Andrew Rasmussen, a Danish native, worked his way up from vineyard worker to a highly regarded vineyard and winery superintendent in Napa Valley. He credited his success, at least in part, to taking advantage of every opportunity to learn about viticulture and enology.
To pursue his dream, 16 year old Rasmussen left Denmark in 1876. For the next three years he lived and worked on his uncle Hans Rasmussen’s Nebraska farm. Andrew left for San Francisco in 1879 where he worked in a machine shop during the day and attended school at night.
Rasmussen continued his educational pursuits when he arrived in Napa Valley. Tom Gregory, author of the 1912 “The History of Solano and Napa Counties, California” book, wrote, “In 1880 he came to Napa County and found employment at the Talcoa vineyard, here taking up the study of viticulture under Prof. George Husmann, during the following four years.”
Husmann hired Rasmussen to be his Chiles Valley vineyard foreman. Two years later in 1886, Rasmussen to become foreman at the Wheeler vineyard and winery in St. Helena, where he worked for three years. Simultaneously, he worked as foreman for the nearby Lemme vineyard.
According to Gregory, “During all these years spent in the study of this line of industry, Mr. Rasmussen had developed remarkable aptitude.”
As his expertise grew so did his professional advancements. In 1890, Rasmussen became the superintendent of the 130-acre Summit vineyard. He held that position for 18 years.
During that time frame, Rasmussen met and married Evelyn Penland, a daughter of early Napa County settler farmers, Issac and Susan (March) Penland. Andrew and Evelyn eventually had four children, Pearl, Rolla, Edna and Ivan.
Following his marriage and as his family grew, in 1898, Rasmussen left Summit to created a Napa Valley homestead. From his 120 Calistoga area acres, Rasmussen cleared 40 acres of timber to construct a comfortable family home as well as outbuildings and planted a 30-acre vineyard.
Gregory continued, “About this time he entered the employ of the California Wine Association (CWA) at the Greystone winery and each season for the following five years had charge of the manufacturing of the wine.”
In 1903 CWA sent Rasmussen to Fresno to run its Scandinavian vineyard and winery. But a few years later Rasmussen left CWA to return to Napa Valley. In 1906 he accepted Husmann’s job offer of “special agent in viticulture.” Gregory wrote, “and at that time (he) was the only special agent in the state.” As for what that position actually was as well as its details and responsibilities, Gregory omitted that information.
While the title of his new job sounded intriguing and even privileged, Rasmussen left that job about a year later to return to CWA to become the superintendent of all of their Fresno area vineyards and wineries. He supervised the operations of two wineries and 1240 acres of vineyard.
About two years later, 1909, CWA transferred the 49-year-old Rasmussen back to their Napa Valley properties. Although he supervised only two Napa Valley wineries, their combined production capacity was 2.1 million gallons of wine.
“Mr. Rasmussen still owns his ranch near Calistoga, which is looked after by his son, Rolla. It is known as the Monte Vista, or mountain view, vineyard. The Rasmussen family is still comfortably located on their home ranch,” Gregory wrote in 1912. “In the business circle Mr. Rasmussen is well known and, during the many years that he has been connected with the wine business and the growing of grapes, has become a recognized authority along those lines.”