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Stevenot Winery - Sierra Foothills


Barden refurbished an old 1860s barn on the property and converted it into the winery.

Barden Stevenot remembers well the times he and his family drove past the Shaw Ranch as he was growing up. As a young boy 12 years of age, he didn't think much of the property's storied history-how it was first settled in the mid 1860s, at the time of the great California Gold Rush. It didn't seem to matter either that Shaw Ranch was in the heart of the Mother Lode region where vast amounts of gold were extracted from the hillsides. And never mind that a 195 pound nugget was found nearby, which to this day is still the biggest ever found in the earth's northern hemisphere. What really fascinated young Barden was the swimming pool he could see as they drove by. "It was just an old concrete tank," recalls Barden. "But I wanted to own a ranch when I grew up and when I saw one with a pool, well, that was it, I knew I wanted that ranch!" he says laughing.

Like a dream come true, twenty years later in 1969, Barden Stevenot bought Shaw Ranch. "I really didn't know what I was going to do with it," Barden tells us. By that time though, he was well aware of the property's rich history (so to speak). The area was first settled in the late 1840s primarily by Italian and French immigrants who were part of the initial wave of European newcomers to the U.S. Most had landed on the East Coast and traveled across the country to crush, chip and sift their way into the fortunes of the Mother Lode. These early settlers also brought with them a way of life from the old country that included winemaking. As a result, a number of vineyards and wineries cropped up in the area that historians say at one time numbered more than one-hundred. In fact, on all sides and including the property Barden purchased, there is abundant historical evidence of vineyards.

In 1860 a Mrs. Shaw, an immigrant from the Falkland Islands, bought what was then a 260 acre parcel from one of the original settlers. Shaw transformed the land into a cattle ranch, produce farm and dairy operation, and kept active a small portion of an existing vineyard. Oh, and she also had her own personal gold mine in her back yard! This last item came in particularly handy during the Depression.

The property remained in the Shaw Family over a 75 year span. It was one of Mrs. Shaw's descendants who, during the 1920s, built that glorious concrete pool. After World War II the Shaw Family sold 160 acres of the property to the Winslow Family. They owned it until 1969 when they put it up for sale and Barden Stevenot jumped at the chance to buy the ranch he had always loved.

"I was in the middle of another project at the time," Barden recounts. "So it took me a few years to focus my attention on it," he continues. As fate would have it, one of Barden's good friends, Lou Preston, encouraged him to grow grapes on the property. Lou had recently started his own vineyard and winery in Sonoma County. "I helped Lou out during crush and spent a lot of time at Preston Winery learning about viticulture and winemaking," Barden says. "And for a year we logged tons of data about the climate and soil on the Shaw Ranch property until I decided to give it a go."

In 1974, Barden planted 12 acres of five different varietals on his Shaw Ranch property-Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chenin Blanc and Napa Gamay. In 1978, Barden refurbished an old 1860s barn on the property and converted it into the winery. That same year, he crushed and produced 2,200 cases of his first commercial wines.

Sales of Stevenot wines were brisk. Within the next few years, production increased four-fold to keep up with the demand. When production reached 12,000 cases in 1982 things really took off. The young palate of American winedrinkers discovered White Zinfandel and Stevenot was ready fill the bill. The winery surged to 60,000 cases, fueled largely by the White Zin craze. Today's output is a more modest 40,000 cases as White Zin has all but disappeared from the winery's offerings. "We'll gradually work it up to 50,000 cases again then stay fairly level from there," Barden says.

Current Stevenot wines include, in order of production-Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and very small quantities of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Barbera. Winemaker, Chuck Hovey, has directed the production of all Stevenot wines for the past 15 years. Evidence of a superlative job comes from over 350 medals earned during his tenure.



Barden Stevenot - Winery Owner

Family lore recounts how Great Great Grandfather Gabriel Stevenot got on the wrong side of Napoleon III. He left France in the early 1840s to escape the wrath and to find a new world with a whole new attitude. He landed on the east coast like many European immigrants, then headed west to see what this new found Gold Rush talk was all about. When he arrived out west, it was apparent to him there was enormous opportunity as a result of the growing population. More a businessperson than a laborer, Gabriel's vision was to help build the new frontier.

