Like Magic : The Wines I’ve Been Drinking & Reviewing

Spring is here and I’m feeling renewed, refreshed and thirsty. Apple trees are blossoming. The poppies are vibrant. The roses are soaking in the sunshine and much needed rain.  Bottles of wine have magically appeared at my doorstep and I have discovered a few gems.

Before you envy me and my lavish lifestyle as a cheap wine aficionado, take note, this is hard work, especially for my palate. Waaa waa waa, poor me. No seriously, there is a special place in hell for cheap wine reviewers. You get a pauper’s ransom in cheap ass wine. Some is brutal swill. To be more truthful, most are blech! 98% of all the wines I recommend are ones I’ve precariously selected and bought myself. But when I receive a sample from a winemaker that is delish, well, hey ho, it’s payday. Oh yeah, I only get paid in wine, good or bad.

EVERYDAY A BEACH DAY…
MARTIN CÓDAX 2014 RIAS BAIXAS ALBARIÑO, SPAIN $15

FullSizeRender-1

Everyday feels like beach day when sipping on Albariño. This wine is perfect paired with scallops, prawns, garlicky shrimp. Bright, citrus, lemony with a crisp, even, dry finish, this delightful wine will finish your last bite of wood plank grilled salmon perfectly. And for that, I rate this wine a buy again!

I was rather impressed and the winemaker, Katia Alvarez sent a lovely note about her vintage. Founded more than 25 years ago by 50 local farmers in the Galica region of northwest Spain, today Martin Códax is now supported by more than 550 families and cooperatives. The winery is located in the historic city of Cambados in the heart of the Salnés Valley and the birthplace of Albariño. Coastal wet climate, steep grades, and granitic vineyards make this grape produce aromatic and medium bodied wines. In ancient times, the trade of shells from the harvests of the sea were deposited throughout the coastal regions. The shell deposits can still be found in the vineyards today and the calcium brings a perfect balance of pH to the soil.

Fun fact: Martin Codax, the character who this winery is named after, was one of the most important medieval Galician troubadours. His ballads, the oldest in Galician-Portuguese, extol his love and passion for the sea. Hey, you had me at garlicky shrimp.

1024px-Martim_Codax_Cantigas_de_Amigo

‘Cantigas de Amigo’ is a 13c. manuscript by the namesake of this winery, Martin Códax. I think ‘Cantigas de Amigo’ would also be a great name and menu design for a restaurant that served garlicky shrimp, grilled squid, pan seared scallops accompanied by bottles and bottles of chilled Albariño.

 

WINE SO GOOD, I FORGOT TO TAKE A PICTURE…SO I FOUND SOME FOR YOU.
GHOST PINES 2013 PINOT NOIR, 37% SONOMA & 63% MONTEREY COUNTY $23
GHOST PINES 2014 ZINFANDEL, 30% SONOMA, 66% SAN JOAQUIN, 4% LAKE COUNTY $20

Well, what can I say, I forgot to shoot this wine because I was enjoying it to the point of utter dereliction. Riveted to the telly watching the fireworks of the US presidential elections can throw anyone off their game, but fortunately for me, I had this bottle as consolation. My appreciation to the winemaker and fellow Sonoman Aaron Piotter.

wpid-facebook_-16671261631

Halloween squirrel terrorises south of England neighborhood. As seen on crazyasabagofhammers.com @robtinbc

The name is intriguing, it is a poetic reference to the Gray Pines dotting the Northern California coastal hillsides. The marine layer can look ominous and obscure the fauna and flora. Hence, the “Ghost Pine.” While driving along windy coastal roads, hapless wildlife can be veiled by the fog as well, but obviously road kill “Ghost Squirrel” is not an appealing name for a fine Pinot Noir. But he’s out there…

pinot-noir-bottle_0

First bottle, the Pinot Noir…rated: buy again. Cool ocean breezes and blankets of fog consumed gradually by sunshine are the desirable conditions for Pinot Noir. Both Monterey and Sonoma coasts provide the cool loving environment these grapes require to bring forth the bright flavors and acidic lift that a Pinotfile like myself expects. What I found interesting about this wine was the boldness and intense fruit. Ripe red cherry, pomegranate and lavender with a medium body, baking spice and cocoa finish – a very nice surprise.

