Santa Clara & San Benito Wine Heritage

I have a strong interest in the history and culture of wine growing and making in the Santa Clara and San Benito areas.

Often (in my mind) the overlap of these two Counties occurs when I embark on researching a particular winery or vineyard. Less than one hundred years ago, the area played a prominent role in establishing California’s reputation for high quality wines.

I would appreciate any and all insight, trivia, updates, anecdotes, etc. to be shared here.

Santa Clara County Map Resources: Link

If you haven’t read Like Modern Edens: Winegrowing in Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains 1798-1981 by Charles L. Sullivan I highly recommend it but I have a hunch you have. [cheers.gif]

You just beat me to it, Sean - I was going to mention the same book. Great resource for the wine background of these areas.

I’m almost certain Drew read that book since he has ready other books by Sullivan.

The Sullivan book and another one, Wineries of Santa Clara County by Beverly Stenehjem, are en route from Amazon.

I delayed ordering the Sullivan book because I kept stumbling on great stuff online and in the Companion to California Wine book. A rather large section of the Cali book (1998) is dedicated to Santa Clara and San Benito personalities, wineries, history, etc.

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What remains of historic wine producing sites?

Also, who honor the legacies of yesteryear’s prominent growers and vintners?

Many discoveries cannot be shipped to me in Louisiana, haven’t been consistently sourced from old-growth vineyards, or - worst of all - not made from grape varieties that I want - wah waaah :frowning:

Side-note: There were some straight-up maniacs involved in California winemaking during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. It appears that this fact boosted sales when every kooky thing that was said or done was reported in the newspapers (sound familiar?).

Image: “Valley of Heart’s Delight”
Current View of Valley of Heart's Delight

Links to Additional Information:

Good producers using San Benito fruit (and usually southern Santa Clara Valley fruit, too) include River Run, Alfaro, DeRose, Stefania and Ian Brand’s stuff.

There’s a quality boom going on in southern Santa Clara Valley, which I’m a little out of date on. Martin Ranch were once growers only (Harvest Moon Vyd.) Now they only sell to Kathryn Kennedy and Stefania, and actually buy a bit. Husband and wife team with very different tastes, so they have two labels. Stick with the hers, Therese Vineyards. Several years ago we did a tasting of 18 '07 SCM and SCV Cabs. Hers finished first, ahead of Monte Bello and Mount Eden (was my third behind those two). Other recs include Aver Family and Sarah’s Vineyard (semi-new owners really boosted the quality). I’d say Medeiros Family is a good bet from what he did previously. Left bend is doing a great job with some Hecker Pass old vines, like their Carignane. Several people source Bates Ranch, incl. their own label.

Thanks, Wes!

I have looked up many of the wineries you mentioned, and few ship to Louisiana. I am planning on buying from a few in the coming months, as finances are limited.

The scope of varieties that I am interested in is pretty small at this time, but I imagine that I will snap out of it eventually. :stuck_out_tongue:

Another thing that I am surprised by is how few Santa Clara & San Benito old-growth sites are included on the Historic Vineyard Society’s roster.

Perhaps upcoming releases from this forum’s favorite producers will bring greater attention to this region.

*** EDIT ***

· Santa Clara Wines website:

· Purple Tongue Press
" History in the Vines: Fremont’s Wine Legacy"
by Ralph de Unamuno
December 1, 2015

· The Metro
“Olden Age of Vines: Passing Years Only Heighten the Quality of California’s Historic Grapevines”
by Steve Bjerklie
August 1, 1996

· Mercury News
“Three Historic Wineries in Santa Clara Valley”
by Mary Orlin
July 7, 2016

· History of Santa Clara County, California
by J. P. Munro-Fraser
published by Alley, Bowen & Company, 1881

· History and Biographical Record of Monterey and San Benito Counties
by James MiIler Guinn, Jacob R. Leese, George Henry Tinkham
published by Historic Record Co., Los Angeles, CA, 1910

· “The History of Redwood Retreat”
Fernwood Cellars website

Gregory Under the Mtn Vineyard from Bedrock

I’m not sure if we ship to Louisiana, but we work from about six different vineyards in San Benito County, and another six or seven from Santa Clara County for various projects, including some of the oldest Cab Franc, Mourvèdre, and Cab Sauv in Cali, as well as some newer plantings. If you know what you’re looking for and the geology of the region, there’s some great vineyards and wines to be made. It’s a great place to be working out of right now. We’ll see how long it stays under the radar.

Ian, thanks for your insight! If my memory serves, I was not able to order a shipment to Louisiana. However, this was a while back.

I won a bottle of Le P’tit Paysan 2012 Petite Sirah from WineBid a couple of weeks ago. I definitely am interested in the La Marea San Benito “Spur Ranch Vineyard” Mourvèdre, but I have to wait to make a purchase (fingers crossed that it won’t sell out by September-ish).

IIRC, the area where most San Benito County vineyards are located includes the old Almaden / Blossom Hill vineyards. The Gimelli, Pietra Santa, and DeRose vineyards are a ridge or two away from the Calera quarry vineyards.

