Bartholomew Estate Winery: Home to History and Hiking

In my new goal to visit at least one new Napa/Sonoma winery each week to support them in reopening during the COVID19 crisis, I booked an appointment to visit Bartholomew Estate in the hills outside the town of Sonoma.  Though I had always meant to visit someday, this seemed to be a great time to do so. The winery is known not only for its elegant wines, but also for being one of the oldest in the state of California. Many people are also attracted to the estate for its numerous hiking trails that wind across the 375 acre property.

Bartholomew Estate. Photo Credit: Hike the Wine

History and Hiking

The property on which Bartholomew Estates is located is the original home of Count Haraszthy, founder of Buena Vista Winery, located next door. Haraszthy established Buena Vista in 1857 and built a beautiful villa. In 1943 the property was purchased by Frank and Antonia Bartholomew. In order to honor the history of the estate, Antonia built a replica of the Haraszthy Villa in the early 1990s in the last years of her life, because the original had burned in the late 1870s.

The Bartholomew’s also established a trust to protect and preserve 375 acres of the property, and give it as a gift to the community with the provision that it be kept in a natural state. Therefore, it is filled with majestic old oak trees, rolling hills, and a stream. Highlights of the park including many beautiful hiking trails and relaxing picnic grounds, which are free of charge to the public. Bartholomew Estate Winery is nestled in the middle of the Park, making it a perfect destination for hikers, picnickers and wine lovers. In fact, its hiking trails are so unique that it is recommended by “Hike the Wine.”

Hiking Trails at Bartholomew Park. Map Credit: BartholomewPark.org

A Relaxing Tasting on Oak Knoll Overlooking the Vineyards

We drove to Bartholomew Estate Winery along a narrow road flanked by tall trees before opening up to vineyards on both sides. Then at a curve in the road, a majestic wooden mansion appeared. It was painted in a warm cream color with two-story wooden pillars gracing the front. Once we parked and read the plaque, we realized this was the restored home of County Haraszthy.

The winery tasting room is behind the mansion in an old stucco building referred to as “The Hacienda,” though it was originally built as a hospital. Today it houses the small winery operation, producing 3500 cases, as well as a charming art gallery and the wine tasting and sales room.  Due to COVID all tastings were outside in a large park area called “Oak Knoll.”

Entrance to Oak Knoll Outdoor Tasting with COVID masks

We approached the check-in desk in our masks and were immediately greeted in a friendly fashion, and then escorted to a table for two under a large oak tree and overlooking the vineyards. It was so relaxing to sink down into the chair and look at the view. We ordered the flight of four wines, and enjoyed the 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, two 2018 Zinfandels from different vineyard blocks, and the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon.  All wines are grown and made on the Estate’s 22 acres of vineyards, and they were young and fresh, brimming with fruit and elegance.

A Tour of the Cellars with Winemaker Kevin Holt

Though we had booked the basic Oak Knoll tasting, we were thrilled when winemaker, Kevin Holt, strolled up to greet us. He spent some time describing the estate vineyards and explaining how the wines were made, before inviting us to tour the cellar. Putting our masks back on, we followed Kevin to the “Hacienda” and enjoyed a behind-the-scenes look at the many oak barrels that comprised the aging regime for the wine. Kevin believes in using a combination of both French and American oak in his red wines to give them more jazz and personality.

Barrel Room at Bartholomew Estate Winery, Sonoma County, CA

We Will Be Back!

After my first visit to Bartholomew Estate and Park, I know I will definitely be back.  It seems the perfect place to enjoy a morning hike, following by a wine tasting under the oaks, and then a relaxing picnic lunch on the lawn – perhaps even a nap, afterwards…..

Which Famous Global Wine Region Prohibits Swearing in the Vineyard?

(June 2019) Though vineyards can be very beautiful with their lush green foliage and jewel-like clusters of grapes, anyone who has worked amongst the vines knows that it can be back-breaking work with long hours of suckering, thinning, and sculpturing the vines.  Obviously on certain occasions, this could result in some exhausted workers letting loose a few swear words. However, there is one famous wine region of the world where the vineyards were considered to be so sacred and a gift from God that anyone caught cussing could be fined.

Tokaj,_Hungary_-_panoramio_(53)

Sacred Vineyards of Tokaj, Hungary

“The fine was actually doubled if you were a noble man,” explained Dr. Peter Molnar, General Manager of Patricius Winery and President of the Council of Tokaj.  Yes, the region was Tokaj, Hungary, and the timing was probably between 1631, when the sweet noble wine of Tokaj was said to be discovered, through the mid 1700’s, when the Church held so much dominance over the region.

“Our special Tokaj Aszu and Eszencia wines were coveted by kings, queens, and priests,” stated Peter. “From the beginning, these wines were so special that they were considered to be the wines of royalty.” Still called “liquid gold or liquid luxury today,” the rarest Eszencia’s are only produced in special years, each single berry picked individually by hand, and are so expensive that they are often served in a crystal spoon.

Tokaj Eszencia in Crystal Spoons

Tokaj Eszencia Served in Crystal Spoon

Given this background, it only makes sense that swearing in the vineyard was outlawed.  Indeed the “vineyard was like a church” and they had to be protected. This may be why Catherine II of Russia sent members of her royal army to guard the vineyards for more than 90 years. Yes, the history of the Tokaj region is rich, fascinating, and delicious.

Historical Tokaj Tasting at Buena Vista Winery

I heard all of these fascinating stories from Peter Molnar when I attended a historical winetasting at Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma, California on June 22, 2019. Peter, along with a delegation of Hungarian dignitaries, winery executives and guests, all enjoyed a tasting of four exquisite wines: a dry Furmint and 2008 Aszu under the Buena Vista label, but produced in partnership with the Patricius Winery in Hungary, and two rare Eszencias.

IMG_7992

Tokaj Wines Served at Historical Buena Vista Winery Tasting

Tokaj Eszencia is a special wine only made in certain years when the conditions are right to produce grapes of great sweetness in the small village of Tokaj in Hungary. Then it is aged in small demi-johns for years where it only ferments to about 5% alcohol, creating a drink of exquisite sweetness with notes of honey, apricot, marmalade and brown sugar. According Peter, it has excellent health properties with beneficial anti-oxidants. In the old days, it was used as medicine and served in a small spoon.

Buena Vista winery, owned by Jean-Charles Boisset, established this special partnership with Tokaj, Hungary to celebrate the history of Buena Vista, which is California’s oldest premium winery formed in 1863 by the Hungarian Count Agoston Haraszthy.

58285062729__357687B5-D69D-40A5-A997-9D4DA7A14AA6

A Photo with Dr. Peter Molnar, President of the Council of Tokaj