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Winery to resume wine-making in old buildings

Associated Press Modified: September 10, 2012 at 8:30 am •  Published: September 10, 2012
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SONOMA, California (AP) — Jean-Charles Boisset, the new owner of California's oldest premium winery, is building the future of the 155-year-old Buena Vista Winery on its rich and eclectic heritage.

This month, the native of France's Burgundy region plans to make wines inside in the stately stone buildings and old wine caves for the first time in two decades. In preparation, barrels recently were rolled into place inside a dimly lighted cavern, a new oak fermenter was uncovered and cement was poured onto the floor.

Outside, activity swirled with the laying of cobblestones and touch-up of building walls.

Buena Vista, now a state historical landmark, was founded in 1857 by Hungarian-born Count Agoston Haraszthy, who procured the 800 acres for his winery outside Sonoma with dreams of producing premium wine. He began to call himself the "Count of Buena Vista." During his wide-ranging career, he also served as a sheriff, marshal, California State assemblyman and chief of the San Francisco Mint.

Among his contributions to California winemaking were the first gravity-flow winery, the first excavated wine caves and the use of redwood barrels for aging and fermentation.

In 1861, he traveled to Europe to gather the cuttings representing over 300 varietals, and many were planted throughout the Buena Vista vineyards. He later created a viticultural society and wrote an acclaimed book on horticulture and winemaking. The count died in an accident in 1869 during a trip to Nicaragua, where he was searching for a new transportation route and exploring sugar-growing and rum production.

Although the winery won a number of international awards in 1873, financial pressures forced it to cease production in the late 1800s. Buena Vista was purchased in 1943 by Frank and Antonia Bartholemew, who brought in America's most influential post-Prohibition winemaker, Andre Tchelistcheff, as a consultant, who helped produce a very successful vintage in 1949. But in 1968, the winery was sold, and over the next several decades it changed hands many times.

In May 2011, Buena Vista was purchased by Boissett Family Estates, led in the U.S. by Jean-Charles Boisset. For Boisset, as for the Count, Buena Vista is a dream come true.

He first saw the winery at age 11 during a trip to the U.S. with his grandparents.

"It was love for me at first sight. Not only for the wines, but as well for the buildings, for the style of the buildings and the energy of the place," he said. "I never fathomed that such historical buildings were in place in California . I fell in love with it."

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