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Posted April 2006

Retracing the 1906 Earthquake

Sonoma County 1906 Earthquake

Sonoma Winemaker Commemorates the Events That Devastated the Gundlach Bundschu Winery 100 Years Ago

SONOMA/SAN FRANCISCO—Just before dawn on a mid-April day in 1906, the city of San Francisco shook with a terrible force that jerked residents unceremoniously from their sleep. But it was only the beginning of the devastation and eventual razing of much of the busy port city, which was nearly burned to the ground.  It was a day that Charles Bundschu would recount for untold generations after him:

“This is Sunday - the Lord’s day of rest! His week’s work is ended and he did it well. The doom of San Francisco has been branded with unrelenting, uncompromising ferocity on the face of the darkest history of all mankind. I am so utterly, physically, and mentally unstrung that my mind and body refuse to act. The use of the pen is a hardship to me. Living the last four days, and experiencing and seeing what we had to encounter before our hastened flight from the city of hell and devastation has left its indelible imprints of despair on everybody’s vision haunting him to the rest of his days. The earthquake on Wednesday morning at 5:13 itself shrivels up as a casual incident of comparatively little importance, it would have soon have been over-bridged - but its consequences!”

Though he survived, Bundschu's busy winery, founded nearly 50 years before, did not. More than a million gallons of wine, his San Francisco offices and even his home were utterly destroyed by the massive earthquake that commemorates its 100th anniversary this April.

And yet, the winery lives on even today, seven generations later. Relocated to Sonoma County after the quake, Gundlach Bundschu is among the oldest wineries in the state and has continued operation into the 21st century. To celebrate their family's resilience and history, on April 18, the current generation, led by current winemaker and namesake Charles Bundschu, will retrace the steps of key sites in the family's earthquake experience and flight to Sonoma County as recounted in family letters left behind.

Among the stops will be a public ceremony at Lotta's Fountain (Geary and Market) at 5:13am (the exact time of the quake). The Fountain became a beacon of hope for many families, who found each other at the landmark. It is also the spot where the city holds annual memorial ceremonies for the victims of the quake.

Next, the family will walk to a home near the original (which was destroyed) on Telegraph Hill; walk to the old warehouse site at 3rd and Bryant, step on board the ferry Ukiah on the San Francisco waterfront—the ferry that eventually shuttled the family to the safety of their Sonoma Rhinefarm (and current winery); culminating in a dinner with the German Consul at the Palace, a meeting that was scheduled for the night of April 18, 1906, but never kept, due to the events of the day.

If you go:
The April 18 events will be private, attended by 5th, 6th and 7th generations of the family, but Bundschu will host a reading of his family's letters and a discussion of the 1906 earthquake at the Presidio on April 19 for the public. (6:30 pm Wine Reception 7-8pm presentation. Presidio Officers' Club, 50 Moraga Ave., San Francisco. For more information call 415.561.5500 or visit
Gundlach Bundschu winery is located at 2000 Denmark Street, Sonoma. Tasting room hours are from 11am to 4pm, and there is a $5 tasting fee. Picnic grounds are among the best in the region.

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