Dan Berger: Kundes wines reflect historic heritage of their land
Published: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 6, 2009 at 3:50 p.m.
“It is a shy and decidedly youthful looking member of an old Scotch family who is the owner of the broad acres of Dunfillan, one of the finest vineyards in America.”
So begins a chapter in an 1889 book, “Wines and Vines of California,” that speaks glowingly about a Sonoma Valley property that was then making some of the best cabernet sauvignons in the country.
The vineyard about which Frona Eunice Wait wrote some 120 years ago still exists. Although many of the 125 acres of vines on the ranch have been replanted, the ranch still has a 28-acre block of cabernet vines estimated to be 114 years old. In their heyday, they made single-vineyard cabernets that were world-adored and sold for exalted prices.
The bottles carried the name of the proprietor, Capt. J.H. Drummond, whose brick winery Dunfillan was located just north of the town of Glen Ellen, but situated far enough off adjacent Highway 12 so as to block the jangly sound of horse carriages and stagecoaches.
I visited Dunfillan the other day with Jeff Kunde, one of the members of the Kunde family that now owns the historic property and ancient vines.
The building is in disrepair, unused. It’s not needed since the Kunde family now has a handsome large Victorian style winery, designed like a barn, up the road at Kenwood.
The huge Kunde ranch is a phenomenon, one of the largest contiguous plantings in the county. The ranch itself covers some 2,000 acres, with well over 700 planted to grapes. If you drive from Glen Ellen to Kenwood, much of the vine acreage you can see on the east side of the road is owned by the Kundes.
Until recently, however, most folks have seen only a hint of the size of the property, and that’s when they visit for tasting and to take winery tours. There has been scant public access to the remarkable hillside plantings and dramatic distant views.
That is changing. Jeff is eager to have people see the ranch and its views and landscape, just a few miles from where Jack London wrote novels. While the winery already offers programs such as Hike & Taste in the Vineyards and Jeff’s Eco-Tour Dog Hikes, he is in the process of developing additional vineyard tours to show off the property.
In addition, three years ago, the partners hired a new winemaker, Tim Bell, who had worked at Freemark Abbey in the Napa Valley. Today’s new Kunde releases are largely his creation and they are excellent.
Included are a wonderful dry 2008 Semillon ($17), a spicy raspberry-scented 2006 Zinfandel ($18), and a wonderfully aromatic grenache-based red blend called Valle de la Lune (Valley of the Moon), which sells for $24.
And what of Dunfillan? The building with the high porthole windows, set partially into a green hillside and ringed with oaks, faces the vines that once made it famous.
I asked Jeff what plans there were for Dunfillan. The family has discussed it, he said, and they all know that any renovation and refurbishment could be costly.
“But it is a shame to see it sitting there without a roof,” he said, looking up and seeing only handsome old oaks and blue sky.
The family hopes one day to turn the property into a hospitality center, but for now the greatest visibility of this ranch is from high atop the ridges where locals can enjoy the views on Jeff’s guided dog walks, complete with wine tasting.
Wine of the week: 2006 Kunde Syrah, Sonoma Valley ($20) — An attractive aroma of violets and spice, hints of dark chocolate and blackberry fruit, and a generosity that works well with steaks. Another beautiful Tim Bell wine.
Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at email@example.com.
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