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August 02, 2008 - Red Wine

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Father of the California Wine Industry

Father of California Wine Industry

?Hungarian nobleman leaves indelible mark?

Agoston Haraszthy made an impression wherever he went. After serving as a member of the Royal Hungarian Guards of Francis I, Emperor of Austria-Hungary in 1830, he was forced to flee Europe for fear of being branded a revolutionist.
In 1842, he returned to Hungary and convinced his father to liquidate their considerable holdings so the entire family could immigrate to America. When they arrived in Sauk City, Wisconsin, they were among the best-capitalized immigrants of the 19th century.
Along with his other entrepreneurial investments, Haraszthy began agricultural experiments and achieved considerable success in sheep raising and growing hops.
Even with his considerable success, he was still disappointed at not being able to establish the high quality vineyards of his native Hungary. The tug of the western frontier pulled at the Haraszthy family, and they headed, by wagon train, to California in 1848.
Agoston was the wagon master of the train, which included about sixty immigrants. Without serious incident, the wagon train arrived at Warner Hot Springs, in San Diego County.
Colonel Jonathan Warner, a former militiaman who established Warner Hot Springs in 1844, apprised Haraszthy about the agriculture and the politics in the San Diego area. A scant 650 people, mainly vaqueros, Yankee sailors who had jumped ship, and a few Mormon soldiers from the Mormon Battalion populated San Diego.

Haraszthy?s family now included his wife, six children, his father and stepmother, and Thomas W. Sutherland, former U.S. Attorney for Wisconsin Territory, who was now Haraszthy?s stepbrother.
The Polish immigrant purchased a plot of land adjacent to San Luis Rey Mission, and, with his sons, Attila and Arpad, first planted a large fruit orchard. He later bought 160 acres more in Mission Valley and planted peach and cherry trees sent to him from New York State.
Haraszthy never ceased his investment activity as well as his interest in community politics. With Don Juan Bandini, Haraszthy set up the first regularly scheduled omnibus transit system and established a livery stable. He established a very profitable butcher shop.
With other real estate speculators, he helped establish the subdivision of Middletown. Haraszthy Street existed there until the early 1960s when it was wiped from the map by the construction of Interstate 5.

When San Diego County was chartered in 1850, Haraszthy was elected the first City Marshall, while his father, Charles, was elected Magistrate and Land Commissioner. His stepbrother, Tom Sutherland, became San Diego?s first City Attorney.
In 1851, he was elected to the State Assembly and resigned his other offices. While in the legislature, then meeting in Vallejo, Haraszthy succeeded in getting funding for the expansion of San Diego Harbor and the county?s first public hospital.
He was the first legislator to introduce legislation to divide California into two states; North and South. Because of powerful political interest in Northern California, that bill died.
All the while, Haraszthy continued searching for land more suitable for agriculture than San Diego?s subtropical desert land offered. Early in 1852, he purchased 210 acres near San Francisco?s Mission Dolores. He moved the entire family there at the end of the Assembly Session.
Haraszthy?s noteworthy accomplishments didn?t stop. He introduced the ?Zinfandel? red wine grape and the ?Muscat of Alexandria? raisin grape to California.
He invented an efficient gold refining process, and was founding partner in the Eureka Gold and Silver Refining Company. The firm became one of the major contract refiners for the San Francisco Mint.

Because of his reputation for fairness and honesty, Haraszthy was appointed Assayer of the Mint in 1855.
He developed the first large, high-quality grape vineyard at Crystal Springs in San Mateo County. At this new ranch, Haraszthy designed and laid out a nursery and horticultural garden, which he named Los Flores.
With his son?s help, he planted fruit trees and shrubs imported from the east. At about this same time, he received a shipment of six choice rooted vines and 160 cuttings from Hungary.
In the shipment were two small bundles. One was the Muscat of Alexandria and the other was said to be the famous mystery grape, the Zinfandel. Today the Zinfandel is the most widely planted wine grape in California.
In 1857, while visiting General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo at the General?s Lachrima Montis estate, Haraszthy was introduced to the Sonoma Valley. This valley especially appealed to him because its weather, topography and soil were so similar to his Hungarian homeland?s high quality vineyards.
In Sonoma, he established the Szeptaj Estate (Buena Vista). That Buena Vista Winery is today a state park and historical site.

In 1861, He was appointed to a California commission to improve agricultural methods and to collect vines and fruit tree stocks in Europe. During a European tour with his son, Arpad, he purchased, with his own money, 100,000 grapevines representing 1,400 varieties, along with small selected lots of planting stock for olives, almonds, pomegranates, oranges, lemons and chestnuts.
When he returned, Harper & Brothers, of New York, published Haraszthy?s report, ?Grape Culture, Wines and Wine Making upon Agriculture and Horticulture. It remained the winemaking classic authority in the English language until well into the 20th century.
The Haraszthy family planted vineyards for European immigrant friends and wine growers, including Charles Krug, Emile Dreser and Jacob Grundlach.
In 1863, Agoston?s sons Attila and Arpad Haraszthy were married in a double ceremony to the twin daughters of General Vallejo.
Later, after one of his wine cellars containing vintages of two years was destroyed by fire, Haraszthy traveled to Nicaragua where he bought a sugar plantation. There, he wife contacted yellow fever and died.
Agoston Haraszthy died July 6, 1869, near his estate, Hacienda San Antonio, at Corinto, Nicaragua, while trying to cross a crocodile infested rive.. His family believed that he fell into a river while attempting to cross and was dragged away by an alligator. His body was never found.

(Alton Pryor has been a writer for magazines, newspapers, and wire services. He worked for United Press International in their Sacramento Bureau, handling both printed press as well as radio news. He traveled the state as a field editor for California Farmer Magazine for 27 years. He is now the author of 10 books, primarily on California and western history. His books can be seen at Readers can email him at

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Father of the California Wine Industry

Father of California Wine Industry?Hungarian nobleman leaves indelible mark?Agoston Haraszthy made an impression wherever he went. After serving as a...

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