Piece of Japanese American History Destroyed by California Wine Country Fire

Piece of Japanese American History Destroyed by California Wine Country Fire

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The fire that has ripped through California’s wine country and claimed over two dozen lives has destroyed an area made known worldwide by the early “wine king” of the state, Kanaye Nagasawa.

Among the hardest hit areas is Fountain Grove in Santa Rosa. That’s the former home of the old Fountain Grove Winery which was operated by Nagasawa. Next door to Nagasawa’s winery is Paradise Ridge Winery where many buildings have been lost to the fire. Paradise Ridge was also the home of an exhibition on the life of Nagasawa.

Nagasawa was among a group of 15 Japanese men smuggled out of their homes by the leader of the Satsuma clan which is one of the clans credited for the modernization of Japan.

In 1865, these young men left Kagoshima Harbor for Hong Kong. The men cut their hair, wore western clothing and changed their names. From then on, Hikosuke Isonaga became Kanaye Nagasawa. He was the son of a wealthy Confucian scholar, stone carver, and astronomer.

Nagasawa followed Thomas Lake Harris, a charismatic religious leader to New York and then Santa Rosa. The Japanese samurai is believed to be one of the first eight Japanese to come to America.

Kanaye Nagasawa courtesy Hotei Wines

Nagasawa was charged with cultivating grapes and sustaining a 600 acre estate which Harris would later give him. The land included a unique round barn which has also been destroyed in this week’s fire. Nagasawa became known as the “wine king” and introduced California wine to England, Europe, and Japan. He died in 1934 and left the land to his nephew and niece.

The racist Alien Land Laws banned Japanese nationals from owning land or businesses in California. The ownership of Fountaingrove was left in the hands of a non-Japanese trustee. After the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII, the heirs lost their land. The trustee managed to confiscate the property in a land grab upheld by the court.

The descendants still living in 1988 never received any compensation for the lost winery.

An exhibit at Paradise Ridge Winery said, “The history of Kanaye Nagasawa is a truly Asian American story of pioneering spirit, triumphal achievement, bittersweet loss, and reconciliation.”

Note: This story has been corrected from an earlier version, which stated the descendents of Nakagawa received $20,000 in compensation. In fact, no compensation was ever awarded. The family lost a court case.