Tag Archives: grapes

A Tribute to Wehner Mansion

5985327859_3f314741f2_bHeritage Room azules.pdfThis guy once painted Civil War scenes on a panoramic scale in Chicago. Wonderful William Wehner, German born, American famed artist, moved to Evergreen in the 1880’s and built one of the most beautiful structures in Santa Clara County.  The Blue Hills Estate, Wehner Mansion or Cribari Mansion, whichever you prefer, has been a longstanding gem of Queen Anne architecture hiding in Evergreen.

IMG_0214IMG_0206Behind locked gates, this historically designated but almost uninhabitable building has seen better days.  There’s a questionable title and legal loopholes being used to keep the home out of the bank’s hands exclusively, rendering it unable to be sold, preserved or renovated.  Wait a second, there is life here.  I felt it all around me when I took these photographs.  It’s just not human life.  The Mansion is quickly being reclaimed by nature, and a territorial young buck.  Read the above post for that story.

Wehner, Albert Haentz, Cribari and Mirassou families all utilized this stunning home and its expansive vineyards.  Until the 1970’s, this mansion was storage and winery for some of the world’s most famous vines.

I know it’ll be some time before you make older friends who’ll let you snoop around their homes looking for nuggets of Evergreen gold.  Here’s a reimagining of the Wehner Mansion.

wehner mansion Wehner%20mansion

Here’s the progression of the drawing for your art buffs

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wehner Mansion – a house by many names

Sadly, lomasazulesthere are only a few original structures left from Evergreen’s early days.  There aren’t Victorian homes standing like there are downtown.  The old timers know the old town by the hundreds year old oak trees that marked their old homes.  These relics from the 1800’s are obscured by trees and fences for the most part.  This one is tucked back into the hills of the Villages Retirement Community, empty and unused.  The absence of warmth to this one time brimming mansion is one of the sadder things I witness in Evergreen.  Personally, I would love to it restored in time for my own wedding.  This is the Wehner Mansion, but over time, it’s had many names.

Heritage Room azules.pdfThe initial 718 acre property would be purchased in 1887 for $20,000 from Mr. McCarthy and construction would begin the following year.  Built by German immigrant, William Wehner, it was originally named the Villa Lomas Azules or Blue Hills Estate for its stunning color.  It is only fitting that Wehner’s house be colorful.  William Wehner (1853-1916), after coming to the United States from Hanover, Germany in the 1850’s, would be a famous Chicago painter, painting large scale panoramic paintings commemorating the Civil War.  His Evergreen home would became a winery as Wehner planted 175 acres of vineyards within a couple years.  William Wehner’s White Wines were award winning in 1888 and into the 1890’s.  Wehner would come to own and plant over 3000 acres of vineyards.

5985327859_3f314741f2_bThe Blue Estate or Villa Lomas Azules was a 3-story, Queen Anne style home built into the hillside.  The construction on the mansion was finally complete in 1891.  It was built by famous Chicago skyscraper builders from the firm of Burham and Root, designed by Richard Burham.  It would be the only home the firm ever designed.  The Mansion’s main architectural feature was its archway entrance for carriages along the bottom floor, but I love all the rounded features.  The Mansion also has a full basement, which later became wine storage.  The Blue Estate had an outdoor kitchen and a garden house, as well as a winery added in 1908.

P1310186 (2)In 1915, Wehner would sell the winery and vineyard portion of the estate to Albert Haentze.  The two men had a lot in common.  Haentze (1896-1947) was another German immigrant vintner from Chicago.  His main occupation before coming to California was a mortgage broker.  Haentze came to Evergreen and bought Wehner’s vineyard.  Mr. Albert Haentze would become the leader of the Santa Clara Valley Grape Growers Association until Prohibition.  Haentze renamed the winery Rancho Villa Vista.  William Wehner sold his vineyards in the knick of time.  Prohibition closed down the Evergreen wineries in 1918 and Wehner passed away only a year later.  The Santa Clara Valley Grape Growers would then consider canning grapes and crushing grapes for juices and syrup.

housevin-villagesIn 1933, Italian born, Benjamino Cribari (1859-1942) would purchase the first portion of the Villa Lomas Azules.   With Prohibition having been lifted, the Italian immigrant would raise his vineyards for altar and traditional table wines.  In 1940, the Cribari family would come to own the rest of the property.  It would then be known as the Cribari Mansion.

cribari1Benjamino Cribari, born in the Calabria, Italy, would come to the United States at the age of 29.  With his wife and two small kids in Italy, Benjamino would work on the railroad for a couple years before returning home to his family.  In 1902, the young Cribari family would relocate to Colorado and then California, where they bought 40 acres of land east of Morgan Hill.  At first, Benjamino, a farmer, would only sell wines to his friends and family before he needed to acquire more land to compete with his growing demand for Italian style wines.

