Welcome aboard! Fasten your seat belts and secure your belongings. Before taking off, I would like to share some announcements about our flight. First, I had the great honor of selecting the theme “travel” after winning the #MWWC24, which was a lovely surprise. Thanks to all who voted for my post and continue to encourage my jack-assery. Secondly, some passengers may consider this theme broad and possibly unimaginative, but I selfishly stuck with it because of my enchantment with those tiny, precious bottles of wine served on airplane flights. A recent spate of coast to coast “travel” fueled me to share my inflight wine experiences. Not only has this been an idle curiosity of mine, but ultimately it should be useful information. After all, I am a pragmatic wino. Lastly, please remain seated as there could be some turbulence in my wine reviews. I may have taken my low standards even lower as I came to realize that a captive audience of strangers on a 6 hour fun ride at 39,000 feet will drink just about anything. There was no recourse and it was far too late to change our theme from “travel” to “vodka.” Nah zda-rovh-yeh!
Virgin America SFO to PSP Bottega Gold Prosecco, Valdobbiadene (Veneto), Italy $8.50/20cl Mini Bottle
My flight from SF to Palm Springs was short and uneventful. However, I cringed thinking of what was on the wine list. I had committed myself to tasting at least one wine per leg of my itinerary. After perusing my touch screen menu, I was pleasantly surprised with the offering. Being budget conscious (and sadly not drinking gratis in Business Class,) I decided to try the Bottega Gold Prosecco.
When in doubt my fearless flyers, get the bubbles. How bad could it be? And Prosecco mitigates further risk of gag-reflex due to the protective veil of bubbles and pleasantly high sugar content. This beauty did not disappoint.
Presentation was very chic for a single serve wine. I found the cap very clever – screw top but molded to look like a caged cork – clever! Nose was apricot, grapefruit and the first sip very citrusy, green apple, surprisingly dry, mousse copious and very effervescent for a Prosecco. Ok, the finish was a little bitter – this happens with some Cavas and Proseccos. Although the finish was abrupt, it didn’t ruin the overall enjoyment, it’s just a little reminder that you are drinking Prosecco on a plane and not Champagne in a Chateau. After all, we are in economy class and I’m just happy to have an aisle seat. Rated an enthusiastic buy again!
Fruit and Cheese Plate, $8.79
Fresh fruit served with Brie, Cheddar, Dill Havarti and Muenster cheese. Served with gourmet crackers.
Like them or not, I’m an avid American Airlines traveler, I want to keep my status, so they have my loyalty. I am just a couple of thousand miles shy of being a million miler. Not that it means much, but I’m hell bent on hitting that milestone one cheese plate at a time.
I NEVER order wine. It is too sketchy. But for you my fabulous followers, I did the deed. I manned-up and got myself a bottle of economy class white and main cabin red. I will be polite, but after my brief tasting, I tried to pass it off to the kid sitting next to me until she said she wasn’t old enough to drink. I then turned my head to the Chatty Cathies behind me and they gladly took the swill, tapered their conversation and fell asleep. 2 problems solved. Net-net? I’m glad I was able to savor the moment with the fresh flavors of my American Airlines cheese plate. I’ll take two more and a vodka.
La Noria, Villa Noria, Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc, Vino d’España, $8.00/187ml
Pineapple, first sip, peach, ripe apricot, hot alcohol and slight bitterness on the finish, lingers on the back of your throat with a little honey suckle and lemon rind. Rated politely drinkable. Pairs well with crying babies and chatty neighbors when imbibed copiously.
Orquestra, Felix Solis, Cabernet Sauvignon, Vino d’España $8.00/187ml
Grapey nose, tannins, Rioja, short finish of wet stone, not much fruit, dry, could taste and feel the alcohol. Mouthfeel was not smooth and creamy or rich and bold it was wet stone, asphalt, thin. Rated drinkable in times of horrific turbulence, a bird hit or when lightening strikes the engine and fills the cabin with smoke. Remember, serve yourself before you serve others.
Well, I am certain my experience is merely a product of my destiny. When I researched what first and business class were drinking it was very respectable, if not downright despicable to those of us who fly economy. But I’ll let you be the judge….I’ve included the American Airlines wine list for your perusal.
