The Historic Almaden Winery


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Analysis of the Historical & Architectural Significance of the Almaden Winery Site

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 Prepared for:      Dividend Development Corporation

                                 3600 Pruneridge Avenue

                                 Santa Clara, California


               Prepared by:      Urban Programmers

                                 247 N.Third Street

                                 San Jose, California


May 4, 1988












         A.   Area Map
         B.   Historical Map
         C.   Site Plan - Almaden Winery
         D.   Site Plan - Historic Buildings
         E.   Historic Sketch
         F.   Photographs

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The subject of this historical analysis is the Almaden Winery and vineyard, located at 1530 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose, California.  The property is approximately 35 acres, and is extensively planted in varietal wine grape vines, specimen trees, and flower gardens. Several industrial buildings of various size and construction as well as industrial structures are on the site.  The development of the site has evolved from c. 1851 through 1985. The area is identified in Exhibit A - Area Map, Exhibit B, Historical Map, and Exhibit C - a site plan that shows the location of existing buildings and landscaped areas.


The purpose of this analysis is to determine if the site possesses historical significance. This is accomplished by comparing historical data collected through research and the historic integrity of existing improvements, to criteria for determining historic significance that has been adopted by the City of San Jose.  The criteria for this evaluation is found in Section 13.48., Part 2, Section H, of the Municipal Code.  The City of San Jose also observes the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places – local level of significance, for environmental consideration.  The site has been registered as a State Landmark. State Landmark criteria is not usually applied when determining local significance since it requires significance that reflects a state-wide importance. The analysis contained in the following report documents comparison to the criteria of the  National Register of Historic Places - local level, and that of the City of  San  Jose. The state registration indicates the historic significance to the heritage of the State of California. This registration is in addition to local, regional or national significance that may be determined appropriate.


The Almaden Winery is California Registered Landmark No. 505 in recognition of the beginning of a new commercial industry - premium winemaking - established by Charles Le Franc in the 1850's. The California Registered Landmark plaque states:

ALMADEN VINEYARDS    On this site, in 1852, Charles Le Franc made the first commercial planting of fine European wine grapes in Santa Clara County to found Almaden Vineyard.  Le Franc imported cuttings from vines in the celebrated wine districts of his native France, shipping them by sailing ship around the Horn.

While the date in the text may not be quite accurate, it explains the significance and records the importance of these events to the wine industry of California.

The Almaden Winery of 1988 is a complex of buildings and landscaping features that include industrial structures, two winery buildings that date from at least 1862 and 1876, a residence c.1930, a multi-purpose bunk house/tack ranch building c.1930, and a 1976 office building.  The complex documents the growth of one of the state's most important wine businesses and one of the largest producers in the nation.

The documentation and research defines the primary period of historical significance for the winery to be to be 1856-1887.  This is the period during which Charles Le Franc; began farming and cultivating vines on the property, imported varietal vines from France to begin the commercial wine industry in the Santa Clara Valley, and increased the production of premium wines to make his New Almaden Vineyards one of the largest and most respected wineries in the state.  For his efforts, Charles Le Franc is considered the "Father of Commercial Winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley".

Beyond the primary period of historical significance, the Almaden Winery had achieved historical significance as the second oldest commercial winery in the state, and the oldest continuously operated winery in the Santa Clara Valley until this site was closed in 1987.

During the entire history of the vineyards, individuals associated with Almaden Vineyards have contributed notably to the refinement and growth of the nation's wine industry.  Many wine industry innovations can be attributed to individuals associated with the winery and vineyards.  As an economic entity, Almaden Vineyards Corporation, headquartered at the property on Blossom Hill Road, was one of the largest producers of premium wine in the nation.

Comparing the primary period of historical significance to the physical improvements on the property, it is found that two buildings, although modified, were constructed during this time.  Further consideration of the historical achievements attributed to the Almaden Winery, up until it was removed from this location in 1987, shows that these two buildings were continuously used and one, the original winery building, provided the site for planning many of the later achievements.

The improvements of primary significance are the original winery building, and the 1876 cellars.  Other improvements contribute to the overall history of the winery, however, they do not appear to have individual significance and, in fact, are often contiguous industrial buildings to expand the enclosed space for winery operations or storage of glass, paper, and other production items.

Landscaping and the vineyards are very important in the history of the winery.   While some trees are from the primary period of significance, it is questionable that any original Le Franc vines have survived, since a vine is generally considered to have a 60-80 year life.


Original c.1850's Winery

This linear building appears to have been constructed during the 1850's and was expanded by later development. Built into the knoll, the building is variously described in literature as having natural adobe, rubble, or brick walls.  In different places and at different times, all may have been correct.   At present, the building exhibits exterior walls, primarily of brick, with some wood sheathing.  Rehabilitated in 1985 to achieve a level of seismic stability and to provide the first public tasting and sales room, the building retains the architectural integrity of the original design.

As Le Franc's original winery, this building is one of the most historically significant buildings in the Santa Clara Valley.

1876 Cellar

Within the extensions and additions of the largest building at the winery, is the 1876 cellar.  This building is significant as one of the oldest winery buildings in the valley, and for its association with Le Franc in the expansion of the winery.  It is also significant as a representation of an architectural design and methods of construction considered to be archaic.

This building has been altered over the years to accommodate growth of the winery.  Sections of the masonry walls have been removed to create open spaces for large tank and barrel storage.  Acknowledging this alteration, the building retains basic architectural integrity for the overall design.  Particularly important, the north sandstone wall with a rusticated sandstone surround framing the door openings.  It is believed the sandstone came from the Goodrich Quarry on Almaden Road. If so, this would have been one of the first instillations of cut sandstone from this quarry.

The remnants of mounded earth ramps are found on both the south and north sides of the cellar.  Ramps were essential to provide for second floor delivery, of grapes or equipment.  These openings are set at a height above the ramp to be even with the bed of the wagons.  Exhibit E shows an artists rendition-of the winery some 15 years after construction of this building.


Several pepper trees, a venerable fig, olive trees, vines and specimen plants appear to be from the period of significance.  These are primarily located just to the west of the original winery in the area of the Le Franc house, which was destroyed by fire in 1974.  Rows of olive trees and the vineyards are at a distance to the south, east and west.  Rows of olive trees, once prevalent in the valley to define boundaries or driveways, are now scarce.

Determining Significance

Four areas are identified for comparison to the criteria of the National Register of Historic Places and the San Jose Landmark Ordinance. This comparison allows the value of cultural resources to be evaluated. The three areas for comparison are as follows:

               1.    Integrity of site and buildings;
               2.    Association with an important industry;
               3.    Association with an important person.

The documentation, evaluation, and assessment found in this report, conclude a high level of historical significance for a unit of property that contains the two buildings and plantings directly associated with Charles Le Franc. This  prime  unit  of  significance  appears  eligible  for  nomination  to  the

National Register of Historic Places, designation as a City of San Jose Historic Landmark, and as a California Registered Landmark.

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The French had been interested in California since the seafarers of the late 1600's. However, it was in the 1840's, after the Seven Year War, that historian Herbert Bancroft lists sixteen visits to Alta California between 1841-1848.  Descriptions of California appear to have reached France at the same time as the news that gold had been discovered.  Gold fever increased the few dozen Frenchmen in California to 32,000 by May 18, 1853.  One of those to immigrate in the 1840's was Etienne Thee, a Bordeaux farmer.  Thee, if he mined, left the gold fields and moved to the Santa Clara Valley, where he settled on Rancho San Juan Bautista, acquiring half interest in a parcel of land from Jos6 Agustin Narvaez.  On 350 acres of land, Etienne Bernard Edmond Thee, with his wife and daughter, constructed a fine house on a knoll, adjacent to the Arroyo de los Capetancellos (Guadalupe River).  The farmer had recognized that the soil would support vines which he purchased from the Mission Santa Clara in 1851.  The "Mission grapes," a hardy stock introduced by the Padres, were cultivated by several vintners to produce a sweet wine.    The quality of this wine was generally very poor by comparison to European varietals which resulted in the large quantities of varietal wine and brandy that were imported to the state.

Records indicate that Charles Le Franc, a tailor, arrived in San Francisco from Passy, France in 1850.  While residing in that city, Le Franc socialized with the French community in San Jose, where he met Etienne Thee. The two became working partners in the 350 acre farm, vineyard and winery.  Little is recorded about the farming, it is the 17 acres of vineyard that are of importance. Le Franc appears to have been the one interested in wine quality and strove to improve the quality of the wine produced.  As early as 1853, Le Franc expressed his displeasure with the Mission grapes, and sought grafting stock to compete with the imported wines.  European stock (vitis vinefera) had been successfully imported to California by Jean Louis Vignes, for his vineyard and winery in Los Angeles in 1830. The Vitis Vinifera (varietal stock), ordered by Le Franc, appears to have arrived from France in 1856.  The twenty varieties of cuttings included Pinots, Sauvignons, Semillon, Cabernet Franc, Black Muskats, and Grenache.   To gain the maximum number of, vines, the individual buds were carefully grafted to the vitis California stock growing by the Guadalupe.  This was the origins for Le Franc's "Sweet Grape Vineyard", and the beginning of premium commercial wine making in Santa Clara Valley.

In 1857, Charles Le Franc married Thee's daughter, Marie Adele, and they became half owners in the vineyard. Le Franc added to his holdings by acquiring a neighboring, well-developed parcel, with some 15,000 to 18,000 vines, at a public sale for $250. The other half of the property was purchased at the same price by San Francisco land speculator J. Mora Moss.  Phillip T. McCabe conducted the sale to satisfy a $1,737 judgment against Charles Banchard and Leopold Perrot.

Le Franc's "Sweet Grape Vineyard", as it was named, advertised varietal grapes for sale in 1858.  It is generally acknowledged that it takes three years for the vines to mature, hence we can assume 1859 would mark the beginning of local premium wines, of sufficient quality to compete with the imported products.  Four million gallons of wine and three million gallons of brandy   had been imported to California in the years 1853-1856.  It is clear that the businessman Le Franc realized the opportunity to capture a healthy share of the premium wine market.

Literature and records indicate that Mission grape wine was produced at the vineyard as early as 1853. The first winery building appears to have been in the same location as the building shown in Exhibit E, as the original winery, and it is believed to be a portion of this building. The existing configuration of the building is documented to be the winery for the vintage of 1862.  The wine produced by Le Franc was sold by the barrel, or half barrel, at the winery or through local stores.  Customers supplied their own bottles and filled them directly from the barrels.  An unusual local wine glut was created when sailors jumped ship for the gold fields, leaving full cargos of wine in San Francisco harbor.  The low prices that resulted form this glut were disappearing by the end of the 1862, when Le Franc would produce his largest vintage, to that point.

