The Legend of Count Haraszthy

Founders of wineries are, by their very nature, a unique bunch. It requires a perfect blend of risk-taking, knowledge, creativity, work ethic, and self-promotion that isn’t readily found in other industries. No man encapsulated these traits in a more flamboyant way than the founder of Buena Vista Winery and the self-proclaimed Count of Buena Vista, Agoston Haraszthy.

Born to a noble family in Hungary in 1812, Haraszthy immigrated to the United States in 1840 seeking to place his mark on the much romanticized American West. He initially settled in Wisconsin where he founded the first incorporated village in the state (today known as Sauk City), but when the California Gold Rush hit in 1849, Haraszthy followed the 49ers (the miners, not the football team) out west.

He initially settled in one of America’s newly acquired cities from the Mexican-American War, San Diego. Haraszthy quickly became one the city’s most prominent residents establishing numerous businesses and planting vineyards along the San Diego River. He was so respected by the people of San Diego that he was elected the county’s first sheriff in 1851 by a sizable margin.

As sheriff, Haraszthy built the city’s first jail and it wasn’t long before he filled it with occupants. The prisoners were locked away for any number of violations including “riotous or disorderly noise by firing guns, pistols, or otherwise.”

It would be several years before Haraszthy would move up to Sonoma to start the Buena Vista Winery, but Buena Vista has decided to pay homage to their founder’s stint as a law man with their latest brand: The Legendary Badge.

A bold, powerful 2012 Sonoma County Red, this wine is brimming with a personality and robust magnetism that commands a room (or dinner table) and, much like its namesake, putting inferior wines in their place. Ripe red fruits abound, dominating the palate while integrated tannins provide great structure and offer a strikingly vigorous mouthfeel. With a bold combination of Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, and Grenache it’s safe to say this wine is unlike any you’ve had before.

Another reason to look for The Legendary Badge in a store near you is that a portion of the proceeds from each bottle purchased will be donated to the National Sheriff’s Association’s Educational Foundation. Each bottle also features a detachable card which proclaims its holder an honorary sheriff so you can pretend to be The Count locking up the prisoners and throwing away the key. Your honorary badge will also entitle you a 10% discount at the Buena Vista Winery Tasting Room in Sonoma.

We here at Wine Trends like to think of ourselves as a full-service organization and we would be doing you, our loyal website patron, a disservice if we didn’t share some of these wild (and, frankly, borderline crazy) facts about Count Haraszthy:

  • Hungarian noblemen don’t go by the title “Count” but rather “Tekintetes Úr” (Hungarian for “Respected Lord”). When he settled in Wisconsin, however, his neighbors mostly came from Germany where a man of his social standing would have been referred to as “Count.” Haraszthy was elected to the California State Assembly where he served for five months. During his brief tenure he advanced proposals to build a state hospital in San Diego, replaced the San Diego city council with a board of trustees, and spearheaded an effort to split California into two separate states.
  • Upon moving to Northern California, one of the many businesses he founded was a gold and silver refinery. When the US government established a mint in San Francisco, Haraszthy became the nation’s first official assayer (someone who tests ores and minerals to assess their value). A year later a grand jury indicted him for embezzling over $150,000 worth of gold but the charges were later dropped and Haraszthy was eventually cleared of any wrong-doing in a civil case.
  • In 1858, Haraszthy wrote a 19-page essay entitled “Report on Grapes and Wine of California.” It is believed to be the first treatise on winemaking ever written and published in California. In 1868 he left California and started a sugar plantation in Nicaragua with aims at producing rum to sell to American markets. The following year, however, Haraszthy fell into an alligator-infested river on his plantation and was never seen again. 
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