But for now, please return to your seats, put your seat in upright position, lock your tray tables and store your items safely below the seat in front of you. The attendants will be coming through the cabin to collect any garbage and recyclables. Please refrain from digging in the first class cabin trash for any remaining drops of Roderer Brut Vintage Champagne. Although it is not considered an FAA offense punishable by law, it is still absolutely appalling behavior. Just be grateful that you are permitted to breathe the same recycled air as those in the upper classes. Thank you for flying the thirsty skies. Buh, bye.
Hello there! Do you indulge yourself with a little wine clubbing? Does membership have its privileges? Are you thrilled with your shipment or dazzled by your pick-up? These are all thoughts to consider when making the decision about joining a wine club.
I know how fortunate I am to have several fabulous wineries within close proximity to research (Patz & Hall, Gloria Ferrer, Buena Vista, Hamel, Cuvasion, Artessa, Gundlach Bundschu and just in my neighborhood!) and research, and research, and research. And after a little more research, it soon became a reactive, emotional decision. I didn’t dip in my toe – I immediately jumped into the vat! I joined the most fabulous, most expensive, chicest wine club I saw. It was love at first sight. The architecture, the view, the food program. All exceptional. Oh, how good was the wine? Sure, I loved the single vineyard unoaked Chard. The Pinots were “nice”and the sparkling Blanc des Blancs was a delight. The staff was well informed and lovely, the attitude of the members, variable. Sadly, wine clubs tend to magnetize entitled douche bags but if the space is grand enough, you can dodge them or be seated so they do not obstruct your view. I wish they asked your preference of douche bag or non douche bag seating (like smoking, non smoking back in the day) but sadly, don’t join a wine club if you can’t suffer a few douches.(I’m beginning to sound like a staunch proponent for out-moded feminine hygiene) I digress – but this is a serious factor to consider. Other than excellent wine, all around kindness and civility with a healthy dose of frivolity is requisite for this clubber.
So, I fell out of love with my club. It was too far. Too expensive. High douche factor. The beauty and the wine could not hold my interest. I strayed, and I liked it. In fact, I had already joined the other club, I was a wine list adulteress. I needed to end this charade.
My official departure was an ackward long goodbye. My allotment was auto-purchased although I had already informed them I was leaving weeks before. Oopsie. After a few teidious exchanges I was reimbursed. I reassured them I did not want to suspend my membership, I wanted to cancel it. Valerie, the loveliest winery concierge ever, expressed she was sad to see me go, that I was one of her favorite members because I was so nice and “cheerful.” Tears welled up in my eyes as I read her email, how could I leave Valerie to the douchie wine-wolves! (I can’t call them snobs as most snobs I know actually are more disheveled and bookish and put their money in wine and travel not Rolexes and Teslas. Am I being a snob about snobs?) Well, I felt much better about leaving Valerie to fend for herself after seeing my allotment credited on my bill. I’m sure she says that to all her departing guests. Bon chance Valerie.
My parting advice on joining a wine club:
1. Love the wine – really, really, really love it. It’s actually the point of joining a wine club in the first place.
2. Sniff out the douche factor, calibrate your tolerance and if you happen to be a douche, you are probably in the right place unless it’s my wine club.
3. Is the club room accessible, totally fabulous, expanse enough that reservations are easy? Is the space comfortable for members at full capacity? You should never feel like you have been relegated to coach class and stuck in the center seat while tasting your flight.
4. How is the view? The architecture? The hospitality? Are the parties divine? Return to point number one. These alterior “experiences” can be an utter distraction if point number one is not undeniably true.
Many of you may be members of an online wine club and never visit your winery but for a handful of times, if ever. I applaud you for stocking your cellars while saving gas and lessening your carbon footprint. Furthermore, enjoying your wine sans douchebags is the ultimate luxury.
I threw a party back in the 90’s and a visiting colleague from Spain, Enrique, who we just called “the Spaniard” (I recall Russell Crowe was starring in Gladiator at the time,) made a White Sangria of legend. To this day, family, friends and every outer rung of acquaintance still inquire about the recipe. No kidding, I received a request for it last week on FB. My Twitter friend @RoseCondrieu commented on a fruitless search for the recipe today.
Wait no further! Here it is. A note to those who have consternation with following recipes – not a worry – the more reckless and muddled the better!
The Spaniards secret was the gin…yes, sounds Moorishly dubious, but you won’t notice, trust me. And from what I barely recall, Enrique left the party not only a hero but with 2 conquests in tow.
