Sonoma Valley may have hundreds of wineries, but two stand out as being the oldest, not only in the area, but also in California. While Buena Vista Winery is the oldest commercial winery in the state, Gundlach Bundschu is the oldest family-owned winery. Let's talk a little more about these two fabulous places and learn more about the story of California's oldest wineries.
Buena Vista Winery
Founded by pioneer, Agoston Haraszthy de Mokesa, in 1857, Buena Vista Winery is located at 18000 Old Winery Road in Sonoma.
Haraszthy de Mokesa came to America in 1840 already familiar with vineyards as he grew up amongst the ones his family owned back in Europe. He founded what is now Sauk City in Wisconsin and was also the first to plant hops in the state. Due to the bitter winters causing issues for his grape-growing, he packed his bags and headed for San Diego in 1849 where he became the first sheriff of the city. After trying his hand at establishing a vineyard in Mission Valley, Haraszthy de Mokesa realized he needed to go north in search of better grape-growing conditions. He bought 120 acres in San Francisco in 1852 and tried once again to start up vineyards, this time in Crystal Springs and Las Flores, but fog didn't help his venture. Haraszthy de Mokesa made his way to Sonoma in 1856, bought 800 acres right outside of town, and eventually referred to himself as “The Count of Buena Vista.” The first vintage alone produced 6,500 gallons and within three years there were over 250 acres of vines. He made many advancements in the wine industry, including excavating Sonoma's first caves as a way to age and store wine, constructing the first gravity-flow winery in the state, and being the first to use Redwood barrels for fermenting and aging. Buena Vista Winery's tasting room was established in 1862 while the wine cellars were completed two years later. In 1869 while crossing an alligator-infested stream in Nicaragua, Haraszthy de Mokesa reportedly fell from a tree branch and wasn't heard from again.
Due to financial issues, the estate and winery were auctioned off in 1878, but in 1943 it was purchased by Frank and Antonia Bartholomew who decided to breathe new life into the property. In 1949, Buena Vista Winery released its first vintage after Prohibition. In 2011, the winery was bought by Boisset Family Estates and today is looked after by Jean-Charles Boisset. For more information on Buena Vista's rich history, please visit their site here.
Gundlach Bundschu Winery
Jacob Gundlach bought 400 acres of land in Sonoma in 1858, named it Rhinefarm, and the following year, he and his three partners planted 60,000 vines. The first vintage was two years later in 1861. Charles Bundschu came over from Germany in 1862 and became part of the winery six years later. In the late 1870s, they became the very first to graft European vines to native roots that were resistant to phylloxera, and that single move spurred grapes for almost a century. Gundlach passed away at the age of 76 in 1894, and his son-in-law (Bundschu) later renamed the winery to Gundlach Bundschu Wine Company.
In 1906, the San Francisco fire and earthquake destroyed three family homes and over 1 million gallons of wine. It was at that point that they decided to live in their country home that was set on the vineyard. In 1910, at the age of 68, Bundschu died from an illness that he contracted during the fire. Due to Prohibition in 1919, the winery closed, but the family was able to hold onto 130 acres (and later purchase 70 more acres). The winery remained closed until 1970 (when it was incorporated as Vineburg Wine Company), and three years later the Gundlach Bundschu Winery came to be once more. That same year, they released three wines, and they also became one of the first wineries in the state to make a varietal Merlot. In 1991 Jim Bundschu had 10,000 square foot, 430-foot long caves dug to hold wine barrels, which at the time was one of the largest of its type in the state. The Bundschu family still owns the winery today. For more information on the Gundlach Bundschu Wine Company, please visit their site here.
If you're ever in the Sonoma Valley, make sure to spend some time at the two oldest wineries in California. You certainly won't regret it!