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Santa Cruz Tasting Room: Bonny Doon
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September 2005--Tasting Room

Santa Cruz, Calif. Itinerary: Bonny Doon Tasting Room

Though off the beaten path, many Santa Cruz, Calif. visitors make the scenic journey to Bonny Doon's regional wine tasting room in the Santa Cruz Mountains. This unconventional winery is well-known for unique French and Italian-style wines.

The road to Bonny Doon twists and turns for miles along the coast and into the hills of the Santa Cruz mountains. A chorus of "Are we there, yet?" comes from the backseat every 1000 feet or so.

Finally we pull up to a small, one-story house, the Bonny Doon tasting room. It's got rustic country charm, a little garden, a small front porch, but is this it? No castle or chateau announcing one of California's largest wine producers—and mostly European wines, to boot? Where's the faux Tuscan villa?

Instead, there's an old screen door that bangs shut behind you, a few tabby cats lazing in the sun and a guy with a beret wandering around behind the counter. Pure Santa Cruz. If tasting rooms could evoke terroir—that mystical sense of place and time that great wines possess—Bonny Doon's got the essence of the laid back North Coast down cold.

What makes Bonny Doon's tasting room, and its wines so approachable— are wines like Bouteille Call, Big House Red (grown just beyond the searchlights of a nearby state penitentiary) and Cardinal Zin. It's hard to get too serious about nose or legs or malolactic fermentation when you're sipping wine called Cigar Volant (French for UFO).

But what keeps Doon from being just another quirky winery with good marketing is the fact that they make some pretty great wine at even better prices. Owner Randall Grahm is a pioneer in planting (and using) once-exotic varietals like Mourvedre, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano or even Erbaluce. Er...what? Grahm is well-known for his passion for far-flung grapes, sometimes buying up entire lots from growers who've experimented with unique French and Italian varietals. Grahm also has a number of vineyards, but now relies heavily on contract growers in the North and Central valleys after a catastrophic disaster with his own European rootstock (in the mid-1990s, Grahm lost his entire vineyard to disease).

Not one to give up, Doon has become one of the top ten wine producers in the state. The winery's Ca' del Solo brand retails for under $15 and are oft-cited as solid and consistent value wines. In addition, Bonny Doon features a number of Rhone inspired wines, Italian wines (Eurodoon), delicate Rieslings and dessert wines.

If you go
Don't be too surprised if you see a number of Doon wines with, ack, screw top lids. Grahm was an early advocate of using metals tops in place of cork to preserve the taste of his wines (and limit "corked" wines.) Though the plink of metal on glass is somehow less romantic than the satisfying "pop" of a cork, Grahm claims you'll be swayed by better tasting wine under that tin lid.

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