No need to thank me now, you can blame the Spaniard later. Have a safe and lovely Fourth of July!
Easter is coming, Easter is coming! Hurry, stock up on wine, chocolate eggs, ham, millinery and wine. And after you dust the mantle, press the table linens and polish the silver, go ahead and buy even more wine. Every good Christian, not in recovery, needs plenty of after church lubrication. Depending on the the brunch, lunch or dinner you will be giving or receiving, quantity of wine is highly variable, but for God’s sake, don’t run out. Whatever the event, remember, Jesus is the reason for yet another season, so let’s raise a glass of his finest juice. Alleluia!
I found the perfect Cava for this Eastover (Easter+Passover.) Although, the occasion of this wine’s discovery was during a lunch that followed an ominous birthday outing at Sonoma Traintown. More on that later.
Cava can be priced at a 1/4 of the price for Champagne and better sparkling wines. Cavas are refreshingly dry and crisp. Who can resist a burst of earth, sun and the espirito de España with their roasted pork, potatoes au gratin, rich buttery fish or as an apertivo with Marcona almonds, Manchego cheese accompanied with slices of crisp green apples and honey. Yuuuuum. Excuse me while I take a fridge break.
Ok, I’m back.
NV M. Chevallier Carte Noire Methode Traditionelle Brut Cava $6
The sparkler I have road tested for you today is a Cava I acquired at Trader Joe’s. M. Chevalier was well situated amongst the masses of value wines. Lovely, classic label, easy to find and priced just right. There was incipient potential.
The occasion was my sister’s father-in-law’s 72nd birthday. We arranged a visit to Sonoma Traintown* with the raucous brood of grand kiddies and a requisite pizza party après voyage. My sister’s father-in-law, a retired DDS and self proclaimed wineaux, is now officially my drinking buddy at family gatherings. In his honor, I decided to break out the cheap stuff. M. Chevalier was the perfect libation to celebrate not only his birthday, but our aplomb at search and rescue. After the retrieval of a grand daughter from the duck pond and the end to a frantic 15 minute search for a missing grandson (found oogling toys in the gift shop of his own volition,) it had been a lovely day without an Amber Alert, but my nerves were eviscerated. My only respite was shoving pizza in my face while drinking bottles of bubbly in a completely fenced-in back yard sans livestock and naturally or artificially occurring bodies of water. We all needed to let off some steam. And good news! This wine made me want to sound the horn. Chooo chooooooo.
The nose was faint, but the first sip was delightful, crisp green apple, a hint of brioche, a smooth nutty finish with a lovely minerailty. Cavas can have a bitter finish, hence, they are often not at the top of my bubbly list, although their price points are in my repertoire. Nice effervescence that was great for cooling the engines and sparking vibrant family debate about historical revisionism of our childhood memories. To each his own version of that harrowing trip to the Grand Canyon.
This wine was a delight and very guest worthy as the septuagenarian birthday boy loved it too. He noted it was not complex and although a rather mild wine, it still held his interest. This wine will pair as well with your Easter or Pasover feast as it paired with my peperroni pizza at the end of a ride on the “crazy train.” Music please….
*Sonoma Traintown is a fabulous getaway for the family. Reasonably priced and surrounded by delicious restaurants, vineyards and gorgeous scenery. My characterization is based solely on my personal angst about visiting amusement parks with throngs of small reckless children and insouciant senior citizens. Traintown can be very crowded on weekends during high season. If you have the luxury of visiting on a weekday, it is a sheer delight. Be forewarned about visiting the gift shop with your children – you may risk embarrassing fits of extortion if you don’t make a purchase.
This is the final installment of my wine education trilogy at Blogdramedy. It is a brain dump from my illustrious visit to Champagne, France. Ahhhhh, memories, I hope you enjoy the tiny bubbles of knowlege as much as I did acquiring them. This is a trip one must make at least once in your life, if only to be the envy of all the mothers at your son’s fancy pants nursery school – ha. ha. ha. ha. In all seriousness, it was an incredible trip and one that taught me the true passion, artistry, tradition, and science that makes one of the most celebrated spirits what it has been for centuries. To this day, I marvel at how jealously guarded the brand “Champagne” has been by the region and how incredibly smart of them to be such jerks about it – seriously – they are fully entitled to the name and what it represents. Cross the line and you will be served something other than bubbles. Voila!
