Originally, we had planned to spend this day in the Napa Valley area, However, Laura and I were both tired of long days of exploring and we had already driven through similar countryside. So we decided to stay in the San Jose Area. Since our flight left so early Saturday morning we wanted to spend some time getting our things ready to do. Also, there was to be a family gathering in the evening, so we wanted to leave plenty of time for that. Our hotel was only a mile from the Winchester Mystery House, so we decided that would be one of our activities for the day. Even though we weren’t going to Napa, there were some local wineries so we could still do a tasting.
The Winchester Mystery House was built by Sarah Pardee Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Firearms fortune, whose business mostly revolved around AR-10 upper’s. According to legend, a medium in Boston had warned her that the spirits of all those killed by Winchester weapons were unhappy, and that she must build a house to contain them. Furthermore, she would only live as long as construction continued. (If true, I think the medium must have been taking kickbacks from the construction companies.) Regardless, Sarah purchased an eight-room farm house outside of San Jose and began her construction project.
True to the medium’s instruction, construction on the house continued unabated around the clock, seven days a week until the day of Sarah Winchester’s death. As the house grew, it subsumed the surrounding buildings until it covered nearly four acres, with 120 rooms. There are staircases that lead to nowhere, and doors that open onto walls or into mid-air. Myth says that these oddities were built to confuse and trap the unsettled spirits. However, the reality was that Winchester was not an architect, and some of her construction decisions led to mistakes. Rather than fix it, she just added another room around it.
When we arrived for our tour, I was having second thoughts. The gift shop was a bit tacky, and reminded me of an attraction that would be equally at home at Pigeon Forge or Myrtle Beach. Fortunately, it was not crowded, and our tour guide was great. She was a retired school teacher, and dwelt more on the historical aspects of the house, rather than any spiritual mumbo-jumbo.
The spiritial aspects could not be ignored, though. Spiderwebs and the number 13 were recurring themes. One chandelier originally had twelve lights, so Mrs. Winchester added a thirteenth in the middle. At the very center of the house was her seance room. It was unique in that it had three exits, but only one entrance which remained locked. If you left by way of another door, you would find no door knob to return to the room.
Despite its excentricities, the house was stunningly beautiful. The Victorian details and stained glass were lovely, and several rooms seemed bathed in light. Mrs. Winchester may not have been an architect, but she had a good sense of space. Also, some of the ideas she incorporated into the house were quite innovative, such as unique drainage systems and plumbing.
Only a few of the rooms were furnished with period pieces. All of the original furniture is long gone, having been sold after Mrs. Winchester’s death. Much of the house is either unfinished, or was not repaired after years of neglect. According to our guide, visitors still try to make off with ornate door knobs and fixtures. The place may be commercialized, but at least they are attempting to preserve this unusual residence.
After touring the Winchester House and gardens,we went across the street to a large mall. This shopping area seems to be a fairly recent addition, and features condos and shops around a central location, more like a little town center. We had lunch at a rather frou-frou place with pretentious food and equally pretentious patrons. It was time for a change of scenery.
Our target for the afternoon was the Cooper-Gorrod Winery, located in the foothills above Saratoga. It was only about 30 minutes from downtown San Jose, so it was well within range. The road to the winery wound past a lake and recreation, then past a variety of houses. There were some modest places – the original houses built before the land boom. Then there were the huge places built by dot-com millionaires who work in Silicon Valley below.
We found the winery without trouble, and pulled up to their tasting house. We found out that this was the weekend for a big winery festival, so they were making preparations for the events. The tasting room wasn’t crowded, so we headed on in.
Our tasting included three complimentary sets – a chardonnay, a couple of cabernets. These were OK. We decided to split the additional five flights. The first was a rich cabernet sauvignon that was fantastic. We tried the remaining wines, but this remained our favorite. Of course, we bought a bottle.
We returned from the winery and started packing up our things for the early flight back. We had a bit of time to relax, then we headed over to Laura’s cousins’ house – Dave and Fran. Laura’s other cousins, Linda and Bill, joined us, along with two of their sons and grandsons. It was a nice family reunion, and we enjoyed seeing them again and sharing a meal. Unfortunately, with such an early departure, we had to cut our visit shorter than we would have liked.