In 1986 Bob and Janalyn Simpson purchased the home place and 128 acres from the King Vidor Estate. Vidor was a famous Hollywood director who directed 33 films including the Wizard of Oz, Man Without A Star, Northwest Passage and The Fountainhead. He ran the 1500 acres as a cattle ranch and weekend getaway. He even filmed on the ranch where the extensive Spanish moss easily duplicated a Southern setting. The ranch soon revealed its remarkable character through its unique microclimate, with hot summer days ending with cool evenings and an average diurnal swing of 50°. Bountiful fauna, including wild turkeys, golden eagles, wild boar, bobcats, badgers, and mountain lions, graced with magnificent oaks and unique geology based on its previous existence as an estuary of the Pacific Ocean.
The Simpson’s bought the most useable portion of the ranch with plans for cattle, horses, and dry land farming. At the time, the surrounding hills were stocked with Red Brangus cattle and Paint Horses. Today, the cattle roaming the range are “Hotlander’s” a combination of four breeds Simmental, Red Angus, Brahmin, and Senepol.
The Simpson’s are the first cattle breeders to bring Senepol to California. This distinctive breed was established over two hundred years ago on Saint Croix in the Virgin Islands and is known for its heat and insect resistance while being very gentle and having great carcass quality.
In 1989, well ahead of the Paso Robles vineyard boom Bob and Jan decided to plant a small vineyard. Pebble Smith, wine and vineyard expert and the father of world famous winemaker Justin Smith, owner of Saxum, selected an entirely south facing rocky hillside situated 1800 feet above sea level. Ten acres were ripped to four feet, yielding large calcareous rocks laden with whalebones and other marine mammal fossils – thus the origin of the vineyard and winery's name. The calcareous treasures trapped in the vineyard's broken shale and limestone were left behind after the underwater canyons and basins retreated, and when the earth shifted and folded during the Miocene some six million years ago. On this hillside reminiscent of a moonscape, the Simpson Family planted this distinctive property exclusively to Cabernet Sauvignon. Our friend, noted cattleman Rex Swan, has an entire baby whale thorax and vertebrae intact in a rock now centered over his fireplace. The graphic on the back label was produced from that specimen. It became apparent to the Simpson’s that they had a very special vineyard. For over a decade, grape buyers have raved about the vineyard and its fruit. The terrain and coastal influence create a synergy that yields fruit that is crafted into rich and substantial wine. This distinctive area is no longer a secret, as evidenced by the purchase of an adjacent ranch by the Perrin Brothers of Château de Beaucastel and Robert Hass, after two years of combing California for the perfect spot to grow Rhone varietals.
From the beginning, the fruit sold easily for top dollar to Justin, Hess, Meridian and HMR. In 1994, one ton was reserved for home made wine with the assistance of Mike DeBellis, he did a fantastic job and began receiving gold at the California Mid-State Fair. One ton led to two and the demand from friends and visitors continued to rise. This original wine, called BOB WINE had a pedestrian label made out of duct tape. Traveling to various hunting and fishing spots, Bob always brought along a bottle or two of BOB WINE. Many of Bob’s friends with refined pallets were reluctant to try the garage wine but it soon became a prized gift and a mini cult favorite.
In 2000, the Simpson’s became friends with accomplished winemaker Jeff Branco who suggested changes to fine tune our viticulture practices and create an even a finer product. The moderate sized canopies with excellent drainage already produced small berried clusters with low yields. Under Jeff’s tutelage, we instituted additional hand tending including shoot and fruit thinning as well as controlled leaf removal in the fruit zone to maximize light exposure to the cluster. Ripening in this moderate microclimate is slow and steady producing wines with an abundance of rich, ripe flavor and intense depth of color. Yielding some of the latest ripening fruit in the region the Simpson’s Cabernet Sauvignon vines produce a mere two to two and a half tons per acre.
Our first release, 2001 Whalebone Cabernet Sauvignon was such a hit, we proceeded with more ambitious plans. We hired veteran winemaker, Handsome Dan Kleck and ramped up production. The future Tasting Barn (winery-tasting room) was born on a napkin in a local bar in 2003. After three years of permitting and building the Barn was completed in time for May 2007 Wine Festival. It appears as a typical California hay barn with redwood sides, Adelaide rock base and stained metal roof. The interior was finished rustically with reclaimed redwood, pine, mesquite and copper.
Our formula from the beginning was to produce great wines served in a family setting in our cozy Tasting Barn perched high a top the Adelaide Hills overlooking olive trees, vineyards, oak dotted hills and grazing cattle.