Sacramento pioneer family founded Silva Bros. Winery
Among the most numerous businesses during the Sacramento region’s earlier years were its breweries and wineries. And among such businesses was a particular winery with Pocket area connections.
Located in a large, brick building in the former Mills area, east of Sacramento in today’s Rancho Cordova, the aforementioned winery, which was first known as the American River Winery and later renamed the Silva Bros. Winery, was originally owned by Pocket pioneers Manuel Ignacio Silva, Sr. and Manuel Ignacio Silva, Jr., the grandfather and uncle, respectively, of East Sacramento resident Bill Silva.
Bill, who turned 94 years old last month, said that he is quite familiar with the winery, since it was founded by his relatives, and his father, Joaquim “King” Ignacio Silva, was one of the winery’s workers.
“I was just a high school kid (at Christian Brothers School – today’s Christian Brothers High School – in the 1930s) when my dad worked there (at the winery),” Bill recalled. “I was only there as a nobody, because my dad worked there. My dad used to take me there during school vacation. He wasn’t a partner (in the business) or anything like that. He used to drive there every day. He worked there every day, except weekends. I remember that they used to crush the grapes and make the wine there. Inside (the winery) they had a bunch of storage tanks where they would store all of their wine. They made Port wine, Angelica wine, all kinds of wine.”
Bill said that a unique aspect about the winery was its production of Silva Bros. Grape Syrup.
“They had come up with a pancake syrup – a grape syrup – and they were selling it to the stores,” Bill said. “They don’t have the formula anymore. They can’t find it.”
Among King’s duties at the winery was packaging syrup bottles in boxes for shipping to various markets.
A step toward the winery’s founding began when Manuel Ignacio Silva, Sr., who was born in Terceira in the Azores Islands in 1847, immigrated to the United
States via the Cape Horn route in 1864.
Manuel, Sr., who married the 15-year-old Maria Jose Martins in 1879, purchased 63 acres of property in the former Routier’s Station/then Mills area in the early 1900s.
At the time of Manuel, Sr.’s purchase of the property, the area had already been established as a place rich with vineyards, including a vineyard owned by James Routier.
The scenery of Routier’s Station, which was located along the line of the Sacramento Valley Railroad, was described in the 1879-80 city and counties directory, as follows: “The fields of grain, extensive vineyards and orchards that skirt the road on either side form a subject that would exert the fancy of a poet to its [sic] utmost to describe.”
It was on his Mills property, in about 1907, that Manuel, Sr. began the America River Winery – the original name of the Silva Bros. Winery – with his son, Manuel, Jr.
In order to begin the winery with his father, Manuel, Jr., who was born in Terceira on Sept. 27, 1882, worked at Joseph da Rosa’s winery in Elk Grove, where he underwent his apprenticeship as a distillery operator.
Very early in the history of the winery, two of Manuel, Sr.’s other sons, Joseph Ignacio Silva and John Ignacio Silva, became partners in the winery.
Manuel, Sr., who passed away on March 31, 1909, also had another son, Sergio “Sam” Ignacio Silva, who like the rest of his family members, was born in Terceira.
Sergio, who was the youngest of these brothers, traveled by train to Sacramento and then joined his father and brothers in the operation and ownership of the ranch and winery in 1920.
Sergio and his wife, Mary (Freitas) Silva, initially resided at 1715 W St. and as the size of their family grew, they moved to a new home at 4022 Folsom Blvd. in today’s Fabulous Forties neighborhood.
Sergio’s involvement in the operation of the ranch and winery began following a difficult time for the winery.
In late 1919, while Sergio was living in Terceira, a fire destroyed the winery, which resulted in its reconstruction and renaming as the Silva Bros. Winery.
A year later, John sold his interest in the winery to his brothers and retired for seven years, after which time he opened the Welcome Grove Auto Court on 10 acres on the old Davis Highway at the present day address of 600 West Capitol Ave. in West Sacramento with his brother-in-law, Domingo “Bings” Silva.
Following John’s retirement, Welcome Grove, which was recognized in 1940 as Yolo County’s largest auto court and included a gas station, was owned and operated by his nephew, Robert Silva, who was the son of Joseph Silva.
Bill described his father as a hard-working man who emigrated from the Azores Islands.
King Silva, who was born in Terceira on Aug. 15, 1892 and immigrated to the United States in 1905 at the age of 13, arrived in Sacramento wearing a name tag,
which indicated the address, city and state of the stop where he was to meet his brother, Joseph, who had paid for his transportation.
Upon reaching Sacramento, King first made his way to the Eagle Winery at 1517 18th St., where Joseph was working.
Continuing his education in Sacramento, King attended Christian Brothers College (today’s Christian Brothers High School), which was then located at the southwest corner of 12th and K streets.
King later worked for PG&E as a streetcar conductor and motorman on the 10th Street line, a driver for the Associated Oil Co. and a sheet metal worker for the Southern Pacific Railroad, Miller & Cahill and McLaughlin Sheet Metal Works.
King also became employed at his uncles’ winery on two separate occasions. The first of these times was during his teen years, and then, as previously mentioned, during the Depression.
The Silva family was also represented at the winery by King’s sister, Mary Aurora Silva, who provided secretarial work.
Silva Bros. Winery at one time produced about 65,000 gallons of wine annually and in its latter years had outlets in New York and New Orleans.
The winery was later operated by the Associated Farmers Cooperative.
John Azevedo, a Sacramento building contractor, was the winery’s next owner and he renamed the business Mills Winery.
In 1973, the winery was renamed Brookside Winery, and the site’s winery history continued until Fite Development Co. purchased the site for an office park.
Today, the legacy of the old winery continues through Brookside Restaurant & Bar, which operates within the former, 1911 guest house of the American River Winery at 9819 Horn Road – a road named after Veronica (Silva) Horn, a daughter of Manuel, Jr.