Paderewski: The Man Behind the Music

If you are lucky, you have met Jenna Rovenstine in our Tasting Room.  Besides being genuinely friendly, kind, and fun to talk wine with, she is incredibly informed in all things Paderewski.  Growing up in Paso Robles, Jenna always knew about “Paddy,” as he is a local legend in this neck of the woods, but her interest in this man reached new heights when she and her family started working for Epoch.  Passionate about history, Jenna declared this subject her major at Cal Poly.  Her growing admiration for Paderewski coupled with Epoch’s fervent commitment to preserving this man’s legacy inspired Jenna to make Paderewski (as well as the York family) the focus of her senior project.  Serving as Epoch’s resident Historian, Jenna has written two awesome blog posts for you about Ignacy Jan Paderewski, the Polish Statesman and namesake of our Paderewski Vineyard that he once owned.  Enjoy! – Lindsey Armstrong

Paderewski: The Man Behind the Music

By Jenna Rovenstine

Authenticity, veracity, ingenuity, creativity and sensibility. Humanitarian, patriot, composer, wine grower, politician, pianist, and statesman. These are all attributes that mold the man that many know as simply Paderewski. Who would have known that this motherless boy would grow up to be a man that the whole world would come to know by just one name. A man who would be so instrumental in the fight for Poland’s freedom  until his death in 1941, that during the Communist era, thirty years later, the Polish government attempted to wipe his name from history for fear of renewed spirit of rebellion? Who would ever think to credit this world-renowned pianist with such influence, such bravery…such heart? Who exactly is this man named Paderewski? And how is it that he came to a small town named Paso Robles and foresaw the brilliancy and potential it possessed for winemaking, and that it would one day gain national and worldwide acclaim, much like Paderewski himself?

Ignacy Jan Paderewski was a famous Polish pianist and patriot. He was the first prime minister of Poland, serving from January 1919 to December 1919. He signed the treaty of Versailles on behalf of Poland in 1919. He was a personal friend of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and was instrumental in persuading Woodrow Wilson in making the 13th point of his famous 14 Points, which led Poland to become a free state after the end of WWI.  He was the head of the exiled Polish government in London in 1940. As Madame Aniela Strakacz, wife to Paderewski’s personal secretary, Sylwin Strakacz, stated in the foreword of her personal diary that was published in 1949 as book Paderewski as I Knew Him, stated:

Against the backdrop of the global convulsions of the first half of the twentieth century, and particularly against the backdrop of the uncompromising fight of the Polish nation for its freedom and independence, the life and deeds of Ignacy Jan Paderewski, his thoughts and aspirations, radiate the highest virtues of the man, the citizen, and the patriot.

But to a small California community, he was known as just Mr. Paderewski, a great man with a heart that had small town roots. This was acknowledged by in the April 3rd 1921 edition of the Los Angeles Times, in an article entitled, “Ex-Premier is Almond Rancher-Paderewski, Back on His Beloved Paso Robles Hills.” It demonstrates not only California’s pride at having such an important world leader call the golden state his home, but it also recognizes the true scope of Paderewski’s influence on California’s economic an social aspects.

Paderewski, the Californian, is home again. The eyes of the world look upon him as Poland’s greatest living patriot; many lands claim him as one of their own people, yet Paderewski, fatigued from his labors of elevating Poland to the fellowship of independent nations, has returned wearily homeward to his beloved California hills.

In Paso Robles, not because this genius of music has entranced the earth with fingers of magic, not only because this ardent champion of Poland’s independence will live through the ages as a great diplomat and statesman, but because he has given amply of his time and counsel and efforts towards the interests of the community, have its people welcomed him into their midst. In Paso Robles his is Paderewski the rancher-the Californian.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski was born on November 6th, 1860, in the village of Kuryłówka in Podolia Province in southeastern Poland, which at the time was under Russian rule (This region is now part of southwest Ukraine). He was born into a land with a stormy, tumultuous past and an uncertain future.  Torn between three powerhouse kingdoms, Russia, Prussia and Austria, Poland and her people were unified largely in spirit, if not physically.

It was into this unhappy land, that Ignacy was born. His mother died just months after his birth and three years later, in 1863, his father, Jan Paderewski, was arrested for suspicion of being involved in what became known as the January Uprising, a short-lived revolution that lasted until 1865.  Although outspoken against Russian domination, Jan Paderewski was not involved with the uprising. Ignacy and his older sister Antonina were sent to live with their aunt during their father’s one-year imprisonment. After this, until he was twelve years old, Ignacy lived with his father in the village town of Sudylkov, where the elder Paderewski was an estate manager.

As a young boy, Ignacy fell in love with music, listening and playing, especially the piano.  In the year 1872 at the age of twelve, Ignacy was sent to study music, specifically piano, trombone, counterpoint and harmony, in Warsaw at the Music Institute.  He studied here until 1878.  In 1880 he married fellow Music Institute student Antonina Korsak.  One year later, their son Alfred was born.  Sadly Antonina died during childbirth.  A grieving Paderewski entrusted his son to the care of his mother-in-law.  He knew that to achieve greatness in the music world he would have to leave Warsaw and travel to Berlin to study under famous music professor, Friedrich Kiel.  He later moved to Vienna to study under piano pedagogue Teodor Leszetizky.

