Tiny Asti was once one of California's biggest tourist attractions

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The tiny community of Asti, sandwiched in between Cloverdale and Healdsburg, was once home to a population of Italian Swiss immigrants who helped to popularize wine in the United States in the 1950s.

Established in 1881 by Northern Italian immigrant Andrea Sbarbaro, the town grew up around the Italian Swiss Colony, a winery that produced affordably priced table wines. The winery prospered and the prominent Italian families built substantial villas near the winery estate. By the 1930s, the community had about 300 residents, many of which worked at the winery or nearby vineyards.

In the years before and after World War II, the Italian Swiss Colony competed with Disneyland as one of the biggest tourist attractions in California. But by the 1970s, the appeal of larger wine towns with sleeker vintages competed with the raffia covered wine bottles produced at Asti. The community began to loose its appeal, and by the 1980s it was nearly deserted when comedian Pat Paulsen bought the town and declared himself mayor in 1985.

These days the historic winery is the property of another prominent Italian wine company, Gallo, who purchased the estate in 2015.

Click through our gallery above to see images of Asti way back when.

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