Exploring historic Buena Vista winery, California

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Mira Advani-Honeycutt shares the story of the Buena Vista winery in Sonoma – the one that Jean-Charles Boisset acquired and renovated in 2011…

The Buena Vista Winery at night in Sonoma, California

Buena Vista winery was founded in 1857 in the town of Sonoma by Hungarian settler Agoston Haraszthy. While others were panning for gold in California, he was on a search for purple gold. The self-proclaimed “Count”, was of noble birth. He had a grand vision for producing wine and Buena Vista became his viticultural laboratory.

The Count pioneered the concept of gravity flow winery in California, excavated the first wine caves and experimented with Redwood barrels for ageing and fermenting. In 1863, he created the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society (BVVS) a first of its kind association. “He was at the beginning of viticulture in America,” commented JeanCharles Boisset of the visionary Count. “He went back to Europe and brought back 360 vines of Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grüner Veltliner, you name it.”

The adventurous Count met an unfortunate death in 1869 while crossing an alligator-infested stream in the jungles of Nicaragua. Despite Buena Vista’s success and a recipient of numerous international awards, the winery succumbed to financial pressures of the late 1800s and production stopped. Both the winery and the Buena Vista Vinicultural Society were auctioned off in 1878.

By the early 1900s, phylloxera followed by Prohibition ended the commercial activities of Buena Vista as well as numerous other wineries in California. The industry, later revived by the new wave of immigrants post World War II, brought new life to California vineyards.

In 1943 the neglected Buena Vista property was acquired by the Bartholomew family and, with the help of noted winemaker André Tchelistcheff, the winery regained its glory days and released the first postProhibition vintage in 1949. Over time, the winery went through several owners until the Boisset Family acquired it in 2011.

In keeping with the Count’s vision, Jean-Charles Boisset embarked on a four-year extensive renovation programme, restoring the historic winery to its original grandeur.

Closed for 20 years, the Champagne Cellars are now open to the public. The stone winery building has been seismically retro-fitted by the innovative technique of Central Core Drilling, among other modern upgrades. In 2013, Buena Vista received the California Preservation Design Award for “Craftsmanship/Preservation/Technology.”

Owing to Boisset’s passion for theatricality, the Count himself has been resurrected by theatre actor George Webber. Dressed as a nobleman, the faux Count regales visitors with the estate’s history and grandeur as they taste exclusive, current release wines, explore the Champagne Cellars and experience the audio-visual presentation of the wine tool museum.

The Buena Vista Estate wines are produced from vineyards surrounding the winery, additional fruit is sourced from prized Sonoma and Napa Valley vineyards with long term partnerships with growers. Under the direction of winemaker Brian Maloney and consulting winemaker David Ramey, Buena Vista wines’ diversity is reflected across a six-tiered portfolio. These are elegant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the Carneros bottling, bold Petite Sirah and Zinfandel from the Count, Sheriff of Buena Vista labels, lush Cabernet Sauvignon in the Private Reserve, and sparkling wine and Sherry from the Heritage Collection

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