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Wine Tasting at Gundlach Bundschu Winery

How did this graybeard of wineries become one of Sonoma County’s trendiest wine tasting destinations among the younger set? It’s hidden away from the highway, on a bumpy, shady lane. It looks hard to pronounce—if you haven’t seen the pictogram (see below).

Yet in 2015, Gundlach Bundschu was the ride-booking company Uber’s top destination in Sonoma County, and the winery touts their appeal with this Yelp review: “One of the chillest spaces in all of wine country.”

It could be the winery’s popular summer concert and outdoor movie series that have helped spread the word. For whatever reason, the century-and-a-half-year-old property is tops with the Millennial set.

But popularity begets a crowd. Concerned that the crush of weekend visitors might sour the tasting experience that everybody comes to this scenic and historic estate to partake of in the first place, the folks at “Gun Bun” put their heads together and came up with a plan.

In May 2016, Gundlach Bundschu debuts an innovative appointment and scheduling program that promises to make every visitor feel welcome.

Gun Bun Kicks It Up

Jacob Gundlach first planted wine grapes on this land, which he called the Rhinefarm, in 1859. When Charles Bundschu joined the business and married into the family, however, it’s been Bundschus ever since. The first vintage was in 1861 — that was the first year of the Lincoln administration.

The winery, mainly located in San Francisco by that time, was a huge success at the time of the 1906 earthquake, producing 300,000 cases. Prohibition dealt another blow, and even later, a prominent family member remained philosophically opposed to the production of wine. The winery wasn’t restarted until Jim Bundschu crushed Zinfandel in the old stone winery building in 1973.

Today, the new appointment-only regime at Gundlach Bundschu limits the number of visitors in the tasting room, which is located inside the original stone winery (attached to the bottling room just beyond the bar — this is a working winery). You’ll have more freedom to linger by the “innovative merch” they’re known for, and to pay closer attention to the Bundschu’s century-long affinity for the arts, and for fun, told in a display of photographs and memorabilia.

Belly up to the Donkey Bar

The appointment-only system only holds for the weekends and busier days. When visitors arrive at Gundlach Bundschu Thursday through Monday, they’ll be greeted at the parking lot. Just outside of the tasting room, a scheduler can make an on-the-spot appointment for those who haven’t called ahead.

But there are two other places to taste wine, or sit down and have a small plate with wine: the vista courtyard overlooking the Sonoma Valley estate vineyards, and what they’re calling the “donkey bar” adjacent the wine cave entrance. So-called because it’s being constructed from a repurposed donkey shed (don’t worry about the donkeys, they got another), the bar will feature barrel-top bars and Adirondack chairs.

Adventure-minded visitors can sign up for vineyard excursions and rides in an open-air Pinzgauer, a funky Austrian military vehicle, at 11:15 a.m. and 3 p.m. ($65). Serious, sit-down tastings ($50) are available by reservation at the 1920s “Bundschu Bungalow.”

Yet other tours wind up in the wine cave ($45), where I tasted current releases with Anne Dempsey, who joined the winery in 2007 and was promoted to winemaker in 2013. Dempsey’s job is to keep this fun winery’s wines on a serious track — and to bring Merlot back into the spotlight, someday: “Maybe it’ll be cool to drink Merlot again,” she hopes.

The 2013 Mountain Cuvée ($20) is meant to be a “stepping stone” to the Merlot and Cabernet. Scented with a little of that Bordeaux varietal pencil lead, with a cool palate of mixed berry jam, it’s a nice claret.

Bay leaf and salted chocolate introduce the 2013 Sonoma Valley Merlot ($NA), and the firm finish would please a Cab drinker. Chocolate truffle, German chocolate cake, and bitter cocoa — the 2013 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($50) is a big, brooding Cab that’s all about the chocolate.

Dempsey’s choice pick of a dozen or two barrels from the best blocks in the hills above the winery — where it can be degrees warmer — the 2011 Vintage Reserve ($NA) shows a savory, seaweed note over, yes, sea salted chocolate and very fine tannins.

How Do You Say …?

The pictogram says: Gun, lock, bun, shoe.

Hit the Road

If you’re touring Sonoma on bike, a very popular activity, Gun Bun is easily reachable from downtown via low-traffic side streets. Finish out the ride with fish and chips at Murphy’s Irish Pub, or pizza at the Red Grape.

Gundlach Bundschu Winery, 2000 Denmark Street, Sonoma, CA 95476. By appointment; appointments available onsite. Tasting fee starts at $20. 707-938-5277.

Find more info about wine and wineries in Sonoma County.

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