Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Differing perspectives on the constituent components of the historic To Kalon Vineyard

The recently amended lawsuit filed by Jeremy Nickel (Vineyard House Winery) against Constellation Brands has revealed a divergence in the narrative as to the constituent parts of the historic vineyard. As shown in the chart below, William Heintz, a famous Napa historian, ajudged the To-Kalon Vineyard to be comprised of the 1868, 1879 (rather than 1881) and 1891 parcels. On the right side of the chart, Nickel postulates that the 1991 parcel is excluded and replaced by an 1868 Crabb purchase of a 168-acre parcel. I will explore these two positions in this post.

1881 Parcel was actually bought in 1879

Sizing the historic To-Kalon Vineyard
The To-Kalon Vineyard National Register nomination proposes that the To Kalon Vineyard did measure 500 acres during Crabb's lifetime and cites a number of sources to support that position:
  • An 1883 article in the San Francisco Merchant (12/21/1883) refers to a 500-acre Crabb estate (prior to the purchase of the Baldridge Tract) as did the San Francisco Call, Volume 68, Number 141 (10/19/1890).
  • According to the nomination, "Multiple primary source references corroborate that at its peak, the pre-Prohibition To-Kalon Vineyard included approximately 500 acres of planted vines ..."
The case for the inclusion of the Baldridge Tract (1889 purchase)
Let's begin with the Nickel story. According to the Nickel telling, Crabb bought the 168-acre hillside property from William Baldridge in 1889, bringing his total holdings to 527 acres, a number close to the 500 acres that is mentioned in multiple contemporary sources as the size of the To Kalon Vineyard. In this telling, this new purchase became a part of the To-Kalon estate. According to the Nickel telling, the 1891 purchase was not part of the historical To Kalon because Crabb sold it back to the Davis family one week after purchase.

The case for the inclusion of the 1891 purchase
The nomination also stipulates as to why the 1891 purchase was included as a component of the historic To-Kalon Vineyard:
  • Crabb had planted the first vines on this property (at that time owned by his in-laws-to-be) in 1873 and had been purchasing the fruit to include in his To-Kalon wines since 1879.
  • Crabb purchased the land at auction in 1891 and immediately sold it back to his daughter-in-law via a mortgage valued at one-third the price he had paid for the property just seven days earlier. In 1893 he filed a quitclaim deed for the property and Margarethe Davis (his daughter-in-law) sells the property to A. L. Williams in November of the following year.
  • Prior to the 1891 purchase, Crabb regularly referred to the parcel as his own
  • According to the nomination,, "Additional primary sources state that the historic To-Kalon Vineyard was contiguous and stretched from the highway back to the foothills."
Factors that mitigate against the inclusion of the Baldridge Tract
Based on the nomination:
  • "Additional primary sources state that the historic To-Kalon Vineyard was contiguous and stretched from the highway back to the foothills"
  • The Crabb probate lists the To Kalon Vineyard (359 acres after the sale of the 1891 purchase) and Baldridge Tract separately
  • The Baldridge Tract is "valued to lumber and having no vines planted on it"
  • A 1917 mortgage from the Churchills separates the To-Kalon Vineyard and the now-Sullivan Tract
  • Aerial photographs from the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s show the hillside plot under forest
  • The first vines were planted on the hillsides (now the homes of Harlan, Futo, and Vineyard House Winery) by Doug Stelling sometime around 1980.
This Blog's Position Going Forward
Based on the apparent use of the fruit from the 1891 plot in To Kalon wines during his lifetime, and the apparent introduction of vines to the Baldridge Tract during the Stelling Period in the 1980s, this blog will consider the historic To Kalon Vineyard as being comprised of the Crabb tracts purchased in 1868, 1879, and 1891.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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