Secondi, the Zinfandel rated: guestworthy. The tech sheet on this wine opened with “Ghost Pines knows no boundaries…” well, ok now….easy does it! My readers may be winos, but they are respectable budget conscious people. Possibly God-fearing but likely agnostic.

zinfandel-bottle_0

Well, what my very close future friend Aaron was actually referring to was their focus on the fruit. They look for quality lots in various vineyards and secure the best fruit regardless of AVA. What this has done is create layers and complexities that play to each regions strengths leading to unique flavors and profiles. Although this Zinfandel had the classic profile – bold fruit, jammy, ripe berry with some toasty oak – it also had lovely layered flavors of strawberry, spices and pepper with a long lush finish. I took this bottle of Zin to a dinner with friends at The Fig Cafe in Glenn Ellen.   A local favorite, they famously offer fabulous courses with no corkage. Although bold, this Zin paired perfectly with the fig arrugula salad with chevre, pecans and pancetta drizzled with a port and fig vinaigrette. Even better, my fancy friends were impressed. Mon dieu! One of them was French. When asked where I got this wine of course I told him it magically appeared on my doorstep.

Stay curious!

loie

Advertisements

Your Green Beer Alternative: A Zin Win for Under $7

It isn’t St. Patty’s day until you see a Millennial walking down the street with beads, daisy dukes, green tank top, a beer and a cigarette at 3pm. I suggest you grab your kids, lock up your husband and get outta town. But before you scatter faster than the jail bait can shake their shamrocks, I suggest you dash on over to the wine aisle in your local shoppe. Check out one of these price busting, lucky charms I discovered to honor this very special holiday celebrating Lá Fhéile Pádraig.

Kenwood 2012 Vintage White Wine Blend, CA $6.89
Floral – smooth, crisp and refreshing easy drinking but lovely balance of acidity. Not much complexity, but for a great table wine that is highly enjoyable, I give it a strong buy again.

Butterfield Station Pinot Noir, CA $5.99
All alcohol, no nose, no fruit, yikes! Wasting away in Sangria-ville – blech – fruit this baby, or soak a roast.

Sutter Home Moscato, CA $5.49
Honeysuckle, almost tastes like apple juice – but not to cloyingly sweet – I must say, it’s not so bad. I kinda like it – but I need to be in the mood, a rare mood. I rate it drinkable.

photo

HRM Rex-Goliath Free Range Zinfandel, Italy $6.79
Hearty, bold fruit, exactly what I love in a Zin. The fruit could be a little richer and layered, like some better Zins, but this wine is still jammy and perfect with BBQ. I love finding a big wine with a low, low price. I rate it guest-worthy. Pot O’Gold!

Bella Sera 2013 Pinot Grigio, Italy $6.99
Citrus, but other than that – not much more to this wine. It’s drinkable. I’m not a huge fan of Pinot Grigio, but addmittedly, they are difficult not to like, especially after a few glasses of Pinot Grigio. I wanted brighter acid, more fruit, some floral, the characteristics I like in a decent PG. Sadly, this wine needs to get fruited. It would be best icy chilled with a few thin rounds of orange, lemon and lime. Heck, let’s toss in some sprite, a maraschino cheery and jigger of gin for good measure. Last one in the parade is a rotten grape!

Stay curious,
loie

Pretty In Pink…We Think.

IMG_7231

Veuve du Vernay Brut Rosé 750ml

French Sparkling Wine, $3.99 – $11.99

Find a bottle near you on WineSearcher.com

It was a dark, wet Thursday evening and I was Rushing Through the SF Ferry Building as my ship had come in to take me home. As I passed the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant (motto: “We spit so you don’t have to”) I realized I owed the world a sparkling wine review every week until New Year’s Eve 2015. Last week was a home run (Dibon Brut Reserva Cava Penedes, Spain $9.99) so I was brimming with ambition for my next selection.

The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant is one of the anchors in the renown SF Ferry Building. If you visit SF, this stop on the tour is worth the aggravation of parking drama or extra cab fare. The Ferry Building is best known for the amazing farmer’s markets on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Widely acclaimed for the high quality farm fresh produce and artisanal foods, it is renown as one of the top farmers markets to visit in the country. Saturday mornings especially, you will very likely see some of San Francisco’s best known chefs fondling the watercress, nosing a Chanterelle or ogling the Romanesco. Nearly 25,000 shoppers visit the farmers market each week, but everyday the plaza is home to many highly regarded foodie merchants/innovators including; The Slanted Door, Cowgirl Creamery, Heath Ceramics, Blue Bottle Coffee, Sur La Table, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant and more, more, more.

IMG_3034

Inside the SF Ferry Building – Check out La Mia Vita Blog for a great pictorial of the foodie extravaganza!

The Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant has a loyal wine membership that begets their robust calendar of events, tastings and pairings. Their mission is to find the most interesting and delicious wines from smaller producers around the world – I’m on board with that. They also have a store located in the über foodie fabulous Oxbow Market in Napa. One of their founders/buyers was honored as “Sommelier of the Year” from the James Beard Foundation and all the partners have impressive bios as wine industry professionals. As I write this, I’m pressure texting a friend to join me for their 6th Annual Champagne and Oyster Fête this Wednesday. Ahoy there!

