Buena Vista Winery Scrapbook
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California's First Real Winery and the Beginning of an Industry
These photos are remarkable for many reasons. They are, for instance, probably the earliest pictures of California's wine industry. They were shot at Sonoma's Buena Vista Winery, the state's first "modern" winemaking facility, founded by Agoston Harazthy, a legendary Hungarian count who died when eaten by an alligator in Nicaragua. And finally, they were taken by Eadweard Muybridge, an Englishman who came to San Francisco in 1851. He went on to photograph the West, invent motion pictures and murder his wife's lover. He beat the rap in a celebrated Napa trial.
Before Harazthy's "scientific" methods were adopted, wine merchants
blended and aged raw wine bought from farmers called "winegrowers" who did
the crushing and fermenting. Harazthy promoted the idea of the winemaker's
controlling the process from beginning to end. Here you see the plowing of a
new vineyard and later, a harvest. Muybridge shot these views over several
months in 1871 and 1872. Notice how he seemed to capture the men actively
at work. In reality, they were probably posed; photography at that time
couldn't freeze movement as it does today.
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In the early 1860s, Harazthy traveled abroad to study winemaking in
Europe's finest regions. He also collected hundreds of thousands of select
vines, representing hundreds of varieties. On his return to the United States,
he authored a treatise describing the best winery practices; doing everything
on your own estate in order to guarantee quality at every step was one of them.
In those days, they even made their own barrels; here are the Buena Vista
coopers at work. The accompanying photo shows the bottling process, a
simple matter of filling a bottle and passing it on to the man
working the corking contraption.
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Buena Vista began as Harazthy's project when he started buying property
in the area in 1857. He soon attracted the attention of San Francisco's
leading banker, William Ralston, who created a syndicate based on Buena Vista,
which eventually grew to 6,000 acres. Harazthy departed the operation after
being accused of extravagance, and he immigrated to Nicaragua in the late
1860s. Here you see a crew working on the sparkling wine in an alfresco
shop. The building in the next photo is the actual winery, back in
business since the years following the Second World War.
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