Monday, April 30, 2007

General Erasmus Darwin Keyes - Creator of the Edge Hill Estate

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Creators and Re-builders of the Great Edge Hill Estate
(by John M. Olney)
General Erasmus Darwin Keyes
He was born in Brimfield, Massachusetts on May 29, 1810. His father was a renowned physician and surgeon. Instead of pursuing the same path, Erasmus decided to pursue a military career enrolling in West Point and graduated in 1832. He was transferred west in 1849, with orders to suppress Indian hostilities in California, Oregon and Washington Territories. He traveled directly to the Presidio in San Francisco, which the Army had officially taken over from the Mexican Government in 1848. Keys was the sixth officer to assume the role of “Commanding Officer” of the site upon his arrival in May 1949 and was the ranking senior officer a total of seven (7) times during the period 1849-1858.

Because of the 1849 gold rush many of his men, officer and enlisted alike, deserted the Army to seek their fortune in the Gold Country. The costs of goods had risen so quickly during this frenzied period, that the Army allowed its officers and enlisted men to hold outside jobs. Keyes began “surveying and a real estate business and was soon was receiving $1,000 a month in rentals” (source: Presidio Military Museum which was a substantial amount of money in those times. Keyes was the leader of the team that set out the boundaries of what would become Presidio grounds as we know them today consisting of about 1,543 acres.)

During the civil war, Keyes quickly rising to Major General, however he ran afoul of the senior Generals and was relegated to desks jobs. Quickly disappointed, in 1864, Keyes resigned from the service and returned to San Francisco where he became involved in the savings and loan business and was a Vice President in a Mexican gold mine He also became a gentleman farmer in Napa Valley with the creation of what became the Edge Hill vineyard, winery, and distillery estate. He hired a local, James Dowdell, as foreman of his estate. (Dowdell would later move on and operate his own winery in St. Helena.) Keyes served as vice president of the California vine-culture society from 1868 to 1872. General Keyes died in France at the age of 85 in 1895.
(Photo by John Olney. The winery building undergoing massive refurbishment. Timbers in foreground appear to be headed to the caves which are entered through the ground floor doorway in the center of the building)

Edge Hill in Transition
For reasons yet to be discovered by this writer, only two years into its operations, Keyes sold his estate property to another Civil War soldier, General Richard L. Heath in the same year (1872) that he concluded his position in the California vine-culture society. General Heath died in 1875 and his son, Richard S. Heath, took over the operation but soon found himself bankrupt.

(Photo by John M. Olney taken of artist rendition of estate. The rendition is inside the distillery building and shows the Edge Hill winery in the foreground and the residential building at the top of the picture)

The next owner was William Scheffler. He too served during the Civil War time. While he was in the employment of the David Fulton winery family and operating another St. Helena winery, Monongo (owned by John Weaks), in the early 1880’s, Scheffler purchased the Edge Hill estate, to which he added numerous buildings.

Scheffler also leased vineyards from the very wealthy William B. Bourne family who had constructed “Greystone” (now Culinary Institute of America), owned the Crystal Springs water supply for all of San Francisco, and owned the very rich strike called “Empire Gold Mines.” Scheffler was obviously a sought after winemaker and manager as he continually expanded his holding. He became a Director in the Napa Valley Wine Company (founded by the likes of Tubbs of Chateau Montelena, Charles Krug and many other significant players of the times).

Scheffler knew that the wealthy of San Francisco frequently visited the beautiful soda springs resorts of Napa Valley and he apparently sought this market for his wines. He purchased the White Sulphur Springs Resort in the mid-1880s in the hopes he could market the guests to purchase his wines. However, this purchase proved his undoing as he had become way overextended and in 1887 he was forced to bankruptcy.

The Resurrection of a Majestic Estate

With onslaught of phylloxera, then Prohibition, the property remained dormant until a gentleman named Louis M. Martini came out of the central valley to start up production in Napa. He purchased the Edge Hill Estate property and used it as a private residence while he refurbished the former winery of the Rennie Brothers and an adjacent site of the Brockhoff winery. He used these properties for wine storage in the 1930‘s in anticipation of the Repeal of Prohibition which allowed the Martini family to quickly supply a demanding market for wine. These Zinfandel Lane sites would eventually become the location of the production facilities of the present day winery, Flora Springs. The Martini Family winery, located in South St. Helena, was purchased by E & J Gallo in the early 2000’s.

Leslie Rudd arrived on-scene to resurrect the former fame of the Edge Hill Estate. Rudd is a very successful businessman and developer who is CEO and principal owner of the Kansas-based wine and liquor distributor Standard Beverage Corp., luxury foods purveyor Dean and DeLuca, Rudd Winery (located at the intersection of Oakville Crossroad and Silverado Trail) and Edge Hill Estate. The distillery building is in process of being converted into a rather attractive hospitality center. The winery building has undergone major renovation and refurbishment while the caves are currently undergoing massive reconstruction. Rudd produces “Distillery No. 209” gin at his property located in San Francisco along the piers adjacent to McCovey Cove/China Basin

(Photo by John M. Olney. This is the distillery building which is being refurbished into a hospitality center.)

Rudd most recently purchased the Oakville Grocery Store chain (based in Oakville, Napa County) and Gordon’s Cafe and Wine Bar (located in Yountville, Napa County).


Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, thanks for the great history lesson! How fascinating. I love learning new things about about wineries. I've been doing some research on Napa wineries and PlumpJack seems to have a few great options. Can't wait to check it out!

11:13 AM  

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