Logo for Visit Gilroy organization

Discover the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley, Part 1: Fascinating Facts You May Not Know

If you love wine and are interested in California history, here are some fascinating facts about the Santa Clara Valley wine growing region—which includes all the wineries and tasting rooms in and around Gilroy.

Fact #1: Santa Clara Valley is still The Valley of Heart’s Delight.

The Santa Clara Valley may not be filled with fruit and nut orchards as it used to be decades ago when it was first called “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” However, the area still has enough awe-inspiring natural scenery—and an abundance of vineyards—to live up to its nickname from many years ago. The Santa Clara Valley is bordered by the majestic redwoods of the Santa Cruz Mountains to the west and the golden hills dotted with sturdy oak trees of the Diablo Mountain Range to the east. With over 30 vineyards surrounded by such natural beauty, the Santa Clara Valley beckons visitors to experience this truly “delightful” wine region firsthand.

Fall-colored leaves on a vineyard with green, tree-covered hills in the background

Fact #2: The Santa Clara Valley is one of California’s oldest wine regions.

Some of the vines growing in the Santa Clara Valley originated in the 1770s—about 250 years ago! The Spanish first discovered some of these naturally growing vines when they came to the area to build Mission Santa Clara. They began using these grapes, and later started planting their own, for religious purposes. When French settlers arrived in the mid-1800s, they planted grapes that they knew would do well in the region’s mild climate with warm, dry days and cool nights. They improved the quality and health of the grapes with their long-practiced skills. By the 1880s, Italians came to California, and they improved the vines even more with their expert viticulture skills, particularly with their pruning techniques.

 

Picture of an old Victorian hotel called Redwood Retreat next to some vineyards and surrounded by trees
An old Victorian hotel, named Redwood Retreat, was built in 1891 on Fernwood Cellars’ property. It burned down in 1908.

 

1970s Winery Map
This 1970s map is found in the book Wineries of Santa Clara Valley by Bev Stenehjem.

 

 

Fact #3: Santa Clara Valley vineyards have survived natural and economic disasters.

By the late 1880s, thousands of acres of vines had been planted, but they were nearly wiped out by an invasion of phylloxera (insects related to aphids) from 1895-1900. The earthquake of 1906 also added to the destruction of many wineries, with fires ravaging many wine cellars and thousands of wine barrels. If this was not enough, Prohibition and the Great Depression also added to the economic challenges of growing grapevines. During those years, farmers planted mostly fruit orchards. After 1933, however, wineries slowly began to make a comeback, although the wine produced at this time was mostly “jug wine.” Jug wine was made up of several varieties, with no labels telling the type or year, and people just filled up their own jugs. By the 1940s, more farmers began planting vineyards, and once again, vines began to fill the valley.

vineyard at sunset

Fact #4: The Santa Clara Valley was designated an AVA in 1989.

It was not until 1976 that the Santa Clara Wine Valley really took off. Several wines won some international awards in France at a competition, and that increased the region’s popularity and acclaim. By 1989, thanks to the efforts of Gene Guglielmo of Guglielmo Winery (who submitted a petition to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in Washington, D.C.), the Santa Clara Valley was officially designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA). And the rest, as they say, is history.

Bonesio Winery’s (now Kirigin Cellars) tasting room with Louis Jr. pouring a glass of wine. Photo from Wineries of Santa Clara Valley by Bev Stenehjem.

To learn more about the 30+ wineries in Gilroy and the Santa Clara Valley, go to the Wineries page on the Visit Gilroy website or read these additional blog articles:

  • Discover Santa Clara Valley Wineries, Part 2: Diverse Geography, Features & Activities
  • Discover Santa Clara Valley Wineries, Part 3: Exploring the Wine Trail

 

Plan Your Wine Tasting Tour of the Wineries of Santa Clara Valley

Ready to go wine tasting in Gilroy? Be sure to plan at least a weekend stay to visit as many of our amazing wineries as you can. Check out our Great Garlic Getaways for a sample two-day Wine Tasting Weekend itinerary or plan your own custom tasting tour.

  • Lodging: Gilroy has plenty of choices for lodging, so check our listings of Hotels and RV Parks and Campgrounds to choose the best option for you and your traveling companions. Many wineries in Gilroy are dog-friendly; if you are bringing a four-footed friend along, you’ll find plenty of Dog-Friendly Places to Stay in Gilroy.
  • Wine Passes: Be sure to stop in at the California Welcome Center Gilroy (conveniently located in Gilroy Premium Outlets) to purchase a Santa Clara Valley Wineries Wine Trail Pass and pick up complimentary winery maps, brochures, and coupons to the local wineries. We cannot wait to welcome you to Gilroy and will be happy to guide you to some of the best wineries in California along the Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail.

 

Find More to Explore in Gilroy

In addition to all the great wineries, you’ll find lots more to do in Gilroy, California! For inspiration, check our list of 33 Things to Do in Gilroy and Great Gilroy Getaways trip itineraries. Book a budget-friendly hotel room so you can stay a night or two and try even more wineries in Gilroy.

When you visit, be sure to stop by the California Welcome Center Gilroy. Our friendly staff can help you pick the perfect place to eat and find other fun places to explore. We also have unique gifts and souvenirs of your trip to Gilroy and the Golden State.

fix