This year will be the conference’s 10th, and it will be held at the Hyatt Regency Sonoma Wine Country. We are looking forward to meeting new writers and reconnecting with the ones we met last year.
It is particularly meaningful to me to attend this year because the conference is being held in the area most damaged by the fires that recently took place. It will be wonderful to play tourist in this area and promote this region just when they need us most. I feel it is my duty to serve the area because this wine country (Napa/Sonoma) is the very reason I moved to California. I fell in love during my very first visit to the region in 2003 and moved not far away to Sacramento in 2004 (also a growing hub of food and wine with its close proximity to Amador, Lodi, Napa, Capay, Dunnigan Hills, and more).
Thirteen plus years later I will discover even more of the Sonoma region along with my husband and hundreds of other bloggers. Our itinerary and agenda for the weekend is very exciting for anyone the slightest bit nerdy about the grape.
I am especially happy to be reunited with Elizabeth of Traveling Wine Chick tomorrow and our Oregon friends Neal and Alyse of Winery Wanderings for the Thomas George Estates wine dinner on Friday. I’m sure our interactions won’t be limited to those events, because we just love all three of those awesome people! We even stayed with Neal and Alyse for a few days last June and ran a half marathon in Eugene! Have to burn those wine calories somehow… 😉
While I am at the conference, I am also actively promoting one of my lady bosses, SG Coaching and Consulting. With over 35 years of experience, the SG team creates custom-tailored programs to fit your winery needs. They provide detailed analyses and work with you to make improvements that can will get people into your doors and make your business successful. They offer Digital Marketing, Event Planning, Front Office Improvements, Recruiting and Hiring, and Wine Club Management.
So let’s do this, Wine Bloggers Conference 2017!! Let’s get together this weekend, taste a lot, encourage tourism, learn from each other, inspire each other, network, and taste a lot more. Andy and Kristy Harris from cavegrrl.com are thrilled to participate and share the experience on this blog as well as our social media channels.
See you there! Cheers 🙂
Gundlach Bunschu’s story began way back in 1858 when Jacob Gundlach purchased 400 acres in Sonoma and named it Rhinefarm. He then returned to Bavaria (in Germany) married, and traveled through Germany and France with his new wife Eva, buying up the rootstock they would need to plant on the land in Sonoma when they returned to the property.
When planting began on Rhinefarm in 1859, Jacob had three partners (Dresel, Kuchel & Lutgens), and they planted the first 60,000 vines on the ranch. (This was a number that towered over the perhaps only dozen other vineyards in wine country at the time with only 27,000 vines.) The first vintage was in 1861, but Gundlach & his partners were already producing wine and brandy from locally grown grapes and fruit.
In 1868, Charles Bundschu joined the winery after working in the produce industry for six years.
During the phylloxera outbreak in the 1870’s, Gundlach and his partner Julius Dresel averted the crisis by grafting the sickly European rootstock to the vines that Dresel had brought from Texas, making them the first in Sonoma to use this procedure. The grafted plantings produced high quality grapes for almost 100 years, until being replanted by Jim Bundschu in 1969.
In 1875, Charles Bundschu joined the family by marrying the eldest child of Jacob Gundlach, Francisca. Jacob retired and Charles managed the winery’s business in San Francisco for many years. Following Jacob’s death in 1984, the winery was renamed Gundlach Bundschu.
The winery was at the height of its success, when disaster struck in 1906. The San Francisco earthquake and fire destroyed one million gallons of wine and three family homes. The family took refuge at their country home at Rhinefarm and began plans to rebuild.
By 1910, 68-year-old Charles Bundschu passed away (never fully recovering mentally from the trauma of the fire and physically ill from an illness he came down with during the devastation). His sons Carl and Walter took joint command.
In 1919, prohibition closed the winery, and the company was liquidated. The family was able to hold on to the 130 acres of land and continue to grow grapes to be sold to the “juice grape” market, but half the vineyard was ripped out and replanted with Bartlett pears and some was used as pasture land.
in 1933, prohibition was repealed, but Walter’s wife Sadie remained a prohibitionist and was against reopening Gunlach Bundschu as a winery. Carl Bundschu was soon hired by Suzanne Niebaum to run Inglenook Winery in Napa and to mentor John Daniels, Jr., who eventually took control in 1938.
