As you enter the Bartholomew Park, you will be surrounded by vineyards, gardens and in the distance a replica of the majestic Villa built by Agoston Haraszthy in 1861.

How this came to be is one of the fascinating sagas of the old West.

Probably if it had not been for the Hungarian revolutionary leader, Louis Kossuth, who in the mid and late 1830's and early 1840's proposed a preposterous idea of a free and democratic Hungary, Count Haraszthy may well have spent his life in the peaceful serenity of his family holdings and vineyards in Hungary, but this was not to be.

Agoston agreed with Kossuth and this made him a suspect to the Hapsburg monarchy who were then controlling Austria and Hungary and doomed prospects for a life for him or his family in Hungary. He set off with a cousin for America for a new life for himself and family, arriving in New York in 1840.

He and his cousin quickly pushed West to Wisconsin and to Sauk City where Agoston determined to build a new "city", surrounded by agriculture, including the possibility of vineyards in that area.

He was soon joined by his family, his father, his mother, his wife and three children from Hungary, and began successfully building "Haraszthy Town".

But being by nature restless, after a few short years he determined to push West. This was part of the general push westward to California in the late 1840's, but oddly, his push to California was not for gold, but to develop a new community, again centered on agriculture, and especially vineyards. The Haraszthy caravan reached San Diego in 1849-1850.

Agoston immediately began his "project" and became involved in his new home's politics, became an elective officer, which resulted in his attending the first California legislature meeting in Sacramento as assemblyman for San Diego. This trip North meant that shortly he moved to San Francisco in early 1850's and almost immediately began to plant vineyards-first in San Francisco and later in the more friendly Peninsula. Most certainly during this period, either in Sacramento or elsewhere, he met the State Senator from Sonoma, Mariano Vallejo.

In a short time, not later that 1856-7, Agoston decided to move from the Peninsula to Sonoma as a more appropriate area for vineyards. He acquired first several hundred and later several thousand acres, 500 acres of which he quickly planted to vineyards, and soon created "the largest vineyard in the world".

Agoston was convinced that Sonoma had the climate, the soil and all the ingredients needed for growing the finest of grapes and thus producing the finest of wines in the world but needed to import cuttings from Europe. He began to import and install European cutting-and wrote a book about this need.

In 1862, California's governor sent Agoston to Europe as a state agricultural commissioner to gather choice cuttings of vine grapes of France, Austria, Italy and Spain which he then brought to California. These were planted on the Haraszthy property and also made available to anyone who wanted to plant a few acres using these cuttings. The cuttings were quickly snapped up and the California wine industry was on its way.

In 1861-1862, as his vineyard matured, Agoston built a Pompeian Villa for his family overlooking the property which opened with a grand and elegant masked ball.

He also at this time established an agricultural corporation, the Buena Vista Viticultural Society, to which he and his wife transferred their real estate holdings; and he also obtained several outside investors. The result was the expansion of the vineyards and production of Buena Vista wines with offices in Sonoma, San Francisco, New York, Paris, London.

In 1867-1868, however, the vineyard was struck without warning by the cataclysmic disaster of Phylloxera, the dreaded grape disease which struck California vineyards like an agricultural black death. The European vineyards were also affected and fine wines produced anywhere in the world in the late 1800's were few and far between.

At first, the reason for the decay was not known and Agoston was blamed and severed from Buena Vista. Disgruntled, he left Sonoma for a new project in Central America, where he died in 1869.