Winery founder and sixth-generation vintner Katie Bundschu understands very well the beauty, the nostalgia and the grandeur of harvest, having grown up with the annual ritual at California’s oldest family-owned winery, Gundlach Bundschu.
“It’s the start of a new season, a new beginning,” said Bundschu, 40. “There’s something special about seeing the culmination of a year’s work. You get to see the fruits of your labor.”
Now at her own winery, Abbot’s Passage, Bundschu and winery chef Kyle Kuklewski have created a fall menu full of color, fresh seasonal vegetables and wines to welcome the harvest.
Opened in 2021, the community-focused winery sits on 60 acres on Madrone Road in quiet Glen Ellen. It’s known for its small-lot field blends from vines Bundschu grafted with 80-year-old zinfandel vines for a mix of varietals, including mourvèdre, carignan and petit sirah. The results are one-of-a-kind blends.
The winery serves dishes made with fresh, seasonal ingredients from nearby Oak Hill Farm and from the Bundschu family’s estate vineyards — Rhinefarm. A shared devotion to sustainable farming and community helped bring Kuklewski and Bundschu together.
Before joining Abbot’s Passage in January as executive chef, the 35-year-old Texas native cooked under Michelin-starred chefs at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and Spa and as an executive chef at Sonoma’s Ramekins Culinary School Events & Inn (now Seven Branches Venue and Inn). He and Bundschu connected last year during the winery’s search for a chef.
“It was a breath of fresh air to find a place that cared about people, the land, respects family heritage and understands what Sonoma stands for,” said Kuklewski, who lives in Sonoma.
A discovered passion
Kuklewski’s roots are Polish, German and Austrian. Growing up in Texas, with summers spent in Pennsylvania, he cooked Polish pierogi dumplings and sausage for his family. His grandfather smoked meat and raised and sold cattle in Missouri, yielding rich and hearty dishes for family meals.
“It was our way of connecting,” Kuklewski said. “I was around cooking all the time and I loved it, but I didn’t know it could be a career.”
At Saint Vincent College in Pennsylvania, he started out studying corporate finance. But during a study abroad in London in 2007 that included an externship at a brokerage firm, he realized cooking was his true passion. Making the most of his time in Europe, he sampled the cuisines of Italy, Spain and France at restaurants and through cooking classes.
“It was eye-opening for me,” Kuklewski said. “I realized, you know, this is what I really love.”
In 2009, he entered culinary school at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, and just three months in, he landed a job at the luxury hotel Fairmont Pittsburgh. That brought him, three years later, to Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa. He’s also directed a culinary school at Ramekins.
When Glen Ellen became the home for Abbot’s Passage, Bundschu inherited zinfandel vines from the 1940s, but a year later she found in Kuklewski the perfect culinary artist to help bring the wine’s flavors to life, she said.
Kuklewski’s harvest menu at the winery blends fall flavors with unexpected seasonings, pairing gracefully with the winery’s field blends.
The family-style five-dish meal features a refreshing yet creamy Heirloom Tomato and Melon Gazpacho, shareable plates including Crispy White Wine-Braised Pork Belly and Shrimp Pané, fresh Garden Succotash and a tart-sweet fried green tomato dish. For dessert, he makes a Roasted Strawberry and Coconut Ice Cream Sandwich.
“The biggest thing was to make sure these flavors married well together,” Kuklewski said. “We’re going back to balancing the basic flavors: acidity, heat, sweetness, saltiness and umami.”
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