The decade of 1860 was one of growth for Le Franc's vineyard.  Named New Almaden Vineyard, after the well known quicksilver mining operations in the hills just south of the vineyard, the vineyard was increased in size and production.  By 1862, the vineyard had grown to 40,000 vines on 75 acres, with a production capacity of 100,000 gallons.  The 1860's brought awards to Le Franc's wines at county fairs, and competitions throughout the state.  In recognition for his stature in the industry, Le Franc was selected as the Santa Clara County representative to the 1862 California Wine Convention in San Francisco.

The success of Le Franc's vineyard inspired others to enter the field of viniculture.  In a short span of years, the wine industry became one of the most important economic industries in the state.

When Frank Stock discontinued his vineyard at Eighth and William Streets in 1869, Le Franc acquired his vines. They included Johannesburg Reisling, Tramina, and Zinfandel.  These vines, in the ground since 1859, were uprooted and transplanted to the New Almaden Vineyard to form the initial stock for the excellent Reislings that would win Le Franc high praise and awards.

The skills that won praise for Le Franc were those of a master vintner, winemaker, and businessman. Through the 1860's, 70's, and 80's, Le Franc innovated with planting, like setting the vines on close centers to increase the intensity of flavors.  This was particularly noted by both Charles Wetmore, the viticultural commissioner, and the noted Professor Eugene Hilgard of the University of California, about the Malbec vines that produced an extraordinary Malvoisie wine.  The ports and angelica wine produced by Le Franc were known for their longevity, as well as excellence, however, it was his claret that brought the highest praise from these two experts.  Into the 1880's, Le Franc's Malbec vines were the only large plantation of fine red Bordeaux vines in California.

Charles Le Franc considered winemaking a serious commercial enterprise.  His innovation resulted in wines that sold well and at a profit.  It was this ability that brought New Almaden Vineyards through the economic depression of the 1870's. His belief in the commercial success of the local industry led to an expansion of the winery in 1876, when many of the other wineries were going out of business.  The 1876 masonry winery remaining on the site was part of this expansion.

The outbreak of phylloxera in France during the late 1870’s, resulted in two important opportunities for Le Franc.  First, the French wine production was off by 59%, opening markets for California wine.  Secondly, a young Frenchman from Burgundy, Paul Masson, arrived in San Jose to study business at the University of the Pacific, and became a friend of Le Franc's.  After a trip to Europe where he witnessed the devastation of the epidemic, Masson returned to California to work with Charles Le Franc at New Almaden.

New Almaden was a lovely setting for the gardens and handsome home occupied by the Le Franc family.  Pepper trees, several varieties of fruit trees, and splendid flower beds were surrounded by the rows of vines and beyond to other farm land.  The Le Franc family included three children, Louise, Marie, and Henry.

During the 1870's, the business address for Le Franc was 379-381 Market Street, while the wine-grower resided at New Almaden Vineyards.  In 1878, young Henry Le Franc was listed in the city directory as a bookkeeper for the business.  His early training in the business was fortuitous, since it would not be long before he would have the full responsibility. 

Vineyards and wineries began to proliferate in the early 1870's.  With the Depression of the 1870's and export of California wine, it became clear to many farmers that vines and wine were a quick cash crop.  The quality of wine, during this boom was low, as most of the new producers were not interested in quality only the quick sale.  As the decade progressed, the industry was condemned for not making better wine, and for not cellaring what was made.     Poor quality and young wines was the majority of what was sold.  During this time, Le Franc continued to receive awards for his wine and his winery flourished.  Charles Le Franc worked within the industry as one of eleven directors of the California State Viticultural Society.  This was one of the few offices Le Franc held, as he believed his best contribution was by example, and by his example, the Santa Clara Valley was recognized throughout the world, as a region where premium wine could be produced.

Le Franc shipped wine to exhibitions throughout the nation.  In 1876, a great oval cask, 10 1/2 feet high, 9 feet wide, and 8 feet deep with a capacity of 3447 gallons, was shipped to Philadelphia for the nation's centennial celebration.  The same cask was again exhibited in Philadelphia, in 1976, for the bicentennial.

The winery was proposed for expansion again in 1887, under the direction of architect, Theodore Lenzen.  At this time, additions were to be made to the wine cellar. The California Architect and Builder News describes the location as "7 miles south of town" in the notice printed October 15, 1887, one week after the death of Charles Le Franc.  It appears that this work was not immediately undertaken.

Crushed to death while trying to stop a team of stampeding horses on October 9, 1887, Charles Le Franc left the winery, vineyards, and a business building at 163-169 Santa Clara Street (now the location of D. B. Cooper's) to his children.

As the winery grew to be the third largest in the nation, there would be many awards for New Almaden wines, however, the significance of Charles Le Franc's contribution to the economic history of California would never be surpassed.

Very soon after the death of Le Franc, Paul Masson and Louise Le Franc were married.  On an extended honeymoon to France, Masson began purchasing equipment to make a sparkling wine in the method of champagne.  Upon their return, Masson formed a partnership with Henry Le Franc to produce a sparkling wine. This new business did not alter the arrangement with New Almaden Vineyards, where Masson held a business position (not ownership) to market New Almaden products.  Masson released his first champagne in 1892.  Made from New Almaden wine, in the cellars beneath the Le Franc Building on Santa Clara Street, the new product could generate additional capital for continuing production, allowing the original champagne production partnership with Henry Le Franc to be terminated.

