Spending the Night in Lillie Langtry's House at Guenoc Winery in California
Sleeping in Lillie Langtry's Bed
One very fond memory of one of our California wine country trips in late April of 1991 originated here at Lillie Langtry's house which is now used as a guest house for Guenoc Winery.
After flying from Houston to San Francisco, we rented a car and drove to the winery which is located at the northern part of the Napa Valley stretching into Lake County.
It was prearranged that we would be guests of the owners of Guenoc Winery. It just so happened that we were the sole occupants of the guest house that night. It is a sprawling and beautiful old Victorian house and we had our pick of the bedrooms.
Naturally we chose to stay in Lillie's old room.
Who Was Lillie Langtry?
Suffice it to briefly say that she was a famous stage actress well known to European and American theater-goers in the late 19th and early 20th century as well as being known as an International beauty. She was also "favored" by British royalty and was beloved by many men in her life.
Her nickname was the "Jersey Lily."
In 1888 she purchased 4,200 acres of land in the Guenoc Valley and decided to make wine. She actually brought a French winemaker from Bordeaux by the name of Henri Descelles to accomplish that goal.
Her likeness was placed on the labels and Guenoc wines today still sport that image of her.
Exploring Lillie's House
The grounds surrounding this expansive old Victorian house are beautiful. Rolling hills and fields of orange blooming poppies painted our view wherever we looked.
After we were let into the house and had time to look around, we decided that we wanted to sleep in Lillie Langtry's bedroom. How many people can say that? We thought that it would be fun.
Supposedly her favorite color was yellow and her bedroom was certainly ablaze with variations of that hue. Some old wallpaper in the closet might have actually been what she had personally selected.
Most of the furnishings in the house are no longer original to what Lillie Langtry had owned with the exception of a beautiful old gramophone which did belong to her.
The furniture in the house replicates what would have been the style to suit the period of the late 1880s.
The downstairs parlor was comfortable and over the fireplace was a portrait of Lillie.
In one corner of the dining room was the wooden gramophone that was originally hers.
Upstairs there was a parlor separating her room from Freddie Gebhardt's room. He was one of her male friends who also owned property adjacent to hers.
Having driven through the little town while getting to our specially arranged lodging for the night, we spotted a couple of restaurants and thought that we would probably pick one of them in which to have supper that evening when we were surprised by a telephone call.
Karen Melander-Magoon invited us to join her for a tour of the vineyards. She picked us up and began to show us some of the vineyards nearby.
Karen brought some Guenoc wines to taste as we looked down upon the land where the grapes were grown. This was such a wonderful treat and totally unexpected. We knew that a tour of the winery was arranged for the next day.
We were getting along so well that instead of inviting us to join her at one of those restaurants in town as she had planned to do, she instead invited us to continue the evening in her home on the estate. Of course we said "yes!"
We learned that the Magoon family had been huge landholders in Hawaii and had descended from Hawaiian royalty and Chinese nobility. 23 acres of land that was needed for the University of Hawaii was converted into 23,000 acres of California property.
Most of the land is utilized for ranching but a portion was already started by Lillie Langtry as a vineyard, and the Magoon family decided to pursue an expansion of that and have obviously done so successfully.
Karen who is Orville Magoon's wife takes an active part in the winery. She handles public relations and marketing for the winery but also had an interesting career prior to that. She sang opera for twenty years in Austria and Germany.
Orville was on business in Hawaii so we did not get to meet him. But Karen pulled out all the stops! She thawed some wild boar out of her freezer and made a delicious lasagna along with a wonderful fresh salad picked from her garden filled with fragrant herbs all of which she grows. Homemade brownies completed the meal.
Wild boar roam the estate. Hunting and fishing is an added attraction for those fortunate enough to be invited by the Magoons as guests.
Naturally it goes without saying that we also enjoyed an assortment of Guenoc wines to accompany that meal prepared by Karen. That night we sampled the following Guenoc wines:
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Chardonnay, Regular and Reserve
- Cabernet Sauvignon, Regular and Reserve
- and Zinfandel.
A very special treat was her singing!
Karen taught us "The Wine Song" that she had created and after dinner I joined her in some songs while she played her baby grand piano. It turned out to be a very late night but one that will happily remain in our memory banks forever!
The Next Day
We met Karen the next day after a little sleep following our wonderfully entertaining night at her home.
At the winery were two friends of Orville's who had come primarily to do some fishing on the grounds of the estate. Karen gave the four of us a full tour of the winery and the original Langtry vineyards.
We were driven in a 4 wheel drive vehicle over very bumpy terrain. Lillie would have been driven over the same roads in a stagecoach! It would have been even more jostling for her since stagecoaches did not have rubber wheels as we had.
We saw original winery ruins. We also passed an Indian burial mound which is being protected from any kind of development on the way up to the top of the old winery and vineyards.
What can I say about this visit?
Superlatives cannot quite capture the fun and memories that were embedded into this experience. We were to move on to other sights and some more vacation fun but the Lillie Langtry House and Guenoc Winery will remain a part of us always especially because of our most generous and vivacious hostess, Karen.
Location of Guenoc Winery in California
If you enjoy visiting the wine country in California, think of visiting Guenoc Winery whether or not you get to spend the night in Lillie Langtry's bed. The scenery is beautiful as hopefully some of my pictures will have shown.
Of one thing I am certain. You will love the hospitality shown by the nice folks at Guenoc Winery while you sample their luscious wines.
Langtry Estate & Vineyards winemaker Eric Stine doing manual punch downs of Petit Verdot for 2010 harvest.
Do you like visiting wineries?
Lily Langtry portrait by Watts
© 2009 Peggy Woods