Santa Clara & San Benito Wine Heritage

Just spotted this thread and love it. Lots of new stuff for me to investigate… especially if pricing is below Santa Cruz Mountains for virtually unknown wines.

People on this thread know that in the late 1800’s, Santa Clara Valley and Napa Valley were neck and neck candidates for top terroir in California. Of course today Santa Clara Valley is far more famous… unfortunately not for wine, more colloquial name is Silicon Valley.

Oh for the days when I could visit Gemello behind the bowling alley in Mountain View and pick up some of the greatest Cabs in California history.

Dan Kravitz

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A pretty nice overview of the Pellier family and its contributions to the fruit business of Santa Clara:


Santa Clara County Property / Landowners Mapping Tools:

County of Santa Clara website
Santa Clara County Assessor’s Office
Property Search - Real Property

County of Santa Clara website
Geographic Information Services (GIS)
Santa Clara County Map - SCCMap:

Here’s a YouTube video (no audio) of Working the Mirassou Ranch, 1962, compliments of the California Pioneers of Santa Clara:


*** EDIT * Added Resources**

Friends of the Winemakers: “Mirassou”
January 6, 2010

This website provides a succinct timeline covering the Pellier brothers’ early ventures in winemaking. The torch was passed to the Mirassou family in 1881 when Henriette Pellier, daughter of the late Pierre Pellier, married Pierre Mirassou.

Gallo purchased the winery inventory and the Mirassou brand in 2002. The vineyard holdings and other acreage remained with the family in a trust for several more years.

David and Peter established La Rochelle after the deal with Gallo, and ran their new project out of the family’s old winery. In 2005, Steven Kent Mirassou, cousin of the “America’s oldest winemaking family”, then bought La Rochelle and incorporated it into Steven Kent, his Livermore, CA, operation.

Vineyard photo from the Facebook page of Mr Cody @ Bedrock Wine Company…


Some images I stole from an Enz Vineyard harvest photo album Mr Hardy Wallace (Dirty & Rowdy) posted on Reddit:

What is up with that soil?!?

Article from my perusal of the internets:

Morgan Hill Life
“Wine Story: Oldest Wine Region in California is Here in South County”
by Marty Cheek /Cindy Adams
February 15, 2014

"…Wine grapes were first brought to California because of the establishment of the missions by the Franciscan Order, and also by the Spanish migration. In January 1777, the Mission Santa Clara de Asís was founded and later that year, the Pueblo of San Jose was established as the first civil settlement in Alta California. These early settlers realized that the climate and physical attributes of the area were very conducive to growing grapes for wine. By the 1820s, viticulture had become a successful part of Santa Clara Valley life. By the 1850s, this area had more acres of vineyards than any other county in California.

“By 1883, Santa Clara County had more than 100 wineries, many located in the areas of what are now Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Martin. However, both over-expansion and then phylloxera (an aphid-like insect pest of commercial grapevines for which there is no cure) took their toll. By the early 1900s, more than 10,000 acres of grapevines had disappeared, and over half the wineries closed…”

Thanks for the article Drew.

Here is a working link Wine story: Oldest wine region in California is here in South County - Morgan Hill Life

Possibly the “oldest wine region” that’s once again a notable wine region, but hard to argue against the Los Angeles area being the first major commercial wine region in California with the plantings of Chapman, Vignes, etc. in the 1820s and 1830s.

Ken, I am sure that you are correct. :slight_smile:

The migration of the Spanish Northwards from the Mexican conquest would most certainly pass through the San Diego area and LA region prior to Santa Clara.

Excerpt from “The History of California Wine” (pdf, 2012) by Wine Institute of California

"In 1769, Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary, brought settlers from Mexico into San Diego. He established a mission there and the first known vineyard in California. As he moved north along the route that became known as El Camino Real, he and others established 21 missions linking San Diego in the South to Sonoma in the North…

…“About 1830, the commercial era started through the efforts of a Frenchman, Jean Louis Vignes. Arriving from Bordeaux, he saw the land’s potential and soon imported cuttings of many varieties of the native European Vitis vinifera.”

I am not a specialist in the history of California, but I do appreciate the wine that is made out yonder. :wink:

Cool read about the “Enz Vineyard” of Lime Kiln Valley which, at the time, was operating as a winery as well. :slight_smile:

LA Times Article
“Peaceful Valley : A Little-Known Historic Wine Area Is Almost Hidden by the Diablo and Gavilan Mountain Ranges, Near San Juan Bautista”

by Robert Lawrence Balzar
October 11, 1987

From The Mercury News online site:

“Grape Tales: Cabernet Pfeffer”

by Mary Orlin
PUBLISHED: January 22, 2015

“[Nicole] Walsh had vines from the Wirz Vineyard analyzed by Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis for DNA identification, which found that the Pfeffer vines she submitted are actually Mourtaou, an obscure French variety. The lab report states that Cabernet Pfeffer is used as “a synonym” for both Mourtaou and Gros Verdot, another French variety, in the state of California, but there is no relation to Cabernet Sauvignon.”