In 1938, Towle Bundschu took over Rhinefarm following the death of his father, Walter. He also restored Rhinefarm to 200 acres by acquiring an adjacent parcel of land. Soon after, a long contract with Almaden Winery was signed. Towle also served in the Korean War as an aerial gunner until he was discharged in 1946.
In 1969, Rhinefarm was replanted (for quality reasons) by Towle’s son Jim. By 1973, Jim crushed 20 tons of Zinfandel to produce the first wines in the old stone winery in over 50 years. When Towle saw the passion and commitment to the quality and success of the winery Jim possessed, he gave his blessing to use the family name and so Gundlach Bundschu Winery was given new life!
In 1976, Gundlach Bundschu released its “first” three wines: a 1973 Zinfandel, a 1975 Riesling, and 1975 Kleinberger, all estate grown and produced. Also in 1976, the winery became one of the first in California to produce a Merlot.
In 1981, came a Cabernet Sauvignon release, and a Best Red Wine award for it at the annual Sonoma Harvest Fair.
Jim Bundschu had a cave for the wines dug and completed by 1991, to mimic wine caves he had seen while visiting France. The 10,000 square foot, 430-foot-long cave ultimately benefits the 1,800 barrels it can accommodate by keeping the temperature and humidity at optimal levels.
Jeff Bundschu took the helm of the winery in 2000, and in 2001, it is decided the winery will produce estate-grown only wines. Currently, the winery produces Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Mountain Cuvée, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo and a Vintage Reserve.
Why are they able to grow all of these different grapes (who need all different climates to flourish)? Because Rhinefarm is located at the intersection of four AVAs––Carneros, Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast. If you visit the property you will see its elevation changes. Parts of Rhinefarm are hilly and parts are flat. The land is cooled by the coastal influences of the San Pablo Bay from the south and Pacific breezes through the Petaluma Gap on the west. This cool climate allows for slow ripening and more complexity, structure, and overall more control of the outcome of the harvest. If you’d like to see an interactive map of the vineyards you can click here and congratulations, you have completely geeked out (but that’s a good thing!!)
I wanted to share a little history of the winery because I think it is so interesting. During our visit we tasted the wines listed below, and were hosted by a tasting associate named Ronni, who literally told us everything I wrote about in the paragraphs above and had the whole story committed to memory. If you get stuck with her for a tasting, you’re in for a treat.
Artist Nate Reifke came to Gundlach Bundschu Winery to help turn a rusted 1953 International panel truck that had been collecting weeds in Huichica Creek on Rhinefarm for four decades into a centerpiece at the entrance to the winery.
If you plan on visiting, there are even different tours you can experience. There are the Pinzgauer Tour (aboard a 12-person, 6-wheeled, Austrian Army Vehicle), the Cave Tour, the Heritage Experience, the Vista Courtyard and the Historic Tasting Room options from which to choose. (We enjoyed the historic tasting room option.)
10 Tasting Room Tips for the Aspiring Wine Lover
No matter if you are new to wine or wine tasting, or if you visit tasting rooms often, it’s useful to remind ourselves of good etiquette and read up on ways to improve your experience. Whether you are a first time visitor to a winery, or if you know enough about wine to impress your friends, this list of tips is for you!
1. Avoid wearing heavy cologne/perfume/body spray.
This is without a doubt the number one tip. When you are tasting wines, you need the ability to smell what is in your glass without any interference. A key factor in tasting a wine (as it is in tasting food) is smelling it. Many wines have floral, herbal, spicy characteristics that can be masked when a stronger scent is present, so it’s important that the wine is the only thing you can smell! If you must wear a cologne, apply it at least 2-3 hours before you plan to head to the tasting room. P.S.: Do wear deodorant, but make it unscented if possible.
2. Wine with friends!
Wine is always more fun with friends! Groups of 2-4 people work really well for a number of reasons:
A. 2-4 people do not overwhelm a tasting room associate like a larger group might. Imagine if a bus load of people all arrive at the same time and the craziness that would ensue.
