by Fred McMillin
for April 11, 1997

Winery of the Week

The Vine and the Potato

Prologue: "In 1856 Pierre Pellier was bringing Bordeaux vines [to the future Mirassou vineyard] when the winds stopped, the ship lay still in the water...and the precious cuttings began to dry out"...by Richard Hinkle, "Central Coast Wine Book."

Pierre Pellier and his wife Henriette
The Rest of the Story: Pierre was not about to lose those vines, which he was bringing from France, along with his bride, Henriette. So, in a bold move, he bought all of the potatoes in the ship's hold. Then, he and Henriette inserted one vine into each slit, moist potato. Did the potato therapy work? Well, a few years later the State Agricultural Society said the Pellier vines in the Santa Clara Valley were already producing wine that "considering its age, was very good."

Meanwhile, the Pelliers had added a new Henrietta to the family. At the ripe old age of 14 she started learning the business from dad. When 20, she married the dashing young French immigrant Pierre Huste Mirassou. Thus began the dynasty of five generations that have grown wine grapes south of San Francisco continuously for over 140 years. Their label proudly reads, "The oldest winegrowing family in North America."

With such an early start, Mirassou has always been one of California's biggest produders...right? Wrong! By 1961 they were turning out a mere 1350 cases a year with a Mirassou label. The rest was sold in bulk to others.

About then, the "5th generation" decided to change all that, planting some of the first wine vines in Monterey County, etc. My notes from a 1976 visit show production had shot up to 126,000. Since then, production has more than doubled again, topping 300,000 cases. Clearly, Pierre's potatoes started something big.

Just the Facts

Name Mirassou Vineyards and Winery
Location San Jose, CA
Owner The Mirassou Family
Grape Sources Santa Clara: Long ago the Mirassou family purchased 100 acres of wheatland on Alborn Road, which also is the site of the winery. Monterey: with urbanization crowding Santa Clara vineyards, Peter Mirassou established the first commercial vineyard in Monterey County in the early 1960's. Today, the majority of Mirassou's 700-plus acres of vineyards are located in Monterey.
Contact Steven Wilson, phone (408)274-4000

Postscript: Back to 1961 when all 1350 cases of Mirassou wines were sold at the winery. Records indicate "the best loved wine was Pinot Blanc." As far as I'm concerned, it still is today. Start with the inexpensive model called "White Burgundy." If you like it as well as my Scott's panel does, then graduate to the Monterey County HARVEST RESERVE Pinot Blanc...a fine change from Chardonnay.

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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