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Heidi comes to San FranSWISSco

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Contestants with Alex Herrmann, Director of Switzerland Tourism

There was a Heidi look-a-like contest today in San Francisco sponsored by SWISS Air Lines. The plucky Swiss miss made famous in the 19th century by Johanna Spyri was on display in various incarnations at Justin Herman Plaza from the traditional to the risqué. Many contestants made their own outfits, and all had their own unique spin on the Swiss icon.

The Heidi look-a-likes were judged by a panel of San Francisco and Swiss judges, including MCs Fernando and Greg of MOVin 99.7; Annette Reantragoon, SWISS Director of Passenger Sales USA; Joe D’Alessandro, President and CEO of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau; Alex Herrmann, Director of Switzerland Tourism, North America; Hooman, Alice Morning Show personality; and TV host and performer Donna Sachet.

Kristy "Heidi" Siefkin

The winning Heidi received two round-trip tickets in SWISS Business from SFO to Zürich, and three hotel nights in Zürich plus two four-day First Class Swiss Rail passes for trains, buses and boats. Second prize included two round-trip tickets in SWISS Economy from SFO to Zürich, three hotel nights in Zürich, and two four-day First Class Swiss Rail passes for trains, buses and boats. Third prize included a fondue dinner for four at San Francisco’s famed Matterhorn restaurant.

Besides great prizes for the best contestants, the event benefited the Academy of Friends and the Breast Cancer Emergency Fund. Each organization received a travel package for two to Switzerland, including round-trip SWISS Business tickets, and hotel designated for use in their fundraising purposes.

The Grand Prize winner was Kristy Siefkin. She is a graduate student in multimedia journalism and has been to Switzerland just once before. She is looking forward to going back next winter or spring… thanks to SWISS.

Written by jdeburen

October 7, 2010 at 10:24 pm


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On Friday evening I was priveleged to attend the book signing for Westward by Swiss author Susann Bosshard-Kälin at the Robert Mondavi winery. The book revolves around 15 portraits of Swiss women who immigrated to the United States in the 20th century. “The fifteen stories show women standing between two worlds, two cultures, and two languages, – but above all people who have shaped their lives and world with a zest for life, with humor, courage, equanimity, and wisdom.” The event specifically honored two of the California-Swiss women interviewed in Westward, Anna Conti-Tonini and Margarit Mondavi Biever Kellenberger.

Robert Mondavi Winery

The event was held in a private room at the winery which opened onto a breathtaking vineyard. The sun set slowly over the hills, bathing the room in an amber glow as friends of the honorees mingled and drank wine.

Historian Loe Schelbert, an eminent scholar on American immigration and the Swiss in the United States originally provided the author with the idea for the book. Schelbert noted in an early conversation with Bosshard-Kälin that “documentary sources of women emigrants are little known, although women acheived just as much as men either by themselves or as mothers or partners.”

After conferring with Schelbert at his home near Chicago, Bosshard-Kälin went on a muli-year journey across the U.S. in search of unique Swiss immigrant stories. One of her daughters also tagged along and is responsible for the wonderful photos within the collection.

The author signing copies

Anna Conti Tonini, one the women interviewed would immigrate to California and marry a man whose family had also come from Ticino. She still has vivid memories of the Ticino of her youth. “Milking was a daily task, and in the summer making hay was the main task for us children. Two cuts yearly, one at the end of May when the meadows were full of flowers, the second cut in July or early August… We had little money, but we lived well… We never went hungry. We fed ourselves from our own vegetables, potatoes, milk, butter and cheese.”

In a great passage, another interviewee, Magarit Mondavi, wife of Napa Valley legend Robert Mondavi, summed up her love of Switzerland, appreication for the United States and outlook on life this way: “I have lived in Switzerland but a quarter of my life. And yet something from that time remains in my heart. I like to travel every year to my old homeland. But I feel American through and through. The opneness and freedom in this country are wonderful. I could realize my dreams. Bob told me many times, ‘If you have a job that you like you don’t have to work another day in your life. And then, do it as well as you can.’ These were good tips from Bob. In my life, I have found much I like to do, much that give me joy.”

Bosshard-Kälin’s collection of interviews are both touching and inspiring. They are a testament to the human spirit and should not be missed.

Copies of Westward can be purchased through the Swiss American Historical Society, Book Editor, 2523 Asbury Avenue, Evanston, IL 60201.

