Sunday, October 21, 2007

Agoston Haraszthy, Zinfandel’s Dom Perignon

Agoston Haraszthy, Zinfandel’s Dom Perignon
Current mood: tired
Category: Food and Restaurants

re's an older blog many of you probably haven't read which might hold you over a day or so. It is a bit more academic on Agoston Haraszthy and zinfandel.

Agoston Haraszthy, Zinfandel's Dom Perignon

The California wine region's roots begin sometime during the mid-19th century. Until recently, a gentleman named Agoston Haraszthy was credited with being the founding propagator of the zinfandel grape in California. This improper classification of Haraszthy has been attributed to an over zealous son, Arpad Haraszthy. Arpad was a winemaker himself, having studied the production of Champagne in Epernay, France from 1860-1862. After his two years in France, he joined his father in California for the 1862 crush of the Buena Vista harvest. It can be theorized that this time in France exposed Arpad to their flamboyant advertising and the myth of Dom Perignon as the inventor of Champagne and it was this exposure that gave him the idea to popularize his father's name giving the industry its own mythical "father" of Zinfandel.

Agoston Haraszthy can be attributed with a number of contributions to the wine industry in California, but the introduction of the zinfandel grape is not one of them. The grapes introduction has been linked more directly to men such as Antoine Delmas, Frederick Macondray, Anthony Smith, William Robert Prince and others, who brought the grape across country from the East Coast. Haraszthy arrived in California around the same time as these other men, but did not actually produce a vintage of wine until 1857 and not Zinfandel. He also imported a large number of European varieties in 1860, the documentation for this import of vines showed no mention of zinfandel. He had in-fact imported many of the same vines that had existed in California since the aforementioned men began introducing them since 1852.

In 1860 Arpad Haraszthy, under the advice of his father went to Epernay, France to study the production of Champagne. Following his two years in Epernay, he returned to California to assist his father at his Buena Vista winery. He spent the following years working on producing sparkling wines in California. It was after the death of his father, by the plausibly propagated myth; being eaten by a crocodile, did Arpad begin to document to the industry that his father had in fact brought the zinfandel grape to California. Whether his father's death by crocodile was a myth or not, it defiantly made great story telling contrasted to the blindness attributed to Dom Perignon.

The wine industry and Zinfandel in turn, had no documented founder at the time. As stated, there have now been many men attributed to the success of the vine in California, but none were venerated as a "founder". Could Arpad have contrived stories of his father beginning the boom in Zinfandel as a coy marketing scheme? California was still a young state, and their wines needed some basis for competition against the European wines being imported into the United States. If they had a figure to stand behind and venerate, it might give them the needed vigor to make their businesses bloom. Making his father's name into a venerated name, would also assist in his personal business ventures producing sparkling wines. With his father's name venerated, his name in turn could be venerated as well. This theory could be contributed to the fact that Arpad's business ventures were failing with the Orleans Hill Vineyard purchase. He was elected president of the Board of State Vinicultural Commissioners and President of the California State Vinicultural Society soon after reporting his father's significance to the California wine industry, while having a failing family and failing vineyard. The coincidence of his election to his father's new fame through Arpad's writings can seem linked.

The use of the term colonel also seems to be one of those things used to give a little more "air-of superiority" to Agoston. Although he used the title after returning from Wisconsin during his life, he did not always use it during his life. Once his son started writing about him, the title always accompanied his name. In the same way, mentioning the title of monk did for Dom Perignon. Although Dom Perignon was actually a monk, it is contested whether or not Agoston received his title in merit or he had given it to himself. The way that Arpad reported the "facts" about his father, even seem to mirror the French monk's in some aspects. He stated that "Agoston was The Father of the Vine in California". In a reworking of that statement, it could easily be stated that Dom Perignon was the Father of Sparkling Wine in Champagne. Both of these titles have been disproved by proper historical research. The constant contradictions of Arpad in his own writings would seem more than enough evidence for historians to discredit this myth, but for almost a century, they held his writings as fact. Wine historians in the past may have liked the great stories attached to Agoston by Arpad, as they did the stories of the famous French monk.

No one truly knows why Arpad decided to report his father as the "Founder of the Wine in California." The theories presented above are themselves just thoughts that may or may not be true. What does remain is that although Agoston and Dom Perignon may not have been founders of their attributed wine creations, they both were able to contribute smaller items to the industry which have been over shadowed in the past by their mythical status. What Agoston suffers from that Dom Perignon did not, is that the extravagant lies reported about Agoston were so easily documented. The statements made about him were so astronomical, discrediting him has become a victory, more than a discovery. Agoston will still remain a major part of the Zinfandel history; his contributions just may have become muddled by the attempts of his son to bring him to Dom Perignon "mythical" status.
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