The Storied Past of California’s Oldest Family-Owned Winery: Gundlach Bundschu

Take a virtual tour through six generations and over 160 years of Gun Bun and learn about their family tree, the sustainability program, and the historic Rhinefarm estate vineyard.

Nov. 2020Written by Megan SaunsenPhotos provided by Gundlach Bundschu

Vintage photo of man on horse and buggy in a Sonoma vineyard in 1858
Vintage photo of a horse drawn carriage besides barrels of wine and brandy outside the Gundlach storefront in 1868
Lush grapevines encircle an irrigation pond in a low elevation Sonoma vineyard
A house breaks through the trees across a vineyard in the California mountains
Tables and umbrellas stretch across a paved courtyard surrounded by vegetation
Trees border a wooden fence surrounding a vineyard
A man under a tree sits at a picnic table looking out over the water at the edge of a pond
Five bottles of Gundlach Bundschu estate wines lined up side by side on burlap
A vintage 1953 partially restored truck sits on a patch of land in the middle of vineyard
Eight family members pose on a vintage truck out in their vineyard

Jacob Gundlach purchased 400 acres of land in Sonoma for $800 on March 12, 1858, a day that was called Deed Day, and named it Rhinefarm. Shortly thereafter, he traveled to Europe to marry his childhood sweetheart, Eva, and they spent their honeymoon gathering 40,000 vine cuttings from Germany and France to be planted at Rhinefarm, pictured here in 1858.

Charles Bundschu joined the winery in 1868 as Gundlach’s business partner. Bundschu later joined the family in 1875, marrying Gundlach’s oldest daughter. Together they set up shop in San Francisco, producing and selling wine and brandy from locally grown grapes and fruit. Their customers were global, reaching as far as Europe, South America and Asia.

Gundlach Bundschu’s estate vineyards contain two distinct microclimates. The first is on the lower elevation valley floor, known as Rhinefarm, where they grow gewürztraminer, pinot noir, chardonnay, and merlot. The other side is on Arrowhead Mountain, sporting a much higher elevation, where they grow their Bordeaux varietals, mostly cabernet sauvignon with merlot, cabernet franc, petit verdot, and malbec.

After the 1906 earthquake, where fire devastated the family business and burned one million gallons of wine and three family homes, the Bundschu family moved to Sonoma to make a fresh start. New production facilities and homes were built, including “Mary’s house,” of Mary and Towle Bundschu, members of the fourth generation of the family.

The winery’s Vista Courtyard offers beautiful views of Sonoma while under the olive trees and overlooking their irrigation pond. A raving review from a visitor called it, “One of the chillest spaces in all of wine country.”

Sustainable winemaking is one of the core values to of the winery. Their sustainable development includes the introduction of beneficial predators, including owls, bluebirds, beetles, and mites. The intensive pest monitoring allows them to minimize the use of pesticides and herbicides. Gun Bun is a certified Bay Area Green Business from Sonoma County, and since they use non-toxic pesticides and fertilizers, they are Fish Friendly Farming and Bee Friendly Farming certified.

Gun Bun recycles 70% of winery water through their irrigation and water reclamation ponds and their use of solar panels floating on those ponds provide 100% of the power to the reclamation system.

In 2001, they made the strategic decision to scale down their annual production and concentrate exclusively on estate wines, with awards being the goal. In 2016, that achievement was unlocked when all their nationally distributed wines received 90+ scores.

Meet Boss Lady. This 1953 International pickup was pulled from Huichica Creek after decades of serving as a rusty weed collector. Artist Nate Reifke came in to stylistically revive the truck and it now serves as the centerpiece at the winery’s entrance.

Six generations of the Gundlach Bundschu family have worked tirelessly to build one of California’s finest wineries. Let’s meet the Bundschus!

Jeff Bundschu: Currently at the helm as President at Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Jeff’s focus has been to become the best estate winery in Sonoma County while still preserving the open-minded and free-spirit culture that accompanies Gun Bun’s reputation.

Jim Bundschu: Jim became President of Gundlach Bundschu Winery in 1970 and remained in that role until 2001, when he turned things over to his son Jeff. Jim still works closely with Jeff and lives on the estate overlooking the vineyards.

Katie Bundschu: Katie is the first female winemaker and brings a fresh perspective and unique passion to all aspects of the Gun Bun story, especially Abbot’s Passage. When she was a kid, she got her start by pruning and tying vines, as well as harvesting grapes. Later, she honed her skills in the tasting room and developed her creative skillset in the marketing department. Now, in addition to her duties as a winemaker, Katie is also the Vice President of Marketing and Sales of the winery’s parent company, the Bundschu Company.

Rob Bundschu: Rob’s official title is Orchestrator of Happiness. He welcomes visitors, represents the winery at trade events and hosts tours of Rhinefarm driving guests around in a Pinzgauer, an Austrian military vehicle. Rob is a true winemaking lifer, getting his start picking grapes at the ripe age of six.

Gundlach Bundschu is one of the oldest, most-respected names in California winemaking, first opening its doors three years before Abraham Lincoln became president. In fact, it’s the oldest family-owned winery in the state of California, founded by Jacob Gundlach in 1858. He bought land in Sonoma County, christened it Rhinefarm, and planted German and French rootstock in the vineyards to begin what would become an iconic, award-winning winemaking journey.

After 10 years of operation, Charles Bundschu joins the business and later joins the family when he married Gundlach’s oldest daughter. Together, Jacob and Charles formed what we now know as Gun Bun, and the partnership would grow with each passing generation.

Today, the sixth-generation of vintners concentrate on producing ultra-premium wines that have been a hit with consumers and critics alike. The stewards of the family business have a distinct passion for sustainable farming so they can preserve the land for future generations.

In addition to making Gun Bun one of California’s most-respected wines, the family has also orchestrated a variety of impressive spin-off ventures, including:

Abbot’s Passage: A true passion project from Katie Bundschu, the first female winemaker in the history of Gun Bun. Abbot’s Passage delivers small-lot blends with a variety of unique combinations not often found in classic California winemaking.

Echo Echo Wine: Combining wine and music has always been at the heart of Gun Bun, and each Echo Echo bottle comes with a unique playlist that accompanies the wine. A portion of proceeds goes to the non-profit MusiCares.

Towle Wine Company: A wine and vineyard management company, with the namesake being a tribute to Jim Bundschu’s father.

Huichica Music Festival: A music, food, and wine festival held at Gun Bun. The event has been so successful they are even expanding it to the east coast in the Hudson Valley.

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