The winery site is located in Palomares Canyon. This area was originally a summer hunting grounds for the Ohlone Indians (Miwoks) and later became the Cook Ranch. Palomares Canyon supported both cattle and sheep grazing. In the 1940s and 50s, Royal Ann cherries were grown commercially in the canyon.
George, Caroline, and their two sons, Damian and Rick, found the property in 1977, and fell in love with the beauty of the countryside–rolling hills, streams, and wooded slopes–all within a few miles of major San Francisco Bay cities.
George, Caroline, and their sons planted the first grapes 28 years ago with an old garden tractor. Waxed milk cartons kept the rabbits from nibbling the young vines. The canyon floor where the original grapes were planted was previously used for loading pens for the cattle and sheep, making the native loam soil even richer. Sauvignon Blanc vines flourished in the canyon, but were later grafted over to Chardonnay because of the region’s tendency to experience late spring frost.
At 1,000 feet above sea level, the vineyards of Palomares Canyon are cooler than much of the Central Coast region. The new San Francisco Bay appellation defines the region’s cool, sometimes foggy nights and warm sunny days.
About 1983, George Chouinard started what the family called his Egyptian project–cutting terraces into the steep hillside in the canyon to plant Cabernet Sauvignon. The leaner, well-drained soils, good air circulation, and sun exposure on the 35% slopes provided an ideal, if somewhat inconvenient location for the distinctive Cabs he wanted to produce.
A “retired” architect, George likes challenging projects. The winery itself was to be housed in an old barn build of hand-cut redwood. George started remodeling the 85-year-old structure, with its dirt floor and dilapidated roof. The results are delightfully eclectic and a welcome change from the commercial atmosphere of many wineries.
Damian Chouinard became the Winemaker for the family operation in 1985. A graduate in Enology and Viticulture from California State University in Fresno, he apprenticed briefly in the Champagne District in France before putting his personal stamp on the wines produced by the Chouinard family. Awards for his wines line the walls of the tasting room.
Damian’s artistic talent shows up in other locations as well. The winery logo design and the native rock walls framing the vineyards are a few examples. He also has an unusual talent–he “knaps” arrowheads. During the springtime, he provides demonstrations for winery visitors, showing them how the Indians who originally lived in this beautiful canyon made arrowheads for deer hunting.