What if every decision you made for your winery had to be planned around ensuring that the estate property was thriving 100 years from now? Anna Pope has that mandate. As Trustee of the Frank H. Bartholomew Foundation, which owns and operates Bartholomew Estate Vineyards & Winery in Sonoma, California, Pope is charged with ensuring the 375-acre private park (open to the public) with winery remains financially sound and the land prospers.
We sat down on the tasting room patio with Anna for the podcast to learn about the park’s amazing history and evolution as a winery and to learn how she plans for its future.
Most Sonomans think of the town’s history as beginning with the construction of the Spanish Mission Solano de Sonoma in 1823 and, in 1833, with Mariano Vallejo’s arrival. The Bartholomew Estate vineyards occupy the most historic and fabled site in California viticulture.
In 1832, a Native American homesteader, baptized Viviano, planted the first privately owned vineyard in the Sonoma Valley on the banks of Arroyo Seco, two years before the founding of Pueblo Sonoma by Mariano Vallejo. This six-acre vineyard now forms the heart of Bartholomew Park, and the original vineyard site is now their prized Viviano Syrah Block.
Fast forward a few decades and a few owners of the land: In 1853, Julius Rose, a prominent attorney and land speculator, purchased the property. Rose made the first major expansion of the rancho’s vineyards, planting another 18 acres, for wine and table grape production. And Rose’s expanded vineyard won gold for best vineyard at the first California State Fair in 1854.
In 1855, Agoston Haraszthy sampled Rose’s wine. Its quality convinced him this was finally the spot to fulfill his decade long quest to produce European quality wines in America. Haraszthy purchased Rose’s vineyard and surrounding acreage and constructed the first wine caves in California (1857-58). He introduced dry-farmed vineyards, constructed the stone winery (1858), his signature villa (1859), and assembled his 6000-acre Rancho Buena Vista, planting over 200 acres to vineyards by 1860.
Eventually he was undone by a tiny vineyard pest: phylloxera began to slowly devastate the vineyards in 1874. During the ensuing years, new owners continued farming the vineyard until it became non-producing. It became a country estate, with owners Robert and Kate Johnson completing their 40-room Victorian “Castle” in 1883, converting the creekside vineyard into their formal lawn and gardens. It was the end of an era.
The estate passed through many private hands until it was purchased in 1919 by the state for the State Industrial Farm for Delinquent Women. The castle burned to the ground a few years later, and the property was abandoned for a number of years until it was purchased in 1943 by Frank H. Bartholomew as a gift for his wife, Antonia.
They had no idea that buried below weeds were the remains of a zinfandel vineyard. Upon learning of the property’s illustrious viticultural history and that they had acquired the storied Buena Vista Winery, they set out to restore both it and Count Haraszthy to their rightful places in California viticulture history.
The original Buena Vista Winery building was restored in 1946, and the more damaged Press House several years later. Frank and Antonia ran the resurrected Buena Vista Winery for several decades before selling it and 12 acres while retaining 375 acres including the historic vineyards, the hospital building, and forest land as their country residence.
But wait, there’s more!
Frank Bartholomew missed the winery business and founded Hacienda Wine Cellars in 1973, producing small lots of award-winning wines. He eventually sold his majority share to another investor, who in turn, sold the brand to Bronco Wine Company.
Realizing the value of the land as a vineyard (22 acres) and the bulk as forested wilderness (350+ acres), the Bartholomews created a foundation in 1980 to preserve the land in perpetuity and prevent it being developed into residential lots.
The first trustee of the foundation after the passing of the Bartholomews was a colleague of Anna Pope’s. She had long worked with him at a law firm in San Francisco overseeing various real estate legal matters for the Bartholomews. More recently, after she became the new trustee of the foundation, she was faced with a number of challenging decisions.
Not only was Sonoma faced with its first major wildfire in more than 30 years in 2017, but the fire also burned a substantial portion of the foundation’s wilderness acreage, burning in a horseshoe shape around the park. At nearly the same time, the current lease of the winery and vineyard expired, leaving the foundation without an operator.
With the park trails closed from the fire for several months while crews undertook repairs and damage control measures in the steep terrain within the park’s acreage, Anna had to decide the future of this historic property. What should it be in another 100 years? Should she close it from public visitation? Divest of the vineyards and winery activity?
We know now the answer to both was NO! Anna believes the mandate from the Bartholomews was to continue sharing the land with the public and cultivating its viticultural history. Thus, Bartholomew Estate Vineyards & Winery was born. Anna had not anticipated a career in wine, but now she was in the thick of it!
Tune in to learn how she chose to resurrect the park’s vineyard and wine history. Wine tastings under the new ownership and brand are now available by appointment in the historic tasting room as well as in the new, outdoor tasting room on a majestic Oak Knoll overlooking the vineyards. Options abound for enjoying this beautiful park once again.
The park’s 3-miles of trails are now open for hiking along with horseback riding excursions. View the Art Gallery inside the historic winery building and tasting room, or simply purchase a bottle to enjoy while picnicking on the grounds.
Given the property’s many historic chapters, we’re certain it will be flourishing well-beyond the next one-hundred years. But don’t wait that long! Now’s the time to taste the new winery’s award-winning estate Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and other wines.
As Anna told us, wine club members tell her the best part of membership is knowing they’re participating in preserving this beautiful park for decades to come. We hope it’s thriving long after we’ve left the land too!