Masson and Le Franc continued to operate the New Almaden Vineyards, in addition to Masson's involvement with champagne. Henry's sister, Marie, appears to have been a close companion of both her siblings and brother-in-law, as she did not marry.

The New Almaden Winery continued to prosper during the turbulent 1890's, and into the new century.  In 1909, Henry Le Franc and his wife were tragically killed when the auto containing Henry, his wife Louise, and their daughter Nelty, was struck by an inter-urban electric trolley. Nelty was thrown from the auto and survived.  Orphaned, Nelty was raised by her aunt, Celine Delmas, and her grandmother, Mrs. Joseph Delmas, at their home on Vine Street.  This tragedy resulted in the property going into a trust to be managed by Masson.    As the manager of New Almaden and owner of his own champagne winery, Masson was faced with a double burden as prohibition approached.  Both vineyards sold grapes and grape juice during the years of prohibition, and thanks to Masson, each had certificates for sacramental and medicinal wine sales.

In 1930, the New Almaden Winery and vineyards was traded for the 26,000 acre Orestimba Ranch, east of Gilroy.  A second transaction saw the New Almaden Winery and 350 acres of vineyards sold to the Almaden Vineyard Corporation, headed by Charles M. Jones.  Jones stock-piled the wine left by Masson and continued to produce additional supplies.  As prohibition ended, the New Almaden Winery had about 1,000,000 gallons of dry red wine, the largest supply of wine in California and was ready for full production, with winemaker, Jack Wetmore, son of the late, great Charles A. Wetmore.

The immediate production of Maison Rouge and Maison Blanc, table wines, proved very popular.  They were featured at fine restaurants and the Fairmont and Palace Hotels, in San Francisco.  A new organization, the Wine Institute, was formed in 1934 and Charles Jones was a director.  The purpose of the organization was to promote the industry and improve wine quality.  Death again interrupted the operations at the winery when Charles Jones died in 1940 leaving the vineyard and winery-to his estate.

In 1941, the dormant vineyards and winery were purchased by two San Francisco-businessmen, Louis Benoist, and Brayton Wilber.  A revitalization plan  included new plantings in the original vineyards, purchasing new vineyards outside Santa Clara Valley and introducing Almaden's first champagne.

Benoist moved into the Le Franc ranch house after the interior designer, Michael Taylor, restored the home in the mood of French Victorian.   The New Almaden winery was once again a thriving business and a center for social gatherings.

The winemaker engaged by Benoist was well known for his skill, a former Brother and winemaker for the Novitiate, Oliver Goulet became known world-wide for possessing a great sensitive palate.  Accepting the encouragement of Benoist, Goulet created many distinguished wines for Almaden, including the instantly popular Grenache Rose in 1945.

The third member of the leadership team brought to Almaden was Frank Schoonmaker, connoisseur and wine author. After careful study and consultation with viticulturists at the University of California, the leaders of Almade"n Vineyards expanded the vineyards into an area south of Hollister, in the foothills of the Gavilan Mountains. This was an unprecedented move that represented great risk to the company.  Under Benoist's leadership, Almaden   continued to expand.  Schoonmaker wrote informative newsletters to increase the public awareness about Almaden's wine, and Goulet increased the varieties produced by the winery.  At the 1947 State Fair, Almaden won top awards for its Cabernet Sauvignon.  The next year, it took top awards for Pinot Blanc, White Reisling, Semillon, Sylvanor and Tramener.  This was repeated in 1950 and 1951.  Almaden continued in the leading role of bringing world wide recognition to the fine varietals of the Santa Clara Valley. Wine consumption was up, quality was good, but a major problem loomed.  Benoist recognizing the encroachment of suburban development, realized the need for winery expansion to occur outside the valley. To this end, Almaden leased the Valliant/Palmtag Winery in the Cienega Valley in San Benito County.  The area had produced good white wines in the past years and a winery with 675,000 gallon capacity was included in the lease.   The next year, 1956, Almaden acquired George Syke',s ranch at Paicines adding 2200 acres.  The other large valley wineries, Masson, and Mirassou followed suit in selecting vineyards and wineries beyond the Santa Clara Valley.

Wine consumption continued to increase through the 1960's, foretelling a second wine boom.  Louis Benoist known for his lavish personal expenses, as well as for industry innovations, sold Almaden Vineyards and Winery to National Distillers in 1967.  The industry growth continued.  Almaden became the third largest wine company in the United States and the largest producer of premium wines in 1980.  In 1987, the Almaden Winery was sold to Heublein Inc.  At that time, the buildings and features remaining from the Le Franc era were:   portions of the 1876 winery, the structurally rehabilitated winery from the 1850-60's, pepper, olive, and fig trees, and possibly some vines.    The barns, winery buildings and even Le Franc's ranch house had been destroyed and in their place, landscaping or industrial winery buildings have been constructed creating an exceptionally beautiful industrial facility.

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The Almaden Winery is a roughly rectangular parcel of land, historically much larger than the present 35 acres, located on gently sloping terrain along the banks of the Guadalupe Rive just north of the Gavilan foot hills.  The land is bordered on the north by Blossom Hill Road, on the south by the Guadalupe River, and on the east and west by neighborhood development.

