Cold Creek Ranch: The Guntly Story

Cold Creek Ranch: The Guntly Story

Wine Notes by Heidi Cusick Dickerson

            Surrounded in his comfortable living room by family photos, hunting trophies and other memorabilia, Buck Guntly talks about his family’s long tenure in Mendocino County. His Cold Creek Ranch covers 4,000 acres from Highway 20 to Potter Valley. The vineyard on this ranch is more than 30 years old but his family’s first vineyard is at the bottom of nearby Lake Mendocino.

            “We had 65 acres of Zinfandel and Carignane and a block of Golden Chasseslas, a grape you don’t see much of anymore,” says the mild mannered Guntly, 79. “They were all head pruned and I spent a lot of time in those vineyards.”

            As he talks he shows me a book published by a Suisse author Hans Muller who chronicled the Guntly family’s emigration from Switzerland to the United States in the 1840s. It is titled “Die Familie Guntili” and has a photo of Buck Guntly on the cover. “Seven families came from this small town in Switzerland at the same time and he picked our family to do research,” says Guntly.

            When Guntly’s great-grandfather Andrew Guntly came from Switzerland in 1845 he arrived in Mississippi and traveled to Illinois where he settled. In 1874 Guntly’s great-grandfather Andrew Guntly his siblings and family traveled by wagon train to Winnemucca, Nevada, where they spent a winter. At the time some of the men went on to scout in California. When they came back to get the family everyone move west and the Guntlys ended up in Anderson Valley on the way to the coast. “They got to a toll road and didn’t have any money,” laughs Guntly.

            The Guntlys settled in what was known as “Christine” along the Navarro River which at the time had a store and post office. In 1906 the family purchased their first ranch in Potter Valley Guntly’s grandfather Andrew opened a brewery and distillery to supply the local loggers. He had nine children, five girls and four boys. Many stayed in Anderson Valley and Guntly Road off of Highway 128 is named for the family. One of Guntly’s uncles lived in the house that is the tasting room at Scharffenberger Cellars.

            Guntly’s grandparents moved to what was known as Riverside in Coyote Valley in 1920. They bought a big house that served as a roadside stop for people traveling between Lake and Mendocino counties. His dad and uncle ran cattle on their 4,000 acre ranch and they raised grapes. Guntly’s father Charles Guntly and his mother Helen had six children of which Guntly was the only boy. He was born in 1931 the same year his grandfather died.  His given name was Charles Christopher but an uncle used to call him “little buck” and it stuck. When his grandmother passed away in 1937 Buck and his parents and sisters moved into the “big” house. “We were there until the lake came.”

            “It took a year to take down the building and barns,” he remembers. It was a hassle and people didn’t want to leave but they had no choice. “We had to take what they offered,” he says. His dad and uncle had purchased other property in the area including Cold Creek ranch in 1948.

            In 1958 Guntly and his family moved to Cold Creek Ranch. By then Guntly was married. He and Beth Banks from Redwood Valley married in 1952. (She passed away in 1995.) When they moved from Coyote Valley they had three children. They added on to the original house to accommodate the family which grew to six children. “We doubled the size of the original house,” he says.

            The family raised sheep for years but switched to cattle because there “were too many predators.”  In 1978 they put in grapes to supplement the cattle “so we don’t depend on one thing,” he says. Guntly planted about five acres of Pinot Noir and close to five acres of Gewurztraminer because “my wife liked the taste of it.” He sold his first grapes when they were mature enough to produce a crop to Frey Vineyards. It was when Frey was just starting out. He remembers that the grapes were pressed by an old apple press. He shows me a bottle of 1981 Frey Mendocino Gewurztraminer with Guntly Vineyard on the label. Frey still purchases his Gewurztraminer and sometimes his Pinot Noir, which is also sold to Bonterra. All Guntly’s grapes are certified organic, as are all the grapes in Bonterra and Frey wines.

            Guntly also raises about 120 head of cattle and 40 ewes and he grows hay for their feed.  The ranch is still home to extended family. One of Guntly five sisters Carol Weatherly lives on the ranch in Guntly’s parents’ old home. His other sisters are nearby. Dorothy Schwabe lives just west of Cold Creek Ranch. Virginia Marson lives in Santa Rosa and Marie lives near Fresno. His sister Della passed away in Ukiah last year.

            All but one of Guntly’s children live in Mendocino County. His oldest Vicky Todd lives up Brush Creek. Jim and his wife Peggy live a little farther up Highway 20. She works for the Buffalo Ranch retail   store. Nancy and her husband Randy Smith live and raise alfalfa near Winnemucca, Nevada. Tricia, who works for the county probation department, and Lynn live on the ranch. Mary and her husband Dan Thornton raise pears in Potter Valley. Guntly has 18 grandchildren and one great grandchild.

            “It’s a busy time of the year,” says Guntly, whose grandson Jimmy now works with him. They irrigate the hay, keep the old equipment running, and move cattle out of the hills to wean their calves. He often eats at his daughter’s during hay season and enjoys a glass of wine with dinner. His favorites are Pinot Noir and Zinfandel.

            As we drive around the ranch, he shows me a “bummer” lamb he is bottle feeding. We cross Cold Creek over an old railroad tie bridge. On the bank is the picnic area with big slab tables. The family gathers here on the Fourth of July weekend which brings between 80 and 100 people together.

            Cold Creek got its name because the water is cold, he tells me. Guntly believes the creek originates in Blue Lakes in Lake County. Thousands of years ago a landslide probably caused by an earthquake blocked what had been Clear Lake’s outlet which at the time ran west and joined into the Russian River right at what is now Guntly’s Cold Creek Ranch. The massive slide blocked the stream and Blue Lakes were form. (Clear Lake eventually cut a new outlet through Cache Creek to the east.)

            Buck Guntly, a hard worker with a mild cheerful manner, clearly enjoys his life on the ranch. With family nearby, a good cold creek and a few grapes to contribute to Mendocino’s organic wineries, Guntly may have been displaced by necessity of building Lake Mendocino but he, like one hundred and forty years of Guntlys in Mendocino before him, makes the most of it.


Heidi Cusick Dickerson writes Wine Notes for the Mendocino County Winegrape and Wine Commission.

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