by Fred McMillin
for April 27, 1998

Firestone Milestones

1900—The Ohio farmboy had thought about the hard-rubber tires used on farm equipment, so he founds the Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., which later will produce the first air-filled tractor tires. His name was Harvey Firestone. He used to go camping with two other rather creative types, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford!

1972—Harvey's son, Leonard Firestone, who had been the U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, plants 250 acres of vines in the untested Santa Ynez Valley, including 60 acres of Chardonnay.

1975—Leonard's son, Brooks, a Columbia University economics grad, had spent 12 years in the Firestone firm when he resigned. "I was the classic executive dropout. I just didn't like the idea of a corporate career." Consequently, in partnership with his father, he founds the first commercial winery to crush grapes in Santa Barbara County.

1976—Eminent critic Robert Balzer visits Firestone and writes, "Planting vines in a virgin location for the grape, and building a 75,000-case winery is a risk similar to that of drilling a wildcat oil well...will there be a gusher or broken dreams?" Then Balzer tastes the first, unreleased Chardonnay, produced under the guidance of the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff. There will be no broken dreams! "The wine is appetizing, intriguingly leaning towards the classic chalky taste of French Champagne".

1989—Winemaker Alison Green says the '89 Chardonnay is Firestone's best to date. Sure enough, the "California Grapevine" tabulates all awards for the year and Firestone "Barrel Fermented" Chardonnay comes out on top.

1998—My tasters just tried the '96 Chardonnay, $13, and gave it a glowing "HIGHLY RECOMMENDED." For more, phone Catherine (Kate) Boulton Firestone, (805) 688-3940.


Who's Kate? She's a former ballerina with the London Royal Ballet. She was with husband Brooks in 1972 when they drove along "the rutted, deserted Zaca Mesa Road, looking for a vineyard site. We saw only a barren, waterless mesa." Although, they finally decided Leonard should invest there, it's little wonder that Brooks said later, "I can't deny there were times when I was profoundly frightened. I had gotten myself into something pretty scary, since the area had no reputation for fine wine.". Happily, Kate and Brooks have established that reputation.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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