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[photo] Paul Masson winery building, rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, and a view of the Santa Clara valley from the winery
Photographs by Judith Silva, courtesy of the City of Santa Clara

Today, thousands of music lovers gather for the Music in the Vineyards Concerts held at the Paul Masson Mountain Winery every summer high in the hills above Silicon Valley. The view is still as stunning as when Paul Masson, a Burgundian born in 1859, cleared the hilltop to plant his vineyards here in 1901. Masson came to California in 1878 where he met Charles Lefranc, one of a number of French immigrants who had expanded the viticulture introduced into the Santa Clara Valley by the Catholic mission fathers. While in California, Masson took a number of business courses at the College of the Pacific in San Jose, and in 1880 returned to France to work in the wine industry there. When the vine pest phylloxera depressed the Burgundian viticulture, Masson returned to California where he went to work for Lefranc. In 1887 Lefranc died, and Masson married his daughter Louise. After their honeymoon in France, Masson returned to California to take over management of the Lefranc properties, then owned by Lefranc's two sisters and his son Henry. After a short-lived partnership with Henry LeFranc, Masson bought out Henry's share in the Almaden Vineyard. In 1892 Masson's first champagne was introduced at Almaden, and he eventually became know as the "Champagne King of California."

[photo] Paul Masson's house, known as "The Chateau"
Photograph by Judith Silva, courtesy of the City of Santa Clara

Masson later centered his champagne production here in Saratoga while other wines were developed at the Almaden operation. In 1905, on a knoll above the winery, Masson built his house, dubbed "The Chateau," where he developed a reputation as an unrivaled host. Louise Masson was a prohibitionist and did not attend the lavish dinner parties held at The Chateau. Masson was able to weather the strains Prohibition placed on the wine industry by selling grapes to the wholesale market and by receiving a special dispensation to sell medicinal champagnes. The sandstone winery was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, making use of sandstone blocks from the Saratoga Wine Company's building on Big Basin Way, also destroyed in the great quake. At this same time the ancient entrance portal was added to the structure, reputed to be medieval and imported from Spain for use in St. Patrick's Church in San Jose. Wine making ceased in 1952, and the concert series began in 1958. Today, new owners interested in the wine making tradition are planning to plant vineyards once again.

The Paul Masson Mountain Winery is located at 14831 Pierce Rd, in Saratoga. Call 408-741-2822 or visit the winery's website for further information. Events are held at the winery, such as concert series, special events, weddings, etc.

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