Tag Archive | Sonoma Valley

California Marathon Road Trip: Gundlach Bundschu

Our second winery stop was at Gundlach Bundschu – good luck trying to pronounce that name!  It is the oldest continuously family-owned winery in California.  It was founded by Jacob Gundlach in 1858 as Rhinefarm, with Charles Bundschu joining the company in 1868 – originally the farm in Sonoma was about 400 acres.  It was renamed Gundlach Bundschu in 1894 and at the turn of the 20th century the company was producing about 250,000 cases of wine each year.

Up until that point the winery facility was located in San Francisco, but the production facilities and about a million gallons of wine were destroyed by the earthquake in 1906.  They moved the production facility to Sonoma after the quake and then Prohibition hit.

During prohibition the winery closed its doors, and all but 130 acres of the farm were sold – the family managed to make a living selling grapes for juice and raising cattle.  After prohibition, the farm began selling grapes to Inglenook, Almaden and then Louis Martini wineries, but didn’t reopen the winery until the 1970s.

The winery now produces about 25,000 cases total – I believe all their wines are estate grown.  They have a huge tasting room with a gorgeous outdoor patio area; seems that they do a lot of events.  Too bad it was too cold to sit outside and enjoy the view!

Gundlach Bundschu Patio

Gundlach Bundschu Patio

Gundlach Bundschu was a fun winery; our server was Columbian and he was super friendly.  We tried Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.  We both loved the Zin!  It was fruit forward and balanced, without losing structure.  There was a lot of pepper and spice on the Merlot, and the Chardonnay was a nice acidic wine with a light balanced oak on the back of the palate.  The only wine I didn’t really like was the Gewürztraminer.  I liked it at first taste – it was semi-sweet with citrus, but there was a floral finish on the back of the palate that didn’t appeal to me.

Gundlach Bundschu Tasting Room

Gundlach Bundschu Tasting Room

While we were there several other groups came in, and you can tell they have a loyal following.  Which isn’t surprising, given the quality of the wine.  What a fantastic visit!

California Marathon Road Trip: Sonoma and Tin Barn Vineyards

The day after Jon’s marathon, Jon and I decided to head to Sonoma for the day to do a bit of wine tasting.  The day was cold and clear, and we got to Sonoma right at lunchtime.  After wandering around the square checking out our lunch options, we decided to try the Plaza Bistro.

The place was pretty empty when we arrived, and the temperature was cold – I wish they would have turned the heat up a bit.  But the service was friendly and fast, and the food was excellent.  Jon had the beet salad, with roasted beets, fresh sliced fennel, Blue Lake beans, Chevre goat cheese, and almonds, all on baby greens topped with a sherry vinaigrette dressing.  Jon was very satisfied with the salad – but he wished it had been larger.

Lunch at the Plaza Bistro

Lunch at the Plaza Bistro

I had the salmon sandwich with applewood smoked bacon, arugula, and lemon garlic aioli on a ciabatta roll.  It came with a green salad with vinaigrette.  The sandwich was amazing!  My only gripe was that the salad needed something more; it was just lettuce and dressing.  The sandwich was more than enough for me, and I knew Jon would be hungry again soon if he didn’t eat more, so I was very kind to share a few bites of my sandwich with him.

My salmon sandwich at The Plaza Bistro

My salmon sandwich at The Plaza Bistro

After our tummies were full, we were ready to start our tour.  We headed first to Tin Barn Vineyards.  We were first introduced to Tin Barn wine when we went to Zuzu restaurant in Napa a few years ago.  Zuzu is a tapas restaurant (fabulous by the way) and we had a bottle of their Zinfandel with our meal that evening.  We were hooked.  It was well balanced, fruit forward, and not overpowered with tannins.  We even tried to visit the tasting room on that trip and struck out, because it was Tuesday and they were closed.

This trip we were lucky enough to be there on a Monday, one of the days that the tasting room was open!  They are located in a row of warehouses, and it looked pretty deserted.  But the sign said they were open, so we went inside.  We looked around the tasting room waiting for somebody to come out, and peeked into the winery area as well.  Eventually, the owner, Michael Lancaster, realized that we were out there and came out to pour – he had been working in the winery and didn’t hear us come in.

