Tom Butt
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  Forgotten Tales of Point Molate - Winehaven
May 7, 2022

By the late 19th Century, the California wine industry was well established, having begun with viticulture practiced at the California missions. It had actually begun and flourished first in southern California before moving to the now famous regions of Sonoma, Napa and Alameda County.

But there was trouble in the industry. The economic panic of 1893 created a glut of grapes, severely depressing the price of fruit and wine alike. The timing was right for someone to dominate the market in order to stabilize it.

In stepped Isias Hellman, a Jewish immigrant who arrived in California in 1859 with very little money in his pocket and his brother Herman by his side. By the time he died, he had effectively transformed Los Angeles into the modern metropolis we see today. His influence, however, was not limited to Los Angeles. He controlled the California wine industry for almost twenty years and, after San Francisco's devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, calmed the financial markets there in order to help that great city rise from the ashes. With all of these accomplishments, Isaias Hellman almost single-handedly brought California into modernity.

Figure 1 - Towers of Gold by Frances Dinkelspiel describes the life of her ancestor, Isias Hellman
Founded in San Francisco in 1894, the California Wine Association was owned by the biggest and most successful wine merchants in the city, prominently including Isias Hellman, who had their hands in everything from the ownership of vineyards across the state to wineries and distributorships. They turned the California wine industry into a monopoly on order to save it.

Figure 2 - 1902 map touts C.W.A awards and geographical reach
Before the 1906 earthquake, the California Wine Industry storage and shipping infrastructure was mostly in San Francisco.

Figure 3 - 25 of 28 Commercial Wine Warehouses Destroyed by Fire, including five owned by C.W.A

Figure 4 - C.W.A Wineries and Warehouses in 1900. Before the 1906 earthquake, the California Wine Industry storage and shipping infrastructure was mostly in San Francisco
The fire following the earthquake destroyed almost everything, but the California Wine Association was insured to the hilt and battled its insurance companies to the Supreme Court, which ruled in its favor in 1910. Winehaven was built beginning in 1906 after the San Francisco earthquake. It was the epicenter of the entire California Wine Industry, and according to contemporary accounts, the largest winery in the world.

Figure 5 - “Winehaven was the largest and most up to date winery plant in existence” (Ernest P. Peninou and Gail G. Unzelman, The California Wine Association and Its Member Wineries 1894-1920 (Santa Rosa: Nomis Press, 2000) )

Figure 6 - Buildings 1 and 2 were built first, then iconic brick Building 6 shown under construction
The old steamboat “Stockton” was used as temporary housing. Note the hills were bare of trees.

Figure 7 - Note sign “Home of Calwa” on ridge beyond

Figure 8 - Building 6 as originally right on the edge of the bay. With later fill, it sits back quite a way.

Figure 9 - Additional buildings and a hotel were added.
At ts peak, Winehaven, 400 workers produced 10 million gallons of wine annually, with both rail and maritime access, shipped 500,000 gallons a month with 40 ships annually to New York alone. In 1907-08, 25,000 tons of grapes were crushed.

Winehaven was not just a winery. It became a destination for Bay Area excursions.

Figure 10 - Building 6 loading dock set up for a banquet that could probably seat 100.

Figure 11 - Winehaven had its own baseball team

Figure 12 - Some grape juice was brought Winehaven, but it had its own crushing equipment. Grapes and juice came by boat and rail.

Figure 13 - American poet and frontiersman. The "Poet of the Sierras" after the Sierra Nevada, about which he wrote in his Songs of the Sierras (1871).

Figure 14 - The Winemaster’s House is the largest and best located residence. It was used by the facility commander when the Navy owned Winehaven.
Winehaven was shut down by Prohibition in 1919. C.W.A sold off its assets to avoid bankruptcy, and Winehaven went mostly unused from about 1920 until 1941. The Navy bought the site in 1941 and converted it into a Naval Fuel Depot. Thousands of drums of fuel were stored in huge buildings. The old Winehaven Hotel was pressed into service as barracks and mess hall The workers' houses were renovated for the use of naval personnel. The Commanding Officer was assigned the largest house on the bluff overlooking the others, which previously had been the home of the winery superintendent.

Figure 15 - “prohibition agents forced the winemakers, who were finding ingenious ways to skirt the law, to knock the stoppers off their barrels. More than 240,000 gallons of perfectly good wine flowed into the Bay ‘on that black day’ according to historical reports.”

Figure 16 - The Winehaven Hotel burned in 1967.
Winehaven was successfully nominated to the National Register of Historic Places by Lucretia Edwards and Tom Butt in 1978. The historic district  includes 35 buildings, constructed between 1907 and 1919. Among these are: the “Winehaven Building” (Building 6)  with crenellated parapet and corner turrets, the Winemaster's House (Building 60), which became the Commanding Officer's residence and a row of turn-of-the-century cottages used to house Winehaven and military families.

Figure 17 - The Winehaven Historic District