Like many Southern Californians, Don and Charlene Stolo escaped to Cambria to reset and relax. After 20 years of visiting the area, Don and Charlene decided that this would be the place to retire. They set out looking for their slice of Cambria. One day they happened upon the rural road of Santa Rosa Creek. As they came around one of the many curves, they found what they were looking for; 53 acres of beautiful coastal land with an 1880's farmhouse and a huge redwood dairy barn surrounded by the verdant green rolling hills of the north coast. But, the property was not for sale.
This property became the template by which all other properties were judged as the Stolo's continued their search. Over the next two years Don and Charlene always came back to that country road just outside of Cambria and incredibly, one day, there was a for sale sign on the property fence. The Stolo's purchased the property in 2002. They were now the proud owners of their dream retirement spot…that happened to have a vineyard on it!
The previous owner had planted a nine-acre vineyard on what is now called our Hillside vineyard in 1998. The vineyard was in neglect but Don and Charlene saw a diamond in the rough. The Stolo's were told that the vineyard had been planted under the guidance of renowned Rhone style vineyard owner and wine maker, John Alban. Preliminary research indicated that the varietals, clones and rootstock appeared to be an ideal match for the climate and soils on the property.
Confirming these findings was Don and Charlene's daughter, Maria Stolo Bennetti, now Stolo Winery and Vineyard V.P. and General Manager. Maria at the time was involved in the premium wine industry in Northern California. Maria and Don set to work to find additional research regarding the existing vineyard plantings, climate and soil. They found that the sites microclimate, characterized by morning coastal fog and cool afternoon breezes, would provide an ideal environment for Burgundian varietals such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Northern Rhone Syrah. The cooling ocean influence would prolong the growing season, allowing the grapes a longer hang time and producing small berries with thick skins. All perfect for producing the unique flavors and intensity found in cool climate premium wines. The soil analysis was another plus. The Hillside Vineyard is comprised of Los Osos-Diablo complex soil. This is a unique coastal soil formed from weathered sandstone and shale. The soil is high in manganese, a nutrient essential for premium grapevine development.
Though all the research was positive, conventional wisdom in San Luis Obispo County at that time was that a vineyard had to be further inland. You could not grow premium wine grapes that close to the ocean; it was too cool, too windy, too foggy. “Everyone told me I was crazy to buy a vineyard so close to the ocean. They said it couldn’t be done. The climate was too cool” notes Don Stolo. But he had a different perspective. Even though the vineyard sat less than three miles from the Pacific Ocean, making it one of the closest vineyards to the coast in California, Don saw it as plus not a minus. If it could be done, the property would produce a hands-down micro specific cool climate wine that would be unmatched. The Stolos decided to take on the challenge.
The first vintage of Stolo Vineyards was bottled in 2004 and much to their expectation, the wine exuded the sense of place they had hoped for. “Year after year, the property continues to amaze us with its intense presence in the wine. We could not be happier with the quality, uniqueness, and overall reception the wines have received” Don says. Now home to approximately 23 acres of sustainably farmed premium grapes, Stolo Vineyard consistently produces 90+ rated wines across the board.
So much for retirement.