IMG_7215

The Cowgirl Creamery cheese counter at the SF Ferry Building. My quest for the best in cheap wines is to off-set my costly habit for cheese and shoes. #trueconfession

As I ran past all the stalls to catch my ferry, I saw the display of sparkling wines under $20 front and center. How long could this take? Bad judgement? Well, I do tend to push the edges of timeliness and if there is a plane, train or ferry to catch, subconsciously it becomes a game of chicken. My race against the clock felt necessary in this instance. I had wine to drink and a post to write.

ferry-building-bay-NB

Ferry Building and Bay, San Francisco CA, c.1910

I was in luck, no lines and the wine merchant was at the ready to provide guidance. I explained that I wanted a sparkling wine under $10. What did he recommend? At first he was puzzled, and expressed that my request was a tough one, could I spend a few more dollars? Sure, why not? Better to take his recommendation than miss my ferry and swim to Alcatraz. I had to abruptly explain that my ferry was leaving in less than ten minutes and the only requirement is that “It can’t be crap.” He handed me a wine, briefly explained the notes and origin, I gave him my credit card, signed, grabbed the receipt, the wine and booked off to my pier. Two minutes to spare, the booze cruise was still there! Hurrah. I got on board, went straight to the bar, ordered dinner which consisted of a Captain Morgan and Diet Coke with a side of Ranch Flavored Cornnuts. My compliments to the chef.

photo

Those cornnuts are not levitating, they are just happy to see me.

Oh, so now where were we? Yes, yes, I was reviewing a wine.

After a leisurely 50 minutes on the ferry, I was home. I chilled the bottle in the fridge (45° F.) Before serving, I placed the bottle in the freezer for ten more minutes. I admit, I was concerned that this wine might ruin my night, so I wanted it to be ice cold. Who needs another cranky post. When I finally had the courage to pop the cork, I was happy to see a lovely salmon pink sparkling come to life. The nose was fruity, candy apple. First sip I tasted strawberries, florals and it had a nice balanced acid and flavorful intensity. Even though it was fruit forward, it was not sweet and the finish was long and dry. Mousse was moderate but still rich. As the wine warmed, the flavors nicely became more intense but I also noticed a nutty bitterness, which made me reconsider whether or not I loved this wine. However, the packaging was very pretty. The chocolate brown foil with pink and gold accents was very tasteful and felt luxurious when serving this wine to guests. Billecart-Salmon it was not, but it was very enjoyable cold and exhibited quality beyond other sparkling value wines at its price point. I would buy this again and I would be comfortable bringing this to an event.

IMG_7234

Surprise and delight! The pink underside of the brown foil impressed me. It does not take much.

There was very little on the label to tell me what this wine was about. It was rather mysterious. The Veuve du Vernay site specifies this wine as 11% alcohol and a blend of Cinsaut, Grenache and Syrah. This brand was created by Mr.Jean Eugène Charmat, the French scientist, who in 1907 invented the cuve close (“sealed vats”) method of producing fine sparkling wine which has since been adopted worldwide. Most sparkling wines are produced in one of two ways: Method Traditionelle wherein secondary fermentation happens in bottle, or vat fermentation which is eponymously named the Charmat method.

What’s with the “Veuve?” Monseiur Charmat had a high regard for a widow (veuve) in the village of Vernay who helped him to start his business. When Eugène Charmat’s son Robert created a new sparkling wine of high quality in the 1960s, he named it in honor of the lady whom his father esteemed so highly. Today Veuve du Vernay is an internationally known brand of value sparkling wines from France that are priced well as a result of Monseiur Charmat’s invention 108 years ago.

Let’s raise a glass in honor of the inventor and founder who made it possible for the world to enjoy quality inexpensive sparkling wine today. Down the hatch!

Stay curious,

loie

This Malbec Should Be Arrested For Assault!

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.)

Stay curious!

loie

Get your keys to the castle! A Guest-Worthy Pinot Noir for $8.99 – For Reals…

2012CalCuveePinotNoir

2012 Castle Rock, Cuvée Pinot Noir, CA (cellared and bottled in St. Helena)

I am always scared to taste a Pinot Noir under $10. Why? Because a good Pinot under $10 cannot be done. Can-not! No way. No. Not ever. Never. Well you know what they say about saying never. Never.

Wincing, I opened the bottle. My victim that day was a local chef and presumably someone who would unfriend me for exposing him to this swill. I prefaced my tasting with apologies and gratitude for his bravery. We uncorked, poured and the rest is surprising. We are still friends.