It was truly an expensive honor to have the credit card maxxing opportunity to enjoy what this region has to offer. I am now well prepared to get back to the business of reviewing $10+under wines people – for a long, long, long, long time! Bloody hell.
The Comtesse du Cheapeaux
It is with great pride I share my very first video post – the first of many near-masterpieces to come! If you had the pleasure of experiencing my prior VideoPress technical difficulties, I deeply apologize. I know my very public pleas to the WP support team were uncomfortable for all of us. Well, the issue was resolved after I called Uncle Dick – he’s from the Cheney side of the family, very very very distant cousins, but none the less, helpful in a pinch. So magically my video post worked unexplainably, but if there are WP execs on an extended leave to Guantanamo Bay, I hope they are enjoying the ocean breeze, cigars and water sports. With a humiliating spectacle behind us, I send my deepest appreciation to all who choose to read my posts. I know you have a multitude of options for your viewing pleasure and I value your patronage…if you would like to see my desperate cries for help on the WP support forum click this . With out further adieu – here’s to a day in the office on a Malbec safari!
( Video is best viewed NOT through a Safari browser.)
This is not an homage to Manischewitz although I have received multitudes of requests for me to post a review. Not going to touch that! This is a genuine wine review brought to you graciously by my friend @kosherreview.
Being a newbie blogger and tweeter, one of the very first people to engage with me directly was @kosherreview. “Kosh” and I clicked right aways as we share a common love for the Trader Joe’s wine department. Moreover, my enjoyment of the intellectual pursuits of philosophy and the cultural practices of world religions, left me yearning to know more. What are kosher wines and why was “Kosh” sending me recommendations to try? Why was I the chosen one? Where was this going? Ah-ha! Many of the Judeo-Christian religions take great pleasure in wine and it was now my responsibility to proselytize the democratization of this sacred nectar and it’s deeper meaning beyond pure leisure and getting knockered. It is about family, gathering, love and ritual…and I’m down with that.
First things first, what is this holiday and why should it influence our wine selections? Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year. The day is believed to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, and their first actions toward the realization of humanity’s role in God’s world. Too bad they had the cider – oopsie! As I was exploring my intellectual curiosities about the holiday I came across the most excellent of memes to break it down for us gentiles:
Second things second, what is kosher? According to Jewish law, the three basic elements of keeping kosher are: 1.avoiding any non-kosher animals such as fish that don’t have fins and scales – egads no lobster, 2. land animals that do not both chew their cud and have cleft hooves – that means NO BACON? Mon Dieu! 3. Most birds so no pheasant-soup for the soul, 4. NEVER eat meat and dairy together – that’s fine, I can keep my charcuterie and cheese boards from commingling, check. 5. Finally, only eat meat that was slaughtered in a certain way, and drained of blood but hopefully not embalmed. I have gastronomic concerns, but let’s not question a people who are 3,761 years ahead. The upside is more pork buns and lobster rolls for the rest of us!
“Kosh” elaborated eloquently in the following Q&A I imposed upon her:
CWC: What year is this on the Hebrew calendar?
KWR: We will be starting the 5775th year according to the Jewish Calendar!
CWC: What do you eat and drink for the holiday?
KWR: It is customary to eat symbolic foods such as apples dipped in honey to evoke a “sweet new year”, the head of a fish (to symbolize the prayer “let us be the head and not the tail”. On Rosh Hashanah eve there is a special dinner which usually includes greetings and a lot of wine.
CWC: What are your favorite kosher wines and do you have any notes?
KWR: This question was the hardest for me as I have many, however, I tried to select those who will be most adequate to Rosh Hashana’s dinner so I was able to narrow the list to 4 wines, one for each course.
My first selection will be the Sara Bee Moscato NV. Sweet white wine from Puglia region, full with playful aromas of spring flower, almond blossom and lemon mousse. It is a rich and lively aperitif or a dessert wine, will be perfect for the “Kidush” before eating the apple with honey (the greeting in the beginning of the dinner).
For the first course, which is usually a gefilte (sugar added) fish I would go with Baron Herzog Chardonnay 2013. This Chardonnay is crisp and refreshing, smooth -textured yet lively on the palate. A very complex wine with notes of tropical fruit, apple and with a hint of vanilla on the finish. It pairs perfectly with fish or chicken.
