Vinous Secrets of the Hearst Castle

hearstDuring the period of Prohibition in America, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst took an editorial stance for temperance but against the 18th Amendment.

“I consider the 18th Amendment not only the most flagrant violation of the basic American principle of personal liberty that has ever been imposed on the American public, but the most complete failure as a temperance measure that has ever been conceived and put into impractical operation,” he wrote.

At the Hearst Castle on California’s Central Coast, visitors who take the Cottages and Kitchen Tour can see Hearst’s wine cellar, consisting of two rooms with double-vault doors in the basement of the Casa Grande building.

According to the castle’s website, the iron doors were installed as early as 1924. That August, Hearst’s secretary, Joe Willicombe, wrote, “Mr. Hearst told me to tell Mr. Rossi [the construction superintendent] to put the iron doors on the wine vault. Mr. Hearst wants to lock the vault and take the keys with him. He does not consider the wooden doors any protection against possible thievery.”

The wine cellar doors were always kept locked. As Hearst employee Wilfred Lyons said in an interview, “Mr. Hearst would lock up his cellar and you couldn’t get into it. I mean, even the butler had to order ahead.”

Hearst served wine to guests throughout Prohibition, tapping his extensive collection of bottlings from the Alsace, Bordeaux and Burgundy regions of France, and the Rhine and Moselle regions of Germany.

Grapes were grown on the Hearst property, but were used for eating, not making wine. Ironically, much acreage in the surrounding San Luis Obispo County, mostly barren during Hearst’s lifetime, today is devoted to vineyards that produce the “raw materials” for world-class wines.

The Cottages and Kitchen Tour provides a look at both the personal and practical sides of the castle. It lasts 45 minutes, covers approximately three-quarters of a mile, and includes about 176 steps (both up and down). The cost is $25 per adult and $12 per child (ages 5-12), and the ticket includes a viewing of the film, “Building the Dream,” at the Hearst Castle Theater.

For further information, and to help you plan your Hearst Castle visit, go online to

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