Buena Vista Winery is a historical icon in the California wine industry. Over the decades it has flourished with pride, but also fallen prey to poor corporate ownership. Now, under the control of Jean-Charles Boisset, a restoration is well at hand.
A beautiful piece of California history and its wine heritage has been brought back to life. Set at the end of a winding road in the hills to the east of the Sonoma Square, Buena Vista Winery is recapturing its former glory, beauty and winemaking history. First established in 1857, just seven years after California became the 31st state in the Union; the winery has passed through many hands and had officially closed in 1989. Left to languish, the property was overgrown and in great disrepair. Giant oaks blocked the sun, climbing ivy ate away at the mortar on the winery, and the gloomy grounds were said to be haunted. It has passed through the hands of five owners between the years of 2004 and 2011 alone.
Jean-Charles Boisset, the charismatic and theatrical new owner of Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, unveiled the renovated property to the members of the media on August 31, 2012. The occasion was the 200th birthday celebration of “Count” Agoston Haraszthy, the Hungarian who founded the winery in 1857. Haraszthy, a colorful, visionary, and eccentric figure himself, is known as “The Father of California Viticulture”, having imported over three hundred grape varietals from Europe to plant at his new winery. He was one of the first to promote Sonoma as a prime grape growing region, capable of producing world-class wines. All did not go as planned financially however and legend has it he met his demise in Nicaragua, where he had gone to make rum, in the belly of a crocodile. Of course, there is a large crocodile hanging from the ceiling in the original Press House, the new tasting room.
Extensive renovations at the winery, which won’t be complete for another year, have included removing the ivy from the 1864 Champagne Cellar, and using new and innovative means to reinforce the walls (from the inside)and original caves against earthquakes. There are no visible signs of these improvements. Rather, there is a powerful feeling of being in a time capsule, seeing it as it was in the early days. Gardens will highlight crops grown on the property in the late 1800s, a demonstration vineyard is planned, and the stonework on the grounds has all been painstakingly restored by hand. Interpretive signs on the history of the winery mark the trail from the parking lot to the winery.
M. Boisset, who first visited The Buena Vista Winery at the age of 11, has always felt drawn to the property and its link to California wine history. His mission is to have visitors not only taste the wines being produced here but to instill in them a powerful sense of place and time. A fervent believer in “terroir” and the practice of sustainable, biodynamic and organic farming, Boisset will be making wines using traditional methods, or, as he puts it, “back to the future winemaking”. The vortex fountain, the centerpiece of the courtyard, is related to his belief in the harness of energy and is a symbolic link to the gravity-fed winemaking practices being used here.
Now, about the wines…We tasted a dry, crisp, refreshing Rose of Pinot Noir and a bright aromatic, delicate, and delicious French Columbard, sourced from vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Chalk Hill AVAs in Sonoma. This is not the French Colombard jug wine that some may remember from their youth, but a beautiful example of a rediscovered variety. Only 40 cases were made but in line with its historical perspective the winery will be introducing small lots of other traditional and unusual wines There will be a focus on the cool climate Carneros Chardonnay, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. But also expect to find Cabernet sourced from Sonoma Valley AVA, Carignane from Mendocino, and Zinfandel. These will be made in styles to suit any taste. It is highly recommended that you visit this beautiful winery to enjoy its history and its very fine wines. And thank Jean-Charles Boisset for his vision and passion for both the Past and the Future.
Buena Vista Winery
18000 Old Winery Road
Sonoma, CA 800 926-1266
Open for tours and tastings daily 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tastings are $10.00
“The Count of Buena Vista” a free 20 minute play Saturdays at 1 p.m. through October 20