An Englishman who made his way into a remote canyon and planted three acres of zinfandel in the 1880s.
A renegade who uncovered those long-abandoned vines nearly a century later and rehabilitated them with little more than a pick and shovel.
An aimless 20-something who found purpose working a particularly exacting harvest at the vineyard a couple of decades later.
Theirs are the stories of “The Mad Crush: A Memoir of Mythic Vines and Improbable Winemaking,” which author Sean Christopher Weir weaves together to trace the history of Saucelito Canyon winery and some of the earliest vines to be planted on the Central Coast.
Through historical accounts, humorous asides and provocative details — “The first time Bill made wine, he was buck naked,” the third chapter begins — Weir follows a young Bill Greenough from moneyed Montecito to the bohemian Mountain Drive community of the 1960s to the rugged canyon in the upper Arroyo Grande Valley. He set down roots there, planted more vines and forged one of the area’s earliest modern day wineries, now widely recognized for its old-vine zinfandel.
Early in the book, Weir calls Saucelito’s labels, illustrating the sunset silhouette over the canyon, “a testament to the wine’s most important ingredient: place.”
The same could be said of the book itself. Weir, who lives in Paso Robles and runs a marketing consulting firm with his wife Malei, paints a reverent, spirited picture of the canyon’s unique geography as well as its history and soul, factors that have shaped the vines and the winemakers working them.
“It was rough and remote, but there was also something vaguely mystical about it,” Weir writes. “It was a place that begged to be discovered, and to be settled by hardy souls.”
The slim volume offers something to wine newbies and enthusiasts alike. Readers with little knowledge of winemaking get an intriguing, eyewitness peek at what goes into turning grapes into wine.
Those already familiar with the process will appreciate the follies of the vineyard’s 1995 harvest, including grapes that stubbornly refused to ripen, a derelict electricity system, jerry-rigged equipment and the rogue band of cellar rats making it all happen.
And just about anyone — oenophile or not — will appreciate the message of survival, whether it’s 100-year-old vines, a 20-year-old vintage revisited or the human spirit.