Bonny Doon Vineyard
After attempts to produce the Great American Pinot Noir proved systematically elusive, he turned his attention to the Rhône varieties. His Vineyard was planted to syrah, roussanne, marsanne and viognier and produced achingly beautiful wines. The wine appears to have fallen squarely in the node of a great wave of interest in Mediterranean varieties in California. As symptomatic of his chronic weinderlust, in the late 1980's Mr. Grahm felt compelled to cast his net further afield, and thus began the great Italianate plantings in Bonny Doon's Ca' del Solo vineyard. This Monterey County property, planted just beyond the searchlight beam at the Soledad state pen, has or soon may be been planted to an ever expanding roster of Italianate varieties such as nebbiolo, barbera, pinot grigio, dolcetto, freisa, aglianico, teroldego, ciliegiolo and sagrantino among others.
An incorrigible omniferm, Mr. Grahm has since decided that the world is his vineyard and throughout the year you might espy him at one of his many projects in France, southern Italy, or Germany.
Big House Pink
In a time where “red state” and
“blue state” have divisively entered the
popular vernacular, it is heartening to
observe that every corner of the US
has the potential to be a “pink state.”
Let all the al fresco café habitués take a
bow—pink wine appears finally to be
à la mode. Rarely has a wine evacuated
the premises like our first Big House
Pink.Who could have guessed that
pink wine would take the country by
storm? Might the lurid carmine
integument have something to do
with it? The flock of flamingos? The
strong spring season in South Beach?
Or could it actually be a sign
that Fortuna’s wheel has
turned and sophisticated,
dry rosé now enjoys a
In this vintage we again
congregate a blend of primarily
Italian varieties—the oft neglected
Sardinians represented herein by
carignano—along with a dash of
zinfandel and charbono, which, if it is
not Italian, certainly should be.
Unlike the more cerebral Vin Gris
de Cigare, in Big House Pink the
front and center fruity notes
dominate most of the organoleptic
real estate.This pink is flush with
strawberry guava and hibiscus
notes. And those who fondly
remember Jolly Rancher
watermelon candies will
Big House Red en Screw Cap
What remains to be said for the wine which inspired a thousand red trucks, antlered mammals and any number of other counterfeit evildoers? This year’s model is built around substantial tranches of syrah, petite sirah and carignane, so despite the Italian conceit on the label, there is more than a faint echo of the Languedoc to be found. The 2003 reprises all the subtle and not-so-subtle charms which have distinguished this wine from the beginning: a potent blast of raspberriosity and licorice; a wide variety of subtle, satellite notes courtesy grenache, barbera, malbec, etc; a soft, plush midsection that would have been contained in earlier days by plaid sans-a-belts; a surprising long and complex finish; and, of course, the oh so stylish Stelvin™ screwcaps which have, two years on chez Doon, acquitted themselves very admirably.
Big House White en Screw Cap
e continue to note that the paucity of distinctive, delicious, inexpensive white wine manifests itself in the wild success of Big House White™. Even if the label leads one to believe we throw anything and everything at the wine, there is a conscious mind at work behind its slightly formulaic conjuring which imagines something like 2 parts crisp herbal sauvignon / colombard / chenin blanc; 3 parts rich, fruitful pinot grigio / pinot blanc / viognier; and 1 part aromatic riesling / malvasia / muscat. Your blend at home may vary. Happily, there is always an element of serendipity at work. Just when you are about to give up trying to get the wine from satisfactory to utterly delicious, the perfect cuvée of vermentino or roussanne is brought into the yard restoring order to the world. Crisp and fragrant with notes of Asian pear, grapefruit and wild mountain honey, the wine, despite its melting pot constituent parts, reminds us of nothing so much as the Friulian blends which are its inspiration.
Deep ruby color. A slightly smoky nose from the first hit, owing to the very discreet oak treatment, one presumes, followed hard on by lots of red fruit – chiefly brambleberry, mulberry and some very engaging hints of mint and chocolate. The mouth reprises the nose, but there is real depth there and (if I am not greatly mistaken) a real quality of minerality that gives the wine a sort of moral center. It is my presumption that this quality derives from the very profound root system of these exceptionally hoary vines. Very soft mouthfeel, medium acidity and a refreshing, clean finish.
