BenitoLink Reporter Robert Eliason speaks to the SBC Historical Society at the SBC Historical Park. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.
BenitoLink Reporter Robert Eliason speaks to the SBC Historical Society at the SBC Historical Park. Photo by Jenny Mendolla Arbizu.

The San Benito County Historical Society held its quarterly membership picnic on June 1 at the Historical Park in Tres Pinos. While noshing on potluck dishes, the 20 members in attendance also tasted—and learned about—local wines made from Cienega Valley’s vintage grapes. BenitoLink reporter Robert Eliason spoke on the history and lineage of Cienega Valley’s vineyards; BenitoLink’s Eat, Drink, Savor series began in April 2021 with Eliason’s article on the 170-year old lineage of Cienega Valley Wines

As in his article, Eliason recognized Théophile Vaché as the man who planted the grapes in a remote valley of the Gabilan Range in 1851—now home to DeRose and Eden Rift wineries. According to Eliason, the two wineries now “make up the oldest commercial vineyards in California, producing wines that have been winning awards internationally for over 120 years.” Of the eight acres of negrette vines planted before 1880 that are still growing, one acre was planted by Vaché in 1855, which DeRose Vineyards still cultivates.  

According to Eliason, the vineyard’s ownership lineage continued with William Palmtag, who bought Vaché’s vineyard in 1883. John Dickinson took control of the vineyard in 1907, followed by Edwin Valliant, W. H. Taylor, and Almaden Vineyards after Prohibition. In 1986, Almaden sold the land to Heublein, Inc., which split the vineyard into two sections, selling one part to the DeRose and Cedolini Families (DeRose Winery), and another part to Joseph Gimelli (Pietra Santa Winery). In 2016, Christian Pillsbury bought Pietra Santa and created Eden Rift Winery.

Historical Society President John Wrobel said the group tries to invite speakers such as Eliason to its quarterly meetings whenever possible. 

“The goal is to have [a presentation] that pertains to the history of the county,” Wrobel said.” For the San Benito Historical Society, that’s really what we’re about. We’re not about sharing overall California history or Monterey history—although some Monterey history is certainly pertinent to the things that happened in San Benito County.” 

One piece of history that Historical Society board member Anita Kane appreciated was learning how Palmtag would travel from his home in Hollister (on Palmtag Road) to his winery on Tuesdays and weekends to bring the mail and wine orders back to Hollister. According to Eliason, the vineyard became a “social destination on weekends,” with a pool, bath house, and a onetime fermentation room converted into a dance hall.

“I loved hearing about the behind-the-scenes stories,” Kane said. “About William Palmtag, and giving a whole retreat for the townsfolk to come out and have a whole day in the park and get out in the countryside. I could imagine what that must have been like, to get in the wagon and trek out here.” 

The Historical Society provided tastings of both the DeRose 2017 Negrette and 2019 Cabernet Pfeffer, and the Eden Rift Valliant 2019 Petite Sirah.

 “You can drive by orchards or vineyards; you can visit wineries; you can do tastings and stuff like that,” said member Valerie Egland, “but when somebody puts it in perspective—gives you the timeline of how it relates to other areas in the county—it brings the county together. That’s what I love about the things that are presented by the Historical Society.”


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Jenny is a Hollister native who resides in her hometown with her husband and son. She attended Hollister schools, graduated from San Benito High School, and earned her bachelor’s degree in literature...