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Bonny Doon's Bonny Viognier

Lean and elegant, Bonny Doon's is the best Viognier outside the Rh?ne that I have ever tasted

(A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Bonny Doon is based in Paso Robles not Santa Cruz. It is only the vineyard that is based in the former.)

Randall Graham, proprietor of Bonny Doon Vineyards in Santa Cruz, Calif., makes Viognier only as a sideline, but his Bonny Doon Viognier 2009 ($20) is the best version from outside the Rh?ne I have ever tasted. So last week I snagged him during a brief visit to NYC and sat down in a noisy bar to quiz him about this unusual wine. He began experimenting with Rh?ne varietals in the early 1980s, a time when some winemakers in California were unfamiliar with the region's more obscure varietals, especially Viognier. So my obvious first question was, "Why?" "Because I failed miserably in making Pinot Noir," Graham said. "Pinot just seemed too difficult to do well. The reason I was attracted to Rh?ne varieties was because I thought I could do something no one else is doing, find a niche, and produce something that might be very interesting." What impresses me about this wine, apart from the wacky label, was that while much Viognier has a tendency to be blowsy, showy, and perfumed??ot to mention boring??he Bonny Doon is very different. It has an elegance, a leanness that sets it apart. "The vineyard is on a steep, north-facing slope, so it's a longer growing season. It's a cooler area of Paso Robles," said Graham. "We keep the yields very low, and it produces fabulous wine every year." In addition the wine has "maybe more of a mineral aspect, maybe higher acidity, more density of flavor." It also shows less of that air-freshener quality that mars so many domestic Viogniers. "Perfume is great," Graham explains, "but at a certain point it's kind of fatiguing to the senses." It also makes the wine difficult to pair with food. Interestingly, his primary motive for growing Viognier is to blend it with Syrah. This was the common practice in the northern Rh??ne when a little Viognier would lighten and invigorate the dense Syrah, but it has largely been abandoned now, so I am surprised to learn that Graham is a exponent of the practice. "It adds more complexity, more fragrance. It makes a more complex wine." That also explains why bottling Viognier as a single varietal is not a major part of his business. Unfortunately. When to Drink: Now Breathing/Decanting: Not necessary Food Pairing: Meaty fish, chicken, lighter pasta Grapes: 100% Viognier Appellation: Monterey County Region: California Country: USA Price: $20 Availability: Limited Web Site:

Nick Passmore is an independent wine writer and consultant based in New York. For five years he contributed a widely read monthly wine column to, in addition to which his work has appeared in such publications as Forbes, Discover, Town Country, the Robb Report, the Wine Enthusiast, Saveur, Sky, and Golf Connoisseur. He is currently Artisanal Editor for Four Seasons magazine and contributes the Nick Passmore: Wine of the Week column to He is also a judge at the widely respected annual Critics' Challenge wine competition.

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