Native American recognized as Sonoma Valley’s first private vintner
He’s still virtually unknown, but was Sonoma’s first commercial grape grower and planted vines that yielded the initial award-winning wines of Agoston Haraszthy, often referred to as the Father of California Viticulture.
On May 15, the Native Sons of the Golden West dedicated a plaque to Viviano, cementing his important place in history. The plaque will be on display in an exhibit dedicated to him at Depot Park Museum until a permanent location is chosen.
“The goal of the Sonoma Valley Historical Society [SVHS] is to tell, as completely as possible, the story of our Valley, preserving the histories and memories of the generations that came before us,” said Patricia Cullinan, president of the SVHS, which operates the museum. “Viviano is a logical choice for a plaque from a group that is supportive of California history, as his contribution is important on many levels.”
Peter Meyerhof, a Sonoma dentist and independent historian, highlighted Viviano’s contributions and was present at the dedication ceremony, along with many members of Native Sons of the Golden West and representatives of SVHS.
“I am very happy to see Viviano, an almost completely unknown Native American, receive recognition for his work in the 1830s,” Meyerhof said. “It more than qualifies him for this honor in the Sonoma Valley, which prides itself on its history and legacy of winemaking.”
Meyerhof found that when Viviano came to Mission San Francisco Solano de Sonoma around 1830, he was baptized and given the name Viviano, which derives from St. Viviano, a patron saint of those who worked in the marble quarries of Northern Italy.
It appears that the mission gave names to Native Americans almost randomly, Meyerhof said.
“Unfortunately, Viviano’s original name, village of origin and even the exact date of baptism are unknown,” he said. “The reason is that all the pages relating to adults who were baptized at the Sonoma Mission were torn out of the original register of baptisms many years ago, and do not appear in other copies of the register, either.”
Evolution of Lac property ownership
Meyerhof said Viviano learned viticulture, most likely at the mission’s vineyards, and was one of the very few Native Americans to be given his own land. He was given 175 acres, very small for a land grant, on the site of a former Coast Miwok, which became known as the Lac grant. The land is now part of a Bartholomew Park vineyard at the end of Castle Road in Sonoma.
“Typically, the land grants were very small in area and often on the sites of the native villages once lived in by the recipient,” Meyerhof said. “So, based on the fact that the land Viviano was given was formerly Coast Miwok land, it’s very likely he was Coast Miwok.”
In around 1832, two years before Gen. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo secularized the mission to found the Pueblo de Sonoma, Viviano planted 6 acres of grape vines. During the next 25 years the Lac property changed ownership several times until Haraszthy bought it in 1857 as part of a larger plot of land.
“There is no record of Viviano actually selling his land,” Meyerhof said. “Most likely, Vallejo simply ignored the mission grants that had been made before he arrived in Sonoma. Vallejo made statements that he thought the missions were monstrosities. He was responsible only to the governor of California and generally made recommendations as to who he thought was deserving [of land grants]. His elderly cavalry officer, Damaso Rodriguez, described as infirm, applied to the governor for the grant and obtained it.”
Meyerhof found that Rodriguez may then have employed Viviano as late as 1845, but has found no information about Viviano’s life after that point. The property was sold to Jacob Leese in 1846, Benjamin Kelsey in 1849, Julius Rose in 1853 and Haraszthy in 1857. Leese, Kelsey and Rose all sold grapes and wine (mostly in San Francisco), and in 1854 Rose won awards for his grapes and red wines from the vines planted by Viviano.
When Haraszthy purchased the land, it contained 1,312 of the vines Viviano originally planted on the land and some 3-year-old vines planted by a more recent owner. But the older vines were more productive and were used to produce Haraszthy’s first award-winning wines. Years later, Haraszthy bought in cuttings of European wines, for which he is better known.
“The vines [that are] 31 years old are healthy,” Haraszthy wrote in a historical journal . “They were planted by an Indian who endeavored to establish a home under the law of the Mexican republic, which offered grants of land to red men engaged in the cultivation of the soil.”