The Cribari Wineries would move operations back to Morgan Hill in 1959.  The Blue Estate’s future became unclear.

P1310098In the meantime, the Mirassou Family vintners would come to lease the property.  They would rent the independent winery for winemaking and the full basement for storage.  The oldest winemaking family in America would use the historic facilities until its historic operations also had to relocate in the 1980’s.

P1320410The Evergreen wineries were being pushed out by development and a growing suburb.  Several developers purchased the property before the Villages were finally built around it.  The Historic value of the Victorian mansion is recognized by the condition of the home is quite questionable.  There’s much discussion about preserving the historic home, but the fruits of those discussions are yet to ripen.  It’s a beautiful piece of Evergreen’s history and someday, we’ll see the Blue Estate shine again.

Here’s our artwork which features the Wehner Mansion.

1940 1885

 

 

 

Through the grapevine – Pellier Contributions

1876 MapMy grandmother used to own a home off Norwood Avenue and have volunteer grapevines charging up through her hillside backyard.  Little did she know, my grandmother’s house was a part of the Pellier estate, one of the largest in early Evergreen.

Louis%20Pellier%20from%20HSJ(1)The Pellier Brothers would eventually come to call Evergreen home in the late 1850’s.  Before that, the Pelliers would live in the Pueblo of San Jose as California became a State and as San Jose became its Capitol in the early 1850’s.  Luis Pellier would get creative with his brother Pierre while gold panning in 1848, changing San Jose and California forever once again.

Interior-FirstGeneration-PierrePellierBy bringing over their cions , seeds, clippings and plantings from their Native Country of France, Luis, Pierre and Jean Pellier would set fire to the huge California Fruit Industry.  Basically, there was no industry before that, as Mission lands and their predictable orchards were left unattended and were being reclaimed by wilderness.  The California Missions were secularized by Mexico in 1833.  By the time the Pelliers came to California, the Missions weren’t even holding Catholic Mass.

In fact, Evergreen before the Pellier journeys would’ve been cattle grazing land.  After the Pellier journeys, Santa Clara Valley would become known as the Valley of Heart’s Delights.

MissSJLoWhat was grown in the Spanish Period at the Franciscan Missions in California from 1769-1821?  I’m so glad you asked.  The indigenous native peoples, priests and monks grew “mission grapes”, apples, lemons and oranges, beans, veggies and olives for the most part.  Olive Oil would be a source of pride for the Missions.  The “Mission Grape” of the Spanish colonists was a Vitus vinifera, a Spanish variety that was black and blue in color.  The clippings would’ve been brought over sea with Cortez’s colonization of Mexico or New Spain.  Only problem was less than 1000 acres of vineyards would be cultivated in California until the 1850’s.  These plants were a dying off as people left the Missions.  The Mission Grape would have been made into wine for Sacraments.  The Spanish may have brought apricots as well, originating in Turkey.  There was an indigenous plum tree present in California.  A wild grape, too, would be indigenous.  Mission San Jose would be one of the biggest producers, but would’ve been closed for several years by the time the Pelliers set sail.

booksOE4IRI16s-l225What did the Pellier brothers from France with help from the Delmas brothers bring to the Port of Alviso and to Santa Clara County?  Luis and Pierre Pellier would pull into port and sell peach, pear, plum, cherry, apple and prune cions off their boat in Alviso in the 1850’s.  Certainly his most famous contribution was the Angen ‘D Petit Prune, but the Valley of Heart Delight would begin with these trips to France and these cions.  With the driving force of the Pelliers’ new varietals, the Fruit Industry would soon provide thousands of jobs, would drive people to come to the Santa Clara Valley and would bring spark the Fruit Canning business.  We, in California, still feel the benefit of their actions today.

books1The French Prune brought to California in 1854 was considered perfect for drying and dipping.  After it was grafted on to a California plum tree, it became an instant success.  Pellier raised orchards of prunes and a nursery famed in downtown San Jose.  The Angen ‘D Petit Prune was immediately adopted by other Santa Clara Valley’s orchardists.  This would become Santa Clara County’s identity to the rest of the United States through the 1950’s when Silicon Valley bumped it.  The prune’s attributes, complimentary for drying and dipping, would make them a popular commercial export.

