Monday, June 19, 2017



In 1999, Steve Cass retired from his career of twenty years at Charles Schwab.   Forty-eight at the time, Steve had planned a sailing trip around the world with his wife Alice in order to give some thought as to what to do with their retirement years. After a few weeks on a boat with Steve in the Mediterranean on a stormy test sailing trip, Alice informed Steve that there was no way she was going to participate in this trip!

Thinking about what to do now, Steve knew he wanted to move out of the San Francisco Bay Area. He had visited Paso Robles a few years before and really liked the area and also subsequently heard it was quite the burgeoning wine country.  A great place to start a vineyard.  He then took on an exploratory trip to find a potential home and vineyard site.  He was with a real estate agent and Paso Robles pioneer grape grower Jim Smoot when they came upon the then pastureland of Cass Vineyard.  A year later in 2000 the 145 acre Cass Vineyard was established with twelve varieties to be planted. The barn to house all the farming equipment was built at roughly the same time.

In 2002, the man that built the new Cass residence and barn, Ted Plemons, and Steve Cass took a golfing/wine-tasting trip to Stellenbosch, South Africa to celebrate the completion of the residence and the establishment of the vineyard. During this trip they fell in love with the South African wine style and the ambiance of the tasting rooms there.

One night during this trip they sat down for dinner at a fancy South African restaurant and were amazed to see how inexpensive their bill was due to the value of the South African rand being so low. So, they ordered another bottle of wine, or two… During the consumption of these Syrahs Steve and Ted agreed to become business partners in starting a winery. Ted is a builder and knew how tough building permits could be to come by in regards to starting a tasting room. He had seen multiple year waiting periods with some Santa Ynez wineries at the time. So they decided to jump at the opportunity because at the time building permits for wineries in Paso Robles were relatively easy to come by.

The next day, they took a trip to the local University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa, and put up a job wanted sign for an assistant winemaker.  After a short interview process, Cass found winemaker Lood Kotze who ended up being head winemaker at Cass up until 2014.  Once the vineyard began to bear fruit in 2003, the first vintage began. Two years later when the barn was finished being converted into a tasting room and the reds had aged a few years in the barrel, the Cass Winery tasting room opened its doors in May 2005.



Happy Canyon Vineyard is a family owned and operated estate vineyard and boutique winery on the central coast of California that has gained esteem with our award winning Bordeaux varietal wines. Our vineyard is nestled into the undulating hills of the beautiful Piocho Ranch at the eastern most edge of the Santa Ynez Valley. The ranch and vineyard is where we, the Barrack family, call home. We have taken great pride over the years in being stewards of the land and created wines that are unique to the beauty, richness, and heritage of the “terroir”. On our ranch we have two regulation sized Polo fields and many powerful Polo ponies where we blend our commitment to excellence in wine with a passion for Polo.

As Executive Winemaker and Managing Director of Happy Canyon Vineyard, Sean Pitts is responsible for all operations of the vineyard and winery including overseeing winemaking, partner contracts and personnel management. Sean oversees the sales and marketing programs, distribution, financial management, wine tasting room and day to day functions. Sean is responsible for inventory control, as well as meeting financial and strategic goals of the winery. Sean currently holds all fiscal management duties, including financial analysis; budget creation, forecasting, managing labor cost and P&L oversight. As part of the Happy Canyon Vineyard family, Sean ensures ongoing performance of the business by facilitating decisions on strategy, long and short term objectives, determining wine styles, managing vineyards and bulk wine production.

Sean holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Colorado and an MBA from Pepperdine’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Prior to working for Happy Canyon Vineyard Sean worked for over 14 years in the pharmaceutical industry working for companies such as Amgen, Genentech and Novartis

Happy Canyon Vineyard is nestled into the undulating hills of the beautiful Piocho Ranch, home to the Barrack family. The Barracks have taken great pride over the years in being stewards of the land and have created something that is unique to the beauty and richness of the place. Piocho, is a Native American Indian word meaning “where the two rivers meet and go to heaven”. The ranch is also home to the “Piocho” polo team.

There are the two top wines called Brand and Ten–Goal and two companion wines; PIOCHO is the champion wine which is a classic Bordeaux style. There is also a nouveau styled Bordeaux blend released each Easter (perfect with Spring Lamb) called CHUKKER.

The Cabernet Sauvignon Block 8 is a truly special vineyard; head trained vines planted to the steep hillside adjacent to the road. No tractor works here as the terrain has been untouched by machine.


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