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Gundlach Bundschu Celebrates 160 Years Of Winemaking, Grape Growing, And Humorous Tricks – Forbes

Humorous Trick to Share Sonoma Valley Wines on Napa Valley Wine Train in 1990
In 1858 Jacob Gundlach immigrated from Bavaria and purchased 400 acres of land in Sonoma Valley, California to plant grapes and start a winery. Today, Gundlach Bundschu is considered to be California’s oldest continuously family-owned winery, with 6th generation, Jeff Bundschu, now at the helm as President. But the winery isn’t just known for award-winning wines, but also for its culture of fun, rock ‘n’ roll parties, and humorous tricks played on fellow vintners over the years. It was also on a Halloween evening in 1970 that the winery was refocused on a quest towards high-end reserve wines to commemorate their historic vineyards.
“This year we are releasing our 2018 Vintage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon,” stated Jeff Bundschu, in a recent online interview. “It is from the best barrels of the 2018 vintage, which marks the 160th anniversary of the year Gundlach Bundschu was founded in 1858.”
In typical ‘GunBun’ fashion, Bundschu showed up to the virtual tasting wearing dark sunglasses, sporting a red handlebar mustache, laughing and telling jokes. He was joined by two Gundlach Bundschu winemakers, Keith Emerson and Joe Uhr, who tried to keep the tasting on a more serious note with descriptions of the historic vineyards.
“The cabernet sauvignon grapes in the 2018 Vintage Reserve are from our La Paz vineyard,” reported Emerson, “with a soil comprised of Rhyolitic volcanic ash. It has south facing slopes, and is a cooler site close to the San Pablo Bay.”
The well-balanced wine is supplemented with four other Bordeaux blending grapes, Malbec, Merlot, Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, and was aged for 20 months in 65% new French oak barrels. It tastes of black currants and dark chocolate, with notes of tobacco and juniper. Only 1300 cases were produced, and it retails for $125.
Gundlach Bundschu 160th Anniversary 2018 Vintage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
The 320 vineyard acres of Gundlach Bundschu border the edge of Napa Valley along the Mayacamas Mountains, and flow down into Sonoma Valley and Los Carneros AVAs. They are certified sustainable, with a goal to be certified organic. “We got a big chunk of the vineyards certified organic in 2022,” reported Bundschu, “and by next year we will be the biggest organic vineyards in Sonoma County, and heading to be certified regenerative organic.”
The trio described how the reserve wines from Gundlach Bundschu were frequently tasted blind against the top wines of the world. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done blind tastings of our cabs against Napa and Bordeaux, and this wine is always the sneaky winner,” reported Emerson.
Jeff Bundschu recounted how his parents encouraged him to taste the great wines of Bordeaux in order to develop his palate. “I remember doing a retrospective tasting of Chateau Latour with Robert Parker,” reported Bundschu. “It was like wine porn. We tasted all the way back to 1961, which is the Mack Daddy of all vintages in Bordeaux. The 1961…was the best of my life.”
Jeff Bundschu, President of Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma Valley, CA
Fun and jokes appear to be part of the DNA of the Gundlach-Bundschu family. Over the years they have been involved in a series of humorous pranks, such as being one of the ring leaders in the notorious Napa Valley Wine Train heist, where Sonoma Valley vintners, dressed in white masks and black capes boarded the train and poured Sonoma wines into the glasses of train passengers, urging them to throw their Napa Valley wines out of the window.
Another prank involved ‘Hijacking’ two buses of travel writers on a Virgin Airlines tour of Napa Valley wineries with Richard Branson. The writers were escorted to Gundlach Bundschu winery where there was a wine party in their honor. Branson was reported to say, “It’s been a delightful surprise. I think this is definitely the highlight of the day.”
Gundlach Bundschu has also been famous over the years for its ‘party bus to Tahoe,’ where they invited top wine distributor sales reps on a ski weekend as a thank you. Also, their Bacchus Club, established in 1896, and thought to be the origins of today’s wine club concept, continues to delight members with a series of parties, movie nights, rock bands, and other events throughout the year.
Gundlach Bundschu Poster Illustrating How Customers Can Pronounce the Winery Name Correctly
In an attempt to help customers learn how to pronounce Gundlach-Bundschu correctly, they created a witty poster of a ‘gun, lock, bun, and shoe,’ that still hangs in their tasting room today . They are also well-known for their funny video about the Merlot grape and how it lost favor over the years to Pinot Noir.
Though Gundlach Bundschu is considered to be California’s oldest continuously family-owned winery, there are other wineries in the U.S. that are older. Brotherhood Winery was established in 1839 in New York, and remains the oldest continually operated winery in America, today using both Native American and European grapes.
In Wisconsin, Wollersheim Winery was established in 1842 by Count Harazathy from Hungary, before he moved to California to start Buena Vista winery in 1857. In Missouri, Stone Hill Winery was established in 1847, building its reputation on making a complex red wine from the Norton grape, which it continues to do so today – making it one of the most visited wineries in the Midwest. Other famous old American wineries of the East Coast and Midwest include: Meiers Winery in Ohio built in 1856; Renault Winery of New Jersey established in 1864; Wiederkehr Wine Cellars and Post Famile Vineyards of Arkansas both started in 1880, and the Val Verde Winery of Texas established in 1883. The oldest continually operated sparkling winery in California is Korbel Champagne Cellars founded in 1882.
Gundlach Bundschu Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, CA

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