a steep learning curve! Having the grapes survive such tough times inspired us to plant an additional 20 acres of grapes in 2016. One might well question the sanity of such a move. Clearly the triumph of hope over experience. That said, the vineyard, and owners are doing well.