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