The winery was founded in 1852 by French-born Éthienne Thée, who named it after a nearby mercury mine. It is one of the oldest wineries in California, and on its own website it is referred to as the oldest. The original location was south of San José between Los Gatos and Almaden. Because of its historical significance, it is registered as "California Historical Landmark 505". Due to urbanization, it was moved to the town of Madera in the San Joaquin Valley (southern part of the Central Valley). After the merger with Madrone Vineyards, Thées son-in-law Charles Lefranc (+1887) took control of the winery. He planted the first European vines at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains. In the early 1880s, Paul Masson (1859-1940), who later became famous as the "Champagne King of California", joined the company as marketing manager. After the death of Charles Lefranc in 1887, Masson married his daughter Louise.