The Elliston Vineyards estate was built by Henry Hiram Ellis. Henry arrived in California in July 1849 at the age of twenty, in hopes of striking it rich during the Gold Rush. After 4 years, Henry had “made good” and sailed back to his home state of Maine to marry his love, Elizabeth Capen.
Soon after in 1853, they set sail for San Francisco, a rough, unruly and lawless city. He then became captain and owner of a riverboat, a Pacific trading vessel, and a laborer at odd jobs in San Francisco. He later became active in the local vigilante committees, eventually becoming a policeman, then Chief of Detectives. In 1875, Henry became the last elected Chief of Police in San Francisco, serving from 1875-1877. Ellis Street in San Francisco was named after Henry Hiram Ellis for his years of service.
During this time, Henry and his wife Elizabeth settled in to San Francisco and made a home. In the 1870’s Ellis took up residency on Lombard Street, known for its many turns. Henry and Elizabeth raised six children in San Francisco. One of their sons Henry “Harry”, married Jennie Coit – Coit Tower in San Francisco is named after this Coit family.
After his retirement in 1878, Henry took an old shipmate as partner in a hay and grain business, Ellis & Miller in San Francisco. The same year, he made a trip around the world with members of his family.
In 1885 Ellis, contemplating retirement, bought a lovely oak-studded property in the agricultural district of Sunol. Here, between 1885 and 1890, he built Elliston, a stately 17-room, three-story, neo-Romanesque mansion featuring graceful stone arches and 32-inch-thick walls of blue sandstone quarried in nearby Niles Canyon. Carved in the stone near the roof, is Henry’s personal monogram which includes his initials, HHE, a rope, and an anchor. Celebrities of the day visited Elliston included: Prince Kuhio and Princess Elizabeth of Hawaii during their round the world tour to visit Queen Victoria in 1898.
In 1890, Ellis planted three acres of vineyards on his Estate, and it is known that wine was produced here. This acreage was included when the Sunol Viticulture District was named in the 1898 report to the State Board of Viticulture to consist of 14 vineyards totaling 148.5 acres and total cooperage of 25,000 gallons.
Captain Ellis, as he was now known, made two more voyages. One was to the Hawaiian Islands and another around the world. At the age of 70, he was appointed as the consul of the Turk Islands, this lasted for just one year, and then he returned to California.
During this same time, Henry’s son Robert Ellis constructed a building on the corner of St. Johns and Main Street in Pleasanton, and opened the Ellis Grocery Store. Business prospered, they expanded the building and the name was changed to Ellis Brothers and Company General Merchandise. They sold everything from dry goods and groceries, to household items and hardware items. The location of the Ellis Bros store is now the home of the Rose Hotel.
The last few years of Captain Ellis’ life was spent quietly working on his memoirs and managing his estate. He died on December 15th in 1920 at the age of 91.
Today Elliston is on the National Register of Historic places.
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After changing owners throughout the years, the Elliston Estate was finally purchased by Ramon and Amy Awtrey in 1969. Professors and antique collectors, they carefully restored Elliston with period pieces, and refurbished the mansion to it’s original glory.
In 1977, Sunol’s grape growing tradition was revived by the planting of 55 acres of premium grape varietal’s on San Francisco Water Company land. In 1984, the Awtrey’s obtained rights to the Sunol Valley Vineyards, and also replanted the Elliston vineyards at the estate with three acres of Chardonnay. The original carriage house was converted into the winery.
The Awtrey’s lived in the Elliston Mansion, and in 1982, they began hosting special events and weddings at Elliston.
In 1991, Elliston purchased a twenty-three acre winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains complete with a state-of-the-art 4,000 square foot building equipped to handle 20,000 cases.
Today Elliston Vineyards is a thriving winery and event space. The Awtrey’s daughter Donna now runs the business with the help of her sons, Mark and David.
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