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July 19, 2011 > History: History of the Weibel Family

History: History of the Weibel Family

The Weibels are natives of Bern, Switzerland where their family had been members of the Bakers Guild since the 16th century. Rudolph E. Weibel was educated in the wine and spirits business and, after completion of his military service in the Swiss Army, Captain Weibel opened a winery and cordial plant. He married Elise Stettler and they raised three children, Elise Jeanette and Fred. Rudolph and Elise moved to the United States with their children, Jeanette and Fred. Rudolph tasted California wines, saw the great future they offered and moved to San Francisco from Oregon with his family where he first produced Champagne from wines purchased from other vintners.

After studying the climactic conditions of all North Coast wine growing valleys, he selected the Mission San Jose area as the most ideal for growing the great grapes used in the production of Champagne and Pinot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Rudolph and his son, Frederick E., purchased one hundred acres of the former Stanford family property in 1945. They pulled out worn out vines and replanted, bringing many cuttings from France in 1948. At first the Weibels imported and pressed Pinot Noir grapes from Napa County. It took four years for the newly planted vines to produce grapes and four more years before the champagne was ready for market. New wine-making equipment was installed and wine made from local vines was marketed in 1952.

In the first years they restored some of the Stanford winery buildings, installed a cooperage, built the Weibel Hacienda and established Weibel Champagne Vineyards.

The Weibel Hacienda in 1958 was the newest addition to the Champagne Vineyards and a place where visitors could relax and sample wines. A state historical marker inscribed "Leland Stanford Winery" was dedicated to Leland Stanford.

During the 1960's the Weibel winery produced more champagne than any other producer in the state. A fire in April 1961 caused $1.5 million in damage to the winery buildings and equipment.

By 1976 the Weibels had won over 650 awards. Tours of the winery described the complete wine-making process. The Hacienda hosted about 50 visitors a day and sometimes welcomed large crowds.

Weather often presented problems. In early October 1965 there were some 150 tons of grapes on the local vines waiting for warm weather to ripen them so they could be harvested. The Weibels also had contracts with other growers for 2,500 tons of grapes. They also spent $30,000 in this year to expand capacity, rebuild crushing equipment and increase storage capacity to 25,000 gallons. The family adopted "The ancient European tradition of blessing the grapes on St. Vincent's Day."

Fred met and married Hulda Habluetzel when the family lived in Oregon. When the Weibels first moved to the old Stanford property, three families lived in a small apartment. They eventually built three homes on the property: for Rudolph and Elise, for Oscar Habluetzel (Huldas brother) and his wife Bernice and for Fred and Hulda. The ranch style home of Fred and Hulda was in the middle of the vineyards where they raised their three children, Fred Jr., Diana and Linda. All three worked at the winery. Fred managed the operation alongside his father. Diana worked in sales. Linda managed the winery while her father was recovering from a heart attack.

Fred Jr. lives with his wife Judy in Stockton and has the bottling plant in Lodi. He also has a winery and tasting room in Hopland and vineyards in Ukiah.

Hulda died in 1962 and Fred re-married Marlene in 1970. They were married for twenty-six years at the time of his passing in 1996. She is the only family member still living in Fremont where she is a volunteer for Washington Hospital Foundation, SAVE and ABODE.

Fred Sr. and his son Fred Jr. continued to operate the winery after Rudolph died. They established another plant at Ukiah but even the grapes crushed there were brought to Warm Springs to be bottled. By 1982 suburban growth threatened the existence of the vineyard. In 1984, the company had 96 acres of vineyard in Fremont and over 500 acres near Ukiah. About 80% of the employees still worked in Fremont.

The last local harvest was in 1989, but the business of bottling, distribution and a small tasting room continued. Land prices and other problems forced the Weibels to sell to developers in 1994. The huge steel tanks, the oak barrels and other parts of the winery were removed in 1996. Only a store room from the original winery and the state historic marker remained. A local editor wrote, "farewell to a piece of Fremont history."

Fred and Marlene were honored by the Ohlone College Foundation in 1991 for "their distinguished leadership" in the community. Fred was recognized as a director of the Ohlone College Foundation, a member of the Fremont Chamber of Commerce, Fremont Rotary Club, Township Men's Club and a long time leader of the Fremont Unified School District. Marlene was recognized as president of the Washington Hospital Foundation and an honorary member of the Candle Lighters and Rotary International.

The Rotary Club of Warm Springs honored Fred E. Weibel, Jr. as the 1996 Citizen of the Year "for his commitment to service."

In 1987 the Fred E. Weibel Elementary School opened, honoring his contributions to the community.

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