Re-Visiting An Icon: Randall Grahm

When I recently caught up with Randall Grahm, the man who created Bonny Doon Vineyard and led the charge for Rhone wines back in the late 1980s, he was focused on the changing wine market. 

The main topic was the new style of Bonny Doon’s white Le Cigare Blanc and red Le Cigare Volant, his flagship Rhone-based wines for over 30 years.  Both wines were inspired by Chateauneuf-du-Pape and other wines from the Southern Rhone Valley.

“Wine drinkers today are fickle. They don’t want eloquent style wines, they want blockbusters. They don’t want wines that need long explanations.”

Whatever the reason may be, the fact is both newly re-designed wines are excellent and, better yet, super deals.

And as he later added, “I still want to make wines that matter. Wines that are originals, not copies.”

So here are my reviews. (Spoiler alert: these wines are definitely originals.)

The 2018 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc combines Grenache Blanc with a newcomer, Vermentino. Not a well-known grape here, the latter, says Randall,”contributes good acidity and a salty tang to the blend.

The 2018 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant brings together Grenache, Cinsault, and Syrah.

And it is a gorgeous red with berry fruit and a rich, smooth texture.

Using Cinsault rather than, say Mourvedre, creates a “more youthful, more approachable style.”

Best News: Both are priced at $20 a bottle, before any discounts. 

Before the day was over, we tasted another dozen wines during a visit to the Bonny Doon tasting room in Davenport. That’s a tiny coastal town about 10 miles north of Santa Cruz.

Neither flashy nor funky, the tasting room is set up for drop-ins and winery club members. 

So, if you are adventurous, love to try new wines, and are looking for a club that has it all, then consider joining. Members get 20% off the current featured club wines when signing up.   www.bonnydoonvineyard.com

(And, full disclosure, I’m independent, not one of those influencers, reviewers, or bogus bloggers getting paid somehow to solicit new subscribers.)

Now let’s take a closer look at some of the exciting, unusual Bonny Doon wines.

First up, a 2018 Picpoul from the cool-climate Arroyo Seco region. Picpoul? It is an old, minor white grape in France and is known for being lively and a little brisk. The name literally translates as “lip stinger.”   This wine is bright and delicious. Price: $18.

A few days later when I was visiting Sarah’s Vineyard,  the owner proudly poured his version of Picpoul. So, something is going on with the lip stinger!

Back to Bonny Doon:

2018 Vin Gris de Cigare which is an interesting variation of a Rose. Dry and wonderfully spicy and fruit filled, it has great palate presence, rich texture and slightly creamy. Randall credits extra batonnage, lees stirring as the reason behind the 2018’s texture. Mostly Grenache and Grenache Blanc. $18. But as low as $13.99 at http://www.wine.com

The 2016 Vin Gris de Cigare Is again lively but with a delightfully long finish. Floral with peach.plum fruit, this is not your grandpa’s white Zinfandel! This would be an excellent Thanksgiving wine. $18.

So too would the next unusual wine:

2018 Bonny Doon Cinsault  Grown in Lodi, this is a refreshing, medium-bodied drink now red. Cinsault is often used to produce Rose wines, This is serious red. $42.

2018 Bonny Doon Grenache which is now grown in Monterey. Again, lots of ripe attractive youthful fruit in a medium bodied package. Not wood aged at all. $20. Also versatile enough for holiday fare.

Syrah, of course, is the best known Rhone grape and Bonny Doon now zeros in on cool-climate sites for this challenging grape. 

We tried 2 Syrah from 2013, the Central Coast and the Bien Nacido Vineyard in Santa Barbara. 

Both are deep, dark, rich and fascinating.

The Bien Nacido Syrah came across as slightly more complex, more layered as it changed in the glass. A wonderful wine for $25, a special price.

Randall Grahm was one of the first winemakers to use screw caps for all his wines. I think he began around 2000, 2001 when it was considered risky.

So it comes as no big surprise that in addition to the 50 or more wines offered in the tasting room, he also has wines in cans. The can brand is “La Bulle-Moose.”We’ll leave the story behind that name for another time.

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