No, I don’t mean “Bacchus Ruled” in some sort of metaphorical “wine is important” sort of way. I mean there was a time when Bacchus actually cavorted around Sonoma. With nymphs, assorted goatherds, and Greek choruses. Seriously, true story. They were here. Well, at least their earthly representatives were. When I explain, you’ll start to wonder, as I do, if Sonoma might not have been significantly more fun back in the 1890s. But I’m hoping the upcoming Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival (sometimes called the Sonoma Vintage Festival) will bring back those nymph-cavorting days.
Let me back up and cite my source, the inestimable Gerald Hill, the go-to man around these parts for Sonoma history. Such a wealth of local lore is Mr. Hill, that on slow news days, The Sonoma Index-Tribune (of which I’ve long declared myself an unabashed fan) often spices up the front page with one of Gerald Hill’s retellings of a bloody, scandalous or amazing event from Sonoma’s past. And since we don’t generally have much murder and mayhem in Sonoma these days, it’s great that we have a wealth of such “archives” to draw on.
So last spring, Mr. Hill gave us the real story behind the Vintage Festival, which likes to bill itself as The Second Oldest Festival in California. Or the oldest agricultural festival, depending on whether you want to credit the Rose Parade in Pasadena as being “agricultural”.
Well, in his article, Mr. Hill, quibbles as to whether the Festival can lay claim to being that old since there was a regrettable hiatus of nearly 50 years between the first three Festivals and when the event was revived as a yearly event. I hesitate to argue with the accomplished Mr. Hill. He’s got it all over me in Sonoma credibility: fourth generation Californian, 35 years in Sonoma, lawyer, award winning university professor of American government and politics, co-author of 30 books, including guides to six western wine regions. But I would suggest that any festival that was as eccentric, wild and unique as the Vintage Festival can afford to take a few odd decades off and still boast of being the granddaddy of them all.
As you’ll read in Mr. Hill’s article, the whole idea was the brainstorm of some of Sonoma’s original and (still) eccentric winemaking clans: the Gundlachs, the Bundschus and the Dresels back in 1897. Having rebounded from the devastation of the phylloxera scourge to enjoy their best harvest in decades, the winemakers decided to throw a party, invite everyone in the Valley and exercise their theatrical ambitions. Luckily a Bundschu girl was married to a popular dramatist who wrote songs, skits and faux Greek dramas starring many Gundlachs and Bundschus as goatherds, grape crushers and a Greek chorus. (The daughter of the publishers of The Index-Tribune featured as a nymph.) A San Francisco Opera star was imported to appear as Bacchus. Media as far away as San Francisco covered the event and people made their way by ferry, surrey and wagon to enjoy the spectacle.
Sadly winemaking and a couple of world wars got in the way of continuing the revels until 1947 when it was revived. But the founding families, who now run the Gundlach-Bundschu winery are still up to their wild theatrics. (Remind me to tell you later about the time Jim Bundschu and his crew hijacked a tour bus of European travel writers headed to a Napa wine-tasting with Virgin Airlines owner Richard Branson, and spirited them back to Gun Bun, which is in “the right valley”.) The Gundlach-Bundschu group hasn’t been slouches regarding recent Vintage Festivals. One year, they organized a “marching vineyard” with many noted Sonoma citizens dressed as grapes.
I hear these days, the Festival is back in full swing and will take over the Plaza for three days in late September. I’m told this year’s Festival will showcase the history of Sonoma’s vintages with a dramatic recreation of the raising of the Bear Flag on Sonoma Plaza — which I’m hoping will be true to historical fact with drunken miners and all. Also slated, a costumed reenactment of the Vallejo wedding, where Baron Haraszthy, the founder of the first premium winery in California had the great good sense to get his two sons married off to two of the daughters of General Vallejo, the man who ran everything around here back in the days of Mexican rule. (There’s a business strategy they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School.)
Then there is the ever popular Grape Stomp, where you can channel your inner Lucille Ball. I’m angling with one of the organizers to get me an interview with past winners. In the interest of public service, to which this blog is dedicated, I’m going to gather the training and competition tricks and techniques that will give you the edge.
