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  • Weather

    14° C Overcast clouds
  • Time

    20:45 PM
  • Wine average?

    90 Tb
  • Country Ranking?

    158
  • Region Ranking?

    24
  • Popularity ranking?

    229

History

While Bonny Doon Vineyard began with the (in retrospect) foolish attempt to replicate Burgundy in California, Randall Grahm realized early on that he would have far more success creating more distinctive and original wines working with Rhône varieties in the Central Coast of California. The key learning here (achieved somewhat accidentally but fortuitously) was that in a warm, Mediterranean climate, it is usually blended wines that are most successful. In 1986 Bonny Doon Vineyard released the inaugural vintage (1984) of Le Cigare Volant, an homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and this continues as the winery’s flagship/starship brand.

 

Since then, Bonny Doon Vineyard has enjoyed a long history of innovation – the first to truly popularize Rhône grapes in California, to successfully work with cryo-extraction for sundry “Vins de Glacière, the first to utilize microbullage in California, the first to popularize screwcaps for premium wines, and, quite significantly, the first to embrace true transparency in labeling with its ingredient labeling initiative. The upside of all of this activity has brought an extraordinary amount of creativity and research to the California wine scene; the doon-side, as it were, was perhaps an ever so slight inability to focus, to settle doon, if you will, into a single, coherent direction.

 

Bonny Doon Vineyard grew and grew with some incredibly popular brands (Big House, Cardinal Zin and Pacific Rim) until it became the 28th largest winery in the United Stated. Randall came to the realization – better late than Nevers – that he had found that the company had diverged to a great extent from his original intention of producing soulful, distinctive and original wines, and that while it was amusing to be able to get restaurant reservations almost anywhere (the only real tangible perk he was able to discern from the vast scale of the operation), it was time to take a decisive course correction. With this in mind, he sold off the larger brands (Big House and Cardinal Zin) in 2006 and Pacific Rim in 2010.

 

In the intervening years, the focus of the winery has been to spend far more time working with vineyards in improving their practices, as well as on making wines with a much lighter touch – using indigenous yeast whenever possible, and more or less eschewing vinous maquillage, (at least not to Tammy Faye Bakker-like levels). Recently, Randall has purchased an extraordinary property in San Juan Bautista, which he calls Popelouchum, (the Mutsun word for “paradise,”) where he is profoundly intent on producing singular wines expressive of place. There are also very grand plans afoot to plant a dry-farmed Estate Cigare vineyard.

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Vineyards

Since early 2004, we have adopted Biodynamic viticulture and biodynamic practices in as many of our vineyards as practicable. (Biodynamic seems to work best when it is voluntarily adopted, not something that is taken up coercively.) Because we work with fairly esoteric grape varieties, it has not always been possible to find growers of these varieties who are equally passionate about Biodynamic practice. It has been an ongoing work to try to lead by example, and we are hopeful of eventually bringing 100% of our growers to the practice out of their own sincere interest. We believe this practice gives us the best opportunity to produce the most distinctive and interesting, and in a word, the most vibrant wines possible.

 

Biodynamics is an integrated, holistic agricultural practice, based on the teachings of the visionary polymath, Rudolf Steiner, who lived in the early part of the 20th century, and who somewhat incidentally happened to speak on the subject of agriculture. His brief lecture series, called “Agriculture,” is the formal basis for what is now called Biodynamics.

 

Biodynamics deals with how we might seek to harmonize our farming practices with the subtle forces of the universe, following the astronomical calendar, availing ourselves of free cosmic fertilizer, you might say. [The effects of the sun are quite obvious, the moon also evident, but more subtle. The planets and constellations also provide Earth’s beings with information; the Biodynamic practice seeks to amplify the signal, as it were, of the various cosmic influences.] We attempt to perform the different agricultural activities in accord with the energetic potentiality of the plants, which change on a daily basis. The Biodynamic calendar follows a cyclical rhythm, whereby one or another aspect of the plant – root, leaf, fruit or flower – might be favored. Thus, for example, irrigation is best done on a root day, where the roots are most active. Grapes are ideally harvested on fruit days, where more of the energy of the plant is directed towards the fruit. There are optimal dates for planting, grafting, cultivating, spraying, indeed, for virtually every agricultural activity.

