The history of several Edna Valley wineries

I wrote this story in fall of 2009, but the information about the upcoming harvest celebration is about the harvest party that will take place in November.

Mike and Me

Mike Sinor and the Central Coast Critic during his open house party in fall of 2013. That’s his signature skull sneaking up behind us!

While reading about winemaker Mike Sinor and his upcoming wine tasting in Edna Valley on November 8th during the SLO Vintners Harvest Celebration, he described it as a “Full Circle Tasting with Sinor-LaVallee at Corbett Canyon Winery,” I began reflecting upon the Edna Valley region’s impressive history over the last four decades. Although Corbett Canyon (who can forget those old “canyon, canyon, canyon” commercials?) was a pioneer in Edna Valley, it has been closed to the public 12-years. Recently purchased by Rob Rossi, it re-opened this year as a custom crush facility where Sinor (among other small production winemakers) now produces his wines. For the first time since fall 1997, Corbett Canyon will open to the public for one day during the SLO Vintners Harvest Celebration, November 6th through 8th.
The halcyon Edna Valley wine region is among California’s smaller American Viticultural Areas (AVA) at 22,400 acres (Paso Robles AVA is 666,618 acres), but it’s had an impressive history since its start in 1973. Some wine writers still describe Edna Valley as Chardonnay country, but that belief is outdated. The Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and Grenache grown there have been stellar, and it’s clear the Spanish varietal Albarino can rank among the best in this country, all depending on the vintage, of course. With almost four decades of winemaking in Edna Valley, they haven’t hit the top of the barrel yet. These wineries are still discovering, as proven by its outstanding producers, the potential for wine varieties here.
Established as an AVA in 1987, Edna Valley began with two vineyards planted in 1973. It started when Jack and Catharine Niven planted Paragon Vineyard, and (within weeks of each other) Norman Goss planted Chamisal Vineyard, unbeknownst to each other according to the Niven’s. Both families built their wineries in 1980, but only Edna Valley Vineyard survived nearly four decades. Chamisal, named for a native shrub in the region, was a relatively small operation with only 70-acres of grapevines. During the 80’s it fell into decline due to the lack of interest of Goss’s children.
Andy MacGregor began planting his vineyard at the corner of Price Canyon and Hwy. 227 in 1975; a few years later he planted his larger vineyard on Orcutt Road (now Wolff Vineyards). The fourth in Edna Valley was Corbett Canyon, founded in 1978, but it was sold several times.

Terry Speizer

Winemaker Terry Speizer of Speizer Family Wines in Edna Valley

Over the last decade, however, Chamisal Vineyard, and now Corbett Canyon has been revived. Chamisal Vineyard was restored in 1994 when Alfred “Terry” Speizer bought the historic property and modernized the declining vineyard. He introduced his Domaine Alfred label in 1998, with Sinor as winemaker and earned critical acclaim. Ten years later, Speizer sold it to the Crimson Wine Group, who renamed it Chamisal Vineyards early in 2009 in tribute to its past as an Edna Valley pioneer. Like their other ultra premium wineries, Pine Ridge and Archery Summit, Crimson will keep Chamisal Vineyard focused on high quality.

Baileyana

The old schoolhouse that is Baileyana tasting room in Edna Valley

The Niven Family has the longest record for continuous production in Edna Valley from Paragon Vineyard with over 500-acres of premium winegrapes. Originally they sold grapes to Napa wineries, among other regions. Today, under the third generation the highly respected, pioneering family has established the Niven Family Wine Estates, which includes: Baileyana, Tangent, Trenza and Cadre. Only the Niven’s first winery, Edna Valley Vineyard, was a partnership with the renowned Dick Graff of Chalone Vineyards. Edna Valley Vineyard is still a co-owned but now the Niven’s are partnered with Diageo North America.

B tasting room

Baileyana tasting room on Orcutt Road in Edna Valley

From the beginning the Edna Valley region attracted attention over the quality of its premium winegrapes, which lured renowned Napa Valley winemaker Chuck Ortman, a consultant for Beringer. Naturally, Ortman relocated to here when Beringer bought Meridian (which Ortman originally founded under his name in 1979) and moved it to Paso Robles in 1984. When Ortman retired in 2003, he put his energy into his family label, Ortman Family Vineyards, for which his son Matt is winemaker in Edna Valley.
The event at the old Corbett Canyon site is sure to be interesting. Mike Sinor and his wife Cheri LaVallee, hence the label Sinor-LaVallee, both started their wine industry careers at this winery. They met at Cal Poly while studying chemistry, to which he laughed: “We like to say we had chemistry.”

B patio

Sunset at the days end in Edna Valley wine country

Like France’s great wineries, handed down through the original families for centuries, Edna Valley’s second and third generations have taken over their families wineries. And it’s clear their sons and daughters have also inherited the passion of their fathers before them.

