Korbel Champagne Cellars started off with a bang–literally. According to family lore, Francis Korbel was in Prague in 1848 and fired the shot that started a revolution against the monarch of the Austrian Empire. The young Korbel landed in Daliborka Prison. He managed to escape, however, reportedly with the help of his grandmother who provided civilian clothes that allowed him to stroll out an unlocked gate to freedom, casually smoking a cigar. He soon fled to New York City and then to San Francisco.
Francis was joined by his brother Anton, a renowned forger. Together, they formed the first cigar box factory in San Francisco. Once again the siblings took to the road after some questionable business dealings and several threats upon their safety. They came to rural Sonoma County, built two sawmills, purchased a schooner named Bohemia, and started supplying the Bay Area with lumber. When the building boom subsided, however, they found themselves holding a lot of timber for which there was little demand. Being the resourceful types that they were, the Korbel brothers began to grow alfalfa, beets, corn, prunes, using some of the crops to feed cows and start a dairy. The boys also began to plant vineyards along the banks of the lower Russian River. By the end of the 19th century, Korbel Champagne Cellars had won several blue ribbons for their bubbly. And the rest, as they say, is history. Who says crime doesn’t pay?