History of the Stevenot Vineyards
When considering the “forty-niners” who began to descend upon California’s foothills after the discovery of gold in January 1848, an often overlooked but surely significant group was made up of the men who had left field and orchard to come west to trade plough and pruning hook for a gold pan and find their fortune in the streams and mines of California. Many of these farmers, however, quickly realized that a population that increased some twenty fold by 1850 needed to be fed. These farmers began to do what they did best: grow crops to feed a hungry, and thirsty, horde. By the 1850’s immigrants not only from “back in the States” but from Italy and France, among other countries, had found Calaveras County a suitable location to plant vineyards. Almost every farmer had a vineyard producing fruit both for the table and the wine cellar.
“By 1852, David Fausett and James Inks had established a vineyard on their San Domingo Ranch (which later became Stevenot).” “By 1870 Calaveras had become the fourth largest wine producing county, with 116 winemakers. In ten years the county’s wine production had grown from 277 gallons to a reported 100,500 gallons.” (Calaveras County Wine-Calaveras History.org)
We jump forward one hundred years. “A renaissance came in the early 1970’s with the establishment of Montevina, Boeger Winery and Stevenot.” (The Wine Bible, Karen MacNeil) “The true beginning of modern wine-making in Calaveras County, however, must be laid at the feet of Barden Stevenot, a fifth-generation resident of Calaveras. Barden purchased the Shaw Ranch on San Domingo Creek in the late 1960’s, without a plan, because he was in love with the valley and the land. Noting that the San Domingo Ranch had the same topography and climate as the wineries in Northern California, and that the San Domingo Valley had been a major grape producer from the 1850’s until the vines were removed, Barden saw an opportunity to re-establish a vineyard on this ranch. The purchase of the adjacent Gardella/Dragone Ranch at Macaroni Flat and the planting of another 72 acres of grapes attests to Barden’s belief in the future of wine-making in Calaveras County.”
(Calaveras County Wine-CalaverasHistory.org)
In the early days, winemakers for Stevenot included Steve Millier and Chuck Hovey, both of whom went on to found their own wineries.
Barden Stevenot sold the winery name and the Murphys tasting room to the Oliveto family in 2010. Though the vineyards on San Domingo Creek are not now owned by either the Stevenot family nor by the Oliveto family, a recently concluded arrangement with the current owners assures that the Stevenot Reserva brand will be produced with grapes grown on the original Stevenot property for many years to come.
Those vineyards, rich in calcium, iron-rich shale, and limestone soil, and embracing several microclimates, support 18 different grape varieties including these currently used in the production of Stevenot wines. Stevenot Winery is proud to continue the long tradition as a premier maker of award winning wines produced from historic vineyards.
Contributed by Richard Swan