by Fred McMillin
for August 29, 1997

Winery of the Week

The Emperor's Choice


  • 1848—The Herzog family establishes a winery in the small Slovakian village of Vrobove.

  • 1848—Francis-Joseph becomes Emperor of Austria.
The Rest of the Story: So what's the connection between the Emperor of Austria and a little winery in Vrobove? A whole lot. The Herzogs made an off-dry Riesling. Francis-Joseph I liked it so well the winery became his sole supplier. All went well until the Nazis arrived in the 1930's and took over the winery. Ultimately they were replaced by the Communists. Nothing improved, so Eugene packed up the family and sailed to America. He arrived in New York with more children (six) than dollars. He went to work for the Royal Wine Company as truckdriver, sales manager and winemaker! Income was slim so he was paid in stock. He persisted, became the majority stockholder, and in 1958 bought the company.

With the help of four sons, Eugene did well and in 1985 decided to create a California operation. They bought the San Martin Winery, 70 miles south of San Francisco, which became the Baron Herzog Winery. Without vineyards, Eugene needed help in selecting top-quality grapes. He assured the future success of Herzog in California by bringing in a real wine whiz, Peter Stern, as consultant, and then full-time winemaker. His experience in five overseas countries and three major California wineries shows. (I can recall a Stern Chardonnay from Israel dazzling my Scott's panel some years ago.) Peter brings in Pinot Noir grapes from Oregon, Chardonnay from the cool Russian River, Chenin Blanc from warm Clarksburg, etc. He says he's very happy with his "top-quality fruit and state-of-the-art winemaking equipment." I guess so. Last year, even with a low-profile grape like the Chenin Blanc, he won 15 medals. I TOLD you he is a whiz.

Just the Facts

Name Baron Herzog Winery
Location 70 miles south of San Francisco
Founded 1985
Owners The Herzog family
Wines Expanding spectrum of varietal wines, deliberately made to be pleasing to drink right now.
Price Range   Very reasonable. The Chenin Blanc medalist is $6.50. The Cab is only $13.
Contact Kimberly Griff, (415)346-2929

Postscript: Whence the name "Baron Herzog"? Well, Emperor Francis-Joseph liked the wines so well he knighted the head of the Herzog winery and gave him the title "Baron."

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

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