The Rhone Ranger & His Wine!
Why do I love wine? There are actually a lot of reasons. I love the taste, for one thing. Well, of a lot of wines anyway! The whole process of winemaking fascinates me, and I find the history and geography involved absolutely intriguing. I also don’t hate the fact that it’s an intoxicant! And the people???? Oh how I love learning about and meeting some of the fabulous characters that have made wine their artistic and scientific goals of life.
I recently had the chance to taste with one of the true characters of California wine, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard. A self-professed wine geek, he is a lover of wines with a sense of place. Grahm started out as a huge fan of Burgundy, hoping to create the Great American Pinot Noir. After realizing that Rhone varietals were better suited to the terroir of his Central Coast area, he became a pioneer of making California wine from Rhone grapes, even earning the honor of being considered the original “Rhone Ranger”!
Grahm is also credited with being the first California winemaker to use screw caps on premium wines! His belief is that wines with screw caps live longer than wines with cork, which can result in more complex wines down the road. This makes a lot of sense to me. He does admit, however, that premium wine under screw caps will not be ready to consume as early as those with corks, so for the majority of Americans who consume the bottle they purchase that very night, cork may still be the answer.
Our tasting included eleven wines from his Bonny Doon label, ranging from the 2017 Picpoul with a nose reminding me of a bouquet of flowers to his 2011 Cigare Volant Reserve which is aged in glass! I enjoyed pretty much all of them, but some of my favorites included:
2016 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare Rosé – A pretty pink in color (perfect for Valentine’s Day!), this wine tastes of strawberry, cranberry and a touch of grapefruit. This is a beautifully balanced wine, with a bit of creaminess on the finish without losing the acidity. Comprised of 49% Grenache, 19% Grenache Blanc, 13% Mourvèdre, 12% Carignane, 4% Cinsaut and 3% Roussanne, it’s darned difficult to stop drinking this. I’m planning on stocking up for the summer months ahead.
2014 Bonny Doon Proper Claret – This is an easy drinking wine at a great price point of about $16. With lots of bright cherry, some plum, and mellow tannins, this is a great wine to crack open on a Tuesday night. 36% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Petit Verdot, 22% Tannat, 9% Syrah, 7% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petite Sirah
2013 Bonny Doon Syrah Pousseur – This is the wine I’m sipping on as I write this. Made of 100% Syrah from 4 different vineyards, I love the trueness to the varietal this wine is. Olive and bacon fat on the nose takes me back to the Rhone Valley. There is a touch of violet too. On the palate is the bacon, along with spicy pepper, dark fruit, and a fabulous earthy garrigue element. This is a really nice wine, perhaps my favorite of the night!
And what a fun night it was! The wines were great and Randall Grahm’s presentation was fabulous! His intelligence shined through while discussing his past, present, and future in the wine biz. One of my favorite stories was his explanation of how he named the “Le Cigar Valant”, which goes back to a wacky 1954 law in Châteauneuf du Pape banning flying saucers and flying cigars! Yup … true story. Google it!
Another thing I took away from the evening was his sincere belief that his wine career has only just begun. At 64 years of age, he’s just getting started. I love that! His latest endeavor? Popelouchum, which he literally saw in a dream. Popelouchum is a 400-acre property in San Juan Bautista where he plans to breed 10,0000 new grape varieties in which he hopes to create a New World “vin de terroir”. My money is on him succeeding and I can’t wait to taste it!
As you’ve probably noticed, his wine labels sure aren’t boring either! Randall Grahm is definitely a fun figure in the sometimes-stuffy world of wine
To learn more about Randall Grahm and his wines, here’s a link: https://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com