Agoston Haraszthy (1812-1869)

Capsule Biography

"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 business.
  • 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 property.
  • 1840. The spirited Agoston left Hungary for the U.S., becoming the first Hungarian to settle here permanently.
  • 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 train.
  • 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 Diego.
  • Haraszthy continued his agricultural pursuits, including vineyards, on 200 acres of land near San Francisco and later 640 acres at Crystal Springs.
  • 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 vengeance.
  • 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 improvements.
  • 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 bankruptcy.
  • 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 Nicaraguan enterprises.
  • 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 taxes.
  • 1989. Agoston Haraszthy's home was rebuilt by new owners and is now the centerpiece of a 500 acre private park.

Sources:

  • 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 1998]