Novitiate


The Jesuit brothers of the Sacred Heart Novitiate began making sacramental wine in 1888 in the Los Gatos foothills. Jesuits from Turin brought grape vines with them to the New World and planted them, largely as a way to pay for operating the Novitiate. At its peak they produced around 100,000 cases a year, and was best known for its famous fortified Black Muscat dessert wine (similar to a tawny port), which was a perennial gold medal winner at the annual California State Fair. The ecclesiastical connection ensured that the winery survived prohibition - the demand for Church altar wine production skyrocketed and the winery and adjoining vineyards more than doubled in size - and may also explain how it avoided being destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and a devastating fire in Los Gatos in 1934.

In the 1960s things began to change. The old vines were in need of replanting; an expensive process. The seminary population was also in decline and in 1968 the decision was taken to shut down the seminary college and move the students to Santa Barbara. Around that time the wine industry was in a state of flux; tastes were changing and consumers were starting to demand varietal labeled, dry table wines. In 1986, just short of their centenary, the Jesuits shut down their Novitiate Winery brand. The winery was taken over by Saratoga vintner M. Marion and Co. In 1989, Mirassou began making sparkling wines there and continued until 2003, when operations ceased.

Since 1997 the winery has been home to Testarossa Vineyards who also share the facility with Fleming Jenkins. Testarossa have recently resurrected the Novitiate brand as a second label, but the wines bear no relation to those originally produced by the Novitiate Winery. Grapes are no longer grown on the land.