Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Haunted Wineries of the West

It’s October, when thoughts turn to harvest, Halloween, and hauntings – the perfect time to explore a haunted winery or two.  This month, Joy’s JOY of Wine will take a look at haunted wineries across the U.S. and the world. So pour a glass of something dark and brooding as we explore some ‘spirited’ wineries, and those who make them so…

Inglenook (formerly Rubicon)
It began as Inglenook Winery back in 1879, and was founded by Gustave Niebaum, a Finnish sea captain.  He became one of the original partners in the Alaska Commercial Company, and one of the richest men in the world, at the time. Niebaum was also one of the original commercial winemakers in Napa Valley. 

Inglenook (which means, cozy area,) was named by the original property owner, William  Watson.  Niebaum kept the name when he acquired the property.  In 1975, Francis Ford Coppla bought 1,500 acres of the property.  The brand name and the historic winery, along with the 94 remaining acres were purchased by Heublein, Incorporated.  Heublein then began producing lower grade wines and releasing them under the Inglenook name.

In 1995, Coppla acquired the winery and remaining acreage.  He renamed it the Niebaum-Coppla Estate Winery.  Coppla later renamed it Rubicon Estate Winery.  Finally, in 2011, Coppla bought the rights to the historic Inglenook name and renamed the estate and wine brand by its original designation, Inglenook Winery.

It is thought that Niebaum is one of three ghosts that haunt Inglenook today.  Always a stickler for a spotless winery, many have seen Niebaum inspecting the cleanliness of the buildings and wine making areas.  Those who have seen him describe the apparition as a tall, slender man with a white beard,

Employees believe the second ghost is that of Niebaum's general manager, John Armstrong.  Armstrong can sometimes be seen outside of the winery doors, surveying the buildings and the land.

The third spirit wandering the grounds of Inglenook is thought to be that of Niebaum’s great grand-nephew, John Daniel, Jr. The Daniel family inherited the estate when Niebaum’s widow, Susan, died in 1936.  John Daniels, Jr. took over the winery operation and increased its reputation in the coming years.

Inglenook Winery is located at 1919 St Helena Highway
Rutherford, California.  Learn more at

Stags Leap Winery
Another California winery with restless spirits is Stags Leap Winery.  Built in 1888, by Horace and Minnie Chase, the 240-acre property was one of California’s first wine estates.

The Manor House was built of stone, with a crenellated corner tower constructed from local quarried rock.  The home has been put to several uses over the past 124 years. including as a residence, a resort, a rooming house, a brothel, a retreat for WWII navy personnel, left abandoned for a time, and now, as a winery.  Gangsters, gypsies, and bootleggers have all frequented the Manor House, which could explain why it is haunted…

Among the strange phenomena reported, doors open and close on their own, along with unexplained sounds echoing throughout the house.

Several have told of seeing a young woman on the second floor, possible a prostitute from when the home was used as a bordello.  The woman usually ignores any one present and continues on her way, walking through walls and doors. But she has supposedly spoken to one employee, although he would not repeat what she said.

Another employee reported three separate incidents when an acorn fell on his desk.  After searching the room and finding no way for the acorns to have appeared, the staff agreed that it must be the resident ghost having a bit of sport.  The three acorns are available for visitors to see in the Manor’s Library room.

Stags Leap Winery is open 7 days a week, 362 days a year. For information on wine tastings, or historical tours, visit

Beringer was founded in 1876 by two German brothers, Fredrick and Jacob Beringer.  The 17-room Victorian mansion was built in the same style as the family's original home in Germany.  The mansion was completed in 1884 and later named the Rhine House.

The home was later used as an inn during the 1940’s, and refurbished in the 1970’s.  It was placed on the National List of Historic Places in 1971. Beringer’s was bought out by Foster’s Brewing Group of Australia in 2000.

Ghosts and hauntings have been reported here for years.  In fact, a list of events reported by staff and employees are kept in a file. Many have seen apparitions appear in and near the Avenue of Elms in front of the property.

During the late 1870's and early 80's, the Beringer Brothers had tunnels dug into the side of Spring Mountain.  This was so the wines could be aged in the perfect conditions provided there. (Temperatures around 58 to 60 Fahrenheit and humidity of 75 – 80%, year-round.)  However, the tunnels, chiseled out by hand, were dug at a price.  Some Chinese immigrant workers lost their lives when tunnels collapsed before being finished. Those workers who never made it out are said to haunt the tunnels where  they were trapped and died.

But the most active location on the property appears to be the original Rhine House Mansion.  The staff and public have  reported the sound of footsteps when no one is near, and lights turning on and off.  A man has been seen walking through walls by employees, after the house has closed for the day.

Several incidents have been reported in the Founder’s Tasting Room, what was once Fredrick Beringer’s bedroom. Reports include a feeling of being watched, and objects begin moved or thrown halfway across the room. Many believe the ghost is that of Fredrick Beringer, still keeping an eye on his beloved winery and vineyards.

In 2001, the estate was placed on the National Register for Historic Places as a Historic District.  To learn more about the oldest continuously-operating winery in the valley, visit

Next week, our final look at haunted wineries – this time in the Northwestern U.S.

~ Joy