Site of Famed Fountaingrove Winery Destroyed in Fire

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Immigrant winemaker Kanaye Nagasawa was known as the “Grape King.”

The famed Round Barn, which was part of the Nagasawa estate.

SANTA ROSA — A site that is prominent in local Japanese American history has fallen victim to the wildfires in the North Bay.

The Press Democrat reports that many well-known businesses, schools and local landmarks in Santa Rosa, including the historic Fountaingrove Round Barn — associated with samurai-turned-winemaker Kanaye Nagasawa — have been reduced to rubble.

“Unfortunately, most of the structures on the ridge above Fountaingrove and the surrounding area have been destroyed by fire,” Gary Sugiyama of Sonoma County JACL told The Rafu Shimpo. “The Round Barn has been completely burned as well as the Paradise Ridge Winery that contained a Nagasawa historical exhibit. The adjacent Nagasawa Park located on the Fountaingrove Parkway has been included in the burn area.”

Paradise Ridge Winery posted on its Facebook page on Oct. 9, “We are heartbroken to share the news that our winery was burned down this morning — we appreciate everyone’s well wishes … All the Byck family and Paradise Ridge team is safe — our hearts go out to all who have lost their homes and businesses. We are strong and will rebuild.”

Kanaye Nagasawa

The Nagasawa exhibit had just been updated last year. The winery’s website (prwinery.com) includes a section about “the fascinating life story of Nagasawa.” It provides the following information:

Hikosuke Isonaga, the son of a samurai of the Satsuma clan, left Japan in 1864 at the young age of 12 to study Western science in Scotland. During this time, he befriended Lady Oliphant and her son Lawrence, who were disciples of Thomas Lake Harris, a charismatic religious leader. These two disciples introduced Nagasawa to Harris, who had established a utopian community called The Brotherhood of the New Life on the shores of Lake Erie in the U.S.

Following Harris to New York, Nagasawa was one of the first eight Japanese to arrive in America. He was accompanied by four fellow clan members who had left Japan to learn more about the West, even though contact with the West was expressly forbidden by the emperor at the time. These five had been part of a group of 15 young men who were smuggled out of their homes by the leader of their clan, which was one of the major clans responsible for the modernization of Japan.

In 1865, these young men left Kagoshima harbor in the dark of night, debarked in Hong Kong, cut their hair, bought Western clothes, and changed their names. It was then that Isonaga, son of a wealthy Confucian scholar, stone carver, and astronomer, became for the rest of his life Kanaye Nagasawa.

Nagasawa was the youngest of the group, and was the only one who did not return to Japan after the Meiji Restoration. The rest went back to become important representatives in the government of the emerging nation. The four others in the group who lived with Harris at his Brocton colony went home and were named ambassadors to the U.S., Russia, and France and became professors of Japan’s first Western-style university, Tokyo Imperial University. Nagasawa elected to stay with “Father Faithful” of the Brotherhood of New Life, and lived at Brocton, N.Y. During these years, when he was 16 and 17 years old, Nagasawa also attended Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Kanaye Nagasawa, seated at right, relaxes with friends while celebrating outside the cellars of his Fountaingrove Winery in 1910. Born to the samurai class in Japan, he arrived in America by way of England and Scotland, where he picked up a Scottish accent that he kept for the rest of his life.

When Nagasawa was 18, Harris made a momentous move. He left for Santa Rosa to build a new colony that would become the new headquarters for his “Brotherhood.” The site he chose, located on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, was named “Fountain Grove: The Eden of the West.” Nagasawa was selected by Harris to be among the elected few of his leadership, and was tasked with cultivating grapes and sustaining the colony.

The land purchased was a 600-acre estate in Sonoma County. Eventually, the utopian community disbanded, and Harris gave Nagasawa the entire estate, now totaling over 2,000 acres of prime agricultural land. Part of the colony included a unique round barn.

Local denizens and the growing Japanese community of Sonoma County came to know him as the “Wine King” of California. He was the first to introduce California wines to England, Europe, and Japan. On weekends, he would invite local dignitaries and Japanese diplomats to his lavish enormous estate and house. There they were given the finest entertainment and foods.

By the turn of the century, Nagasawa was known as “Baron of Fountaingrove.” In his huge house, the rooms downstairs were filled with books encompassing literature and art from all over the world. He was known to have read hour after hour, all in English. His prolific letters and writings would eventually be donated to the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley.

In 1934, Nagasawa passed away, leaving his estate to his niece and nephew. Due to the discriminatory Alien Land Laws, which forbade Japanese nationals from owning land or businesses in California, Nagasawa was forced to leave part of the ownership of Fountaingrove in the hands of a non-Japanese trustee.

In 1942, under Executive Order 9066, his heirs lost this land. His descendants were incarcerated throughout the war years and Fountaingrove was confiscated by the trustee. A court case was entered to fight the confiscation, but the heirs lost. The lands lost were worth millions, but the descendants received no compensation other than the $20,000 redress payments under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988.

The Nagasawa exhibit at Paradise Ridge Winery.

In a speech in 1983 before the Japanese Diet in Tokyo, then-President Ronald Reagan said, “Being a Californian, I have seen many miracles hard-working Japanese have brought to our shores. In 1865, a young samurai student, Kanaye Nagasawa, left Japan to learn what made the West economically strong and technologically advanced. Ten years later he founded a small winery at Santa Rosa … called the Fountaingrove Round Barn and Winery. Soon he became known as the Grape King of California. Nagasawa came to California to learn and stayed to enrich our lives. Both our countries owe much to this Japanese warrior-turned-businessman.”

Paradise Ridge honored this important but forgotten figure of the early wine industry not only through the exhibit but also by naming one of its vineyards after him as well such products as the 2015 Paradise Ridge “Kanaye the Grape King” Chardonnay and the 2013 Paradise Ridge “Kanaye the Grape King” Zinfandel.

Kenzo Estate Update

In Napa Valley, Kenzo Estate owner Kenzo Tsujimoto and his wife Natsuko posted the following message: “On behalf of the entire team, we are truly grateful for your thoughts, concerns and well wishes. As you have heard, the region has been affected by ongoing wildfires which began on Sunday evening, Oct. 8.

“Our primary focus and concern is for the safety and well-being of our employees, neighbors and guests. We are working to ensure that all employees are safe, accounted for, and have shelter. Due to road closures, loss of power and active wildfires in the area, our tasting room and administrative offices are currently closed through Friday, Oct. 20. We will continue to monitor this timeline and keep you informed as we make further determination. We are still waiting to assess impact to the property, vigilantly monitoring this continuously changing situation, and will provide updates when they become available.

“Please expect some shipping delays until the offsite wine warehouses restores operation. We are remotely managing existing and new orders daily and will process them as soon as delivery service resumes. Thank you for your patience and we apologize for any inconvenience.

“We are incredibly grateful to the brave and tireless work of the first response teams from all over Northern California that are working around the clock to keep our property and community safe. Our hearts are with the community during this challenging time. We will all come together in the days ahead to rebuild and move forward.

“For those interested in supporting the community, the Napa Valley Vintners Association has reactivated the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund (www.napavalleycf.org/supporting-napa-county-fire-relief-efforts/) to use for local nonprofits to help fire victims with temporary shelter, meals, medical care, child care, animal care and mental health services.

“For inquiries regarding guest reservations, please contact [email protected] For inquiries pertaining to orders, please contact [email protected] We appreciate your thoughts and support and look forward to welcoming you soon.”

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