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CARE Member Contributions to The Next Thirty Years

The Elliston Winery
Submitted by Helen Bridge
Chabot College

This is really a faint memory piece. If readers see any errors, especially about the hole diggers, please let us know so we can correct the details.

In 1969, Ray Autrey and his wife, Chabot instructor Amy Autrey, bought an old stone mansion in Sunol. The place had been built in 1890 for an old sea captain who had previously been a San Francisco police chief. He planted a few acres of grapes, which didn’t survive for long. By the time the Autreys took ownership, the place had been through several other owners, and most recently, had been used as a convalescent home for the elderly. It was in a real state of neglect and disrepair. Using nothing but their own labor, Ray and Amy cleaned it up, painted the entire inside, furnished it with beautiful antique pieces from Europe and other places, and made it, for the most part, into the incredible showplace it is today. Here’s how the San Francisco Chronicle described it in a recent piece:

Elliston Winery"The picturesque property—with towering oaks, manicured gardens, fountains, and a 2,000 square foot Terrace Room—is a popular venue for celebrations.  It’s fun to wander the grounds and play lord of the manor, peeking into nooks and crannies of the 17-room Romanesque mansion that is now a historical landmark. The palace, restored and refurbished with period pieces, is well stocked with arched windows an doors, expansive patios, and 32-inch thick walls of blue sandstone quarried in nearby Niles Canyon."

After they bought the old house, Ray and Amy discovered he fact that the original owner had tried his hand at growing grapes, so they decided to do the same. Amy invited some friends from Chabot College to come and help plant the first grapevines. That group included, to the best of my recollection, Dave Arovola, Jack Fishbaugh, Leland Kent, and my husband, Les and myself (I was only a spectator, of course). So one Sunday, we all showed up ready to help. Imagine the scene: Ray Autrey, along with all these other soft-handed teacher folks, on hands and knees, trying to dig up enough of that hard ground—and it was hard—to put in some tender little grape vines. They didn’t have much luck. Eventually, the one hard-hat guy (the one I was married to) suggested that we might need to get a gas-driven post hole digger to do the job. The guys wiped their sweaty faces and said heck yes, so Les went off to a rental place nearby. He brought back the magic equipment and went to work. It didn’t take him long to finish the job the guys had been laboring over so earnestly. The little plants then went in the ground easily. Ray and Amy were so pleased, and the teachers seemed to have a new appreciation for the wonders of the modern workplace and the laborers who know how to operate the machinery.

 We finished off the afternoon with a tour of the mansion, glasses of wine, and some lovely snacks. The main topic of conversation, as I remember it, was the planting and the effort involved, and then later, the beautiful old house itself. Little did we know then that the mansion would become a local icon, a successful winery, and special venue for weddings and other celebrations. And although the winery was eventually sold when the Autreys retired and moved to Hawaii, one of their daughters still manages the place, and her son, Mark Piche, is the winemaker.

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