Wine has an austere to it—high society, with royalty and the upper-class. Wine must be this way or that way. Labels with scripted type, falling leaves and chateaus help seal the deal that this commodity is not designed for commoners. Then there’s Bonny Doon.
Toss out your expectations before walking through the tasting room door in Davenport, a few miles north of Santa Cruz, California. You’re about to take a magical mystery tour, with wine to boot!
It was just about 11:00 in the morning, when I walked into the infamous winery. I’ve heard about Bonny Doon for decades but had yet to make it down to the tasting room. It’s only about 2 hours away via the beautiful coast route 1, but it still feels like you have to plan your day to get there.
I was expecting the generic varietals of California, mainly central coast fruit (I am not sure how to officially classify the Santa Cruz Mountains; it’s not the North Coast but it’s not really the central coast).
Who doesn’t produce a Chardonnay in 2017? Turns out Bonny Doon is that winery. As I approached the tasting counter and gazed over the tasting sheet, I noticed that yep, there is no Chardonnay. But there’s basically everything under the Rhone, and possibly Tuscan, sun.
Ok, so there’s no Tuscan varietals. But to compensate for a lack of Italian varietals (though technically the Tannat is grown in Italy) Bonny Doon makes up for grapes grown all over France, include grapes from the Rhône region, Bordeaux and the quieter of the noble 3 grapes in Champagne: the Pinot Meunier.
It’s a lot to take in initially. Especially as with me, I hadn’t even had a sip of wine yet. The tasting is split into two levels: the $15 Doonster Flight or the $20 Flight of the Cigare. Both are adventurous in spirit. It’s hard to say which flight is better as they are unique amongst themselves. If you have an adventurous palate, head for the Cigare flight. If you want to stick closer to what you are used to, take the Doonster Flight.
The grapes on both sides of the tasting sheet might seem foreign to you if you’re used to shopping at BevMo, Napa Valley or Safeway/Kroger. But this is where it also becomes fun. Because all the grapes are relatively unknown varietals, you have no choice but to jump in and try them.
Bonny Doon predominantly features blends, á la French style. It’s rare to find a bottle of French wine that isn’t blended. Except, maybe with the Pinot Meunier, which is the quieter of the 3 noble grapes the region of Champagne (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the others) which is made of 100% of said grape.
On the tasting sheet you’ll find a breakdown of varietals in the blends, along with the “Cliff Notes” of how the wine was made and who designed the label. A weapons-grade Grenache??? Yes sir. May I have another?
After tasting through the flight of wine, it’s time to board a rocketship—literally. Around the corner, behind a large metal object, you’ll find a rocketship that fits one person and has a green screen behind it. Yours truly felt it was only appropriate to wear sunglasses when piloting an open air, convertible rocketship. Bonny Doon will email you the photo of you in outer space, or you can snap your own with the green screen in the back. Either way, it’s a fun find inside of a tasting room.
Aside from a rocket ship and the tasting bar, you’ll find a sofa and a few long wooden tables with places to seat parties up to about 8 people (I guess 10 if you sit really close together). On a cold and foggy day, this would be a great place to share a bottle with 7 (or 9 if you scrunch together) closest friends.