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.
Monterey's primary grape-growing district is an inland valley called the Salinas Valley, but several smaller appellations (Arroyo Seco, Chalone, Santa Lucia Highlands, and the Carmel Valley) are also included within the official boundaries of the Monterey wine region.
Amazingly, the Salinas Valley contained no vines as recently as the early 1960s. Thanks to its cool climate and very dry summers, Salinas Valley was recognized as an excellent site for premium varieties, and the area now has more than 30,000 acres under vine. Unfortunately, the most widely planted grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, has fared the worst. Because of high winds and arid growing conditions, irrigation is a must and growers here have adopted trellised vine systems.
Monterey has recently focused on white wine grapes and a more sensible sprinkling of reds in the warmer, southern locations or in a few isolated hillside sites in the north. White varieties represent close to 68% of the total plantings, with Chardonnay leading the way. Chenin Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc are also widely planted. Monterey also accounts for about half of California's Pinot Blanc production, though there are less than 1,000 acres under vine here. The Riesling acreage represents 60% of all plantings in the state, and this is a great place to look for intensely fragrant versions of that variety. Though less consistent, Monterey's Chardonnay has ranked among the finest and, in the hands of several Monterey wine makers, it can display tremendous varietal intensity and balance. A handful of Monterey wineries have demonstrated that Cabernet Sauvignon from a few choice sites can result in wines of high caliber, but such results are very few and very far between.
The Central Coast covers a huge swath of territory south of San Francisco, including the following seven counties: Alameda, Monterey, San Benito, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz.
Although the term "Central Coast" would seem to apply to every vine between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it's good to remember that the term is most often used to identify a wine made from grapes grown in two different counties. Chardonnay is by far the most widely planted variety in this region, followed by Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.
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.
Multiple styles: dry and aromatic, light and sparkling, and rich and sweet
Asparagus and artichokes
One of the more versatile white wine grapes, Muscat is grown around the world for use in use in light and dry wines, low-alcohol sparkling wines, and sweet, late-harvest wines. Its proliferation around the world (and especially around the Mediterranean) leads us to conclude that Muscat was one of the first domesticated grapes. Indeed, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania have analyzed pots excavated from King Midas's burial mound to conclude that Muscat was a major component of the alcoholic beverage served at his funeral feast.
Even if Muscat is cultivated across the Mediterranean basin and in some New World locales, we find that the best dry expressions of the wine come from Alsace. When vinified dry, to eliminate all residual sugars, Muscat makes a pungently aromatic wine that can handle the two wine killers, asparagus and artichokes. Gewürztraminer may be Alsace's standard-bearer with regard to intensely aromatic wines, but Muscat is no wimp, even if it is a little tamer and more refined. Expect to find notes of ripe peach and apricot, flowers, and fresh herbs. We like wines from Domaine Barmes Buecher and Domaine Ernest Burn.
Many may remember the ubiquitous advertisements for Asti Spumante, the sweet sparkling wine from Piedmont in Italy. This wine is also made from Muscat grapes. We prefer its cousin, Moscato d'Asti, which is bottled within months of the harvest at an even lower alcohol level- sometimes below five percent. This light, sweet, bubbly wine shows exuberant flavors of peach, apricot and pear, and is an outstanding apertif. Its low alcohol is also refreshing at the end of a meal, paired with fresh fruit desserts. Look for wines from Saracco and La Spinetta.
Muscat also makes traditionally-styled, carbonation-free sweet wines in many parts of the world. Some of these are consumed almost entirely within the country of origin, while others do make it onto the international market. Australia has a long history of fortified wine production, especially in the Rutherglen region of northeast Victoria. Here, old stocks of Muscat are blended to produce a non-vintage fortified wine that is typically between 18 and 20 percent alcohol. These bottlings are marked by flavors of caramel, toffee, and exotic spices. Try wines from R. L. Buller and Sons as well as Chambers Rosewood.