Mountain Winery

Laura A. H. Elliot

September 11, 2018

The fortunes and passions of The Champagne King of California

“I drink my own wine because it’s good! It’s good because it comes from these grapes, from this soil and because I know what I’m doing!” – 1917, Paul Masson | Mountain Winery Founder

the mountain winery deck
Deck View | Photo by Mountain Winery

About 245 years ago Father Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary, established missions from San Diego to Sonoma planting vineyards all along the way, a kind of holy Johnny Appleseed of wine. The cultivation of the grape at 21 missions for sacramental purposes was the beginning of the wine industry here in California.

The French began the commercial cultivation of the grape in California about sixty years later, spearheaded by Jean Louis Vignes who had recently arrived from Bordeaux and begun his vineyard in the Los Angeles area. Soon after, the Gold Rush would forever change Northern California which attracted many dreamers and French people, including Paul Masson who arrived in 1878 in San Francisco. The son of established winemakers from Burgundy, his early travels took him to the Santa Clara Valley, where he visited the winery of Charles Lefranc, and together they grafted mission grapes with Lefranc’s vines.

the mountain winery wine
Wines | Photo by Mountain Winery

The fruit turned into a storied selection of fine wines, making Masson and Lefranc instant celebrities.

They found themselves socializing with the rich and famous in and around San Francisco at lavish parties, when the idea of creating champagne occurred to Masson––or white sparkling as it could only be known outside of France’s Champagne region. When Masson’s champagne won at the Paris Expo of 1900, he became known as “The Champagne King of California,” bringing Paul Masson Champagne and California into the spotlight of fine wine’s on the world stage.

With the success of his champagne, Masson had the resources to build his own winery in the small town of Saratoga, and named it La Cresta, known as the ‘vineyard in the sky.’ Only a year after its completion, the Great Earthquake of 1906 in San Francisco destroyed their wine cellar.

This tragic turn of events is only one in a series of dark times for Masson and the California wine industry. From diseased ravaged vines at the turn of the century to Prohibition, winemaking in California came to a virtual stand-still for decades until the repeal of Prohibition in 1933. These events combined to devastate the fortunes and passions of Masson. After his wife died, Masson sold the estate to Martin Ray who chose to rebuild the vineyard and keep the Masson name, in honor of the fond memories Ray had from the vineyard’s early, celebratory days.

The year before Pearl Harbor Masson died, sparing him from seeing yet another crippling blow to the California wine industry. The reemergence of which occurred in 1949, the year that Paul Masson Champagne was served at the White House at President Truman’s Inaugural Ball, becoming the first American wine ever served there.

mountain winery
Concert Bowl | Photo by Mountain Winery

About a decade later, the Concert Bowl was constructed, and the tradition of the Summer Concert Series began which still packs in sell-out crowds today.

‘The vineyard in the sky’ is so much more than a beautiful place to enjoy a glass of wine. With stunning panoramic views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, it is a fantastic place to say ‘I do,’ and celebrate the cherished milestones of life at signature venues from the California-casual Cellar Room to the elegant and historic Grand Hall or the majestic Redwood Deck––a dozen venues from the cozy to the breathtaking hit just the right note like their wines.

After the vineyard was replanted in 2004 with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, the history of the winery came full circle. Winemaker Jeffery Patterson came onboard from Mount Eden, which sits on the old Martin Ray property. Patterson continues the tradition at Mountain Winery with Masson’s signature Burgundian style, billed as “austere, well-structured and complex” coincidentally mirroring the qualities needed to cultivate such joyous wines over a century of tumultuous times.

Laura A. H. Elliot
Laura A. H. Elliot

Laura writes to encourage with a focus on life-changing, planet-healing stories featuring self-discovery, pilgrimages, ecotravel and journeys of the heart. Besides traveling to 24 countries on 6 continents and counting, her passions also include sailing, very dry champagnes, red shoes, humanitarian work, learning new languages, family, and playing guitar. Website

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