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California Genealogy and History Archives

Sonoma County


F. Korbel & Bros., Inc.

Instances without number might be furnished illustrating the opportunities offered by California to men of energy, keen foresight and sagacious judgment, but doubtless none would more forcibly indicate the advantages of the commonwealth than a citation of the careers of the brothers whose business title introduces this article and whose remarkable success is a source of pride to the citizens of their home county. The location presented a favorable opportunity for the development of business interests and the men possessed the keen mental powers necessary to the upbuilding of an important enterprise. One-half century has passed since they sought the shores of the Pacific, moneyless but not mistrustful of the future among strangers. The era has been one of progress and almost uniform success, and we find them, fifty years after their arrival, in positions of high financial trust and assured commercial responsibility, with a national reputation in the industry to which they devote their large talents.

The members of the firm comprise Francis Korbel and his brother, Anton F., and until his death, in February, 1900, Joseph K. was also a member of the firm. All were natives of Bohemia, and early in boyhood each youth was apprenticed to a trade. Francis, eldest of the three, acquired a thorough knowledge of the manufacture of cigars and tobacco; the others served their time at the trade of machinist. As boys they crossed the ocean to New York City and secured work at their various occupations. From that city they came in 1860 via the Isthmus of Panama to California and settled in San Francisco, where they followed their trades. During 1862 the brothers formed a partnership and embarked in business for themselves, starting the first cigar-box factory in San Francisco. In the manufacture of these boxes Mexican cedar is used and this lumber was brought up from Mexico in sailing vessels. Very often these ships would bring a mixed cargo of hardwood to be sold in one lot and thus the brothers soon found that they had a large stock of the various kinds of hardwood grown in Mexico and Central America. This prompted them to embark in another business and they started the first hardwood lumber yards in San Francisco. As the business increased they bought their own sailing vessels and sent them to all parts of the world with cargoes of hardwood.

Coming to Sonoma county in 1872 the brothers purchased timber lands on the Russian river near what is now Korbel and here they erected two sawmills. For a considerable period the mills were in constant operation sawing the lumber and by the year 1883, most of the timber had been removed, leaving the cleared land. The cultivation of the vast tracts was a matter of importance. One of the lifelong ambitions of the brothers had been the raising of grapes and the making of good wines, and so they decided to start vineyards. In a short time the once timbered hills and valleys had been transformed into cultivated vineyards. Soon it was proved that the imported vines, grown in the soil along the Russian river, were capable of producing wines equal to the most famous wine countries of Europe. During 1886 the first wine cellar was built and as the vineyards increased the second cellar was added. In 1890 a branch house was started in Chicago and all the products of the vineyard are shipped east, whence they are distributed to local merchants. As early as 1894 the brothers began to produce California champagne by the famous French method “fermented in bottles.” Prior to their successful attempt it had been asserted that champagne could not be produced in California, but the firm has proved to the satisfaction of all that it is possible to that it is possible to manufacture an article equal to, if not better than, many of the imported varieties whose delicacy and richness of flavor are the proud boast of their producers in Europe.

History of Sonoma County, California
Biographical Sketches of The Leading Men and Women of the County Who Have Been Identified With Its Growth and Development from the Early Days to the Present
History By: Tom Gregory
Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California (1911)

Transcribed by Peggy Hooper 2011