 

Other features of the practice involve the use of Biodynamic compost, the principle vehicle for bringing etheric forces to the vineyard, and the use of the Biodynamic preparations, (essentially a form of viticultural homeopathy). These are meant to stimulate a relevant process within the plant itself. The presence of animal life on the farm is also crucial to the Biodynamic proposition, with the idea that animals bring a contributing and organizing intelligence to the farm system, making it more self-regulating, and thus, more sustainable.

 

The Biodynamic model holds that the human intelligence is capable of identifying and summoning natural allies, be they from the plant or animal kingdom, to assist in amplifying the relevant cosmic forces, which in turn help to regulate the more observable but no less wondrous processes we see in plant growth and differentiation, photosynthesis, mineral absorption and the like. As an example, the presence of sheep grazing in the field (ideally), or alternately the use of sheep manure in compost, will help to balance the soils far more precisely and effectively than a grower might ever do on his own, adding material, organic or otherwise, to achieve an “ideal” soil chemistry. The object as a Biodynamicist is in fact not to have an “ideal” or “perfect” vineyard as determined by a human intelligence, presumably, but rather to have a vineyard that is in some sense in tune with itself.

 

The intent of the Biodynamic practice is to wake up the plants, so that they might become more tuned in to their surroundings. The medical analogy would be that you are boosting the vines’ immune systems, so that they are capable of coping with the environmental challenges that inevitably occur, and breaking the cycle of the need for massive intervention on the part of the grower. Most importantly, the vineyard, or more accurately, the agricultural organism, gradually becomes more individuated, its personality emerges; it becomes the macrocosmic reflection of the intent of the wine-grower, as it evolves into ever greater homeostasis. The success of the Biodynamic practice is evidenced by a greater diversity of microbial life in the soil; these microbial allies work symbiotically with the grapevine to bring nutrients to the plant.

 

By communicating better with the soil and with its surroundings, the plant is participating in the shared intelligence of the plant/soil/winegrower that is the essence of terroir. The Biodynamic proposition is really as much about transforming the farmer as it is the farm. A Biodynamic grower is linked to his farm in a much more intimate way. One learns how to cultivate ones intuition and powers of observation, to be able to see one’s farm with fresh eyes, and to feel the great power of Nature at ones back, rather than as a formidable adversary.

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Winemaking

Let us first point out the obvious and suggest that the term “winemaking” is in fact specious; the winemaker does not “make” the wine, any more than he or she is responsible for converting the sunlight striking the leaves of the grapevine into sugars and more complex flavor components elaborated within the vine. The yeast themselves must be the primary suspects, vis-à-vis “winemakers,” but at a minimum, we can propose that “winemaking” is somewhat of a group effort.

 

The French make a very important distinction between a vin de terroir, a wine that expresses a sense of place, and a vin d’effort, a wine that largely expresses the stylistic intention of the “winemaker’s” will. New World wines remain largely vins d’effort and certainly with good reason; most New World customers value the consistency of product and are less than enthused about vintage variation. But while controlled wines are what are seemingly done best in the New World, they also come at a price. While we may not be negatively surprised by unexpected results, we are at the same time seldom surprised by unexpectedly positive results either, and that replicability or standardization at a certain point become quite banal. “Wines of effort” are only as clever as the winemaker him/herself and that is just not so very. Wines of terroir on the other hand dazzle us with the great complexity of Nature’s order and create a real resonance within us; these are the wines that we at Bonny Doon Vineyard aspire to produce.

 

We have not quite arrived yet at fully producing wines of place, but have thankfully abandoned our previous “interventionist” winemaking methodology. In the past, when we worked with purchased grapes from conventionally farmed vineyards, we often had to resort to considerable winemaking legerdemain – be it acidulation of musts, the use of “designer” yeasts, bacteria and enzymes, organoleptic tannins, dealcoholization of wine – in short, all of the modern New World winemaker’s bag of tricks, all perfectly licit, but essentially oenvil. These tricks were, if not exactly for kids, at least in service to a somewhat juvenile world-wine-view – wine as a sort of fairy tale. No ogre-ish harsh tannins lurking in the [color-corrected] dark [oak chips ahoy] woods.

