Lajos Csomortányi was born in Hungary in 1822, but after serving as an oﬃcer in the ill-fated War of Liberation in 1848-49 he was forced to leave, eventually sailing to America in 1852. He worked at first in factories on the east coast, and in the construction of the Panama Canal. Eventually he came to California where he became a close friend of his countryman Ágoston Haraszthy, who introduced him to viticulture.
In 1859 he bought 500 acres from General Mariano Vallejo, 60 acres of which he established as the Tokay Vineyard (named for the celebrated vineyards of Hungary), one of the very first vineyards of the region. Here he built the cabin that years later became the cottage in which Jack London lived and died.
After Csomortányi’s death in San Francisco in 1869, his vineyard was further developed by Charles Kohler into one of the largest wineries in California. It was eventually absorbed into the California Wine Association and later purchased by Joshua Chauvet, who sold it to Jack London in 1911.