By Katherine Flynn
In the Spring 2015 issue of Preservation magazine, we feature the stories of three well-aged and much-loved Northern California wineries that have weathered historical calamities to continue producing award-winning libations into the present day. There are so many others whose stories we didn't get the chance to tell, so we thought we'd take this opportunity to do so.
Gundlach Bundschu, Freemark Abbey, Inglenook, and Beringer Vineyards are all known for their rich viticultural history. Sit back, pour a glass of your favorite vintage, and read on to find out more about how each vineyard got its start and endured setbacks such as Prohibition and the 2014 Napa Valley Earthquake.
Sonoma's Rhinefarm has been home to six generations of Gundlachs and Bundschus. Founded in 1859 by German immigrant Jacob Gundlach, who planted 60,000 vines of German and French rootstock on the property, the winery suffered a blow when its block-long winemaking facility in San Francisco was destroyed by the 1906 earthquake and fire.
Production continued on-site at the Rhinefarm estate, but in 1919 Prohibition forced the closure of the Gundlach Bundschu winery. Walter Bundschu, whose father married into the family after becoming Jacob Gundlach's business associate, held on to 130 acres of land and continued to grow Rhinefarm grapes and Bartlett pears. In 1970, Walter's grandson Jim decided to reopen the family winery, and in 1973 Jim's father Towle (Walter's son) granted him permission to use the historic Gundlach Bundschu family name for his endeavor.
In 2014, the Napa Valley earthquake damaged a 100-year-old barn on the property that had long served as the center of agricultural operations. Although the barn had withstood two previous quakes in 1969 and 1989, this most recent temblor left it with a cracked foundation and support pillar, resulting in a sagging ceiling and decidedly south-leaning tilt. Jim's son Jeff, current president of the vineyard, decided that it was necessary that they repair it for future use, telling the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that the barn held a "spiritual aspect" for him.
Josephine Tychson, arguably the first woman to own and operate a winery in Napa Valley, assumed control of 147 acres of vineyards in 1886 after her husband passed away. She built a small redwood winemaking facility that same year, realizing her spouse's dream of turning their property into a fully operational winery. This structure eventually expanded to hold a capacity of 30,000 gallons of Zinfandel, Riesling, and Burgundy varietals.
Tychson sold the winery to her foreman, Nils Larsen, in 1894, and Larsen in turn sold it to Antonio Forni, a friend of Tychson's. Forni more than doubled the production capacity of the winery in 1899 by constructing a new stone production building, which Freemark Abbey continues to use to this day.
Although the winery shuttered in 1919 due to Prohibition, three Southern California businessmen purchased the estate in 1939, christening it "Freemark Abbey" as a portmanteau of their names (Charles Freeman, Marquand Foster, and Albert "Abbey" Ahern).
Although it has changed hands a number of times throughout the years, Freemark Abbey still prides itself on its rich history. It was one of only 12 wineries to participate in the Paris Tasting in 1976, the international event (and subject of the film "Bottle Shock") that put Napa Valley on the map as the venerable winemaking region it's known as today.
Freemark Abbey is currently in the process of applying for the National Register of Historic Places, and current proprietors Barbara Banke and the Jackson family of vintners have recently started construction on a restoration project that includes refurbishing the original building and surrounding landscape. The winery suffered no significant damage in the 2014 Napa Valley earthquake.
After sailing the high seas and eventually making berth in the port of San Francisco, Finnish sea captain Gustave Niebaum purchased Inglenook (a Scottish phrase meaning "cozy corner") Winery in 1879 from its former owner, Judge S. Clinton Hastings. In 1881 he commissioned architect Hamden McIntyre (designer of the Trefethen Vineyards building), in conjunction with San Francisco architect William Mooser, to build Inglenook's iconic stone winery that still serves as the center of operations today. Its construction was completed in 1887.
Inglenook briefly shuttered after the death of Captain Neibaum in 1908, with operations resuming under his widow in 1911. Prohibition forced the winery to cease operations, but Inglenook survived by selling grapes directly to consumers. On December 6, 1933, immediately after Prohibition's repeal, Inglenook resumed wine production.
Following a few decades of economic decline and several sales, 1,506 acres of Inglenook, including Gustav Niebaum's mansion (but not the historic winemaking chateau), were purchased by Francis Ford Coppola and his wife Eleanor in 1975 with profits from the Godfather films. In 1995, the Coppolas were able to purchase the parcel of land containing the chateau (which had been sitting vacant under different ownership), reuniting the property and this structure for the first time in three decades. The Coppolas also initiated a thorough restoration of the chateau.
Today, Inglenook is once again a prestigious Napa Valley winery, also sustaining no significant damage in 2014.
Founded in 1875 by siblings Jacob and Frederick Beringer, the parcel of land that Beringer Vineyards is located on was initially called Los Hermanos (The Brothers). After two of Jacob's children, Charles and Bertha, assumed ownership of the winery in 1915, the Beringer estate continued to produce wine throughout Prohibition under a federal license that allowed it to be made and sold for religious purposes.
Post-Prohibition, Beringer became the first Napa winery to offer public tours, sparking the wine tourism industry in the valley. This past March, Mark Beringer, a direct descendant of Jacob, became the head winemaker at the estate after previously working at Artesa Vineyards.
[Ed. note: This story's headline was corrected to reflect that Gundlach Bundschu is in Sonoma, not Napa Valley.]