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Bismarck Bruck was a descendant of prominent pioneer Napa Valley families—Bale and Vallejo. His family tree also included, by marriage, Charles Krug. Bruck, however, made a difference in his own right in the fields of viticulture, politics and civic improvements.

While Bruck lived most of his life Upvalley, he was born in Napa on Sept. 5, 1870 to Louis and Isadora “Lolita” Bruck. His father was an ambitious German immigrant. Not only did Louis become a prominent and successful businessman, he was Napa’s first mayor.

While Louis was a loyal, naturalized U.S. citizen, he was proud to be a German. To honor his homeland, Louis insisted his newborn son be named after Germany’s famed chancellor Bismarck. Even the St. John the Baptist priest could not dissuade Louis. Shortly thereafter, the infant was baptized as Bismarck Bruck. For reasons unknown, Bismarck was known to many by the nickname “Pete.”

Bismarck continued to call Napa home until Louis passed away in 1881. Following Louis’s death, his family moved Upvalley to Lolita’s family estate, Bale Ranch.

Lolita was a child of Edward and Maria Bale. Lolita’s sister, Caroline, married Krug. Their mother, Maria Bale was Mariano and Salvador Vallejo’s niece.

Returning to Bismarck’s story, during his adolescence, he lived and worked on the family property while attending school. This experience helped Bismarck develop an enviable skill set and knowledge in viticulture.

For a brief time, 18-year-old Bismarck worked for the Sierra Madeira Vintage Co. in the Pasadena area. But after receiving a letter from his maternal grandmother asking him to take over the operation and management of the Bale Ranch, Bismarck returned home.

In 1892, his Uncle Charles passed away and Krug’s 800,000 gallon capacity winery was transferred to James K. Moffitt. The Krug property soon became known as the Moffitt Ranch.

Also in 1892, Bismarck married Millie Adams of Calistoga. After Bismarck was hired as Moffitt’s manager in 1894, they lived on the ranch. Eventually, Bismarck leased the former Krug property. There, the Brucks raised their two sons, Theodore and Edwin. Sadly, Theodore died just before his third birthday.

As Bismarck and Millie dealt with their family life, he diligently worked to revive his late uncle’s legacy. Bismarck expanded operations and endeavored to find a solution to the phylloxera issue.

By 1896, the accepted convention to combat phylloxera was to replant the vineyards with grafted Rupestris St. George rootstock. University of California Professor Arthur Hayne persuaded Bismarck to import these phylloxera- resistant vines from Europe as well as to establish a vine nursery at Krug.

During the 1900-1901 planting season, Hayne’s theory proved correct as Bismarck sold 300,000 grafted St. George rootstock vines. Those grafts were performed as “benchgrafts.” One historical source states Bismarck invented that new grafting method, which became the viticulture industry’s accepted grafting method.

At about the same time, Bismarck entered the local political world as a school trustee. He would also be elected as a St. Helena trustee, Napa County supervisor and, in 1914, California assemblyman.

While an elected official, Bismarck championed numerous community improvement projects, including construction of seven Napa County stone bridges; road improvements and creating St. Helena’s Lyman Park.

As an Assemblyman, Bismarck fought Prohibition. Despite its approval in 1919, Bismarck introduced a bill establishing a compensation program to offset the financial impacts on the viticulture industry. But it failed.

In anticipation of Prohibition, Bismarck was a founding member of the Napa County Viticulture Association and California Grape Protection Association. Within his own business affairs, Bismarck tried to safeguard the Krug winery. He attempted to produce a good tasting, non-alcoholic wine, but he was unsuccessful. As a result, the Krug winery was shut down.

A non-viticulture related organization of great importance to Bismarck was the Native Sons of the Golden West. Eventually, he became its Grand President. As a Native Son, Bismarck championed the preservation of his maternal grandfather’s mill. In 1925, the Bale Mill was dedicated as California Historical Site #359.

Bismarck lost his beloved wife of 28 years when Millie passed away following a stroke complicated by pneumonia in early 1920. But Bismarck had a second chance at love. In 1923, he and a lon- time family friend, Mabel Ealand, surprised everyone with their marriage.

For the next few years, they lived happily in their Napa Valley home until 56-year-old Bismarck passed away in October, 1926.

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Email Rebecca Yerger at yegerenterprises@yahoo.com.

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