By Rob Jensen
We’ve all heard the phrase, “Time flies when you are having fun.” Well, I can tell you we are having a ton of fun! Actually this vintage, the 130th consecutive vintage made here in the historic Jesuit Novitiate Winery of Los Gatos, we will be having over 500 tons of fun!
Being a 4th generation Californian, with my great grandparents coming to the San Francisco in the late 1800s, it is beyond a dream to be making our world class Testarossa wines in California’s 4th oldest continuously operating winery. It is even more special that Diana and I met in a Jesuit University (Santa Clara University), and were married by a Jesuit priest, who attended the Novitiate Seminary College on the winery site in the 1930s along with his twin brother. Fr. John Geary, SJ, later retired at the Sacred Heart Jesuit Center, which sits directly adjacent to the winery here in the beautiful foothills just two minutes off Main Street above downtown Los Gatos. Adding to the interest is Fr. John’s father, a San Jose Architect and builder, was the contractor who build the cellars that house our main Los Gatos Tasting Room, entrance Cave, and our sandstone office building located between the entrance to the winery and Wine Bar 107.
The history of the winery is beyond fascinating.
- The United States flag that flies outside our front door is a replica of the original 38-star flag that first flew in front of the winery in 1888.
- The Jesuits received the 107th license (bond) for a winery in the United States. Now you know why we call for our beautiful Wine Bar, Wine Bar 107.
- The Jesuits made wine in our cellars for 98 years, from 1888 until they ceased operations under the Novitiate label in 1986. Between 1986 and 1997, the Jesuits leased the winery to two other wineries who were underfunded and subsequently went out of business. We moved our fledgling Testarossa Vineyards (the original name of our business) to the Novitiate Winery in 1997.
- Many people have asked why we changed the name from Testarossa Vineyards to Testarossa Winery. The answer is simple. We were originally a “virtual winery” making our wines at someone else’s winery (Cinnabar in Saratoga) in 1994, 1995 and 1996. Since we were a virtual winery we legally could not use the name “winery” in our business name. That was the law. But when we moved to Los Gatos, and had our own brick-and-mortar Bonded Winery, we could then use the name ‘winery’ in our business name. We decided to make the change after many people came to visit us in Los Gatos and repeatedly asked “where are the vineyards? Your name is Testarossa Vineyards, but we don’t see any vineyards.” Thus the origin of the “winery” part of the name Testarossa Winery.
In addition to the 19th century history origins of our winery home, what also makes our location, and our winemaking unique is the juxtaposition of 19th century California Wine History mixed with what Santa Clara Valley has evolved into and is best known for….. Silicon Valley! When visiting the winery, it is very common to see signage for corporate events from our neighbors like Apple (18 min away), Google, (25 min), Cisco (24 min), Intel (22 min), Adobe (19 min), Netflix (11 min), Ebay (15 min), Facebook (32 min) and many, many more internationally known technology firms.
Diana and I are both Silicon Valley veterans. We met while getting our degrees in Electrical Engineering at Santa Clara. Many people don’t realize that we were senior thesis design partners at SCU, where our Cycling Ergometer/Trainer project, inspired by my time at the US Olympic Training Center in the 1980s, won the annual engineering school design conference competition. Diana later went on to work at National Semiconductor and Cypress Semiconductor before “retiring” form tech in 1994 to run the winery full time, while raising our first of two children, Nick, who was born in 1993. Claire later joined the family in 1996.
We take our high tech background and our love and appreciation for history and traditional winemaking very seriously. Over the last 18 vintages we have worked with our winemaker, Bill Brosseau, to blend the latest in high tech winemaking with the best of centuries old winemaking traditions. If you are reading this article, then you, like us, appreciate the results! We never stop experimenting, and working towards improving quality, each and every vintage.
By the way, Nick and Claire both followed in their parent’s footsteps in attending SCU. Nick has a degree in Civil Engineering and currently works for DevCon Construction. Claire is finishing her degree in Accounting and will be starting with KPMG next summer after graduation.
Five years ago, on the 125th anniversary of the day when first grapes were first picked by the Jesuits on the property, October 11th, 1888, we started a new tradition of inviting the over 60 retirees from the Sacred Heart Jesuit (retirement) Center to a luncheon celebration of their history. Most of these retirees worked in the fields and cellars back in the mid-20th Century. Meeting them and hearing their stories is a truly unique experience.
Thank you for being part of our journey to add new chapters, and great wines, to the living history of the historic 19th Century Novitiate of Los Gatos Winery!
Rob, Diana, Nick and Claire Jensen, and Bill Brosseau