Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Update: Stanford Winery

I'm most grateful to the California State Office of Historic Preservation who provided these historical photographs of the Warm Springs vineyards and winery, as well as a copy of a letter written by Josiah W. Stanford (Leland Stanford's nephew) in October 1932.
My belief is that due to their age the copyright on these documents has expired.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stanford Winery

Leland Stanford is well known as a railroad tycoon, senator for and governor of California, and founder of the university that bears his name. What's perhaps not as well known is the fact that he owned a number of vineyards and wineries. The great Vina winery in Tehama County encompassed over 55,000 acres with around 13,400 acres planted with vines, making it the largest vineyard in the world at the time, though the quality was never great and mostly went to produce brandy. In addition there were vineyards planted on the grounds of the university where the Stanford shopping mall now stands and a small winery based in the Stanford Barn supplied cheap wine to locals until it was closed in 1893. (Source: Stanford also owned a more successful winery in the east bay.

In 1850 Clement Colombet purchased 640 acres of the 9,564 acre Agua Caliente land grant from Fulgencia Higuera. The land included several natural volcanic springs, and Colombet soon established the Warm Springs Hotel & Spa. He also planted vineyards and made some award-winning wines. The property was badly damaged in the great earthquake of 1868.

Image from the US Library Of Congress
Colombet retired to San Jose and sold the resort to Alfred Cohen, owner of the San Francisco and Alameda Railroad. Cohen rebuilt the main building and renamed it the Cohen Hotel, with the intention of extending his railroad to the resort. However the following year he merged his company with Leland Stanford's Central Pacific railway and in the process sold the property to him. (Image, undated, from the US Library of Congress).

Leland's brother Josiah and his family ran the property, extending the vineyards and establishing a successful winery and distillery. They soon achieved a reputation for excellent wines. At its peak, annual production from the Stanford Winery was around 250,000 gallons.

Following the death of his son Leland Jr. in 1884, Stanford took the decision to build the University in his memory. Leland deeded the Warm Spring property to Josiah who, together with his son, continued to operate it until the vineyards were attacked by phylloxera in 1917. Following prohibition the property was sold and for a while became a regular horse ranch. In 1945 the Weibel family bought it and set about restoring the vineyards and producing sparkling wines. Following an application by the Weibel family the property was designated California Historical Landmark No. 642 in 1958. (Photo by Mark Heringer).

By the mid 1990s the value of the land for housing was so great that the Weibels sold the property to developers and moved to Hopland, in Mendocino county. There were moves to preserve the Cohen Hotel, but it was destroyed by fire in 1992. All that remains of the winery and vineyards is a single building and a number of street names: Stanford Avenue, Vine Hill Terrace, Weibel Avenue, Vineyard Avenue and Vintners Circle. The building is locked and, though it appears in excellent condition, is not currently in use or open to the public.

Unfortunately the landmark plaque was stolen around a year ago during a spate of bronze thefts in the area. Although the California State Office of Historic Preservation approves and issues the plaques they do not pay for them; the cost of a replacement is around $3,000 and must be borne by the applicant. The city of Fremont is aware of the loss and intends to have it replaced, but in the current financial crisis the funds are not available to do so. It is to be hoped that the money can one day be found to replace the marker, recognising this location's significance in the history of Californian viticulture.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cribari Family

In 1904, Benjamin Cribari purchased a 40 acre parcel in what is now Morgan Hill. Together with his three sons, Fiore, Angelo and Anthony, they planted vineyards and established the Cribari winery. The winery itself was built at Madrone and El Camino Real.

The winery stayed open through Prohibition, producing sacramental and medicinal wines. In addition the family shipped their "Sonnie Boy" branded grapes across the country by rail. The Volstead Act allowed up to 200 gallons of "non-intoxicating cider and fruit juice" to be made each year at home, and the definition of "non-intoxicating" was very leniently applied.

The quality of Sonnie Boy grapes was so good that despite Prohibition the Madrone winery expanded and additional vineyards were planted in Santa Clara and San Benito counties. The family acquired a winery and a number of vineyards in Fresno, including the Las Palmas Vineyard which dated back to the 17th Century. Following Repeal the Madrone and Fresno wineries continued to expand and additional vineyards planted in the foothills of San Benito County, with sweet wines being produced in Fresno and quality table wines in the Santa Clara valley.

The Madrone winery and vineyards were sold in 1944 to the Lucky Lager Brewing Company. In 1951 Lucky decided to get out of the wine business and the Madrone Vineyards were sold to Almaden. Today that land is an industrial estate and all that remains of the winery is an old water tower (pictured), located at the corner of Monterey Highway and Madrone Parkway. (See map.)

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The Cribaris moved their headquarters to the old William Wehner Mansion and winery in Evergreen, a couple of miles south of the Mirassou Winery. In 1954 the Fresno winery and vineyards were sold to Gallo, who continue to produce altar wine under the Cribari brand. Production at the winery at Evergreen continued until 1991 when it was sold to Constellation Brands, Inc. The property is now a golf course and housing community, though the historic Wehner Mansion is still standing. (See map.)

