Here are some notes from a brief visit to Bonny Doon’s soon-to-be-former tasting room in a beautifully forested back corner of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
I’ve requested an appointment (identified as press), rather than just dropping in, and the only benefit seems to be that I taste a few more wines than casual visitors, though no more than their wine club members (one of whom stops in for a tasting while I’m there). It’s a shame, because I’d have liked to learn a little bit more about what they’re doing. But many of my questions are not answerable by the tasting room staff (who are otherwise quite engaging), and others go unasked because I’m not the only customer.
The only facts I really discover are the details of the winery’s recent and rather extreme downshift over the last few years – 500,000 cases in 2006, 30-35,000 cases in 2008 – and that biodynamic certification was received for one of their vineyards (Ca’ del Solo) in 2007, with more on the horizon.
Bonny Doon 2006 “Le Cigare Blanc” (California) – 75% grenache blanc, 35% roussanne, from vineyards in Arroyo Seco. Stone fruit, sand, and spice…then intense apricot and blood orange with slightly less spice…then slight vegetation as the wine winds down. This sort of phase-shifting isn’t, I find, unusual with Rhônish whites that aren’t pushed to (or past) the limits of ripeness. All that said, the most appealing element of the wine is actually its gravelly texture. There’s enough acidity for balance, and great persistence, but I think this wine is not everything it could strive to be. (9/08)
Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2007 Orange Muscat (Monterey County) – Less than 1% residual sugar despite all organoleptic evidence to the contrary, which actually isn’t all that unusual for muscat. Orange peel perfume and medium-sweet fruit make this overwhelmingly approachable, but the wine’s fatness is only broken by acidity late into its finish. Some crystals – which they just love at Bonny Doon – are perhaps present as a sort of foundation. This could be better. (9/08)
Bonny Doon 2006 “Vin Gris de Cigare” (California) – A pinkish blend of grenache, cinsault, syrah, grenache blanc, and roussanne. Dried grapefruit and other citrus rinds, with some of them in candied form. Lavender, as well. Good weight and balance. Long. The wine turns more rind-dominated on the finish, but this is only to its benefit. Elegant and quite tasty. (9/08)
Bonny Doon “Ca’ del Solo” 2005 Sangiovese (San Benito County) – There are dollops of nero d’avola, cinsault, and colorino here. What do they add? I’m not sure. An intense nose of mixed jellies – plum, blueberry, blackberry – fades to simpler multi-hued cherries by the finish, there’s a tannic bite that grates with underripeness as the wine lingers, and a fairly significant amount of acidity adds to what eventually becomes a general and growing sensation of off-putting weediness. Eh. (9/08)
Bonny Doon 2005 Syrah Bien Nacido (Santa Maria Valley) – Soulful. A beautiful nose (a sequel to the tedious Russell Crowe flick) of blackberry and leather, plus mint, promises much. The texture is plush, but without sacrificing a pleasantly herbal earthiness not usually found amidst this level of luxuriance. Balanced and very structured, with the clear intention of and potential for ageability. If there’s a flaw, it’s a touch of stretch and green to the tannin, which is worth keeping an eye on as the wine matures. (9/08)
Bonny Doon 2004 “Le Cigare Volant” (California) – 38% grenache, 35% syrah, 12% mourvèdre, 8% carignan, 7% cinsault. Surprisingly Rhônish. Meat, underbrush, herbs, and sap. Juicy and approachable, but very well-knit. I like this a lot, less because the elements are superior than because the wine carries itself with palpable confidence. (9/08)
Beauregard 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (High Valley) – A little cross-promotion from the winery up the driveway from Bonny Doon’s tasting room. I can’t say I’m a fan. Coconut, dill, and stale chocolate are not aromas I crave. A juicy texture, sour acidity, and overly-rounded tannins aren’t the
droids structure I’m looking for, either. And the finish is weird. Don’t just avoid, run away. (9/08)
Bonny Doon 2005 Viognier Doux (Paso Robles) – 12.2% alcohol, 12.8 grams residual sugar, 500 ml bottle. All the aromatics here are in the honey genre. While big, the wine’s got an extremely appealing silken texture with a little edge of bitterness on the finish. There’s little more to it, but it hardly seems to matter. Pure fun. (9/08)
Bonny Doon 2004 Recioto of Barbera (Monterey County) – 14.5% alcohol, 7.2% grams residual sugar, 500 ml bottle. The nose here is lovely – full of crushed raisins – despite the bottle being open for twenty-four hours. This probably explains the bit of fade to the palate and a perimeter that’s more enticing than the center, but the wine retains a certain crispness and edge, with apple-toned acidity. More remarkably, this lacks the persistent (and to me, a sensitive, often deal-breaking) flaw of recioto-styled wines: volatile acidity. If there’s any here, it’s below my threshold of detection…and that threshold is legendarily low. Nicely done. (9/08)
The current “buzz” on Bonny Doon is that shedding its mass-market brands (primarily the Big House lineup) and a lot of the experimental tomfoolery has made them more focused and, overall, better. But I always liked the mass-market wines as very tasty examples of the genre, and I don’t know if I see clear evidence of re-dedication to top quality; Bonny Doon has usually made “good” wines, and these continue in that vein. Every wine – except perhaps the rosé – lacks something that would push it into a higher qualitative echelon. That said, there’s time enough to see what happens; the new paint here is still very wet.
After my tasting, I buy a bottle, unpack some lunch, and enjoy a mostly restful meal at a picnic table adjacent to the tasting room. “Mostly restful” because I’m interrupted by a full twenty minutes of battle with an inquisitive (or hungry) bee. Anyway, a revisit:
Bonny Doon 2006 “Le Cigare Blanc” (California) – Honeydew melon, pear, spice, and tan earth rumbled with gravel. Warmth does not help the wine, though air seems to, so I’d suggest decanting and then the fridge. (9/08)