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Bill Lynch: Gun-Bun wine roots grow deeper

The Gundlach Bundschu Winery, founded in 1858, is the second oldest winery in California (behind only Buena Vista) and the only one still owned and operated by members of the original founding family.

Now overseen by the family’s sixth generation, Jeff Bundschu and his sister, Katie, its deep roots in California viticulture got even more profound recently with the purchase in February of 60 acres of the Valley of the Moon/Madrone Estate Winery property.

The parcel on Madrone Road between Highway 12 and Arnold Drive, formerly part of the Valley of the Moon Winery, was for many years owned and operated by the Parducci family, who purchased it in 1941. But it goes much further back than that.

It was originally part of Madrone Vineyards established in 1863 by George Whitman, then purchased 20 years later by Eli T. Sheppard, a wealthy Californian and former U.S. Ambassador to China. Ambassador Sheppard made it a show place and named it Madrone Vineyards because of the red-hued native trees on the property. Originally planted in apples, the land was perfectly adaptable to wine grapes. Sheppard built two large stone cellars for crushing and storing.

The Sheppard place was a social center of Northern California and hosted lavish parties for state dignitaries.

Later, it was purchased by Senator George Hearst and his wife Phoebe, mother of William Randolph Hearst. A bottle of wine made at the time the Hearst’s owned and operated the winery is said to be on display at San Simeon.

There were even two railroad stations used for wine shipping on the property. The original stone cellars were badly damaged by the 1906 earthquake. For a while, Madrone Vineyards grew wine grapes but stopped making wine.

Henry Parducci and Peter Domenici of San Francisco purchased the vineyard in 1941. They were said to be related to the Gallo family in the city known for their salami. Henry’s son, Harry, came back from service in the U.S. Navy, to take over the business in the mid-1950s.

When I met him in the 1960s, Harry was the operator of one of only a half dozen working wineries in Sonoma Valley.

This was more than a decade before the wine business began its rapid expansion. Valley of the Moon Winery was a small, family-run business and, on most days, you could find Harry in or near the cellars.

Back then, wineries didn’t charge for tasting or tours. Harry was an affable guy and willing to spend time giving his visitors personalized tours of the property in which he took lot of pride. He and his wife Rheda were also well known and active in the community. Harry was a Rotarian and former president of that club. He died in 1998.

I’m certain he would be pleased that his winery has passed into the hands of a family who value its rich heritage as much as he did.

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