Clos de Gilroy
Generally speaking, the great grenache years at Bonny Doon [such as vintages past 1990, 1991, 1994 and 2000] have been very
late. It seems in these later, cooler years, the grapes have a better opportunity to develop the nuance and complexity we so
esteem. 2004, however, was the earliest vintage we have ever experienced, yet it seems to be aligning to serve up some monster
grenache, which is very rich yet still well delineated. The fruit this year derives from the Alta Loma Vineyard in Greenfield,
our own bio-dynamically farmed vineyard in Soledad as well as our traditional source, a very old vineyard in Gilroy. The wine itself
exhibits all the hallmarks of exceptional grenache – bright raspberriosity; a strong suggestion of black pepper and cherry liqueur;
and a piney, resinous quality that shows up in the best vintages of grenache from Gilroy and environs. To those yearning for the
early days when CdG was the first wine out of the blocks, this vintage should induce a happy remembrance of Gilroy’s past.
Domaine des Blagueurs Syrah-Sirrah
Though southern French wines from 2002 are often viewed with a Jau-jau de jaundiced air, due to the heavy rains experienced that year, the area around Minvervois was largely spared until just after the grapes were harvested. Even the mercurial Michel Escande, from whose estate, Domaine de Borie de Maurel, a large percentage of this wine derives (and a notoriously late harvester, truth be told) brought in grapes in advance of the poor weather. We continue to include a small portion of whole cluster viognier in several of the fermentations, which seems to significantly augment the aromatic potential of the wine, while adding a touche of incremental tannin and peppery spiciness. This is a rich, fruitful and generously scented wine, soft in texture and acidity and replete with a good mineral backbone. It starkly demonstrates the difference between the antipodean (read Oz) and the anti-antipodean paradigm. In: cassis, minerals, violets, roasted meat, bacon fat and white pepper. Out: Blackberry syrup, inflammatory 16+% alcohols, and the not-so-subtle imprint of the Ozark oak forest.
Il Circo: Erbaluce di Caluso "La Funambola"
Erbaluce is a variety shrouded in legend and mystery. The favored creation
myth—to which the locals are very emotionally attached—tells of a child of
celestial beings, Albaluce, born on a bric, or hilltop, near the town of Caluso.
After a long period of much celebration and paying of homage and fresh cheeses
and gift baskets, etc., it was time to pay the piperini and something akin to a
drought descended upon the land. This made the goddess Albaluce very sad
indeed and many tears did she cry. However, up from the ground upon which
those tears fell grew erbaluce vines and the rest blah blah blah.
The wine itself is pure sunlight—brilliant, crisp and clear—and a torrent of
lemon chiffon, white peach and almond. It also shows a modest yet very pleasing
astringency on the back palate. The vines from which this wine is produced are
relatively elderly, which endows the erbaluce with significant depth of flavor and
a strong impression of minerality of which we are profoundly jealous. It has not
seen any wood, but has benefited from significant lees contact, a practice that
gives the wine an extrmely creamy texture to balance its acidity. A model of
Wallendian grace, it is a perfect apéritif and conventional wisdom suggests it will
pair nicely with mild cheeses, shellfish, poached salmon—the usual suspects. We
recommend, however, pairing it with more challenging, high-wire dishes like
scallop carpaccio, grilled wild mushrooms or even the oh-so-Piemontese steak
tartare. Leap, and the net most assuredly will appear.
Il Circo: Montepulciano "Il Domatore di Leoni
We have used the power of tiny bubbles [of oxygen that is] to great effect
with many wines, foreign and domestic. Microbullage—the constant
introduction of a small amount of oxygen over time—is one technique for
taming the more savage tannini in grapes such as montepulciano. It seems a
mistake, however, to try to domesticate such an impressively wild and
vigorous animal. 2003 was a scorcher throughout Europe, producing wines
with lush, ripe fruit flavors and ripe, yet plentiful tannins. There is a very
nice balance here between the coiled, feral vitality of the wine and the
ripeness of the tannins; the tannins are very evident, though they present
no danger to public safety like they may have in a less ripe vintage.
