Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Korbel you don't know

Korbel Champagne Cellars is the largest makers of Méthode Champenoise California Sparkling Wine and a widely recognized label in the industry and by consumers but do you know the real Korbel? Sure Korbel has been part of the past five presidential inaugurations, was the champagne of choice for the Camelot years of the Kennedy administration, is currently served in the White House and on Air Force One but did you know the Korbel brothers lived the American Dream and were true entrepreneurs? Their grounds are immaculate and have a long history but how did these young men from central Europe end up making wine here? Visiting the Guerneville winery, which sits along the Russian River, this summer was more like trip through history than through a vineyard and what a trip it's been.

The winery was founded by Frantissek (Francis) Korbel who s a young man in Prague in 1848 was rumored to have fired the shot that started a revolution against the ruling monarchy, the Hapsburgs, taking part in the uprising against Prince Windiszcrec. After being detained, he is also alleged to have escaped prison by calmly walking out an unlocked gate, smoking a cigar and wearing civilian clothes brought to him by his grandmother.

After fleeing Bohemia for New York, Francis began learning the art of cigar making. After a few years in New York, Francis became intrigued with the booming city of San Francisco and moved there to open a storefront repairing cigar boxes. Unable to finance his new business alone, he sent for his brothers Joseph, a metallurgist, and Anton, a forger. To support their growing business the brothers entered the exotic veneer import business, shipping the products via their own schooner.

As the lumber industry began to explode in northern California, the Korbels invested in a number of projects, including a sawmill and property near the town of Guerneville in the Russian River Valley of Sonoma County. Along the way they built railroads to move goods in and out of their then rural location. Once the lumber business slowed, the brothers looked for other uses of their ranch property and they found it was similar in nature to the Champagne region in France. In short, perfect for wine growing and making. The rest, as they say, is history.

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