Carmody McKnight’s journey from an upstart wine curiosity in a small cattle town called Paso Robles to one of the most esteemed wines in the world is nothing short of high drama. Few elite or luxury wines unveil such an illustrious course and an illuminating narrative that keeps evolving in profound and personalized relevance.
At almost the same time that Gary Conway crashed into the Land of the Giants, he discovered and fell in love (after falling from the sky) with a broken-down ranch on 320 acres in the Central Coast of California.
Gary and Marian signed the sales contract within hours of the near-fatal crash. That was over 40 years ago, and it was not long before Gary eased into the chores and challenges of viticulturalist and Jeffersonian farmer. For Gary and the family, Paso Robles was an escape from Los Angeles and what had become a noxious and pressing locale.
It seemed part time at first but like Jefferson, Gary as well as Marian grew into the experience and intrinsically understood that the core of existence, indeed, human essence draws from such a halcyon setting. Significantly for Gary, a life-long painter, the art spirit seemed ever-glowing in this Big Sur mountain paradise. Without the presence of the landscape that encompasses and nurtures, giving us the divine sense of place, art ultimately becomes shallow and temporary.
Along with Justin Baldwin, a banker acquaintance in L.A., Gary and Marian are acknowledged as pioneers in establishing Paso Robles, California, as the premium wine growing area in the world. Justin became fascinated with Gary’s mountain valley and after fervent conversations at Justin’s bank where he worked as a loan broker and a visit to Paso Robles, he convinced Gary to sell him half of the property. After all, 320 acres is too much to manage for a part-time Hollywood rancher was Justin’s lead argument.
Whether it was the limestone or the endless sun and cobalt skies, Justin, a budding wine aficionado, was possessed with the idea that he could create the great Bordeaux of California on this property.
Gary had his own idyllic dreams for the land starting from first sight. Yes, they would ultimately include a companion vineyard, then a winery, and especially an art studio and gallery — a personal place to paint — an artist’s utopia.
It was not long after the Conways planted their first noble grapes in tandem with Justin, the vineyard would become the most important scientifically in agricultural history with world-class studies and research conducted by universities, government, and industry. Scientific discoveries and achievements that seemed in time and in many ways more than miraculous.
Beyond the genius of the treasured land as a Mecca for world renowned research scientists, Marian and Gary’s accomplishments, especially creative, are also difficult to match and nearly impossible to equal within the wine world. Gary’s background as a performer, especially starring in several seminal (and some pop culture) movies and TV series is internationally eminent and ever-distinguished. Gary and Marian’s (a revered Miss America) multi-varied life experiences and attainments, as well as their passion for environmental issues and socially pertinent revelations, set their story apart and remains one of unique significance, more so every day.