California’s Sonoma County, along with its neighbor Napa, has long been recognized as one of the world’s top wine-growing regions. But if it weren’t for the little-known tale of a Japanese immigrant by the name of Kanaye Nagasawa, California might never have attained such glory in viticulture.

Nagasawa was born into a samurai family, smuggled out of Shogunate Japan as a child, later joined a utopian cult, and earned the moniker “Wine King of California.” At the dawn of the 20th century, Nagasawa was at the height of his power. He was running one of California’s biggest wineries, cranking out more than 200,000 gallons of wine annually from the 2,000-acre Fountaingrove estate’s vineyards. The “Wine King” hosted Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, John Muir, and other prominent individuals at his opulent Sonoma home and assisted renowned American botanist Luther Burbank in teaching horticulture. He also provided advice to foreign Japanese leaders. The winery quickly achieved success, but the commune, which dubbed itself “Eden of the West,” continued to get wilder, earning headlines in San Francisco for its drunken gatherings that ultimately resulted in Thomas Lake Harris’ humiliating resignation. After Harris left, Nagasawa acquired ownership of the estate and quickly climbed to prominence in the state’s emerging wine sector. He also made history as the first citizen of Japan to settle permanently in the US.

The legacy of Nagasawa is not widely known. But the epitaph put by his family on the plaque at Nagasawa Park, which summarizes his life in just four words: “Samurai Spirit in California,” may be the best and simplest for this remarkable man.