Prior to 1850 the land was undisturbed although it was part of the Rancho San Benito.  After 1850 Etienne Thee began to cultivate the land and build a house and winery.  By 1890 the area around the knoll would was developed with at least eight substantial buildings, rows of trees and landscaping, vineyards extended in all directions.

The winery, at its close in 1987, consisted of an irregularly placed cluster of buildings of various sizes, stories and uses which are historically and aesthetically tied together by the magnificently landscaped grounds and vineyards intertwined.

The entire compound consists of 10 buildings in a wide variety of architectural styles, groupings of large vats and other industrial structures. Taken as a whole, the site exhibits the development of commercial winemaking that spans 137 years of industrial changes.

The majority of the buildings are constructed of wood, using a board and batten exterior sheathing. Most have been constructed over time and thus exhibit irregular floor plans.  The buildings each contain multi-planar hipped and gabled roofs with shed roof additions.  The roofs are themselves sheathed in composition shingles.  A few of the minor roofs, as well as the 1976 office/administration building are covered in red clay tiles in the Spanish tradition.   The roofs each exhibit very pronounced eaves with repeated wooden rafters. Exhibit C shows the placement of the buildings and landscape areas.

The majority of the buildings are utilitarian and of minor architectural and/or historical importance, save for the industrial history of such a facility.  However, three of the structures should be noted separately, albeit for different reasons.

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1876 Winery

The largest industrial building contains with in its wal1s the most architecturally important structure in the complex.  In a rectangular wing facing the central parking area, there exists the sandstone exterior shell of one of the original major winery buildings. This building is two storied with a basement that extends to the front to form what is believed to have been the foundation for a ramp, it is constructed on a rectangular plan.  The original roof appears from drawings to have been gabled.  The current roof is hipped with twin rectangular dormers which are centered and used as vents, plus two gablets which are also centered.  The most distinctive characteristic, other than the massive sandstone walls, is the unique window forms.  The symmetrically spaced square shaped apertures are exhibit an extended wood at the top.  Many of these windows have been bricked over as the building has been added onto.  Two large double door opening on the north and south facades add the other visual interest.  It is the opening on the north that exhibits a refinement of a cut and rusticated sandstone block frame.  The opening has been heightened with wood spacers to meet the plate line.  A segmented arch of finished block spans the double door opening on the ground level.  Repairs have been made to the stone walls, including one in the west wall of the second floor where bricks replace the stone.  The majority of the original south wall has been removed on all levels. The present south facade has been extended several feet to create additional interior space. The configuration    of elements, ramp and openings, approximates what appears to have been   original, however, the material of the original would have been stone, rather than board and batten and stucco. The structure's interior consists of simple wooden plank floors and squared wooden supports.  An unusual detail is found in the basement, where significantly spaced square openings have been framed   into the concrete.  Extending, into the earth 18 or more inches; their   purpose is yet to be understood.  A unique form of insulation is found in this building.  To insulate the ceiling, grape vine shredding was spread between the ceiling joist.  The interior is primarily one large open room on each floor.

The second building of particular interest is the two story, with full basement, brick building which is identified in the 1891 Lithograph (Exhibit E) as the "Original Cellars", as shown by #12 on Exhibit D.  The building does not exhibit the architectural quality of the sandstone structure mentioned above, but it does contain some excellent elements of mid-19th century brickwork.  The style is a somewhat Spartan Creek Revival design with a rectangular plan that has had two wooden additions added onto the east and west-facing elevations. The most distinctive feature is the very low-angled gable roof with its massive brick exterior walls which are punctuated by very simple rectangular shaped doors and multi-light rectangular-shaped windows.  The building is sited on a slope with the two story section on the northern half and the one story section on the southern half.  The basement runs the full length of the building and was entered via descending steps from the north or south-facing facade.  In 1985, a ramp connected allowed the east entry to be accessible.

The original portion of the winery is the two story section, although this may be an 1862 enlargement of an 1850's building.  Modifications to the functional design have occurred over time, however, window frames and side extensions indicate the late 1920's-30's were the time of many changes.  The exact dates  for the southernly extensions are known, however the brick and cornice design of the southern most extension indicate it was constructed about the turn of the century.   This area was repaired in 1985.  The brick was sand blasted, repainted, and many brick sections were replaced.  An entrance colored glass with a paneled door was installed for the public tasting room. A simple overhang protects the recessed entrance with pergolas on each side.  The area in front of the entrance, the stairs and low walls, are all executed in re-used brick.  Mature trees, ivy on the walls and half barrel planters enhance the depiction of an old winery.

A recent wood ramp along the west elevation has been adorned with turned balustra that, while handsome, is out of place on the functional building.

The southern-facing elevation has been most recently remodeled.  The colored brick facade has been sandblasted and some new brick has been added.   Stylistic doors and windows have also been added to what would have been a wide industrial opening.  In spite of these conspicuous changes, the original simplicity of the building form remains intact.

Ranch House

The third building is #19 on Exhibit D. This structure is of a much later time period than either of the previous two, but it is of a handsomer architectural composition, as a whole.  This structure is constructed on an irregular plan, is sheathed in board and batten; and exhibits a cross gabled roof (one side simple gable and the other side in a curious salt box form) with a square wooden tower with a low-angled, pyramidal-shaped roof.  The most distinctive feature, other than the roof shapes, is the long covered and recessed porch highlighting the north-facing wing.  The building is almost an archetype of the western ranch style home.  It harkens to elements of the famous Gregory Farmhouse designed by William Wurster in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains.  Although the building is of much less historic importance, its architectural purity raises it up to the highest standards of the entire site.

