A re-enactment of the most historically significant wedding of the Sonoma and Napa Valley wine world took place on Dec. 26, celebrating the marriage of Charles Krug and Caroline Soberanes, which occurred 150 years ago. The modern event, held Sunday, was hosted at the Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena, owned by generations of Mondavis.
The Krug ceremony did not have the social spectacle of other winery weddings, like the annual exchange of vows practiced by two Vallejo daughters with the sons of Agoston Haraszthy, founder of California’s commercial wine industry. The Krug story lacked the romantic drama of Maria Carrillo crawling on her knees toward her father, who was armed with a shotgun, begging his forgiveness for secretly eloping with the handsome sea captain Henry Fitch, only to have her husband and their dreams die after they reached Sonoma.
It was not a morality play blessed with a Horatio Alger happy ending as when penniless Samuele Sebastiani made good on his pledge to the 16-year-old beauty Elvira Eraldi that, “I’m gonna take you away from all this,” (this being waitressing in her family’s café). But the original 1860 wedding between Charles and Caroline was hugely important to the future of both Napa and Sonoma counties and the flow of wine.
The bride was the teenaged daughter of the late eccentric English doctor, Edward Turner Bale and Maria Ygnazia Soberanes, daughter of Mariano Vallejo’s sister, Maria Isadora, and her husband, Mariano Soberanes.
Shortly after Bale, a ship’s physician, arrived in Monterey at age 28, Vallejo, who was military commander for northern California, appointed Bale chief physician for the Mexican troops, since he was the only man around with a semblance of medical training.
Bale was soon in trouble, first in Monterey for illegally selling hard liquor. Then, several years after moving to Sonoma with his new wife in 1839, the doctor got into a fight with Salvador Vallejo, who used a horsewhip on Bale. Bale responded by firing a pistol at Salvador, but he missed and that led to Bale’s arrest by Chief Solano. To clean up this domestic mess, Vallejo got Bale out of Sonoma Valley by arranging a land grant for the Bales of 17,962 acres in the then-vacant area between Yountville and Calistoga.
Charles Krug, meanwhile, was a native of the German state of Prussia and came to Mexican California as editor of a German-language newspaper, while learning to plant and squeeze grapes under the tutelage of his new friend, “Count” Haraszthy, who sold him some vineyard land in Sonoma.
Bale died in 1848, at age 40, and his widow re-married a man named Bruck. The Brucks supported themselves by selling off land lots from their heritage, a long-range economic loser.
The Brucks also hired Krug to press some grapes for them in 1859 and, on a single inspection, Krug was immediately attracted to the adolescent Maria, the fertile expanse of under-utilized land, the provision in Bale’s will of a minimum guarantee of 500 acres for the Bale daughter, along with the ancient, imported law which gave husband and wife joint control of the property.
Krug galloped back to Sonoma, quickly sold his acreage, returned to the Bale ranch and its gleaming new grist mill and proposed to Caroline. They were wed before the year was out.
Krug had 15,000 vines in the ground the first year and expanded to 60,000 vines in two more years.
The historic significance of the Bale-Krug marriage included the following: It put together a large tract of ideal vineyard land which was not being used; it set Napa County into a healthy race with Sonoma County as the state’s ideal wine source; it turned loose the energy and enthusiasm of Krug, who was then Northern California’s most skillful and dedicated salesman of California wines; and it built up the Napa vineyards prior to the blitzkrieg of the insidious phylloxera in the late 1870s.
In 1877, Napa County produced 640,000 gallons of wine, and about one-third of it was Krug’s. Meanwhile, wine production leader Sonoma County began to slip from its peak. By the 1896 recovery of the wine industry in Sonoma and Napa counties, the vineyardists were ready for good times and experimentation.
Unfortunately, the Krugs would not share in the ultimate triumph. Caroline began to suffer from dementia, dying in the newly constructed Napa State Hospital in 1885. Sadly, Charles, who had used his magnificent oratorical skills to sell Napa wines to eastern Americans as the premiere bottlings in the world, lost his power of speech and died bankrupt in 1892.
Fortunately, Cesare Mondavi purchased the declining bank-owned property in 1943, and three generations – Peter Mondavi Sr., Peter Mondavi Jr. and Michael Mondavi – cared enough to sponsor Sunday’s historic celebration in the tasting room of Charles Krug Winery at 2800 N. Main St. in St. Helena.
The wedding re-enactment opened at 10:30 a.m. and continued to 5 p.m., with special wine releases, publications, photo exhibits, historic discussions and valuable tableaux. The St. Helena Historic Society, the Napa County Historical Society and the Culinary Institute of America all contributed to the presentations. Well-known Sonoma character actor George Webber played the interactive role of Charles Krug in period costume.