The wine has a great deal of brambly fruitiness, yet the strongest
impressions are of wild aromatic herbs, tobacco leaf and those rich, ripe
tannins. Certainly delicious now, this wine is built for the long haul and
should continue to evolve and improve for several years.
Il Circo: Ruche "La Donna Cannone"
We have followed the highly idiosyncratic 2001 with a grandly successful and
more balanced 2003. (2002 was a ruinous vintage in many parts of Piemonte,
inclusive of Castagnole Monferrato.) Ruchè relies on neither anthocyanic
endowment nor tannin to insinuate its way into one’s life. It is a variety
which employs charm and curiosity to do its bidding. Ripe ruchè veritably
reeks of dusty rose petal and on a scale of 10, this one goes to 11. The intense
floral character is also met in counterpoint by a strong impression of autumnal
This wine is made for us by Luca Ferraris and Francesco Gatto at their eponymous
winery in Castagnole Monferrato, the heart of the tiny district through
which the ruchè road winds. As ruchè is typically not considered a variety
suitable for extended aging, we expect this wine to reach its peak in just a few
years. And while this ruchè may not be a wine for the ages, it is a most excellent
wine for the epoch of now.
This is a very nice accompaniment to light and medium-rich red meat dishes,
though it has proven not so stellar with dried sausages. It is also a very
compelling mate to tagliatelli con funghi or, if one is fortunate to be passing
through northern Italy in November, some risotto with truffles, the
Piemontese miracle of autumn.
Il Circo: Ruche "La Donna Cannone"
Piemonte is replete with obscure grape varieties [favorita, pelaverga, erbaluce, timorasso, gamba di pernice, etc], though few can claim less renown than ruche, which is grown in only a very few villages a little northeast of Asti. This ruche is distinguished by a very particular perfume of rose petal and autumnal spice. While it has fairly modest color and tannin, its texture is molto ricco, persistent and very decadent. This wine is made for us by Luca Ferraris and Francesco Gatto at their eponymous winery in Castagnole Monferrato, the heart of the tiney district through which the ruche road winds. As ruche is typically not considered a variety suitable for extended aging, we expect this wine to reach its peak in just a couple of years. And while this may not be a wine for the ages plural, it is a most excellent wine for the epoch of now.
Il Circo: Uva di Troia "La Violetta"
Rarely has a wine captured the imagination of the Dooniverse as has the 2002 La Violetta. One could chalk it up to the highly tatted community of Santa Cruz or the exquisite label. More likely it is the fact that the wine is delicious to the max and quite unlike anything in the California canon. This third vintage of troia is from a very successful vintage in Puglia, on the southern Adriatic coast of Italy. The 2002 season was quite warm in this part of the world, and the grapes benefited from the pergola trellising system employed for much of the crop, which helps to keep the microclimate under the canopy relatively cool. We have continued our work with microbullage with this variety to great effect. The wine seems to have greater texture and creaminess, while retaining its unmistakable southern Italian character – as well as its potent violet fragrance – and avoiding the indignities of internationalism and the ravages of the new wood order.
Le Cigare Blanc
might be dispatched a white cigar? Le Cigare Blanc™ is the white analogue of Le Cigare Volant®, The Flying Cigar, our flagship named in honor of the cigar-shaped alien craft, banned by decree of the village council of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in 1954 from landing in the vineyards thereof. Le Blanc completes the triad of Cigares first sighted in the form Le Cigare Volant and Vin Gris de Cigare®. Le Cigare Blanc is inspired by several of the luxes cuvées of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc dominated by roussanne, which contributes 97% of this blend. We have supplemented the roussanne with a small but dramatic and richly flavored 3% dollop of Grenache blanc. The wine is intensely suggestive of white peach, honeydew, lime blossom, lilac and the stony minerality contributed by an exceedingly far-off hillside. Resistance is futile.