Stay tuned for more about the Vintage Festival. This is the premier event in Sonoma and I’m all over it. So mark September 24th, 25th and 26th on your calendars. If you are coming to Sonoma, this is the weekend to do it.
And I’m hoping we’ll see a few goatherds, nymphs and old Bacchus himself flitting in and out among the food and wine-tasting booths.
Note: Painting at top of post: Bacchus by Caravaggio, 1595. Below: American Gothic by Grant Wood, 1930.
Take lots of photos
…but how do TERRIERS fit into this picture? Wine, schmine, isn’t it all, really, about them? Not just the festival, but the entire universe?
The terriers have been known to leap in a vat of grapes, but I don’t think the Vintage Festival will let them be official entries in The Grape Stomp.
Off topic reply, but talking to the blog. Still on the change-of-design theme. Feel free to delete comment. It’s really just for your eyes anyway.
How about a forward and a backward (or next and previous) button somewhere so when I tune in to read three posts at a time, I don’t have to back out of each one to read the next one? Lazy, lazy, lazy, I know. But surely using fewer clicks is more elegant?
I love your writing. Full stop.
Buuuuut, it’s difficult to read light gray text for older-than-40 (that’s all I admit to) eyes. But perhaps I’m not your demographic? Oh please (back of hand to forehead) don’t tell me you’re after the readers of the blogger-who-must-not-be-named .
Whew! You are suggesting changes I won’t know how to make until I finish this semester of HTML & CSS for Dummies! However, I have been experimenting with making the type a bit darker. Have you tried FireFox’s Zoom Text Only feature under View? Let’s you zoom up the text as much as you want without resizing the page.
The fans of She-Who-Must-Command-All-Clicks are certainly not coming over here. I don’t think I give information to the point of too much.
You need to start writing for the Chamber of Commerce or the Index-Tribune.
@Christina … wine makes terriers FUNNIER! (or tolerable …)
Good to see you used Carravagio’s painting of Bacchus, although I do enjoy Reuben’s and Rembrandt’s versions.
Art History was one of my majors, with a focus on the Baroque. So Caravaggio is my go-to guy for classy pix of wine consumption.
If I can still read it, it’s not too light. I think.
In my old Movable Type setup, I had the Previous: and Next: links in place; my WordPress theme did not have them, and I did get grumblings from the readership. (Which answers the question “Does anyone else get complaints like this?”)
Now I’m wondering about something else, since up in the far end of Independence, Missouri there’s a bit of winding two-lane called Bundschu Road. (There’s also a Bundschu Park, off US 24.) Westward migration, circa 1850?
Hopefully as I get into my next HTML class, I’ll learn how to make these modifications without bringing the whole site crashing down around my ears!
Interesting about the Bundschu lane. The original Gundlach came from Bavaria to be joined by the original Bundschu direct from Mannheim. But the winery did have a New York office back in pre-Prohibition times, so perhaps a Bundschu went East to start a Midwest office.
I really love wine. I remember the first time I tried some when I was just 12 years old. My mom let me taste a bit of her red on Thankgiving. Right then and there I became a wine drinker. lol I would guess that I have tried quite a few hundred different wines over the years. It’s kind of fun experiencing a new one and learning about how and where it was grown. I’ve been thinking about trying a wine club lately and I’ve been thinking about this 4 Seasons club. I read a review about it here. Have you had any experience with it, or would you recommend any other wine tasting club?
Inasmuch as I have a few ties to Independence (my son lives there), I called in a marker or two and wound up talking to the Truman Library. (I’ve been there before; nifty place.) Turned up one Henry A. Bundschu (1887-1978), local attorney, an old school chum of Harry’s.
Bacchus as we want him to be :>)
Although Oscar would look fetching in similar garb. I used to find myself watching Wishbone adventures sometimes on PBS, for the doggie part of the stories at least.
Yes, Caravaggio was on to something with Bacchus as a vaguely oriental lad with a come-hither glance. Rather than the usual fat drunken old satyr.
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