Stanford Vintage: A Look at the Stanford Wineries
Leland Stanford: American industrialist, politician, university founder, and vintner. The Stanford's owned wineries in Tehama County, Alameda County, and produced wines on their stock farm in Palo Alto.
Warm Springs Winery
It was in Warm Springs near San Jose that Leland Stanford first experimented with winemaking in the early 1870s. Originally part of the former Agua Caliente Rancho, the Warm Springs Hotel became a popular resort destination beginning in the mid-1850s. By 1865 over seventy-five acres of French grapes were planted on the property. Stanford purchased the property in 1869 after it had been badly damaged in the earthquake of 1868. The following year Stanford’s brother Josiah moved to Warm Springs and they began experimenting with winemaking. By 1876 the Warm Springs property had over 60,000 fruit bearing vines and the winery was producing about 50,000 gallons of wine per year. In 1886 Leland deeded the Warm Springs property to his brother Josiah who continued to have much success operating the winery. After Josiah’s death in 1890, his son Josiah Winslow Stanford continued on with winemaking, producing approximately 250,000 gallons of wine per year between 1890 and 1900. After changing hands several times in the early twentieth century, the Warm Springs property was eventually sold to the Weibel Wine Company in 1945 who continued to produce wine on site until moving to Woodbridge in the late 1990s.
In 1881 when Leland Stanford began accumulating the various tracts of land that would ultimately become Vina Ranch, he had winemaking in mind. Between 1881 and 1885 Stanford purchased over 55,000 acres of adjacent fertile land in Northern California along the upper Sacramento River. Prior Vina landowner Peter Lassen had planted the first wine grapes on the property in the mid-1840s. Later Henry Gerke bought much of Lassen’s land and improved and expanded wine production. Stanford was certain that California wine was better than the average European wine and became determined to produce wine superior to any that could be found in Europe. To achieve this goal Stanford hired several French families, all knowledgeable wine workers, to come work at Vina. Stanford steadily expanded the winemaking operation at Vina, improving irrigation, adding vines, and constructing a new state of the art winery building. Soon it became clear that though Stanford had hoped to produce wines that surpassed dry French table wines, the soil and climate at Vina were more conducive to sweet wines. Adapting to this reality Stanford began to focus on producing brandy and sweet wines. By 1890 all 1.7 million gallons of Vina wine were made into high quality brandy. During its heyday Vina was considered by some to be the largest vineyard in the world, able to produce 1,400 gallons per day. In 1885 Leland Stanford deeded Vina Ranch to the trustees of Stanford University. The Vina property was divided and sold in the 1920s, bringing in much needed revenue for the University.
Palo Alto Vineyard
Leland Stanford first purchased a portion of the Rancho San Francisquito for his famous Palo Alto Stock Farm in 1876. He continued to purchase adjoining properties, eventually amassing over 8,000 acres. As the Stanford’s developed the stock farm they also planted a vineyard upon the site now occupied by the Stanford Shopping Center in the hopes of creating the fine dry wine that they were unable to produce at Vina. By 1888 the vines were bearing fruit and during the height of production the Palo Alto vineyard crushed on average over 600 tons and bottled both red and white wines, most notably Riesling. The last vintage was 1905 as the winery was badly damaged in the 1906 earthquake. The last of the vines were uprooted in 1915. The three storey red brick winery building is still in use today as part of the Stanford Shopping Center.
Objects and photographs on display from the following collections: Stanford University Print Collection (SC1039); Stanford Historical Photograph Collection (SC1071); Stanford University Objects Collection (SC1048); and the George Husmann Vina Ranch album (A0003). All material courtesy of the Stanford University Archives.
Exhibit on view now at:
Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center
326 Galvez Street
Stanford, CA 94305-6105
Monday – Friday: 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.