About Bonny Doon Vineyard
Iconoclast Randall Grahm made his name as one of the original Rhone Rangers in California. When he purchased land in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the early '80s his dream was actually to develop great American Pinot Noir. This feat temporarily eluded him, but what he developed was a knack for lesser-grown, Mediterranean varieties. These days, though, we're most taken by his fresh, energetic, food-friendly and inexpensive Rieslings with crisp flavors and excellent focus. These are actually now made under the Pacific Rim label. The dry bottlings feature a blend of German Riesling with the estate Columbia Valley Riesling from Washington, while the sweet bottlings are made entirely with Columbia Valley fruit. The Rhone wines are still intriguing, especially the flagship Le Cigare Volant red blend, which combines Mourvèdre, Syrah, Grenache, and Cinsault.
It is remarkable that an industry essentially less than a half-century old could capture the attention of the American wine-buying public to the degree that California has. Powerful consumer interest in California wine is driven by two major factors. The more obvious reason is that California's best wines, which come from grapes grown in a benign climate featuring endless sunshine, very warm summer days, and generally dry harvests, and wonderfully fruity, full, and satisfying, and rarely too austere or tannic to be enjoyed from day one.
California is blessed with an extraordinary range of soils and microclimates, allowing for the successful cultivation of many varieties. In at least three out of four years, the best sites produce healthy, ripe fruits that are the envy of European producers in more marginal climates. The other reason Americans buy so much California wine is that California is the home team. Clearly, a high percentage of domestic wine drinkers are more comfortable buying American wines (and not just wines of California) than imports. Then, too, foreign bottles are generally identified by place name, rather than by the more familiar varieties that American wine drinkers have come to know and enjoy.
Moreover, in much of North America, outside the top 15 or 20 largest metropolitan markets, consumers have limited access to imported wines even if they wanted to buy them.
For many, Napa Valley is California wine, and Cabernet is king in Napa Valley. Meanwhile, the Burgundy varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have gravitated to cooler areas, generally closer to the Pacific, such as the western stretches of Sonoma County, the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, and the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez valleys within Santa Barbara County. Syrah vines have yielded interesting wines in a range of styles all over the state, in regions as disparate as Mendocino County, the Sonoma coast, Carneros, Paso Robles, and Santa Maria Valley. Very good Zinfandel similarly comes from multiple growing areas, although to date the age-of-vines variable has been almost as important as geography. Zinfandel, though its roots are in Europe, is a true California original and the only California wine imitated abroad. It's also a variety of which there are still significant plantings of very old vines, in some cases dating back to the end of the 19th century.
Low in tannins, high in acidity, with rounded fruitiness
Pizza, pasta with tomato-based sauce, hard cheeses
Piedmont may be famous for its Nebbiolo-based wines, Barolo and Barbaresco, but the inhabitants of this region in Northwest Italy don't drink these big, tannic wines on an everyday basis. When it comes to a weekday dinner's accompaniment, they usually turn to Barbera (when not drinking the other everyday wine of the region, Dolcetto.) With this in mind, it's no surprise that this fruity and acidic wine has a reputation for food friendliness that extends beyond Italy. Just like the Italians, we can't drink big wines every night either.
Barbera is certainly planted in greater volume in Piedmont than Nebbiolo. While the best hillside vineyards may be reserved for Nebbiolo, the adaptability of the Barbera grape encourages widespread cultivation. Even in a marginal harvest, Barbera vines can be relied upon for consistent quality and yields. Indeed, highly acclaimed Barolo and Barbaresco estates produce some of the most desired Barbera wines as well. Even if the grape doesn't have the same stellar reputation, it will still benefit from careful production techniques. Accordingly, we've been pleased by recent trends, which have producers cutting yields to increase concentration and making greater use of small French oak barrels. These two steps work in concert with each other; the wood, on its own, helps balance the acidity of the wine and contributes some tannic structure, but without increased concentration, the oak would overwhelm and dry out the fruit in the wine.
There are two primary DOCs in Piedmont, Barbera d'Alba and Barbera d'Asti. The wine of Asti tends to be fruitier, but less structured than the wine of Alba, and tends to see little oak treatment during vinification. Alba derives its fame from the Nebbiolo producers along the hillsides that surround the town. Barbera D'Alba reflects this proximity. Compared to Barbera d'Asti, Barbera D'Alba can be a more highly concentrated and structured wine. Thus it draws greater benefits from barrel treatment. We like the wines from Elio Altare, La Spinetta, and Vietti.
There is also a small amount of Barbera planted in California, but the demand remains somewhat limited. Here, look to wines from the Sierra Foothills, where the higher elevation and granitic soils seems to provide an appropriate growing location.
Again, the low tannins and high acidity of Barbera make it a flexible wine that goes well with multiple types of food. We especially like it paired with tomato dishes, like pizzas and pastas, as the acidity of the wine matches that of the tomatoes. Even richer meat dishes and hard cheeses will work well too.