Count Agoston Haraszthy
Agoston Haraszthy was born to Charles and Anna Haraszthy de Mokcsa on August 30, 1812, on the family estate at Futak, Bacska Province, Hungary. Agoston received a classical education and, at age eighteen, joined the Royal Hungarian bodyguard of Francis I as an officer. (Francis ! was the nephew of Marie Antoinette and the father-in-law of Napoleon Bonaparte.)
In 1831 the Polish revolution was crushed and many Polish citizens fled to Hungary. in 1834 Agoston married one of the refugees, Eleonora Dedinsky. In 1835 Agoston became the private secretary to Archduke Joseph, the Regent of Hungary. In 1837 after some political turmoil Agoston retired to his estate and served as county magistrate. In 1840, fearing that he might be arrested, Agoston traveled to New York and, for the next two years traveled extensively in America. In 1841 he purchased property on the Wisconsin River.
In 1842 Agoston returned to Hungary where he converted his own, his father's and his wife's holdings in Europe into the capital that he planned to invest in America. That year he also arranged for the publication of "Travels in North America" wherein he portrayed an America full of opportunity. The book was published in 1844 and was well received. It helped to stimulate many Central Europeans to immigrate to America - particularly Wisconsin.
Following his return to America, Agoston developed his holdings in Wisconsin into a town which he named Szeptaj (Beautiful View). In Hungary his family estate had prided itself on its orchards and vineyards. Accodingly orchards and vineyards were established in Szeptaj, but the grape vines did not like the cold winters and did not prosper. He did, however, plant the first hops in Wisconsin and that crop did very well making a significant contribution to the brewing of beer in Wisconsin.
As Szeptaj grew so did the Harazthy enterprises. He operated a steamship on the upper Mississippi, founded an emmigrant society, and organized a society of free thinkers. In 1848 Agoston's decided to move to California. His finances were over extended, his beloved vineyards were not doing well. and he suffered from chronic asthma. (Wisconsin became a state in 1848 and a few years later the town of Szeptaj was renamed Haraszthyville. German immigrants had trouble with the name and it was changed to Westfield and then ultimately to Sauk City.) In 1849 the family traveled by wagon from Madison, Wisconsin to San Diego, California.
Agoston planted a large orchard near Mission San Luis Rey and started an experimental vineyard with imported cuttings from Europe. As was the case in Wisconsin the grape vines did not do as well as he wanted. (This time the problem seemed to be that the weather was too uniformly warm year around.) The Haraszthy family diversified their activities into a wide variety of businesses and started founded another town named Middletown. In 1850 Agoston was elected Sherrif and Marshall of San Diego City. His father was elected magistrate and land commissioner.
Many stories are told about the Haraszthys in San Diego, some flattering and some not. Agoston is credited with having been a tough (some say harsh) enforcer of the law and it is generally acknowledge that he made a significant contribution to cleaning up the city. He was elected the first representative from San Diego to the State Legislature where he advocated that California be divided into two states. While serving in the legislature he met General Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, a fellow representative. Vallejo was growing grapes in the Sonoma area and their mutual interest in the subject sparked a friendship that was to last throughout their lives.
In 1852 Agoston purchased property near Mission Dolores in San Francisco. He liquidated all of his holdings in San Diego and once again turned to agriculture, planting fruit trees imported from the East and grape vines imported from Hungary. Once again Agoston decided that the climate was not right for his vines. In 1853 he sold his San Francisco property and purchased land in San Mateo where he once again planted fruit trees and grape vines. On the San Mateo farm he and his sons also raised livestock.
In 1854, when the Gederal Mint was established in San Francisco, Agoston was a partner in the Eureka Gold and Silver Refining Company. The Mint contracted with that company to help process the gold that was streaming into San Francisco from the Sierras. In 1855 he was appointed Assayer for the Mint. (Haraszthy was a prominent Jeffersonian Democrat and his politics probably helped him obtain the position without having to give up his connection with the Eureka Gold and Silver Refining Company.) In 1857 Agoston was accused of fraud because of the disappearance of a great deal of gold. He resigned his position at the mint and was forced to sell off all of his properties inorder to raise funds which were placed in trust pending the outcome of an investigation. He was fully exonerated in 1861 after lengthy litigation.
During this period Agoston continued to experiment with his vineyards. In 1857 Vallejo invited him to Sonoma to taste his wines. Agoston was very impressed with the climate and the land in Sonoma and he purchased a small piece of property from Mariano's brother, Salvadore Vallejo. The Vallejo family had planted the socalled Mission Grape which had first been introduced into California by the Franciscan Missionaries in the 18th century. Agoston imported European vines and he planted them on the hillside rather than on the valley floor as had prieviously characterized viticulture in California. His vines prospered.
Land was inexpensive and the Haraszthy estate eventually included some 6,000 acres. He built a lovely mansion and named his domain Buena Vista (Szeptaj - Good View). The mansion became a social center for the area and the vineyard became an important attraction for anyone seriously interested in viticulture. In 1858 and 1859 Agoston's wines won first place at the State Fair supplanting the previously triumphant wines of the Vallejo family. (Though rivals in wine the two families remained the best of friends and in 1863 the two oldest of Agoston married the two twin Vallejo daughters in a double cenremony that attracted notable guests from all over the state.)
Agoston founded the California Viticultural Society and wrote a monograph entitled Report on Grapes and Wines in California which was recognized as the definitive work on that subject. In 1861 Governor John G. Downy authorized the creation of a three man commission to study viticulture methods used elsewhere and to collect vine cuttings from Europe. Agoston and his son Arpad spent more than six months in Europe assemblisg information and collecting 100,000 vines representing 1,400 varieties of grape. In 1862 Agoston published Grapes, Cultures, Wines and Wine making, with Note upon Agriculture and Horticulture.
The Civil War was in progress. the Republican Party was in control of Sacramento, and Agoston was suspected of being a "Peace Democrat." He was not reimbursed for his European trip and the state legislature did not followup on any of his recommendations for improving the wine industry in California. Buena Vista was incorporated with Agoston serving as Superintendent. At first things went well but an expensive fiasco involving failed champagne production resulted in Agoston being forced out of Buena Vista.
Agoston left California for Nicaraugua where he purchased a sugar plantation. Within a short time he turned it into the largest sugar plantation in the country. In 1868 his wife, Eleonora, died of yellow fever. In December of that same year he traveled to San Francisco where he purchased machinery for his plantation and chratered a ship to engage in trade between San Francisco and various Central American ports.
Agoston disappeared from his plantation in 1869. The published obituary quoted his daughter as saying that he disappeared while inspecting a new boat landing that was under construction. The belief was that he had fallen into the water and been consumed by an alligator.
Agoston Haraszthy is regarded as the Father of California Wine Making. On the 100th anniversary of his death the 91st Congress recognized his importance with an entry in the Congresional Record that said in part: "In a very significant way he put California on the nation's economic and gourmet maps..."