Debbie Arrington

Seeds: Wine sipping with a Victorian twist

Winery owner Joe Berghold, behind a 26-foot-long carved mahogany Eastlake bar that serves as the wine bar in the tasting room at the Berghold Estate Winery in Lodi.
Winery owner Joe Berghold, behind a 26-foot-long carved mahogany Eastlake bar that serves as the wine bar in the tasting room at the Berghold Estate Winery in Lodi. mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

Joe Berghold likes big red wines and antique furniture to match. And at his Lodi winery, he has the room for both.

“I call this my elegant California wine barn,” Berghold said of his 3,000-square-foot tasting room. “The ceilings are 28 feet high. You need big furniture for a room like this. Normal size would look diminutive.”

A lifelong collector, Berghold has assembled an amazing array of antiques, many of them over-sized relics too big to fit into today’s modern homes. Many of his finds – including a once-forgotten masterpiece – were salvaged from Victorian mansions, commercial buildings and churches.

“I own 120 armoires,” he said with a shrug. “Did I mention I also collect clocks?”

As he spoke, two gnomes adorning a 13-foot Amish mechanical clock banged their hammers on an antique brass chime.

For his tasting room, Berghold decided to concentrate on pieces from the 1880s and 1890s, the height of the Gilded Age. America’s aristocracy lived large and had the fancy furniture to prove it.

Berghold, who turns 77 next week, had the tasting room built around architectural elements such as doors, windows and cabinetry salvaged from demolished mansions and other buildings.

“Look at those corbels,” he said of 70 ornately carved wood supports tucked under the barn’s eaves. “Those are all cabriole legs from antique grand pianos.”

Ten-foot carved cherry doors with leaded glass sidelights open into the tasting room. The 26-foot Eastlake walnut bar once graced a major Philadelphia hotel and, once Prohibition went into effect, a brothel. Refugees from a forgotten church, saints in stained glass windows peer over the adjacent barrel room, which includes its own Victorian pulpit (perfect for delivering toasts).

Besides making highly regarded zinfandels, syrahs and other fine wines, the 85-acre boutique winery is full of memorable sights and sounds. Sculpted by Vittorio Caradossi, a marble sea nymph graces an alcove in the tasting room; she had been a showstopper at the 1900 Paris World Fair. Nicknamed “Last Call” by Berghold, an imposing whiskey cabinet boasts the carved wooden doors of a 1913 Cadillac hearse; the cabinet’s handles came from a Victorian casket. (Berghold designed this piece himself.)

Several armoires have been repurposed as wine storage cabinets or cigar humidors. One contains 24 instruments in an electronic one-man band machine.

“I wanted to create a place where people can come and smile,” Berghold said. “I was CFO of Six Flags (the amusement park company) and I learned that, at the tasting room level, wine is really the entertainment business. People can come here, enjoy themselves and see something they won’t find anywhere else.”

His father started buying and selling antiques in 1920 in Pennsylvania. That gave Berghold an eye for quality and a knack for deals. Recently, he acquired the treasure of a lifetime. And his find has prompted the antique world to make a beeline to Berghold Estate Winery.

“It’s one of the most famous antiques in America,” Berghold said proudly. “It’s a masterpiece of the Aesthetic Movement.”

Now welcoming visitors to the tasting room is the massive, carved walnut, Moore mantelpiece, standing 16 feet tall.

The size of two Doberman pinschers, twin gargoyles beg for attention on the ornately carved mantel. Life-size owls perch on the finials. Rows of delicate sunflowers and roses grace the side panels and trim. Gold gilt covers a huge triangle of rosettes.

The focal point of the Moore mansion in Philadelphia, the mantelpiece was designed by architect Frank Furness and carved by renowned cabinetmaker Daniel Pabst. They created it for paper magnate Bloomfield Moore and his wife, author Clara Jessup Moore. Other works by Pabst and Furness sit in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

In 1884, critics in “Artistic Homes” (the “House Beautiful” of its day) heralded the mantelpiece as a monumental highlight of fine American furnishings. And this hand-carved masterpiece almost went to the dump.

“The mansion was bought by the city and torn down in the 1950s for redevelopment,” Berghold said. “A worker saw (the mantelpiece) and saved it from the dump. He took it home and put it in his hay barn in Lancaster.”

For six decades, arts and antiques experts thought the mantelpiece had been lost forever. Instead, it was resting in 10 crates.

“That hay barn probably saved it,” Berghold noted. “It protected it from humidity and the elements, so the wood stayed in magnificent condition.”

The mantelpiece might not have been lost, but it was forgotten. After its rescuer’s death, the farm was sold and the barn’s contents went to auction.

“His family inherited it but never knew what they had,” Berghold said.

Two antique dealers bid on the crates with their contents sight unseen. The winning bidder, a regular picker for Berghold, contacted him.

“He told me he thought it must be something from an Egyptian tomb,” Berghold said with a chuckle, “except it’s 3,500 years too young.”

Berghold accepted it anyway, trading some other antiques for the crates. He sent the mantelpiece to a restoration expert for an appraisal and soon realized they’d found history.

A team of conservators and consultants (including Pabst’s great-grandson) lovingly brought the mantelpiece back to its original glory. Instead of greeting Vanderbilts and Rockefellers to fireside chats in Philadelphia, it lords over wine sippers in Lodi.

“This sort of workmanship really is a lost skill,” Berghold said as he fingered the fine carving. “You can stand in front of it and see something different every time.”

Call The Bee’s Debbie Arrington, (916) 321-1075. Follow her on Twitter @debarrington. Read her Seeds columns at sacbee.com/debbie-arrington

BERGHOLD ESTATE WINERY

Where: 17343 N. Cherry Road (just north of Hwy. 12), Lodi

When: Open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays.

Details: (209) 333-9291, www.bergholdvineyards.com

ON THE RADIO

▪ Got a garden question? Bee garden columnist Debbie Arrington joins Farmer Fred Hoffman on the radio Sunday for his back-to-back shows to talk tomatoes, roses, camellias, drought, bugs and more. Tune in to “The KFBK Garden Show” on KFBK/1530 AM from 8 to 10 a.m. Sunday and “Get Growing” on KSTE/Talk 650 AM from 10 a.m. to noon Sunday.

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