Last summer my husband and I were invited to join friends to roam around an outdoor a car show, part of a Route 66 collection of hundreds of vehicles from all over the country. We don’t know a thing about cars, but on that sticky summer night we learned a few things from talking to the folks we met.
One: They’d go to any length or expense to restore their car the way they wanted it; it might take years and thousands, but they’d do it. Two: They wanted to be around other car-nuts too; many of them would sit by their cars all night long to admire and talk. Three: They were inspired by the old ways, but they didn’t care for worn out; they craved old but pristine…the car needed to look as if she was in her prime. Four: Looks were definitely not everything; there was always something more impressive and powerful under the hood than on the hood.
I’m going to draw a connection here, a connection between fancy, well-loved antique cars and two interesting, newly-released California wines, a connection that started with my interested in a fresh wine from Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Vineyard: A Proper Pink 2015.
I’m not sure that Randall Graham requires my introduction, but if you aren’t familiar with Randall and his estate, I’ll give you a brief handshake that will no doubt have you searching for more about his methods and his wine. He’s got a sharp creative streak that washes clean through all of his wines. The story goes that he sought out to craft Pinot Noir in the early 80s and came to find that Rhône varieties made favorable wine in his Santa Cruz vineyards. Now the man goes by the nickname “The Rhône Ranger” and calls his tasting room the Dooniverse.
He’s been awarded every accolade by everybody and here’s the thing, when I emailed him for details about his new pink wine, he got right back to me with a chat. I get the impression that he’s not unlike the car-lovers: ready to stay-up-all-night talking wine and that he, fist-to-the-table, wants to get it right. There’s something else too, he’s become diligent about his wine labels. Not only are they gorgeous, but they’ve been known to issue each ingredient used to make his wine; in other words, it’s what’s under the hood that counts. While the Dooniverse is careful to run a biodynamic shop with soil health at tip-top priority, they don’t make consumer-back-pat promises (none of this slap-a-sticker-on-it, all-natural blather). Randall’s operating manual includes “enriching our lives and inspiring us with the breath-taking order of Nature herself.”
Bonny Doon already makes rosé, so that’s nothing new. When it comes to wine, I find rosé, when done right, to be increasingly interesting and an excellent expression of terroir. I’m always hoping to find a new pink that tests the pool-glug-glug baseline and I had to become familiar with this new wine from an old favorite (not that I’m calling anyone old…). Randall and I had an email chat about this Bordeaux-style pink that is out now.
Randall on the inspiration for A Proper Pink 2015:
This wine really just began as a bit of a thought experiment. As you may know, I’m quite given to old things, old styles, old houses, old cars, old people, etc. I’ve been quite fascinated with the wines of antiquity, and as far as wine, have been intrigued by older styles.
Randall on clairet:
….It seems that for much of its history, indeed since medieval times, Bordeaux has mostly been a fairly light wine, really a dark rosé, or clairet, as it was called. (This became the British term, “claret.”) Lower in alcohol (to be sure) compared to modern wines; I wondered if this kind of style could be successfully replicated in California.
Randall on the process of creating A Proper Pink 2015:
The Proper Pink is made from Tannat (a grape grown in Bordeaux for many centuries) and Cabernet Franc (at one point the leading grape of Bordeaux), and subject to about three hours of skin contact. Proper Pink was stainless-steel fermented, and to our slight shock and amazement, spontaneously underwent ML [malolactic] fermentation during ML, which of course has rendered it a bit softer than we imagined. It’s a pretty riotous wine, as it turns out – very fruity, almost with a suggestion of lychee. I do expect that a lot of these primary esters will dissipate with time and reveal a slightly more sober wine underneath. Retail price is about $15, line-priced with Proper Claret and Gravitas.
