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Nagasawa Historical Exhibit

(Currently Closed Due to 2017 Tubbs Fire. Subscribe to our newsletter or follow us on social media for information about the rebuilding of the Russian River Estate)

Nagasawa Historical Exhibit – Russian River Valley Estate

Paradise Ridge Winery is proud to share the history of Kanaye Nagasawa, a Japanese Samurai who became a winemaker in Sonoma County. Updated in 2016, the exhibit tells the fascinating life story of Nagasawa.

The exhibit is open during tasting room hours, when tasting is in the main winery building. Please phone in advance to ensure the exhibit will be open during your visit (707) 528-9463.

Below is an excerpt of the story.
Kanaye Nagasawa History translated in Japanese

Kanaye Nagasawa & Fountaingrove

Hikosuke Isonaga, the son of a samurai of the Satsuma clan, left Japan in 1864 at the young age of 12 to study Western science in Scotland. During this time, he befriended Lady Oliphant and her son Lawrence, who were disciples of Thomas Lake Harris, a charismatic religious leader. These two disciples introduced Nagasawa to Harris.Harris had established a utopian community called The Brotherhood of the New Life on the shores of Lake Erie in the United States.

naga1Following Harris to New York, Nagasawa was one of the first eight Japanese to arrive in the America. He was accompanied by four fellow clan members who had left Japan to learn more about the West, even though contact with the West was expressly forbidden by the Japanese Emperor at the time. These five had been part of a group of fifteen Japanese young men who were smuggled out of their homes by the leader of their clan (the Satsuma clan was one of the major clans responsible for the modernization of Japan). In 1865, these young men left Kagoshima harbor in the dark of night, debarked in Hong Kong, cut their hair, bought western clothes, and changed their names. It was then that Hikosuke Isonaga, son of a wealthy Confucian scholar, stone carver, and astronomer, became for the rest of his life Kanaye Nagasawa.

Nagasawa was the youngest of the group, and was the only one who did not return to Japan after the Meiji Restoration. The rest went back to become important representatives in the government of the emerging nation. The four others in the group who lived with Harris at his Brocton colony went home and were named ambassadors to the United States, Russia, and France and became professors of the first Western-style university of Japan, called Tokyo Imperial University. Nagasawa elected to stay with “father Faithful” of the Brotherhood of New Life, and lived at Brocton, New York. During these years, when he was sixteen and seventeen years old, Kanaye Nagasawa also attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

When Kanaye was eighteen, Thomas Lake Harris made a momentous move. He left for Santa Rosa, California to build a new colony that would become the new headquarters for his “Brotherhood.” The site he chose, located on the outskirts of Santa Rosa, was named “Fountain Grove: The Eden of the West.” Nagasawa was selected by Harris to be the among the elected few of his leadership, and Nagasawa’s task was cultivating grapes and sustaining the colony. The land purchased was a 600 acre estate in beautiful Sonoma County. Eventually, the utopian community disbanded, and Harris gave Nagasawa the entire estate, now totaling over 2,000 acres of prime agricultural land. Part of the colony included a unique round barn that stills stands today.

naga2Local denizens and the growing Japanese community of Sonoma County, California came to know him as the “Wine King” of California. He was the first to introduce California wines to England, Europe, and Japan. On weekends, he would invite local dignitaries and Japanese embassy officials to his lavish enormous estate and house. There they were given the finest entertainment and foods. By the turn of the century, Nagasawa was known as “Baron of Fountaingrove.” In his huge house, the rooms downstairs were filled with books encompassing literature and art from all over the world. He was known to have read hour after hour, all in English. His prolific letters and writings would eventually be donated to the Bancroft Library at the University of California at Berkeley.

In 1934, Nagasawa passed away, and left his estate to his niece and nephew. Due to discriminatory Alien Land Laws that forbade Japanese nationals from owning land or businesses in California, Nagasawa was forced to leave part of the ownership of Fountaingrove in the hands of a non-Japanese trustee. In 1942, under F.D.R.’s Executive Order 9066, his heirs lost this beautiful land. His descendants were incarcerated throughout the war years in the Japanese American internment camps, and Fountaingrove was confiscated by the trustee (a court case was entered to fight the confiscation, but the heirs lost the case). Today, the lands lost by Nagasawa are worth millions, but the descendants who survived the traumas of World War II living in the camps and who were still living in 1988 received a mere $20,000 for compensation for their lost land. The history of Kanaye Nagasawa is a truly Asian American story of pioneering spirit, triumphal achievement, bittersweet loss, and reconciliation.