By Brian Williams OF VINO MAGAZINE
Photos courtesy of Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery
'One family, seven generations, 134 years'
For decades the Steinbeck family was known for growing some of the most sought-after wine grapes on the Central Coast for decades. And now it’s becoming known for its wine and history that dates back to the early days of Paso Robles.
“One family, seven generations, 134 years,” says a proud Cindy Steinbeck. The family history adorns the walls of the Steinbeck Vineyards and Winery tasting room. “This is not just a fascinating, unique Paso Robles story, this is a unique story in the state of California.”
While the Steinbeck vineyards date back to 1982, the Steinbeck label is a relative newcomer to the Paso Robles Wine Country having started in 2006.
The Steinbeck’s, led by patriarch and matriarch Howie and Bev, continue to farm 525 acres of premium wine grapes west of Paso Robles — 99 percent is sold to large local brands such as J. Lohr, Justin and Eberle, while a mere 1 percent stays home for the family label.
The family’s lineage goes back to 1884 and the Ernst family, which is Cindy’s grandmother’s grandparents. The Ernsts moved from Geneseo, Ill., to the Paso Robles area, and a plot of land near the corner of Geneseo and Creston roads they named Geneseo after their hometown. They built homes, barns, a little church and school here in the new Geneseo. The school is displayed at the Pioneer Museum in Paso Robles.
It wasn’t until Cindy Steinbeck began doing research for her agri-tourism wine tours that she learned of her family’s long, rich history on the Central Coast. Her mother had stored away articles and artifacts over the years.
“I just started gathering historic pieces and then we started decorating the tasting room with things I had found in corners of the barns and shops and such,” Cindy Steinbeck says.
According to newspaper articles published in 1900 and 1901, the Ernst brothers of Creston “manufacture some very fine grades of wines” and will make 2,200 gallons of wine.
Frank and Rosie Ernst bought the current Steinbeck property in 1921 and built the house that Cindy Steinbeck lives in today. They raised their family there and farmed grain and cattle.
Howie, the son of George and Hazel Ernst Steinbeck was born in 1938. Bev Jespersen Steinbeck was born in 1940. The high school sweethearts, Howie and Bev, married and moved into the “ranch house” in 1959 and Howie worked for Western Farm Service.
On April 11, 1956, the Steinbecks in multiple places were in the news when a B-26 crashed on their Paso Robles property. The B-26 Marauder landed just 200 yards from the family home. Howie's parents George and Hazel watched the plane hit the ground and explode. They witnessed parachutes coming down so they ran to rescue the men. The captain was brought into the family home and kept alive until medics could attend to him.
One of the Steinbeck’s wines, a red blend, is called The Crash. Pieces of the B-26 are on display in the tasting room as is a detailed display of the story. An American flag flies in the vineyard where the plane went down.
In 1980, the Steinbecks partnered with Gary Eberle to establish Eberle Winery and two years later the Steinbecks planted wine grapes on the family property that today sits in the Geneseo District of the Paso Robles AVA. They planted 50 acres of cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay on the family’s current property.
Cindy Steinbeck returned home after a career in family life ministry to help the family vineyard in 1997 and her son Ryan Newkirk, also started working for the family business. Cindy Steinbeck is also an accomplished author, having published three books.
Education and sustainability are important to the Steinbecks. Cindy Steinbeck started Crash Courses, educational vineyard tours, in 2003. The wine education in the vineyard tours has three modules — sustainable farming, sustainable family legacy and sustainable life, which features a scripture tour of the vineyard using Christ’s words, “I am the Vine.”
“Our tours are really popular,” Cindy Steinbeck says. “We jump in the jeep and take them out in the vineyard so they can see what we are talking about.”
Not long after the tours got rolling, the Steinbeck family hired Steve Glossner as its winemaker and launched the family wine label in 2006. Cindy Steinbeck was a driving force behind the wine label and 6,500 square foot winery production facility that followed in 2017. Three other wine brands use the facility along with Steinbeck. The Steinbecks produce 1,250 cases per year.
“That was more my impetus through which to communicate our magnificent story,” Cindy Steinbeck says of the wine label.
Four years after the debut of Steinbeck wines, an old blacksmith shop on the property was turned into a tasting room.
“Rustic elegance, home to our museum of artifacts and stories,” Cindy Steinbeck says of the tasting room.
Ryan Newkirk had always wanted to farm grapes alongside his grandfather Howie.
“Growing up Ryan always knew his dream was to work side-by-side with his Grandpa, Howie, to continue the family legacy,” Cindy Steinbeck says.
In 2014, Ryan Newkirk launched “hunt Steinbeck,” exclusive blacktail deer hunts on the ranch.
The Steinbecks opened a three-bedroom vacation rental in the heart of the vineyard.
With an eye on the future, son-in-law Bryan Widstrand was named winemaker apprentice and director of sales, after moving to from Tasmania, Australia to Paso Robles. The Widstrands, Bryan and Stacy, Cindy’s daughter, both worked in the wine industry in Australia.
Howie and Bev Steinbeck were founding members of Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance and were named wine industry persons of the year 2006.
The Steinbecks have chronicled their past, happily made it available for all to see and are diversifying as they move forward — from cattle and grain to grapes, to agri-tourism, to the wine brand, to the deer hunts and the guest house.
“I believe it is about our story and wine and stories go beautifully together,” Cindy Steinbeck says. “In a sense when people walk through our doors they are walking through our past toward what I feel is an important part of our future. Customers become part of who we are when they visit us.”
The Steinbeck legacy continues today at 5940 Union Rd., Paso Robles. The tasting room is open 11 a.m. to 4:45 p.m. daily. Jeep tours are available by appointment. For more information, call 805-238-1854 or email Cindy Steinbeck at firstname.lastname@example.org.