Between 1866 and 1920, Red Mountain Vineyard once produced the finest wine in the United States. One 1880 newspaper article praised, “the Red Mountain vineyard and winery [is] one of the most celebrated places in California, and its products, which rank with the best in the world, are all being taken by customers in the East.” Chinese laborers played a part in the vineyard’s development and success.
New York’s Abraham Schell bought 75 acres for a vineyard in 1863. Schell initially hired about 35 Chinese and Native American laborers for 30 cents a day. Crews terraced the hills, and ultimately planted 275 acres of wine grapes. Most notably, Schell hired a crew of veteran Chinese railroad workers, who once used explosives to excavate railroad tunnels, to blast and excavate through solid rock to create a large wine cellar in the side of a hill.
The cellar spanned 80 feet by 14 feet, and reached a height of 7 feet. The cellar was connected to a large L-shaped room that was 60 by 18 feet, and made from stone and adobe walls. These rooms held large fermenting tanks and casks.
The cellar directly connected to a larger, 3-story wine house built adjacent to the hillside. Workers unloaded and crushed the grapes on the top floor of the wine house, fermented the liquid on the middle floor, and distributed the liquid into containers on the bottom floor. Workers easily moved the wine from the house to the cellar through a connecting door to the hillside. Ultimately, workers loaded 150-gallon casks onto carts from the cellar loading doorway, that were then shipped to Albany, New York.
The Schell family continued to grow wine grapes in the vineyard until 1917, when a 3-year drought killed many of the plants. Coupled with Prohibition restrictions, the family sold the vineyard in 1920, and the new owners uprooted the vines and planted alfalfa and other ground crops.
In 2016, the fields continue to produce alfalfa. Remnants of the of the empty cellar and wine house walls can still be seen.