Agoston Haraszthy (1812-1869)
"Father of Modern Viticulture in California"
- August 30, 1812. Agoston
Haraszthy was born in Pest, Hungary, the only child of Karoly
Haraszthy and Anna Maria Fischer. Contrary to legend, Agoston was
not a Count, although he was from a noble family. Karoly was
extremely well educated and cultured. He was literate in 16
languages. Although he worked as a chemist, apothecary, and
metallurgist, Karoly spent most of life in the wine
- January 6, 1833. Agoston married
Elenora Dedinsky. They became the parents of six children: Geza,
Attila, Arpad, Ida, Bela, and Otelia.
- Agoston held the position of
vice-notarius of Baks County and managed his agricultural
- 1840. The spirited Agoston left
Hungary for the U.S., becoming the first Hungarian to settle here
- Haraszthy's first stop was Sauk
Prairie, Wisconsin, where he founded the oldest incorporated
village in the state, Haraszthy Town. He operated the first
steamboat to engage in scheduled traffic on the upper Mississippi
and pursued many other development plans for the area.
- 1841. Haraszthy returned to
Hungary after traveling through the Great Plains, New Orleans,
Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland,
Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, and Washington D.C. (where he
met with President Tyler). The following year, he returned to
Wisconsin with his parents, wife, and children.
- 1849. Asthmatic and in debt,
Haraszthy's doctor advising him to move to Florida or California .
This advice and California gold lures the family West by wagon
- In California, Agoston planted a
vineyard, operated a livery stable, stage line, and butcher shop.
He became the first town marshall, first county sheriff, and
builder of the first city jail in San Diego. Haraszthy's attempt
to collect county taxes at Agua Caliente ultimately resulted in a
violent Indian uprising and martial law in San Diego.
- 1851. Haraszthy 's wife and
younger children sailed for the East Coast, while he left for
Vallejo to serve in the State Assembly. He did not seek reelection
and moved to San Francisco instead of returning to San
- Haraszthy continued his
agricultural pursuits, including vineyards, on 200 acres of land
near San Francisco and later 640 acres at Crystal
- When the new U.S. Mint was
established in San Francisco, President Pierce appointed Haraszthy
as assayer. Several years later concerns about losses of gold led
to Haraszthy's resignation and a grand jury investigation. Charged
with embezzling over $150,000, he was exonerated after a five day
trial in 1861.
- 1857. Haraszthy purchased land at
Sonoma, named it Buena Vista, and put his son Attila in charge.
Elenora and the children returned and Agoston soon planted 25
acres of grapes, more than doubling the total vines at Sonoma.
Another 60 acres were planted the following year. He experimented
with new techniques, such as using redwood for barrels, planting
on hillsides, hiring Chinese workers, digging tunnels for storage,
and planting vines closer together.
- 1860. Agoston first noticed that
some vines were weak and eventually died. He could not know then
that this was the root louse, phylloxera, which was native to the
U.S., striking less resistant European rootstock with a
- 1861. Commissioned by the State
Legislature, Haraszthy traveled to Europe to collect and purchase
grapevine specimens of every variety. He visited France, Germany,
Switzerland, Italy, and Spain, bringing back over 100,000 cuttings
of 350 varieties. The legislature failed to reimburse Haraszthy,
leaving him to care for, propagate, and sell them on his own. Even
so, Haraszthy was elected as President of the California State
Agricultural Society and his book, Grape Culture, Wines, and
Wine-Making was well received.
- 1863. Sons Arpad and Attila were
married in a double ceremony to Jovita and Natalia Vallejo,
daughters of Mariano G. Vallejo.
- 1864. Buena Vista was
incorporated as the Buena Vista Viticultural Society in order to
gain the support of new investors for capital
- 1866. Haraszthy's innovative
planting methods were blamed for damage actually caused by the
root louse. As crops deteriorated and financial problems loomed,
he either resigned or was dismissed as superintendent. New
management promptly destroyed every other row of vines in order to
return to the original eight foot spacing.
- 1867. Agoston Haraszthy filed for
- 1867. In the Gubernatorial
election, Haraszthy championed the use of Chinese labor in
California. He supported the proposed Fourteenth Amendment
guaranteeing "equal protection under the law" and the Fifteenth
Amendment extending the right of former slaves to vote. The
political climate of Sonoma County was in overwhelming
disagreement with Haraszthy.
- 1868. Haraszthy traveled to
Nicaragua with his son Geza. He was soon engaged in plans to
develop a large sugar plantation. His wife Elenora and daughter
Otelia joined them but, only two months after her arrival, Elenora
died of yellow fever. Haraszthy returned home to settle his wife's
estate and to make plans for obtaining machinery needed for his
- 1869. Haraszthy returned to
Nicaragua accompanied by his seventy-nine year old father, who did
not adjust well to the climate. He soon left for San Francisco but
died on the voyage home..
- July 6, 1869. Agoston Haraszthy
set out alone on a mule to discuss the construction progress of a
new sawmill. He never returned home and no trace of him was ever
found. It appeared that he had tried to cross a river along a
fallen tree when a large limb broke. He lost his balance, fell
into the water, and was either pulled under by an alligator or
swept out to the shark infested ocean.
Neither father nor son was aware of
the other's death and both now rest in the sea.
- Phylloxera continued to ravage
the vineyards of both California and Europe. By 1880, only a
single vine remained in Attila Haraszthy's Sonoma vineyard. The
State of California acquired the Buena Vista estate for unpaid
- 1989. Agoston Haraszthy's home
was rebuilt by new owners and is now the centerpiece of a 500 acre
- McGinty, Brian. Strong Wine, the life and legend of Agoston Haraszthy.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998
- [Call number at SSU: Regional Room TP547 .H37 M33