What is the oldest building in the Goleta Valley? — Patrick Russ
by Michael Redmon
Although the exact date of its construction is unknown, the general belief is that the San Jose Winery, located off Vineyard Road near San Jose Creek, is the oldest building in the Goleta Valley. At one time the tile-roofed adobe was at the center of a thriving wine operation by Mission Santa Barbara.
The initial incentive to plant vineyards and produce wine in Spain’s New World empire was to ensure a supply of wine for the Roman Catholic Mass. Soon after Cortés’s conquest of Mexico in 1515, vine shoots were imported from Europe. By the late 1500s, the Spanish government came to the realization that a tidy profit could be made if wine was made a royal monopoly. The result was a strict control of wine production in some areas of Mexico. As Spanish holdings expanded in the New World, these strict controls became harder to enforce in isolated frontier regions such as Alta California. These areas would be allowed to produce their own wine.
The first documented viticulture in Alta California dates from 1779 at Mission San Gabriel Arcángel; eventually grapes were grown throughout the mission system. The so-called mission grape, probably a hybrid of different types, was high in sugar content, low in acid, and produced a sweet wine. This grape dominated the industry until the end of California’s Mexican era. By that time, wine and brandy production was a significant source of income for some of the missions.
The Mission Santa Barbara padres established the vineyard and winery at San Jose Creek sometime between 1824 and 1834. In 1824, a serious revolt of Chumash neophytes broke out on the South Coast. An account written in that year mentions four Chumash who traveled from their homes near San Jose Creek to Mission Santa Barbara. The description of the San Jose area makes it clear that it was an agricultural region, but there is no mention of a vineyard. Ten years later, another traveler’s report specifically mentions a vineyard at San Jose — thus the estimated date of the winery’s construction.
As at Mission Santa Barbara’s other ranchos, the day-to-day tasks of planting and maintaining the vineyard, harvesting the grapes, and producing the wine fell to Chumash laborers. The vineyard was just less than eight acres and San Jose Creek provided irrigation. By 1845, the vineyard contained more than 2,200 vines and there was a 100-tree fruit orchard. Grapes were used not only to make wine, but also raisins, which were handy food for travelers. Although viticulture was a success story at Mission Santa Barbara, output was miniscule compared to some other missions; in 1834 Mission San Gabriel could count some 164,000 vines in its fields.
In 1856, Bishop Thaddeus Amat rented the San Jose facilities to James McCaffrey, a native of Ireland who had come to California in 1849 in hopes of striking it rich in the gold fields. McCaffrey was quite the successful winemaker, and in 1871 he bought the vineyard outright. By 1877 he was cultivating some 6,700 vines and marketing both wine and table grapes.
Soon after McCaffrey’s death in 1900, the family sold the property to the Cavaletto family, who operated the winery until prohibition began in 1919. Fortunately, the family realized they were farming historic ground and at some point enclosed the adobe winery with a wooden structure with a metal roof to protect it from the elements and vandalism.
In 1984, the San Jose Winery was designated a Santa Barbara County Historical Landmark. The winery is still in private hands and, although the vineyard is long gone, the echoes of Santa Barbara’s early wine industry remain.
Michael Redmon, director of research at the Santa Barbara Historical Society, will answer your questions about Santa Barbara’s history. Write him c/o The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., Santa Barbara, CA 93101.