Santa Clara Vintage 1851

By Deborah Lohse and Tracy Seipel, Office of Marketing and Communications, Santa Clara University

Many of the estimated 100 or so Santa Clara alumni-affiliated wineries contribute wine, event space or private-label partnership proceeds to benefit Santa Clara scholarships and other causes (photo by Santa Clara University)

Many of the estimated 100 or so Santa Clara alumni-affiliated wineries contribute wine, event space or private-label partnership proceeds to benefit Santa Clara scholarships and other causes (photo by Santa Clara University)

You could say that Santa Clara University has had wine in its veins since its beginning.

When it was founded by the Jesuits as Santa Clara College in 1851, a tiny vineyard already existed on the site formerly owned by Franciscans, who harvested the grapes for altar wine. By the 1870s, the College had purchased land in the Cupertino Hills of California, according to Rev. Daniel Peterson, S.J., an archivist of the Jesuits West Province. There, a much larger vineyard produced sacramental wines for local Catholic churches, as well as commercial wines—under the label Villa Maria—as revenue for the College.

But it was among the flood of emigre Jesuits fleeing persecution in Italy—some of whom made their way to the new college—that a longer-term investment was made in 1888. The Jesuits established the Novitiate Winery as a way to help fund education for seminary students at the adjacent Los Gatos novitiate, buttressed by their purchase in 1940 of the assets of Villa Maria Winery.

For nearly 100 years, that historic Novitiate Winery made altar wines, port and other wines on site. Today, the winery produces award-winning wines from Testarossa Winery, owned by two Santa Clara alumni: Rob ’86 and Diana ’88 Jensen. The couple, engineers who met at Santa Clara, turned their fascination with wine into a business in 1993, and moved their operations to the Novitiate site in 1997. Since 2003, they have leased related facilities from the Jesuits as well, including a tasting room and private event areas.

“I found out that engineering was not the end-all and be-all of life,’’ says Rob Jensen, whose company annually produces 30,000 cases of wine blended from grapes that the couple buys from independent vineyards.

Bronco Vintners
It’s poetic—and fitting—that the early winery that helped launch the Jesuits in the region is now occupied by two devoted Santa Clara alumni who regularly give back through donations of wine and hosted events.

Testarossa is part of an estimated 100 wineries that were either founded or run at some point by Santa Clara alumni—a result of the region’s immigrant foundations, ideal climate for grapes and other produce, as well as wealthy tech workers who moved into the wine industry as encore careers.

“Santa Clara Valley, being one of the agricultural capitals of America, of course [had] wine grapes grown there,” says Lee Nordlund, a 1980 Santa Clara biology major who worked at numerous wineries before founding Napa-based Punch Vineyards, through which he now helps support University-related causes. “And the ranchers, where would they send their kids? Santa Clara was the university of choice.”

Santa Clara alumni, Rob and Diana Jensen, at the most recent Vintage Santa Clara event; Proceeds will benefit the Alumni Family Scholarship program (Photo by Santa Clara University)

Santa Clara alumni, Rob and Diana Jensen, at the most recent Vintage Santa Clara event; Proceeds will benefit the Alumni Family Scholarship program (Photo by Santa Clara University)

Among the many notable Bronco vintners and wineries:

  • California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, ’89, who co-founded PlumpJack Winery in 1992 (PlumpJack is the nickname of Shakespeare’s recurring Falstaff character)

  • Napa-based Michael Mondavi Family Estate, founded and run by alumni Michael Mondavi ’66 (co-founder with his father of the famed Robert Mondavi Winery, later bought by Constellation Brands); Michael’s wife, Isabel Mondavi ’67; son, Robert Mondavi, Jr. ’94; and daughter, Dina Mondavi ’98

  • Fred Franzia ’65, the colorful owner of Charles Shaw—a.k.a. ‘Two Buck Chuck’ at Trader Joe’s—and dozens of other wine labels, most of which were purchased by his family-owned Bronco Wine Company. (Despite the wishful assumption on campus that the company was named after Santa Clara’s mascot, it is actually a contraction of “Brothers and Cousin,” after its founders.)

  • Hartford Family Winery, co-founded by Donald Hartford ’82, J.D. and Jennifer Jackson Hartford, ’82, J.D., daughter of Kendall Jackson winery founder Jess Jackson

  • The historic Sonoma Valley winery, Don Sebastiani & Sons, currently run by Santa Clara alum Donny Sebastiani ’92 (his brother, August Sebastiani ’02, oversees 3Badge Beverage Corp., a maker of wine, spirits and beer)

  • Guglielmo Winery, the oldest continuously family owned and operated winery in the Santa Clara Valley, run by Gene Guglielmo ’71, and his two brothers with help from Gene’s two daughters

Celebrating the Legacy
In 1983, as part of a celebration of the University’s winemaking lineage, Santa Clara’s Alumni Association created Vintage Santa Clara. This now-annual event attracts thousands of alumni, family and friends, who partake in offerings from dozens of California winemakers—up to two-thirds of them alumni—as well as gourmet food vendors. Proceeds benefit the Alumni Family Scholarship program.

“Vintage has become an iconic event at Santa Clara, celebrating the alumni who have become successful in wine industry, and who donate their product for a good cause as an expression of their pride in [the University] and the community they love,” says Rachaella Giannotta, senior assistant director for events in the office of alumni relations.

In 2015, Santa Clara’s alumni office teamed up with a wine distribution company, VinoShipper (whose founder and CEO, Steven Harrison, is a Bronco dad), to produce and sell the Mission Wine Collection: private-labeled wines from wineries owned by alumni, parents and friends, all to benefit the Alumni Family Scholarship program. Recent selections included wines from alumni wineries Clos Du Val, Bargetto and Don & Sons.

For Guglielmo’s CEO, it’s no surprise that so many Santa Clara graduates are in the wine business—especially for families like his, where good wine and food are a traditional part of their Italian culture. “If you look at the family wineries in the wine industry in California, I would say there’s a pretty high percentage [run by people who] have gone to Santa Clara,’’ says Gene Guglielmo. He notes that in addition to rigorous studies, “a Jesuit university teaches you a way of life.”

Today, Guglielmo Winery produces about 40,000 cases of wine annually—including wine used at many of the Catholic parishes in Santa Clara Valley. “I call it Holy Wine,’’ quips the former Santa Clara football player, whose selection of premium varietals includes a new label called “Spirit of the Bronco.” Net proceeds of that label go to fund Santa Clara athletic programs.

Come commencement each June, Santa Clara grads, family and friends are all invited to raise a glass of Santa Clara bubbly. Guglielmo traditionally bottles some sparkling wine under the label of the graduating class—making the bottles truly treasured mementos.