Vines & Wines
The Bartholomew Estate Vineyards – Where it all began.
The Bartholomew Estate vineyards occupy the most historic and fabled site in California viticulture. Their history can be told in two acts with one long intermission. Act One begins with the planting of the first private vineyard in Sonoma (1832) and ends with the collapse of the world’s first great corporate wine venture (1879) and its conversion to a country estate (1883). Act Two begins over a half a century later, when Frank “Bart” Bartholomew buys a run-down ranch from the State of California as a birthday present for his wife, Antonia. Upon learning its history, Bart and Antonia set out to return vines, wine, and history to a special place. During Act Two, the Bartholomew’s success story continues to play out through the establishment and operation of Bartholomew Estate Winery, and the gloriously tranquil Bartholomew Park which surrounds it. Follow along for the winery’s timeline.
Viviano, Rancho Lac, Rose, Haraszthy, Rancho Buena Vista, BVVS, The Castle
1823 | The Mission – Mission Solano de Sonoma was founded in Sonoma and a small walled vineyard was planted with grapes from the Mission San Jose for sacramental wine.
1832-1846 | Rancho Lac – In 1832, a Native America homesteader, baptized Viviano, planted the first privately owned vineyard in the Sonoma Valley on the banks of Arroyo Seco, two years before the founding of Pueblo Sonoma by Mariano Vallejo. In 1844, Rancho Lac, a 176-acre land grant, was formally granted to Viviano and Domingo Rodrigues. Today, Rancho Lac forms the heart of Bartholomew Park, and Viviano’s six-acre vineyard site is our prized Viviano Syrah Block.
1846-1856 | Leese, Kelsey, Rose – In 1846, Rancho Lac and its vineyard was acquired by Jacob Leese, Vallejo’s brother-in-law and owner of the adjacent 17,000+acre Rancho Huichica. Leese constructed a small residence on the hill overlooking Viviano’s vineyard (the future site of the Haraszthy villa). In 1851, Leese sold Rancho Lac to Mr. Kelsey. In 1853, Julius Rose, a prominent attorney and land speculator, purchased the property. Rose made the first major expansion of Rancho Lac’s vineyards, planting another 18 acres, for wine and table grape production. Rose’s expanded vineyard won gold for best vineyard at the first California State Fair in 1854. In 1855, Agoston Haraszthy sampled Rose’s wine. Its quality convinced him this was finally the spot to fulfill his decade long quest to produce European quality wines in America.
1857-1862 | Haraszthy – Agoston Haraszthy purchased Rose’s vineyard and surrounding acreage, including the original area known as Rancho Lac. Often called the father of the California wine industry, Haraszthy constructed the first wine caves in California (1857-58), introduced dry-farmed vineyards, constructed the stone winery (1858), his signature villa (1859), and assembled his 6000-acre Rancho Buena Vista, planting over 200 acres to vineyards by 1860. In 1861-62, he toured European wine districts and acquired over 150,000 vines for import to California. The Viviano vineyard block continued to be his most productive and provided the initial rootstock for many of Haraszthy’s cultivations. Eventually overextended, Haraszthy turned to wealthy San Franciscans for needed expansion capital.
1862-1879 | BVVS – Haraszthy contributed Rancho Buena Vista (and its debts) for approximately 1/3 of the shares in the Buena Vista Viticultural Society (BVVS), the first corporate winery in California. Buena Vista became the self-proclaimed largest winery in the world. Unfortunately, phylloxera began to slowly devastate the vineyards in 1874. In 1879, BVVS filed for bankruptcy in the midst of a national recession. BVVS director, Robert Johnson and his wife Kate, purchased Rancho Buena Vista at auction.
1879-1883 | The Curtain Falls – Wine and grapes continued to be produced from the dying vineyards until the last vintage in 1883. They would not reappear for 60 years. Ironically, the Johnsons completed their 40-room Victorian “Castle” that same year, converting Julius Rose’s 1854 creekside vineyard into their formal lawn and gardens.
Cat Castle, Resort, Wild Women, SDC
1883-1919 | Country Retreat – The Johnsons were wealthy San Franciscans more interested in art and nature than wine. Their Buena Vista Castle was the largest estate north of the Golden Gate, and included an entire floor for Kate Johnson’s beloved Angora cats. After her death in 1893, the 6000-acre estate continued as a working ranch and resort until sold in pieces at auction in 1905. The old stone Winery and Press House were used as stables until severely damaged in the great 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The Castle and surrounding 800 acres were purchased by Henry Caullieau who continued the resort until the site was purchased in 1919 by the state for the State Industrial Farm for Delinquent Women.