For the main dish I always like to choose red wine which pairs up perfectly with meat, so I chose the Terrenal Cabernet Sauvignon2012 from Spain. This wine has a nice tannic backbone and a pleasant mid-palate full of plum and cherry flavors, hints of spices and a note of chocolate highlighting blackberry and black cherry fruits.
Last but not least – the desert wine. The Porto Cordovero 2005. This wine was fully matured in wood, it has aroma of sweet black currant fruit, raspberry and dark chocolate. Will pair wonderfully with sorbet or fruits.
CWC: Are any of them under $10?
KWR: Unfortunately the price of the Porto Cordovero and Baron Herzog Chardonnay are above 10 dollar.
However, the price of the Terrenal is only 4.99 dollar!!! But the taste is like a 15 dollar wine , as far as I know under this brand you can find kosher wines from Spain , Chile and Argentina.
The Sara Bee is also below $10, I bought it in Trdaer Joes for $6.99. it’s definitely my favorite Moscato!
CWC: Why did you start tweeting about Kosher Wines and do you have a blog or other venue for your reviews etc? (Opportunity to shamelessly plug yourself)
KWR: I always loved to try new wines, every time I see new Kosher wine I hadn’t tried yet I have to taste it! When my friends are looking for a bottle of wine they always call me to hear my recommendations. This is why I started twitting. It’s not always easy to find Kosher wine in the States, many times the store doesn’t sell the wine as Kosher and you need to know in advance which wine you are looking for (for example when I go to Trader Joes the wine sales person never knows that the Terrenal is Kosher….) so I thought my experience can help others as well. I also publish my recommendation and other wine related stories in my Facebook page – Kosher Wine Review.
CWC: If you had one wine region you would pick as a dream vacation where would it be?
KWR: Tuscany Italy is certainly my dream vacation. I can only imagine walking in those medieval towns and viewing the robust red wines, works of art, and the rolling picturesque views that inspired painters throughout centuries.
CWC: I think you meant to say Sonoma, but that’s ok, Italy is cool too. We’re still besties.
This is a guest post on Blogdramedy that recounts my personal dance with the Napa Valley fault line on Saturday night. I threw in some wine editorial – ahem – I mean education for this non-wino audience who will be wowing you with their intel at the next picnic, party, blind tasting or harvest festival any second now.
This quake was the scariest I’ve experienced and we are all grateful as the casualties could have been far worse. Although the town will need years of rebuilding and retrofitting, I wish Napatonians a speedy recovery both physically and mentally as we are now into harvest and ready to put another amazing vintage on the racks.
Upon my second foray in this friendly competition, I have experienced a wine blogger community that is a knowledgeable and encouraging group of bon vivants. I have been fortunate to personally engage with several influential and talented wine writers and I am grateful for the acquaintance. I see the camaraderie and overall good will amongst these colleagues and I hope one day to be friends with all of them. Kudos to @Dracaenawines for last month’s well earned win and for providing a great theme for this month’s challenge – a theme that describes a virtue they have afforded me – friendship!
Nothing is more heartfelt than a friendship that endures through the highs and lows of life. May sound trite, but it is truly when you know who is really a friend. Prior to this challenge, I became intrigued by a historic friendship that embodies this principle. This is a friendship of legend that is rooted in rebellion, revelry, wine and phylloxera.
I came across this story (the research was inspired by @Fiery01Red review of Wolfersheim’s Wisconsin wine) while thumbing through a tourist guide on the history of Sonoma, CA at a local bookstore – remember those places? During my perusal, I learned more about the friendship between General Mariano Vallejo, one of the founding fathers of California and Count Agoston Haraszthy, the father of California Viticulture (many scholars have challenged this claim but let’s go with the romance of the Haraszthy legend.) Although not much is written about this friendship other than the eventual melding of the families, I can only imagine as neighbors, land owners, pioneers, and winemakers these two men shared many interests in business, leisure and grooming.
Both men where charismatic, courageous, and enterprising. If I had to contrast the noble Gen. Vallejo and the flamboyant Count Haraszthy you could characterize the General as a leader in every sense of the word and the Count as a visionary dreamer. Although both were powerful brilliant men, the contrast in their personas was stark. In a modern context you could compare them to the famous duos Ethel and Lucy, Mick and Keith, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, Miles & Jack and so on…I have yet to find the perfect example, but you get my point. One pragmatic, the other audacious, both equally irrepressible.
