The nobleman Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa (1812-1869), who was born in Austria-Hungary, is considered a Californian winegrowing pioneer. He joined the imperial guard in Vienna at the age of 18 during the Habsburg monarchy and made it as far as colonel. On his estate in Hungary he was engaged in viticulture and the breeding of silkworms. In 1840 he emigrated to America and later brought his family with him. In Wisconsin he planted the first vineyard in this US state and founded a city named after him, today's Sauk City. He also operated a steamship on the Mississippi. The news of the gold discoveries then lured him, like so many at that time, to San Diego in California in 1849. Here he speculated on land and one year later he became the first sheriff of the town. He was also involved in fruit, vegetable and grain farming, and ran a rental stable and butcher shop.
In 1857 he bought 230 hectares of land near the town of Sonoma and founded the still existing Buena Vista Winery. With 165 different grape varieties imported from Europe, he now began to grow wine on a large scale. Among them, according to a claim made by his son Arpad Haraszthy in 1885, was supposedly the Zinfandel variety, but this turned out to be probably wrong in the meantime. On his property he had six cellars driven into the sandstone hills. One year later, Jacob Gundlach (+1894), a German friend of his, founded the winery in the immediate vicinity, which was reactivated in 1973 as Gundlach-Bundschu. Haraszthy also got to know the Californian winegrowing pioneer of German descent Charles Krug (1825-1892) and persuaded him to do viticulture in the Napa Valley.
Haraszthy was subsequently very successful and his wines won several prizes. In 1861, on behalf of the Californian governor, he visited the then wine-growing centres in Germany, Spain, Italy, France and Switzerland and, on his return, wrote the comprehensive report "Grape Culture, Wines and Wine-Making". One year later, during his trip, he selected and ordered 100,000 European cuttings of 300 different grape varieties. As a spicy detail in the margin, it should be mentioned that the Californian Senate refused to reimburse his travel expenses. Haraszthy was the first to introduce European quality grape varieties to America on such a large scale and began to experiment with them on a large scale.
He distributed them all over California and tried to find the best vine for the different soils and climatic conditions. This was an important impulse for viticulture in California and many of the grape varieties grown today have their origins in this action. Within the next seven years he expanded Buena Vista to nearly 2,500 hectares. When his winery went bankrupt, Haraszthy emigrated to Nicaragua and tried his luck with sugar cane cultivation and rum production. But he could no longer experience success, because shortly afterwards he was allegedly eaten by alligators. After his death a number of dubious legends were created, but his great merit for Californian viticulture is undisputed