B. A group of 2-4 is bound to have different opinions on what they thought of the wines. One person might hate something that you loved, but that is totally OK! Learn to discuss the wines and get different perspectives at the end of the day.
3. Take a photo of your favorites!
Sometimes you might not be in a traditional tasting room, but at an event where there are nearly hundreds of wines being presented. Maybe there is not an opportunity to purchase the wine at the tasting, but there will be at a later time. This is the perfect opportunity to whip out the camera or cell phone and snap a picture of what you loved so you can make it a part of your cellar later on!
4. Take notes.
Remember when we used something called a pen and paper? Jot down your favorite wines if you don’t have a camera. Write down what you liked about a wine or what it brings to mind. If the tasting room associate says something important (like a food pairing or their recipe for meatballs) get that on paper, too! The most important thing is to document your experience, because most of us have been on tastings and have forgotten parts of them.
5. Use the dump bucket.
But not like that. Part of why we sometimes can’t remember what we tasted is because we have not used the dump bucket to its full potential. The plastic or metal container sitting on the bar beside the wines is there for a reason. So you can taste and spit and keep a sound mind. By all means, taste as many wines as you can, but don’t feel obligated to drink the entire pour. Keep your taste buds refreshed so you can still distinguish wines even if you are at your 3rd or 4th stop. Additionally, a winery is really the only place where spitting in public is NOT frowned upon, so sometimes I have a smaller cup I spit into and then pour it into the main dump bucket, so I am not directly spitting into the bucket. Trust me, I have seen this technique go awry and the liquid ricochet into the spitter’s face when they spat into a mostly full bucket. And they were wearing a white shirt. Not pretty.
6. Get your taste, then step aside for the next person in line.
Be aware of others around you who might be thirsty. It’s really rude to monopolize a tasting room associate when there are other people behind you waiting to taste the long awaited release of Matchbook Arsonist Chardonnay. You can always get back in line for another taste, but don’t just stand there like an oaf and prevent someone from getting one! (I am only 5’1″ tall and have been corkblocked many times!)
7. Ask questions.
Tasting room employees are not there to intimidate you. They are there to share information with you and to hopefully sell you tons of wine and maybe convince you to join their wine club. Ask questions about the wine. Ask about wine in general. Ask about the wine club. Ask about the perks of the club. Joining a wine club might be a great deal of savings to you if you like the winery and the wines they make. Sometimes wineries through big parties during releases of a particular varietal they make and the parties are for wine club members only. PS: Do ask questions, but adhere to rule #6 and do step aside as to no monopolize the tasting room associate so others can taste/ask questions, too.
8. Plan your day ahead of time.
Plan to visit 2-3 wineries maximum and spend quality time at each. Most tasting rooms have put time and effort into making their property somewhere you might like to be for while (maybe even all day). Visit the winery website (almost all of them have some sort of web and social media presence) before your visit, and learn about what makes the winery you choose unique. Some wineries have food and wine pairings/tastings. Some have live music or get food trucks to come by to provide food for purchase. If you like food and music (like I do) those are the most attractive! If you do find a winery with musical entertainment, there will also be comedic entertainment by someone who has had a little too much to drink and has decided to bust out some awesome dance moves!
9. Pack snacks and water!
So if the places at which you are tasting do not offer food, call them and see if you can bring food, more appropriately snacks to the tasting room or winery grounds. I am not talking about getting a Domino’s pizza and having it delivered to the winery, or rolling up a Weber BBQ next to the bar, but I do suggest calling the winery ahead of time and asking them if it is OK if you bring cheese, crackers, dried fruit, etc. with you. Sometimes there might be food sold on the premises, and in that case outside food might be frowned upon. In all cases it is best to call the particular winery ahead of time and ask. If you are bringing something to snack on, keep it classy and bring in a nice picnic basket or small cooler. Water is a no-brainer when it comes to drinking and helps prevent a hangover if you do accidentally overindulge.
