Monthly Archives: April 2014

Randall Grahm and his Bonny Doon

 

Photos by Karen Norton

 

Randall Grahm is iconic. He is a piece of any discussion of the history of California winemaking. Known as the original “Rhone Ranger”, it all started from his desire to create the perfect pinot noir and believing it could be done in the Santa Cruz Mountains. He began with a thirty-acre parcel in the small burg of Bonny Doon, sharing its Scottish heritage with the other small enclaves like Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond and Scott’s Valley, which have been part of the Santa Cruz Mountains persona forever.

Randall Grahm

Randall Grahm

 

He still loves the mineral elements and austerity of the great Burgundian wines, but is best known for introducing Rhone varietals and blends to California with Grenache, syrah, mourvedre, cinsault and others. The diversity of his palate, along with a willingness to take risks in the name of creativity has afforded Randall an adventurous appeal with wine lovers over the years.

 

Having chosen to divest myself from the restricted nature of most wine clubs, I am proud to have been, in good standing, a member of the Distinctive Esoteric Wine Network (D.E.W.N.) for nearly twenty years. With good wine as a given, Bonny Doon Vineyards will often introduce me to new varietals and blends, often produced from vineyards in the most obscure locations, each with a story brought to life through Randall’s arcane tasting notes, carefully selected labels and screw cap bottles, that he fervently contends are superior to cork. I enjoy his newsletters knowing that they will require multiple readings to fully comprehend. Reading them with a glass of wine helps.

 

logoAn opportunity to taste some current Bonny Doon releases with Randall brought me to Monopole Wine in Pasadena on a Tuesday evening. Always embracing variety and pushing some envelope, no two Bonny Doon tastings are alike and while most of the selected wines were familiar, this one would be special.

"The Flight"

“The Flight”

 

 

One of Bonny Doon’s most acclaimed wines begs the question, “What is a Vin Gris?” It is a rose’ wine formed by limited contact with skins,

2012 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare

2012 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare

made, not as a byproduct of red wine production, but artistically created with fine grapes blended together in the optimum manner. The acclaimed 2013 Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare ($18) is a blend of seven Rhone Valley grapes, red and white, that balance the dominant Grenache, with the help of some post-fermentation “batonage”, to make a simple wine with extraordinary creamy texture and flavors that don’t “fatigue the palate.”

If you like pink or “salmon” wines, this is a must.

 

Some time ago, as a loyal D.E.W.N. member, I was sent two bottles of something called “Querry Cider.” Admittedly not a fan of hard cider, this one was of interest not only because it was sparkling but also comprised of natural pear, apple and quince, fermented in their natural yeasts. Quince is a small pome fruit from a deciduous tree that resembles a pear and taste like a “pearapple”.

 

All of the ingredients are fermented together with mesh bags of milled quince hung in the tanks. The resulting 2011 Bonny Doon “Querry” Sparkling Hard Cider ($16)  is low alcohol, crisp, bone-dry and ready to refresh us all on a warm summer day.  As Randall says, “I never thought I’d see…a pome as lovely as Querry.”

2011 Bonny Doon ?Querry? Sparkling Hard Cider

2011 Bonny Doon ?Querry? Sparkling Hard CiderQuerry Sparkling Hard Cider ($16) is low alcohol, crisp, bone dry and ready to refresh us all on a warm summer day. As Randall says, “I never thought I’d see…a pome as lovely as Querry.”

 

A discussion of the need for more austere wines prompted Randall to open a bottle of his 2012 Heart Has It’s Riesling ($18), the label adding evidence of his hands-on involvement from soil to shelf and all in-between. With only nine percent alcohol, this wine resembles a German Kabinett-style Riesling, crisp, acidic

2012 Bonny Doon "The Heart Has It's Riesling"

2012 Bonny Doon “The Heart Has It’s Riesling”

with pleasant earthy, mineral nuances.

 

San Francisco Chronicle Wine Editor Jon Bonne’ described the 2012 Bonny Doon “Clos du Gilroy” ($20) as “uncomplicated delicious” while Wine Spectator magazine called it one of “10 Bold California Reds” with a rating of 91 pt.   Actually coined as “the wine formerly known as Clos Du Gilroy”, the grapes for this Grenache (75%), syrah (17%) and mourvedre (8%) blend now come from the Alta Loma vineyard in Greenfield, CA and vineyards in Santa Maria and the Sacramento Delta.

