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 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. 

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 States. Randall came to the realization that he wanted to return to the basics. 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. In 2010, Randall 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. The first plantings began in 2018 and a grander project - creating 10,000 new cultivars at Popelouchum - continues with the goal of not only finding new, superior vine material, it is also to produce a uniquely California wine. (Brown, JR.)

REGION California
APPELLATION(S) Arroyo Grande, Monterey, Napa County, San Benito, Santa Barbara County, Santa Ynez Valley, Yountville
WINEMAKER Randall Grahm

They attempt to purchase grapes from the coolest possible regions where the grapes have a reasonable chance of ripening. 

Since selling off the larger brands in 2010, 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. 

Also, since early 2004, they have adopted Biodynamic viticulture and biodynamic practices in as many vineyards as practicable. Because fairly esoteric grape varieties are preferred, it has not always been possible to find growers of these varieties who are equally passionate about Biodynamic practice. The Doon team believes this practice gives them the best opportunity to produce the most distinctive and interesting, and in a word, the most vibrant wines possible.

Style: Wines moderate in alcohol, not over-ripe or over-extracted and emphatically made with the minimal use of new oak. They work extensively with yeast lees 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 or umami character) and perhaps an enhanced anti-oxidative potential. 

Stems:   65-85% of the grapes are typically destemmed but not crushed, 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.

Fermentation: typically allow for a pre-fermentation cold soak of 5-10 days and make certain through microscopic observation that indigenous yeast species is appropriate for the conduct of a clean and complete fermentation. Using the technique of pied de cuve, whereby they will pre-harvest a portion of the grapes and allow them to “go wild,” and then inoculate the main batch with this starter culture. 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. Long cuvaisons, around 30 days, sometimes longer and ideally with warm temperatures, especially at the fermentation’s dénouement

They selectively practice microbullage, or micro-oxygenation of the wine, post-fermentation, to help give additional structure to the wine.

Blending: Assembling the blends early in the life of the wine as possible, but also delaying the completion of malolactic fermentation at least until spring if possible (this allows them to bottle the wines with typically much lower levels of total SO2). 

Aging:  Primarily age red wines in a mixture of well-conditioned 500-liter puncheons and 10,000-liter upright wood tanks. The latter is equipped with 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.

"My Journey to Terroir"
Terroir Review
- Randall Grahm, 2018-06-03
"A Vintner’s Quest to Create a Truly American Wine"
The New Yorker
- Adam Gopnik, 2018-05-21
'10,000 vines for a new Grahm Cru'
The World Of Fine Wines
- David Williams, 2015-12-31