Gen. Vallejo was born and raised in California. The son of a Mexican army sergeant assigned to the presidio in Monterey, Vallejo was destined to follow his father’s military career. After completing an education provided by an English merchant who tutored and employed him, Vallejo was well educated and immediately recognized as a born leader. He rose through the ranks quickly becoming the Commandant General of Mexican California by the age of 29. Vallejo and his brother Salvador, an accomplished field officer, served together successfully in several campaigns against the indian tribes of Alta California. Mariano was a skillful military strategist and although he fought against the indians he was also able to engender trust with tribal leaders. His ability to build alliances with the indians proved successful in the constant fight against other waring tribes, illegal immigrants from the US and Russian colonists. Together they secured the territory for Mexico and were generously rewarded by the Mexican government. Thousands of acres in Sonoma and Napa were given to the brothers to farm and ranch.
Estrangement from the Federal Government of Mexico and the growing presence of US interests with the gold rush, Vallejo recognized the benefits of alignment with the United States. Vallejo used his political graces to persuade other wealthy Californios, ranchers, farmers and land holders of Mexican nationality, to support the US annexation. In June 1846, a month after the start of the Mexican-American war, US settlers in Sonoma concerned about the threat of deportation, captured General Vallejo in what is known as the Bear Flag Revolt. Vallejo was by this time sympathetic to the cause. He was a successful rancher and land owner, selling hundreds of acres to the very people who were in revolt. When the posse knocked on the door of the General’s Casa Grande, he invited the leaders in to discuss the confrontation. As hours passed, the circling crowd became concerned, only to find that Vallejo had opened his wine cellar to the rebels to help facilitate “negotiations.” Sadly, Vallejo was imprisoned but not for long as the US forces acknowledged his allegiance to the US and his role in a successful resolution to the Mexican-American war.
In addition to his other holdings, Vallejo had a vineyard that produced enough wine and grapes to amount to an annual income of $20,000. Many of his grapes were from the root stock of the padres who founded the missions in California wherein they planted “mission” grapes to make wine for their sacrament. These same vines provided the first cuttings to start the Napa vineyards of George Yount, who Vallejo employed as a carpenter.
In 1840, Angoston Haraszthy [AG-goo-stawn HAH-rahs-th’ee] came to the United States and was the first person of Hungarian descent to settle in the US. A flamboyant character who came from European nobility, references to him would vacillate between Count or Colonel Haraszthy. I suspect his title was a matter of convenience – when out East, an air of European aristocracy was to his benefit but when out West, the pioneers took more kindly to someone of military rank vs. class ascension. Regardless, America was the land of opportunity and this fueled the Count/Colonel’s enterprising ambitions. His accomplishments were quite industrious. Upon coming to the new world, he first landed in Wisconsin where he planted a vineyard that is still in existence today called Wollersheim Winery. He also owned and operated a passenger steam boat that traversed the Mississippi.
Health issues and word of the gold rush drove Haraszthy and his family to leave Wisconsin and set out for California. Most Western pioneers dreamt of gold, Haraszthy dreamt of establishing a vineyard and benefitting from the surrounding economic boom. He and his family settled in San Diego where he planted fruit orchards, operated a livery stable, a stagecoach line, opened a butcher shop, organized a syndicate to subdivide a large section of the San Diego Bay shore into streets, parks, and building lots, imported grape vines by mail, planted a vineyard, was elected sheriff, served as city marshal and as a private contractor, he built a jail for the city of San Diego, which was completed in 1851 – but not with out controversy over the jail’s effectiveness to contain its inmates (for a juicy tid-bit click here.)
Upon being elected to the California State Assembly as a representative of San Diego, Haraszthy was drawn to the San Francisco Bay Area. He purchased land and tried to plant grapes on the peninsula, but it was too foggy and the crops were unsuccessful. While representing San Diego in the state legislature in 1852, he met General Vallejo who was a state senator. Vallejo invited Haraszthy to visit him in Sonoma and with that, the legendary friendship began. In 1856 Haraszthy purchased property from Vallejo’s brother Salvador in Sonoma and named the land Buena Vista (The Buena Vista Winery and the Bartholomew Park Winery have beautifully preserved this land and continued to produce fine wines.) Upon arrival to Sonoma, Agoston and General Vallejo soon became very good friends. They were both brilliant, accomplished men passionate about family and wine. They had a friendly competition and both won awards for their wines in the agricultural fairs of the time.
