With our first foray south of the border and into California, this issue of Brandalicious turns its eye to Bonny Doon Vineyard, and the man behind it all, Randall Grahm. One of wine’s most influential voices in America and one of the original Rhone Rangers, Grahm pioneered the presence of grapes like Syrah and Grenache in California, lifted an obscure winery in Santa Cruz to be one of the most famous in the country, and then sold most of it off to return to small-scale winemaking. But through it all, the man and the winery have maintained a consistency in the uniqueness of what they are. It’s easy to spot and remember a Bonny Doon wine label, and just as easy to remember Grahm.
The branding at Bonny Doon, from the chic yet cheeky bottles labeling to the almost steampunk-flavored Bonny Doon Vineyard website, doesn’t miss a single grape-stomping step. The wine labels, with artwork form the likes of Ralph Steadman, Grady McFerrin, and Gary Taxali, are far from traditional and result in a strong visual brand. Bonny Doon gets an added nod of appreciation from me for the honesty of their wine labels. The absolutely full disclosure of the ingredients in their wine is very refreshing. I mean, who else tells you right on the bottle that they use oak chips?
Le Cigare Volant, perhaps Bonny Doon’s “flagship” wine, fluidly marries the traditional and unconventional on the outside. For further away, it looks very classic. But the uniqueness is in the details and the irreverence of the subject matter – a flying saucer over a vineyard (inspired by an ordinance passed in Chateauneuf forbidding flying saucers from landing in their vineyards). A tribute to Chateauneuf du Pape, is a blend of 38% Grenache, 35% Syrah, 35% Mourvèdre, 8% Carignan and 7% Cinsault, its fame has risen to almost mythical proportions in areas, and was thus first on our radar. As they say, once you’ve taken down (or in this case, drank down) the mother ship, the rest will fall into place nicely. We had the ’06 with flank steak, and then afterwards on its own. It’s so much more pleasureful to share a mouthful of wine with a great pairing than leave it on its own, and this is how we usually taste at home. The sweet licorice was complimented the red berries and a meaty, bacony heft, and there was a sort of – this one’s gonna be hard to explain and it’s most definitely based on personal experience – herbal component that reminds me of an “herbes des garrigue” seasoning mix we once found at a spice shop on a side street near Pike Place Market in Seattle. I’ve heard others say it, and I agree that it’s silky, and though there’s a lot of ways to put it, I’d simply say the finish lingers in both mouth and mind. It’s a wine we’ll return to with each vintage.
We’re not into keeping score, but if that’s your bag, there’s Natalie Maclean’s 91 pt. review of the same vintage. Why not also drop by Corks and Caftans for a review of the ’04 and some cool shots. And here’s another great little piece on Le Cigare Volant over at Rhone Around the World.
The 2008 Le Pousseur, A Syrah from the Central Coast of California was our next encounter. The artwork evokes a yesteryear feel with its Tarot card-likestyle, and once again the subject matter is worth lingering on – a mysterious figure wearing a cloak full of rare vials and flasks of potions and philtres. When you realize that Le Pousseur means “The Pusher” in English, it takes on a whole new tone that always makes me smile. At 100% Syrah, the wine comes from three California vineyards (62% Alamo Creek, 23%, Terra Bella, 15% Chequera). Unfortunately, the bottle we opened had a very muted nose and taste, so I wasn’t sure what to make of it. We let it decant for some time, and then left a portion for a second day but without much effect. Having read some reviews that severely contradicted our experience, I’m keeping a Wineshout review off the books until we’ve had a chance to taste another bottle. But here’s a review from a blog we love here at Wineshout, The Reverse Wine Snob.
As we continue to taste Bonny Doon’s wines, we’ll continue to add to this article, but for now lets turn back to Mr. Grahm himself. he is worth a whole other article, but I want to lay down some beats in honor of this master of his own devout “viticult”. It’s sometimes said, as in this Reign of Terroir article, that the man needs no introduction, but let’s link you up a few Grahms of the man. He has fans all over, with a Twitter following numbering north of 365,000. And he’s been buzzing on Twitter about his foray into making anti-California wine in San Juan Bautista, which just makes the man all the more exciting because of the accessibility he affords his flock. Feeling social? Say hello to @RandallGrahm. In traditional media, his James Beard Foundation Award-winning book Been Doon So Long is one of the best books about wine and winemaking. “Brilliantly observed and beautifully rendered.”, New York Times called it, and I can’t think of a better way to put it. With all that he does and the passion he does it with, it’s easy to like Randall Grahm. Add to that the Bonny Doon branding and it makes picking up a bottle of Bonny Doon irresistible. Drinking it. Then placing it on the mantle for a future conversation starter. It is Brandalicious.
Hope you enjoyed your stay with us today, and before you leave why not stop by the Blog Shop and see what new blogs we’ve stocked on our digital shelves. Until next time, folks.