Wednesday, January 27, 2021     Volume: 21, Issue: 47

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Orcutt retiree Brad Bunkelman scores Best of Rosé at Mid-State Fair's 2020 Home Wine Competition


Throughout his teaching career of 35 years, lifelong Orcutt resident Brad Bunkelman taught classes for two departments at Santa Maria High School, science and fine arts.

All’s fair in love and wine
For more info on the California Mid-State Fair’s Home Wine Competition, visit To find out more about the Central Coast Home Vintners’ Association, visit

Orcutt local Brad Bunkelman won Best of Rosé at the California Mid-State Fair’s 2020 Home Wine Competition. Bunkelman was one of four competitors who took home a “best of” award, out of more than 100 submissions.

“I enjoyed teaching in both subject areas,” said the local retiree, about his career before segueing into his longtime hobby as a home winemaker. “I think making wine is a combination of science and art. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy it.”

Bunkelman was in his 50s when he embraced the concept of making wine from home and joined the Central Coast Home Vintners’ Association (CCHVA) in 2003. He took a course in winemaking from instructor and local commercial winemaker John Kerr at Allan Hancock College the same year.

“I jumped in with both feet,” Bunkelman, now 70, told the Sun. “Since then, I have never stopped making wine.”

Working in a small group of other novices at CCHVA, Bunkelman’s first grape he made wine from was pinot noir, under the supervision of experienced home winemakers Jim Ford and Ron Redman. Bunkelman credits both instructors and fellow CCHVA members John Thunen, Hank Rickett, Kathy Sullivan, Mary Michael, Gil Carra, Fred Carbone, Gerry Shoemaker, and Steve Rau as integral influences in his origins as a home winemaker.

Home winemaker Brad Bunkelman uses a basket press among other equipment to create Volition, his award-winning rosé, and other homemade wine varieties.

CCHVA promotes a better understanding of winemaking, wine preparation, wine evaluation, and wine appreciation, as stated on the local nonprofit’s website ( Founder Bob Weldon formed the association in 1991 with a group of winemakers he met at the Santa Barbara County Fair in Santa Maria.

Bunkelman still buys most of his grapes, from cabernet franc to cabernet sauvignon, for home winemaking from the CCHVA grape-purchasing co-op, which originated in 2000 as a convenient way for home winemakers to acquire premium grapes at competitive prices. 

The co-op typically distributes between 25,000 and 35,000 pounds of grapes to CCHVA members each year. Bunkelman’s other main grape supplier is Still Waters Vineyards in Paso Robles, owned by Paul Hoover, who Bunkelman described as a generous, former home winemaker with “a soft spot in his heart for us ‘little guys.’”

It wasn’t long after Bunkelman’s foray into home winemaking that he decided to start entering local and statewide contests. Between 2007 and 2019, Bunkelman took home several Best of Show awards from both the Santa Barbara County Fair and the Orange County Fair. 

Brad Bunkelman completes each step of his winemaking from the comfort of his own home, including the “punching down” process during fermentation. Bunkelman also has a cold shed on his property to store wine barrels and bottled wines.

His most recent accolade came from the California Mid-State Fair’s 2020 Home Wine Competition. Bunkelman and three other competitors took home a “best of” award, out of more than 100 submissions. The contest’s winners were officially announced in December, which also included 24 gold medalists (see the full list of winning wines at

“The competition has become a valuable asset for those who make wine as a hobby, and you can tell each year by the entries,” Mike Jones, chief judge of the contest, said in a press release from the Mid-State Fair. 

For Bunkelman, one of the most enriching elements of any competition he enters is reading constructive comments from the judges.

“I have learned a lot from the feedback in the judging sheets,” said Bunkelman, who is the only Santa Barbara County resident out of Mid-State’s four “best of” recipients.

Bunkelman took home Best of Rosé, while Peter Allman-Ward of Templeton took both Best of Show and Best of White Wine, Michael Baugh of Paso Robles took Best of Dessert, and Jim McPherson of Cambria took Best of Red.

“It’s very rewarding to know that other people enjoy it,” Bunkelman said, thankful for the recognition his rosé, named Volition, received. 

Central Coast Home Vintners’ Association (CCHVA) member Brad Bunkelman buys most of his wine grapes for home winemaking from either the CCHVA grape-purchasing co-op or Still Waters Vineyards in Paso Robles. Pictured here is an example of Bunkelman fermenting “must” (juice, seeds, pulp, and yeast).

Bunkelman completed each step of creating Volition from the comfort of his own home, from fermentation to basket pressing. Aside from the various equipment necessary for home winemaking, Bunkelman also owns a cold shed on his property to store wine barrels and bottled wines. He also designs and prints his own wine labels from home as well.

Along with the Mid-State win, another positive outcome of 2020 for Bunkelman was his recognition in the WineMaker Magazine International Amateur Wine Competition, in which he received one gold, two silver, and five bronze awards for a variety of his varietals (alliteration intended), including malbec, merlot, and others.

Aside from being one of California’s premier wine grape growing regions, the Central Coast appeals to Bunkelman for several non-wine related reasons.

“Except for my college years, I have lived in either Orcutt or Santa Maria my whole life,” the UCSB alumnus said. “I like living here, the weather is so easy to live in. It’s close to the ocean and a short drive to the mountains.”

Reflecting on the turbulence of last year, Bunkelman was especially grateful for the homebound hobby he’s come to love over the past two decades and the continued support from his loved ones during 2020 and each year prior.

“Being stuck at home most of the time has meant more time availability for family and more time availability for crafting my wines,” Bunkelman said. “My wife, Michelle; my children, Meagan and Sean; my friends; making wine; and working on other home projects have helped me keep my sanity through this crazy and sad year.”

Arts Editor Caleb Wiseblood is wining and dining at

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