|The locals refer to Gundlach Bundschu as G.B. or "Gun Bun." It's a family owned winery in southeast Sonoma County, flanked by vineyards and eucalyptus and pine trees, and tucked away at the southern end of the Mayacamas Mountain Range.
Gun Bun has been home to winemaker Linda Trotta for eight years. I've always liked Gun Bun. Not only for its wines, but also for the black and white poster series it produces. The satirical photos have a sense of humor and rebellion toward the wine business Gun Bun loves so much. And Linda fits into that image perfectly.
Every Monday evening throughout the summer, the Gun Bun cellar rats (the crew that works in the cellar) get together for a friendly informal game of volleyball. I decided this was the perfect setting for Head Space: fresh air, exercise and the challenge of getting an interview while having a ball slammed down my throat.
This particular evening was hot. The vineyards were boasting ripe fruit, and the sand volleyball court seemed like the perfect venue. A few cellar rats and I positioned a huge Weber grill courtside and fired up some gourmet sausages to enjoy with beer, margaritas and maybe a little bit of wine after the game.
I immediately knew we were in trouble when Linda showed up with a bottle of tequila in tow. She was obviously psyched and ready to play. Either that or she puts up one hell of a front. But I could tell, underneath, that she was a very relaxed, self-assured person with a few opinions on winemaking. Hopefully, between sets and spikes, she'd give us some of those thoughts and insight.
Linda's introduction to wine came at an early age. She helped her Italian great grandfather make wine in his garage when visiting him in California. Even with this early training, she never thought of becoming a winemaker. It wasn't until attending U.C. Davis (studying mathematics), where she took an introductory class in winemaking just for the fun of it, that the bug finally bit. During next spring break, Linda went to Italy to check out her ansestry. Winemaking quickly became her primary focus.
Her first "real" wine job after completing her formal training at Davis was working in the lab at St. Francis Winery. She worked there for six months, then at Sebastiani Winery for two years. In 1989, Linda had the opportunity to interview with Gun Bun as an enologist. Interestingly enough, it wasn't her knowledge or experience that landed her the job. Rather, it was whether or not she liked tequila. And at what rate. I guess we know to never get into a "shot" match with this woman! (Ask Linda about her job interview with Jim Bundschu. It's a little too much to go into here!)
The volleyball game was starting. It was time to take the interview onto the court. God help us all!
Wine X: What attracted you to Gun Bun?
Trotta: The style of their red wines. I've always enjoyed Gun Bun reds. And I like to make what I like to drink.
Wine X: What kind of music inspires you? (I couldn't help but wonder.)
Trotta: When I'm in the cellar it's definitely rock n' roll. I like zin. And you can't have some wimpy music when your making a big bad red. A few years ago a temp in the cellar insisted on playing classical music, hence it was her last day of work at the winery.
Wine X: Tell us about Bearitage. Where did that come from? Nice set.
Trotta: Thanks. Bearitage is the only wine I've ever heard of where the label was designed before the name and wine were even conceived. (diving after a ball) Ughhh... So they had this image, and then they had to come up with a name and a wine!
Wine X: Got sand in your mouth there.
Wine X: But why the name Bearitage?
Trotta: The name is a spoof on the Meritage Association, you know, an American wine blended in the Bordeaux tradition. Since we use zin in the blend, Gun Bun decided to blend something uniquely Californian (i.e., the state flag which features a bear) and the name Meritage. Thus, Bearitage.
Linda's turn to serve. Good toss. Uh oh, it's headed my way.
Trotta: Nice try.
Wine X: I coulda gotten it.
Trotta: Uh huh. In fact, the popularity of the Bearitage has inspired a white version called Polar Bearitage, which is a blend of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay.
She serves-up another rocket. Got this one. Ha!
We got lost in the game for a while. Volleying back and forth. Spikin', settin', slammin'. Next time I looked at my watch we'd been on the court for an hour.
Wine X: Can we sit down? I think I scratched my knee.
Trotta: Sure. I need a marg.
I emptied my pockets of about 10 pounds of sand, Linda grabbed her marg, and we settled on the back of her pickup.
Trotta: You always do weird interviews like this?
Wine X: Yeah. It's in my contract. So... If you were a grapevine, what kind of grapevine would you be? (Off her look.) Just kidding.
Trotta: I hope so.
Wine X: Okay, what kind of questions don't you like being asked?
Trotta: Questions like, "How many grapes does it take to make a glass of wine?"
Wine X: Yeah, I know, I hate that. I get that one all the time, too. (pause) So, ah, how many does it? (That look again.) Right. So... okay. What do you consider a good wine? Other than Gun Bun.
Trotta: Whatever you like. One of the unfortunate things about this industry is that it keeps trying to tell people what to like. Hey, if you like it, drink it. It's that simple. Even if some "authority" says it's no good.
Wine X: Speaking of "authorities," do critics play a role in your winemaking?
Trotta: Absolutely. What Parker wants I don't do!
We toast to that one!
Wine X: You have any concerns with the wine industry? Other than that too many folks follow critics like sheep. You know? I mean, what troubles you most about the wine industry?
Trotta: Prices. Prices just keep going up and up and up. We're going to price ourselves out of the market soon if it continues. And I'm really against this whole swirl and sniff attitude. I think people should just relax and enjoy wine any way they want to.
Wine X: Absolutely. You see any new trends or varietals making waves in the near future?
Trotta: Tempranillo. It's a Spanish varietal used in making Rioja. I think it would grow really well here in California and produce good, inexpensive red wines.
Wine X: Sonoma gonna remain your home forever?
Trotta: I love it here. Who wouldn't? But I'd like to retire to the Mendocino Coast.
Wine X: Uh huh. (Long pause.)
Trotta: Is that it?
Wine X: Yeah, I kinda ran out of questions. Thanks, though. Had a great time.
Trotta: Sure. Anytime.