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Bartholomew Park has deep roots in Sonoma

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Earlier this year, Gundlach Bundschu winery and the Bartholomew Park Foundation decided not to renew the agreement through which the Bundschus operated and bottled the wine under the Bartholomew Park label since 1994.

Both have roots that run deep in the rich history of the Valley of the Moon and the news indicated also that neither are going anywhere.

The park foundation is hiring its own winemaker, and will continue on. The Bundschu’s, who operate one of our community’s oldest and most distinguished wineries, will continue on with their main label.

They have been neighbors for more than 100 years and were once at the center of California’s fledgling wine industry.

Bartholomew Park, today a private nonprofit foundation established by Frank and Toni Bartholomew in 1980, was the home of Count Agoston Haraszthy, who gathered grape cuttings from all over Europe and then planted them there, making it the birthplace of the California wine industry.

That lovely spot in the northeast most corner of our Valley of the Moon has left many marks on local history ever since.

Haraszthy was the first to make it popular with locals, building a mansion there in what as called Pompeian Style with stately columns, fountains and statuary. He and his wife gave lavish parties, including a celebrated masquerade ball in October of 1864.

The property eventually passed from the Haraszthy family to Robert and Kate Johnson of San Francisco, who built a three-story mansion there known locally as “The Castle.” Mrs. Johnson was obsessed with cats and turned over an entire floor to them.

The State of California eventually acquired the castle and turned it into a home for delinquent women. The women allegedly burned the castle down in 1923 and it was never rebuilt.

Later, the state built a new two-story building on the property (now the Bartholomew Park Winery building) and used it for the rehabilitation of female delinquents.

Mr. and Mrs. Frank Bartholomew acquired the property at auction in the 1940s. Their first task was the tedious and expensive restoration of the old Haraszthy wine cellars, which became Buena Vista Winery. They sold off that part of their holdings in 1968.

Almost from the start of their ownership, the Bartholomew’s were engaged in a titillating dispute with their neighbors, Sun-O-Ma Club nudist ranch, just north of their property. The camp had cabins, a swimming pool, a saloon and a general store. But the access road to the nudist camp ran through the Bartholomews’ property.

The existence of the ranch generated interesting local commentary, including a resolution from the Sonoma Valley Woman’s Club that the presence of the nudist colony was detrimental to our community.

The more immediate dispute had to do with the access road right-of-way, which the Bartholomews alleged was being abused by the nudists. Eventually the nudists lost their access and the nudists no longer came.

In 1945, the Bartholomews leased the two-story building that had belonged to the state to the newly formed Sonoma Valley Hospital District. Many longtime Sonomans of my vintage were patients there, myself included. It was a lovely spot in which to have my tonsils removed and, years later, my appendix taken out. The hospital’s location, at the end of a narrow country road well east of our Valley’s population center, was less than ideal, which is why by 1957 the hospital was moved to its present location on Andrieux Street in Sonoma.

Following Frank’s retirement from United Press International – he was president of the worldwide news-gathering agency from 1952 to 1962 and later chairman of its board of directors – they decided to turn the building into a winery and named it Hacienda.

In 1980, the Bartholomews formed a nonprofit foundation to assure that their beautiful and historic property would be a park, open to the public, which it remains today.

The winery, which they started as Hacienda, later became Bartholomew Park Winery operated by the Bundschu family.

Now, the foundation has announced it will continue to operate the winery independently.