To the Doon and Back (Bonny Doon, That Is)

Right off the bat, full disclosure: I have never been to Bonny Doon. I have been to Santa Cruz, though when I was teaching and coaching in Marin, I did take one of my basketball teams down to the area one year. So it is almost like I visited the winery.


OK, not even close, but I have a bit of a winecrush (similar to a “mancrush” only concerning wine) on the winery—I would say that I had one on the famed owner/winemaker Randall Grahm, but just about everyone has a winecrush (or mancrush) on Monsieur Grahm and I am particularly loathe to follow a crowd.

A little over a year ago, the winery sent me a swath of wines—all which fell into the rosé (or more precisely, the non-white, non-red, non-sparkling, non-dessert category). They must have liked what I wrote (or really liked the gratuitous selfie I took with Helen Miren) since they have since sent me a few more wines from their eclectic yet serious panoply of current releases.

2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc: Retail $28. 55% Roussanne, 26% Grenache Blanc, 19% Picpoul Blanc. I have never been to the winery, but I hope that changes soon as Randal Grahm is everyone’s legend. This wine? Tropics a-go-go with Asian pear, melon, and touches of lemon rind and coconut. On the palate, what one would expect from a classic Rhône blend: great fruit initially, with both some roundness and tartness, with an above average finish. A solid effort. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

2014 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc: Retail $28. 66% Grenache Blanc, 34% Roussanne. Pro Tip: serve this a little warmer than a “usual” white (and feel free to thank me afterwards). Another tropical gem from the storied winery in Santa Cruz, California with peach (white), pine (apple), and passion (fruit). On the palate quite expressive with oodles of said fruit, balanced by impeccable acidity, and splashes of minerality. If you can’t like this wine, you can’t like Rhône blends. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.

2012 Bonny Doon Vineyard Le Cigare Volant Normale Red Wine of the Earth: Retail $45. 39% Mourvèdre, 33% Grenache, 26% Syrah, 2% Cinsault. Bonny Doon touts this as a “traditional encépagement of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.” Well, while that might be true (although nearly all the CdP that I have had are mostly Grenache), this is clearly a Californian interpretation of the venerable appellation. The Mourvèdre imparts a decidedly dark hue, but the blend comes off as more reserved with a spicy peppered fruit on the nose, and a lovely reserved expression on the palate. I have a soft spot for New World wines that try to tamp down the abundant fruit available to them and craft a beautiful wine that is designed for the table, to be part of a meal. Witness for the prosecution here. Wonderful. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.

2016 Bonny Doon Clos de Gilroy Grenache: Retail $20. 82% Grenache, 18% Syrah. From my days in the Bay Area, there were two things I knew about Gilroy: First, it is the garlic capital of the world (more garlic is grown there than anywhere else, including Transylvania, apparently); and Second, it is home to perhaps the largest outlet mall on the West Coast. Full disclosure: the only reason I know about the former is that I was a frequent visitor to the latter (yeah, I am a bit of a clothes hound). What do either have to do with the wine? Absolutely nothing, as far as I can tell. Tart cherry and an ounce of funk accentuate the nose while that tart cherry dominates the palate. No doubt a solid quaff that would benefit from a bit of charcuterie or even a French mountain cheese from the Vosges or Jura. This screw cap enclosed wine has plenty going for it, not the least of which is an unmistakable splash of garlic on the finish. Very Good to Outstanding. 88-90 Points.

2014 Bonny Doon Gravitas: Retail $18. 54% Semillon, 43.5% Sauvignon Blanc, 2.5% Orange Muscat. In reading the back label of this wine, the goal is apparently to produce a wine “that is not obviously fruity, nor overly oaky, … demonstrates … a pleasant quality of minerality, with a finish as persistent as a British bulldog….” While I am not all that familiar with the aforementioned breed, I can say with some confidence that the wine achieves all of the stated goals. Ample but not overbearing fruit (melon and honeysuckle) and noted minerality, particularly on that “bulldog” of a finish. This is not a wine that will set your hair on fire, necessarily, but one would do well to place it on the dinner table mid-week and enjoy. Very Good. 87-89 Points.

2016 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare: Retail $18. 49% Grenache, 19% Grenache Blanc, 13% Mourvèdre, 12% Carignan, 4% Cinsaut, 3% Roussanne. Bright, almost luminous pink, with subtle fruit but a brilliant citrus aspect. On the palate, this is reminiscent of a Provençal-style rosé with hints of fruit, great acidity, and near perfect balance. Yum. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

2016 Bonny Doon Vineyard Picpoul Arroyo Seco Beeswax Vineyard: Retail $18. 100% Picpoul. Rarely seen outside of France, Picpoul (de Pinet) is a wine from the Languedoc region of Southwest France. Literally translated from the local dialect, the “Lip-Smacker” is known for its relatively high acidity and distinct fruity flavors. This Bonny Doon possess both in spades: white peach, pineapple, and white flower initially on the nose, with an intense tartness on the palate. I know it is the current trend to embrace obscure varieties simply for the sake of uniqueness, but this wine should also be celebrated for its quality—as it’s darned good. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.

2014 Bonny Doon Vineyard A Proper Claret: Retail $16. 38% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Petit Verdot, 23% Tannat, 8% Merlot, 3% Syrah, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Syrah. Since it’s beginnings several years ago, Bonny Doon eschewed Cabernet Sauvignon with fervor. Once Mr. Grahm decided to make a wine from California’s “signature” wine, he adopted the centuries old British concept of a “claret” a blend of all the Bordeaux varieties. Fairly dark in the glass with plenty of cassis and plum. On the palate, it is much lighter on its feet than its appearance would suggest with nice tart fruit and hints of menthol. This is not a wine for long time hoarding, but it would certainly do well on tonight’s dinner table with some roasted pork or even a lightly marinated skirt steak. Very Good. 87-89 Points.





About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, Cinsault/Cinsaut, Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Merlot, Mourvèdre, Orange Muscat, Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Picpoul, Roussanne, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Syrah, Tannat, Wine. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to To the Doon and Back (Bonny Doon, That Is)

  1. Lucky you! I think their wines are great and that Randall Graham is a genius.


  2. leggypeggy says:

    There’s a Bonny Doon in Australia. You should watch the film ‘That Castle’.


  3. Livonne says:

    Yes.. we do have one in Australia.. just spelled a bit differently and I’ve been there. It is also very close to some great wineries.. Since I watched ‘The Castle” I’ve never heard the name without singing “We’re going to Bonnie Doon”.. and now I’m singing it again lol


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