Today, The Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA is one of the highest elevation grape growing regions in California and produces renowned wines with great flavor complexity. The extreme elevation influences climatic elements—cool days with warm nights, fog cover, rainfall, and extended hours of daylight. With only 230 acres of planted wine grapes, Pine Mountain-Cloverdale Peak AVA produces rare varietals grown in small plots that are terraced up sharp sloping hills. Long before Joe Benziger was earning gold medals for coveted wines, Pine Mountain was where stagecoaches would get their gold stolen.
Pine Mountain’s legend will always be tied to Black Bart, one of Gold Rush California’s most infamous outlaws. Bart was nicknamed the “Gentleman Bandit” for his impeccable wardrobe and courteous demeanor. He was a Civil War Veteran who possessed supreme wit. Black Bart is best known for the poems he left at the scene of his robberies.
Here I lay me down to sleep
To wait the coming morrow,
Perhaps success, perhaps defeat,
And everlasting sorrow.
Let come what will, I’ll try it on,
My condition can’t be worse;
And if there’s money in that box
‘Tis munny in my purse.
The bandit used Pine Mountain to stage a series of stagecoach robberies between 1862 and 1864. The mountain’s narrow pass linking Cloverdale and Lakeport struck fear in the heart of westward travelers and would be deemed “the longest 30 miles in the world”. In every robbery, Bart jumped in front of the stagecoach pointing a 12 gauge shotgun and demanded the treasure box commonly stored under the driver’s seat. He never harmed anyone and it was later learned that the guns were never loaded. Black Bart’s run of brazen robberies across California would eventually come to end after dropping a lace handkerchief at his last crime scene. The handkerchief’s laundry mark was traced to the noble Charles Boles of the wealthy Nob Hill neighborhood in San Francisco. Black Bart put Pine Mountain on the map and was the original Most Interesting Man in the World.