Choosing the CASS Vineyard & the Farmer's Life In Paso Robles

August 1st, 2023


"Are you nuts?" 

This was the first reaction from the kids when we told them we were going to look for land in Paso Robles to plant a vineyard. (Which, I am told, is the first reaction Fess Parker's kids gave him, too.)

We had spent a day looking at second homes in the greater paso area on New Years weekend in 1999.

Like many, we fell in love with the Square, Vineyard Drive, and the ambiance of the region, but didn’t see a house or lot we were in love with. While driving around I noticed and learned for the first time about the very robust and healthy wine industry in Paso Robles. I had been considering a career change after 20 years at Charles Schwab, but didn’t know what to do.

Then the brainstorm…what if we bought undeveloped farmland and planted a vineyard. I was told you can hire a vineyard manager, so don’t need extensive farming experience.

The following weekend the search began. We hired a local vineyard manager, Jim Smoot ( a gentlemans gentleman, I must add). Jim drove around with my parents who happened to be in town, and our real estate agent for a couple of days over several weekends. We looked at 8 properties total, everything from small parcels near town to large raw land out in the boondocks. Jim invited us back to his house afterwards for wine…I was in love.

We settled on our current property in April, with a contingency, there needs to be sufficient water to plant a 160 acre vineyard. However, we had to fund the test wells at $7,000 per well.

Jim “witched” a spot for the first one…came up dry as a bone, even tho it was next door to the Huer Huero riverbed. We started a 2nd test well around 10:00 a.m., on the opposite side of the property…not dry but very limited water. Now it is 2:00, and I’m down $14,000. Kill the escrow, and lick my wounds, or throw the dice ? We threw the dice (thanks Alice) and got water, not a ton but enough to close escrow.

After the close we hired a separate company to recommend another test well drilling spot. They discovered an abandoned oil well that had been capped when they hit water instead of oil on property nearby.

We drilled a deep well close to that spot and got a gusher of water, however the water quality was poor. Further research found that treatment with small doses of acid corrects the PH and makes it very good for agricultural purposes. We made that our main well and idled our shallower well so as to minimize impact on neighbor wells, and started land prep for the vineyard in late 1999. First small crop in 2003, tasting room in 2005.

And here we are in 2023

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