In 1850, Gabriel settled in Calaveras County, California, the heart of gold rush country. There he opened a food store for miners working the now-famous Carson Hill mine. Gabriel's son, Emil, arrived in California a bit later to help Dad in the business. Wisely, Emil also became a mining engineer and eventually a metallurgist to capitalize on a growing industry. The father-son team's entree into the mining business began with a stamp mill they purchased and brought into Carson Hill. A stamp machine crushed large pieces of rock into smaller pieces to allow gold to be caught in a secondary washing process. Over time, the pair of entrepreneurs bought and sold several mines until Emil moved on to involve himself in the Borax business in Nevada.

Emil's son Fred Stevenot (Barden's Grandfather) was born in 1880. This amazing guy was a rancher, a miner and a conservationist. But it didn't stop there. Somewhere along the line he got interested in politics and served two terms as a California legislator. After leaving politics in the early 1920s, the Governor of California picked Fred to become the state's first Director of Natural Resources. The Depression came and went and Fred entered the banking business in San Francisco with a gentleman who would later found Bank of America. Fred Stevenot was also a terrific chef and avid wine enthusiast. In fact he was a judge at one of the first California State Fair Wine Competitions.

Barden's father, Ed Stevenot, and mother Cornelia Barden first met in school while growing up in a town called Angel's Camp in Calaveras county. The Barden Family has deep roots in the California gold country too. Cornelia's Great Great Grandparents, the Rolleri's, immigrated to the area from a small town near Genoa, Italy. Besides the remarkable feat of giving birth to 13 children, Great Great Grandma Olivia Rolleri was an amazing relative too. After her husband died she ventured into business, buying a boarding house in Angel's Camp. Soon she bought another, then another and another, until she had more than 50 rooms to rent to men working the nearby mines. These boarding houses collectively became known as the Calaveras Hotel. Not stopping there, she built other vertical businesses by starting a cattle and chicken ranch then opening a butcher shop in the hotel. Even though she could not write and signed her named with an 'X', "Grandma Rolleri" as she was affectionately known, was well known and widely admired for business savvy.

Barden Stevenot was born in San Francisco in 1936. The family moved back to Calaveras County when Barden was still a young boy. "I grew up around ranching and farming," Barden says of his childhood. "As far back as I can remember I've always wanted to own a ranch," he continues. His path to owning the ranch he always wanted however, took a rather long and circuitous route.

He initially started college at Santa Clara University to study engineering but quickly decided it wasn't for him. He transferred to Sacramento State University where he switched his major to cultural anthropology. With that, he figured, he would travel the world and have a great career. Immediately out of college however, Barden enlisted in the Navy.

In the Navy, he volunteered for duty on the elite EOD team-Explosive Ordinance Demolition Team. These guys were the equivalent of the modern day SEALS. Well, Barden traveled the world all right, but instead of studying cultures he was studying bombs. The EOD team's principle job was to diffuse unexploded underwater mines, land mines, bombs, and various other sorts of ammunition that may still be a threat to citizens anywhere in the world. After 4 years of that kind of work, Barden was relieved to finally end his military tour of duty. "The attrition rate was rather high," he deadpans.

After the Navy, Barden tried his luck at underwater dredging in northern California's Stanislaus River in search for gold. When that didn't pan out, he got into the Real Estate business, selling ranches and other large-acre properties throughout California. That in turn, led to a project that he spearheaded which pieced together a number of properties in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in order to build Kirkwood Ski Resort. Barden managed the development and construction of the resort for several years until 1973 when he left to start his vineyard and winery.

Today, Barden and his wife Ann live on the Shaw Ranch property near the towns of Murphys and Angel Camp. "I'm trying to spend more and more time at the winery these days," reports Barden. "I'm looking forward to many more years of making great wine," he says resolutely.

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