When I found the next new wine from an old favorite, Hooker Creek Zinfandel from Ridge Vineyards, I got excited because I admire the standards at Ridge. The 2014 vintage, recently released for Z-List members, is actually the third release though I still consider that a relatively new wine. Ridge has been making wine under the direction of Paul Draper since the late 60s, but their vineyards have produced exceptional Zinfandel for quite some time. Anyone who enjoys California wine most likely loves Ridge wines. Paul Draper’s 1971 Ridge Monte Bello got a little bit of attention at the Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976, an event that has Californian wine people high-fiving to this day. (Hey, I saw that…). The team at Ridge also employs a transparent labeling system, allowing customers to peek-under-the-hood at what goes into their wines. Ridge too, is known for sustainable vineyard practices; according to the website, “Farming them sustainably, we attempt to carry the soil, the microclimate – everything affecting the site – into the wine, and to gain a true sense of place..
Hooker Creek isn’t a new vineyard by any stretch, in fact these Sonoma Valley parcels were planted in the late 1800s and contain a mixed block of “ancient” plantings including Zinfandel and other old vines. The story goes that a Union Army General named Hooker was the first developer of the land that symbolically bears his name. According to the Ridge blog, “The General became equally well-known for his reputation as a hard-drinking ladies’ man. Rumors of rambunctious parties and gambling at his headquarters in Virginia spread throughout the Union Army. A band of ladies was said to follow his troops throughout their tour of the country. Though the term “hooker” had been around previous to the Major General’s rise to fame, it is said the word only became popular after its association with Hooker’s unofficial battalion.” But you didn’t hear that from me.
My imagination was lit up by this wine, by a place that had seen so many years of grape growth that would now be in the hospitable hands of the team at Ridge Vineyards. I had to reach out and find out what got this idea rolling. David Gates, VP of Vineyard Operations got in touch with me at my request to get the inside story on Hooker Creek.
David on the ongoing search for new projects:
Ridge Vineyards is always on the lookout for exceptional vineyards that might yield focused wines with a sense of place. Our Hooker Creek zinfandel fits this description to a tee.
David on the partnerships established to created Hooker Creek:
These historic mixed zinfandel plantings from the Bedrock Vineyard (owned by Joel Peterson) date to the 1880’s/1890’s and are lovingly tended by our friend Morgan Twain-Peterson. Morgan sells some of his fruit to several top producers, and we happily jumped on the chance to produce this wine beginning in 2014.
David on Hooker Creek terroir:
The vineyard sits in Sonoma Valley’s ‘banana belt’ just north of Glen Ellen, and the soil is basically wash out from Monte Rosso. Interestingly, this vineyard gets ripe as early as our East Bench zinfandel in Dry Creek, even though it is only five miles from the Pagani Ranch, which is always the last zin-based vineyard to ripen. And, of course, the wines are very different…
We stayed at the car show until well after dark, much later than I’d expected. I have to admit it is because our friends ran into their friends, and their friends shared the contents of their cooler… you know how these things go. It was a hot summer night, the stars were out, there was live music.
Later in bed I told my husband how impressed I was, particularly of the astounding value of all of those classic cars. I hope nobody messes with them while everyone is asleep, I told him. They were all just sitting in the downtown night, some of them covered and some of them just in the nude, waiting for morning. They’ve made it this long, one more night won’t hurt, he said. Besides, if anything happens, these guys obviously know how to make it right.
These guys obviously know how to make it right. Exactly.
To get your own wine from guys that know how to make it right, visit the tasting rooms or websites of Bonny Doon Vineyard and Ridge Vineyard:
Bonny Doon Vineyard Tasting Room
450 Highway 1
Davenport, CA 95017
Local Phone: (831) 471-8031
Toll Free: (888)819-6789 option 1
Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello Tasting Room
17100 Montebello Road
Cupertino, CA 95014
Thanks to Randall and David for their insights and to Bonny Doon Vineyards and Ridge Vineyards for the use of photos for this piece.
This article is part of the #MWWC23 Monthly Wine Writing Challenge laid down by The Drunken Cyclist.