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by Fred McMillin
for July-August 2001

 

Ashes To Ashes

San Francisco-1906

Gundlach Bundschu "Native Wines" Shop in San Francisco before the 1906 earthquake.

 
Jim Bundschu

Jim Bundschu, great grandson of Charles Bundschu

 
Jeff Bundschu

Jeff Bundschu, Jim's Son

 
Charles Bundschu!!

Charles Bundschu!!

 

Prologue

"When the whirlpool of fire and flames burst forth
Taking block after block in embrace
When from East to South and from West to North
The demon from Hell did race."
...By Charles Bundschu, describing the 1906 San Francisco earthquake-fire that reduced the Gundlach Bundschu facilities to ashes, (see photo).

"The Gundlach Bundschu winery in Sonoma County was abandoned, and eventually burned down."
...Pat Latimer's California Wineries, Vol. II

"Jacob Gundlach and Charles Bundschu were men of taste and learning, who had as much skill as any cellar-master along the Rhine in Germany. Their names still echo after the dark night of Prohibition, even if their wines are no more!"
...Idwal Jones' Vine In The Sun, 1949

 

The Rest of the Story

Those wines were missed. Professor Paul Lukacs writes that a little over a century ago they were Sonoma's best whites. Think of such an obscure California winery winning a gold medal in Paris (1900)! The Sauvignon Blanc garnered a Gold at another large U.S.A. tasting.

Then, one Halloween night about 45 years ago, direct descendent Jim Bundschu couldn't stand it any longer. He decided to revive the winery. After all, the original Rhinefarm vineyard was still producing grapes for sale to local vintners. Also, he had been making wine from them at home, and it was turning out well. But, before we select today's best wines, let's check the origins.

 

Gundlach Bundschu Milestones

1840—Jacob Gundlach's parents ran a hotel and made wine in Bavaria.

1850—Jacob arrives in San Francisco, starts a successful brewery, and soon has enough savings to set up the Rhinefarm Vineyard and a winery in Sonoma.

1864—Charles Bundschu has come from Germany, goes to work for Jacob, and marries Jacob's daughter.

1880—From 200 Rhinefarm acres comes 60,000 gallons of wine and another 180,000 lbs. Of grapes for sale.

Today—The revived winery is selling 50,000 cases annually. Let's see what the Wall Street Journal's Gaiter and Brecher think of some of the recent releases.

Pinor Noir, Rhinefarm Vineyard—Fruity, fun and very pleasant.

Merlot, Rhinefarm Vineyard—Intense, ripe berries; powerful; good enough for a significant occasion; very good.

We'll see how these and others did against Napa counterparts of the same price in the accompanying article, "A Napa Versus Sonoma Shootout."

 

Postscript

Over 20 years ago, critic Robert Balzer wrote these words that still ring true today. "The revered old trade name of Gundlach Bundschu has returned to the marketplace, offering wine made from grapes grown on the original land, gathering medals at every competition."

Credits:
Peninou, Unzelman, History of the Sonoma Viticultural District

 
 

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.

 


 
 
 

This page created July 2001

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