Buena Vista Winery — the first premium winery in California — is a must-see destination.
SONOMA, CA—Around every corner of Buena Vista Winery’s courtly, tree-shaded grounds, and inside its well-appointed and handsome stone buildings, visitors find the underpinnings of early California viticulture whispering a romantic narrative. In 1857, Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy, a flamboyant vinicultural pioneer, established here the first premium winery in the state. He also built a massive stone winery with the nation’s first gravity-flow facilities and excavated California’s first wine caves.
The charming setting at Buena Vista Winery.
Fast-forward to harvest 2012—when Buena Vista Winery emerged from an extensive renovation of the original winery, caves, and grounds. Boisset Collection purchased Buena Vista in 2011. Jean-Charles Boisset, president of the family business, had visited Buena Vista on his first trip to California when he was eleven years old. The deep sense of history and the verdant setting made an indelible impression. Years later, after settling in Napa, he pounced on the opportunity to acquire the historic winery. Boisset, whose passion for California wines and pioneering spirit are often compared with Count Haraszthy’s, immediately launched plans to restore the estate to its former glory while adding twenty-first-century equipment for crafting premium wines. Prompted by his enduring love of history, and perhaps by providence, Boisset also poured a large fortune into the much needed structural retrofitting of the three-story stone Cellar Building (aka the Champagne Cellars) arguably the most important structure in American wine history.
Blackwood remembers the day the Earth shook.
As Tom Blackwood, Buena Vista’s director of retail operations, explained “Vertical steel rebar was used to tie the walls into the beams and the floor.” In August 2014, the 6.0 Napa quake put the extensive restoration to the ultimate test. The structure survived beautifully. The building was renovated from the inside out with modern technology that, according to Blackwood, “let it move a little. It did what it was supposed to do, and it worked.” Without having the foresight to act when he did, the building would have sustained massive damage. A critical part of California History had been saved—and in the nick of time.
Stairs leading to the new Wine Tools museum... enduring ambiance in the Boisset tradition.
Today, up three flights of stairs, atop the beautifully restored Champagne Cellars, the new Buena Vista Wine Tools Museum is about to be unveiled. Set for public opening on March 24, this ultra-rare collection of historic viticulture tools from France required a special permit from the French government to bring it to America. As the story goes, it was Boisset’s sister who happened to meet a man in the south of Burgundy that wanted to sell his massive 30 thousand piece collection which included: antique plow blades, plows, bill hooks, secateurs, vine pullers, grape harvest baskets, and many other remarkable wine-related items. When she told her brother of the opportunity, the family moved quickly to purchase the entire collection. It was merged with the family’s own impressive wine tool collection and, today, half of the items are displayed at their museum in Burgundy while the other half will be on display in the new museum at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma.
The tools are beautifully arranged and suspended from the ceiling in artistic patterns set against the ancient interior stone walls carved in 1864. The 17-minute audio-visual presentation brings the past alive with dramatic lighting, motion displays, sound effects, and an enthusiastic storytelling performance.
In addition to historic tours, wine tasting, a blending experience, and picnicking, the new museum brings to the Buena Vista property yet one more fascinating new attraction that visitors will certainly find captivating and unique among all of California wine country. At this writing, the entry level tasting package, which includes entrance to the wine tools museum, is $25. The museum is suitable for all ages, from kids to grandparents, and will take place every hour. For more information: 800-926-1266.
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