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(Note: Information Originally Published In 1955 - Presented For Historical Perspective!)
F. W. Silvear, Soledad
F. W. (Bill) Silvear owns and operates some very fine vineyards above Soledad (meaning solitude) in the Salinas Valley, from which quite special champagnes have been produced at various times. For that reason his operation is included in the Guide, although no winery is connected with his vineyards.
The origin of Bill Silvear's family is uncertain but romantic. His grandfather Charles Silvear was raised in a nunnery on the Azores Islands until he was eight, and then the youngster went to sea. He came to California in 1849 and settled in Watsonville, where he raised potatoes. One of his three sons, Tom, went to Oregon and there Bill Silvear was born.
Bill and his wife Agnes, a San Franciscan, have both always had a strong feeling for the finer and more romantic things in life. What led Bill to the acquisition of his ranch above Soledad was his love for California wild flowers and his interest in minerals. Looking for flowers near the Pinnacles National Monument he came across some Iceland spar, a doubly refracting mineral, the best of which is found in Iceland. This find eventually led to champagne rather than to mining and riches. Emery Smith, assayer and geologist, who had studied viticulture in France, told Bill Silvear about a Frenchman named Tamm, who had traveled far and wide to find soil similar to that of the Champagne region in France, as his ambition was to produce California champagne which would be as close as possible to the French wine in character. This soil he had found in the hills near the Pinnacles, where he had planted vineyards some two thousand feet up on a bench of the Chalone Mountain in the Gabilan Range. The age of the soil had since been estimated at millions of years, if not older, one of the oldest types of soil known. Tamm had died in the beginning of the century, before he could accomplish his ambition, but the soil and climate were as promising as ever. So Bill Silvear decided to buy a ranch next to Tamm's former place and to set it out in vineyards.
This was in 1919. He planted his vines, but Prohibition effectively closed the door to new wine enterprises. Bill Silvear rented his ranch, but took it back after Repeal. He gradually replanted the vineyards to the champagne varieties, Pinot Chardonnay, Pinot blanc, and Pinot noir and grafted them to disease-resistant rootstock. This took him into the early nineteen forties. Soon he could prove that Tamm, the Frenchman, had been right, that the Pinot grapes did exceptionally well in this area with ideal conditions of average rainfall, ocean breezes, plentiful sunshine, no extremes in temperature, and in soil consisting of decomposed granite overlaid with marl of lime.
As Bill Silvear did not own a winery he made arrangements with an old friend, Oliver J. Goulet of Almaden Vineyards at Los Gatos, to make small cuvees of his Pinot Champagnes for him. And so Bill Silvear's excellent Soledad Champagnes came into being, available only in small quantities and in a few places, among them the retail outlet which Bill and his wife operate in that little village just north of Watsonville in Santa Cruz County, which is now known as Freedom but was once more forcefully known as Whiskey Hill.