Bonny Doon Vineyards was founded by Randall Grahm in 1983. One cannot think about Bonny Doon without jumping almost immediately to the founder and winemaker. Randall Grahm is considered to be one of the most eclectic, eccentric and explorative winemakers in the world. Both because of his unique personality and endless journey to find the true terroir of Northern California, Mr. Grahm is loved and respected by most everyone who crosses his path. Since the 1980s Randall Grahm has been on a quest to make the best Rhone-style wines possible. In fact Randall has worked so hard on this effort that he was crowned “The Rhone Ranger” and helped found the Rhone Ranger organization, now with over 200 member wineries in the United States.
Randall Grahm just recently published “Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology”, recounting his life and philosophy as a winemaker. Regarding Randall’s quest for terroir he noted, “while the wines we are now making are not yet vins de terroir, I believe that they can well be thought of as appropriate steps along the way. They are certainly being produced in a fashion far more respectful to the vineyards – minimal intervention, eschewal of artificial substances (organoleptic tannins, enzymes, selected yeasts), and of course we indicate everything that touches the wine on the back label.”
The wines being reviewed today are the 2008 Ca’ del Solo Albariño and the 2005 Le Cigare Volant. Skipping over immediately to “Le Cigare Volant”, without question this wine is Randall’s baby, which he has been nursing since 1984. Regarding the 2005 vintage, Mr. Grahm noted in an email to me, “I truly believe the ’05 Cigare is one of our greatest efforts.”. He even attached a 4-page essay, titled “An Apologia for Le Cigare Volant: An Introduction to the ‘05 Vintage”. There is no doubt that Randall’s passion is awe-inspiring and seems to have no limits. Le Cigare Volant began as a small project influenced by Grahm’s love for Rhone Valley wines. He decided to try to produce a wine in the United States, using the same varietals that are found in a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Again, however, Randall makes clear that Le Cigare Volant is not a vin de terroir, but rather a vin d’effort, originating from multiple, disparate vineyards.
With the conception of Le Cigare Volant, Grahm figured that the wine should reflect a Châteauneuf as closely as possible in order to be successful. Thus Grahm adhered to the general winemaking guidelines of a typical Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is very Grenache-focused and doesn’t undergo much ageing in new oak. Ironically though over the years Grahm developed an overall distaste for Châteauneufs, stating that “the wines often, though not always, are just too big, too tannic, and generally too alcoholic for my taste.” And so Grahm began experimenting, implementing the use of double barrels or puncheons and large wooden casks for ageing. Then in 2001, Grahm began using screwcaps for all of his wines, and considers this to be a big step forward in the quality improvements and age worthiness of the wines.
Randall Grahm considers Le Cigare Volant to be very self-reflective. He equates the wine to the Ugly Duckling, noting that, as was true for him as a child and even today, the wine is “thoroughly misunderstood”. He explained that the wine goes through a backward stage early on, which is actually a strong sign of age worthiness. He also noted that many wine critics unfairly judge Le Cigare Volant as a Châteauneuf, while he considers Burgundy to be much more representative of his efforts in this wine.
Grahm sees wine and Le Cigare Volant as possessing two poles, the lower and the upper. He notes that “The “bottom” of the wine is its skeletal structure, its power, its centeredness, its ability to tolerate oxidative challenge, which in some sense can be thought of as its ‘life-force,’ and is certainly linked with its age worthiness.” He attributes this to the tannins, anthocyanins and minerals found in the grapes. Grahm describes the upper part of the wine as the component that provides the “aetherial, dreamy or aspirational nature.” He notes that the alcohols and fruity esters are at play here, while at the same time the careful interweave of the fine lees is crucial, providing for savoriness and a silky texture.
So without further ado, let’s jump into these wines …
2008 Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo Estate Vineyard” Albariño
Appellation: Monterey County, California
Tasting Notes: 75% Albariño, 20% Loureiro, and 5% Treixadura. 12.8% ABV. Biodynamic certified. Brilliant straw yellow in the glass. A crisp, elegant and slightly subdued nose with notes of citrus fruit, apple and minerality. A silky smooth, almost buttery texture, coating the mouth. This wine is medium-bodied with a quite simple and straightforward palate. A great balance but lacking a little complexity and expression, although the wine develops well in the glass. There are flavors of apple, lime and grapefruit. This wine is perfect for a hot summer day, while lounging outside and reading a good book.
Rating: 15/20 (WS 87)
Price: $20 @ Snooth.com
2005 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Le Cigare Volant”
Appellation: Santa Cruz, California
Tasting Notes: 50% Grenache, 24% Mourvedre, 22% Syrah, 1% Carignan, and 1% Cinsault. 13.5% ABV. Dark violet in the glass. A beautifully expressive and complex nose. Initially very fruity and fresh with minerality and a mild spicy funk lingering throughout. Even a subtle and distant suggestion of sake. After a few minutes the rich meaty funkiness takes over and notes of earth and mushroom replace the notes of fruit. A few more minutes later the black fruits come back, balancing out with the earthy notes. In the mouth this wine is bone dry with a velvety texture, medium tannins, and a medium body. There are flavors of cassis, blackberries, and strawberries. A very interesting and complex wine overall but lacking a few dimensions on the palate. However, when letting this wine sit for 30 minutes to a few hours, it only gets better.
Rating: 15/20 (WS 88)
Price: $30 @ Snooth.com
Full disclosure: The producer sent me the samples under review.