Frenchman Pierre Hypolite Dallidet settled in San Luis Obispo after quitting the Gold Rush in the 1850s — and after tasting California wines, he thought he could do better.
Dallidet started the first commercial winery on the Central Coast and grew 150 varieties of grapes on his property, spawning a thriving industry that is now often associated with the county’s cultural identity.
Now, the county’s History Center and the Wine History Project are collaborating to document and present Central Coast grape growing and winemaking over the past two centuries — transforming the Dallidet Adobe and Gardens into a hub for public wine history exhibits, lectures, demonstrations and food and wine tasting events.
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Cayucos resident Libbie Agran, a former Santa Monica wealth manager who started the Wine History Project in March 2016 to collect and document local wine history, kickstarted the new partnership in December by donating $1 million to an endowment.
“The Dallidet Adobe is the perfect central location to feature the wine history from the North County, South County and San Luis Obispo,” Agran said.
She hopes to grow the endowment to $2 million to $4 million to ensure its long-term success and further showcase wine history for future generations by sharing local stories and wines.
The historic adobe property at 1185 Pacific St. will serve as a gathering hub for the public to learn and celebrate local wine history.
The Dallidet family occupied the adobe property for more than 100 years before Paul Dallidet deeded the property to the county Historical Society (now the History Center) in 1953. Aside from the historic home, a wide array of plants and flowers adorn the property’s gardens, along with towering redwoods.
“We’d like for people to sit out in the gardens and imagine what life was like the 1800s,” Agran said.
Dallidet events will include art and wine functions, tours, food pairings, films, luncheons, poetry readings, concerts, tea gatherings, and Art after Dark shows.
The public also may learn about grapes, microclimates, wine family narratives, and the prominent wineries and growers on the Central Coast, among other topics.
“This is a special place,” said board president Bill McCarthy of the History Center, which operates the Adobe. “We, as a board, are steadfast and beholden to its prosperity. Libbie’s involvement secures this beautiful and magical location for innumerable future experiences.”
As part of the program, the Dallidet Adobe will be open to the community twice as many hours as in recent years — with initial plans to keep the landmark open about 14 hours per week plus the first Friday of the month Art After Dark events, said Eva Fina, the History Center’s executive director. It’s closed during the winter but opens again in April. An upcoming schedule of events will be announced on the History Center’s website, Fina said.
A long-term master plan is underway to help preserve the home’s history and renovate parts of the property to resemble life in the 1800s.
The endowment also will fund a Historic Structure Report to better understand what life was like in the early days and the height of the Dallidet wine production period. The San Francisco firm Architectural Resources Group will complete the report.
The research will provide valuable information to help transform some the property’s grounds and interior to an 1800s-era look for displays and demonstration tools, as well as restore the adobe’s kitchen.
While the Dallidet Adobe will be the focus, some of the project’s exhibits and events will be offered elsewhere in the county.
Her new career
Agran became interested in the area’s agriculture and soils history through her involvement with the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden.
She started the Wine History Project as a limited liability company because she was finding scattered research materials in the History Center and wanted to coordinate an organized collection.
“I’m retired, but it seems like I still have a full-time job,” Agran said with a grin. “This is my new career.”
The Wine History Project’s first exhibition, “Doing Good and Living Well: Archie McLaren and the Central Coast Wine Classic,” is on display at the History Center Museum through February.
McLaren is a white Memphis native who was forced out of a teaching job by Ku Klux Klan members because he was romantically involved with a woman of mixed black and Native American race. He eventually landed on the Central Coast and became a wine expert.
He established the Central Coast Wine Classic, a multi-day event that completed its 32nd year in August 2017. The celebration includes activities and fundraisers and played a key role in local wine history.