Monthly Archives: May 2010

H is for Haraszthy, Agoston

Agoston Haraszthy 1812-69

Many fallacies are associated with this man: he was the first to show the possibilities of grape growing in California, he was the first to introduce superior grape varietals into the state and he was the first to plant the Zinfandel vine (this last point is still unresolved).  He’s even been wrongly dubbed the “father of California wine”. 

Agoston was born into a noble Hungarian family and left for the United States in 1840, arriving in New York and making his way along the Hudson River to the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes, eventually settling in Wisconsin.  He was a busy man there; he built homes and mills, planted corn, grains and grapes, raised sheep, pigs and horses, owned and operated a steamboat, dug wine cellars (the current site of Wollersheim Winery) and became a legendary hunter, even killing a wolf with his bare hands. 

Intrigued by the gold rush, he captained a train of wagons along the Santa Fe trail, arriving in San Diego in 1849.  Here he planted fruit orchards, operated a livery stable, opened a butcher shop, planted a vineyard, was elected the sheriff of San Diego County, served as a city marshal and in his role as a contractor, built a jail for the city. 

Agoston served for a few years on the California State Assembly and began to purchase land around San Francisco, planting European vines near Crystal Springs (now part of San Mateo County).  During this time, he started a refinery and when the first U.S. Mint opened in San Francisco in 1854, Agoston was the first assayer.  In 1857 he was charged with embezzlement ($151,550 in gold), but he was exonerated by 1861.

While he was under investigation, he moved to Sonoma and started the Buena Vista Winery, eventually holding over 5,000 acres of land. In 1861, as part of the state commission on viticulture, Agoston traveled to Europe and sent back thousands of vine cuttings of over 350 varietals.  He wrote about his experiences on the trip and as a wine grower in California (Grape Culture, Wines and Wine-Making) in 1862.   This book helped California gain recognition for its grape growing and is considered by some to be Agoston’s main claim to importance in America’s wine history. 

Things started to go downhill from there.  Agoston had borrowed large sums of money to expand his vineyards and his vines became infested with phylloxera, putting a damper on production.  Shareholders forced him out in 1867 and he declared bankruptcy. 

The next year he moved to Nicaragua and began developing a sugar plantation, with the idea of making rum and selling it to American markets.  In July of 1869 he disappeared in a river on his property, never to be seen again.  It was never established if his body washed out to sea or if he was devoured by an alligator.

I could not make this stuff up.



Filed under Alphabet Soup

Vinyl Wine coming soon

My buddy Mike is opening a wine store uptown, on the east side of Lexington between 99th and 100th streets.   He’ll feature about 100 selections from all over the world, most falling in the $10-20 range.   All have been tasted and I’ve had the chance to throw in my two cents.  He’s hoping to open within the next two weeks, but in the meantime, you can find the store on Facebook.  Shots of the inside (including a picture of Elton John in a white leisure suit drinking rosé) coming soon!


Filed under What my friends are up to, Wine

Tasting at Food & Wine Mag

At Ray Isle's tasting table.

Earlier this week a small group of us went to taste with Ray Isle, the Wine Editor for Food & Wine.  I’d like to say I get invited all the time, but rather this was an auction item I bid on last year for Share our Strength.

The cabinets, counters and racks in "the office" were overflowing with bottles of wine. I felt right at home.

I won’t divulge the wines we tasted quite yet, as I’m hoping part of our tasting will be featured in the magazine within the next few months.  Just to give you an idea, though, we tasted some white wines made from red grapes (more off-the-beaten-path than Blanc de Noirs Champagne) and we also gave Ray our opinions on which reds would work well with which burgers for his upcoming event in Aspen

One of the wines had strong reductive odors (think sulfur and canned veggies), so Dave tried to expedite the aeration process using the blender. Oh, a man and his toys.

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Filed under Wine


In the cooler months we featured a French cider from Domaine Dupont.  Wanting to move through the remnants and make it more seasonally appropriate, Marcella had the genius idea to mix it with spiced rum and she dubbed it the Rum-sicle.

This cocktail tastes like an adult creamsicle.

2 oz. Sailor Jerry’s
2 oz. Etienne Dupont cider
1.5 oz. fresh lemon juice
3 dashes salt
3 dash cinnamon

Combine all & shake with ice; garnish with orange peel. 

As per our usual collaborative efforts, Marcella had a few folks around school taste it.  

The initial version didn’t have cinnamon and upon first sip Nils felt something was missing, and damn if he wasn’t right.  We used ground cinnamon, but you could also make a cinnamon simple syrup or grate cinnamon atop the finished cocktail.   I happen to like the pretty flecks we get with our current recipe.

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Filed under Cocktails

More love for the white dog

Josh Ozersky penned “White Dog Rising: Moonshine’s Moment” for Time yesterday.

Some highlights:

“Why is moonshine making a comeback? For the same reason absinthe did a few years ago. Because it’s delicious. Because it’s illegal. And because it’s cool.”

“None of the luxury-tinged language that surrounds its grown-up siblings, like bourbon or scotch, applies to the dog. There are no 12 years of ‘mellowing,’ no ‘complex vanilla notes.'”

“Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace (one of the oldest and most admired distillers in the U.S.) makes White Dog, Wisconsin’s Death’s Door Spirits has White Whisky and even New York’s tiny Finger Lakes Distilling sells Glen Thunder, named after the Watkins Glen racetrack. I had a flight of all three at Tipsy Parson, in New York City, and expected them to be uniformly vile. I’m no enthusiast of this sort of thing, and even the most acclaimed and expensive grappa tends to make me cough and gag. But there was no question that the three products all tasted different, and not unpleasing: they’re neither blankly insipid, like vodka, nor gasoline-y, the way so many clear spirits are. Obviously, a lot of care went into them.”


Filed under Noteworthy articles, Spirits

This is what we do every weekend…

…cigars, stoles, boas, really tall chicks in old-school stewardess get-ups.

Not really, but Ultimat vodka did have one of the cooler exhibits at the Gala kickoff of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic this past Friday.  For the full gallery of our shenanigans, click here.


Filed under Cocktails, Events

Why use a torchon when you can use a plate?

Lettie Teague shares a bizarre wine experience this week in her WSJ blog.


Filed under Alcohol in the News, Wine