It smelled like a Pinot to me, fresh, light, young, with notes of cherry and hibicus. First sip was peppery, baking spices, dark fruit, currant, medium bodied and very mild tannins with a pleasant woody finish. Very drinkable. Wow, what a delight. I have yet to meet a Pinot for this price point that I could take home to momma – this passed the sniff & sip test…with flying colors.

Who is Castle Rock? I like to research the makers of these fine wines of “Cheapeaux” and often you find a barrel load of corporate drivel laced with fabrications about growers, makers and wineries you will never visit because they in a warehouse in Commerce, California. Ok, I am verging on snobby which is not my style, but let’s keep it 100. How is it possible for these wines to be priced so freakin cheap? Yes, we have all heard the machinations about Two Buck Chuck consisting of high percentages of gopher guts and pesticides (my friends at Trader Joe’s HQ vehemently deny these rumors and I believe them.) But when a wine is actually good and as guest worthy as this one, I’d like to understand how they pulled it off. I mean, bravo, they actually made a ridiculously cheap bottle of wine truly enjoyable.

Moreover, Castle Rock wines are widely available. I believe this one was acquired at a Safeway. So after poking around, I discovered they offer wines from Napa/Sonoma in California, Willamette Valley, Oregon, and Columbia Valley, Washington but they are HQ in Rancho Palos Verdes in Southern California. What exactly does “bottled and cellared in St. Helena” mean anyways? The plot thickens. Go to the source – their website. Ah-ha – this is how they do it.

“After the harvest, the wines are made in accordance with Castle Rock’s winemaking standards, and are bottled at wineries, boasting state-of-the-art equipment, located in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and Washington’s Columbia Valley. Castle Rock’s business model aims to please, lovely on the palate, easy on the wallet. By virtue of having a low overhead, (no nagging real estate mortgages, no marketing teams or large staff to employ, and no elaborate facilities) Castle Rock is able to funnel all their capital into making the best possible wine for the best possible price.”

Well, I like a straight shooter, especially when it’s about what’s going in my Riedels. Moreover, their wines have won several awards of distinction, this 2012 Pinot Noir was awarded a double gold medal and 92 pts from the SF Chronicle Wine Competition. Oh-la-la! Pas mal.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 2.54.24 AM

Adding further confidence, their wine makers/growers are both very established and respected in Washington and California. Greg Powers was recognized as a “Rising Star” by Wine Spectator and as one of the “50 Great U.S. Cabernet Producers” by Wine Enthusiast. He started his esteemed career very young by helping his father plant 80 acres of grapes on the family vineyard, Badger Mountain in the Columbia Valley which under his supervision, transitioned the farming from conventional to organic. The California grower and maker, Vic Roberts, is the owner and winemaker at Victor Hugo Vineyards and Winery in the heart of California’s Paso Robles wine country. In 1985 he pursued his dream of being a wine maker by planting 15 acres of grapes on his property which now stands at 78 acres, with the winery located in a picturesque, recently renovated 100 year old barn.

I believe the care and expertise that is put into these widely distributed value wines is fascinating and obviously yields impressive results. This is the dawning of the era of good cheap wine in the US. With producers like Castle Rock, I look forward to trying more….although I cannot guarantee I won’t wince before the first sip.

Stay curious!
loie

Eureka! I think we struck gold…A Primativo for $3.99

photo 3

Apologies of the unappetizing drip – a result of passing the tipple – I promise prettier vines next time.

2012 Grifone Primitivo, Puglia, Italy, from old growth Zinfandel $3.99

Trader Joe’s

Wowza! Just when everyone was losing faith in my crusade to uncover the best wines under $10 – Eureka! I think we struck gold.

My checkered past…

Let’s go in the way-back-machine to about 30 days ago….I was hitting rock bottom, I could not respectably review the wines I was tasting, those bottles will remain nameless but for all intents and purposes, let’s refer to those wines as shite.

A prior post recounted the events that led to the Tepranillo-Gate scandal. I was nearly impeached from cheap wine forever and I believe there were dark forces at work against me. There was a conspiracy behind that unfortunate event, alas alack, there is no point troweling through the past when the future is before us. In this instance, a cheap and cheerful Primativo.

Primitivo or Zinfandel: are they cousins, siblings, identical twins?

