Monday, August 25th, 2008
About 8 years ago, I left the world of corporate marketing to pursue a life of wine. One of my early consulting gigs was with Bonny Doon Vineyard, the iconoclastic, rule-bending producer whose marketing mantra is "Don't be boring". It is the only client I've ever had where the prevailing paradigm included phrases like "if we don't get a few complaints from everything we do, we're not being creative enough!"
In early 2002, I started consulting on a six-week project that expanded into 2.5 years worth of activities. Working at "the Doon" is like going through boot camp. I still have friends from those days. And, though we have mostly scattered to the far corners of the wine world, we enjoy keeping in touch, swapping new wine discoveries and recipes, attending each other's weddings, and supporting new career moves.
So this news of the closing of the old Bonny Doon tasting room north of Santa Cruz marks the end of a chapter. It was a dilapidated facility, held together with personality and chewing gum. I'm not surprised it's closing, but will miss the idea of it, though it will always remain alive in my mind's eye. Here is the announcement from Randall Grahm, replicated here by permission. As usual, it is a good read, as one expects from the pen of the "President for Life":
Message from Randall Grahm
Pine Flat: An Appreciation and Reminiscence
(Visit our Bonny Doon Tasting Room Today! We're moving in November)
It's been a while since I've spent much time hanging out at the tasting room and old winery in Bonny Doon; the penultimate time was the night of the recent Martin Rd. fire, rummaging around by flashlight for precious, indispensible objects. There was plenty of wine at peril - well, we could always make more wine - but I observed so many artifacts, subtle reminders of all of the goofy schemes, initiatives hare-brained or brilliant that were undertaken at one point or another, the zillion D.E.W.N. art labels that John Locke had engineered. The Castanedan term "controlled folly" came to mind - though it was not clear how much control there ever was or ever would be. There were still reminders of tasting room staff who had been there forever. Kathleen Proffitt's cackle reposes in the DNA of the building.
I have lately been flooded with memories of the old winery and tasting room, and some are indelible. I remember when the winery building was originally built out to its current footprint - it was essentially a remodel of a remodel of an equipment rental shed. I don't remember precisely what month it was in 1984 - I'm thinking November, just after harvest, but it was a Sunday morning and I came in very early to check on something or other, only to find that the water heater shed was on fire. It was a dreamlike experience, reaching for a garden hose to try to douse the flames, but of course, the electricity was out and the pump didn't work and the fire sprinkler system was inoperative for some other reason - yes, I think that it was just due to be installed. So, I just watched the flames grow and grow until the Bonny Doon Fire Team arrived, rather in the nick of time, to put the blaze out. We rebuilt the winery, didn't lose too much wine and there was ample opportunity for some heavy toast humor - Charredonnay, Cabburnet, Côte-Rotie, etc.
I remember the dark day when a diversion valve - that which diverted the run-off from the crush pad into a storage tank rather than into a culvert which fed into Mill Creek - malfunctioned and we inadvertently dumped 100 gallons of spent wine from the distillery into aforesaid creek. The officer from Fish and Game was not very happy, but not as unhappy as I was.
There were some incredible moments. I remember when I first met André Ostertag, the brilliant winemaker from Alsace, who has subsequently become my friend. André had just flown in from Paris, apparently taken a bus from the airport to Santa Cruz, another bus to Davenport and seemingly walked the balance of the way. (Maybe he hitch-hiked.) He was very tired and very sweaty. This had to have been 1985 or so, and André's command of the English language was not yet perfect. "It's such a great pleasure to meet you, André," I said. "Thank you," he said, and in very halting English, "but if I may bother you, what I really need now is a douche."¹
Sammy Hagar came to visit one day ("Man, like I totally missed Davenport.")² and spent the afternoon tasting through everything in the house. We loaded up his Porsche with eight or nine cases of wine and Potstill Brandy and observed him depart into the twilight, his red taillights now just a flickering retinal after-image.
John Locke himself showed up at the doorstep of the tasting room one day, his red Honda Civic packed to the gills with Lockean impedimenta. He had driven cross-country from Washington, D.C. - one imagines non-stop - to come and work at Bonny Doon, having learned about the winery at a shop in the East Coast. The thought of actually calling before showing up had just never occurred to him. "I'll work for free," he offered. "You're on," I said. Many illustrious Bonny Doon alumni - Ted Pearson, Rebecca Foulk and Anita Cabanilla come immediately to mind - began their wine career working in the tasting room.
Marco di Grazia brought his entourage of "Barolo Boys" to visit the winery in the late '80s. These were my heroes, the greatest winemakers of Piemonte - which is essentially equivalent to saying the greatest in the universe - and they were here, sitting on the deck of the tasting room, feasting on abalone, which we procured from the abalone farm down on the coast. Many of them had never left Italy to that point, i.e. had never had seen a redwood tree, and they were really digging the awe-inspiring beauty and peacefulness of this unique place that we have been so lucky to enjoy for so long.
I think mostly of the extraordinary people who have come to work at the tasting room - the charismatic managers, Sandy Mast and Katherine Stalmann, who were there for decades, and who had the keenest ability to ferret out talent and personality among the stellar people who had come to work in the tasting room over the years. I am not exaggerating at all when I report that I have been all over the world and virtually everywhere I go, someone, a stranger, will report to me that he or she has recently visited our tasting room and have been enormously impressed by the warmth and knowledgeability of the servers they have met there.
I cannot say how much I already miss the old place and what sweet memories of it will remain. Our new tasting room, which will be located at the winery in Westside Santa Cruz, has a different feel. Obviously no redwoods, no spectral apparitions suddenly appearing from out of the mist - Bonny Doon has always in fact been Brigadoon. But, the opportunity we have down at Ingalls Street is to really show our customers what we are doing - to delve deeper into an exposition of the wines, how they were made, how they work with food, for example. The new tasting room is under construction and despite the context of its gritty industrial neighborhood; it already shines like a precious stone. It is as magical as it is unexpected, and reflects the real depth of our commitment to producing great wine. I can promise you that you will be delighted... Stay Dooned! and I invite you to experience where a passion and lifelong quest for vins de terroir began more than 25 years ago in the bucolic hamlet of Bonny Doon.
¹ (Fr.) Shower
² He can't drive fifty-five.
Good bye, Pine Flat. I'll remember you fondly.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard"
I Need Your Vote! VOTE DAILY!
. Help me continue this free blog by taking 5 seconds to vote here!