 

Described by its maker as “liquid cranberry sauce,” the Grenache dominant wine, fermented in all stainless steel, is peppery like syrah and a nice complement to spicy Asian foods

2013 Bonny Doon "Clos du Gilroy"

2013 Bonny Doon “Clos du Gilroy”

 

There is nothing ordinary about the 2011 Bonny Doon “Contra” ($18). Firstly, it primarily consists of old vine carignane from the Sacramento Delta communities of Antioch and Oakley in Contra Costa County, east of the San Francisco Bay. These are hardly recognizable vineyards unless you are searching for carignane and mourvedre vines in California.

Secondly, the careful selection of secondary grapes is an education of diverse California appellations in one bottle.

 

2011 Bonny Doon "Contra"

2011 Bonny Doon “Contra”

Carignane, a Spanish/French grape that is planted throughout the Mediterranean region, adds concentrated fruit and berry flavors, but looks to others for complexity and balance. In the Rioja region of Spain, carignane, known as mazuelo, blends effectively with tempranillo. Here, while Randall explains that carignane vines “must be old to be good”, it leans to mourvedre and a small exotic

array of grapes from Monterey County, San Luis Obispo and the Santa Maria Valley. The concoction is mixed together with some oak chips in stainless steel tanks.

 

The result is a complex, reasonably priced red wine that will stand up to red meats, even spicy BBQ ribs and, as we were reminded, “all Bonny Doon wines pair well with pork products.” This wine is very drinkable now with some decanting, but Randall estimated that it could age well for another 12-14 years.

 

“Claret” is the English word for “Bordeaux,” an alien blend to Bonny Doon, produced here through Randall’s predilection for a more austere wine. He declares that “there is this false belief that new Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley must be 14% alcohol,” defending his “anti-fruit bomb” stance in favor of wines, lower in alcohol, that work better with food.

 

Influential wine critic Robert Parker has maintained such a high regard for the so-called high-alcohol “fruit bombs” that some say he has created new expectations for winemakers. While acknowledging that big wines fit some palates, Randall’s problem with Parker is that he doesn’t see any other viewpoint but his, which inhibits diversity and leads to a

2012 Bonny Doon "A Proper Claret"

2012 Bonny Doon “A Proper Claret”

“homogenization of winemaking.”

 

Thus, the more suitable 2012 Bonny Doon “A Proper Claret” ($16) is a unique blend of cabernet sauvignon, petit verdot, tannat and petite sirah with moderate tannins and a

nice licorice quality that can be enjoyed now. An abnormally high ration of petit verdot enhances the silky texture and floral hints while the tannat, native to the French Basque region, adds tannins to repress and balance the dominant cabernet sauvignon. This is an exceptional wine for the price.

 

Known as their flagship wine, the 2009 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant ($79) and its predecessors, have carried the “State of the D.E.W.N.” message since the first vintage in 1984. A classic Rhone blend of syrah, Grenache, mourvedre and cinsault, Randall abandons all decorum when he describes it as a “Burgundian Chateaunef du Pape” (Rhone Valley) wine. He explains that wines from the Burgundy region have more feminine qualities, perfumed and floral and both are present here.

 

2009 Bonny Doon "Le Cigare Volant"

2009 Bonny Doon “Le Cigare Volant”

The “batonage” process allows the juice to mix with the yeast lees, giving the wine a silky texture and earthiness. It’s extended time in the bottle gives balance and length that can be enjoyed now or for years to come.

 

The prominent labels pays homage to an actual 1954 local ordinance that prohibits all flying saucers or “flying cigares” to penetrate any air space over the vineyards of Chateaunef du Pape. To date, the ordinance has worked.

 

Not part of this tasting, I highly recommend any of Bonny Doon’s four single-vineyard 100% syrah from the highly respected vineyards, Bien Nacido, Alamo Creek, Jespersen and Chequera.

 

Every wine tells a story, but most from Bonny Doon are like novels, revealing some little known varietal originating from a strange vineyard or appellation, delivered with humor, witIMG_4118 and the passionate skill to make it a bestseller. Feeling the need to get beyond varietal wines, Randall Grahm lives by his credo that “we need to make original wines…we will never get it as good as the Old World.” I think we can get close.

