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Tasting at Bartholomew Park Winery

Bartholomew Park Winery in Sonoma, California

You’ll find Bartholomew Park at the end of a narrow country lane, a little ways north of the town of Sonoma — if you make the correct turns at multiple forks in the road, that is, and can find the signs in the shade of arched oak branches and towering eucalyptus trees. Once there, you’ll discover that this slightly out-of-the-way estate is actually situated at the intersection of Sonoma County wine and history.

If you’ve already found your way there, trek back when in the area — there’s much that’s new at the winery that locals call “Bart Park.”

Welcome Wine Lovers, History Seekers … and Mountain Goats

Bartholomew Park is more than just a pretty name — it’s a real park, but more on that later. The property’s viticultural heritage dates back to 1857, when the prolifically entrepreneurial Hungarian “Count” Agoston Haraszthy purchased the property right beside his new compadre, Gen. Mariano Vallejo.

Haraszthy founded Buena Vista Winery, which is widely recognized as California’s first commercial producer of fine wines. Always the innovator, Haraszthy promoted controversial grape-growing techniques that he practiced on the very same land where, today, you can see Bartholomew Park’s organically farmed vineyards on the drive up to the winery.

Along the way, you’ll see a gracious, south-facing villa, a reproduction of Haraszthy’s classically inspired home that was built much more recently, and completed in 1990. It’s open to visitors from noon to 3 p.m. on weekends.

Haraszthy’s original winery is located a brief stroll away, and is now operated by Boisset Family Estates. Up the hill from the handsome reproduction of his house, the winery building mostly serves as a tasting room and museum, with a little barrel storage — but was originally built as a detention facility for wayward women in the 1920s.

This is where the history gets even more interesting.

Clippings from local newspapers in the winery’s historical exhibit tell sometimes colorful, sometimes poignant stories of those days. Later, the building served as the Sonoma Valley Hospital. In the 1940s, newspaperman Frank Bartholomew bought the property, which then included Buena Vista Winery, and revived the historic operation.

After selling that property, Bartholomew operated another winery, this time located in the old detention hall, hospital, then winery, called Hacienda Wine Cellars. In 1994, local wine dynasty Gundlach-Bundschu (which also dates to the 1850s) launched the current winery in honor of the Bartholomews.

Wines Worth a Trek

Now organically farmed by Phil Coturri, the estate’s vineyards produce the apple pie-scented, but cool and reserved 2014 Chardonnay ($29), and the bright, red cherry-scented 2013 Zinfandel ($45).

Vertical tastings of older, “library” vintages like a 1998 Cabernet or a 1997 Merlot are available in the “museum parlor” ($35). A hallway that’s been decorated with photographs of Sonoma Valley grape growers and characters since 1994 leads (under flags of the various nations whose histories intersected in Sonoma County), to an exhibit that looks at the property’s history through the Bartholomew era.

A new label for the winery’s “reserve” wine is called Abbot’s Passage, named for a local legend about an abbot from the Christian Brothers colony in Napa County who walked along an old trail to reach his weekly tipple at the Swiss Hotel.

Take a Hike

Bartholomew Park is, as I said, a real park, with a real and reasonably challenging hiking trail.

Picnickers may choose to enjoy the view from several spots just west of the tasting room, while mountain goats — and I say mountain goats — can continue on to the trail.

A two- or three-mile loop around the property and back, the hiking trail is a bit more challenging than a casual stroll — but there are helpful handrails and nicely maintained steps installed at key inclines.

During winter days following a welcome, healthy rainfall, redwood-shaded streams may present a challenge to ford without getting a little wet. Alternatively, look for yoga and wine pairings, once a month, to combine your workout and wine at Bartholomew Park.

Details: Open daily, 11 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Tasting fee, $10; reserve wines, $20.

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