Written by jdeburen

September 19, 2010 at 1:28 am

Swiss Hotel Sonoma

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Swiss Hotel Plaque

One of my favorite spots in Northern California is the Square in Sonoma. It is right in the heart of Sonoma wine county, is a great place for a picnic with the family and is rich with history. The square was the Pomo and Miwok Indians’ sacred meeting ground, the site 1846 Bear Flag Revolt and home of California’s Northern-most mission.

On the North side of the square sits the Swiss Hotel. The structure was first built by Don Salvador Vallejo, brother of Mexican General Mariano Vallejo. It was later occupied by various pioneers and in 1861 became the house of Dr. Victor J. Fauré, French-born vintner of prize-winning wines made from the grapes of the Vallejo family vineyards.

Swiss Hotel

Its life as a hotel started as a stagecoach stop in the 1870’s. In 1882, it was purchased by the Toroni family and was initially called the Ticino Hotel, serving railroad passengers and employees who stopped in Sonoma for the night. It would later become the Swiss Hotel in 1909 when an establishment of the same name on the West side of the plaza burned to the ground and the Toroni’s took the name for themselves. Hank Marioni is the fourth generation of his family operating the Swiss Hotel as a hotel and restaurant.

The interior lobby is adorned with family photos, deeds, tax bills, and even a birth certificate from Ticino. It has a wonderful back patio and has a great old California feel. It is a wonderful piece of California and Ticinesi history.

Memorabilia Adorns the Walls

An interesting wine anecdote for those that like Zinfandel. Vallejo’s wine-maker, Victor Fauré is considered the father of California Zinfandel. Early on many different vareitals were planted in Sonoma, but one winter the frost was cruel and the only varietal to survive was Zinfandel. General wisdom was that the grapes were to acidic and would not make a good wine, Fauré disagreed. “Later, after they tasted the young wine Fauré made from the grapes, Sonoma vineyardists quickly developed a solid respect for this strangely spelled variety.” (1)

(1) Zinfandel: a history of a grape and its wine, Charles Lewis Sullivan

Written by jdeburen

September 17, 2010 at 8:42 pm

90th Anniversary of the Stanislaus County Swiss club

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Just south of Modesto in a eucalyptus grove nestled between corn fields and diary farms stands the Stanislaus County Swiss Club. The club which was founded in 1920, celebrated its 90th anniversary this past Sunday.

1925 Photo of Club Founders

“The first Swiss club in San Joaquin Valley was formed in Stanislaus County in 1920 at Yori’s Grove, Modesto California.  It was a social gathering of the Swiss Italians and the Swiss Germans. The spirit of the fellowship as expressed in the Swiss motto, ‘One For All And All For One’, has been passed down from one generation to the next.” (1)

“Early organizers of the club went all over the area collecting $1.00 original dues from the Swiss people. The first picnic was held on a railroad platform near where the club makes it home today, Yori’s Grove. Farming then was mostly grain land and volunteer pastures. The days of the early Swiss were filled with hard work and also a lot of fun. There was more time for visiting and more time for friends.” (2)

Ott Family Band

I was lucky enough to be seated next to Janiene Yori, granddaughter of Antone Yori after whom Yori’s grove is named. Yori had donated the land in 1920 to start the club. At the time all Swiss from the San Joaquin valley, primarily Italian Swiss and German Swiss came to the club. During his speech on the background of the club, Ed Sciarini made mention of a rift that would eventually occur between the Ticinesi and the German Swiss in matters of honor and sport surely fueled by too much local wine.

“The Swiss German people were more active in sporting events such as ‘schwinging’  (Swiss wrestling) and the tug-of-war contests. Tug-of-war contests were made up of two teams; the Swiss Germans on one side and the Swiss Italians on the other. The contests were taken very seriously and it was reported that this competition contributed to the division of the two groups into the present separate clubs.” (3)

Edwin Genasci and his prize Swiss cow

As a result of this rift the Stanislaus County Swiss Club is mostly Ticinesi while the San Joaquin Valley Swiss Club in Ripon is mostly German Swiss. That being said, the 90th anniversary event at Yori’s Grove was truly a Swiss event. There was accordion music, talerschwingen, a Swiss wrestling demonstration, and a parade of cows. In a scene reminiscent of the Sound of Music (Austrian reference I know, stay with me), came the terrifically talented Ott family whose children sang, played music and yodeled all the while in traditional Swiss attire.

