AWG Correspondent

Tom Riley

Gundlach-Bundschu Winery Photos

Gundlach-Bundschu Winery Review

Regions: Sonoma Coast AVA, Sonoma County, Sonoma Valley AVA, California

Reviewed: July 11, 2013 by Tom Riley
Published: July 13, 2013

Don’t plan to visit Gundlach Bundschu unless you are in a serious frame of mind. Serious about having fun, that is. At this historic Sonoma winery, family owned since its founding in 1858 and now operated by members of the sixth generation, the only thing they take seriously is their wine. Everything else is about having a great time.

GB is nestled on the eastern side of the town of Sonoma, where its founder Jacob Gundlach dubbed it Rhinefarm. The 320-acre, sustainably farmed estate, down from the original 400 acres purchased by Gundlach, is bordered by Carneros to the south and the rising slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains to the east, giving the sixty separate estate blocks great diversity of soil, climate, and exposure in which to cultivate an impressive spectrum of grape varieties, including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec, Syrah and Zinfandel.

As I drove the long road that bisects parts of the lower vineyard, I realized even before entering the visitors’ area that this was not your typical California winery. It wasn’t so much the massive palm trees near the gate, which looked as though giants from long ago had stuffed a few pineapples into the loamy soil, but the sign on the exit side of the driveway warning departing guests, "Beware of the real world beyond these gates." Obviously, I was in for an unreal tasting experience.

The day of my visit supplied temperatures in the 90s so I didn’t spend as much time in the expansive picnic area or on the picturesque patio as I might have liked. Getting into the cool of the tasting room was much more of a priority. Once inside, I was captivated by the walls covered nearly floor to ceiling in historical pictures, photographs, maps, memorabilia and antique wine bottles. Filled with artifacts like a museum, and giving proper due to the winery’s historical significance, but without any of a museum’s hushed stuffiness, GB’s tasting room seems to ask at every turn, "Is this fun, or what?"

The Current Release Tasting offered two flights. For $10 visitors could choose any six of eleven wines open that day. For $15, guests could opt for any four wines plus the vintage reserve label being poured. Because GB’s tasting fees were eminently fair, a far cry from too many other California wineries, and I knew I’d be tasting (i.e., spitting) and not drinking, I asked Rosie, who was taking care of me, to run me through both sides of the tasting menu. As she began to set up glasses on the large, U-shaped bar, stations marked with inlaid slabs of marble, I hoped that I was going to have as much fun as the other guests filling the room with smiles and laughter.

In the ambitious set I put together I sampled two whites, a rosé of Tempranillo, and nine reds. Apart from the Chardonnay, which I found pleasant and balanced, despite not being a big American chard fan, I found the wines well made, with acids, fruits, and tannins all well-integrated, giving each an elegant and attractive tension. The Gewurztraminer was aromatic, cool and refreshing. The rosé had a pretty nose and complex layers of fruit and minerality. Of the reds, I was happily surprised, and more than a little bit impressed, by the 2010 Tempranillo, which was very hard to put down, its bright flavors and long, smooth finish insisting I take yet one more sip. Equally delightful was the 2003 Zinfandel, which, because of a scheduling glitch, was being poured instead of the 2011, which had not yet arrived at the tasting room. This 10-year-old wine jumped out of the glass as if it were new and fresh from the barrel. I made sure to take two of those with me when I left. Very few wineries can boast of a lineup like this one that pleases at every point.

Enjoying the wines of Gundlach Bundschu, surrounded by 150-plus years of California winemaking history, and cared for by smart, attentive professionals is really easy to do. Walking away from such a scene? Not so much. Especially when the real world lurks beyond the gates. So, if you like to have fun while learning about and enjoying great California wine, make sure Gundlach Bundschu is one of the Sonoma wineries on your itinerary.

I’m serious.

Address & Contact Information: 2000 Denmark Street Sonoma, California 95487. Telephone: 707-938-5277, email:, website: Tasting Hours: Jun to Oct 11:00-5:30; Nov to May: 11:00-4:30.

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