San Joaquin County
GEORGE WEST, proprietor of the famous El Pinal vineyard, two miles northeast of Stockton, is one of the few men who originally introduced and have sincedeveloped (sic) California’s greatest interest, - grape-growing and wine manufacture. Rarely is there found a place, where, with astonishing fertility, the finest qualities are produced by viticulture. The rule of experience - that quality and quantity are inversely proportioned - fails of application at the El Pinal vineyard. Why this is so, is difficult to explain, but there must be some happy combination of climate and soil conditions to account for the marvel. The shrewd guess is that the deep stratum of heavy, marly sub-soil, overlaid by rich, black loam, with surface water enough to maintain a moist condition of the sub-soil without saturation - the vegetation being influenced by the warm summers of the San Joaquin valley, tempered at that point by the inward flow of moist air which follows tide water to Stockton, - are the controlling causes. Perfect maturity of large crops is attained apparently under these conditions, and the composition of the soil insures the qualities sought by connoisseurs.
Mr. West was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, January 12, 1830, and came to California in the spring of 1850. He first devoted his attention to mining, as did all others in those days, but in 1852 purchased the property which has since been his home.
Mr. George West was a pioneer in viticulture, and now ranks among the most successful as well as the most esteemed in the State. He and his brother - the latter being the well-known nurseryman, W. B. West, whose word is authority throughout the State in horticultural matters - had a passion in the beginning for beautifying the State with rare trees and plants, and were among the earliest to import foreign varieties of fine grape-vines, bringing by steamer from Boston in the year 1852, forty varieties, among them the seedless Sultana. From this importation are derived all the seedless Sultana now in the State. They added yearly to their stock, and at length exporting their products to Europe. About 1868 William B. West made a collection of sherry grapes from Spain.
Their first manufacture of wine was on the home place, under a tree, about 1858. Previously they sold their grapes in Stockton and San Francisco. They have continued to increase their facilities until the present, and could now work up 3,000 tons of grapes each year could they get them in this county. In 1868 they planted a vineyard of sixty-two acres about ten miles northeast of Stockton, on the Calaveras, in company with J. H. Dodge, but some years afterward sold out. In 1880 Mr. George West and Thomas R. Minturn established in Fresno County a vineyard of 700 acres, on a tract of 2,100 acres. All that is in vine and raisin grapes. Afterward Mr. West, in company with a number of Stockton men, purchased the Escondido ranch in San Diego County, where they planted 150 acres in raisin grapes, and which place they sold in 1886. The present firm is George West & Son (Frank A.). They have wholesale houses in Stockton, San Francisco and New York city; in the latter it is the Sonoma Wine and Brandy Company, at Nos. 1 and 3 Front street. They have a switch running out to their winery from the Southern Pacific Railroad.
The properties of George and William B. West adjoin each other, and on each can be seen groves of the most varied and beautiful specimens of pines and other evergreens that can be seen in the State. When the vineyard of Mr. George West became so celebrated that it needed a distinguishing name, he baptized his home El Pinal, which is Spanish and means the pine grove. For many years the table grapes from this place have enjoyed the reputation among the commission fruit merchants of San Francisco, not only for size and beauty of clusters, but also for fine quality. Rapidly, however, the importance of the wine and brandy grapes in his collection became felt, and from his stock many vineyards have been built up, all hoping in some degree to produce the excellencies of the El Pinal cellar.
The El Pinal brandy is now really celebrated, and is known not only to the trade, which was quick to discover its merits, but also by critical consumers from San Francisco to New York. Repeated decisions of juries and committees at fairs and State viticulture convention have proved that this reputation is not due to any exceptional vintages or to picked samples, but that it is based on general and continued excellence and contrast improvement. His last distillations take rank with the high grades of well-renowned Cognac, and are eagerly sought by NewYork (sic) merchants doing first class business.
Side by side in quality with the brandies, Mr. West’s port wines, made from the varieties which are most appreciated in the Alto Douro of Portugal, have made themselves known. Samples of them four years old have favorably stood comparison with the highest-priced imported stock. In sherries, also, the same promising feature are being developed as experience leads the intelligent wine-maker.
Unexpectedly now the public is surprised with the quality of his clarets, in which he has shown vast improvement by adopting the varieties of vines of the Medoc district, near Bordeaux, France. It has been supposed that a locality suitable for the highest quality of port would fail in producing high-grade clarets. In this respect, however, there is an exception to be made in favor of several districts in California, the most notable being that of Stockton, and its neighbor, the Livermore valley. Mr. West’s appliances have been developed from small beginnings, till he now has one of the best appointed cellars for fermentation and storage; a separate distillery where every care is taken to insure perfection of methods (but which, in many instances, means orderly simplicity), and a separate sherry house.
He has long been considered a man to counsel with, being frank and generous in giving advice and the results of experience to beginners, and was called by the Governor of the State to represent, in the State Viticulturist Commission, the great San Joaquin district.
A short article on viticulture from the pen of Mr. West is given on the last pages of this volume.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
An Illustrated History of San Joaquin County, California, Pages 525-529. Lewis Pub. Co. Chicago, Illinois 1890.
© 2009 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.