 

 

 

 

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Richard Longoria Wines

 

 

 

Our first 2014 Brown’s Valley Fork and Cork Society event took place, over three days, deep into the heart of the Santa Ynez Valley, specifically the Vineyard House of the Koehler Winery. With a restricted membership, the Society consists of three couples whose friendship and love of food and wine exceeds forty years. Amid a misty early Spring rain, we set

Longoria Tasting Room in Los Olivos

Longoria Tasting Room in Los Olivos

upon this gorgeous property, tasked with producing one dinner and breakfast each, sampling some local wine and food, finding scenic locations to get our “steps” in and quietly prepare for evening

The "Fe Ciega" Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills

The “Fe Ciega” Vineyard in Santa Rita Hills

cut-throat sessions of “Balderdash” and “Wizard”.

 

Balancing our desire to enjoy the property and explore local wines mandated the choice of one high quality winery that personifies the diversity in the region, specializes in food-friendly wines and is located nearby. My choice was a no-brainer and, luckily, Longoria Wines and their quaint Los Olivos village tasting room were available and willing to host our group.

 

My introduction to Richard Longoria Wines began through my passion for pinot noir, when years ago I first tasted his “Fe Ciega” Vineyard Pinot Noir from the Santa Rita Hills appellation.

 

Established in 1998, the site of this vineyard is as unique of any in the state. The Spanish words for “Blind Faith”, the Fe Ciega Vineyard

2011 Longoria Pinot Noir "Fe Ciega" Vineyard

2011 Longoria Pinot Noir “Fe Ciega” Vineyard

is located on the north side of the imposing Point Conception, above Santa Barbara, that forms the only east-west coastal mountain range in California. This natural feature and proximity to the Pacific Ocean make it ideal terroir for pinot noir.

 

The 2011 Longoria Pinot Noir “Fe Ciega Vineyard”($48) embodies elegance from the very fruit-forward, spice-driven aromas through the velvety texture long on the palate.

Oak plays a significant role in creating this wine, much of it new and thirsty. Its compatibility with salmon also makes the “Fe Ciega” a personal favorite and one can find it paired with fantastic dishes at local restaurants like Los Olivos Café and Sides Shoes and Hardware.

 

Longoria produces four additional pinot noir varietals including the accessible Longoria Pinot Noir “Lovely Rita” Santa Rita Hills ($32) and a single vineyard release from the famous Bien Nacido Vineyard.

 

Richard Longoria has been a winemaker, mostly in this region, for forty years. After a brief stint at Buena Vista Winery, his passion for pinot noir and food-friendly wines led him to this area and the Firestone Winery where he met and later married his wife Diana, who handles business operations for Longoria Wines.

Chardonnay Block at Koehler Winery

Chardonnay Block at Koehler Winery

 

Richard spent over a decade as winemaker at Gainey Winery near Solvang before starting his own small label in 1982, going full-time with the present winery in 1997.

 

With an extensive resume, a very special vineyard and long-time friends in the region, Richard has set high standards for the wines that bear his name. The results have been fruitful as Longoria Wines consistently receive outstanding reviews in major periodicals.  On this rainy morning, Diana Longoria and an associate were on-hand to carefully guide us through their story and their wines.

 

Lottie and Mojo making friends with the sheep

Lottie and Mojo making friends with the sheep

A classic cool climate chardonnay from four different Santa Rita Hills vineyards, including Rita’s Crown and Fe Ciega, the grapes for the

2011 SRH Chardonnay “Cuvee Diana” ($40), named for Richard’s better half, are harvested, oak-barrel fermented and aged separately. The

2011 Longoria Chardonnay "Cuvee Diana"

2011 Longoria Chardonnay “Cuvee Diana”

best of each lot are carefully blended before bottling to meet Richard’s goal of fragrant aromas, good texture and complexity with the mineral elements of a classic Burgundian wine.

 

This is my preferred chardonnay style, no stranger to oak with some butterscotch on the nose and enough acidity to pair well with seafood, and yes, more seafood. Longoria produces two additional “chards” including an exclusive from Rita’s Crown Vineyard.

