Bavarian-born Jacob Gundlach arrived in San Francisco in November of 1850, a mere five years after a group of English-speaking local residents raised the California Republic flag over the Sonoma town square. As if guided by fate, Jacob and partner Emil Dresel purchased the 400 acre Rhinefarm only a couple miles east of California's founding site in 1857.
By then, California was a state but little else. Winegrowing and winemaking were little known except around Pueblo de Los Angeles and the other Spanish missions scattered about the state. Jacob recognized an opportunity and in 1858 brought European grape rootstock to Rhinefarm. In 1861 Jacob and wife Eva celebrated the first Rhinefarm vintage and a baby daughter, Eva.
In 1868, young German Charles Bundschu joined J. Gundlach & Co and married the boss's daughter in 1875. With Jacobs death in 1894, the company is re-organized as Gundlach Bundschu Winery with an east coast branch in New York and a two square block warehouse in San Francisco.
It all came crashing down, literally, in April of 1906 with the great San Francisco earthquake which destroyed the company's buildings, offices, and wine. The company bounced back as the younger generation builds a successful international wine reputation capped by the Exposition Grand Prize at the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exhibition.
Prohibition, not fate, signaled the next transition in the history of Gunlach Bundschu. In 1919, the winery closed to the public but continued to make sacramental wine and provide grapes to home winemakers.
Following Repeal, Charles Bundschu's grandson Towle slowly nursed Rhinefarm back to grape growing prominence. Over the next thirty years, the vineyard returned to being a player in the wine industry by suppling volumes of quality fruit to major California wineries. It was 1969 when Towle's son Jim decided to become a player in the fine estate wine business as well.
Jim chose to become an industry player by adding humor to the stoic wine business. With partners in crime (winemaker Lance Cutler and marketer Jim McCullough), the so- called "bad boys of Sonoma" would promote company and region wines using humorous pranks and gimmicks like holding up the Napa Valley Wine Train.
While maybe not as outrageous as a train stick-up, sixth generation Bundschu, Jeff, still employs humor and fun to promote wine. With two long-time wine business buddies, Jeff founded the Wine Brats, a 15,000 member organization dedicated to promoting wine to the "Y" generation of 21 to 36 year old consumers.
Smiles and a sense of humor are major contributors to Gundlach Bundschu's position today as a player in the California wine industry. But the primary factor in GunBun's success is the wine.
Except for Chardonnay from nearby Sangiacomo Ranch, and Zinfandel from Morse Vineyard, all the fruit for Gundlach Bundschu's 16 wines are grown in the 300 acre Rhinefarm vineyard. A graduate of U. C. Berkeley in ag economics, fifth generation Bundschu Jim tends the historic vines. "My highest aim is to be a good farmer," Jim says, "one who understands the subtle nuances involved in the producing grapes for exceptional wines vintage after vintage."
The cool Region II climate of Rhinefarm is an excellent environment for growing outstanding Riesling and Gewurztramier. Gundlach Bundschu's Riesling opens with exotic tropical aromas backed by a pronounced honeysuckle character. The Gewurztraminer exhibits pleasing aromas of jasmine, orange blossom and ripe citrus while delivering flavors of lychee nut, grapefruit and allspice.
Kleinberger is a Gundlach Bundschu exclusive. Made from the Elbling grape which has been cultivated in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer of Germany since Roman times, this extraordinary wine offers aromas of guava, ripe pineapple and gardenia. Honeycomb and pineapple favors balanced by a brisk key lime character make this wine worthy of taste.
Speaking of tasting, the cozy tasting room occupies the front portion of the restored original stone Gundlach Bundschu winery. It took Jim and the family three years to renovate the old building into a fully functioning winery.
Even with the restored building there wasn't enough room for fermentation tanks and barrels so in 1991 the winery dug a 430 foot tunnel into the Sonoma hillside. The state's longest straight wine storage bore holds 2,000 barrels or about 90 percent of the winery's total 55,000 case production.
Much of the current success of Gundlach Bundschu wines can be attributed to a commitment to quality. Whether Zinfandel, Merlot, or Cabernet, fruit is harvested and fermented by distinctive blocks. The wine from each block is then aged at least 12 months before blending by winemaker Linda Trotta.
After graduating form U. C. Davis, Trotta interned at St. Francis Winery before becoming a lab tech at Sebastiani for two years. She joined Gundlach Bundschu as an enologist 13 years ago.
Trotta uses blending to achieve balance between acid, fruit flavors and tannins. The process mixes art and science to create distinctive flavors, textures and aromas in each of Gundlach Bundschu's wines.
CEO and General Manager Jeff Bundschu puts it best. "Our life here at Gundlach-Bundschu, with its wine and good people, has always been about laughter, hard work, inspiration and sharing." These are the qualities that have made Gundlach Bundschu a player in California wine for a century and a half.