Along Highway 99 in Vancouver stands a building whose walls could tell the history of wine in Clark County dating back to 1935, with ties to a sparkling wine house in business today in California’s Central Valley.
The historical trading post known as Fort Vancouver is cited as the location for the first grapevines ever planted in the state of Washington, but it would take more than a century until Clark County could lay claim to its first winery.
In 1935, orchard and dairy farmer Henry Anderegg opened Columbia Wineries Inc. in Hazel Dell — along with his business partner and brother-in-law, Henry Naegeli — and ran it until his death in 1968. Still fondly known by longtime residents as the Old Winery, it was the 26th bonded winery in Washington and, according to a paper authored by Peter Blecha, was one of only four wineries operating in 1960.
Grandson Walter B. Anderegg said Columbia Wineries made fruit wine only — such as apricot, loganberry, pear and apple — as well as apple vinegar. The current building owner, James Barton, says it also made up to 90 proof brandies and in its day hailed itself as the third-oldest distillery permit west of the Mississippi River.
In the early years, Columbia Wineries employed two winemakers — Rudolph Weibel of Switzerland and Georges Bouhey of Paris.
Rudolph enjoyed success as a winemaker in Europe. In 1914, his Surfine Champus was awarded the highest honor at the National Exhibition in Berne. Consequently, he manufactured this exact same formula — a sparkling wine — under the Columbia Wineries label.
Fred Weibel Jr., grandson of Rudolph, said Rudolph worked in Clark County for three to four years before moving to San Francisco, where he made sparkling wine in the basement of the William Tell Hotel.
Fred Jr. added that his grandfather produced eau de vie, kirsch, Poire Williams and other distilled spirits in towns around Switzerland, so it’d be fair to assume he helped produce similar products for Columbia Wineries, though his efforts were primarily focused on fruit and berry wines as well as producing his own sparkling formula.
Rudolph went on to establish Weibel Family Vineyards & Winery in California, which is now located in the Central Valley town of Woodbridge and operated by Fred Jr.
Working in the lab
The second winemaker on record, Georges Bouhey, brought with him a family. Grandson Georges M. Bouhey said his father, Georges F., and mother, Artie, operated the winery with Anderegg and that — together with his older sister — they lived in a house on the property for the three to five years that George Sr. served as winemaker.
According to George M., his grandfather graduated from Sorbonne (a branch of the University of Paris) in Paris with a chemistry degree. He said he remembers seeing a photo of his grandfather in the Columbia Wineries lab studying a sample with a microscope.
The Old Winery enjoyed a resurrection as a fine dining establishment, appropriately named The Winery, in the early 1980s when Les and Lenette Watson invested $1 million to restore the aging building. The manager at the time, Danny Falco, said Anderegg had 10 acres of grapes and berries planted on the property back in 1936, but neither descendant of the original winemakers could confirm that.
Today the building, sitting at the intersection of Highway 99 and 104th Avenue, houses a church and serves as a reminder that Clark County’s wine history reaches farther back than most residents realize.