On a breezy Friday night in early August, 54 individuals flocked to Sonoma’s Gundlach Bundschu Winery & Vineyards to attend an unparalleled visit to the oldest family-owned and operated winery in California.
The night’s facilitators were Southwest Airlines® andVisa Signature, together producing a customized oeno-experience that the average wine-country traveler would find impossible to arrange. The offer, extended to only to Rapid Rewards Cardmembers via email, was booked in just shy of an hour of when it hit inboxes, with many like-minded wine lovers eager to snag a backstage pass to the winery’s sprawling 320-acre property.
The Gundlach Bundschu Winery & Vineyards touts 155 years of winemaking history, and is now led by sixth-generation vintner Jeff Bundschu, and his sister, Katie Bundschu, who also serves as the communications manager. It’s a rare occasion for both jovial tastemakers to be treading the terrain at the same time, let alone hosting an event together. But for this particular occasion, the siblings welcomed the opportunity to usher strangers—and soon friends—through their property for an evening of wine tasting, tours, pairings, live music, and much more.
The first pours began atop the steep hillside of Gundlach’s Rhinefarm Estate Vineyard, where in just a few weeks the harvest will begin. While anyone can visit the winery’s tasting room, our particular Bundschu experience kicked off in their on-site bungalow, a charming cottage built over 125 years ago. We slipped into oblivion with a white wine introduction, which included the signature Gewurztraminer, the area’s leading bone-dry contender composed of notes of Asian pear, lychee, and all-spice.
As the night progressed we covered more distance. Enthralled by their lifelong, somewhat-wild stories and fetching sibling banter, we followed the brother and sister deeper into their family’s labor of love while encountering more of the landscape. Set into the mountainside, their 10,000-square foot cave was a highlight for many, and clearly near and dear to Katie and Jeff as their affable father, Jim, implemented the labyrinth in 1991.
Oak barrel after oak barrel lined the perimeter of the narrow hollow, a peek at the impressive aging operation made even more special by a brief cabernet sauvignon tasting session due to the special cardmember experience. We spilled out of the cavern to encounter a majestic pop-up, an al fresco dining room kindled with strings of big-bulbed lights and warmed by pleasant sounds from acoustic guitarist Alec Fuhrman. The event’s timing had been spot-on all night, and the setting sun over the vineyards was a sensational backdrop—a mythical prelude to dinner.
Clusters of newly acquainted friends formed as cardmembers began finding their seats, and servers appeared, stocking tabletops with 2011 Chardonnay. Artistic plates soon met our tables, featuring pan-seared diver scallops on a half shell, as accented appropriately with a chardonnay coriander sauce. The wine pairing portion of the event certainly debuted on a high note (guests couldn’t stop singing praises of the first course), and Katie welcomed cardmembers to the new dining patio—an enchanting addition to the historic property that we then found out had yet to be used.
The pairings progressed with the evening's main course featuring Gundlach’s champion, the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. Elegant and powerful, dancing with dark fruits and darker chocolate, the red beauty met its classic food mate with the grilled beef tenderloin. Although keen on the dish’s accessories of local heirloom mushrooms and herbed fingerling potatoes, it was the full-flavored cab reduction that elevated this entrée to extravagance.
A brief local cheese education unfolded with course three, as the Bay Area’s Vella Cheese beamed from the prepared plate featuring their Dry Jack and Manchego aside a Sonoma goat cheese. Gundlach’s 2010 Merlot had a ménage à trois with the creamy delights, each cheese drawing out different characteristics of the wine—polished blackberry and chocolate, black tea and violets.
As we forked in the final course—decadent fudge cakes dressed with layers of Valhrona chocolate and married with pours of the brightly acidic 2011 Zinfandel, the incredibly generous Katie made an announcement. To close the night, the Bundschus were going off the agenda, inviting Cardmembers to meet them in the tasting room for one last taste—a sample of their very-limited 2009 Vintage Reserve (available at $80 per bottle). With one luscious sip, we were naming it to be the best Bordeaux-style wine we’ve sampled country-wide—we kid you not.
As parting gifts were dispersed, the Dish Trip crew had “tastes” from our East Coast home to share too—bottles of Victory Brewing Company’s first-ever red wine barrel-aged release, Red Thunder.
The private winery experience may not be an opportunity you regularly receive from a credit card, but then Southwest Airlines and Visa Signature customers aren’t like any others. Whether you are a food, wine or Southwest Airlines fanatic, the exclusive opportunities attached to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa Signature card are worth writing home about.
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