The Santa Clara Valley was also strategically placed. Spain had created the Presidio, a military outpost in San Francisco, in 1776, to guard the bay’s entrance. But Santa Clara Valley was a nexus. From its south bay location, travelers could go by land up the western side of the bay to San Francisco or up the east side to Sonoma, Sacramento, and beyond. Along that eastern route, Mission San Jose (which is actually in Fremont, not San Jose) was established in 1797.
The Inland Valleys, however, are very hot and dry, and an inhospitable place in which to live during the nineteenth century. Back then, like the Los Angeles area, the Inland Valleys also lacked sufficient access to fresh water for substantial agriculture. That didn’t change for Los Angeles until 1913, and for the Inland Valleys until 1933.
Viticulture began in Santa Clara Valley with establishment of the mission and pueblo. Initially, and for the first few decades of the nineteenth century, wine was not a commercial product. That began to change in 1822, when Mexico took over Alta California from Spain. Settlers turned to agriculture of all kinds as a money-making venture, rather than for mere subsistence, a trend that accelerated dramatically after California became part of the United States in 1850.
Vineyard acres in the Santa Clara Valley increased rapidly, especially on the hillsides, which were well-suited to winegrapes and less so for other crops. The assortment of grape varieties multiplied too. Among the first varieties added were Pinot Noir, Chasselas, Colombard, and Semillon.
Leland Stanford Winery was just one of many significant Santa Clara Valley producers during that period. But, they were all seriously challenged by phylloxera and by a decrease in demand as Europe’s vineyards recovered. Only about two-thirds of the Santa Clara acreage lost had been rehabilitated by the end of the century.
The next calamity for Santa Clara Valley viticulture was Prohibition. It was the death knell for many wineries and vineyards in the area, as it was throughout California. Not all succumbed completely though. More than 30 wineries in the Santa Clara Valley AVA have pre-Prohibition histories. And, even before Prohibition ended, at least one new player entered the scene.
In 1925, anticipating the eventual end of Prohibition, Guglielmo bought land near Morgan Hill in the Santa Clara Valley. He planted a vineyard and began making wine, which was sold to San Francisco clients. The third and fourth generations of the family still own and operate it.
Manufacturing soon began to boom though. By the mid-1950s, more valley residents were employed in manufacturing than had been by agriculture before the war. And, in 1952, IBM established research labs in the Almaden area of San Jose. The transition to Silicon Valley had begun.
In 1996, the Weibel Family, which had bought the former Leland Stanford Winery and its original 100-acre plot in 1946, sold. The land was quickly covered by an upscale housing development. Industrial and urban development continues virtually unabated.
That, and increased interest in California wines overall, has led to a small renaissance for Santa Clara Valley wineries, particularly in the area around Morgan Hill. The San Ysidro District AVA followed a year later. The Pacheco Pass AVA was established in 1984, but is home to just one winery.
Spanish explorers arrive
Franciscan missionaries establish Mission Santa Clara de Asis
El Pueblo de San Jose de Guadalupe established
Mission San Jose established, the fourteenth of the 21 Spanish missions
Mexico assumes control of Spanish lands in California
California ceded to the United States by Mexico
California granted statehood; San Jose designated its capital
Santa Clara Valley wineries win awards in state wine competitions
Governor Leland Stanford buys Warm Springs Ranch and vineyard
Southern Pacific Railroad builds a line through the valley
San Martin Winery established
Weibel Family Winery buys the historic Leland Stanford vineyard in Mission San Jose
Santa Clara Valley economy begins the transition from agriculture to manufacturing
IBM establishes research labs in the Almaden area of Santa Clara Valley
Pacheco Pass AVA established
Santa Clara Valley AVA established
San Ysidro AVA established
Weibel Family sells vineyard to housing developer