Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Bonny Doon and the Surf City Vintners

Randall Graham is a bit of a controversial figure in the wine world. His methods and philosophy of wine making and promotion are provocative, insightful, enigmatic and [add your own description here].

But, say what you will like many other shakers and movers before him, Graham is an important American icon in wine culture that can’t be ignored. What the United States lacks in wine history and culture it more than makes up for in wine experimentation, natural and scientific wine research, and a constant integration of tradition with innovation. For his contributions in these areas, Randall Graham will undoubtedly be remembered throughout history as a seminal thinker.

Following men like Robert Mondavi, Michael Grgch and Warren Winiarski, Graham has pushed the envelope in how we think about wine, vineyards, terroir and wine culture. There is a lot more to Bonny Doon’s wine than just catchy inquisitive labels. Beyond the cartoonish figures is very some serious vino that requires you to stop and think about your sensory experience.

Some may say that Graham’s is nothing more than a clever use of comical labels as a marketing gimmick, but recent changes at Bonny Doon Vineyards challenges such superficial judgments. Randall has sold off the “grocery store” line of wines such as Cardinal Zin and Big House Red so that now Bonny Doon primarily focuses on only high quality, well crafted wines.

A few years ago I visited the old Bonny Doon tasting room that was tucked away in the Santa Cruz redwoods for 5 years and since then I have always had an admiration for their wines. Recently I caught wind that the tasting room had been moved to an “urban winery” in Santa Cruz with an added cafe, so I decided to drop in to see what was new.

Randall Graham, the original “Rhone Rider,” and Bonny Doon specializes in Rhone varietal wines with Le Cigare Volant leading as their flagship. On Saturday I tasted the 2006 Le Cigare Blanc ($22), which is 75% grenache blanc and 25% roussane, the 2005 Monferrato Rosso ($18) a soon to be discontinued Pedmontese blend, the 2004 Le Cigare Volant ($30), a Rhone blend of 8% grenache, 35% syrah, 12% mourvedre, 8% carignane and 7% cinsault, the 2005 Syrah Le Pousseur ($18) which is 96% syrah and 4% grenache, and finally the 2005 Bien Nacido Syrah ($40) and finally the 2007 Pommeau ($25), a really interesting apple cider and apple brandy blend.

The surrounding area of the winery is “unique” in that it is in a very urban area. But the nice thing is Bonny Doon has several neighbors that are worthy of checking out as well within Santa Cruz’ Surf City Vintners; a group of wineries in close proximity to each other on the west side of the city of Santa Cruz. In addition to Bonny Doon I visited including Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard. Sones Cellars, and Vino Tabi.

I didn’t take the opportunity to check out the cuisine at the Cafe, but the neighbors at the adjacent wineries were raving about the excellent pairing of Bonny Doon’s wines with the chef’s menu. So, the next time I’m in town I’ll definitely have to check it out.
You can get directions and more information about Bonny Doon Vineyards at:

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards
After checking out Bonny Doon my next stop was at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyards. For 33 years this winery was hiding in the mountains and was hard to find, but now they have moved into town to join the Sun City Vintners. I tasted four of their wines, the 2005 Durif - McDowell Valley ($18), the 2005 Tempranillo – Pierce Ranch ($18), and the 2006 Grenache - McDowell Valley ($18).

Sones Cellars

I then dropped in at Sones Cellars where I tasted the 2007 La Sirena, White Wine Blend of Viognier, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc ($21). This is a very unique blend and an extremely interesting wine with plenty of citrus, passion fruit and floral scents. I then tasted the 2006 Devery Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noir ($29) followed by the 2006 Petite Sirah from Lodi ($23) and the 2006 Zinfandel from Santa Clara ($25). All of their wines were impressive and the tasting room staff were hospitable and accommodating.

Vino Tabi

My final stop for the day was at Vino Tabi, a unique Micro-Crush Winery as it is the region’s first custom participatory winery that offers customers various opportunities to become involved in the wine making process, all the way from harvest through to the labeling process. They also can participate in various wine education learning events, have frequent access to the winery's expert winemakers and the equipment of the winery itself.

Vino Tabi’s “Wine by the Barrel” allows consumers to purchase a 60-gallon barrel of ultra-premium wine (24 cases), made from high quality grapes of this year's Crush, such as the Santa Cruz Chardonnays or Pinot Noir and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. They can also join Vino Tabi’s Barrel Buddies network to share the barrel with others. Customers then participate as much as they choose -- participating in the harvest, blendings and experiments, and making critical decisions about the making of the wine to call it their own. Winery customers will private label their finished products for themselves and their customers. Starting at $1,300.00 you can get 1/4, 1/2 or full 60 gallon barrel of selected wines.

Vino Tabi also produces several wines and offer a few wines from wine made at their location that you can purchase by the bottle to get an idea of the quality that they offer. On Saturday I tasted the 2007 Pinot Gris - Russian River Valley - ($25) made by Windsor Oaks Vineyard, the 2006 Chardonnay - Santa Cruz Mountains California - ($24) made by Silver Mountain Vineyards, the 2006 Pinot Noir - Los Carneros - ($28) made by Vino Tabi, the 2003 Central Coast Bordeaux Blend - ($24) made by Vino Tabi, and the 2004 Central Coast Bordeaux Blend ($26) also made by Vino Tabi.

Of all the wines I tasted I was most impressed by the the 2004 Central Coast Bordeaux Blend, and its difficult to find a really meritage for only $26 so I picked up a bottle.

The Surf City Vinters are located at 334 Ingallis Street in Santa Cruz California, 95060. You can check out their web site at:

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