Paul Masson

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For the Olympic competitor, see Paul Masson (cyclist).
Label, Paul Masson Champagne Company, Oeil de Perdix

Paul Masson (1859 – 1940) was an early pioneer of California viticulture and successful popularizer of Californian sparkling wine.


Masson emigrated from the Burgundy region of France in 1878 to California, United States, where he met Charles Lefranc, one of a number of French immigrants who had expanded the viticulture introduced into the Santa Clara Valley by the Catholic mission fathers. Masson went back to France in 1880, but later returned to California due to the depression in the French wine industry caused by the Phylloxera plague. According to the Paul Masson company web site, in 1892 Masson's first sparkling wine under the name "champagne" was introduced at Almaden, and Masson eventually became known as the "Champagne King of California". Masson is buried at Oak Hill Memorial Park in San Jose.


Masson shifted part of his production to the Santa Cruz Mountains above Saratoga, California and built his "chateau" on a knob overlooking the Santa Clara Valley in 1905. Now known as "The Mountain Winery", the Paul Masson Mountain Winery is on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places. Various events are held at the winery, such as concert series, weddings, and other special events. A famous chess tournament was held there annually for a number of years in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[1]


The Paul Masson brand is best remembered for its 1970s marketing association with Orson Welles, who promised for Masson: "We will sell no wine before its time." An infamous outtake for one commercial from the Orson Welles campaign features Welles attempting to deliver his lines while very severely inebriated. Welles was eventually fired as a spokesman for the brand in 1981, after answering a TV chat show question about Paul Masson that he no longer drank wine.


In the 1970s NASA bought Masson Rare Cream Sherry for a Skylab mission and packaged some for testing on a "zero-G" aircraft. Unfortunately the smell quickly permeated the cabin making astronauts physically sick, and public pressure over taking alcohol into space led NASA to abandon their plans.[2]

The Paul Masson winery and brand were owned for many years by The Seagram Company, Ltd, the global wine and spirits company (along with minority share owners). In the 1980s, Seagram also acquired the Taylor California Cellars brand (and production facilities) from Coca-Cola, based on the premise promoted by then Seagram Strategic Planning head, Mary Cunningham, that the only way to succeed in the wine business was to approach Gallo's massive sales volume. Over the next twenty years, the wine industry would dramatically segment itself with, essentially, all the large volume brands falling by the wayside. Internal competition and resulting cannibalization dramatically reduced the combined sales of Paul Masson and Taylor (as it did with Almaden and Inglenook, also owned by a single parent company), which were sold to Vintners International in 1987.[3] Vintners was in turn purchased by Centera Wine Company (formerly "Canandaigua") in 1993 as part of Vintner's bankruptcy proceedings.[4] Canandaigua was renamed Constellation Brands in 2000.

In 2008, Wine Group LLC of San Francisco purchased the Paul Masson winery and two California wine brands, Constellation Brands continues to manufacture and sell the profitable Paul Masson brandies. [5]


  1. ^ Paul Masson Mountain Winery National Park Service. Retrieved from on 2004-12-28
  2. ^ Ross-Nazzal, Jennifer (7 April 2006). "Edited Oral History Transcript - Charles T. Bourland". NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project. 
  3. ^ Lawrence M. Fisher (12 May 1990). "A Troubled Winery Where Debt Is Aging". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  4. ^ Lawrence M. Fisher (16 September 1993). "Canandaigua to Acquire Vintners". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-11-13. 
  5. ^ Wine Group buys Almaden, Inglenook brands, Paul Masson winery, for $134M San Francisco Business Times