Trees and Landscaping

Between the 10 buildings are an incredible variety of landscaping, both natural and planted. Grand old trees (including massive oaks, a spectacular Mission fig, pepper and ironwood) dominate the setting.  Huge olive trees, as well as smaller rows of olives, form handsome boarders and windbreaks.  Notable also are the remnant plots of vineyards which place the entire compound into its historic context.

Other landscape features include manicured hedges and lawns and an extensive rose garden. Ivy has been allowed to cover some of the exterior walls and creepers add much beauty to otherwise nondescript architectural buildings.  Additionally, a massive old Mission fig possibly planted by Thee, adjacent to the Ranch House, is remarkable in its girth and age.

The otherwise nondescript wooden house (Building #14 of Exhibit D) is distinguished solely for its beautiful front and patio landscape.  A simple one story residence with pitched roof and covered in horizontal clapboard, the building has been enlarged in a hap hazard fashion.   Most recently used for administration offices, and to entertain visitors, the modifications responded to the use.  A very pleasant patio is behind the building.  This area has a large stone barbecue and is surrounded by a wood wall.  Planting inside the patio is extensive along the wall and in half barrels.

1976 Bottling House

This is the epitome of a recent functional industrial building.  Rectangular in form, the two story building is devoid of any decoration.  The significant feature of this building is not the shell, but was the high speed bottling line inside.  At installation, this line of machinery performed all functions of packaging wine.  Entering the south end through a tunnel pipe, wine was bottled, corked, labeled, put in cartons, and the case banded together before being deposited on the loading dock at the north end of the building.   The capacity of this line was ten thousand cases per 8 hour shift.

Headquarters Building

The most recent addition to the complex is this wood frame two story structure, sheathed in brick and stucco.  Architecturally reflecting a Spanish influence, the building is rectangular in form with a tile covered hipped roof.  The elevator housing, off centered to the east on the front facade has a logo "A" - metal weather vane on top.  Heavy timber detailing is found in porch supports and window frames.  A two story narrow, cut glass window is al so a part of the front facade.  The building is not architecturally significant, however, as is true throughout the site, extensive landscaping gives the building a very pleasant presence.

Small Buildings

Numerous small buildings exist on the site.  Examples are the lath garden houses behind the Ranch House, observation and pump shacks.

Almost all of the buildings have been altered over time.  The loss of the original farmhouse greatly lessens the mise-en-scene of the complex as a whole. The metal light standards with their vine motif, barrel press sculpture, and terra cotta fountain are also noteworthy.

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The Almaden Winery, taken as a whole, is an in tact example of a winery which has expanded to meet the growing consumer market. The vineyards have been  reduced to those lands adjoining the winery, however, the  winery operations have increased production by importing grapes and juice from other locations.

The pre-1900 buildings have remained active components of the expanded facilities. Newer industrial design additions have been constructed as individual buildings or to enlarge existing buildings, thus creating an eclectic composition. As production techniques changed, fields of metal storage tanks were added.    Even a heliport is integrated in the context of the winery.

The site is unique in San Jose, exhibiting extensive landscaping, heritage trees, historic buildings, and contemporary industrial structures and buildings, all in context and functional relationships to the Corporate Headquarters and winery operations of the Almaden Winery, the third largest winery in the nation.

While the complex of buildings and structures, in contemporary idiom, may lack a heritage value, the remaining historic buildings, vines, features, and heritage trees convey a sense of time and place.  The features, which include the ranch house, fountains, Benoist memorial garden, street lights with grape designs, and landscaping, while not historically significant, add a quality of understanding and sense of the "heritage" of the wine industry.

Separating the pre-1900 elements from the whole complex, allows for a better evaluation.  The original winery, cited in the research data to have been constructed between 1856 and 1862, is one of the older buildings in the area and the oldest winery.  The significance associated with this building, does not rely upon its exact age but on the association with Charles Le Franc, and as the winery that was used to make the varietal wines from his imported stock, thus beginning the commercial wine industry in this region.  The building shows evidence of several expansions, however, the original form

has been retained.  Literature describes the winery as dug into the hillside, with the adobe clay soil forming the floor and walls. This would be the northerly third of the building.  Now lined in pre-1900 cold joint, poured in place concrete, with brick exterior walls, the building was expanded to the south at least twice.  In the second expansion the cellar foundation walls are rubble and mortar construction with brick exterior walls above grade. The third expansion - pre-1900 - extended the building, again keeping the same form.  Circa 1930, wood frame, board and batten additions were joined to the second floor of the winery. Although expansions have been made to the original winery, most occur before the turn of the century and the building continues to exhibit the materials and workmanship of that period.

The 1876 winery has been enclosed on three and one half sides by newer additions to the winery. This historic winery, in rectangle form is two stories over a basement.  A large section of the south wall has been removed, a situation that raises concern for the structural, as well as the architectural integrity. The building is oriented towards the north, Blossom Hill Road.  A fine entrance of cut/rusticated sandstone, probably from the Goodrich Quarry, forms that element, while the remaining walls are irregular shape sandstone and heavy mortar in a type of solid rubble construction.   Northerly of the original winery, the proximity of the two buildings, maintains the relationship that together with the heritage trees and vines composes a historically significant unit.

