Paul Masson's Legacy
The Mountain Winery used to be called Saratoga Mountain Winery and before that it used to be called the Paul Masson Mountain Winery. Of these, the Paul Masson version probably rings a bell with most people. Remember those Orson Welles 1970s commercials with the "We will sell no wine before its time" mantra? That was Paul Masson.
Sadly, today the Paul Masson name survives only as a brand name at Centerra Wine Company, which in turn is owned by the behemoth Constellation Brands. Centerra markets a Paul Masson brandy and something called a Cream Liqueur that goes best over ice cream. No doubt Mr. Masson is sitting up in his grave and scratching his skull, wondering what happened to the rest of his little empire. Fortunately, his Mountain Winery's legacy keeps going.
A California Wine Pioneer
Masson was one of California's wine pioneers, coming to California's Santa Clara Valley in 1878 from France's Burgundy region. He returned briefly to France in 1880 to work in the wine industry there. That didn't work out so well for Masson as he returned in time for the phylloxera pest to hit the French vines and suck all the sap out of them and the wine business.
And while Europe's wine industry floundered in a depression, Masson returned to Santa Clara, California. Upon his return, Masson went to work for another French immigrant, Charles LeFranc. LeFranc died, Masson married LeFranc's daughter, Louise, took over management of the LeFranc properties and eventually bought the LeFranc properties from the surviving family.
Masson would become the, Champagne King of California, producing his first bubbly wine in 1892 in Almaden, an area just south of San Jose, California. Then in 1901, Masson purchased land on a mountaintop in Saratoga overlooking the Santa Clara Valley. Here he shifted his sparkling wine production and kept making his other wines at the Almaden facility.
In 1905, he built his romanesque Chateau manor and winery on his Saratoga hilltop overlooking the Santa Clara Valley. Here he garnered a reputation as a host for dinners and parties. Prohibition was difficult, but Masson weathered the temperance storm by cutting back and shifting to medicinal champagnes. Remember that the next time you feel a cold coming on: a flute of bubbly keeps the doctor away. Masson died in 1940 but his Mountain Winery did not. Another California wine icon had purchased the Mountain Winery from Masson in 1936, Martin Ray. He continued the tradition of making wine there up until 1952 when winemaking operations ceased.
Concerts on the Hilltop
Inspiration hit in 1958 when the Mountain Winery began producing a series of concerts. The concerts were staged in front of the Chateau's 12th century front portal from Spain. People in the South Bay could sit and listen to the likes of Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Randy Newman, Emmylou Harris, Neil Diamond, Grover Washington Jr., Diana Krall, and a broad range of the best contemporary performers of the time.
Whether jazz, folk, country, opera, and comedy, for over forty years, the Mountain Winery offered an idyllic and relaxing outdoor setting to listen to music or laugh at a joke. Concert-goers would sit in an amphitheater with spectacular hillside views, surrounded by redwood and oak trees and the Chateau. Since the word winery is in the locale's name, wine is served in the tasting room and prix-fixe dinners are offered in the Chateau's dining room. The Mountain Winery's concerts provide seating for about 1,650, so concerts are small and intimate, a tough setting to beat for a concert.
National Landmark 83001239
There are less than 2,500 registered National Historic Landmarks with the U.S. National Park Service. The Mountain Winery is one of them and is recognized as having important significance related to history, architecture, archeology, engineering, and culture.
Change is unavoidable, especially in Silicon Valley. In 1999 the Mountain Winery welcomed new owners. Currently they are endeavoring to restore and update the winery and concert venue. Summer concerts still continue during the summer months from June to September. To expand the Mountain Winery's business operations, the new owners are expanding their emphasis to corporate events and parties, weddings, dining, special programs, and of course, wine tasting.
While the Mountain Winery no longer makes wine, they do have wine. They sell a Mountain Winery line of Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel from some of the best regions in California. They are available for purchase at the winery or online. The Tasting Room is open from Wednesday through Friday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. with a $7 tasting fee.
There is no crystal ball for the Mountain Winery's future. However, it's a unique location and facility for concerts for the Santa Clara Valley community. The owners are committed to continue the traditions set by Paul Masson and preserving the landmark's history.