In a fall of relentless deadly natural disasters, even the seeming paradise of California's wine country didn't escape. More than 200,000 acres and 8,400 structures burned in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino; 42 people died and thousands more were displaced, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. And locals were especially alarmed when they learned that Gundlach Bundschu was in harm's way.
"Gundlach Bundschu is one of the trademark wineries of California," says Chris Sawyer, a Sonoma sommelier, journalist, and restaurateur. "It's going to turn 160 years old next year and remains the oldest family-owned winery in California, now in its sixth generation. So there was a lot of heartfelt concern about them across the nation."
Jim and Nancy Bundschu escaped with just the clothes on their backs while their vine-fringed century-old home burned to the ground. But no one was hurt, and the winery itself was thankfully untouched.
Not all were so lucky. So in the spirit of revival, it means more right now than ever to celebrate the heart of America's wine industry and consider drinking some California bottles at this year's Thanksgiving table. Fortunately, few things go better with turkey and fixings than a Sonoma Coast pinot noir like the 2014 vintage currently available from Gundlach Bundschu. It pairs the up-front fruit notes of ripe dark berries with plums and cherry, but also a depth of minerals and spice framed by silky tannins. At around $30 a bottle and slightly hard to track down in the Philadelphia region (WineWorks in Marlton has a good supply), this is admittedly a special holiday splurge. For more affordable drinking that's still in keeping with the Sonoma theme, and perhaps more widely accessible, Sawyer suggests the ancient vine zinfandel from Cline Cellars, which was undamaged by the fires but sat precariously in view of the smoldering blaze.
"This is a zin in balance with nice fruit and spice," Sawyer says. "It has finesse and goes with everything on the table, because, let's be honest, Thanksgiving is about so much more than the turkey."
This year, that glass of Sonoma wine can be lifted with extra thanks.
– Craig LaBan
Gundlach Bundschu 2014 Sonoma Coast pinot noir, $28.99 for wine club and internet sales ($34.99 regular) at WineWorks, 319 W. Rte. 70, Marlton, wineworksonline.com; $36.99 in Pennsylvania (code 32148). Cline Cellars Ancient Vines Zinfandel, $14.99 on sale in Pennsylvania (code 7579).