The Story Behind Woodside Vineyards
Other than some ordinary grape varieties planted at many of the early missions, the wine industry in California primarily started in Woodside. In 1854, Count Agostin Haraszthy brought grape rootings from his native Hungary and planted 30 acres near the Crystal Springs lakes - mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and other red varieties. Unfortunately he planted ten miles too far north and the wind and fog coming through the San Mateo swale in the Santa Cruz Mountains did not allow his grapes to fully ripen. In the early 1860s, he sold his lands and moved to Sonoma where he founded Buena Vista Winery, reportedly the oldest winery in Sonoma County.
A few years later, a number of farmers discovered a much more favorable climate just ten miles south in rural Woodside. The soil was amenable to grapes and olives and the climate was much warmer due the the 2,000 foot-high Kings Mountain blocking most of the fog and wind. By the early 1900s there were over 1,000 acres of grapes planted in the Woodside/Portola Valley area.
There was only one significant winery in Woodside. Most of the other vineyards were farmed in Woodside, but the grapes were delivered to one of the five or six wineries in Redwood City and San Carlos. All of these wineries are now gone - most closed during Prohibition.
Gold medal winner at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. Check out the banner in the winery next time you visit.
In 1884, Emmet Rixford planted about 37 acres of Cabernet type grapes on the hill above Cañada Road Lane and Woodside Road overlooking Redwood City. Its name, La Questa, was probably intended to mean “Crest of the Hill”. Mr. Rixford built a stone winery which still exists today as a charming residence despite withstanding minor damage during the 1906 earthquake. While most wineries in these days sold their wines in jugs, Rixford was unique in that he bottled his wine in pints and quarts. His wines were quite famous and won many awards. The wine won its first medal at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905 and a gold medal at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915.
Letter seen here advises “On and after September 1st, 1918, the list prices will be as follows: Per case: Quarts $8.00 and Pints, $9.00. Revenue Tax added”. If you had been around in 1918 you could have purchased award winning La Questa wine for 75 cents a quart...now it's a great value at $125.00!
Rixford died in 1928, five years before the end of Prohibition, after which his sons tried unsuccessfully to revive the business. They produced their last wine in 1938. During Prohibition, the two Rixford brothers maintained the property by selling their grapes to families who made their own wine at home. The legendary Martin Ray made wine from those grapes in the 1940s and took cuttings which were the start of his Cabernet vineyard in Saratoga. The Rixford property was sold for subdivision in 1945 and the last remaining winery in San Mateo County disappeared.
After the property was subdivided, three families - the Groetzingers, Quilicis and Damicos - each retained a half acre of the vines on their properties. Woodside Vineyards still makes about fifty cases of prized La Questa wine from those small vineyards and only on years when the climate is favorable for the 132 year-old vines.
In 1926, the Avenali and Josselyn families planted ten acres of their property on Kings Mountain Road with fruit trees and vineyards. One acre of grapes became home to Woodside Vineyards in 1961.
The establishment of Woodside Vineyards as a bonded winery in 1963 marked the start of a vineyard and winery revival in the Woodside/Portola Valley region. At that time, there were only two other wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains - Bargetto Winery in Capitola and Ridge Vineyards located on Montebello Ridge above Cupertino. Today there are 80 wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticulture Area. By 1960 total acreage of grapes in Woodside was probably less than ten acres. Today there are approximately 35 to 40 acres of vineyards in Woodside and another 60 acres in Portola Valley. There are currently five bonded wineries in Woodside and Portola Valley, plus two wine marketers who sell the wines made from grapes grown on their property which are produced for them by Woodside Vineyards.