Chapter 1: “One Vine at a Time”
During this milestone 40th anniversary harvest season at Saucelito Canyon, we look ahead to the future while reflecting on the journey that got us here. Below is part one of a four-part series chronicling how one man’s improbable dream has turned into a multigenerational family winery that is now four decades strong…
The story of our 40th harvest actually dates back to the moment Bill Greenough acquired the historic Rancho Saucelito in 1974, pursuing his youthful dream to become a winegrower.
It was here—in a rugged canyon in the upper Arroyo Grande Valley—that he discovered an abandoned Zinfandel vineyard originally planted in 1880. After acquiring the property, he undertook the self-imposed task of bringing the old vineyard back to life.
Man vs. Nature
This task was a real life “man vs. nature” proposition as Bill embarked on not only restoring the overgrown Zinfandel vines, but also converting 10 acres of wild earth into a working farm and homestead.
“I didn’t feel overwhelmed, it was obvious what I had to do,” Bill recalls. “I was just doing it one vine at a time.”
Bill did nearly all of the work himself, starting under the hot summer sun of 1974. He uncovered the old vines with a pick and shovel. He selected and trained new roots upward to create replenished vine crowns. He hacked away at the brush and poison oak to clear the vine rows. He planted new Zinfandel blocks and began growing grapes in earnest.
He also farmed barley in various corners of the rancho. Like the grapes, barley wasn’t a profitable endeavor—but Bill was in his element. He recalls having to disc one of the fields in the middle of the night in advance of a coming rainstorm. “It was 45 degrees out, I was on the tractor and at one point I got lost in the dark, and I remember thinking, ‘This is so cool, this is where I belong.’”
Vine to Wine
Bill’s first Zinfandel crop came in 1979. “My initial plan was to just grow and sell grapes,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking of making wine.”
That changed in 1980, when he sold his old-vine Zinfandel fruit to vintner Pat Maston in Paso Robles. Maston went on to make a “Centennial Zinfandel” commemorating the 100th year since the planting of the vines at Rancho Saucelito in 1880. Maston charged $25 per bottle—an enormous sum for a Zinfandel in those days—and the wine sold out.
That was when the light bulb went off. Bill realized that if he could make wine from his fruit, he might actually have a viable business on his hands. He broke ground on a small winery building, qnd he mentally added a new title to his duties in the canyon: winemaker.
“No one told me I couldn’t do it, and even if they had, I wouldn’t have listened,” Bill says.
Stay tuned here for the next chapter in the Saucelito Canyon story during this milestone 40th harvest season.