Testarossa's location at the historic Novitiate in downtown Los Gatos is both a state of the art working winery and a truly dramatic setting for visitors. The old stone cellars and beautiful grounds of the state’s fourth oldest continuously operating winery house the tasting room and Wine Bar 107 and provide an amazing venue for private events.
The old Novitiate Winery was originally built in 1888 by Jesuit Fathers and Brothers from Santa Clara College (now Santa Clara University); it was intended to help fund their new seminary college, built on the grounds the same year. The term Novitiate means house of the novices, the name used for seminary students. For nearly 100 years, the Jesuits made altar wines, as well as sweet, fortified wines at the Novitiate Winery. The Novitiate Winery was best known for its fortified Black Muscat dessert wine (similar to a tawny port), which was a perennial gold medal winner at the California State Fair.
The original 19th Century, three-floor, gravity-flow winery is still in use today to make Testarossa wines. However, the original structure is now mostly hidden from view by the many expansions the winery went through during the first half of the 20th Century. Ironically, but not surprisingly, the demand for church altar wine production skyrocketed during Prohibition (1919-1933) and the winery and adjoining vineyards more than doubled in size during that period. After the Repeal of Prohibition, the winery continued to grow, as did the number of seminary students, who were also recruited to work in the vineyards and winery. By the late 1950s, over 100,000 cases of Novitiate wine was produced annually here.
In the 1960s, things started to decline at the old winery. The nearly century old vines were past their prime production years and costly replanting was needed. The seminary population was beginning to decline. In 1968, it was decided to shut down the seminary college in Los Gatos and move the students to Santa Barbara. At this same time, California's wine industry was booming; interest in varietal labeled, dry table wines displaced fortified and dessert wines. In 1986, the Jesuits shut down their Novitiate Winery brand, ending an amazing 98 year run. For the next ten years, the old winery was leased to other brands.
In 1997, the old winery underwent a new transformation. That year, the Jensens moved their four year old label Testarossa to the old Novitiate; that first year saw production of 4,000 cases of small lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Today production is around 30,000 cases annually. Every year, Testarossa invests in repairing and improving the proud old facility. Today, the historic winery has been beautifully renovated into one of the gems of the California wine industry.