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Historic Wineries in Santa Clara Valley - Thomas Kruse and Fortino Wineries

Two more historic wineries in Santa Clara Valley, Thomas Kruse Winery and Fortino Winery
Two more historic wineries in Santa Clara Valley, Thomas Kruse Winery and Fortino Winery
Steve Ferree, Fortino Winery

In the last article you learned about some of the history of wine making in Santa Clara Valley, a history dating back since the missionaries and including such famous names in wine history as Almaden Winery, Paul Masson, Mirassou and more. You also learned that even today in Santa Clara County South Valley there are several wineries with a long history that shows the importance of Santa Clara Valley in California’s wine tradition. These include Thomas Kruse Winery and Fortino Winery.

Historic Wineries of Santa Clara Valley - Thomas Kruse and Fortino Wineries
Steve Ferree, Fortino Winery

Thomas Kruse Winery

When Thomas Kruse came to California in his early 20s, he missed some of the memories from his family’s farm in Wisconsin and wanted to make cider. His friends convinced him to try to make wine instead. He quickly got that winemaking bug and wanted to share his passion with others, opening a Wine Art Store for home winemakers. By 1971 he had quit his day job and opened the Thomas Kruse Winery on Hecker Pass Road.

Thomas was passionate about his craft and created dry roses from such varietals as Carignane and Grignolino and even Thompson Seedless grapes. He also started to experiment in making champagne in the traditional method.

By 1997 he and his wife purchased a larger 20-acre property across the valley and planted his own 12-acre vineyard of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Chardonnay. The winery grew to its current size of 2500 cases of wine per year. The new winery building opened in 2003. Thomas believes strongly in his wines and strives to perfect his craft, saying that bigger is not always better. Even today, he concentrates on handcrafting a small quantity of wine and pleasing his loyal following of friends, volunteers and customers.

When it comes time to harvest the grapes he will put out the call to his list of volunteers. He always gets more volunteers than needed so he selects the ones he needs for that year and they are rewarded with six bottles of his Tourniquet Red symbolizing the pain and wounds from a day of physically demanding harvest. But those volunteers will be coming back year after year.

Thomas Kruse is proud of the fact that he is the oldest sole proprietorship winery in the USA. You will see that much of the equipment used in his winery is from a forgotten era of durability and quality rather than simply “high tech”. Thomas is familiar with each and every vine on his property, pruning them carefully each year to produce the quality of grapes he demands. You know when you taste Thomas Kruse wines that you are getting something personally made by Thomas.

He continues to dabble in making Champagne and he is allowed to keep the Champagne name rather than the newer “Sparkling Wine” label because he has been involved in this production since before the new rules were adopted. Again, every bottle of this Champagne is hand produced from riddling to the dosage by Thomas. He will even make special versions for long time customers and he has many long term customers.

Thomas also has the reputation of always willing to help other small vineyards and wineries that have started up in Santa Clara Valley over the years.

In addition to his Champagne, Thomas Kruse makes Chardonnay, Rose, Gilroy Red blend, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel. He keeps his prices affordable to make these wines a good deal for all. The Thomas Kruse Winery is located at 3200 Dryden Avenue in Gilroy, directly east of the Gilroy Outlets.

Fortino Winery

Fortino Winery was established in 1970 by Ernest and Marie Fortino when they purchased the Cassa Brothers winery that had been in operation since the 40s. Ernest wanted this property since it reminded him so much of his home in Calabria in Italy. In 1995 Ernest passed on the responsibility for running the winery to his son Gino and daughter Teri. They have continued to expand the vineyards to 50 acres of which half are still dry-farmed as the original vineyards were managed.

Gino has guided the growth of the winery to include not only the production of a variety of fine wines, but to develop an event and wedding center that is known throughout the county. The event center includes a beautiful outdoor facility overlooking the vineyards and a full function kitchen that can cater to the needs of the event. This writer was very pleased when his daughter was married at this winery, an exciting event that will long be remembered.

Fortino has a large tasting room with friendly staff ready to serve. It has been voted the Best Wine Tasting for several years in a row by the Gilroy Dispatch. Yelp continues to have good reviews on the winery and wedding events.

They will usually have several wines on the tasting menu during your visit. Some particular standouts include the Charbono (absolutely delicious) and the Cask140, a blend of Charbono and Cabernet Sauvignon. But I am sure you will also enjoy the Merlot, Zinfandel, Carignane and Maribella blend on the red wine side and the Chardonnay, Riesling and Black Muscat Blush on the white wine/Rose side. And, of course, everyone enjoys their Extra-Dry Champagne and Almond Champagne for the weddings. Stop by their tasting room at 4525 Hecker Pass Highway in Gilroy to check out the wines and gift items.

Be sure to take the photo tour of Thomas Kruse and Fortino wineries via the attached photos. Stay tuned for the next article covering the historic Kirigin winery, and the previous article describing Guglielmo Winery and Morgan Hill Winery.

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