 

Rose’ wines have been back in vogue for the past decade and the new ones have no relationship to your mother’s favorite white zinfandel. The 2012 Longoria Pink WineCuvee’ June” ($18) , their granddaughter, is a dry, not sweet, complex blend of Grenache and syrah resulting

2012 Longoria Pink Wine "Cuvee June"

2012 Longoria Pink Wine “Cuvee June”

in a very nice food friendly rose’. Only 62 cases of this stainless steel fermented “pink wine” were produced making it in high demand.

 

Longoria has been one of the few wineries in this region to diversify and experiment with Spanish varietals like tempranillo and albarino, both increasingly popular with consumers seeking alternatives to varietals. Their 2011 Longoria Tempranillo Santa Ynez Valley ($36), with small amounts of syrah and merlot and aged in 100% American oak, 45% new, has a nice spice on the nose and toasty rich fruit flavors with manageable tannins.

 

The top tempranillo aficionado in our group gave it a “thumbs up.” The warmer climate and terroir of the Santa Ynez Valley seems to adapt well to the tempranillo profile and we can anticipate the planting of more vines.

 

The 2011 Longoria “Blues Cuvee” ($30) and its predecessors first attracted my attention through the label artwork, always depicting a jazz or

2011 Longroria "Blues Cuvee"

2011 Longroria “Blues Cuvee”

blues musician. Primarily a Bordeaux blend today, Richard originally created it as a single varietal Cabernet Franc, so ahead of its time that it preceded demand by California consumers and, hence restaurants. Needing to spark sales for this wine’s survival, he re-established it as a “Cabernet Franc/Red Table Wine. Later, Longoria’s love of blues music led to the artistic label that changes every two years and the wine that no one wanted suddenly became high in demand.

 

More than a story, the “Blues Cuvee’ delivers a highly complex bouquet with very balanced flavors and tannins.  Cabernet Franc still comprises slightly more than

Longoria "Blues Cuvee'"

Longoria “Blues Cuvee'”

half of a blend with Bordeaux partner’s cabernet sauvignon, merlot, malbec and, a Rhone Valley guest, syrah. Not one for restraint, I forced myself to take a bottle

home.

 

Speaking of syrah, many Santa Ynez Valley vineyards like Clover Creek in the warm Happy Canyon appellation have become a friendly home for syrah grapes. It is without hesitation that I recommend the Longoria Syrah Clover Creek Vineyard 2011 ($28) as a fine localized representation of the varietal. According to the winemaker, the vineyard is adjacent to the Santa Ynez River and has a cooling effect on the vines that seems to draw the fruit and berry flavors to the surface.

2011 Longoria Syrah Clover Creek Vineyard

2011 Longoria Syrah Clover Creek Vineyard

We also made a note of the long and balanced finish with no hints of harshness.

 

Once again, syrah was featured in what turned out to be a pleasant surprise of the tasting. The 2010 Longoria ”Vino Dulce” Syrah Santa Barbara County ($23), a port-style fortified wine, expresses the same complexities as any Clover Creek Vineyard syrah, equal to, yet different.

 

For me, the first test of any rich port-style wine is the bouquet. The “Vino Dulce” aromas of baked cherries and typical spices are clear, but then we are asked if we can sense the chocolate. One more sniff, nose in the glass and we say, “oh yes, definitely cherries and chocolate,” surrendering to the power of suggestion.

 

This full-bodied dessert wine has a velvety texture and the soft cherries and spicy flavors are integrated and balanced which generally translates to “smooth”. One more taste, paired

2010 Longoria "Vino Dulce" Port-style wine

2010 Longoria “Vino Dulce” Port-style wine

with a piece of chocolate and we were treated to a nice long finish to the wine and the tasting.

 

Our group, consisting of six adults, Mojo, a standard “party” poodle and Lotti, a soft-coated Wheaten terrior, found the large 3 BR/3BA, pet friendly Vineyard House at Koehler Winery to our liking. They also have smaller units available, all in a beautiful, vineyard setting.

 

Los Olivos is an ideal place to relax and sampling a flight of Richard Longoria releasess is a great introduction to the diversity of a region that consistently creates wonderfully balanced, food-friendly wines.