10688125_10153388158008316_4870909524103337438_oThe Prune Orchards would quickly spread all over Santa Clara County, the Valley of Heart’s Delight, and then all over California.  The French Prune ignited the whole California Fruit Industry, as only dried fruits could be exported.  The Mexican Government had a hard time settling California.  California through the Mexican Period (1821-1848) wouldn’t be well-known for its awesome agriculture, despite the rich soil noted by the Spanish Missionaries.  Evergreen was a grazing land.  The Missions closing meant the crops became scarce.  Pellier’s strategy was inspired by the high price of fruit.

1810A dollar gets you much less today, so you will naturally need more dollars to obtain the same product over 100 years ago.  Here’s an exception to that rule.  Before Luis and Pierre Pellier’s travels, an apple would cost over a dollar.  Today, $2.00 would get you a pound or several apples.  The demand was so high for apples and produce, most people couldn’t afford them.  You could forget about apple pie.  That would’ve cost you over $20.00 in apples alone in 1850’s California.  If you were in California in the 1850’s, you were a pioneer, gold panning and roughing it.  Their business idea was brilliant.  I wonder if they knew about the Manifest Destiny campaign that would send thousands of newcomers to California in a few short years.

pl_pellier_city_gardens_crhl434Luis Pellier would open “City Gardens” and sell his cions and young trees to the rest of Santa Clara County’s farmers in 1850.  This was the epicenter of the Valley of Heart’s Delight, creating a path to the American Dream for farmers coming to California.  The Pellier brothers would leave their popular nursery and orchards in downtown San Jose, where Pellier Park is today, and move to Evergreen to plant acres of vineyards in later 1850’s.

In 1858, Luis Pellier, now Evergreen resident, would present nine varieties of foreign grapes at the national trade show, being described as “unequalled to any other of the same variety”.  Luis Pellier’s introduction of new grapes would almost single handedly create the California Wine Industry as well.  Grafted on to Mission vines and indigenous vines, these grapes is really well in Evergreen.  When wine was made and the word spread, the Pelliers struck gold again.

Grapes-Bunches-Illustration jpgThe Pellier brothers are originally from the Bordeaux region of France, well-known for its Wine Industry.  The Pellier boys would’ve grown up cultivating their parents’ vineyards and orchards in France.  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec would’ve been easily found in that region of France.  Folle Blanche, the ultimate brandy making grape, has been contributed to Luis Pellier.  A Black Burgundy grape, another brandy grape, would also be brought to California by Pellier.  A Mourvedre vine, similar to a Mission Grape but a French strain, has also been drawn back to Pellier.  These would become popular in Zinfandel vineyards.  Chasselas Fontainebleau,  French Colombar and Madelaine are green grapes for white wines that have also been contributed to the Pellier brothers trips to France.

pinotMirassouWinerylogoEven though the Pellier brothers would become famous for their perfect prune trees, descendants of the Pelliers would be boastful of its Pinot Noir grapes and wines.  These certainly would’ve been brought back from France in the 1850’s by their forefathers.  Pellier descendants, the Mirassou family, have called Evergreen home for over 150 years.  Mirassou Winery operated off of Aborn Road for 100 years and continues to be a landmark in Evergreen.  Today, the Mirassou Winemaking Family continues to be the oldest Wine Family in California and continue to call Evergreen home.

P1310098

12314282_198416020500512_5584157587879954674_oBefore this point, varieties of wine could only be found in Europe, mainly in France and Spain, and imported into the United States.  California wasn’t well settled, but that would change fairly rapidly.  Again, Missions harvested Mission Grapes for altar wines and brandy, but there wasn’t much more out there.  What was out there was going away with the Missions closing.  With the Gold Rush and Manifest Destiny in full affect, the Pelliers would be at the right place at the right time to make something amazing happen.  California is the second capitol of wine today.  It would difficult to envision Napa Valley today without its vineyards.  80% of these vines can be traced back to that Alviso Port.  California’s Fruit Industry was initiated by Pellier’s cions.  Luis Pellier is acknowledged as one of the founding fathers of San Jose.  Here’s the artwork specific to the Pellier Family past and its present.

1848 1966