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Almaden Winery

When Friends of the Winemakers was founded in 1975, the stated aim was preserving the art and history of winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley. Sadly much of that history is lost, as urban development has taken over what used to be vineyards and orchards. There can surely be no better example than that of the Almaden Winery.

Almaden was founded in 1852 by Éthienne Bernard Edmond Thée, and is credited as California's oldest winery. Thée began with a 350 acre parcel along Guadalupe Creek and together with Charles LeFranc planted Mission grapes, naming the winery after the nearby New Almadén mining community. In 1857 Thée's daughter Marie Adele married LeFranc, who became part owner and eventually took over the operation. LeFranc was dissatisfied with the quality of the Mission wines, so sourced cuttings "from the most celebrated vineyards in France" and grafted them onto native rootstock. Over the next two decades he expanded the vineyard to 75 acres and production to over 100,000 gallons.

Following the death of Charles LeFranc in 1887, control of the company passed to his children, Henry, Louise and Marie. Paul Masson married Marie LeFranc and, together with Henry formed LeFranc & Masson with the aim of producing Champagne. Masson initially used Almaden grapes and was responsible for marketing the Almaden brand of wines. He went on to build the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. Throughout prohibition Masson produced champagne, for which he had a licence 'for medicinal use' as well as dry wines at Almaden. By the end of Prohibition it's estimated there were 1,000,000 gallons of quality wine in bond in Almaden. The winery and its assets was purchased by Charles Jones in 1932 but within 6 years went bankrupt.

In 1941 the property was bought by Louis Benoist. Together with winemaker Oliver Goulet and wine expert Frank Schoonmaker, Almaden once again established a reputation for quality, producing bottle fermented sparkling wines and medium priced table wines. But as the population surged in the post war years the pressure of suburban development increased and by the 1950s the winery began to look for alternative locations further south. The winery established vineyards in Cienega Valley and Paicines. In 1967 it was sold to National Distillers, who took advantage of the 1970s trend towards mass produced 'jug' wines. Then in 1987 it was taken over by Heublein, who sold off many of the company's assets. The historic Almaden vineyard was sold to developers in 1988 and the main winery building from 1876 was destroyed by fire the following year.

Today the area is a residential community. At the gateway on Blossom Hill Road there is a historical marker, number 505, which incorrectly credits LeFranc with planting European grapes in 1852. At the heart of the development, on LeFranc Drive, there is a park which houses the original winery building dating from 1859, though fenced off and locked. There's also a rose garden with a basket press as a centerpiece and across the park five rows of sprawling grapevines pay tribute to the first commercial vineyard in the state.

Some other relics remain, including these carved redwood barrel ends which were recently on display in the Forbes Mill Museum in Los Gatos.

Sources include Like Modern Edens and A Companion to California Wine, both by Charles L. Sullivan

Monday, November 2, 2009

Local Urban Wineries Visit

FOW Members and Friends,

Sunday, November 15, 2009
Join us for a different sort of winery tour and tasting at five local Urban Wineries, located near downtown San Jose and downtown Campbell. Afterwards, please join us for an optional dinner at Buca di Beppo, a very fun place!

12:00 pm – Coterie Cellars, 1805 Little Orchard Street, Unit 110, San Jose, (408) 828-3046.
Coterie Cellars is owned and operated by its founders, winemaker Kyle Loudon and his wife Shala. Together they are pioneering the Urban Winery movement in the South San Francisco Bay Area. As one of the smallest wineries in California, they produce wines made by hand, berry to bottle, from highly regarded vineyards in the Russian River Valley, Santa Lucia Highlands, and Fiddletown. Their philosophy is to work only with small, exemplary growers, to understand the unique characteristics that each vineyard offers, and to respect those characteristics through gentle winemaking in order to produce the most flavorful and evocative wines for each site. We will taste their current releases from each of the aforementioned winegrowing regions.

1:30 pm – Stroth-Hall Cellars, 165K Cristich Lane, Campbell.
Owners Paul Stroth, Sequoia Hall and Stu Slack set out to create vineyard designated Syrah from around California, striving to display the personality and charm of the Syrah grape from various locales, with each wine reflecting the soils and climate of its origin. We will taste and compare this variety from two different vineyards, each from two different vintages, and possibly a barrel sample or two.

2:15 pm – Travieso Winery, 165F Cristich Lane, Campbell.
The philosophy of Travieso owners Mats Hagstrom and Ray Sliter is to produce limited quantities of wine from select vineyards, keeping tight control over the grapes by purchasing only by the acre and doing the great majority of the vineyard management themselves, and using minimal intervention in the winemaking, allowing many of their fermentations to take with
wild yeast. “We have seen others try to make French wine in California, but we want to make California wine in California.”
We will taste their current releases of Sangiovese, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Red Wine blend.

