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Gundlach Bundschu Winery

Sonoma County region

A family-owned winery beginning in 1858 has continued over the decades to produce top quality wines

Jacob Gundlach was shipwrecked on his way to California, and survived as an island castaway for almost a month before being rescued. The year was 1855. It had been twelve long months since Jacob left home in Germany's Bavaria region, with a ship load of brandy to sell to the miners of the California Gold Rush. Jacob Gundlach's brandy was destroyed in the wreck, but his spirit was not. Soon after his arrival in San Francisco, Gundlach, who grew up in a winemaking family, purchased 400 acres of rich potential vineyard land in what is now southern Sonoma County. A few years later, in 1858, he began bottling fine premium wine under the labels, J. Gundlach & Co., and Bacchus Wine Cellars.

The custom at that time was to produce the wines in Sonoma and cellar them in San Francisco, where they were more readily sold. Gundlach maintained a three story wine vault in the heart of the city at Bryant and Third streets. Through his many trips to the city, Jacob Gundlach met trade merchant and fellow countryman, Charles Bundschu. And by 1862, Gundlach and Bundschu had become partners in the wine business. But it was not until twelve years later, when Charles Bundschu married Gundlach's daughter, Francesca, that the winery name changed to Gundlach-Bundschu.

The old stone Gundlach Bundschu winery produced 150,000 gallons of classic varieties--Traminer, Gutedel, Kleinberger, Zinfandel, Sémillion, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The vineyard itself was named "Rhinefarm," after their German homeland. Tragically, the Rinefarm vineyards were among the first in Sonoma to be devastated by the phylloxera louse epidemic in the 1870's. The vineyard survived though, thanks to what was then, a revolutionary process of grafting disease resistant rootstock onto the infested vines. The Rhinefarm produced the first crop from these grafted vines in 1878. And these same vines continued to bear fruit for over 30 years.

The winery dodged another bullet in the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake. The earthquake and fire virtually destroyed the winery warehouse. Gundlach and Bundschu retreated to Sonoma, never again to open up business in San Francisco. But their safe haven in Sonoma lasted for a fleeting moment in time. Just as the winery operation was beginning to flourish once more, Prohibition began in 1919. The winery closed down and much of the vineyard was replanted to pear orchards. Yet again the business survived, by selling it's grape production to nearby Inglenook Winery, who in turn, supplied wine to churches, and grapes to home winemakers.

After Prohibition, the family elected not to rekindle the winery operations, but instead continued to cultivate grapes for sale to other wineries. Gundlach Bundschu's customers during this period read like a who's-who in the wine industry. Over the next forty years they consistently produced quality grapes for the wineries of Almaden, Louis Martini, and Sebastiani.

The Rhinefarm operation has been passed from generation to generation, staying entirely in the Gundlach/Bundschu family. From founder Jacob Gundlach and partner Charles Bundschu battling the phylloxera and earthquake, to son Walter Bundschu during the early 1900's and through Prohibition. Walter's son Towle Bundschu took the reins through both World Wars, then passed the torch to his son Jim Bundschu, during the 1960's.

It was Halloween night in 1970, that Jim Bundschu, great, great grandson of Jacob Gundlach, decided to resurrect the winery operation. He rebuilt the winery on the same stone foundations of the original structure, built in 1878. He converted a dairy's old milk tanks into fermentation vats, and used an out-dated hand-operated basket press to crush the grapes. By 1976, Jim Bundschu began selling his first wine--a 1973 Zinfandel, of which he produced 600 cases. From that humble start, the "new" Gundlach Bundschu has continued to thrive. Today, the vineyard is still the original size of roughly 400 acres, in which nine varietals are planted. Incredibly, this small family-owned winery boasts production of sixteen different wines! Year after year, wine after wine, Gundlach Bundschu continues to win top awards in the country's major wine competitions.

Gold Medal Wine Club is very proud to offer, according to Jim Bundschu, Gundlach Bundschu's best-ever Chardonnay, and finest Cabernet Franc. The 1991 Chardonnay is made from Sangiacomo vineyard grapes. It is G-B's only wine produced from grape not grown at Rhinefarm-a tribute to the quality of grapes being grown by the Sangiacomo family. The 1990 Cabernet Franc is from vines planted at Rhinefarm in 1982, and each year they bear better and better fruit, reports Jim Bundschu. Both wines are clear winners!