 

The new paradigm is deceptively simple: Making wines in a more or less old-fangled way, with a minimum of adornment and special FX; wines moderate in alcohol, not over-ripe or over-extracted and emphatically made with the minimal use of new oak. What is most interesting is the idea of producing wines that are “organized,” (even in their simplicity), wines that have a certain elemental life-force or qi. (The vitality of these wines derives in no small part from grapes grown in soils alive with symbiotic microflora, the mycorrhizae, which, incidentally actively transport minerals into the roots. “Minerality” in wine is a controversial subject, but like pornography, is something that one knows when one sees it. I imagine the mineral-intensive core of a wine not unlike a pebble that is tossed into a pond of water, creating concentric circles radiating out from its center. Wines like this cannot be “made.” They must be in some sense be translations of the intelligence of the vineyard.

 

As far as particular winemaking practices the inform the Bonny Doon Vineyard aesthetic: We work extensively with yeast lees – stirring and stirring like the Weird Sisters – and follow the Tantric practice of lees conservation, the retention of the Precious Substance, allowing it to become digested into the wine. At a minimum, the autolysate of the lees releases mannoprotein in the wine, imparting a creamier texture, some degree of minerality, glutamate from the yeast cells (imparting a wonderful savory orumami character) and perhaps an enhanced anti-oxidative potential. Lees are truly the soul of the wine, its Jiminy Cricket, as it were; they carry a memory of everywhere the wine has been.

 

Reds: We formally eschew the oh-so-fashionable Internazionale style of Red Wine – a vinonymous vision of enological pulchritude, so oozingly overripe and buttressed by new oak that it can come from absolutely anywhere and be composed of absolutely anything. We attempt to purchase grapes from the coolest possible regions where the aforesaid have a reasonable chance of ripening. Keeping yields well in hand from these cooler regions gives us fruit a lot of flavor at lower potential alcohols. The winemaking is relatively non-remarkable: We typically destem but not crush 65-85% of the grapes, the balance being a percentage of whole clusters. The stem tannin is interesting, (especially if the grapes have been harvested in conjunction with the recession of the sap back into the plant); the presence of whole berries seems to regulate the speed of the fermentation, as sugar from the broken berries is gradually being released into the must.

 

We typically allow for a pre-fermentation cold soak of 5-10 days and make certain through microscopic observation that our indigenous yeast species is appropriate for the conduct of a clean and complete fermentation. We really like the technique of pied de cuve, whereby we will pre-harvest a portion of the grapes and allow them to “go wild,” as it were, and then inoculate the main batch with this starter culture. We punch down the caps of the ferments in open-top tanks and for more robust, rustic varieties, utilize the technique known as délestage, or rack-and-return, which is the removal and return of fermenting juice from the tank.

 

We like long cuvaisons, as unfashionable as they may be, typically on the order of thirty days and thirty nights, sometimes longer and ideally with warm temperatures, especially at the fermentation’s dénouement. We also selectively practice microbullage, or micro-oxygenation of the wine, post-fermentation, to help give additional structure to the wine. We like to assemble our blends early in the life of the wine as possible, but at the same time also like to delay the completion of malolactic fermentation at least until spring if possible (this allows us to bottle our wines with typically much lower levels of total SO2). So, sometimes we just have to wait (and that’s okay). We eschew (there’s a lot of eschewal going on chez Doon) smaller wooden cooperage as much as possible, and primarily age our red wines in a mixture of well-conditioned 500-liter puncheons and 10,000-liter upright wood tanks.3 The latter is equipped with “lees hotels;” (lees check in but they don’t check out!), maybe better described as perforated stainless steel shelves on which the lees can deposit. Once reposing in cask, we touch the wine as little as possible. Our red wines are seldom fined and filtered.

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Inside information

“While Bonny Doon Vineyard began with the daring attempt to replicate Burgundy in California, Winemaker/Owner, the now legendary Randall Grahm realized early on that he would have far more success creating more distinctive and original wines working with Rhône varieties in the Central Coast of California.


The key learning here (achieved somewhat accidentally but fortuitously) was that in a warm, Mediterranean climate, it is usually blended wines that are most successful. In 1986 Bonny Doon Vineyard released the inaugural vintage (1984) of Le Cigare Volant, an homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and this continues as the winery’s flagship/starship brand.


Since then, Bonny Doon Vineyard has enjoyed a long history of innovation – the first to truly popularize Rhône grapes in California, to successfully work with cryo-extraction, the first to utilize microbullage in California, the first to popularize screwcaps for premium wines, and, quite significantly, the first to embrace true transparency in labeling with its ingredient labeling initiative. “

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8 different wines with 27 vintages

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