By Emily Vizzo, Ventura County Star
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Although Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard opened in 2005, the company’s roots extend back 100 years, with the family’s Jewish founders fleeing post-Holocaust Eastern Europe as the Iron Curtain descended.
Family patriarch Eugene Herzog relied on Christian family friends to conceal his pregnant wife and five children in Slovakia during the Holocaust years, family members say.
Again fearing for his family’s safety as the Communist government issued its first demands, Herzog liquidated his fortune to purchase airfare for his family to relocate to New York via Prague on a 1948 refugee flight organized by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.
On Wednesday afternoon, Herzog family members gathered at the Oxnard winery’s 77,000-square-foot facility to unveil a historical document: a copy of the Pan American Airways passenger manifest of the plane that brought the family to the United States from Czechoslovakia. On the manifest are the names of Herzog, his wife, Sidonia, and their six children.
Pregnant wife was hidden
One of those children, David Herzog, CEO of Royal Wine Corp., the parent company of Herzog Wine Cellars, was present Wednesday to acknowledge the occasion. A Brooklyn, N.Y., resident, David Herzog explained that a neighbor woman who helped Sidonia Herzog give birth after months spent hiding in a basement chose his Christian first name, William.
Observing kosher rules, the pregnant Sidonia avoided eating meals prepared in the Christian household. Instead, she lived on potatoes cooked in an earthen pot which now holds a special place at David Herzog’s table.
“So (that) my kids and grandkids know what freedom is,” he said. “It’s very emotional. Appreciate the country we live in. It’s the greatest.”
Wells Fargo bank chief historian Andy Anderson stumbled upon the manifest in 2007 while searching National Archives digital documents, he said. The bank sometimes assists large clients, such as Royal wines, in researching business and family histories as a courtesy.
From a business perspective, clients can use the information to better articulate their corporate story, providing information to customers who may feel increased trust for a company after reviewing its history, Anderson said.
“I started to help them with their history largely for the purposes of sharing with children and grandchildren,” Anderson said. “The heart of doing business with anyone is knowing who they are and what they stand for.”
Shares were part of pay
Upon arrival in New York, the penniless Eugene Herzog, whose family had a winery and brewery in Czechoslovakia but lost it in the Holocaust, landed a job with a kosher Manhattan winery, said Joseph Herzog, grandson of Eugene and nephew of David. The company’s general manager and vice president of operations in California, he commutes to Oxnard daily from his Los Angeles home.
The struggling owners paid Eugene Herzog partially with company shares. In 1958 he acquired the winery and brought his sons aboard. They named the company Royal Wines in honor of the family’s original winemaker, Philip Herzog, who had been appointed a baron by Emperor Franz-Josef of the Austro-Hungarian court for his winemaking prowess over a century ago, Joseph Herzog said.
Manifest on display
Eugene and son Ernest Herzog expanded the company into California in 1985, eventually opening Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard with Joe Hurliman as winemaker.
The manifest will join historical photographs upstairs at the winery, where visitors can peer into windows overlooking the winery’s steel fermenting tanks, oak barrels and bottling station.
“The story is the American dream,” Joseph Herzog said. “This is basically showing escaping Europe and the Old World, coming to the U.S. penniless, and having that dream come true.”