In 1859 John Patchett opened the first commercial winery in Napa. This was around the same time that some of California's oldest wineries - including Buena Vista - were founded.
In 1840 the self proclaimed “Count of Buena Vista,” Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa (b. 1812) emigrated from Hungary. Born into nobility, he is an interesting and accomplished character about whom intriguing tales circulate. He started out in Wisconsin, and in 1849 he led a wagon train to California and settled in San Diego. He became its first sheriff. In 1852 he migrated to northern California.
An accomplished farmer and firm believer in the potential of Sonoma County grapes, he acquired 800 acres including what was already known as Buena Vista Ranch. Knowing he had struck “purple gold” in Sonoma, The Count established his winery in 1857 and produced 6,500 gallons in the first vintage. Buena Vista continued to grow and expand; by 1860 over 250 acres had been planted with grape vines.
In 1861 the state of California sponsored his European tour to report on local methods in order to improve California viniculture. He believed that his most impactful contribution to California winemaking would be to help expand the quality and diversity of vines grown, and encourage winemakers to experiment with the best combinations of vineyard, vine and rootstock.
The Count collected 100,000 cuttings of more than 350 different varieties of vines, which he offered to sell to the state. His plan was to propagate them in his Sonoma nursery, test them to determine which were best suited to the local soil and climate, then distribute them to would-be winemakers throughout California. The Legislature refused the offer and reneged on its agreement to pay for the trip, leaving Haraszthy to distribute the vines at his own expense. According to Brian McGinty in his book Strong Wine: The Life and Legend of Agoston Haraszthy (1998), it was a financial hardship because Haraszthy had spent a lot of money gathering the vines and bringing them back to California.
Capitalizing on what he learned in Europe, he wrote a book on horticulture and winemaking entitled Grape Culture: Wines, and Wine-making, with Notes Upon Agriculture and Horticulture (1862). This volume quickly became an essential handbook for many California vintners, cementing The Count as a premier winemaking pioneer. That same year he was elected president of the California State Agricultural Society. In 1864 he completed creation of the first wine caves in California located at his Buena Vista winery.
Unfortunately his grand ambitions for the future of the wine industry far exceeded the demand for California wine at the time. The ambitious Count of Buena Vista was ultimately forced out by his own investors.
He left his prized winery for a completely different adventure. In 1868 he set out for Nicaragua to explore sugar growing and rum production. The last time he was seen or heard from was in 1869, when he fell from a tree branch while crossing an alligator-infested stream.
In 1943 Frank and Antonia Bartholomew purchased the by-then-long-neglected Buena Vista property sight unseen. While the Bartholomews loved the location, they didn’t immediately understand the significance of what they purchased: the famed Buena Vista Winery. They came to love the pedigree of the old winery, and immediately set out to renovate its buildings and replant its vines.
After WWII, Frank Bartholomew invited his friend, renowned winemaker André Tchelistcheff, to join him at Buena Vista. The winery released its first post-Prohibition vintage in 1949 to great success. The winery flourished under Tchelistcheff, who became one of California’s most famed winemakers.
In 2011 Boissett Family Estates -- a producer and importer of wine that began business in Burgundy in 1961-- purchased the Buena Vista property. The family, led in the US by Jean-Charles Boissett, was impressed by the winery’s heritage, authentic roots, colorful history and wines. Boissett is passionately committed to its ‘partnership with The Count,’ and plans to continue legacy he created 150 years ago.
Toward that goal, Buena Vista winery is undergoing extensive restoration and will be home to a museum dedicated to California wine history. On August 31, 2012, they reopening their Champagne Cellars to guided tours once again. They hope to have the entire project completed by the end of August 2013.
In 2007 Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa (1812-1869), the eccentric Count of Buena Vista was inducted into the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame.