What is the oldest building in the Goleta Valley? — Patrick
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
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
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.