Le Cigare Volant
We have noted previously that a Cigare dominated by grenache - the traditional varietal and moral center in neufs-du-Papes be they Chateau or Crypto - is a wholly different animal from one dominated by mourvedre or syrah and that is certainly the case here. Only in 1993, 1995 and 1999 has grenache contributed a similarly small percentage of the blend and these wines are indeed rogues of a sort - more broad and powerful than most of the garnachistas. We are currently pursuing numerous investigative avenues trying to tease out and retain a greater impression of minerality from the wines. In the cellar, this means we have probably spent enough time goofing around with various adjuncts, ameliorants and other hokum in a sincere attemp to roll the ultimate Cigare. Embracing a more Eastern - one might say Right Bank - sensibility, we are now directing more of our efforts where they more properly belong, in the bloody vineyards. So while the 2002 may be a larger, beefier number than some other vintages I could name, it is hardly a juced-up, mesomorphic golem conjured up in the top secret, "Oys Only" sectors of the cellar. The high percentages of mourvedre and syrah endow the wine with an evocative smoky, meaty, peppery core on which to rest its somewhat rotund boo-tay. It may be a hit too much to ask a wine knit together with grapes from numerous different vineyards to express terroir, but there is also an undeniable stony note that contibutes a metadimension of flavor. Fear not though, fruit lovers of America, the widely divergent spectrum of flavors is still topped off by licorice, black cherry,and an electric bolt of black currant.
Madiran Heart of Darkness
There is something utterly delicious about being lucky and good, or at any
rate, working with individuals upon whom such fortune has been granted. ’02
was something of a crap shoot throughout Europa. In Madiran, it was very
successful, though the harvest chez Bortolussi concluded roughly two hours
before the onset of a solid month of rain. Not all growers completed their
harvest before the tempests.
There is a school of thought which postulates that the very best wines are
made by the great producers in what are according to conventional wisdom,
very good—but not great—years, like 2004. By this logic, is not maximum
ripeness which is synonymous with greatness, but balance and completeness.
Frequently, however, wines from the so-called ostensibly “great” years are
merely monolithic caricatures of great wine—distended and lacking definition,
attempting to make up with mere scale what they lack in complexity and detail.
[Editor’s Note: We shall see in roughly a year how superb a vintner is Alain
Bortolussi when we release the Heart of Darkness from 2003—one of the
hottest and “ripest” vintages on record in France.]
Madiran should never be delicate, though it can be refined and wellmannered.
Perhaps we are being unduly influenced by the knowledge that there
is for the first time, a 10% addition of cabernet sauvignon in the blend this year,
but the wine does seem to have a more Bordelais character than previous
vintages. The hard granitic character translates this year as cedary cigar box and
balsamico. And while Heart of Darkness will never be delicate or modest, this
is nonetheless a more refined and well-mannered example than we have seen
in recent years—more Aramis than D’Artagnan. The tannins are fairly modest,
yet the wine still has great depth and the flavor impressions reach into all
palate’s back alleys and subterranean nooks.
