Category Archives: History

Old Bank Barn As Winery

Driving about here on the Central Coast in wine country, there’s plenty of new and old blended into the scenery along the rolling hills of Paso Robles. Yes, the booming vineyard business has greeted us with new modern and fancy buildings and tasting rooms. And yet there are unique and distinctive farms and barns that have given me new appreciation for the old history of the region.

sleeping_lady_winery-bank_barn

Diamond in the rough

This brings me to an interesting story of a barn up in Napa Valley (near Yountville) that may be the only one of its kind. The historic building was built in the late 1800’s and could end up being the only bank barn as a winery.

Built into the side of a hill, bank barns are peculiar in that they have two levels reached from ground level, making it easily accessible. Construction of these unusual buildings is more expensive than a normal flat building, but they offer multi-level advantages including entry to an ‘upper’ floor from the ground. The descriptive word ‘bank’ stands for a slope.

What’s old is new

This particular barn will be restored by Napa Valley’s Sleeping Lady Winery, who is a successful vineyard in their own right.  The 3651 square foot barn will be a winery and includes a tasting room, fermentation area and barrel storage. A covered outdoor crush pad will be added as well.

sleeping-lady-vineyard

In helping to give significance and preserve this old barn, a local councilwoman, Juliana Inman, did some research that discovered this is one of only two bank barns listed with the state of California. They have to follow state guidelines for preservation and restoration of this historic site.

Napa certainly has a nugget to check out, when Sleeping Lady Winery is finished with their restoration here in the Golden State.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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White Oak Is Good For Much More Than Wine

The white oak tree (quercus alba) is most famously known as the hard wood that oak wine barrels are made from. I believe the Irish called the oak, ‘fine tree’. And besides the fine affects it has on wine, the benefits of quercus alba are numerous.

Old White Oaks can be as wide as they are tall.

Old White Oaks can be as wide as they are tall.

Note, I’m not a doctor and didn’t play one on television. Still, the natural components of the white oak tree – which really isn’t white, but instead is a pale gray or tan – as a health benefit, are widely known within certain herbal and alternative medicine practices, and its advantages may go back thousands of years. The bark, acorns and even leaves are where a majority of these benefits come from. I’ve also thrown in other advantages the white oak has given us.

Remedies

In circles of natural medicine, the quercus alba bark has been widely known for its herbal remedies. The chemical compounds – called tannins – of white oak offer most of the benefits associated with this famed oak species. Taken internally after the bark has been charred and steeped in liquid, offers temporary relief from nausea, diarrhea and internal bleeding. Along with these problems, medicinal uses include helping with kidney and gallstones, plus a wide assortment of ailments like hemorrhoids and dysentery.

Externally, as an styptic, it can help coagulate bleeding or other discharges like wounds. A tonic, or tea of the white oak bark can be used for the mouth as well, such as gargling  for a sore throat, canker sores and for brushing your teeth. Also, when made into a tea, helps with mucous congestion. It even can be used as a wash for acne.

Along with the bark, Native Americans had a variety of mixtures using White Oak acorns.

Along with the bark, Native Americans had a variety of mixtures using White Oak acorns.

The tannins from the white oak have helped as an anti-bacterial fighter. When used internally, it helps with kidney and bladder issues such as urinary tract infections. The acorns meat turned again into a liquid form, have been used for millinias as a tonic in fighting malnutrition. Not only are the tannins important, but this almost steroid-type tonic includes B12, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and sulfur.

Native American Indians from here in California used the acorn meat as part of a flour mix that created a common and healthy food staple. Because of the white oaks anti-inflammatory qualities, these same Native American used its properties, in an extract, as a remedy for bites such as from venomous snakes.

Physical uses

Including all the herbal remedies the white oak offers, the tight course veins of the quercus alba make this hard wood ideal for rot and water resistance. In ancient times, the hardness lent itself nicely as a weapon and for boat-building. Speaking of weapons and boat-building, the most famous naval ship in America, Old Ironsides (otherwise known as the USS Constitution), was made of white oak. The infamous ship was in service during three centuries!

White Oak has many uses such as boatbuilding and includes making all types of furniture.

White Oak has many uses such as boats and includes making all types of furniture.

The wood is widely used in flooring, cabinet and furniture manufacturing due in part to it’s hardiness and natural beauty. Actually there are more benefits than listed but too many to really do the great tree justice.

So although the barrel business knows full well how great quercus alba is for winemaking, certainly the grand white oak is an important and vital tree for so many more reasons.

Salute to quercus alba!

Sources: Missouri Botanical Garden, Encyclopedia of Life, Natural History of the Oak Tree

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Wine: Where It All Began, Sort Of

Mount Ararat - Armenia

Casual conversations among wine drinkers sometimes leads to where did it all begin. Okay, maybe my interest in history leads to that conversation. Still, where it all began is interesting thought regarding wine.

