The Historic Almaden Winery


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Almaden Winery Chronology
The Historic Almaden Winery
Almaden Winery's Rich
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Almaden Winery History

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

Arial Photos 1985 & 1990

San Jose Mercury News Article from January 23, 1997

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Almaden Vineyards Flyer



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(Based on information retrieved on-line by Celeste Welch)


1852 – Charles Lefranc, a Frenchman who moved to San Francisco in 1850, founds the nation’s first winery in the Almaden Valley.

1887 – Charles Lefranc dies after being run over by a team of horses.  His son-in-law, Paul Masson, continues to run the winery.

1930 – Paul Masson, sells Almaden Winery to a group headed by Charles M. Jones to concentrate on his own Paul Masson Winery in Saratoga.

1940 – Almaden Winery sold again to Louis Benoist who commissions famed landscape architect, Thomas Church, to design a garden around the winery.  Benoist introduces popular new wines, such as Grenache Rose, but faces serious financial troubles in the 1960s due to expensive tastes – he owned seven houses and a yacht.

1967 – National Distillers buys the winery and expands production from 1.5 million cases a year to a high of 13 million cases in 1981.  National also moves Almaden’s headquarters from San Francisco to a new $900,000 facility on Blossom Hill Road where the winery was founded.

March 1987 – Heublein, Inc. buys Almaden Vineyards.  The price paid by Heublein for the winery property is reported to be about $17 million.  Winery property, 55 acres south of Blossom Hill Road is put on the market.  Heublein moves its wine-making operations to Madera, north of Fresno.

December 1987 – Dividend Development Corp. buys Almaden Vineyards property from Heublein.  Price rumored to be $25 million.  Commercial development is contemplated.  Many neighbors complain.

February 1989 – Dividend Development Corp. submits winning bid of $1.2 million per acre for 9 acres at the former Vineland School site next to the winery.

June 1989 – Fire destroys most of what was left of Almaden Winery.  The blaze was touched off when a cutting torch for dismantling piping in one of the buildings ignited a wall.  The fire quickly spread through the empty wine cellars.  More than 80 firefighters and 15 pieces of equipment bring the fire under control after three hours.

July 1989 – Hayman Homes buys the Vineland School site for $1 million per acre after Dividend Development drops its option to purchase the property.  Dividend rumored to be in financial difficulty.

1993 – New Cities Development Group buys winery property from Dividend, plans housing project which will “feature restoration of the original winery building, as part of a community park.”

February 1994 – Public grand opening at Vintage at the Almaden Winery.  Five decorated model homes open for tours.  The developer, New Cities Development Group of Monterey, “will set aside a three-acre site on the property that will include the rose garden of one of the winery’s former owners, Louis Benoist, and the remaining winery buildings to be used as a civic park at a later date.”

1996 – All homes on Almaden Winery property completed.  Neighborhood consists of Vintage and Tresor, built by New Cities, and Vineland, built by Hayman.  New Cities fails to restore park as stated in promotional literature.  Neighborhood residents meet with San Jose Councilwoman Pat Dando to discuss plans for restoring the park and old winery.  City of San Jose now owns two-thirds of park property and is negotiating with New Cities to buy the remaining section.  Park is adopted by the Almaden Winery Neighborhood Association (AWNA).

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