3:00 pm – Pinder Winery, 165K Cristich Lane, Campbell, (408) 377-1937.
Pinder Winery began over ten years ago in the kitchen and garage of John and Marie Pinder and, like for so many others, quickly became a passionate hobby. After completing coursework at UC Davis and years of home wine making, they moved to the Campbell facility in January 2001 and now produce Viognier, Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Mouvedre, Merlot,
Petite Sirah and Pinot Noir. We will taste a selection of their current releases.

4:00 pm – Heart’s Fire Winery, 165K Cristich Lane, Campbell, (408) 858-6029.
Owners Julie and Dan Scheve began making wine at home in 1997. Kristen and Brian Link joined “the home winemaking madness – and the idea of starting a winery began to ferment soon after”. Specializing in Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, they source their grapes from single vineyards in Dry Creek and Redwood Valleys that best reflect what they value in the wine and
then minimize the manipulation in the winemaking process, thus letting the wine “speak for itself”. We will taste their current releases.

5:30 pm - Optional Dinner – Buca di Beppo, 1875 S Bascom Ave, Campbell, (408) 377-7722.
Buca di Beppo is a fun place! We will enjoy a dinner served family-style including Bruschetta, Chopped Antipasto Salad, Lasagna, Penne Basilica (Chicken, Broccoli and Pesto Cream Sauce) and Veal Parmigiana, with Tiramisu for dessert. Wine is available for purchase on your own, or you may bring in your own wine (any size bottle!) for a $15 corkage fee.

Cost: Wine Tasting Only – Members $5, Non-members $8.
With Optional Dinner– Members $43.00, Non-members $53.00.
RSVP with check payable to FOW no later than Saturday, November 7 to:
Cheryl Markman (408) 578-8315
4982 Collomia Court
San Jose, CA 95111
Up-coming events:
December 10 (Thursday) – Holiday Dinner Dance
January 9 or 23 (?) – Guest Speaker Master Sommelier Reggie Narito

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vineyards of Santa Clara Valley

If you walk into any decent wine shop and ask for a Santa Cruz Mountains wine, it's very likely that they'll have something for you. But if you ask for something from the Santa Clara Valley you'll probably be out of luck. Certainly the mountains have a lot more wineries, but it might surprise you to learn that the valley has at least twice as many planted vines. In fact of the six vineyards in the area over 100 acres in size, all are located in the county of Santa Clara and only Ridge is inside the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.

The largest vineyard is Dunne Ranch. Located where highways 152 and 156 meet, it straddles the border into San Benito County and one corner extends into the Pacheco Pass AVA. Of the 1000 acres which make up the ranch around 40% are under vine. 300 acres are planted to Chardonnay; this alone is enough to make Chardonnay the most planted grape in the AVA. It also has 66 acres of Gewurztraminer which not only makes this the second most widely planted white variety in the AVA but is roughly equal to the acreage of all other white varieties combined. The vineyard is owned by the Blackburn family, who also own the Pietra Santa winery in nearby Cienega Valley. Pietra Santa uses some of the fruit, but most of it is sold.

To the west of Dunne Ranch along Highway 152 lies the San Ysidro District. This sub-AVA contains two vineyards. The larger of the two is Mistral Vineyard, with 260 acres planted from a total of 375. It's mainly planted with Chardonnay and Merlot, though there is a small amount of the port grapes including Touriga Nacional, Tinta Cao and Tinta Madeira. Until its sale in 2007 the vineyard was owned by Millbrook Wine of New York, who also own the Williams Selyem winery in Sonoma. The Williams Selyem 'port' was made with fruit from this vineyard.

Next to Mistral is San Ysidro Vineyard. Roughly half of its 250 acres are planted with Pinot Noir with the remainder being Chardonnay and a small amount of Merlot. It is owned by the San Ysidro Corporation, who also own the San Felipe Vineyard. This 122 acre property is located within the Pacheco Pass AVA, along Highway 156, and is evenly divided into Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The Corporation owns no wineries; all the fruit is sold, mostly to large producers.

Finally we come to the Clos LaChance estate in San Martin. The winery farms 150 acres surrounding the Cordevalle golf course, with a wide range of varieties planted. Most of the winery's fruit is sourced from this estate; some alos comes from around 40 acres of maanged vines in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and some Chardonnay purchased from Monterey County. Despite being located at the heart of the Santa Clara Valley, Clos LaChance wines typically carry the wider Central Coast appellation.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Welcome to the new blog site for the Friends of the Winemakers.

Friends of the Winemakers is a non-profit corporation whose purpose is to preserve the history of winemaking and the enjoyment of wine in the Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains; to share the knowledge with others; and to stimulate interests about vineyards, varieties of wine, and the process of wine production.

Each month we schedule a wine oriented activity. Some of these involve visits to local wineries and tastings in support of the Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains wine industry. We help non-profit organizations with volunteer assistance by pouring wine at their events. More ambitious projects to further knowledge and history of local wines will be undertaken as resources permit.

On this site you will find information about our organization and links to our member wineries.