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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Gundlach Bundschu Winery - Spell it out: Gun-Lock-Bun-Shoe!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

This winery, known as much for its wines as for it’s mouthful of a name is a must-stop destination for anyone who finds themselves in or near Downtown Sonoma. GunBun (an easier shortened version of the name) is located just 5 minutes away from the Square, but the winery sits at the base of the dramatic Mayacama mountains and sports an impressive man-made cave and a beautiful ivy-covered and recently renovated tasting room. Call in advance and make sure to make a reservation for one of the several tours offered - the staff are friendly, informed and share a healthy dose of humor along with the wines.

Since we visited the winery in late December, we took the wine cave tour as it was too cold and rainy for the vineyard tour. Our jovial tour guide, Collin, welcomed us outside the entrance to the cave with a custom dance that would ease us into the correct pronunciation of the winery’s name. “Gun!” (he made a pistol shape with his right hand). “Lock!” (he turned his right finger into the palm of his left hand). “Bun!” (he patted his derriere). “Shoe!” he lifted his leg and slapped the sole of his shoe - I knew the tour would be entertaining to say the least. We walked through the long barrel-lined caves, pausing in front of a table set up with photos of the Bundschu family and the winery history timeline.

The brief overview of the GunBun Winery history begins with Jacob Gundlach’s purchase of 400 acres of vineyards in Sonoma in 1858, making it the oldest family-owned winery in Sonoma. Jacob named it “Rhinefarm” then went back to Germany, married Eva, his childhood sweetheart, and traveled around Germany and Bavaria on his honeymoon, collecting rootstock to plant his farm back in Sonoma. The Gundlach's returned to California, and planted the first 60,000 vines, producing the first full vintage in 1961. Seven years later, Charles Bundschu entered the family when he married Francisca Gundlach, Jacob’s eldest daughter. After Jacob died in 1894, the winery was renamed Gundlach Bundschu, and the winery prospered and grew over the next ten years. The winery underwent several challenges, including the devastating earthquake of 1906, which destroyed the SF based Winery, forcing it to move back to the Sonoma country, and then Prohibition, in which the Winery doors locked, but the winery continued to produce wine for the monasteries. The winery as replanted in 1969 and in 1976 the Winery released its first three wines: A Zinfandel, A Riesling and a Kleinberger. The winery caves were constructed in 1991, and at that time, the 10,000 Sq. Foot cave was the largest in California. Here in this Epic, historic cave, we then were offerred glasses of the first varietal produced at GunBun, a dry Riesling.

The tour wond around the labyrinth of caves to another corridor where we moved on to Pinot noir, grown in the Sonoma Estate vineyards that stay cool and foggy - the perfect mild climate for pinot and chardonay grapes. Different appellations specialize in different varietals and GunBun has various vineyards across Sonoma and Napa Valley that are best suited to each varietal. Gundlach Bundschu wines are acrefuly sorted and pressed, and then barrel aged for about a week before only the free-run juice is used for the signature wines. The more tannic press juice is sold to other wineries - all in Napa, Collin joked, hinting at the Napa-Sonoma rivalry. The tour gives a great overview of the blending process. We invited us to a barrel tasting of a 2010 Malbec that was aged in French Oak and then the same wine aged in American Oak and then blended the two together to get the mix similar to what would be eventually bottled. The informative tour culminated with a tasting of three more red wines in the private cave tasting room. An elegant table was set for us to taste a Tempranillo, a Merlot, and a Vintage Reserve Bordeaux Blend - three wines I'd gladly take home.

What I love most about Gundlach Bundschu Winery is it can produce a great variety of venerable wines yet the winery and brand maintains a lighthearted sense of humor. The winery has been known for pulling public stunts such as kidnapping Richard Branson in Sonoma, and hijacking the Napa Wine Train and switching out all the Napa wines for Sonoma wines. Back in the tasting room and gift shop, I couldn’t resist grabbing one of the wine corks that have emblazoned on them pictures of a gun, padlock, steamed bun and man’s shoe. I gave it to my mother in law the next day at brunch - she loves the GunBun wines but can never remember how to pronounce the German name.

2010 Gewurztraminer (by the way, the name means “spicy wine”) - $22.50 per bottle
Fragrant aromas of orange blossom, tangerine, white flowers and a wisps of coriander. Crisp yet complex flavors of ruby grapefruit, fresh lychee, kiwi and meyer lemon with notes of warm spice and lush texture. Fresh fruit flavors lead to a dry, vibrant finish that lasts for a long time.

2009 Tempranillo - $37 per bottle
Intense aromas and flavors of brambly blackberry, dark blueberry and mission figs with layers of dark cocoa, fresh tobacco leaf and black pepper, and wisps of white floral and smoke. Refined structure with firm, smooth tannins and a long, lush finish full of chocolate, spice and fresh fig.
Delicious now, this wine will show best within eight years from vintage.

2008 Merlot - $30 per bottle
Aromas of bing cherry and violets are followed by a full, velvety palate of opulent black cherry, black plum and berry flavors, with notes of mocha, fresh tobacco leaf and chai spices. Round tannins add weight and a lush texture and lead to a lingering, creamy finish. Delicious upon
release, this Merlot will benefit from five years of cellaring from vintage.

2008 Vintage Reserve - $80 per bottle
Intense aromas of cassis and dark black fruit are laced with violets and complex spice.
The dense flavors of blueberry, huckleberry and boysenberry are clean and polished, and layered with star anise, dark chocolate and creamy espresso. The beautifully balanced structure give the wine great depth and length, and ensure it will age gracefully up to 20 years from vintage

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