When, then where

Maybe the better question could be when did winemaking start. I’m not going to get into the exacts of this because there are unbounded vagaries as to the who, what, when, where and how of wine and winemaking. It’s arguable, and archaeologically speaking, the history of winemaking is a bit blurred. However, sometime during the end of the Stone Age, or upwards of 10,000 years ago, may be where early man discovered the pleasurable magic of vino. The Bronze Age some 5,000 years later is when wine production probably began. It should be noted that theoretically, man discovered alcohol from watching birds eat fermented fruit and then becoming odd in their actions afterward.

Armenia-pottery-ancient

Ancient pottery from archaeological site in Armenia

While wild grapes can be found from Western Europe to China, the domestication of wine looks to have begun in the steppe region of Armenia (also known as the Upper Middle East). In these highlands, with the advent of pottery, wine production likely began. Less than 30 years ago, there were archaeological digs in this region that found 5,000 year old pottery remnants with a red hue, thought to be wine residue.

The trek that wine took went from Armenia and migrated south to Mesopotamia (Iraq) and west to Eastern Europe.

Its biblical background

From a biblical perspective, it’s suggested this Upper Middle Eastern plateau expanse could be where the Garden of Eden was located. Another tidbit is this area might have been where the first production of apricot brandy occurred. It’s well known that brandy was first regularly produced in large supply in Eastern Europe including the Black Sea Region, not far from Armenia. Geographically speaking, Ancient Armenia stretched from the Mediterranean to the Black and Caspian Seas.

Greek wall painting showing grape-vines trained over a trellis, then crushed in a vat. The Bible credits Noah with inventing wine.

Greek wall painting showing grape-vines trained over a trellis, then crushed in a vat.
The Bible credits Noah with inventing wine.

Noah was said to have planted a vineyard in this same area and made wine from it. This is the first written account of grape growing and winemaking. Mount Ararat, where Noah’s Ark landed, was in the middle of Armenia (edge of modern day Turkey). Although wine was produced mainly for royalty and dignitaries, some partook for sacramental, religious or spiritual occasions.

The Levant – a name that only recently starting making the news with ISIS (aka ISIL or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) – is a region just south of Armenia and Turkey which is brought up as the earliest times of food … and of course wine production.

Other places

Others state that wine had its start in China some 9,000 years ago. However, this recipe was made from rice and not grapes. Archaeological sites from Iran, to Georgia and Greece show signs of domestic wine production dating back some 7,000 years ago. The earliest exporting of wine from the Levant was shipped to Ancient Egypt over 5,000 years ago. The Egyptians were thought to be the first vine pruners. Note that Ancient Palestine had wine, but it was date wine, made from date palms.

Oldest winery - Armenia

Oldest winery – Armenia

The oldest winery dates back 6,000 years to Armenia – a central and recurring place of reference when researching wine’s history. Yet, truly the Romans brought wine to the fore about 1,000 BC, creating a science and viniculture that is with us today. It is said the Romans created the wooden cask to carry products easily while keeping foods and drink protected, which also kept them from spoiling. Eventually the wooden cask for wine – or wine barrel – would be used as a regular container for vino.

The birthplace of wine might not be clear, and many cultures delved into making different forms of alcohol. Still it could be said that the highlands of Armenia are as good a place as any for where it all began when considering the beginnings of wine.

Sources: Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of VinicultureAlcohol: A History, University of Pennsylvania

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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The Worlds First Motel

On the event’s 90th anniversary this month, it seems only right to look back at the world’s first ever motel.

Postcard of the Motel Inn

The only way to travel prior to affordable automobiles, was by bus, train or ship. Considering the advent of mass produced cars at the turn between 19th and 20th centuries, combined with the improved development and true major production with much less cost created by Henry Ford and his Model T, travelers needed places to stay as they motored along the United States’ fledgling road systems.

And where else might the eventual first ever motel pop up, than in California where highway and freeway travel would be become a standard for the world.

The motel is born

The simply named Motel Inn (originally called the Milestone Inn), was built in San Luis Obispo as a natural rest point halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Businessman and architect Arthur S. Heineman, the owner, named it after his and his brother Alfred’s company name, Milestone Interstate Corporation, which was created as a venture to build motor courts up and down the West Coast.

The early years of the Motel Inn.

There were hotels and other temporary living quarters available to travelers including encampments, but nothing that truly accommodated tourist, vacationers and their cars. Also, the attraction of a more feasible way to lodge, made the idea grow. Thus, the ‘motor hotel’ was formed to meet the need.

Also known as the Milestone Mo-Tel, the red-tile roofed facility opened on December 12th in 1925. Built on the Camino Real and Highway 1, a traveler could park his car in a garage and slip comfortably into a nice and clean white stucco two-room with kitchen bungalow that slept at least four adults. A buck and two bits ($1.25) would pay for a nights stay. Comfort and convenience on the cheap – in the beautiful setting that is offered on the California Central Coast.

