Today, Onward To Our Past® is pleased to bring you the second half of our story about the Bohemian Korbel brothers, Francis, Anton, Joseph, and Wenzel. If you missed the beginning of this story you can click here to read Installment #1.
We conclude this story of the men who were, at one time, the wealthiest Bohemian immigrants in all of America.
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.
The cigar-box business was so successful the brothers soon owned their own schooner, most appropriately names The Bohemia, along with several other vessels. The timber of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County drew them to purchase land there and soon after a fire destroyed their cigar-box making factory in San Francisco, they focused their efforts on farming the land in the Russian River Valley. The soil was exceptionally fertile and soon the brothers were cutting timber, operating a dairy, and raising crops such as tobacco, plums, corn, wheat, and as you might guess, grapes.
While trying to decide which crops to focus on, the brothers sent a sample of their soil to the University of California at Davis. The experts there told them it would be excellent land for grapes. So they planted more and more grapes. Soon the Korbel brothers were selling every bottle of wine than they could make. They produced over 30,000 gallons back in 1882. They even built their own railroad to connect their land with San Francisco. In 1895, the official program for the Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exhibition in Prague, Národopisná Výstava Českoslovanská v Praze 1895, wrote the following about the Korbels: “The brothers, without a doubt, are the wealthiest fellow countrymen in America.”
Once again, as their good fortune continued, they turned their eyes back to Bohemia and invited Frank Hasek, a noted champagne and winemaker in Prague, to come to America as the Korbel’s champagne wine master. Hasek employed the traditional methode champenoise and the rest, as they say, is history.
The Korbel family heirs sold the Korbel vineyards some years ago, but if you ever get to Sonoma County, California and the Russian River Valley be sure to check out the Korbel vineyards. You will find there some interesting Bohemian features. Francis built a reproduction of the prison tower from Daliborka Prison in the center of the family complex to remind him of how much he had accomplished and how much he had suffered. You can also still see the Korbel Railroad Station, and of course sample many of the world-renowned Korbel champagnes, brandies, and still wines produced there.
Another interesting aside is the fact the Korbel’s printing press from the cigar-box company, which was used to print those colorful, old time cigar-box labels, was put to additional use by Francis when, from 1876 to 1881 (when he sold it), he wrote and published a weekly satire magazine The Wasp.
And as you raise your glass and say Na zdraví you can impress your friends even more by saying “You know, these were the same wines served in the American exhibit during the Czechoslavic Ethnographic Exhibition held in Prague in 1895”.
P.S. I have to admit that while I have had the pleasure of drinking my fair share of Korbel champagne over the years, I had not ever tried their still wines. As a beer drinker I decided it would be better if I provided some of their white and red wine to the wine lovers in our family. They rated them 4 out of 5 stars. High praise — all due to the wonderful Korbel brothers!
Onward To Our Past®