Califonia Bountiful

Winery survives the test of time

The oldest-owned and -operated winery in the state remembers 100 years of family history.

At the Gundlach Bundschu Winery, they're gearing up for another fruitful harvest. More than 320 acres of rolling hills and colorful vineyards have kept this family-owned and operated winery alive and strong for more than 150 years. But it's the family's hard work and perseverance that have kept the six-generation farming operation alive through the best and worst the years have to offer. In fact, much of what this farm is today can be traced back to one fateful day.

At approximately 5 a.m. on April 18, 1906, on an unseasonably warm day in San Francisco, an 8.25-magnitude earthquake shook the city. Although the quake lasted less than a minute, its effects would last a lifetime. It resulted in fires that soon grew out of control, raging for four days. Conservative estimates put the death toll close to 6,000 and damage at $400 million. The quake effectively demolished San Francisco, the city known as the Paris of the West.

But what possible impact could the earthquake have all the way out in Sonoma? More than you might think. It not only changed the location of wine country, but the legacy of one farming family forever.

Back in 1906, Gundlach Bundschu was a huge winery not in Sonoma, but in San Francisco. It cranked out 250,000 cases of wine a year, but within three days, that was all gone.

"And the earthquake obviously changed that because the subsequent fire forced everyone to come up to Sonoma and lay roots from an outpost to a real farmstead, and a real place of our livelihood," Jeff Bundschu said.

Displaced but not discouraged, the family's patriarch, Charles Bundschu refused to give up--he fled to Sonoma and turned his attention to the farming operation at Rhinefarm.

That's where Charles' great-great grandson Jeff is continuing the family farming operation today. The winery is now the oldest owned and operated one in the state. And staying with the tradition Charles set forth, the family's focus is on making fabulous wine that family, friends and new fans can enjoy.

In remembrance of the fortitude Charles displayed in the family's darkest days, the current generation of Bundschus gathered on the 100th anniversary of the great quake. They retraced their ancestor's steps through the city during the disaster, paying homage to the man who kept their family farming operation going even when an entire city's hope was gone.

Wanting to honor their history exactly as it happened, the family retraced all of Charles' steps that fateful day in 1906, from the old winery to his home atop Telegraph Hill to his missed dinner at the Palace Hotel. All of it was a chance for the past to meet the present on this, the family's most special of days.

But it's the future that has the Bundschu family the most excited--after all, it was generations in the making.

"We're in this great business where we have a legacy to preserve and what that does is give me such an ultimate understanding that there are so many things that happen in history. The earthquake was huge, but there are so many decisions people make that impact how you get to where you are today," Jeff said.

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