It was a memorable event, and as a newcomer I was treated with great warmth by all those I met. I came away feeling that those in attendance were proud of their Swiss heritage and wanted to stay connected with Switzerland. For those in Switzerland who may not understand what the Auslandschweizer mean to Switzerland, I think this club is a great example of what needs to be celebrated.

(1, 3) San Joaquin Valley Swiss Club History Page

(2) Stanislaus County Swiss Club History Page

Written by jdeburen

September 7, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Italian-Swiss Colony

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Statue at Asti

Drawn by the name, today I ventured to Asti, former home of the Italian-Swiss Colony winery in Northern Sonoma County.

In 1880, California viticulture was rising in prominence. For Andrea Sbarboro, an Italian-American businessman, a winery seemed a natural fit for his Italian countrymen who were looking for work. He formed a new association chartered to fund an agricultural investment. Membership would be limited to Italians, but given the closeness of the Ticinesi both culturally and linguistically, Swiss were also allowed to join. He would name his venture the Italian-Swiss Agricultural Colony.

Sbarboro was an Italian immigrant who had arrived in San Francisco in 1850 at the age of 13. He started in the grocery business but later shifted his activities to local loan associations. He would famously found the Italian-American Bank, which merged in 1927 with A. P. Giannini’s Bank of Italy to become the Bank of America.

“When Asti was founded more than 125 years ago as Italian Swiss Colony, the goal was to create a thriving community that revolved around wine. For a while, that plan worked – at one point in the 1960s, the winery was the No. 2 tourist attraction in the state, second only to Disneyland.

Italian-Swiss Colony Plaque

The modern history of the Asti Winery began in 1881. An Italian immigrant named Andrea Sbarboro founded it as a place to re-create life in the old country. Sbarboro invited anybody of Italian or Swiss descent to join him and work the land for a share of the profits – and, of course, wine.

Within months, nearly a dozen families had answered the call, taking the train north from San Francisco to form a 1,620-acre community.” (1)

Early on, the Colony only grew grapes for other wineries, but in 1887, the price paid for a ton grapes had fallen to only $8, which didn’t even cover costs. Sbrarboro had to make a decision to either close down or move forward as a vintner himself. He chose to make his own wine.

The first winemaker he hired was from Switzerland and tragically an old-world technique did not translate to California. “Sbarboro had hired a winemaker from Switzerland, where they had to close the door and windows of the winery during harvest to get the winery warm enough to support fermentation. When the unfortunate winemaker closed the doors of the winery at the broiling Asti, he was rewarded with a winery filled with vinegar.” (2)

Vintage Cellars

Afterwards, Sbarboro would hire Pietro Rossi as his winemaker, an Italian with a degree in agricultural chemistry.

“Incorporating high-quality Charbono, Mourvedre and Zinfandel grapes, Rossi released his first vintage of cheap, simple red table wine in 1886. He called it Tipo Chianti.

As interest in Tipo Chianti grew, so too did the Asti winery facilities. The first building, a two-story concrete-and-timber structure, opened in 1887 and housed the colony’s presses and nine 12,000-gallon redwood tanks. It also included cellars where Sbarboro aged his barrels of red wine. One of these was Cellar No. 8.

By the late 1800s, the Asti Winery was cranking out 2 million gallons of wine per year. To manage this volume, Rossi had to improve upon traditional winemaking techniques. He pioneered temperature-controlled fermentation and became the first California winemaker to use sulfur dioxide as an antioxidant.”

Little Old Winemaker

From the beginning, the colony had been popular with tourists, but the numbers of visitors exploded in the late 1950s and early 1960s thanks in part to the “Little Old Winemaker” ad campaign. In the late 1950s, ISC served visitors a whopping total of 4,000 gallons of wine annually. Few modern tasting rooms pour more than 2,000 gallons a year. The imagery of that time seemed to veer towards a Germanic Swiss appeal, rather than Italian. A great commercial for Italian-Swiss Colony’s Vin Rosé can be seen here.

“Amid an evolving wine business and a string of ownership changes, the Asti Winery shut its doors to the public in the late 1980s and essentially became an industrial wine factory. Now the facility is back under the brand Cellar No. 8, a tribute to one of the locations where it all began.”

(1) Cellar No. 8 a tribute to Asti Winery’s birth, San Francisco Chronicle

(2) Legacy of a Village, Jack W. Florence

Written by jdeburen

August 29, 2010 at 9:54 pm

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