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A Sonoma County Survivor
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
Oct 24, 2017
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Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2014 ($50):  When wildfires broke out in Sonoma and Napa Counties earlier this month, one of the casualties was the historic Bundschu family home.  Jim and Nancy Bundschu lived there -- parents of winery president Jeff Bundschu and VP Katie Bundschu -- and like so many others victimized by the fires, they were forced to leave suddenly, with little more than the clothes on their backs.  The 100-year-old home was completely destroyed.  Ultimately, however the winery buildings survived, thanks to firefighting intervention.

As one of California’s oldest wineries, founded in 1858, Gundlach Bundschu has had its share of tragedy and triumph.  In the San Francisco earthquake and fires of 1906, the company’s winemaking facilities in the city burned to the ground, requiring the thriving business to downsize and relocate to Sonoma, close to its historic Rhinefarm vineyard.  After prohibition, the family sold grapes to legendary producers such as Inglenook, Almaden and Louis Martini, but did not make wine under its own label again until 1973. 

In the meantime, the vineyards dodged phylloxera twice -- the first time, in 1874, by grafting vines onto American rootstocks from Texas; and the second time when the old vineyard was replanted in 1969, and Towle Gundschu refused to allow his son, Jim, to use the new AXR1 rootstock, preferring the tried-and-true St. George rootstock instead.  More recently, the family purchased one of the original parcels of Rhinefarm Vineyard to restore the property to a single, contiguous estate vineyard.  Today, Gundlach Bundschu produces only estate-grown wines.

The Gundlach Bundschu vineyards are situated 35 miles north of San Francisco on the southwesterly slopes of the Mayacamas mountain range, in the southernmost point of the Sonoma Valley AVA, just north of Carneros.  Despite its name, the Sonoma Valley AVA includes hillsides as well as lower-elevation sites.  Gundlach Bundschu’s property features both, with the cooler, lower-elevation vineyards dedicated to Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir and the higher elevation sites reserved for Cabernet -- the most widely planted variety -- as well as Merlot, Zinfandel and Cabernet Franc and other red varieties.

On the steep hillsides where the grapes for this 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon grow, the days are warm but the nights are cool, so that the grapes ripen slowly.  Winery literature explains that the Cabernet grapes are generally harvested a full month later than Napa Valley Cabernet, which allows for more gradual flavor development, ripe tannins and a more balanced acid-tannin structure.

One of my key impressions about the 2014 Gundlach Bundschu Cabernet is its freshness of fruit flavors:  The aromas and flavors suggest fully ripe but fresh fruit rather than dried fruit or cooked fruit.  Specifically, you can find scents of blackberries and dark plum, with warm notes of coffee, chocolate and baking spices adding complexity.  In your mouth, the wine is full-bodied and fairly powerful, with supple, smooth texture.  The wine’s tannins are very fine, and they serve to bring the rich texture down to earth.  Also counterbalancing the richness of flavor and texture is the fresh acidity, which gives the wine lift.  If you were to judge this wine by its label, which reads “Alcohol 14.8%,” you would probably expect the richness but be surprised by the freshness and depth. 

This wine is 87 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, blended with 8 percent Petit Verdot, 3 percent Merlot, and 1 percent each of Cabernet Franc and Malbec.  Winemaking involves a long maceration (skin contact period) of 28 to 32 days, and 18 months of aging in French oak, 45 percent of which is new.  This wine has the balance and concentration to age well for several years, but is extremely approachable even now.

91 Points