Beginning in 1888 Paderewski rose to fame, first in Austria, Belgium, France and Germany.  On November 17th, 1891, he performed in America for the first time, as the first solo pianist ever to play the famous Carnegie Hall in New York City.  In the following four months, he gave over one hundred concerts in the U.S. and Canada.  From this point forward Paderewski began an annual tradition of North American concert tours.  In 1899 Paderewski married the second great love of his life, longtime companion, Helen Górska, who became known as Madame Paderewska.

Throughout the early 1900’s, Paderewski traveled by private train throughout the United States performing concerts in sold-out town squares and halls.  He first discovered the sleepy little town of Paso Robles near the central California coast in 1914, due to his need of the healing waters of the famous hot springs at the Paso Robles Inn (then known as the Hotel El Paso de Robles).  He had been in the midst of his ninth American tour when a serious health issue befell him while performing in Seattle, Washington. He experienced not only physical exhaustion but also acute pain in his right arm, so much so that his remaining tour dates had to be canceled. And he and Madame Paderewska left for San Francisco where he hoped to find treatment. But instead of staying in San Francisco in the hopes of finding a doctor to treat his ailment,  Paderewski made his way to Paso Robles due to the actions of his friend Mr. Urchs, who worked for the Steinway Company. Instead of bringing a doctor to help his good friend Paderewski, Urchs brought another trusted friend and fellow musician, Sir Henry Heyman. Sir Henry Heyman advised Paderewski that a doctor was not what he needed. What he needed to do was to seek the healing waters in the small town of Paso Robles, California. That, Sir Heyman urged, would cure Paderewski almost immediately. Paderewski willingly followed the advice of his friends and set out to travel to the Central Coast.

Having first arrived in Paso Robles on January 17th, 1914, Paderewski fell in love with the town and the people. Between 1914-1916 he bought 2,486 acres on the Central Coast.  He purchased two different ranches in this area.  One he named after his patron saint, St. Ignatius, called Rancho San Ignacio on the west side of Paso just outside of town on Peachy Canyon Road, and Rancho St. Helena, which he named after his wife, Helena Gorska on Adelaida Road.

It was on the Rancho San Ignacio property that Paderewski tried his hand at becoming a vintner. He decided to not only grow grapes but to also make wine. He was the first to bring petite sirah to the area and like many other of his contemporaries of the time, also planted a varietal that was popular in Paso Robles, Zinfandel.  He proceeded to make award-winning wine in the late 1920’s and early to mid 1930’s, excluding Prohibition, of course.  Following the end of Prohibition, Paderewski proceeded to take his fruit from his vineyard on Rancho San Ignacio to York Mountain Winery to be made into wine by the York brothers, Walter and Silas. York Mountain Winery, established in 1882 by Andrew York, was the first commercial winery on the Central Coast.

Throughout his years in California, Paderewski became a very vital part of the small Paso Robles community.  He and his wife, Madame Paderewska, made it their home away from home (though they never did live on any of their properties; they always stayed at the Paso Robles Inn).  Everyone in the community knew that this light-hearted man in the perfectly pressed white suit, with his hat and cane, brusque mustache and twinkling eyes, was made of greatness, both in the musical world and political realm.  Yet he became one of them when in their small rural town, a man in love with life and with his land. As author and historian Marek Zebrowski states in his book Paderewski in California, “Paderewski always felt very much at home in California. His personal warmth and courtesy to friends and neighbors on the Central Coast made him an integral part of the local community.” Madame Strakacz paints a similar picture in her diary. The following entry dated March 1921 describes the scene of the Paderewskis arriving in Paso Robles and the townspeople’s reaction, which is a great indicator that they knew Paderewski was a man of great importance and yet he was their friend, a fellow Paso Robles citizen who had come home once again.

The train stopped in front of a tiny building, the Paso Robles Station. The Concourse out greet the Paderewskis was so great it was almost impossible to alight from the train. Before I could collect my wits, I saw the members of this self-designated reception committee grabbing a suitcase apiece. I ran after a fellow making off with Paderewski’s precious pigskin bag, but I soon realized there was nothing to fear. These were all friends. Looking around in search of the President, I saw him and Mme. Paderewska seated in big open car.

I felt like rubbing my eyes to make sure the whole thing wasn’t a dream. In spite of the press, there was no hubbub; it was all so dignified, solemn, majestic. The car with the Paderewskis in it inched along between the guard of honor consisting of two rows of automobiles, in military formation, filled with people holding the flaming torches that turned night into day. Small children walked backward in front of the slowly moving car and strewed the ground with flowers. Behind the Paderewskis  came the public, each marcher armed with part of our baggage-our multitude of bags for once serving a useful purpose. There were no shouts, no cheers, but all the cars in the honor guard tooted a march on their horns until we got to the Paso Robles Hotel some fifteen minutes later.

This is just one of the reasons why we Paso Roblans honor him each year at the Paderewski Festival in downtown Paso Robles each November. It honors not only his many, varied accomplishments but also his status as a true Paso Roblan.

Today, over a century later, two more pioneering vintners, Bill and Liz Armstrong, owners of Epoch Estate Wines, are writing history once again.  In becoming proprietors of both Rancho San Ignacio (home of the Paderewski Vineyard) and York Mountain Winery (now home to Epoch Estate Wines) they are bringing a beloved local legacy full circle.