Stumble

The Roaring Twenties were in full swing and Heineman’s creation would appear to hit it out of the park like a Babe Ruth home run. However, he wasn’t able to find the financing for a proposed chain. Competition, the 1929 Crash and subsequent Depression nixed any expansion plans afterwards.

What’s left of the Motel Inn in San Luis Obispo – circa 1990.

Having changed hands several times over the years, the Motel Inn closed in 1991 and very little remains of the historic motel other than souvenirs at what now is the Apple Farm Inn right off U.S. 101 and Monterey Street. Earlier this year, there was a proposal by a couple developers to resurrect a newer version of the Motel Inn. 10 years prior another proposed concept to revive the infamous motel never left the drawing table.

Airbnb notwithstanding, having just traveled by car this past Christmas reminded me of the vast array of hotels and motels still being used with no end in sight. Mr Heineman’s vision was ideal but maybe – as many pioneering businessman find – his timing wasn’t right.

Whether the Motel Inn ever is brought back in some renovated form is not as important as the endearing and iconic accounting it brings to the history of automobiles and travel.

Sources: The End of the Road: Vanishing Highway Architecture in America, VisitSLO, San Jose State

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Hearst Castle Is Crown Jewel Of California Central Coast

In San Simeon, California, the Hearst Castle sits on a hill above the Golden State’s Highway 1, which itself is one of the most beautifully scenic and stunning drives in all the world. With unobstructed views and towering nearly a third-of-a-mile above the Pacific Ocean, Hearst Castle is certainly a magnificent jewel and inspiring creation by a visionary: William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst was originally from San Francisco, and quite the successful newspaper mogul, who built the infamous sprawling countryside mansion nearly a century ago with the help of an incredible architect, Julia Morgan. The collaboration of these two creative minds and their relationship is a story itself and something we will probably write about later on these pages.

The ‘ranch’

Siting roughly halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the nearly impossible construction of what was called La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill), took an incredible amount of time, money and work. Engineering such a feat was an amazing accomplishment in and of itself, regardless of the fact that this out-of-the-way estate – or simply called the ‘ranch’ – is an exploit of unmatched beauty, elegance and charm.

The inside pool offers typical elegance and beauty of Hearst Castle

The showpiece is full of art and antiquities from all over the world, making this also an unbelievable museum. There are unique and dazzling pools to incredible artistic ceilings, both custom designed and brought in-tact from Europe. Rare works of ancient art are everywhere, which brings more history to an already historical landmark. Awe-inspiring vistas offered from many different views, make this special estate one for the ages.

Personal experience

I was recently able to see this must see jewel of the California Central Coast. I came away inspired by the breathtaking views, but maybe more so, by the creation of Hearst Castle and sheer determination it took to put logistics, manpower and a vision altogether and make it work. The tour starts at the bottom of the hill on a bus and winds up for several miles while the castle appears and disappears during the journey. Everyone’s taken for some kind of tour through the Hearst Castle area, which usually last 45 minutes, then you’re on your own until you want to leave on the many buses passing up and down the hill. Of note: I was interested to find out that the usual wealthy norms of the day weren’t practiced at Hearst Castle because of the more laid-back California mores, plus equality was relatively even-handed.

The Hearst Castle towers over the California Central Coast.

William Randolph Hearst never wanted the quarter-of-a-million acre ranch for himself and always shared the glamorous mansion with a constant flux of many guest, most of whom were famous in their own right. His goal was to have the property passed on to the state for others to to enjoy and that’s exactly what happened as a state park. Therefore, anyone who visits Paso Robles wine country, should take the time to drive out to the crown jewel of the California Central Coast and see this unforgettable man-made wonder.

Additional source: Hearst Castle: The Biography of a Country House

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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Paso Icon Back In Control

The history of winemaking on the California Central Coast, goes back centuries to when the Mission era started. However, Paso Robles as a major player in the wine industry wasn’t established until the 1970s. Look up any historical accounts of what made this region prosper and become the wine region of the world, and just about all would agree former Pennsylvanian Gary Eberle was the iconic pioneer who help promote Paso to its now high-standing in the world of wine.

Still, even as the founder and general partner, Eberle wasn’t wanted in his own business and lost control of Eberle Winery about 18 months ago. Ironically, the California State Fair Winery Advisory Task Force gave Eberle a lifetime achievement award this year. Regardless, other part-owners of Eberle Winery wanted to grow the business at a faster pace, so with that Gary was kept on as a figurehead (“brand ambassador”) but otherwise booted out of running his namesake company. That sad situation has changed.

