Herb Filipponi remembers tending cattle at the family dairy and homestead on the south end of San Luis Obispo in the early 1940s, back when there was a railroad running past the 400-acre ranch rather than Highway 101.
“In the morning, we’d whistle or call and they’d come down from the hills to get fed and milked,” said Filipponi, who would then help herd them through a pass under the railroad to graze before calling them in to be milked again and sending them back into the hills for the night. “It was morning and night, seven days a week.”
The cows are long gone, but the old dairy and house remain, now part of the family-run Filipponi Ranch Winery.
The small family home, built more than 100 years ago, now serves as the tasting room, following an extensive renovation that involved jacking up the entire house; the original footprint and walls were retained.
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“It was more expensive to renovate than to tear it down and build something new, but we wanted to preserve the ambiance of the old ranch house,” said Filipponi, who declined to state what the renovation or other investments in the property and business have cost.
The front door originally led into a hallway, flanked by three small bedrooms on one side and the living room and kitchen on the other. Now it leads into an airy space open to the original peaked ceiling with a long tasting bar and mostly original floors. A new corner fireplace was built with rock from the canyons behind the house, now furnished with old family pieces.
“There were no bathrooms in 1938,” when the family moved in, said Filipponi, who was 6 at the time. “We had outhouses.”
Filipponi’s father emigrated from Switzerland at age 18, following his father who had come over in 1860, and started in the dairy business back when there were 40 or 50 small dairies dotting the area.
After attending a one-room schoolhouse nearby, Filipponi went off to college and worked as a highway engineer for 40 years.
He and Diane, his wife of 60 years, first got into winemaking as a family hobby 10 years ago. They made one barrel of chardonnay with their three daughters and their families. It turned into two the next year and grew from a family hobby to a family business.
Bringing in Peter Chron to oversee winemaking, the family has been making the wine — about 1,200 cases of assorted varietals from vineyards around the region — in the 1940s-era dairy barn. But with Clesi Wines’ move to Paso Robles from the winery building it had leased out back, Filipponi is now taking over the space, allowing them to increase production to about 1,500 cases.
They’re adding albariño and more syrah to the lineup, as well as starting to plant an acre of grenache on a hillside out back. They’ve also recently transformed a tucked-away space into an intimate outdoor wedding venue and continue to add amenities for the Central Coast Shakespeare Festival, which has been hosting performances on site for four years.
“It’s a work in progress,” Filipponi said. “We’re busier now than we were raising our kids.”
Sally Buffalo writes about wine, beer and spirits. Reach her at email@example.com or on Twitter or Instagram @sallybuffalo.