"Those who ignore history are destined to repeat it,” philosopher George Santayana said. However, two Central Coast wineries repeat history precisely because it's the only way to showcase their wines.
Saucelito Canyon sits inland from the coast near Pismo Beach, tucked away from civilization.
Here in 1880, Englishman Henry Ditmas planted zinfandel vines. The remote vineyard produced fruit in the canyon for years, even during prohibition. Because of its isolation, the Feds could never find the winery to shut it down, though they tried. By the 1940s, however, the property had been abandoned and forgotten. It wasn't until 1974 that a resurrection took place. Bill and Nancy Greenough purchased Saucelito Canyon from Henry Ditmas' granddaughters. As they set out to rip up the weeds that littered the ground, they discovered three acres of weather-beaten, head trained vines standing like miniature trees. These were Ditmas’ original zinfandel plantings, and with a little care, they again began to produce fruit from the dry farmed ranch. It took nearly a year for Bill to re-train the vines. By 1978, after 35 years of dormancy, they finally began to flourish. "Saucelito Canyon is a fluke geographically, ideally suited for growing zinfandel," Bill said. "This history is integral to our terroir. It's just as influential as our natural environment," he added. Their Dos Ranchos Zinfandel is a true expression of the history of terra firma inside a bottle. “This is a mystical place,” is how winemaker Amy Freeman describes it. "I love Saucelito Canyon's unique location and the history of the old-vine vineyards. It's a perfect place for zinfandel."
Gypsy Canyon’s story is similar. Deborah Hall moved her family from Los Angeles to the solitude of Gypsy Canyon, near Lompoc, not too far from Mission La Purisma. Deborah had dreams of farming a small patch of land, replacing the lima beans that used to grow on the property. Her quest for simplicity abruptly ended as she cleared weeds one day. She discovered several acres of atrophied vines, morose outcasts from another time. DNA research at UC Davis proved the vines were definitely from the mission period, and that these cuttings came from the nearby Mission, dating to the late 1880s. She was urged by a vineyard consultant to “rip them out,” but she couldn’t. “They were absolutely beautiful vines,” she recalled. So what do you do with historic mission grapes? You do what the friars did. You make Angelica. A blend of mission wine and brandy, Angelica is a sweet viscous wine, made in part because the mission grape never produced a very good wine by itself. Hall found an 1833 recipe from Mission San Gabriel and strictly followed it. She never had plans to become a winemaker but felt the irresistible pull of honoring the land and the history of Gypsy Canyon. Deborah calls her historic vineyard, Dona Marcelina, in honor of the first known woman wine grower in Santa Barbara County.