Thursday, August 9, 2012

Randall Grahm’s Oldfangled Bonny Doon Wines Impress With Terroir and Taste

Randall Grahm 010
Photos by Toledo Wines and Vines
As you might expect from someone whose wine labels bear an image of a flying cigar spaceship, Randall Grahm is slightly out there.  He’s also delightful, knowledgeable and makes incredibly good wine.

Grahm was a special guest at a tasting of his wines at Walt Churchill’s Market in Maumee. He provided an insight into his journey to create harmonious and intellectual wines.

Grahm founded Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, California, in 1983. By his own admission he was obsessed with Pinot Noir and was determined to produce it. He soon learned that the land’s limestone soil and proximity to the California coast weren’t suited for the grape

Before long the “desire for success and the fear of failure” drove him to experiment with Rhone varietals at a time when grapes like Grenache were not well known to wine consumers. Soon Bonny Doon had made its mark on the world of wine with its pioneering work in exploring Rhone varieties, innovative winemaking and off-the-wall marketing.

“With intermittent positive reinforcement, we grew in complexity,” said Grahm. “It was slightly out of control.
Randall Grahm 014
“I had an existential moment. If I died I felt they would say, ‘what a great marketer.’ That would be really unsatisfying, even if I’m dead.”

He instead simplified and narrowed his focus. “I’m a lover of European wines, especially those that express a sense of place,” he said. “These are vin de terroir. Making them, though, is easier said than doon.”

In 2004 the vineyard adopted biodynamic farming practices and in 2006, there was a radical slimming down of product portfolio and case production. There was also a greater degree of focus and attention to detail resulting in complex wines that express the varietal character of the grapes.

The passion in the wine and the winemaker is as obvious as a hovering cigar-shaped spacecraft.

Four Bonny Doon wines were sampled:

Bonny Doon 2011 Vin Gris de Cigare – This nicely chilled wine was a lifesaver as the patio at WCM was broiling. Although a copper-pink color, this is more inviting and delicate than your typical rose. A blend of 73% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre plus Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and Cinsault.

Bonny Doon 2008 Vino Rosso – This is a rustic “spaghetti” wine made with 72% Dolcetto, 14% Nebbiolo and 14% Syrah. Off the charts with value.

Bonny Doon 2009 Contra – This is a smooth, super cool wine that is primarily old vine Carignan with roots that extend 90 feet downward. I purchased a bottle of this.

Bonny Doon 2007 Le Cigare Volant – This is the wine that brought fame to Bonny Doon, an elegant homage to Chateauneuf du Pape. It is a blend of 60% Grenache, 32% Syrah, 4% Mourvedre and 4%  Cinsault. It’s dry and bright.

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