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Liquid Gold

04/02/2013 03:39AM ● Published by Style

In the mid-1800s, Coloma boasted one of the largest wineries in the state of California: Coloma Vineyard Winery.

During its heyday, the winery crushed between 50 and 100 tons of grapes each season, supplying El Dorado County, Utah and Nevada’s Comstock Lode towns with wine, cordials and brandy.

As placer gold became scarce in the 1850s, residents of Coloma turned to other occupations, including growing fruit. Martin John Allhoff, Sr., a 49er, used his gold to purchase 35 acres of land southeast of downtown Coloma. In 1852, Allhoff returned to his native Ohio, married Louisa M. Weaver, and brought his bride to Coloma. Allhoff planted a vineyard and was soon producing a variety of wines, cordials and brandies. He found a ready market in Utah and Nevada (around the Virginia City area) and was eventually able to add 160 acres to the vineyard.

Allhoff had the first two cellars built in 1860 and 1866 of soft white rock quarried at Granite Hill south of Coloma; both cellars contained sixteen, 500-gallon casks made of Eastern oak. In 1867, Allhoff was called to Virginia City to settle charges of tax and license violations on his sales of spirits. Terrified he would go to prison and bring disgrace on his family, Allhoff committed suicide.

Louisa inherited the property and within three years married Robert Chalmers, who came to Coloma in 1850 in search of gold. He purchased the Sierra Nevada House—a hotel catering to miners and tradesmen—and planted a vineyard. His match with Louisa allowed Chalmers to expand his vineyard and the winery.

In 1875, Chalmers built a third cellar at the winery. It is rumored the walls were built of granite from the Old Coloma County Jail, which was torn down when the county seat moved to Placerville. The cornerstone was reputed to contain a bottle of each type of wine, brandy and cordial manufactured by the winery, along with letters, papers and artifacts. The main business office adjoined the third cellar and also housed the Western Union Telegraph office. A bell atop this building sounded each day at noon noting the correct time as received by the Western Union.

The Coloma Vineyard Winery produced an impressive array of wines and cordials, including Burgundy, Sherry, Port, Brandy, Zinfandel, Claret, Muscat, Catawba, Riesling, Sauterne and wine bitters.

In 1878, Chalmers began construction of the Vineyard House, which would become one of the finest hotels in northern California. The main building consisted of 18 rooms and was built at a cost of $15,000. Adjoining the hotel was a 25-foot by 90-foot ballroom. The establishment was noted for its fine dinners and dances; dignitaries, including President Ulysses S. Grant, are said to have been guests.

Chalmers met a tragic end in 1881, but Louisa continued to operate the business for several years, until losing the property to creditors. The Vineyard House on Cold Springs Road is all that remains of the enterprise.

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