Wine and a movie may sound like an ideal date night, but for the family of Fess Parker it has been a livelihood for two generations.
The late actor, who founded Fess Parker Winery, purchased the land that became the vineyard in 1988 after a long career in show business that peaked with lead performances in the television series’ ‘Davy Crockett’ and ‘Daniel Boone’.
Parker wanted to leave something for his family beyond his stellar acting legacy, and 30 years later the winery is still producing Rhone and Burgundian varietals out of Santa Ynez, California.
Just because the business venture had star power behind it did not mean it was a guaranteed success. In the wine industry, such thing simply does not exist.
“Initially I think they had just intended to grow a few acres of grapes, but things just evolved. We stared in 1988 or 1989 with five acres of vineyard and ultimately ended up with close to 700 acres,” Eli Parker said of the family business.
The journey into wine began for Eli as a harvest worker at Byron Winery in 1988 and he eventually began a three-year apprenticeship with notable winemaker Jed Steele in 1993. These experiences, coupled with stints as an assistant winemaker at Fess Parker and as a student at University of California at Davis, equipped him with the skillset needed to take on the challenge of sustaining the family business. The organization’s assets include the 714-acre ranch, the winery, and several other properties.
Eli and his sister Ashley Parker Snider are co-owners and proprietors of the operation today. In nearby Los Olivos, the family also operates the Bear and Star restaurant, a venture indicative of the growth of Fess Parker Winery.
“We definitely weren’t looking to create a touristy thing here. We were really looking to demonstrate our ability to craft things here out of the kitchen to show the synergy of what we were doing out on the ranch,” Eli said.
The Bear and Star is the coalescence of all that the property has to offer. The family’s wine can be enjoyed with ingredients grown under the same name in fields that border the vineyard.
“I’m sure people have heard of farm to table, and this kind of takes it one step beyond that,” Eli said.
The restaurant is named after the symbols of the states that Fess Parker called home during his life, and the rustic décor and menu are a nod to the frontiersman that he and his television characters played.
“I think everybody that took part in the design process realized that it was important to preserve a little bit of the rustic element. The trick was to not to let it slip too far back to dusty cowboy boots and barnwood interiors and that sort of thing,” Eli said.
The restaurant hosted the winery’s 30th anniversary dinner in February and will continue to play a role in the growth of Fess Parker’s legacy, especially as younger generations begin to associate the name with wine than with acting.
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