Friday & Saturday, November 7th through 9th
The 2014 Harvest on the Coast
This popular weekend festival features most of our great South County wineries with a few guest wineries from the north and south appellations. This year the weekend event kicks off, November 7, Friday night, with the third annual collaborative winemakers’ dinner at Sycamore Mineral Springs Resort Gardens of Avila Restaurant. Chef Gregg Wangard will prepare a menu that’s Edna Valley wine friendly. The SLO Vintners Association is offering a package deal for this dinner and the grand tasting the next day, which you can order from their webpage. I’ll provide the link at the bottom of the page.

On September 8, Saturday afternoon from noon to 3 p.m., the grand tasting and wine auction takes place at the Avila Beach Resort from 1 to 5 p.m. With over 60 wineries and restaurants to keep you sated, live auctions and live music to keep you entertained, it makes for a great afternoon near the beach. They offer discount pricing for designated drivers.

Whatever you do, don’t lose your grand tasting ticket! It will make you a VIP who gets free admission on Sunday when traveling the Edna, Arroyo Grande and Avila Valley wine trails to visit participating winery tasting rooms. The wineries will be offering open house parties with wine, food and entertainment. Of course, if you’re a club member at any of these wineries, you always get the VIP treatment.

This is a great weekend event whether you’re a wine collector or an occasional imbiber, there’s something to please everyone. Get all of the details about who’s offering what, reservations and tickets by visiting www.slowine.com.

7 comments for “The history of several Edna Valley wineries

  1. Lori Mainini Hall
    September 10, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    I have a lot of memories and stories about those early pioneer days working at both Lawrence Winery and Corbett Canyon Vineyards before owner, Jim Lawrence sold it to Glenmore Distillery Company and after it became Corbett Canyon Vineyards. Corbett Canyon Vineyards and Shadow Creek (the line of Méthode Champenoise sparkling wines) made really good wines for a number of years under the direction of Cary Gott and Jim Huntsinger. We had quite a wine making, management, public relations, sales and marketing and tasting room team back then. Great people making really good wines with local grapes but after Glenmore sold to The Wine Group, (owner of Franzia, Mogen David and others), everything changed. That’s when business as usual stopped, most everyone left and those ads started with the song you can’t forget.

    • September 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm

      Thanks for posting that additional history, Lori! I really appreciate learning more of the story as I had not moved here yet. I don’t think I knew that you worked there. Did you work at Talley Vineyards, too?I wondered if that’s why you are so close to Rosemary Talley.

  2. Lori Hall
    August 27, 2015 at 3:24 pm

    Sorry for the late response, Kathy. I just saw this question. Yes, I worked at Talley Vineyards. Don and Rosemary hired me to be their first Sales Manager. The only other employees at the time were winemaker, Steve Rasmussen and vineyard manager, John Seitzer. I loved my job very much and was there for 4 years. I was responsible for getting the tasting room open, hiring staff, managing the sales and marketing program and setting up all the sales accounts from ground zero. We did weddings and concerts back then too and it was fun to have a job and be able to wear so many hats. Loved working for the Talley Family — the company was first class all the way. Starting something from the beginning and watching it grow and succeed was like having a child. Wish I had been able to stay after having a child of my own but was not able to balance my full-time duties which included traveling with caring for an baby Braeden. Something had to give — Miss those days but love the memories of those early pioneer years :-)

    • admin
      August 27, 2015 at 3:38 pm

      I’m sure they are wonderful memories, I also have much respect for the Talley Family.

  3. Lori Hall
    March 18, 2018 at 11:40 am

    Who remembers the name of the first winemaker at Chamisal Vineyards? Was it Scott Boyd? He was married to the daughter of Chamisal owner, Norm Goss. Her name was Allison. I took my first wine appreciation class from him. The classes were offered at Chamisal Vineyards in the evening. Seems like it was mainly for us early pioneer wine industry tasting room staff personnel. All of our TR staff at Lawrence Winery and/ or Corbett Canyon attended. We also took wine appreciation classes from Mike Botwin and Archie McLaren through Cal Poly extension around the same time period of the early to mid 1980’s.

    • March 25, 2018 at 5:32 pm

      According to Leon D. Adam’s “The Wines of America,” third edition, “Onetime musician Norman Goss with his son Tom planted the 70-acre Chamisal Vineyard in Edna Valley, named for a shrub that grows in the vicinity. In 1980, Goss built and bonded the 12,000-gallon Chamisal Vineyard Winery with his son-in-law, Scott Boyd as the winemaker, began producing estate-bottled Chardonnay, and by 1983 was also making champagne.” It was within a section titled, “Santa Clara and Other Central Coast Counties.” That cracked me up. It’s like he didn’t believe the region would become the great wine country that our appellations have indeed become. But we were not very far along yet, so you can’t fault him. He could not imagine it, unlike our visionary winemakers and viticulturists did, and they made it happen.

  4. March 25, 2018 at 5:35 pm

    Dear Lori, I must thank you for your interactions on my webpage, it makes each story more interesting as our discussions add more dimension. Cheers!

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