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ON WINE

New Wines From Old California : Two Currently Available Sonoma County Vintages Are Part of an Enduring California Legacy

November 15, 1987|ROBERT LAWRENCE BALZER

WHAT WOULD you say if I told you that you could buy a North Coast vintage Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay, both winners of Gold Medals in prestigious competitions, for only $4.49 each? Well, not only is it true, but that purchase also would be part of a chain reaction of historical importance.

Some California history: Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, born in Monterey on July 4, 1807, rose to be commander of the San Francisco Presidio in 1831 and founded the northernmost outpost of Mexican colonial California in Sonoma in 1894 as a protection against foreign intrusions--especially from the Russians, who had already established an outpost at Ft. Ross. With cuttings of vines from the Sonoma Mission, Vallejo planted a vineyard behind the Sonoma barracks (which still stands next to the Sonoma Plaza). By the time of the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846, Vallejo's winery was in full swing. With land grants galore, Vallejo controlled an area which now comprises more than 17 counties, most of which was taken away from him by the United States Land Claims Commission after California gained statehood. But his home, Lachryma Montis ("tears of the mountain"), remained a center of hospitality.

Vallejo became a citizen after statehood, became a delegate to California's constitutional convention in 1848, was elected to the State Senate in 1850 and donated 150 acres of land for a state capital where the city of Vallejo is now located. But it was his home in Sonoma that became the hub of social and political activity in the new state.

In 1857, Count Agoston Haraszthy was a visitor at Lachryma Montis. When Gen. Vallejo offered that now-celebrated Hungarian some of his Sonoma-born red wine, Haraszthy knew that this was the place for his lifelong dream. In that year Haraszthy established his own wine estate, Buena Vista, and built his own lavish Pompeian-style home. Two of Vallejo's daughters, Jovita and Natalia, would marry, in a double ceremony, two of Haraszthy's sons, Arpad and Atilla. The great-great-grandson of Vallejo and Haraszthy through the marriage of Atilla and Jovita, Vallejo Haraszthy, now 36, began his life as a wine maker at Buena Vista after graduation from college in 1971 and is today the wine maker for the M. G. Vallejo wines (currently being made at the Glen Ellen Winery in Sonoma).

To this scenario another name must be added: Bob Cannard, who was almost solely responsible for the renaissance of the Vallejo estate in Sonoma. He was born into a large farming family in Danville, Pa., in 1926. His mother died when he was 14. His father was an English-Welsh immigrant and a good wine maker.

During World War II, Cannard served in the China-Burma-India Theater, then returned to Penn State, where he took a degree in landscape architecture. From 1951 to 1953, he managed one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the United States. His own "farm family"--a wife and six sons--came to California in 1958. With his flair for doing many interesting things at once, he managed a nursery, had his own landscaping business and took over the debt-ridden Chamber of Commerce of Sonoma Valley in 1964. Here began his association with the 60-acre Vallejo estate, which was threatened with the encroachment of developers of a condominium project. In a move without precedent, Cannard was able to negotiate an arrangement with the state to replant the 60 acres with vines and build a replica of Vallejo's winery, so long as funds from the sale of the wines would go into rebuilding this historic shrine.

And now, to the promise in our opening sentence. Yes, both of those M. G. Vallejo wines in current release, made by young Val Haraszthy, the 1983 Cabernet Sauvignon and 1986 Chardonnay, can be purchased in Southern California for a mere $4.49, and they are superb, clean, of varietal breed and distinction, with present drinkability.

As for Cannard, the renaissance of the Vallejo Lachryma Montis estate has become, even for tourists, his most profound contribution to California.

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