Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Wine of the Week: Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013

I am not always comfortable meeting new people. Nervous, tense, awkwardly quiet in new social surroundings.  I lose most of my train of thought and what words that do manage to surface get somewhat tangled.  This was my experience meeting Randall Grahm at his office in Santa Cruz, California.  A year ago today, Jake and I flew into San Fransisco to scope out the vines in Sonoma, Napa, Santa Cruz and Monterey.  I was accompanied by my good friend Liane and her firecracker of a daughter, Elsie. (Sideways 2 : Revenge of the Moms.) We had an amazing time and we got to visit some incredible wineries like Copain, Corison, and Grgich but nothing topped my meeting with Bonny Doon’s leading man, Randall Grahm.  


I was immediately impressed by his height, his kindness and most certainly his mind.  He’s somewhat of a mad wine scientist, and I can’t help but feel a certain gratitude for not only being able to meet him in person, but also to realize how fortunate we are as consumers to be graced by the wine he makes, and how he contributes to viticulture/viniculture both in present and future.  

My meeting with him went fairly well and I was nowhere near as prepared as I should have been.  I was starstruck in a way. I don’t follow fashion, and I don’t swoon over celebrities, but instead, give me a good wine mag and pioneer winemaker and my brain turns to mush.  Since taking the WSET diploma, my confidence and knowledge has grown a bit.  So much so that if I had my time back, I know my conversation with him would have been slightly different. What is it that made you start making wine in the Santa Cruz area? How did it all begin?  How long did it take for the vines to start producing the fruit you needed to make a wine?  Do you think there is such a thing as an influence of terroir here?  Do you think we will see a shift in how California makes wine in the future? Why does your Cigare Blanc have a blend of roussanne and grenache blanc? What does the grenache add to the mix? Do you prefer this cuvée en bonbonne? What do you mean you put that in bonbonne? Can I see it?  What is the winemaking process behind your rosé?  Do you know I could drink it like water it’s so damn good?  What is this new project you keep talking about, but are not really talking about?  And so on….


You could immediately tell this was no ordinary man, let alone winemaker. He spoke eloquently and with careful thought.  He is a lover of French wine, in particular Burgundy’s pinot noir.   However, seeing similarities between the climate of Rhône and Central California, he chose to work mostly with varieties like Grenache, Syrah, Roussanne, and the like.  His portfolio of wines has expanded - and more recently contracted - in the past 33 years since taking over Bonny Doon, and like any other person who is passionate and driven by what they do - dreams and ambition never cease.  

I asked him if he had a notepad on his bedside table in case ideas/thoughts would pop into his head when he wakes in the morning.  He laughed quietly and said, “ No. That would imply that I sleep.” I had also posed the question of what sort of projects he had in mind for the future, but he was not too eager to share.  I probed a bit, but he wouldn’t bite and all I could get out of him was that he had some things in mind….things that he wasn’t too sure if he would be around to see the end result of…..  How mysterious.  Months later, I heard some news from a close friend of mine that finally made that conversation make sense.  

Randall Grahm has started a new, grand, seemingly impossible, major initiative:  to make the perfect wine of place in Californian terroir by breeding 10,000 different grape varieties, each genetically different from one another - and one day blending them to make a unique cuvée. Is that not the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard?  A ‘Grand Cru of the New World’, for goodness sake!  But, does California even have terroir? Or perhaps it’s better to say that maybe a new grape will find a home there?  Grahm seems to think so, and after hiring fancy French soil experts to investigate, they found what seems to be the ideal location for his project just outside of San Juan Bautista in California’s Central Coast, a 400 acre estate called Popelouchum.  

Making a wine of place is not the only goal: he would like to perhaps find a variety that would be better resistant to disease and drought, which makes perfect sense, given these are serious struggles in California, especially with our changing climate.

An Indiegogo campaign was set up early last summer with a goal of reaching $150,000.  The goal was surpassed and it was an exciting time for everyone, even those who were supporting the endeavour.  People can still donate should they wish, and the perks that you get in return for your generosity are pretty fab. (I’ve included the link at end of the article.)


So as I sip on my Cigare Blanc, my mind goes back to California and I am reminded of my meeting with him.  Randall was super nice to our children - who were destroying his office as we tasted through a slew of wines - more than we deserved. 

He is humble, he is brilliant and and he never backs away from a compelling idea, however ambitious.  Being a strong believer of having grapes suited to the place, he wants to make wines that reflect this very thing.  Selling some of his well-known and successful brands like Cardinal Zin and Big House Red has given him a bit of financial leeway, but it is more the creative freedom that he was seeking.

He does not give himself nearly as much credit as he deserves. I remember asking him which of his wines were his personal favorite, but he shook his head and  said, “ Oh but no -  my wines are not that good.”  Obviously, not a great salesman for his own products, but I beg to differ.  There is nothing that I have tasted from his portfolio that I have not enjoyed;  Vin Gris de Cigare, A Proper Claret, Vin Gris de Cigare en Bonbonne (outstanding), Cuvée ‘R” Grenache (fireworks), and of course Le Cigare Blanc. (They have a version en Bonbonne too, and yes I now know what en Bonbonne means now - thank you, WSET.)


Intended as an homage to the white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the Bonny Doon 2013 Cigare Blanc comes from a single vineyard called Beeswax Vineyard, which is planted with 2/3 roussanne and 1/3 grenache blanc.  In recent years, they have grafted some of the roussanne over to picpoul, in the hopes of lowering the potential alcohol of the resulting wine and enhancing the acidity at the same time with a goal of wanting the most balanced, most interesting wine that the vineyard is capable of providing.

Fermented partially in very old barrels, and partially in stainless steel, the wine went through malolactic fermentation, sitting on lees for about 4 months, stirred weekly. Medium lemon in colour, the legs are slow and thick as you patiently wait for them to run down the glass.  Generous aromas of lemongrass and warm tangerine, mixed with delicate white flowers, and a layer of brioche.  Medium bodied with excellent concentrations of pear and yellow apple lined with some apricot and white pepper, beaming with a refreshing bright acidity.  Although the alcohol is high, it goes unnoticed as everything about this wine is in beautiful balance.  A soft fruit filled finish.  Drink now or within 5-6 years.  


Wine & Producer:  Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc 2013
Grapes: Rousanne (55%), Grenache Blanc (26%), Picpoul Blanc (19%)
Alcohol: 14.5%
SAQ Code: 10370267

Agent: Trialto Qc

Funding Campaign :

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