Thursday, July 17, 2014

Doon’t You Know--Bonny Doon

A trip to northern California…mecca to a wine lover/wine geek like me.  Oh, yes!  Napa and Sonoma, and all the AVAs (American Viticultural Areas—legally recognized growing areas) within these counties are a wineaux’s dream.  However, many “Doon’t” know that the climate of California is wonderful for growing grapes all over the state, not just in those two famous areas.  One such famous winemaker, Randall Graham, actually makes his wine in the beach town of Santa Cruz, known more for its famous boardwalk of amusement rides and hundred-year-old wharf of shops than for its wine production.  Graham sources grapes for his Bonny Doon wines from different areas of California, finding the vineyards that produce grapes with the qualities he yearns for in his unique and (self-proclaimed) esoteric wines.  Graham does this in his quest to produce wines with soul (as a wine friend of mine put it), and I couldn’t agree more with this mission and the outcome.
Santa Cruz...known for its beach, but has great wine too!

Focusing more on Rhone grape varieties and purposefully eschewing the usual California grapes of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, Bonny Doon’s wines are unique in many ways.  Graham lists the actual ingredients of his wines on the back labels of the bottles, making him a pioneer in this practice.  This ingredients list is generally quite short, due, in part, to the Biodynamic and organic growing processes of the grapes he sources.  Doon’t be fooled, however; though Graham is a bit of an “eccentric” and this shows up in his wines, he produces some amazing, one-of-a-kind juice.
Bonny Doon tasting room.
Albarino:  Sourced from Kristy and Jespersen vineyards, the 2013 Albarino is filled with mineral and wet stone on the nose with just a hint of sweetness and green herb on the palate.  The 2010 Sparkling Albarino is a traditional method sparkling with peach and lime on the palate, perfect for a warm, California summer day.

Syrah:  The 2010 Jespersen Syrah is a special treat with smooth, balanced tannin and acid, alongside green pepper and mixed dark fruit.  The surprise of the day was the 2011 Sparkling Syrah.  This refreshing wine is the perfect summer wine for red wine lovers.  This bottle has all the characteristics of a quality Syrah, with the fun of bubbles.  Serve slightly chilled and this checks all the boxes of a summertime red wine.

Blends:  The Rhone Valley influence really shows up in Bonny Doon’s old-world inspired blends.  But these aren’t stuffy or old-fashioned bottles.  These are California cool blends—cool because of the quality of the vino and the backstory of the name.  (Look up the meaning, but it deals with the French and UFOs…the makings of a great wine title!)  The 2009 Le Cigar Volant Normale and 2008 Le Cigar Volant Reserve start with Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Cinsault (and sometimes Carignane) grapes.  The Normale is smooth with baked cherries on the palate, while the Reserve’s smoothness is tempered with more fig and over-ripe plum from being aged additional time on the lees.  Both would be age-worthy, with the Reserve cellaring well over fifteen years…even with the screw cap closures of which Graham promotes the use. 
 The tasting line up.
The bottles.

Doon’t believe for a minute that the only places to taste great wines in California are in Napa and Sonoma.  I’m definitely not saying these wine regions aren’t stellar…because they are!  (Upcoming blogs of me practically squealing like a 1960s teenager seeing the Beatles while I was in Sonoma will be published soon.)  My point is that there are so many tremendous wineries all over northern California, Doon’t focus only on Napa or Sonoma:  look to small producers, look at different regions, look for different varietals.  Doon’t miss out on a special stop that might be slightly off the beaten path.  You won’t be sorry!