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Rafael Sanchez, wine educator/certified sommelier, Young’s Market, left; Marta Gebo, SoCal area sales manager, Boisset Collection; and Sal Ercolano, Seasalt proprietor. Photo by Rico Cassoni
Columns Food & Wine Taste of Wine

Taste of Wine: The colorful history of Buena Vista Winery

Senior Editor Frank Mangio and I had the pleasure of attending Sal Ercolano’s Buena Vista Wine Dinner at his Seasalt Seafood Bistro in Del Mar. While both Frank and I were familiar with Buena Vista, we gained a better appreciation for both its history and, more importantly, great-tasting wine.

It was a great dinner; Chef Hilario was at the top of his culinary game and Ercolano was beaming ear to ear with a second sold-out night.

We were able to sit with Marta Gebo, Southern California area sales manager, Boisset Collection, which includes Buena Vista, along with her husband Darryl Gebo, director of sales, SoCal, Young’s Market Company, and his colleague Rafael Sanchez, wine educator/certified sommelier, also from Young’s.

This was the perfect setting for Frank and me to learn more about Buena Vista in addition to Marta’s and Rafael’s dialogue with the wine dinner guests.

With Chef Hilario at the helm, guests enjoyed a five-course meal that started with Chef’s mini bites paired with La Victorie Brut Champagne. The next three courses were paired in order with 2018 Chateau Buena Vista Chardonnay (Carneros), 2017 Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast) and 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley). The second course was Sea Bass Ceviche, followed by Seared Sea Scallops atop saffron risotto, and Drunken Ribs (main course) — slow-cooked short ribs over polenta. Dinner finished with Crème Brulee.

Wanting to know more about Buena Vista, I asked Marta to share the top three things that she would want our readers to know.

Legend of the Count of Buena Vista. Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa was a vivacious pioneer whose love affair with grape-growing started in his homeland of Hungary. Born into a wealthy, land-owning family, the Count emigrated from Europe for unknown reasons, first to Wisconsin and eventually to Sonoma, where he was a viticulture pioneer. He proclaimed himself the Count of Buena Vista and has been brought back to life, appearing at events today.

First California Premier Winery. In 1856, the Count set his sights on Sonoma where he acquired the 800-acre Buena Vista Ranch, but not before being a sheriff and then marshal in San Diego, where he unsuccessfully attempted a vineyard in Mission Valley. He constructed an elaborate home and a beautiful stone winery along with planting his first Sonoma vineyards in what he considered a perfect terroir.

Knowing he struck “purple gold,” the Count established his winery in 1857, producing 6,500 gallons in the first vintage as Sonoma’s first premium winery. By 1860, Haraszthy had more than 250 acres of vines planted.

His passion also inspired many others to take up winegrowing in Sonoma. One of the more notable was Charles Krug, who purchased land from Haraszthy, provided the Count with cuttings, and also began planting vines. Krug later moved to Napa Valley, crushing his first grapes on a press borrowed from Buena Vista and pioneering winegrowing in now-famous Napa Valley.

Great grapes make great wine. The Count went to Europe in 1861 with a mission to bring back quality vines and techniques, which he did, revolutionizing California winemaking. In 1869, the brilliant, yet flamboyant life of the Count ended abruptly when he fell from a tree branch while crossing an alligator-infested stream. He was never seen or heard from again — a horrible way to go.

The Castle and Winery saw hard times with Prohibition. The long-neglected Buena Vista property was purchased sight unseen by Frank and Antonia Bartholomew in 1943. It was later that the Bartholomews learned their new home was, in fact, the famed Buena Vista Winery. Fancy the luck on that purchase!

Frank Bartholomew, a journalist with the United Press, left to cover the fighting in the Pacific, leaving Antonia to continue restoring the grandeur of the incredible Buena Vista estate. When the war ended, Frank returned, along with his friend, famed winemaker André Tchelistcheff. Together they immediately began producing world-class wines, releasing the first post-Prohibition vintage in 1949, which was hugely successful.

In 2011, Buena Vista became part of Boisset Family Estates, a renowned and charismatic family with a collection of historic wineries and roots in Burgundy, France. The family is led in the US by Jean-Charles Boisset. He possesses a true love and respect for Buena Vista—its unrivaled heritage, authentic roots, colorful history and renowned wines.

This was clear with the Chateau Buena Vista Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon we had at dinner, overseen by winemaker Brian Maloney. These are great value wines affordable for many. Being the Cab nut that I am, I especially loved the 2016 Cab Sauv. Frank and I have been telling readers about the 2016s and this Cab was no exception. Details at buenavistawinery.com.

Before ending, I want to jump back to Sal Ercolano. While most establishments are still conducting virtual wine dinners, Ercolano, implementing COVID-19 safety protocols, held two series of wine dinners — three sold-out nights of DAOU Wine Dinners and two sold-out nights of Buena Vista in July. He has two nights of Dinner of Valle de Guadalupe at West End Bar & Kitchen featuring Villa Montefiori wines by Paolo Paoloni on Wednesday-Thursday, Aug. 19-20, at 6 p.m.; $65 per person, RSVP at 858-259-5878.

Ercolano also has three-plus nights of Caymus Wine Dinners at West End Bar & Kitchen starting Wednesday, Sept. 23, and running at least through Friday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. If necessary, Ercolano is ready to extend Caymus up to two additional days. $70 per person, RSVP at 858-259-5878.

Additionally, be on the lookout for Ercolano’s new Italian Restaurant Flora’s, named after his mom, located in Carmel Valley where the old Amici’s used to be. Flora’s is scheduled to open around Oct. 1. Bravo Sal!

— Story by Tech Director/Writer Rico Cassoni 

Wine Bytes

  • 7 Mile Kitchen on Grand Pacific Drive in Carlsbad brings back one of its best deals with a burger and local craft beer for only $12. Good Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Learn more at 7milekitchen.com.
  • Morton’s The Steakhouse in downtown San Diego has a special Summer Dinner Menu for $49. For a limited time, order for patio dining or takeout, your choice of a starter, entree, side and dessert. Details at 619-696-3369 or mortons.com/sandiego. 

Reach Frank Mangio at [email protected]

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