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March 16, 1861: Santa Barbara, Montecito

March 16, 2011

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Santa Barbara, near Parma Park; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

Camp 19

[Today] three of us rode again to the hot springs five miles east, and took a refreshing bath in the hot waters. On the way we passed the most remarkable grapevine I have ever seen. Although not quite so large at the main stalk as a wild one at Ovid, and none of the branches so long, yet it was much more remarkable, as it was pruned and under good cultivation. It was at Montecito, about four miles east, in the garden of José Dominguez. It was planted by his mother about thirty years ago. It stands in the center of a sort of garden, and its branches occupy the whole of it. It is trained up in a single stalk, like a tree, about six feet, then branches off into about twenty

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Camissonia strigulosa; by Tom Hilton, on Flickr

branches from six to twenty inches in circumference, running in every direction. The main stalk is from thirty-one to thirty-five inches in circumference in its various parts—the branches extend over a horizontal framework about seventy feet in diameter each way. In summer the foliage is very dense over the whole of this surface, some 3,600 to 4,000 square feet, or about one-tenth of an acre. The vine was well pruned, and the yield of grapes is as extraordinary as its size, being from three to four tons per year—good years the latter quantity is estimated. One year 6,300 bunches were counted and that was hardly more than a third—sixteen thousand bunches was considered a low estimate for that year. Single bunches have weighed as high as seven pounds, as can be attested by many witnesses! I question if the world can produce its equal, especially if we consider its youth. None of the old vines of the Old World are as great, so far as I can remember. The woman who planted it was old at that time—she is now about a hundred years old. She sat watching it like a child, with a stick to keep the fowls away. It is not yet in leaf for this year. A little sancha (artificial stream) runs near it, from which it is irrigated by hand. It is about three miles from the sea, high, steep mountains rise to the north of it to shelter it from the north winds. Men have visited it from all parts of the world, all pronounce it the king of vines.

Specimens collected: Camissonia strigulosa; Pterostegia drymarioides; Cryptantha clevelandii; Lupinus formosus.

1Santa Barbara and Montecito: Past and Present (John Reginald Southworth, 1920): “Montecito is especially celebrated as having been the home of a mammoth grape vine, which upon its death was taken east and exhibited at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 18762. This vine was twice as large as the famous vine at Fontainebleu, France, larger than any found among the villas in the vicinity of Rome, and surpassed any of which Pliny gives record in his history and travels.” Naturally, there is a romantic legend associated with the vine.

2At which Brewer served as a judge.

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