The unit is all that remains from the era associated with Charles Le Franc and the initial commercial wine venture in Santa Clara Valley. The continued association with New Almaden, later Almaden Winery only adds to this representation of local history.

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The assessment of cultural resources is based upon defined criteria. When properties display characteristics that are measurable to criteria A, Determination of Significance can be achieved.

The Criteria for Assessing Cultural Resource Significance, as prescribed by the City of San Jose's Historic Preservation Officer, is that of the National Register of Historic Places and the criteria found in the Municipal Code, as previously mentioned.

     1.    National Register Standards for Evaluating Significance

            The quality of significance in American history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture is present in districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects the possess integrity of  location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and  association, and:

            A. that are associated with events that have made a significant

            contribution to the broad patterns of our history; or

            B. that are associated with the lives of persons significant in

            our past; or

            C. that embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant or distinguishable entity whose components lack individual distinction; or

            D. that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information

            important in prehistory or history.

     2.     Criteria for Designating a City of San Jose Historic Landmark

            (MC SEC 13.48[120]G.)

            A property that exhibits the following.

            Special historical, architectural, cultural, aesthetic or

            engineering  interest  or  value  of  an  historical  nature, and hat its designation as a landmark conforms with the goals and  policies of the general plan.

     3.     California Registered Landmark Designation

            The Almaden Winery is Registered California Landmark No.505.

            Comparison to state criteria has already been acknowledged.

In assessing the Almaden Winery, vis-a-vis city and Federal criteria for evaluation, three issues must be addressed:

1.   Identification of the period and unit of significance; and

2.   The quantity and quality of contemporary buildings and structures in

     relationship to those older than 50 years; and

3.   Alterations to the historic buildings older than 50 years.

The first consideration relates to defining a period of significance.  If the winery is primarily contemporary buildings that lack significance, and if the site, by virtue of associations is considered important, the period of significance would be that time during which the most important events or associations occurred. As stated in the State Historic Landmark plaque, the prime significance is attributed to the activities of Charles Le Franc.

Charles Le Franc introduced French varietal grapes, which began the commercial wine industry in Santa Clara Valley, c.1856.  For 31 years, he continued to lead the industry with innovations in viniculture and winemaking.    Therefore, although strong arguments could be waged that 137 years of Almaden's Association with the site constitute historic importance, when the most important event is defined as the initial operation and its founder Charles Le Franc, then the prime period of historical significance is that time associated with Le Franc, 1852-1887.  Buildings, trees, vines, and other features associated with Le Franc during this period are considered to be of prime significance.  The unit of significance would include the 1850's winery, the 1876 winery, pepper and olive trees, vines (some may remain) and the  spatial relationship of the area connecting these features.

Second, the number of contemporary buildings, landscaping features, and industrial structures that dominate the historical (over 50 years old) buildings. The impact of the newer buildings is lessened only by the mature trees and remaining vineyards that provide a level of historic identification.    In the case of the 1876 winery, the building has all but been encased by the numerous additions that abut the stone walls.  The contemporary buildings and structures do not meet the criteria of the historic designation.     Therefore, it is appropriate to consider a smaller unit, where the historic buildings are separated from the contemporary industrial development to determine if they retain both historic and architectural context and integrity.

If the additions to the 1876 winery were removed, the spatial relationship between it and the original winery would be recreated.  This would establish the continuity of the unit, and together with plantings of the period would convey the "sense of time and place" that is necessary for establishing historic context.  Thus a unit of property containing the 1876 winery, the original winery and heritage trees, would meet the criteria for determining significance.

The third area for consideration are the alterations to the historic buildings, the original winery and the 1876 winery, which have been extensive.  The older building appears to have had four enlargements, the last as recent as the 1930's.  It has been structurally upgraded within the past 8 years, and this work was sensitive to the historic fabric and character of the building.  The concern for architectural integrity can be overcome by noting that additions of the 1930's, while they are outside the period of significance as it relates to Charles Le Franc, were accomplished over 50 years ago and can be considered to show the building's evolution.  Removing the additions would make a stronger case for integrity of the historic 'structure, but is not essential to determine significance.

The 1876 winery, although more intact as a winery building, has had a large section of the perimeter wall removed. The roof shape has been changed and several openings have been altered. Still, the winery retains a level of architectural integrity that could be greatly enhanced by restoring the missing wall with a compatible design. Restoring the original design may be desirable is not necessary. When coupled with the great historical significance, the remaining building could be considered for nomination to the City Landmark program.  If grouped with the other historic buildings and features, and compatibly repaired, the issue of integrity would be satisfied and the winery could be nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.  The historical documentation, together with the integrity of the unit of prime significance, when compared  to  the  criteria  of  the  National  Register of Historic Places and that the city  of  San  Jose  Historic  Landmark  program, establishes the conclusion that the Almaden Winery site and the historic winery buildings are a significant cultural resource eligible designation as City Landmark and for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

The comparison to the criteria follows.

           National Register Criteria A:  .... Associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history; ...

The direct association with Charles Le Franc and the initiation of an important industry are of prime historical significance.  In addition to this prime association, is the 137 year history of industrial innovation, economic importance, and cultural identity Almaden Winery has achieved in the Santa Clara Valley, California, and the nation.

           National Register Criteria B:  ... That are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past; ...

