A Grahm of the Bonny Doon

Bonny Doon VineyardEarlier this month, the smashingly charismatic founder and leader of Bonny Doon Vineyard (Twitter) wrote an article that got me thinking…again. Randall Grahm (Twitter) is as much a household name as can be found in the wine biz, as the founder, longtime winemaker and quixotic leader of the alternating huge and boutique Bonny Doon winemaking endeavors over the decades.  Part devoted vigneron, part Biodynamic cheerleader, part shaman and part brilliantly funny and educational writer…it is difficult to try and put Grahm in a box. Indeed, if you were to try, he’d probably try and find the best, most neglected grape variety in which to grow in that shaded box.  One thing that cannot be said about Grahm is that he isn’t willing to risk everything in order to find the best place to grow the best grapes.

So, what was this article that got my mind running and my palate thirsty?  First off, a description of Grahm’s writing style is in order:  You can find more footnotes than your average college textbook of his seemingly random pop culture, classical and modern music, Latin and/or philosophy references in each piece…or even paragraph.  Yet each reference really does connect perfectly with the overall flow of each essay and while filled with whimsical puns at each turn, tie together the web of intellectual, seemingly disparate thoughts which Grahm is intending to legibly secrete from his darting mind.

His writing is so renowned that he recently released an anthology of his many wine parodies, essays as a self-commanded “terroirist” and a major proponent of Rhône varietals of wine over the last 30+ years.  Been Doon So Long is a fascinating read and one that, while challenging for the intellect and vintellect, is a hugely entertaining and hilarious tumble through the ups and downs of now 31+ years of winemaking in California (I received a signed sample copy).  Been Doon So Long by Randall GrahmGrahm does not humor dullards nor the stupid people of the world, yet he is also very humble and at times consumed with self-doubt, all of which is reflected in his writings over the years to his wine fans and club members.  Having the fortunate chance to chat with Grahm after his induction into the Vintners Hall of Fame for 2010, I’ve happily learned that he is much the same in person as he his in his writings.  All of his various forms of writings are included in this compendium including poems, essays, stories, speeches and much of the most provocative artwork that has been featured in his newsletters and on his highly unique wine labels.  I highly recommend opening a bottle of one my fav’s, the Bonny Doon flagship Le Cigare Volant after purchasing the signed tome and kicking back with some very engaging wine writing.

It is with this history of wine making and writing that I can now explain the stimulation which I received from Grahm’s latest article on his fine book/blog vinthology site that is also called Been Doon So Long (and well designed by WineLog’s own Jason & Kim Coleman via their Stranger Studios arm). His latest post, The Bee’s Knees, touches on the recent sale of his former wine property Pacific Rim and an update on the slow development of his dream vineyard in San Juan Bautista.

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It is within the comments for this post that I came across a reply of Grahm’s that included a tidbit about the challenges that will surround their use of dry-farming the SJB vineyard – namely that the little vines will need to their roots to dig 600 feet before comfortably finding a consistent water table!  OldWorldWK - WKBadgesThis small statement, replete with some juicy biology geekiness, set my mind wandering…can grapevine roots really reach 600 feet!? No way, I thought and I eventually wandered over to other parts of the interwebs.  Not even a few days later, I happened upon a fascinating article about the Croatian wine renaissance in the Jakarta Globe and there they detailed vines whose roots exceeded 200 meters in depth!  I tweeted over to Randall that my disbelief was unfounded and yet another interesting wine fact was filed into my humbled brain.  It’s continually heartening to find that not only am I the only one that geeks out on the smallest bit of wine info, but that this tendency has been repeated in others throughout history, including those in my own wine backyard.

Check out many of the wines in WineLog from Bonny Doon Vineyard in the list below and let me know your favorite wine made by Randall’s busy hands in the comments below.  Cheers!

Bonny Doon Vineyard:

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The Broke Wino Looks at Value Bordeaux

A new vinopanion of mine, Sam Klingberg, has been making waves in the vino writing webernets over the last year or so with his wine blog, The Broke Wino.  Sam contacted me recently to gather my thoughts on affordable Bordeaux wine.  As one of Le Wine Buff for Enjoy Bordeaux for the CIVB, I have been involved in a lot of great Bordeaux-centric wine activities over the last 1+ years, including a truly spectacular trip to Bordeaux this past summer.

The dichotomy between the high prices of First and Second Growth châteaux and the remaining thousands of much more affordable, yet still high quality wine producers and châteaux is a hot topic.  With the declaration of “vintages of the century” at least 3 times this decade alone combined with the increasing Asian markets, the prices of the high end Bordeaux have skyrocketed. Happily however, quality has also taken a great leap forward, all across the board.

I sent the thoughts in quotations below over to Sam and he combined some parts with some great recommendations from my fellow Buff, Megan Wiig for his own article on this topic.  Take a gander at my thoughts below and let me know your own thoughts in the comments.  Then jet over to The Broke Wino for Sam’s outstanding article, “Value Bordeaux is Not an Oxymoron.” Cheers!

Ward Kadel@drXeNoLe Wine Buff:

I think that one of the things for which Bordeaux has taken a lot of heat in the last few 10 years has been it’s seemingly regular pronouncements of the exceptional quality of each vintage since the truly great 2000s. The wolf has been shouting much to much this past decade and the wine writing field, wine social mediasphere and the general populace have all grown jaded with each new declaration. Looking at both sides, I think the Bordelaise have been very busy at tooting their own horn, yet I can’t deny that there has been a significantly large number of very good to great vintages in Bordeaux over the last decade than we’ve ever seen in modern winemaking history. Taste the wines for yourself…there are very few, broadly speaking, bad vintages in the “aughts.” But the arguments over whether these claims are hyperbole really don’t matter…it’s the wines that do, yo!

2000, 2005 and 2009 are deemed some of the best vintages in the last 110 years for Bordeaux. Whether the high end wines are good, great or epic doesn’t matter for the average consumer, but value or Quality to Price ratio does (QPR). When you’re strolling your favorite wine store or even down the vino section of your local supermarket, remember that these vintages don’t just mean that the $50-$500 wines are the shizzy…that quality extends all the way down to the $6 wines as well. This means that wine that would easily qualify for the first label of any given chateau is now relegated to their much cheaper second label; quality that can be had at a very affordable price.

Yet, regardless of vintage there are thousands of producers in the various AOC or sub-appellations of Bordeaux. The big classified Growths of Bordeaux get the press, but usually the true quality can be found in the smaller, unclassified producers that would be lovingly called family-run boutique wineries if they were here in the US.  Zingy and citrusy $8-$15 whites from Entre-Deux-Mers, minerally, balanced and complex reds from the Graves and juicier, fresh-tobacco driven red blends from the newer Pessac-Léognan AOC are all wines that throw down awesome QPR for any vintage, below $35 and usually less than $20. But honestly, this is just me talking, right? Go out and try some for yourself and see if you agree. Cheers!

Château Haut Guillebot, Bordeaux

As Le Wine Buff for EnjoyBordeaux.com, I am paid a nominal fee for most of my participation.  I also receive free wine samples and my participation on this trip is courtesy of the CIVB.