It is so hard to pigeonhole
teenagers. One instant they
are cuddly and adorable, and
the next moment they have
discovered Gandhi or
macrobiotics or something and
are imposing upon themselves
the most rigid—though yes,
when you think they might
become responsible adults, they
again metamorphose into lush
In the long, hot summer of
her 15th year, as the horse
latitudes extended into
Monterey County, little
Malvasia has acquired
something of a plush,
languorous, equatorial quality
courtesy of slightly higher
alcohol and touch less acidity
than normal. It is a style of
wine well suited to exotically
aromatized foods, like
Morrocan, Lebanese, Greek or
Indian cuisine. If structurally
the wine is a departure, the
familiar flavor signifiers are all
there to remind one of the
changeling in one’s glass: pink
grapefruit, litchi and pear along
with the vaguest, reposeinducing
suggestion of candied
Muscat Vin de Glaciere
With our 19th vintage of Vin de Glacière, it appears we may finally have some idea what we are doing with this wine. This should
not be interpreted to suggest that there are no new angles to mine. The orange muscat, moscato giallo, and Moscato Greco1
from our own vineyard in Soledad comprise a significant 35% of the blend, perhaps endowing the wine with a shade more
nuance and delineation from these biodynamically grown grapes. One of the challenges of making elegant sweet wines is retaining
freshness and vibrancy beneath the sugary coatings. We are hopeful that as the percentage of biodynamically grown grapes grows, this
wine will become increasingly vivid and focused. Not at all dissimilar the 2003, this wine remains a blast of candied apricot, pear, green
tea and pineapple essence. Perhaps not the equal of a Dönnhoff eiswein, it is not a bad substitute while waiting for hell to freeze over.
NV Club Montonico
For any grape growers out there who are reading this, you would do well to know that it is possible to play me like a vintage Strad. If you simply ring up and say that you have a few acres of some very old vines of a particularly arcane Mediterranean grape variety and ask, in all innocence, if I might've any interest in same. You have not even finished the sentence and I am speed-dialing the banker to see about an extension of our credit line. I had no choice but to buy these grapes. I was biologically programmed, effectively hard-wired to crush and vinify them. What happened was that very shortly before the harvest, I actually went out and tasted the montonico grapes. Yes, they appeared to be from the vitis vinifera family. Did they have any discernible character, which might charitably be called "varietal?" Negatory. It also dawned upon me that we were looking at virtual panoply of fortified dessert wines in our arsenal. What's a mother to do? I dug out an old recipe for Christmas wine, which involved fortification with all sorts of festive and mysterious ingredients. I submit herewith, Exhibit "M". We included lemon and orange peel, cloves, cinnamon and a bunch of other things that are too proprietary for words but you could probably find out through the Freedom of Vinformation Act. This wine will shock and amaze you.
NV Framboise, Infusion of Raspberries
The wine authority can generally effect an air of dignity and earnest reverence in the presence of the subject of his
or her ardor. But gathered in herds, wine geeks inevitably fall prey to the temptation to describe, and describe in
such a fashion as to demonstrate the length of one’s thesaurus. Fortunately, we have Framboise, a potion so singular
in its sensory frequency that we may leave our descriptor lists at home. This is all and simply about the raspberry and
the ingenious ways we might integrate Framboise into our lives. Perhaps the thesaurus is not without utility, for with the
continued increase in the percentage of the Morrison variety, we must find news ways of expressing what lies beyond lashings
of raspberry, explosions of raspberry flavor, eruptions of raspberry zest, the quiddity of the essence raspberry, an
extravasation of raspberry lava, etc. Or, simply pour a generous slosh over some flourless chocolate cake and know what
it is to sit under a banyan tree and contemplate new found enlightenment.
This wine is 100 percent old-vine [100-plus years old which fits the definition of “old” in most books] mourvèdre from the singular sandscape of Oakley, CA in Contra Costa County.
We have made OT roughly every other year since 1986 when the Bonny ship Le Cigare Volant® did not commandeer the entire ration of mourvèdre. We think this is perhaps the paradigmatic Bonny Doon wine – it is not hellaciously tannic, jet black, or syrupy in the Antipodean paradigm. It is very rich, fragrant, earthy, fruitful [blackberries, stewed plums], persistent, immensely complex and perfectly balanced. There is some debate about what allows a wine to age and improve with extended, quiet repose in someone’s cellar or mudroom closet. Some would suggest it is high acidity, or low pH or robust tannin levels or pure concentration. We tend to think it is balance or harmony and a good dose of minerality. It is not clear from whence the minerality derives in grapes grown in pure sand, but there you have it. Perhaps the answer to the perennial poser one considers while meditating on this appellation – What’s in the water? – can reveal more about the potential for vinous immortality than the sui generis nature of its great grape growers. We would suspect that this wine, if stored properly will continue to improve for 10 to 15 years.