In fact, in their July 1993 issue, Wine & Spirits magazine lists the Sangiacomo and Rhinefarm vineyards, as two of the five most important vineyards in Sonoma County. We hope you enjoy this month's featured wines from Gundlach Bundschu!

Map of the area

Linda Trotta - Winemaker

Picture of Linda Trotta - Winemaker

Linda Trotta is a serious winemaker, but shares the creative philosophy and have-a-good-time approach of the Gundlach Bundschu legacy. "The birthright of Gundlach Bundschu wines are their creativity," she says. "Our creativity is our ability to perceive old patterns in new relationships, or to rearrange old patterns in new ways. At Gundlach Bundschu, winemaking is fun because of our team spirit--that core Rhinefarm spirit, laced with that great human elixir, humor, so characteristic of the original founders," she adds.

Linda grew up in San Juan Capistrano, in southern California. "My father encouraged me to be my own person and stand up for what I believed in. My Italian grandfather was a home winemaker and we used to make lots of red wine!" says Linda. Trotta graduated from U.C. Davis in 1985 with a degree in enology and continued her studies in Art History and Italian at the University of Podva in Italy in 1986.

During college Trotta learned about Gundlach Bundschu Winery from a representative and embraced their philosophy. "There were threads that ran throughout their story that were compatible with mine. The company made great wine and the people had a good time working together. There was a real spirituality and respect for the unseen and unexplainable. The people were deeply connected to the vineyard, the land, and what they produced from it," she says.

Beginning in mid 1986, Trotta worked at St. Francis Winery, then moved to Sebastiani as a lab technician. By 1989, she was advanced to enologist-winemaker. In 1990, Trotta joined Gundlach Bundschu as enologist-winemaker, working as a team with then winemaker Lance Cutler. A year later, in 1991, Trotta became winemaker in charge of a cellar crew of five.

"I have a compassion for the wines and a respect for the land. As a woman, I bring my own insights and feelings that are different than a man's . . . an evolving creativity," she says.

Jim Bundschu - President

Picture of Jim Bundschu - President

"Ideas counted," says Jim Bundschu, president of Gundlach Bundschu Winery. "My ancestors integrated their German wine growing traditions with the experimentation and development of new California wine grapes." The result has been an almost cultish following among wine enthusiasts. Gundlach Bundschu's red wines are big and bold, with intense fruit, character and body. Their white wines are dry, crisp and clean to the finish. Jim Bundschu & company make wines in the tradition of the Bundschu ancestors--to please their own palates. "No matter how many people knock down our door for a sweet Gewürztraminer, we'll never make one, because we don't like to drink them," says Bundschu. Lance Cutler, former winemaker and now general manager adds, "We've said that if we end up going broke and find ourselves with 500 cases of wine on hand, it better be 500 cases of wine we like!"

Jim Bundschu is a fourth generation Californian, and is one of the only living descendants of California wine pioneer Jacob Gundlach. Jacob Gundlach bought the now famous, historical vineyard land in the mid 1850's, from the brother-in-law of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, Sonoma's first commercial winegrower. It was on this land that Jim Bundschu grew up and learned farming from his father, Towle Bundschu and grandfather, Walter Bundschu. "I spent most of my life in the vineyard. There are subtle parts to this simple life--a connection to the land, the hard work, the distractions of nature," he says.

Bundschu reflects how his father, Towle, taught him to live. He would gather with his friends--George Nicholas, August Sebastiani, Victor Sangiacomo and Dante Pazetti to have lunch and play cards. "He said enjoy life and share in the camaraderie and companionship of friends. I respect this," says Bundschu.

A U.C. Berkeley economics major, Bundschu served in the U.S. Coast Guard before farming full-time. With 30 years combined business, management and farming experience, Bundschu oversees all aspects of the Gundlach Bundschu Winery.

"The Rhinefarm brings us great joy," says Bundschu. "We in turn feel wine is a joyful product that brings joy to people's lives. When you participate in a one-hundred-thirty-five year old tradition, the living, working and sharing affects you spiritually."