At last week’s Sonoma County Barrel Auction, led by Sonoma County Vintners director Jean Arnold Sessions of Sonoma, fifth generation Sonoma winemaker Jim Bundschu and Angelo Sangiacomo were recognized for their “lifelong contributions to winemaking and grape growing in our region.”

A little background: Jacob Gundlach bought 400 acres southeast of Sonoma in 1858 and named it Rhinefarm, for his Bavarian origins, which makes it the oldest continuously operating winery in California. In 1859, Gundlach and friends planted 60,000 vines and eventually made wine in their San Francisco factory at Second and Bryant streets.

The 1906 earthquake dealt Gundlach its first setback by destroying its San Francisco production facility, after which they moved family and what was left to the Sonoma property.

During Prohibition they couldn’t sell wine, so they let the vines go, replacing that crop with cattle under the leadership of Jim Bundschu’s parents, Mary and Towle Bundschu.

In 1969, Jim Bundschu started to replant the vineyard in the cow-fertilized soil, and then became president of the company in 1970, establishing it as a leader in sustainable winemaking. So many of us enjoyed Jim’s early vintages as the house wine at the Swiss Hotel.

Jeff Bundschu took over as president in 2000.

Growing up on the family farm, Angelo Sangiacomo helped convert his family’s pear orchard into vineyard on prime land in the 1960s, now leading the family enterprise covering more than 1,600 acres.

Ang’s father, Vittorio Sangiacomo, left Genoa, Italy for America in 1913, and started his first job at age 17 working at Bay Farm Island in Alameda County, followed by scavenger (garbage) jobs in San Francisco. Ready to get back to the land, he purchased 52 acres of fruit orchard in Sonoma Valley in 1927, now called Home Ranch. In 1928 Vittorio married Maria, also from Genoa.

Eventually grapes replaced pears and now Ang, Buck, Lorraine, and next generation Mike, Steve, and sister Mia’s husband, Mike Pucci, manage the enterprise, which produces some of the most valued and sustainably grown grapes in California.

Jim Pedroncelli of Pedroncelli Winery in Geyserville was also recognized.