Today Onward To Our Past® is pleased to bring you a story of a well known, world-wide brand, which many do not know has its roots in Bohemia! We know you will enjoy this story.
The first half is here today and the conclusion will be posted here tomorrow.
Czech Genealogy: Na zdraví! A toast to the Bohemians behind Korbel Champagne
Those of us with wonderful Czech roots and a love of Czech genealogy know it is not uncommon for our ancestors, and often ourselves, to enjoy or have enjoyed, a good Bohemian beer now and again. Personally, I remember well when my mother’s Bohemian side of the family were scheduled to be coming to visit for some family celebration or just because it was the weekend, my Mom would always remind my dad by saying ‘Bill, be sure to buy the good Bohemian beer’ when he went to the State Store before these gatherings. My dad, being a full step or two on the high side of frugal, would grumble, but he also knew better than to try and buy anything else!
But what I did not know until recently is my Mom could just as easily told my father ‘Bill, be sure to buy only Korbel champagne and wines’.
I can hear you saying “What? Are you crazy? Czech champagne? Surely you’re mistaken!”
No mistake at all.
The world famous, and American bestselling, Korbel California Champagne Vineyard was founded, owned, and operated for decades by three Bohemian brothers, Francis, Anton, and Joseph Korbel. Interestingly, the surname Korbel is most appropriately translated as ‘tankard’ or ‘pitcher’.
This is a true rags to riches story and in the case of Francis those rags were actually the clothing of a convict! This was during the years he was jailed in the dreaded Daliborka Prison in the Prague Castle.
In the tumultuous year of 1848, a young Bohemian student by the name of Francis Korbel was one of the student protesters in the Uprising of 1848 against Habsburg rule in Bohemia. Legend has it that Francis actually fired a gun during the protest and for that act he was immediately arrested and thrown into Daliborka Prison in Prague. He languished there for years until his mother (although some sources report it was his grandmother) came to visit him while hiding civilian clothing beneath her kroj. Once changed into those civilian clothes and casually smoking a cigar, young Francis simply walked out of the prison!
He immediately left Bohemia for Holland where he learned the cigar-making trade and from there headed overseas to New York City where he first worked as a cigar-maker. Not long after arriving in America Francis was struck with ‘gold fever’ and headed for California. Unfortunately for Francis this trip, via two ships and an overland crossing of the Isthmus of Panama, took three years.
Upon his arrival the gold rush had evaporated. However, the enterprising Korbel was not to be denied. He began a cigar-box making enterprise and it was hugely successful. As it flourished he sent for his brothers; Anton, who was a blacksmith, and Joseph, a trained metallurgist, to join him in San Francisco. A fourth brother, Wenzel, also joined them, but became ill and died shortly after arriving in the States. Thus began the F. Korbel & Bros. Company.
Be sure to join us tomorrow as we conclude the story of Bohemians Francis Korbel and his brothers in America!
Onward To Our Past®