10. Buy at least one bottle of wine from each place you visit.
You don’t have to always follow this rule, but it’s just good practice. When you buy a bottle of wine after a tasting, almost always the tasting room will refund your tasting fee. It’s a very strategic move especially in places that charge more than $10 for a tasting. At the very least you get to take home a memento from where you have been that day.
And it’s always nice to have a souvenir from a great trip you had. When you open the wine, you can relive your tasting room visit all over again. Invite your friends over (if you have not gravely embarrassed them from the winery visit and they are still speaking to you) and have a great dinner built around the wine. There are recipes all over the internet geared to almost any common varietal you can buy.
Hopefully my tips have prepared you for your next visit to wine country! Cheers!
It was very convenient that it happened to be our montha-versary 😉
Sunday morning, June 2nd, Andy ran the Lake Chabot Half Marathon. It’s worth noting because he finished 27th out of 179 runners, and it was trail run. (Meaning rather treacherous and very hilly at times).
Then we were off to Sonoma for a night’s stay at MacArthur Place Hotel. I was approached a few months ago via email to schedule a visit to this former 19th century estate just few blocks from Sonoma’s Historic Plaza. Now, MacArthur Place is a luxurious 64-room retreat and spa. I’m not kidding when I tell you: this place is magical.
Each of the Inn’s 64 rooms and suites are individually designed. Suites include special touches like fireplaces, original art, 2-person hydrotherapy tubs and patios or balconies that overlook the estate’s opulent gardens. The in-room shampoos and soaps are made locally with grapeseeds from neighboring vineyards, organic olive oil, lavender and rosemary.
These are beautifully appointed rooms, rich with woods and luxuriant bedding, some with outdoor showers, many with decks where you can sunbathe in privacy. Yes, please.
Upon check in (we stayed in the Azalea suite), I was greeted by a card and a box of chocolate truffles.
Here are some interior shots of our suite:
I was so excited when I saw the room. It also had a fireplace that could be seen from the huge tub/hot tub.
We decided to change into our swimsuits and enjoy the pool area before dinner. We brought a bottle of dry rosé and some plastic cups and laid out in the sun. It was heavenly. I thought about the fact that we had to check out the very next day and I became momentarily depressed! 😉
Then it was off to Happy Hour, because Lord knows, I can’t miss complimentary wine. 😉 MacArthur Place offers a daily Happy Hour in the Library complete with good local wines and appetizers (cheese, fruit, and crackers) – just enough to get your appetite going for dinner. If you’re lucky, you’ll get Cynthia pouring your wine for you!!
Speaking of dinner, the Inn’s restaurant Saddles is housed in a century old barn that was designed to replicate the barn at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. Originally used to house prize Trotter horses and buggies, the Barn is now home to a top-of-the-line steakhouse featuring a wide selection of Prime, Grass Fed and Dry Aged Beef. After Happy Hour in the library, we headed to our room to gussy up again, and then we walked across the property to Saddles Steakhouse.
During that walk, I encountered the largest wall of jasmine I had ever seen! 🙂 It’s just about my favorite thing that grows wild here in California.
Though not gluten-free, we did try out the bread. Come on, it’s brioche, housemade, and comes with two different spreads. If you’re going to treat yourself, this is the time to do it! 🙂
Andy ordered the Oysters on the Half Shell with house mignonette, and I ordered the Chopped Iceberg Lettuce with bacon, tomatoes & a blue cheese dressing. My plan was to cut up my steak and eat it with the salad… BOOM! Steak salad with blue cheese! 🙂
The next morning, the treadmill was waiting for me. The gym at MacArthur Place is small, yet you can still get the job done. There’s an elliptical, a treadmill, a bike and some other standard gym equipment (weights, mats, etc.). You can also opt to run outside, like Andy did.
The grounds of MacArthur Park are particularly lovely. There are statues made from different mediums everywhere. One piece of giant artwork are these life-sized stone chess pieces sitting on a giant chess board.
MacArtur Park Hotel also offers complimentary continental breakfast (inside Saddles Restaurant) from 7am-10am. Andy and I were able to grab some fruit and a few other things before we checked out and headed back to Sacramento.