Agoston Haraszthy didn’t hesitate to wear masks. A Hungarian immigrant, he became San Diego’s first sheriff by portraying himself as a military colonel. Then, he sold himself as a metallurgist to win the post of assayer of San Francisco’s first U.S. Mint office (where he was later accused of embezzlement). And he was billed as royalty — Count Haraszthy — when he bought Sonoma grape-growing land, established the Buena Vista Winery, and made himself a historic figure in California viticulture. By 1864, things were falling apart for “The Count.” The Civil War and mounting debts strained his wine business. He’d planted the vines too close together, and his attempt to create a sparkling “California champagne” had literally fizzled, with all the bottles sent to the still to be turned into brandy. To stay afloat, he was selling off pieces of the estate. Despite all these troubles, in October of that year, Count Haraszthy hosted a lavish Masquerade Ball, touted by the winery as the first in California history. All the costumes, and some novel steam-powered wine equipment, drew enough of a crowd that the event would endure. It was held most recently in 2019. I tell this story now in… Read full this story
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