By: Douglas Love, Grand Trustee, Napa Parlor #62
From the founding of the first European colonies, there has been a long history of the production and consumption of alcoholic beverages in North America. During the colonial period, Madeira, beer, ale, wine, whiskey, and especially rum, were consumed in quantities which we would find literally and metaphorically staggering today. One example survives, the bar receipt for George Washington’s Farewell dinner at the City Tavern in Philadelphia held on September 15, 1787. That night, George and his fifty five guests consumed 54 bottles of Madeira wine, 60 bottles of Bordeaux wine, 8 bottles of old stock whiskey, 22 bottles of porter ale, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 jugs of beer, and 7 large bowls of punch. That does not include the 16 bottles of Bordeaux wine, 5 bottles of Madeira wine, and seven bowls of punch consumed by the staff and musicians of the City Tavern.
Attempts at wine making had been tried in the early United States but the native Scuppernog (Vitus rotundifloria) and varieties of other native grapes, belonging to the Vitus labrusca family, like the Concord or Catawba grape made very inferior wines often described as “thin” or “insipid” compared to the Bordeaux and Madeiras loved by our founders. As the country expanded, various areas became known for their whiskey, Kentucky and Tennessee, rum and cider, New England, beer, The Mid-West, thanks to an influx of German immigrants, but the United States had no great wine producing regions like France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Hungary, or even Germany. That was about to change.
In California, wine making had an early start. In Baja California, the first vinifera grapes originally from Spain were planted for the making of sacramental wine by Father Juan de Ugarte at Mission Loreto in 1697. The first vineyard in what would become the State of California was planted by Saint Junipero Serra at Mission San Diego in 1769. Every mission had a vineyard for the purposes of making sacramental wine and the “Mission” grape was the preeminent wine making variety n California until 1880. For years the wine industry was centered in Southern California until the Gold Rush. With the influx of people, wineries became established in Northern California.
Enter Agoston Haraszthy, a Hungarian minor noble, who immigrated to the United States in 1840. He first settled in what is now Sauk City, Wisconsin and then in the town of Roxbury, Wisconsin, he planted grapes and founded the Wollersheim Winery, which still is in production today. In March of 1849, Haraszthy left Wisconsin for California and arrived in San Diego in December of that year. While in San Diego, Haraszthy began several business ventures and was elected the first sheriff of San Diego County. He helped lay out the City of San Diego and built its first jail. He was elected to the to the State Assembly in 1851 and served in 1852. While in the state legislature, he began buying land around Mission Delores and in San Mateo County. He tried to grow wine grapes in San Francisco and near Crystal Springs, but found the climate too cold and foggy.
In 1856, he purchased a small vineyard near Sonoma and named it Buena Vista. He moved his vines from Crystal Springs to Sonoma. By 1857, he had dug caves into the side of the hill, expanded the vinyards, built two stone winery buildings and hired Charles Krug as his winemaker. In 1857, Buena Vista Winery became the first premium winery in California. Not sll went well for Haraszthy, he was forced out of his winery by his business partners because the vines at Buena Vista began to wither and die. His partners thought this was due to his unorthodox vineyard management techniques, when in reality it was due to Phylloxera, an insect endemic in the eastern United States which attacks grape vines. Haraszthy may have inadvertently introduced Phylloxera to California during his many trips to gather and plant grape cuttings. By the mid 1870’s Phylloxera and spread to Europe and had devastated the European wine industry.
During the 1880’s California wines were exported around the world and by 1899 California produced 31 million gallons of wine. There was a disaster on the horizon, Prohibition. With the passing of the 18th Amendment in 1918, the wine industry all but ended. Vineyards were torn out and replaced with fruit orchards or turned into pasture. The few wineries that survived either produced non-alcoholic grape products or sacramental wine. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, it took nearly 50 years for the California wine industry to recover. One of the landmarks in that recovery was the Paris Judgment of 1976, in which a small group of Napa Valley winemakers entered a blind tasting with a panel of French judges and won both the white and red wine categories. California wine makers proved that they could hold their own against the best France had to offer and the modern California wine industry was reborn.
As of 2017, California produces 81% of all wine made in the United States and is a $114 billion industry. From the North Coast to San Diego, from the Foothills to the Napa, Sonoma, Livermore, and Central Valleys, there are vineyards and wineries throughout or beloved Golden State, thanks to the vision and work of one man, who started it all, Agoston Haraszthy, and his Buena Vista.
GETTING THERE: From 414 Mason Street, take US 101 North to Exit 460A to CA 37 East. Take CA 37 East to CA 121 North. Turn left onto 8th Street in Sonoma. Turn Right onto East Napa Street and then Left onto Old Winery Road. Buena Vista Winery is open on Monday-Friday from 11:00- 5:00 and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00-5:00. It is 45 miles north of San Francisco and it is about an hour’s drive depending on traffic. It is best to call ahead to the winery for a reservation before you go due to COVID restrictions. The winery’s address is Buena Vista Winery, 18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma, CA 95476. The phone number is: 800-926-1266. Their website is www.buenavistawinery.com. Ask if you can look at the exhibits in the wine tool museum.
By: Douglas Love, Grand Trustee, Napa Parlor #62