wine history of paso robles
grape growing and wine making starting with the Franciscan Missionaries in 1797. first vines at the Mission San Miguel Archangel just north of Paso Robles, and another thousand at the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. The Padres produced wine for sacramental purposes and made brandy for export. After Mexico secularized the California missions in the 1840's, the vineyards were abandoned until the Europeans started to arrive in the 1860's.
The first European on the scene was the French immigrant, Pierre Hippolyte Dallidet, who purchased the mission's suffering vines and started new ventures. More Europeans showed up in the 1870's starting with Englishman Henry Ditmas who started the area's first commercial vineyard importing Zinfandel and Muscat grapes from France and Spain for his 560 acre Rancho Saucelito. A few years later in 1882, rancher Andrew York arrived on the scene and started the areas first commercial winery. Andrew was born in Indiana and came out west from Missouri in the 1850's. He spent some time in the Napa Valley before migrating south to a 120-acre homestead. Overlooking Tempelton and the Salinas river valley below, he built the Ascension winery located on the eastern slopes of the Santa Lucia Mountains, and crushed grapes and made wine for local growers. Known as the York Brothers Winery and today as York Mountain, it is the oldest winery in continuous operation in the country. The family still has the original homestead deed dated 1875 and signed by then President Ulysses S Grant. In 1890, the family is also responsible for planting some of the area earliest Zinfandel vines making Paso Robles famous for this variety. In 1914 Pianist and Polish statesman Ignace Paderewski purchased a 2000-acre San Ygnacio Ranch in the Adelaide Valley, a tiny community just west of Paso Robles. He planted Petite Sirah and Zinfandel and made his own wine at York Brothers Winery despite the ban during Prohibition.
In 1972, Dr. Stanley Hoffman purchased a 1200-acre ranch next to the old Paderewski Ranch. Hoffman Mountain Ranch (HMR) Winery was Paso Roble's first attempt at a modern day winery. With the help of U.C.Davis and legendary Russian-born enologist Andre Tchelistcheff, the wines were a success that opened the door for future development of the area. In 1973, Gary Eberle founded the Estrella River Winery (now Meridian Winery or Berringer Blass Estates) which was the largest winery in the area at the time. In 1983, he founded his own Eberle Winery, and the rest of the local wine industry boom is history! Just a short footnote: O'Neill Vineyards was established in 1982 and has provided grapes for many of the now famous winemakers of Paso Robles.
Paso Robles is sometimes referred to as the wild west of the California wine industry, but ironically Paso Robles does have a connection to the wild west that most people don't know about. The famous outlaw Jesse James had more than one relative who lived and owned property in the area. Dury James, Jesse's uncle lived on a ranch in the Adelaida District from 1868 to 1909. Another relative, Dr. Woodson James, operated a hotel at the Sulfur Hot Springs in town. History has it that Jesse and his brother Frank were frequent visitors at the Dury Ranch, which was known as La Ponza Ranch. One such visit had Jesse laid up at the Sulfur Hot Springs, recovering from a gunshot wound he sustained during a train heist. It's there that his cousin Zeralda nursed him back to health and they eventually ended up getting married. The old timers in town remembered him as drinker and gambler that was rumored to hang out at the old Paso Robles Inn. Jesse felt safe knowing that the maze of tunnels under the old inn allowed him ample escape routes if the need ever arose. In spite of the nationwide manhunt to capture Jesse, he managed to elude the best of them, and escape back to Missouri with a new identity, only to be shot in the back by one of his friends. I bet he'd wish he stayed in Paso Robles!