June 4, 2017

Lohr Vineyards
Late 1990’s, J. Lohr vineyards, eastern Paso Robles off 46 (Watercolor and colored pencil on cold-pressed illo board)

This is the companion piece that goes with my One California Girl logo. It’s what’s on the left of my son and I, showing the beauty and structure of row upon row of grapes with room for a sturdy oak at the top of a hill. I like to think that oak was left so the viticulturist and vineyard workers would have a shady place out of the sun to eat lunch. I am obsessed with vineyards and have done many paintings of grapes plants and oaks.

When I was young there were no large tracts of vineyards in San Luis Obispo County like there are today. There was one winery off highway 46 on the way to Hearst Castle. It was called York Mountain Winery and was established in the late 1800’s. In 2003 it was condemned after a catastrophic earthquake, and reopened again in 2010 with new owners. My young memory of the north county area did not include wine grapes, but rather acres and acres of beautiful golden safflower. Also on that side of 101 (in Adelaida and Klau) were acres of walnut and almond trees. Before there was an official 101 there was the El Camino Real (The King’s Highway). At the turn of the 20th century, on the east side of the old King’s Highway (near J Lohr and Estrella), the farmers dry farmed wheat and watermelons. (Many families still grow watermelons during the summer out by the airport.) Then there was a time those farmers were paid not to grow anything. And then came the wine industry and all those hills are now covered with wine grapes, with small boutique wineries scattered around.

When I was young the huge fields of wine grapes was in the Napa Valley. And as a girl there was no shortage of wine from Napa wineries served at dinner in our home for friends and family. In fact, when I turned 21 my parents took me wine tasting along 29 (from Yountville to Calistoga). I had just come home from living in Munich for a year and was studying art at UC Berkeley. So, early one Saturday morning (after I had actually turned 21) they took me tasting. It was a hot dusty day and road, and I don’t really remember much of the trip. I do remember that it was too hot to enjoy drinking room temperature wine, no matter how famous the vintner. I seem to remember my brothers and I drank a lot of iced tea and lemon aide—yeah they were there too. But I do remember the cool Beringer wine caves and the beautiful setting of row upon row of wine grapes and oak trees at Inglenook. Back then no one would have thought to charge for tasting wine. It was kind of like the farmer’s market tradition of tasting melons, peaches and grapes before buying the fruit and it was all free.

Note about a movie featuring Napa in the 70’s: A movie called “Bottle Shock” came out in 2008. It’s a great true story about how California wine became world renowned after it was compared to French wines in a blind tasting conducted in France. The story has a kind of David and Goliath feel, where a small family-run winery (with the help of a UC Davis grad student) soundly beats almost every French wine it was up against. The story is fun and the scenes of the rolling hills of vineyards dotted with oak trees can feed my obsession for those views. It was beautiful then and now, and such landscapes can still take my breath away.

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