I could be wrong on that, however.


We should be able to make a Louisiana shipment happen when the weather accommodates.

The San Benito vineyard plantings are generally clustered around the old Blossom Hill facility and the Cienega Valley, but these days extend well beyond that. There are a lot of vineyards east of Hollister in the Comstock Road area, and Bonny Doon’s new project is just outside of San Juan Bautista. There’s some good stuff around Tres Pinos, including one of Bryan Harrington’s main sources and, just south of there, the Vista Verde/Pebble Ridge planting that Williams-Selyem has used for years, and the Spur Ranch planting, on the south flank of Chalone Peak in the far southern reaches of the county. My favorite things in the area are Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre and Grenache, but there’s an ever expanding variety of grapes in the region. The Calera plantings are a couple ridges west of the Cienega Valley, in the heart of the Gabilan Mountains.

In Santa Clara, the vineyards are clustered around Gilroy as Silicon Valley is threatening to eat up Morgan Hill. I think the stars of the area are the Besson and Bates Ranch properties. The Besson has 100 year old Grenache (us, Tribute to Grace and Birichino) and Zinfandel (Birichino). Stefania’s new Syrah off Besson is very tasty, though I’m not sure when that will be released. Bates Ranch has Cabernet Sauvignon dating back to the late sixties and Cabernet Franc dating back to the late 70s, some young vine Cab Sauv and Grenache. Look for the Ghostwriter Bates Ranch, and from us, the Vocal Cabernet Sauv Bates Ranch and I. Brand and Family Cab Franc Bates Ranch both beginning with the 15 vintage. Katheryn Kennedy, Bargetto and, I think, Richard Alfaro get Bates fruit but I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting any of those recently. Some of the older Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Bates bottlings are among the best California wines I’ve ever had.

Beyond that, I agree with a lot of Wes’ recommendations. We’ve got our fingers in a few projects up in Santa Clara and I think that place will blow up pretty quickly. When you consider it’s a half hour drive from Silicon Valley, there’s almost no way it doesn’t.



Ian, I just ordered a couple of the La Marea Spur Ranch Mourvedre from San Benito County, and a white from the not-Santa Clara/San Benito area. :wink:

These were posted in Facebook by MTP of Bedrock:

“California Pioneers of Santa Clara County”
by Paul Bernal

"The Mirassou Winery was founded in 1854 by Louis Pellier and his brother Pierre (1823-1894). Louis Pellier was the father of the enormous prune industry in California, planting the first French prunes in San Jose in 1856. Because of Pellier, today California produces 99 percent of the nation’s prunes and 70 percent of the world’s prunes.

"…Pierre Pellier brought the grapes known as Black Burgundy, French Colombar(d), Chasselas, Fontainebleau, Pinot Noir, Madeline and others from France to San Jose.

"With these new varieties, Louis and Pierre Pellier founded the valley’s French wine industry at City Garden. Louie bought 148.8 acres off Quimby Road in Evergreen, which was a part of the Chaboya land grant.

“In 1860, Pierre planted vines and ranched an area near Mission San Jose (Fremont). After three years, he returned to San Jose. Louie sold his Evergreen Ranch to his brother Pierre for $1,000. Pierre planted 150 acres of vines, and farmed about 300 acres. Pierre added to the Evergreen property, and by 1869, the Pellier ranch became one of the largest in Evergreen.”

It appears that the Pierre Pellier introduced Mourvèdre - and possibly Carignan - to Santa Clara and San Benito Counties in the 1860s. He may have been the first to import these cultivars, along with several others, into the state of California.

Image: “Pellier Vineyards”

Internet Archive website
Signposts (1982)
by Patricia Loomis

I’ve seen that Pierre Pellier is often credited with bringing the first Pinot Noir vines to California. Sort of doubt that he would have brought in Mourvèdre or Carignan but who knows?

There’ll be a Sandlands Mataro from Enz vineyard in San Benito, the only Sandlands vineyard designate that I’ve heard of.

Do tell.

Image: “Susan and Robert Enz, 'Enz Vineyard”

Winemaking in California
by Ruth Tessier and Catherine Harrom
McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1983

That’s all I know. Presumably it’ll be released with the other '15s next year.

Good overall survey of San Benito area’s wine industry, and the answer to the “Cabernet Pfeffer question”:

Benito Link
"Magazine Calls San Benito County ‘The Area’s Best Kept Wine Secret’
June 15, 2015
by Camilla M. Mann

“The summer issue of the Edible Monterey Bay magazine features a story calling San Benito County’s wine region ‘One of the Monterey Bay’s best kept secrets.’ Editor and publisher Sarah Wood gave Benito Link permission to run the article, written by Camilla M. Mann, along with links to other stories about local vineyards, including a directory of all the local vineyards and wineries open to the public in our county…”.

** EDIT ***

Other Regional Wine Resources:

Geology Cafe website
Field Trips: “Cienega Valley”