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History of Santa Clara Valley Wines

"Silicon Valley" - it's easy to forget this area's role as California's first premium wine production region - the Santa Clara Valley. Native Americans named it "the Valley of the Heart's Delight." French and Italian immigrants who settled here during the Gold Rush era recognized the rich soils and Mediteranean climate as the perfect New World home for their European grape varietals.

The history of winemaking and viticulture in the Santa Clara Valley goes back to the 18th Century. From the discovery of native "Vitis Californica" grapes growing wild and the first plantings of Mission grapes at the Santa Clara Mission in 1798, through boom years and depression, phylloxera and prohibition, the region has some of the richest tradition of anywhere in the country.

Then came the rise of Silicon Valley and the farmland gave way to technology parks, housing and shopping malls. Well known, respected wineries such as Mirassou and Almadén were sold and their old vineyards torn up and subdivided. Winegrowing continued in the south of the county; around Hecker Pass and Watsonville Road a number of family owned wineries continued to produce wines, mostly for local consumption.


The 1970s saw a great deal of change. The Cassa Brothers winery which had operated from 1948 to 1969 was bought by the Fortino family. Brothers Ernest and Mario operated the Fortino Winery together until 1972.  Guglielmo Winery had been making wine since Repeal, largely under private labels for restaurants. In 1969 they launched their own Mount Madonna label, which later was renamed to Guglielmo.

School teachers Terry and Mary Kay Parks founded the Sycamore Creek winery in 1976. Some of their early vintages were exceptional, with their 1978 Cabernet Sauvignon still being in fine condition 30 years later.  In 1980 the Bertero winery was purchased by the Vanni family and renamed Solis Winery. (There had already been an earlier Solis Winery in the area which had closed in 1970). The old Zinfandel and Carignane grapes were initially replaced by Chardonnay and Merlot with several other varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Sangiovese, being added later. The winery's reputation has gradually been growing; in particular their estate Fiano (a white grape from Campania in Italy) is excellent.


In 1987 the historic Almadén vineyard was sold to a development company.  The area's resurgence gained pace in 1989. The key event was the designation of a distinct American Viticultural Area, or AVA; prior to this the region's wines were typically labeled 'Central Coast' or 'Santa Clara County'. Gene Guglielmo, grandson of winery founder Emilio, researched and filed the petition, and on March 28th 1989 the Santa Clara Valley AVA was finally declared. It encompasses an area of over 300,000 acres within Santa Clara County and included all the existing wineries in the area not currently part of an AVA.

1999 saw the beginning of one of the most ambitious new plantings in the area for many years. Bill and Brenda Murphy had originally planted ¾ acres as landscaping at their home in Saratoga. In 1993 they became bonded and released their first vintage, 1992 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They initially expanded by launching a vineyard management company called CK Vines, installing and maintaining residential vineyards in the mountains. Then in 1999 the opportunity arose to acquire 150 acres in San Martin around the CordeValle golf course and resort. This has since been planted with over 15 different varieties. The state-of-the-art winery and tasting rooms opened in time for the 2002 vintage.


From Morgan Hill’s deep past comes an exciting new future as this old growing region becomes a “new” tourist region for those looking for exquisite wines.

in fall

For more information on the early history of the Santa Clara Valley see the book Like Modern Edens: Winegrowing in Santa Clara Valley and Santa Cruz Mountains 1798-1981 by Charles L. Sullivan (1982)

barn barn barn

(excerpted from santaclarawines.com)

Our Local Wineries

Castillo's Hillside Shire Winery

2215 Liberata Dr
Morgan Hill, CA 95037

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Lightheart Cellars

305 Roosevelt Ave
San MartinCA 95046

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Clos Le Chance


1 Hummingbird Lane 
San MartinCA 95046

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Fortino Winery 


4525 Hecker Pass Hwy
 GilroyCA 95020-8807

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Guglielmo Winery

1480 E Main Ave 
Morgan HillCA 95037-3201

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Martin Ranch 


6675 Redwood Retreat Rd.
GilroyCA 95020

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Morgan Hill Cellars 


1645 San Pedro Ave
 Morgan HillCA 95037-9667

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Solis Winery

3920 Hecker Pass Hwy 
GilroyCA 95020

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seeker vineyard
11755 Turlock Ave. 
San Martin, CA  95046
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