A sixth-generation winemaker with a surfer’s soul, Jeff Bundschu is the rare American who seems like he could pull off a silk scarf. His family business is Gundlach Bundschu, the esteemed Sonoma winery established in 1858.
Despite Gundlach Bundschu’s lofty reputation (and wines), Bundschu is a salt-of-the-earth type. He hosts annual live music festivals in Northern California and New York’s Hudson Valley, and is an unapologetic Diet Red Bull enthusiast.
We caught up with Bundschu to hear about his death-row drink order, and that time he sipped homemade Tryolian wine out of a jerrycan on a Saharan road trip (no, seriously).
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1. What’s the bottle that made you fall in love with wine?
It wasn’t a bottle, it was a jerrycan! It was one of five strapped to the top of the Land Rover I was hitching a ride with across the romantic, but bleak Sahara Desert. I’d thought it was gas until our Italian driver brought it to lunch instead of using it to fill the tank. The ruby color of the Tryolian homegrown wine lit up the desert for miles around and the sweet, rich flavors made our lunch of stale bread and sardines taste like Le Bernardin. I hadn’t yet started working in our family business and was wandering the world looking for signs that it was the right path to take. At that moment, that wine transformed our world for the so-much-better, and I took it for a sign indeed.
2. FMK three varieties: Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay?
F Chardonnay. I love white wine and the way it comes in so many styles. It can be big, bold, full-bodied and voluptuous or it can be lean, delicate, and nuanced on the lips.
I would so marry Pinot. You can enjoy it at the opera, or the baseball game. It glistens in any crystal goblet but dazzles in a jelly jar. It’s exactly the kind of wine you’d bring home to mom and then sneak into your room after dinner. Before you blinked you’d both be on the front porch (you on the swing, it in your glass) waiting for your grandkids to show up.
Cabernet is another story. It’s not just a delicious wine that looks good in the glass, it’s deep, dark, complex and can last forever. But oh, the pain! Such great, long, and hot nights, but terrible, horrible mornings. Cabernet, I do love you, but someone help me save myself and get me a saber.
3. You’re on death row. What’s your last-supper wine?
A jeroboam full of something red, rich, and super stinky.
4. You can only drink one wine for the rest of your life. What is it?
Comte Georges de Vogüé, Bonnes-Mares. I am not a hype guy, but in this case ‘they’ are right on the money when they say this Burgundian domain makes some of the best wine in the world.
5. You can only drink at one bar for the rest of your life. What is it?
The Mohawk in Austin, Texas. Indoor and outdoor spaces, two stages, good wine and beer, and it features the best bands in the land before they blow up. And the people are sweet.
6. What’s the best and worst wine on your rack (or in your fridge) right now?
The best is a 2013 Sleight of Hand ‘The Illusionist’ Cabernet from Washington. Based on its predecessors and vintage should be savory, full-bodied and flat-out YUM. It won’t last there much longer. The worst is a circa 1996 red blend with a hand-printed Hawaiian shirt label that John Lasseter (sorry, John!) gave out at a party at his home in Sonoma many years ago. This was way before he had a winery and got serious about winemaking. Because he signed it, I never drank it. And because he signed it, I’ve never thrown it away.
7. If you could no longer drink wine, what would be your beverage of choice?
Diet Red Bull mixed with a cannabis tincture, absinthe, and charcoal. Either hot or on ice, depending on the weather.