Saratoga Wine History



The Santa Cruz Mountains Appellation

In 1981 Saratoga winegrowers became part of the first Appellation created in America. Like “Champagne” and “Bordeaux”, appellation is the term applied to designate a unique wine-growing region. Saratoga vintners are part of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, designated as a viticultural region under regulations of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Mission Era

The Franciscan padres at nearby Santa Clara Mission were first to grow grapes near the West Valley area. For various reasons, only six of the twenty-one missions were able to produce wine. Sacramental wine was first produced at the Santa Clara Mission from a little one-acre vineyard.

In 1871 Fr. Aloyisius Varsi, president of Santa Clara College, acquired acreage in the West Valley to produce Italian style wines for the school. Known as Villa Maria, this successful enterprise paved the way for the Jesuit novitiate and winery in nearby Los Gatos in the 1880’s. Vincent Pichetti arrived from Italy in 1872 and managed the Villa Maria winemaking operation for more than a decade, later acquiring his own vineyard.

Early Saratoga Vineyards

The earliest known vintner in the Saratoga Hills was Jean Narcisse Aubry. He arrived in the Saratoga hills in 1856 and worked as a woodchopper. He brought seeds and cuttings from France when he came to California to start his new life. He built a house and created a vineyard near Sanborn Road and acquired his 160-acre homestead in 1871. Aubry was joined by other emigrants from the Haute-Alpes region of northern Italy. Joseph Rispaud and Maurice Garcin settled on 320 acres in 1866, Prosper Estrade arrived in 1867 and Jacques Boisseranc arrived in 1869. Others who located nearby and are associated with early wine growing are Eloi and Pierre Pourroy, Adrian Bonnet and Alexander Rodoni.

Mr. Pfeffer, a native of Germany, settled on Prospect Road in 1868 and began horticultural experimentation. Noted as a local scientist, he bred grapes that produced European style wines without grafting. He is reported to have developed phylloxera free vines from wild grape stock. Cabernet from these vines won a bronze medal at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.

Early Grape Varieties

A wide variety of grapes were grown successfully in the Saratoga area and an 1885 publication lists the following: Black Hamberg, Cabernet, Cardillac, Carignan, Charbono, Golden Chasselas, Grenache, Grosse Blanc, Malbec, Malvoisie, Mission, Montero, Morelle Reisling, Muscat, Petite Bouchet, Sauvignon, Semillon, Tokay, Trousseau, and Zinfandel.

Paul Masson

Vintner Paul Masson acquired a vineyard from the Rodoni family in 1896, thereby expanding his holdings into the Saratoga hills. Masson developed fine sparkling wines at this site and became a celebrated local figure although his residence and sales offices were in San Jose. He died in 1940 and his name lives on as a celebrated California brand.

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