For the first time we have produced this wine in three consecutive vintages so we are on something of a heat streak Telegram-wise. A hot streak is normally an important factor in producing ripe mourvèdre, for it buds and ripens much later than most other varieties. It is often the last variety harvested in the southern Rhône or Provence. In the utterly infernal confines of Contra Costa County, bringing in ripe grapes is not as great a trial. When mourvèdre is at its acme – as it approaches here – it shows a rare combination of fruit liqueur, smoked meat, saddle leather, great depth of flavor and the undeniable suggestion of forest floor – and exercise in speaking truffe to power, as it were. This vintage has all the hallmarks of a keeper. No fining, no filtering, no funny business. This is a wine for the long haul a telegramatic transmission into the future.
Sangiovese "Il Fiasco"
Very dark, deep, essentially shocking violet color. In the nose: first aromas of mora, prugna and ciliegio, sorry, that would be blackberry, prune and cherry, but if one looks a little deeper, one might detect suggestions of peach, dusky rose and licorice.The mouth: essentially
a mouth full of wild berries. Extremely soft tannins, unexpected in virtue of the great intensity and concentration of this wine.
Excellent acidity, with an extremely long finish.
Syrah "Le Pousseur"
What’s so funny about peace, love and whole cluster fermentations? Whether due to an evolution of our vinification
techniques, which favor longer skin contact and the inclusion of more whole clusters, or a turn of the thermostat to the
left, we seem to have rendered a very serious and, perish the thought, authentic syrah. One strongly senses that the
Northern Rhône is not terroir incognito to this wine. The expanded employment of whole cluster fermentations has endowed the
wine with more and richer tannins, smoky meatiness and a clear ping! of wintergreen. Additionally, with the 2003 vintage we drop
the fairly generic “California” tag now that we are operating under the aegis of the Central Coast appellation with the exclusion
of a particular lot of grapes from the rough and tumble [and bloody scorching] inland side of the Altamont Pass. While the
inclusion of whole clusters has served to augment the size and structure of the wine, the use of only coastal, cooler climate fruit
preserves the nuance and complexity which allows one to daydream without guilt of sexy, well proportioned, and sophisticated
côtes blondes et brunettes.
Vin Gris de Cigare
When we last spoke, spice and perfume merchants were haggling over lavender oil, rose petals and sandalwood while sipping
dry rosé at a sidewalk café in Grasse, deep in the heart of Provence. And why would they not sip rosé, a potation which
so strongly evokes the invigorating fragrance of wild aromatic herbs and botanicals common to the south of France?
The 2004 Vin Gris is not the pudgy, alcoholic endomorph one might expect from such a hot, early year. In fact, the acid is a bit more
pronounced compared to the previous vintage, perhaps because the wine is once again bone dry, unlike the ever so confected 2003. This
2004 is indeed one of the more classically styled editions of Vin Gris to date. All the signifiers we have come to associate with classic
Provençal style rosé are there—a definite suggestion of aromatic herbs, citrus rind, rosehips and hibiscus along with a very pleasing,
mild astringency on the back palate. This makes for a delicious apéritif, and allows the wine to pair much more elegantly with a wide
variety of foods. Here one might imagine poached salmon, assorted birds or, if one fancies oneself a true Provençal, a bowl of
bouillabaisse or a generous portion of ratatouille.
Despite our protestations to the contrary, we Americans are well known for our love of the sweet stuff. French drinkers
of viognier in the first half of the last century were a similar lot, as much of the Condrieu made prior to WWII was
either sweet or sparkling. And why not? Certain grapes readily lend themselves to being made as dessert style wines
or sweet apéritifs including viognier, whose signature descriptor is a rich violet fragrance. We have adapted the traditional
technique used for vin de paille whereby grapes are left after picking to desiccate and concentrate of beds of straw prior to
pressing. Here we have placed the clusters in raisin trays to dry for 12 days in the vineyard before pressing. This yields a more
tawny, bottom-toned wine than the format employed for vin de glacière.
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