How the fire struck at Gundlach Bundschu, one of California’s oldest wineries

How the fire struck at Gundlach Bundschu, one of California’s oldest wineries


The band Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions was playing to a packed house at Gundlach Bundschu Winery on Sunday night when Jeff Bundschu noticed the fires in the mountains, far off.

“We saw the orange glow,” said Bundschu, 49, whose family has owned the Sonoma Valley winery at the base of Arrowhead Mountain since 1858, making it one of the state’s oldest wineries.

He alerted one of his employees, who drove over the mountain range to inspect the situation. When the employee first called Bundschu, he reported that the fire seemed to be staying closer to Napa County. But 10 minutes later, he called his boss in a state of panic. “It was moving fast,” Bundschu said.

That was around 11:15 p.m. on Sunday night. By then, the concertgoers had cleared out. A crew of vineyard workers arrived soon after to pick some of the final grapes of the harvest season — Bordeaux varieties, hanging on the hillside near the Bundschu family home, a 100-year-old adobe where Bundschu’s parents, Jim and Nancy, live.

The elder Bundschu initially told his son that he was going to “stay and fight it.” But as the blaze crept closer down the mountain, “it became clear that it was going to be a necessity to get Mom and Dad out of there,” Bundschu said. He called his younger sister, Katie, 35, who arrived at the property shortly after 12:30 a.m. They sent the vineyard workers home.

“We got them out with just the clothes on their back,” Katie Bundschu said. Plus a few keepsakes — specifically, some of the old family archives, documenting their family’s long history at this estate. Most such heirlooms had been moved off-site previously, in case of fire.

The Bundschus departed, and, in their absence, the flames pushed on.

Firefighters — spread seriously thin in Sonoma County, where multiple fires are still raging days later, including in much more populated areas than winery-lined Denmark Street — didn’t arrive until midday Monday.

By then, the fire had devoured Jim and Nancy Bundschu’s home and the vines on the hillside by the house.

The blaze was moving erratically, first south, toward Scribe Winery, then north, back toward Gundlach Bundschu. The winery, the guest house and the barn (where many of the concerts are held), all built over 100 years ago, were all in danger. “And we had no air support, no line crew,” Jeff Bundschu said.

Meanwhile, nearby residents were showing up to see what had happened to the iconic property. “The end of our driveway became a mecca for well-wishers,” Katie Bundschu said.

False news had begun circulating that the winery had burned down; Scribe, too. “Emotions were incredible,” Katie Bundschu said. “People were crying.”

Finally, a small crew of firefighters arrived and carved a narrow fire line between the vegetation on the hillside and the Bundschus’ buildings. And by around 5 p.m., Cal Fire helicopters appeared overhead, showering water down on the fires before they could reach Gundlach Bundschu and Scribe.

“I don’t know what they did, but those buildings are safe,” Jeff Bundschu said. Safe, too, are the family’s two cows and two donkeys.

The remains of vehicles can be seen where a barn was destroyed in Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, Calif. Wednesday, October 11, 2017. Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle
Photo: Mason Trinca, Special To The Chronicle

The remains of vehicles can be seen where a barn was destroyed in Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, Calif. Wednesday, October 11, 2017.

The remains of vehicles can be seen where a barn was destroyed in...

While the loss of the family home is hard to reckon with, the Bundschus feel fortunate that most of their property was spared. “The grieving happened on Monday,” Jeff Bundschu said. “But then, immediately, there’s this amazing gratitude.”

As in so many other parts of Wine Country right now, the line between charred and untouched is stark and sudden. You can see the precise moment where the blackened, ashy hillside yields suddenly to healthy earth — on some parts of the property, as close as 10 yards from a building.

Those buildings, after all, are veterans: They’ve survived fire before. Among those precious family archives is a letter penned by Charles Bundschu — Katie and Jeff’s great-great-grandfather — reflecting on the fires that had raged at the property after the 1906 earthquake. The winery, the guest house and the barn survived then, too.

“We’re lucky enough to have a 150-year-old rearview mirror,” Jeff Bundschu said.

Esther Mobley is The San Francisco Chronicle’s wine, beer and spirits writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @Esther_mobley



Source :
https://www.sfgate.com/wine/article/How-the-fire-struck-at-Gundlach-Bundschu-one-of-12270549.php