Tin Barn Vineyards Tasting Room

Tin Barn Vineyards Tasting Room

Mike was super friendly and guided us through the Tin Barn line-up, starting with the Sauvignon Blanc, a dry, crisp balanced wine with flavors of lemon-grass.  There were two Pinot Noirs, both from Ricci Vineyard in Sonoma County, the 2010 and 2011 vintages.  They were both excellent; and having two different vintages from the same vineyard meant you could taste the difference that weather imparts on wine.

There were also two Zinfandels on the list – both from 2011.  The first was from Gilsson Vineyard in the Russian River Valley – a nice, fruit-forward Zin.  Gilsson Vineyard has 50 year old vines, which make for a fantastic wine.  The other was more tannic, from Los Chamizal Vineyard in Sonoma Valley, but also delicious.

We finished the tasting with the 2011 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  This isn’t a vineyard designate wine, and it also contains Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot.  It was a great California Cab, with great structure and not over-oaked.

We left with two bottles of the Sauvignon Blanc and a bottle of each of the Zinfandels.  Our visit left me wishing we lived closer!

And on to Sonoma Valley

The next day of our wine tour we decided to go to the Sonoma Valley, which is just southwest of Napa Valley.  Napa focuses on Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, where Sonoma focuses more on Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.  We decided to make our first stop Cline Cellars.  We tried a Cline Syrah from the grocery store on our first night, and we were so impressed that we had to make a visit.  They have very reasonably priced wines, starting at $11 a bottle.  We stopped by at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, and this place was hopping!  There were already almost a dozen people tasting, including a local character who had the whole tasting room laughing.  Our server, Rene, was excellent – personable, down to earth and he knew a lot of the wines.   I did stump him though, when I asked questions about one of the rare varietals.  I liked that he admitted he didn’t know the answer, instead of trying to pretend.  And then he pulled out an awesome book with every grape varietal known to man!  Their Syrahs were good, their Zinfandels were very good, and Jon and I both enjoyed their Mourvedre and Carignan (a varietal that I have not heard of before).

Cline Cellars

After our tasting, we enjoyed a picnic lunch at their picnic table with wine, cheese and pepperoni that they also sell onsite.  We toured the grounds, which included a fishpond complete with turtles and frogs, and two mini-donkeys that the kids can feed carrots.  And to top it all off, they own replica models of the 21 California missions.  These models were made for the 1939 World’s Fair using the original blueprints for the missions.  It seems that when they were going to be auctioned off piecemeal, Cline’s owner bought them all, and then built a museum on the grounds to display them.  They were very cool – an unexpected treat.  We will certainly be back again!

After Cline, we went across the street to Jacuzzi Winery.  They are owned by the same family, but while Cline focuses on Zins and Syrahs, Jacuzzi focuses on the Italian varietals, some of which I had never even heard of.  They did have some good wines, but unfortunately, the experience we had there didn’t make their wines worth it.  Our server barely looked at us, and when I asked him which he thought were the best wines to taste (you get to choose 5 from the list), he informed me, “I can’t tell you what you’ll like.”  Well, duh, but surely you can tell us which ones are your best wines.  It irked me, because any winery that doesn’t specialize is going to have some that are better than others.  The snooty server also said, “I won’t tell you that our wines are better than Cline wines, but they are.”  Wow, selling out your own partner winery just isn’t cool.  That said, we liked their Pinot Noir, and their Dolcetto, but left without buying anything.  We tried to taste their olive oils, but it was so busy and crowded there, we gave up.  All in all, I thought Jacuzzi was a dud.

After Jacuzzi, we went into Sonoma’s downtown for a bit, and toured the Sonoma Mission.  It was the last mission built in the string of 21 California missions, founded in 1823.  It was only a religious mission for 11 years.  In 1834, the Mexican government secularized the missions and put General Vallejo in charge of Sonoma.  He founded the town on Sonoma around the mission, and they used the mission as a parish church for a time while the mission started to fall into disrepair.  It was mostly crumbled after the 1906 earthquake.  Fortunately, they started restoration in 1909, and the mission became a museum in 1913.  It is one of two missions that are part of the California Park System.  It is a neat mission and well worth the $3 fee, and is easily toured in about 20 minutes, unless you want to watch the 20 minute video.  You can also see the Barracks, and General Vallejo’s home.

It is certainly worth the visit – it is interesting to imagine what life was like during the period.