The eponymous creator of much of the early vino fame in Paso Robles lore, has regained control of Eberle Winery. Gary and his wife Marcy took majority ownership of the famous eastside vineyard this week.

Paso Godfather

Little more than three decades ago, Eberle helped create as one of the founders, the Paso Robles AVA in the North County region of San Luis Obispo. Considered the ‘Godfather’ of Paso wine and an important voice for the area, the iconic figure will now once again lead a great winery into the future.

And Eberle Winery is fun place to go to. They have great scenic views, usually free tastings and most importantly, cave tours. A must see. Look for the boorhead logo to find their award winning wines.

So good news from the Central Coast as all is now well again. I mean what were they thinking? Sheesh!

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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250 Years And Still Going: Hennessy

A premium brandy, cognac is a bit more pleasurable and usually better refined than brandy. Cognac comes from a certain appellation or wine-growing zone specifically in a west-central region of France. There, for 250 years, nearly half of all cognac has been created and sold by Jas Hennessy & Company … and they’re still going strong, with one big reason that might surprise you.

Started in 1765 by an Irish naval officer (Richard Hennessy) who served under King Louis the XV of France, originally Hennessy was a distiller of brandy. Brandy is usually made from fruit other than grapes, whereas Cognac is made from specific vineyards in the Cognac region of France. Just like Champagne is made from a particular area of France and no other sparkling wine can be called Champagne, so too with Cognac.

What it is

To be simply defined, cognac is a better quality than other brandys with an alcohol rating of 40%. The Trebbiano grape, also known as Ugni Blanc in France, is the primary varietal chosen. Dry, with high acidity, the yellow-toned Trebbiano doesn’t have a prominent name and is often used to blend with in wine-making; yet, its acidity trait offers cognac the perfect balance.

Made similar to wine to begin with, the Trebbiano grapes are pressed and allowed to ferment for a couple weeks. Afterwards, Hennessy takes the relatively weak wine and distills it twice in copper stills into a colorless 70% alcohol creating a unique alchemy. Then it’s placed in oak barrel casks for at least two years, before it’s bottled and sold, gaining complexity and naturally its silky bronze color. The art of aging is maybe the ultimate skill required to make excellent cognac.  Just like its wine counterpart, cognac loses water and alcohol to evaporation so by the time the cognac is ready, it’s down to 40% alcohol (80 proof).

An interesting twist in the world of alcohol, is the relationship between cognac and Port (or Porto). Port officially comes from only Portugal but in any regards, the process of making port is the enhancement it goes through to become more than a sweet or late harvest wine. Port is a fortified wine that goes through all the same processes that wine does but has brandy or cognac added when it is ready to be barreled. This gives port a symbiotic relationship with cognac where both are wines made into dessert liquors. There are many combinations of wines and mixes – go here for a list of some drinks mixing cognac. All I can say is yum and where are the cigars.

Back to business – corporately controlled by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) with world alcohol beverage giant Diageo owning a minority stake, the cognac maker is doing well. Of the major cognac producers, Hennessy’s is arguably the most distinct and innovative of the French distillers. While all the cognac makers are profitable, Hennessy is going strong. And why is this particular niche booze arena flourishing? Hip hop.

Huge with rap community

Yes, although the industry as a whole has profited from spirits upward trend worldwide, cognac has received an unlikely bounce from a demographic not thought of in the high end booze market. Still, the hip hop world has been mentioning different cognacs including Hennessy dozens of times in their raps for 20 years or more, including the late Tupac Shakur. It’s urban legend notwithstanding, Cognac appears to be above the hip hop demo what with poor and middle class young people, not capable of spending money on a high quality liquor. Regardless, the essentially free publicity has helped the cognac makers immensely.

Once thought of as an upper end type drink only for the rich and sophisticates, Courvoisier, Martell, Rémy Martin and of course Hennessy have more than gotten the attention of the general public eye and its hip hop crowd. And Hennessy has furthered the hip hop connection having sponsored events such as an exhibition of different rap artists, the year before last. Currently, if you go to Hennessy’s website, rapper Nas is front and center and the latest to promote the brand in one of their commercials.

Rapper Nas is the latest hip hop celebrity to help promote the Hennessy brand.

Oddly enough, the French are not all that cracked up about their own cognac, and in fact, are more apt to be drinking out of a good single-malt scotch glass, rather than sipping cognac from a snifter. Another peculiar twist to Hennessy – and typically French – the company made sure to let everyone know their cognac was vegan-friendly.

Hennessy’s cognac has been drank by Czars over two centuries ago, by young hip hop fans nowadays and everyone in between. The spirit found its way onshore of the United States more than 220 years ago. Americans are its biggest fans and young and old, rich and poor enjoy imbibing in the esteemed hard liquor. Hennessy’s legacy has proven itself for 250 years and counting, still going strong and maybe more popular than ever before.

Cheers,

Daryle W. Hier

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