Our family story is about two families – one named McConnell and the other Wackman – that found their way to Elk Grove, California. The 5th generation from these founding families planted winegrapes in 1993 and began making wine on this historic property in 2002 for you to enjoy. The following is a brief history about our ancestors.
In 1849, the first McConnells to come to California were Thaddeus (age 19) and his brother Samuel, then their brother Thomas in 1850. These three young men left Vermont in search of a better life out west and found themselves setting up shop in Garden Valley, California. Here the three brothers went into partnership and opened a store where they sold potatoes and tomatoes to prospective gold miners. The business flourished until 1857 when the store burned down.
But Thaddeus knew California was where he would sink deep roots and a year before the store was destroyed, he purchased a fertile piece of property in the Elk Grove area, near the Cosumnes River, along the road between Sacramento and Stockton. Here he built the McConnell House (now our tasting room) and raised sheep. Thaddeus married Ellen Flanegan of Vermont and they had one son they named Thaddeus McConnell, Jr.
A few years after the McConnell boys made their way west, in 1863, Andrew Kelly Wackman came to California from Ohio. He purchased a nice piece of property along the Cosumnes River near Elk Grove where he raised grain, cattle, and horses. Andrew Kelly married Amanda Colton and they had one daughter, Etta May Wackman, and two sons, named Creed and Harry Wackman.
Needless to say, Elk Grove was a small farming community and it was inevitable that the McConnell’s and Wackman’s would meet. Thaddeus McConnell, Jr. and Etta May Wackman were married and later inherited the McConnell ranch. Tragedy struck for Etta May, when both her husband and son met untimely deaths in the early 1900’s. Without anyone to run the McConnell ranch, she asked her brother Creed to operate it.
Creed, who had married Francis Putney (from another Elk Grove pioneer family), already was managing his own farm so he asked his son Howard Wackman I to leave a successful teaching position in Ceres, California, and come back home to Elk Grove to run the McConnell ranch. After a few years, the Wackman’s sold their land on the Cosumnes and continued to farm the ranch that they inherited from Etta May. During this time, they raised barley, wheat, corn, and sheep.
Howard Wackman I married Norine Straub and they had a son whom they named Howard Wackman II. In 1960, Howard II came back to the ranch after marrying Marilyn Wilson and graduating from the University of California at Davis. Howard II was very active in the local farm bureau and community and was honored to serve as the first Vice President of the California State Farm Bureau. He and Marilyn had three sons named Howard III, Mike and Alan. These three men, representing the 5th generation, currently run the winery and vineyard operations.
The Farmhouse/Tasting Room
The house Thaddeus built in the mid-1800’s was lived in by family members for more than 100 years, until the late 1970’s. For a brief period, it was used to store the many antiques that had been passed down over the generations. It was also a favorite location for family Halloween Parties. In 2003, the family decided to give the beautiful and historic house a new life as the current office for Wackman Ranch and the Tasting Room and Barrel Cellar for McConnell Estates Winery.
The old home was remodeled keeping its original farmhouse charm, while updating it with some of today’s modern conveniences. It’s a unique blend of old and new that’s decorated with antiques and pictures of our family’s Elk Grove pioneers. On some days, you’ll have the chance to meet Mike Wackman, who is the resident winemaker handling his family’s grapes with the utmost care. Or you might run into Howard III when he stops in after working in the vineyards. And many swear they have encountered Thaddeus who is thought to still be around checking on the house and ranch he started so many years ago.