Primitivo is a descendant of the rare Croatian varietal Crljenak (pronounce that!) There is plenty of discussion about the differences and similarities of Primitivo and Zinfandel. The latter is often defined as the exact replica of the Crlienak while Primitivo is defined as being a clone. The difference? I’ll have to get into that in another post but you can do a deeper dive here. Read the debates online and decide for yourself, but when planted next to each other the variance is noticeable in size, bunch density and color. What’s the big deal? About $10-$20 in price. Primitivo is sold typically at a value between $10-$15 while Zins can be twice as much. Unlike Europe, U.S. labeling laws don’t allow the names of the two varietals to be used interchangeably. Hmmmm. Market forces at work.

Well I notice a difference and maybe it’s wine stye, but the Puglian Primitivos, although intense in flavor, seem lighter in body, more refreshing (a touch chilled with a wedge of juicy orange – Mwah!) with a pleasant Italian bitterness in the finish that lends itself to the grape’s unique complexity. Zinfandels are jammier, fruit forward and I find them heartier, more body, tastes like California sunshine with a coastal breeze to me. This variance could be due to the propensity for Primitivos to ripen earlier (hence the name which means “early one”) which produces a younger tasting wine high in alcohol and tannins, which can mellow with age.

Without further adieu, I proudly present my latest discovery of undeniable significance…ecco qui:

2012 Grifone Primitivo, Puglia Italy $3.99

This wine was rather delightful. Color in the glass is rich garnet like pomegranate juice. Nose is dark cherry, some light spice. First sip, mmmmmm, juicy rhubarb, rose petal, very smooth, rich, strong yet balanced tannins and a finish that departs as soon as you want another sip. Very enjoyable and also flexible for various food pairings. Will go great with stronger flavors like BBQ, venison and will complement richer fattier delights like foie gras or a densely marbled Kobe. If you were pairing wines for 4 courses, this would be best served with the main course. I actually believe this is caseworthy as it will only get better with time. Dude! Do the math, only $48.00 a case? That’s the price of ONE splurgy bottle of Zin…OMG! No me digas! Sacré bleu! Exclamation exclamation.

Stay curious,

loie

 

The Hungarian Aristocrat & The Mexican General: Wine+Friendship in The Bear Republic

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.

bearflag copy

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.

GENERAL&COUNT

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.

lucy-and-ethel-reading   tumblr_m2odlthzLE1r7m57eo1_5001512_sideways_wideweb__430x267   dre-snoop-1

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.

litho

Vallejo’s Estate Lachryma Montis – “mountain tear” in Latin – is at the base of a hillside near an abundant stream. It still stands today as a CA state park.

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.

Wine_label_Lachryma_Montis_Vineyard,Sonoma_Red_Wine_1858

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.

IMG_1811

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)

Invite

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.

Bs7uyGmCYAAt97o.jpg-large

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.

ft967nb63q_00079220px-Layer_(PSF)

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.

ft967nb63q_00078-2

Haraszthy’s home on his property Buena Vista was inspired by the villas of Pompeii. Although the original home is gone, you can visit a stunning replica on the Bartholomew Park Winery grounds.

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.

aligator

Harasthy’s body was never found. The only record is a letter from his daughter who wrote, “We must conclude that Father tried to cross the river by the tree and that losing his balance he fell grasping the limb and then the alligator must have drawn him forever down.”

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.

472px-General_Vallejo_with_his_daughters_and_granddaughters

A very adoring scene of a beloved father, his daughters and a good natured poodle

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.

Stay curious!

loie

For more reading pleasure I must credit and provide links to the following sources:

Pinney, Thomas. A History of Wine in America: From the Beginnings to Prohibition. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1989 1989. http://ark.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft967nb63q/

Californians and the Military The Vallejo Family: A Military History of Early California

by Lieutenant Colonel Ira Lee Plummer http://www.militarymuseum.org/Vallejo.html

INTERVIEW: Martha Ann Francisca Vallejo-McGettigan, Descendant of General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo

McGinty, Brian. Strong Wine: The Life and Legend of Agoston Haraszthy Stanford University Press, c1998 http://www.sup.org/book.cgi?id=1074

Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau, Sonoma Valley History http://www.sonomavalley.com/sonoma-recent-history.html

Historic California Posts: Sonoma Barracks (Including El Presidio de Sonoma, El Cuartel de Sonoma, Camp Sonoma, Sonoma Post) by Colonel Herbert M. Hart, USMC (retired)

Executive Director, Council on America’s Military Past http://www.militarymuseum.org/SonomaBks.html

Vallejo: the man who shaped California history by Nancy Dingler Published April 19, 2003 in the Fairfield Daily Republic

A conversation with Count Agoston Haraszthy Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 | Posted by Suzie Rodriguez, The Press Democrat

Meet Vallejo Haraszthy Thursday, October 13th, 2011 | Posted by Suzie Rodriguez, The Press Democrat