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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

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

From Geneva to Tranquility

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As an ongoing feature of the Helvetic. LA blog site I will be featuring stories of Swiss emigrants who came to California, their unique stories and how they have made a positive impact on their new home. I thought it fitting that I start with the story of my own Swiss grandfather.

Henri de Büren (1900-1986)

My grandfather, Henri de Büren was born in 1900 on the family ranch in Santa Victoria, Argentina. He was the first son of Philippe Frédéric de Büren (1865-1953) a Swiss emigrant to Argentina and Louisa Fabrini (1882-1974). He would spend his first 11 years in Argentina, before the family moved back to Geneva, ostensibly for the schooling of Henri and his siblings.

Henri was very handsome, athletic, and stubborn. In his youth, he loved spending time in the mountains, and I would told that he climbed the Matterhorn more than once. In his early 20s while still living with the family in Geneva, his father got him a job at a local factory. Henri would leave every morning with his lunchbox and overalls, and return in the evening, very tired. After a number of weeks, Henri’s father contacted the owned of the factory where he was supposedly working, and the owner said, “your son never showed up”. Being quite the playboy and bon vivant, Henri had thrown his lunchbox and overalls in the bushes a couple of blocks from the family home, and had been spending his days with his friends in town.

His father was none too pleased, and in effort to teach his son a lesson and at the same give him the practical skills to run a large farm. His father always assumed that he would return one day to Argentina and take over the ranch. Henri’s father sent him in 1923 to Tranquility, California, near Fresno to work on the farm of Lawrence Schorsch, a fellow Swiss. Why he was sent to this particular farm, is a mystery.

Henri worked for a while on the Schorsch farm and then moved to Fresno where he got a job with the power local utility, doing among other things killing rattlesnakes in advance of workers installing power lines. He would later move to San Francisco and marry Emilie Lasserre, a teacher of French Basque origin, who interestingly had taught Joe DiMaggio as a boy.

Henri and his brother Philippe in Geneva, 1954

At that point Henri had decided to make his life in San Francisco, and would return to Switzerland and Argentina later in life only on vacation. He would not take over the ranch as his father had intended. The job would fall to his youngest brother Carlos, whose children make up the current Argentine branch of the family.

While in San Francisco Henri did many different jobs. Among them was draftsman for the famous architect Julia Morgan, and working the night shift at a local brewery.

My most enduring memories of him were his great love of nature and his incredible culinary talents. He was able to prepare seven course French meals in a very small kitchen and when he was younger would give French country pâté “fait maison” as a Christmas gift. I used to call him “Grand”, short for the French grand-père, and he and my grandmother would often pick me up after elementary school and take me the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park.

Henri died in 1986, followed only two weeks after by Emilie, his wife of some 50 years.

Henri was a study in contrasts. He was a very serious and reserved man, who could at times be incredibly gregarious. He valued his physical strength but at the same time was highly creative, and probably much more sensitive than he would ever acknowledge. And like many emigrants he walked a sometimes difficult line of being a patriotic American without forgetting his rich European heritage and Argentine roots.

To learn more about the de Büren family and Swiss roots that extend back to the 12th century please visit http://threebeehives.blogspot.com/

Written by jdeburen

July 24, 2010 at 8:12 am

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