From Santa Cruz Sentinel

“Wine Press: Ser’s Winemaker Nicole Walsh Committed to Wines of Place”

By: Stacey Vreeken
POSTED: Tuesday, May 30, 2017

“Is a Riesling Renaissance beginning in California? – Chapter 1 (Ryan Stirm)”
January 5, 2017
by John Haeger

According to the STiRM Wine website, Ryan Stirm’s team is now taking on the role of farming the “Enz Vineyard”!

SF Chronicle
“Winemakers to Watch”
by Esther Mobley
Photography by Liz Hafalia
December 31, 2017

STiRM Wine website:

The Bedrock Wine Company YouTube channel has a new video featuring Mr Pat Wirz of the Wirz Vineyard in Cienega Valley. Bedrock has bottled a vineyard-designated Riesling from this site for at least two vintages.

I am always happy to stumble on some trivia related to the old-vine sites of the Santa Clara and San Benito region.

From the online retailer RockJuice (via a product highlight from Ryan Stirm and Andrew Nelson), here’s a bit of info on the “Enz Vineyard” and STiRM Wine Company’s “Mezcla de Campo” Rosé:

"Originally planted in 1895, the ‘Enz Vineyard’ is located in the shadow of the Gabilan mountains in Lime Kiln Valley, inland from Santa Cruz near San Juan Bautista, where Andrew’s grandfather, Manuel Botelho, farmed apple orchards.

"Farming of the 28-acre vineyard, originally planted to Iberian varietals – Mataro (Mouvèdre), Carignan, Mission, Palomino, & Orange Muscat – fell under the care of Ryan Stirm in 2016. Pesticides or herbicides have never been used in the vineyard, and, since many of the vines are 90-120 years old, everything is completely dry-farmed. Andrew and Ryan do everything by hand, from bottling and affixing labels (some of the coolest label art I’ve come across, designed by their tattoo-artist friend) to schlepping the wine from Santa Cruz to us in SF.

“So much love and care, along with the extraordinary age of the vines, comes across in this complex field blend of red + white grapes – there is a certain seriousness, gravitas even, that urges one to sip slowly and savor all that is going on in this gorgeous package. It’s savory, herbal and textural, with wild Mediterranean herbs, sour cherry and watermelon, and a long, dry finish. One of our favorite discoveries in this whole Cali mix!”

RockJuice Inc: “2016 Los Chuchaquis Old Vine Rosé”

A magazine article on Grenache from several California producers tapping oft-overlooked regions:

Food and Wine
“The Twizzlers of Wine”
by Megan Krigbaum
January 22, 2016

“Winemaker Ian Brand of La Marea makes a Grenache with fruit from ‘Spur Ranch Vineyard’ in San Benito County. The vineyard was planted 20 years ago in an ancient limestone seabed; Brand described the crumbly soil as looking like the surface of the moon. The wine was spiced, with an olive-y edge that evoked the Rhône wines I love. Brand also produces a ‘Besson Vineyard’ Grenache. His version was a bit quieter than the Birichino I’d had earlier in Big Sur, but just as compellingly drinkable.”

Esther Mobley’s article on some of the vineyards and producers of California Riesling includes the Wirz Vineyard in San Benito County:

San Francisco Chronicle
“California Riesling’s Popularity & Quality Return”
Esther Mobley
September 28, 2016

"The Wirz Vineyard in Hollister (San Benito County) harks back to that mid-60s swinging pendulum: planted to Riesling in 1964, at a time when the grape looked, once again, like California’s next great white wine.

"Like California Riesling at large, the Wirz Vineyard is underappreciated, misunderstood. Its half-century-old Riesling vines are own-rooted, head-trained, dry farmed; some of them sit directly on the San Andreas Fault. Says Pat Wirz: ‘The Cienega Valley doesn’t get a lot of press, but I think it’s one of the best places for growing grapes in California.’ Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t heard of it.

"Yes, the site is hot (107 degrees last week), but it gets a welcome coastal influence through the Gabilan mountain range. If you’re standing in it, with mountains towering on all sides, the vineyard can feel like a flat, low valley, but it actually stands at 1,000 feet above sea level.

“The logic isn’t obvious. If you taste the wines, you’ll see: The charge that Wirz Vineyard — that California in general — is too hot for Riesling, famously a lover of cool climates, is a fallacy.”[/i]

In her article on the current status of Riesling in California, Esther Mobley surveys historical ups-and-downs in the variety’s popularity, the limited scope of vine material genetics in the ground, as well as a few winemaker’s thoughts on conjuring the utmost potential from Riesling grapes.

Mr Pat Wirz’s fifty-year-old vineyard in the Cienega Valley is held up to readers as an unlikely paradigm of Riesling cultivation.

Drew, just returned from the Bedrock pickup event, and you will want to check out the “Vineyard Under The Mountain” wine, to be released next year. Old vineyard near Morgan Hill, mostly Zinfandel IIRC!