Not only did these two men get on famously, so did their children. On June 1st in 1863, Attilla Haraszthy, 28, and Natalia Vallejo, 25, as well as Arpad Haraszthy, 23 and Jovita Vallejo, 19 were married in a double wedding. (Buena Vista Winery recreated the event upon the 150th wedding anniversary and @CulinaryGadbout was an attendee. Click here to read her account of it)
Haraszthy, always enterprising, soon became acquainted with a group of Hungarian metallurgist lured by the gold rush. Together they started the Eureka Gold and Silver Refinery. He was soon the first California assayer for a branch of the US Mint in San Francisco. All was going well until $150,000 of gold went missing and between 1857 and 1861 Haraszthy battled a criminal and civil case that he was ultimately exonerated of all charges as they were able to prove that shrinkage occurs during the refining process – the missing gold had gone up in smoke.
I’m certain Haraszthy sought peace in the vineyards from the issues that plagued him. I can imagine that the kindly and wise Vallejo was a good friend, confidant and drinking buddy. Throughout this ordeal, Haraszthy was able to start the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society and focus on building a stone winery with cave cellars like the ones he knew well in Europe. Built mostly by Chinese laborers, the cave cellars were carved into the hillside and the surrounding buildings built with the stones that were quarried. (Sadly the Chinese didn’t stick around to contribute to the Asian cuisine of the immediate area.) He hired Charles Krug to be his winemaker and voila, the start of the California wine industry! The facility he built can still be visited today at the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma. At the time, it was proclaimed to be the largest commercial winery in the US.
In 1858 Haraszthy wrote the “Report on Grapes and Wine of California,” which is considered the first treatise on traditional European winemaking practices in the United States. In 1861 Haraszthy was appointed by the California Governor to be a commissioner on the agricultural advancements of grape growing. Under this charge, he decided to make a fateful trip to Europe to investigate the best European vine-planting and winemaking practices. He traveled through France, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain and upon his return in December 1861, Haraszthy had more than 100,000 cuttings of over 350 different varieties of vines.
Haraszthy intentions to sell the cuttings to the state were dashed when the state refused to purchase them. He was left with the cuttings and all the expenses that were incurred. What to do? He started to distribute the cutting throughout the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. He promoted and implemented the agricultural practice of layering wherein an existing vine develops root stock from one of it’s attached branches. It allows faster propagation of new vines but can leave a crop more vulnerable to infection.
Haraszthy’s management of the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society was both visionary and cavalier. He borrowed heavily against the property to continue it’s expansion. Shareholders were critical about his business practices. There was a scandal about the misappropriation of funds and the importation of molasses to make brandy. As controversy again swirled, he was able to keep the plates spinning in the air until phylloxera hit.
Mid 1860’s, the vines at Buena Vista were growing brown. Haraszthy’s critics believed this was due to layering, but in fact it was the first infestation of phylloxera ever known in California. This nasty root louse was non-existent before making an appearance in Sonoma. In subsequent years, phylloxera nearly destroyed all the vineyards in California. It even crossed the Atlantic to Europe, where it also devastated crops in France.
Various indiscretions, misfortune and now infestation of his vines led to intense struggles for Haraszthy that continued until he had to claim bankruptcy and was forced from his beloved Buena Vista. His son Arpad remained in the industry and continued to grow grapes, but soon his entire crop but one surviving vine was gone as well.
Another controversy, another frontier. Seeking to rebuild his fortunes, Haraszthy went to Nicaragua in 1868 to plant sugar cane and make rum. On July 6, 1869 it is suspected that while crossing a crocodile-infested river via a tree used as a bridge, he slipped and fell into the water, and as the legend concludes, he was consumed by a crocodile.
Vallejo, died in his 80’s peacefully on his estate, Lachmyra Montis, in Sonoma with his family around him. He too faced some serious financial set-backs leaving his finances a pittance to the wealth he enjoyed throughout his life. But I believe a life well loved is a life well led and by all accounts these two friends, through their conquests and failings, made the most significant US contributions to the wine culture we enjoy today.
March 2007, the Culinary Institute of America inducted Angoston Haraszthy into the Vintners Hall of Fame. Seventy wine journalists cast ballots honoring him for his contribution to the development of the California wine industry. The award was accepted with honor by his great-great grandson, Vallejo Haraszthy.
For more reading pleasure I must credit and provide links to the following sources: