As clearly as I can recall, Ridge was the first extra-appellate winery to actually put "Paso Robles" as an appellation on their label. A daring move for a winery with a fine reputation—to align itself with an area that, at the time, was commonly associated with cattle farming and the subterranean Salinas River, which disappears entirely under its sandy riverbed every summer.
Imagine it is 1959. Driving down Highway 101 to the beach towns of Morro Bay and Cambria, Dusi Vineyard was a charming stop on the way to a clamming weekend with the wife and kids. Women wearing loose rayon sundresses, silk stockings and open-toed heels accompanied their husbands on the short walk into the Dusi tasting room—a small, separate cottage between the home and vineyard. A six-foot tasting bar hosts the southern side of the cottage. Magazines lauding the four San Luis Obispo County wineries are still carefully fanned out on the corner of the tasting bar. I pick up the 1959 Sunset guide to California wineries. A two page black-and-white spread with brief descriptions of each of the four wineries also includes photographs of sleepy Cambria, a rickety one-boat dock with a view of the Rock at Morro Bay, and a family clamming on a local beach.
In a daring leap of faith, central coast zinfandel grower Sylvester Dusi and his son Benito raised the price of their wine by ten cents a case. Dusi zinfandel went from $5.90 a case to $6.00. They held their price at $6.00 a case for fifteen years—from 1959 to 1974.
In 1959 Benito Dusi was a young man in his mid-twenties. Although now in his seventies, it’s not hard to see Beni as the young man he was and always will be. He has a way of flashing oblique glances at me under his lashes, as though he knows a good joke but is too shy to tell it. He’s not tall, but he’s muscular in a wiry kind of way, standing upright with his shoulders unconsciously back and open, even when the room is cold. It is easy to see him as a young, bashful, and incredibly smart farmer.