Origins and History
Many locals know the name Fountaingrove only as a parkway and surrounding housing
development in northeast Santa Rosa, but the history of the settling and winemaking on
that site is quite colorful.
THOMAS LAKE HARRIS
The Fountaingrove (originally Fountain Grove) Winery was established as part of the Fountain Grove utopian community founded by Thomas Lake Harris in 1875. Having read about the promising new wine region north of San Francisco, Harris bought 400 acres in the foothills two miles north of Santa Rosa to move the Brotherhood of the New Life commune from Brockton, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie, where Harris was growing grapes and selling wine in New York City. A few years later he increased the property to 1858 acres.
Harris planted wheat in the flat lands of the Santa Rosa plain and originally used the surrounding hills for dairy farming, but by 1878, 375 acres were planted to Cabernet, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel. By 1882, the Fountain Grove Winery was completed and was producing 70,000 gallons of wine, with a capacity of 600,000 gallons. By 1899, the famous Round Barn was completed to house 60 horses.
While Fountaingrove was the first and largest winery established in what is now the Fountaingrove District AVA, it was my no means the only one. In 1893, there were 23 vineyards/wineries in the district, ranging in size from 5 to Harris’s 400 acres. In 1898, Capt. Guy Grosse produced 50,000 gallons of Zinfandel at his Rincon Heights Cellars. None of these historic wineries survived Prohibition; however, it is not unusual for someone hiking on their rural property to find vestiges of these once cultivated and now wild vines.
Equally influential in establishing the Fountain Grove Winery was Harris’s Japanese protégé, Kanaye Nagasawa. Nagasawa left Japan at the age of 13 to go to England to study western ways. In Scotland, with his funds drying up, he met Harris, who offered to trade education for labor in the Brotherhood colony, first in New York and then in Santa Rosa. By 1880, Nagasawa was supervising the vineyard planting. In 1890, Harris returned to New York, leaving the management of the winery to his protégé. Under Nagasawa’s direction, Fountain Grove became one of California’s 10 largest wineries, exporting wine through New York to Europe.
In 1900, Harris sold his interest in the commune to 5 other members including Nagasawa, and eventually Nagasawa became sole owner. He became known in Japan as the Grape King of California, and locals referred to him as “Baron” Nagasawa. Fountain Grove survived the phylloxera plague of 1908, replanted in 1912, and endured Prohibition by selling cooking sherry and grape juice. After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Nagasawa changed the name of the winery to Fountaingrove and planned a major expansion; however, he died in 1934 and the property was sold, with the new owners removing the vines for cattle ranching.
20th CENTURY AND TODAY
Many of the Brotherhood commune buildings survived into the 1970s, and, along with the iconic Round Barn, the stone and redwood winery building itself still stands (on private property) today. However, it was partially destroyed by a fire in 2014, and may not survive the wrecking ball for much longer.
Although none of the historic wineries have survived until today, there has been a significant increase in the number of growers and producers in what is now officially the Fountaingrove District appellation.