Joel Clayton planted 28 acres with a variety of grapes near the confluence of Mitchell and Mount Diablo Creeks and established a small winery that later became known as the' sherry house' for distilling brandy and sherry. His vineyards prospered, and Clayton's example was followed by other settlers because Clayton grapes produced good wines that regulated high prices.
His heirs sold the vineyard and sherry house, which encompassed 43 acres, to Paul De Martini after Joel Clayton died in 1872. In 1844, Paul De Martini was born in Genoa, Italy. In 1861, he arrived in the U.S. and moved to Concord, California in 1865. On the Galindo property in Concord, he had a vegetable garden. He later moved to the Nortonville coal mining community, where, for two years, he ran a boarding house. He then moved to Clayton, where Joel Clayton purchased approximately 44 acres and planted his vineyard.
This occurred in the Clayton area during a time of considerable expansion of both vineyards and wineries and the rise of Clayton to pre-eminence among the grape-growing regions of Contra Costa County. De Martini extended the vineyards to take advantage of this development and, in 1885, employed Mr. Dragovich, an Austrian stonemason, to direct the construction of the broad stone winery south of the sherry estate. The winery is situated on about 11 acres of the original 44 of De Martini estate atop a small knoll across Clayton Road from Mt. Diablo Elementary School.
The stonecutter was John Cavagnaro, and one of three sons of Paul De Martini, Walter Jr., served as a hod carrier with the guys. The large winery was designed by about 6 men, completing it in 1885. De Martini was able to increase production by pressing grapes from his own 20 planted acres, as well as some 150 to 200 tons he bought from nearby growers because of the new winery. When the winery started manufacturing, De Martini produced wine wagons running into the coal mining regions of East Contra Costa County twice a week.
At the St. Louis Exposition in 1904, the De Martini winery created prize-winning wines, receiving first place for port and sherry. The volume of the winery ranked second in the county, at 200,000 gallons, exceeded only by Mt. Diablo Winery of Martinelli.
A 50 'x 66', three-story stone and wood structure set into a hillside is the winery site. The 10,000 square foot building's bottom two floors are made of two-foot thick limestone from the quarry of Joshua Marsh on the north side of Mt. Diablo, and the hillside level of the third floor is wood. On three inner walls of the winery, the date "1885" is chiseled. Also, the "P. name." De Martini'' and a silhouette of a man's face with "P.D.M." initials next to it are carved on the second floor inner walls."
Among those that fell to the grape blight and the banned age were the De Martini winery operations, and the vineyards were replaced with an almond orchard. In November 1940, the De Martini winery was sold to George Cardinet Sr., the candy maker. For a weekend retreat and storage facility, the Cardinals converted the top floor to an apartment. Purchased in 1962 by George Forni and his partner, it was used until 1979 as a private residence.
It remained empty after that and was frequently vandalized. The family had plans to expand the land, and the De Martini Winery/Forni Ranch was listed on the National Historic Places Register on August 30, 1984. The Clayton City Council voted in 1988 to spend $900,000.00 to buy the 104-year-old De Martini Winery and 8 acres around it.
The $3 million renovation project turned the former winery into a civic center using redevelopment funds, including a community meeting space, city offices, and the Clayton Police Department. Most of the original building is intact-"the old beams, stone walls, and wood floors are still the same." Carvings were preserved on the wall in the conference rooms-"1885", the opening date of the winery, and the name of the winery. On August 30th, 1997, the new Clayton City Hall opened to the public.
This hidden gem in Concord, California is located near some other must-see places of interest:
- The Galindo Home
- Markham Nature Park & Arboretum
- Don Fernando Pacheco Adobe
- Historical Eichler Homes of Concord
- Salvio Pacheco Square
- Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
- John Muir National Historic Site
- Rodgers Ranch Heritage Center
All of these wonderful - but not so well known - attractions are located just a short distance from our location at 1261 Locust Street in Walnut Creek, California! Stop by for a visit anytime!