What do you get when you cross a Count with a General?
The founding of Sonoma and the birth of the California wine industry!
The California Wine Country and California wine making of the immediate post-gold-rush period would probably have remained an informal affair had it not been for the efforts of a flamboyant Hungarian immigrant named “Count” Agoston Haraszthy. Haraszthy—considered the “Father of the California Wine Industry,” became friends with General Mariano Vallejo — the founder of Sonoma in 1834 as Mexico’s northern-most military outpost. Haraszthy’s two sons later married two of Vallejo’s daughters in a grand double wedding. The Count and the General had a good-natured rivalry over who could produce the best wines, and it was Haraszthy who started the first commercial California winery, Buena Vista, which still operates today near the town of Sonoma.
Haraszthy’s most important contribution to the California wine country was his intro-duction of European wine grapes, replacing the old mission grapes. Accepting a com-mission from the governor of California, Haraszthy traveled to Europe and collected thousands of vine cuttings from about 300 European varietals and brought them back to be planted in the Sonoma and Napa wine country.
Once the local wine grape growers and winemakers got their hands on the fine Euro-pean wine grapes, the California wine industry grew quickly and the California wine country was born.
Fast forward to 1972 when a young man named Vallejo Haraszthy (known as “Val” by his friends) takes a cellar rat job at Buena Vista, coming very close to his roots and the legacy of his great-great-grandfathers. This move eventually led him to the founding of Haraszthy Family Cellars in 2008, specializing exclusively in the produc-tion of hand crafted Zinfandel.
“Zin is a chameleon. It changes with terroir and other conditions. We’ve got Zin from Lodi, Amador, Sonoma, Howell Mountain, Stag’s Leap...They’re all Zins, but the taste is different. Each has a different spice rack driven by clonal selection and the site itself—the soil, the sun, the wind and dirt. Even a wine novice can pick it up. It’s right in your face.”