Charles Le Franc is documented to have been the pioneer of the commercial varietal (premium) wine industry in the Santa Clara Valley. His accomplishments, and those of a few others in the state during the 1850's, resulted in both economic and cultural identification for California, in the world wine markets.

           National Register Criteria C:  ... That embodies the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction or that represents the work of a  master or that possesses high artistic values or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.

Many of the buildings and industrial structures exhibit distinctive characteristics, however, the 1876 winery and 1850's winery are examples of archaic construction that embodying methods and materials no longer in common use. When taken as a unit, the original winery, the 1876 winery, and the plantings remaining from the early years of the winery, establish a distinguishable entity of greater distinction than any of the individual components.

When the City of San Jose Historic Landmark Criteria is applied, it is found that Almaden Winery, by virtue of the association with Charles Le Franc and the importance of the winery in the local economy would qualify the site for designation. Further consideration of the importance of the 1876 and the     c.1850's winery buildings show that these buildings would individually qualify for designation.

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The proposed development concept is to terminate the winery operations and introduce residential development that may include public, quasi-public, and/or commercial uses.

While the proposed General Plan change does not propose a specific development plan, generalization may be inferred.

The proposed development will alter the site from its present configuration and use. Thus impacting a significant historic site Plantings, trees, features and buildings will be removed to accommodate a new use.

The historic unit, consisting of the original winery, 1876 winery, heritage trees, and selected plantings, may be considered for removal.

Removal or alteration of this unit would create a serious impact to the cultural and economic heritage of the region.

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The following recommendations are made from the point of view of historic preservation, without taking into account any other considerations.

On its historical merits and in relation to the criteria for the National Register of Historic Places, the California Registered Historic Landmark, and San Jose's Historic Landmark Ordinance, the unit containing the original New Almaden Winery, the 1876 winery, and heritage trees, and vines, is clearly worthy of protection.

The historic 1876 Winery, should be stablized by bracing the walls in preparation for removing the newer additions. Care must be taken not to adversely affect this masonry building, as the industrial structures surrounding it are removed. The structure to the south is protecting the winery. A conservation plan should be prepared prior to removing this structure.

The highest priority should be given to preserving the winery buildings intact in their present locations. Since it appears that the winery uses will no longer be continued, uses compatible with the setting, character, and architectural capacity of the buildings should be sought.  Uses that further the relationship of the historic environmental quality of this unit, should be of high priority. Commercial, light industrial, public or quasi-public facilities are possible uses.

To strengthen the historical context of the historic unit, the setting should retain the heritage trees and incorporate features and landscaping that enhance the understanding of the unit.

Rehabilitation or modifications to the historic buildings should be consistent with the intent of the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for historic buildings.

To mitigate any alterations to the general site, or buildings, documentation consisting of photographs and measured drawings should be undertaken.

Any remnants of historic winemaking equipment, photographs, documents, or other memorabilia not retained by Almaden Vineyards or planned for interpretive display in conjunction with the preservation of the historic unit, should be transferred to the San Jose Historical Museum, Friends of the Winemaker, or similar public organizations, whose purpose is to preserve the heritage of winemaking in the Santa Clara Valley.

The Old Ranch building has not been determined to have individual historic significance, nor does it relate to the pre 1880 buildings.  It is however, worthy of preservation consideration because of its architectural design quality. Re-using and/or relocating the building should be evaluated.  If the building can not be preserved on the site, then it should be offered for relocation to another site.

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ARBUCKLE, CLYDE, HISTORY OF SAN JOSE, graphic design by Paul Yoshikawa, Smith and McKay Printing Co., San Jose, 1985, pp.176-181.

ARBUCKLE, CLYDE, SANTA CLARA COUNTY RANCHOS, cartography and illustrations by Ralph Rambo, The Rosicrucian Press, Ltd., San Jose, 1968.


HANDLIN, DAVID P., AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE, Thames & Hudson,Ltd., 1985, pp. 122, 134, 135-6, 144, 147-9.

PAYNE, STEPHEN M., PH.D., SANTA CLARA COUNTY HARVEST OF CHANGE, Windsor Publications, Inc., Northridge, CA 1987, pp. 77, 81, 84.

SULLIVAN, CHARLES L., LIKE MODERN EDENS, California History Center, 1982.


California, Irving McKee, Ph.D., "Historic Wine Growers of Santa Clara County", Magazine of the Pacific, Sept. 1950.

California Architecture & Building News, October 15, 1887

San Jose Daily Mercury, "Fatal Accident, Chas. LeFranc, the Viticulturist, the Victim , Monday Morning, October 10, 1887, pg. 3.

San Jose Mercury, "Winemaking in Valley Boasts Colorful History", October 19, 1962, pg. 14W.

San Jose Mercury News, Marjorie Pierce, "Some Historical Notes on County's Wine Heritage”, July 7, 1974, pp. 4-5.

San Jose Mercury News, Marion Bailey Kaufman, "Masson 'Showed American How'” July 2, 1965, pg. 20.

San Jose Mercury News, Dick Barrett's Column, October 23, 1963

Sun Times, David Brancoli, "Quietly Ages the Wine Beneath Majestic Oaks", August 16, 1966, pg. 9

San Francisco Chronicle, Nes Young, "Gallic Tradition at a California Vineyard Estate”, Sunday Supplement, October 18, 1959, pp.18-19.


Santa Clara County and San Jose City Directories    1870, 1871-72, 1874, 1875, 1876, 1878, 1881-82, 1889, 1895, 1910, 1920

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