When it comes to innovation in winemaking, few wineries exemplify trailblazing like our friends at Bonny Doon Vineyard. The winery was founded in 1983 by Randall Grahm, who is still the Winemaker and “President-for-Life.” Wine lovers, if that name sounds familiar, it’s because Randall has been on just about every list recognizing innovative and influential winemakers for decades.
Case in point: he was dubbed “The Rhône Ranger” by Wine Spectator in 1989 thanks to his successful “experiments” (as he called them) with Rhône grapes, at a time when few were producing these wines. If you’re a fan of Bonny Doon Le Cigare Volant or Le Cigare Blanc, then you are already familiar with these wines.
Yet while Le Cigare Volant and Le Cigare Blanc remain flagship wines to this day (seriously, try them if you haven’t), the history and the future of Bonny Doon is so much more than that of a Rhône Ranger, as their innovation didn’t end at attention to overlooked grapes. They were just getting started.
Estate vineyard Popelouchum
Their more recent accolades could fill a novel, so let’s break it down:
They have a number of “firsts” to their name, including the first premium winery to favor the more sustainable screw caps over corks.
As quality winemaking starts in the vineyards, Bonny Doon has been an early proponent of biodynamic farming practices.
A laser focus on soil health is part of Randall’s goal of producing true vins de terroir or wines that represent the place where they were made.
They strictly limit additives in the production process, resulting in interesting and tasty wines.
They were early proponents of transparent labeling, meaning that everything that goes into the wine shows up on the label. Revolutionary considering most wineries still shy away from the practice.
As for their future? That’s where the innovation moves beyond the bold. In 2010, the winery purchased a 400 acre estate, named Popelouchum, the Mutsun word for “paradise.” The goal of Popelouchum? To create 10,000 new grape varieties, which would roughly double the number that exist today (in the world!). A bold task, but if anyone is bold enough to make it work, we believe Randall Grahm is up for the challenge.