North Coast AVA
Barden Stevenot jumped at the chance to buy the ranch he had always loved
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. Twenty years later in 1969, like a dream come true, Barden Stevenot bought Shaw Ranch.
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 and 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 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 yea, 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 for 75 years. 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.
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 the mid 1970s, Barden planted 24 acres of 6 different varietals on his Shaw Ranch property. Then in 1978, he refurbished an old 1860s barn on the property and converted it into the winery. That same year, he produced 2,200 cases of his first commercial wines. Production steadily increased to keep up with the demand, eventually settling into their current annual output of 40,000 cases.
Today Stevenot produces, Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, and very small quantities of Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Barbera. Recently, the winery added three ultra-premium “Shaw Ranch” designated wines which are extraordinarily hand-crafted and comprised of the best fruit from the vineyard. Extremely small quantities are made of Shaw Ranch Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. 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 - 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 on Shaw Ranch.
During the mid 1980s as he was building his winery business, Barden formed a partnership with a Canadian company to resurrect the Carson Hill mine which was still in the family. New technology had allowed further successful excavation of gold from mines that were once considered mined-out. This very successful endeavor eventually went public on the Canadian Stock Exchange and was then bought out by another company. ‘It allowed me to pay off the debt I incurred by starting the winery,” Barden quips.
It also allowed him do some real-life, modern day treasure hunting in South America. As historical records indicate, in the early 1800s a huge cache of gold and jewels said to be worth a billion dollars today, was buried somewhere on an isolated island off the coast of Costa Rica. The treasures were taken from the city of Lima, Peru by Chilean bandits who buried it before being captured by the Spanish. Over 400 expeditions have been made in attempts to find it but so far no one has. In 1989 after painstaking preparations, Barden led an expedition that tried in vain for several weeks to find the legendary treasure. Hmm . . . majored in cultural anthropology, went treasure hunting in South America . . . do you suppose Indiana Jones was modeled after Barden Stevenot’!’
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 a well-traveled Barden. ‘I’m looking forward to many more years of making great wine,” he says resolutely.
Dear Members and Fellow Wine Lovers,
We at Stevenot celebrate your interest in fine wines and herein bring you the history and description of our offerings.
Stevenot Winery resides in a beautiful valley through which a bubbling stream flows, dividing our home vineyards. The name Shaw Ranch is applied only to wine made from the fruit of these vineyards, as we deem the grapes produced here to be competitive with the finest vineyards anywhere. Our grapes are hand picked under the inspection of artful winemaker Chuck Hovey, and delivered to the winery only a few feet away from the vineyard. Shaw Ranch was settled in the 1850s by Falkland Island immigrants, and grapes were grown at some periods between that time and 1974, when I planted our current vineyards. The wonderful climate and soils of the valley were the inspiration for planting, but I underestimated the quality of fruit that has evolved.
You will be tasting the second vintage of Chardonnay that we have deemed worthy of the Shaw Ranch label. We are very proud of this series of wines produced, nurtured and bottled at the winery from its own vineyards.
The 1995 Shaw Ranch Chardonnay won a Double Gold Medal in the San Francisco International Fair Wine Competition, and we feel that the 1996 is every bit as fine, or better, a wine. The ’96 wine exhibits a range of papaya and citrus like tropical flavors carefully entwined with subtle nuances of vanilla. Three months of oak aging on the lees gives a creaminess of the palate that is complemented by buttery notes produced by the malolactic fermentation undergone by 30% of the wine.
You also have the first vintage of Shaw Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has been aged in new French and American oak for 16 months before it was bottled on June 30, 1997. There are intense raspberry and currant flavors as well as spicy vanilla and eucalyptus notes with good tannin structure to provide long term aging for those of you who are so minded.
Please enjoy these outstanding wines produced by all of us here at Steven.