1919-1923 | State Farm – The Industrial Farm for Delinquent Women was touted as a progressive reform, whereby “delinquent women” (primarily prostitutes, alcoholics, and addicts) would be cured on-site and then restored to society through farm work and country air. The “wild women” as they were called would reside in the converted Castle. The reform experiment ended in 1923, when the Castle was destroyed by fire. The Castle’s lawns and gardens are now Bartholomew Park’s Castle Lawn Picnic Grounds.
1922-1973 | The Hospital – As part of the Industrial Farm infrastructure, the state built the current winery building as the inmate hospital, completed in 1922. After the Castle fire, the property was transferred to the Sonoma Developmental Center and used as a long-term treatment center for epileptics until operations were consolidated to the main campus in Glen Ellen and the property vacated in the late 1930’s. In 1943, the hospital and its surrounding 600 acres were declared “surplus” and sold at auction to Frank “Bart” Bartholomew and his wife, Antonia (see Act Two, below). However, after the Bartholomew purchase, the hospital was leased to the Sonoma Valley Community Hospital District, where it served as the valley’s primary health care facility until 1957, when the current hospital opened closer to town. The building was repurposed as a convalescent home until the Bartholomews converted it to their new winery, Hacienda Wine Cellars, in 1973. It now is the home of the Bartholomew Estate Winery.
ACT TWO – THE BARTHOLOMEWS
Buena Vista Reborn, Hacienda, Bartholomew Park, Bartholomew Estate
1943 | Discovery – Frank “Bart” Bartholomew, a war correspondent home on leave, purchased the property at the State auction as a birthday present for wife Antonia, unaware of the property’s history. After discovering an acre of weed covered Zinfandel and the old winery ruins, they learned they had acquired the storied Buena Vista Winery and set out to restore both it and Count Haraszthy to their rightful places in California viticulture history.
1944-1968 | Restoration – Bart returned briefly in 1944, when he convinced legendary winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff to join the Bartholomews in a partnership to re-establish the Buena Vista Winery. While the formal partnership was short lived, Tchelistcheff would continue to advise Buena Vista for over 30 years. On the recommendation of Louis Martini, Antonia hired Jim Lyttle to replant of the vineyards. Due to wartime labor shortages, Lyttle used older boys from the Sonoma Developmental Center and sailors from Mare Island to plant Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Sylvaner, and Chardonnay. The original Buena Vista Winery building was restored in 1946, and the more damaged Press House several years later. The first vintage from the replanted estate vineyards was launched in 1949, with a Chardonnay/Sylvaner (accidentally interplanted) called Vine Brook. The second wine was a Rose of Cabernet named Rose Brook.
1950-1968 | Buena Vista Reborn – Antonia and Bart grew the Buena Vista brand and reputation to great success, bigger than they intended. They sold the brand and 12 acres (which included the restored winery building and press house) to Young’s Market while retaining 375 acres including the historic vineyards, the hospital, and forest land as their country residence. The Buena Vista Winery, resurrected by the Bartholomews, continues in successful operation today.
1973-1992 | Hacienda Wine Cellars – In 1973, missing the camaraderie of the wine industry and wanting a quality outlet for their grapes, the Bartholomews opened a new winery – Hacienda Wine Cellars – focusing on small production, award winning estate wines. The hacienda-style hospital was converted into a tasting room and production facility. In his 70s, Bart sold a majority interest to his friend, Crawford Cooley, who successfully operated until the 1989 earthquake and retrofitting was deemed too expensive. The Hacienda Cellars brand was sold to Bronco Wine Company.
1992-2019 | Bartholomew Park – Deeply rooted in the community, the Bartholomews established a private foundation in 1980 to preserve and operate the property after they were gone. The mission of the Frank H. Bartholomew Foundation is to educate the public about California viticulture and history, to ensure that the 375-acre property is protected from development, and to ensure that viticulture continues on the property through continued cultivation of the iconic vineyards and the operation of a winery on site.
After Bart died in 1985, Antonia decided to build a replica of Count Haraszthy’s signature white villa, dedicated to the two founders of Buena Vista – the Count and her husband. The Villa opened as a museum and event center shortly before she died in 1991. Upon her death, the estate was transferred to the Foundation, which continues to operate the property today.
From 1992-2018, the Vineburg Corporation leased the winery and produced wines under the Bartholomew Park Winery label. After the 2017 Nuns Wildfire, the Vineburg lease was terminated and the Foundation decided to consolidate the vineyards and the winery once again.
2019 to Present | Bartholomew Estate Winery – In partnership with winemaker Kevin Holt, the Foundation opened Bartholomew Estate Vineyards and Winery on April 27, 2019, to carry on the viticultural tradition started by Viviano almost 190 years ago, 75 years after the Bartholomews first uncovered this historic site and its contribution to the California wine industry.