Tasting Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Bien Nacido Syrah
Randall Grahm and his Bonny Doon Vineyards are known for their help in instigating efforts to insert Syrah in the California psyche. The grape had been planted in the state in small quantities in the 1800s (with some of those old vines still growing in Mendocino), but was left largely ignored and unrooted until well into the 1980s. Grahm helped carry the banner for Rhone varieties along with a few other early founders. That said, still into the 1980s there was not much happening in California for Syrah, and to this day (as much as some of us love it), it’s still a rather underplanted grape when compared to the contemporary giants of Cabernet and Chardonnay–the two varieties that dominate vineyards in the Western state. Today, Grahm makes several vineyard designate Syrahs from different regions of California, one of my favorites of which is the Bien Nacido.
Bien Nacido is a vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley relied upon by some of the country’s top winemakers including (to name only a few) Manfred Krenkel, Maggie Harrison, Bob Lindquist, Jim Clendenen and others. Bien Nacido was established in 1973 by the Miller family, and to this day includes some of the original, own-rooted vines, a wealth of grape varieties, avocado trees, bio-dynamic practices, and a beautiful Santa Barbara County landscape.
This year, 2013, marks Bien Nacido’s 40th anniversary. The official commemorative event was held in August, with the entire year of 2013 standing out as recognition of two generation’s work by the Millers. With that in mind, Randall Grahm sent me a 5 vintage vertical of his Bien Nacido Vineyard X-Block Syrah to taste, and celebrate the site.
Congratulations to Bien Nacido, and the Miller family on your anniversary! Keep up the good work!
Bonny Doon Vineyards’ Bien Nacido, X-Block Syrah Vertical
click on image to enlarge
Bonny Doon’s Bien Nacido Vineyard’s Syrah comes from their X-Block, a portion of the vineyard biodynamically farmed, and split annually by Bob Lindquist of Qupe, and Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards.
Though Grahm has been working with the X-Block Syrah since the mid-1980s, it was not until 2005 that he began bottling a vineyard designate for Bien Nacido, though there were a few earlier small bottlings as well. The bulk of the Bien Nacido fruit Grahm blends into his Le Cigare Volant, and his Syrah “Le Pousseur.” As Grahm explains, the wine from the X Block has gotten better as both he and the vineyard have gotten to know the fruit. He is quite excited about how the 2012 is showing, and says he’s happy so far with the 2013 as well.
The site offers a balance of cool climate Syrah structural characteristics with a bit more lush flavors. Bonny Doon’s rendition gives a silky mouthfeel, and nice balance on drying grip tannins to long juiciness, with the proportion shifting by vintage. The site consistently offers variations of the classic Syrah smoked meat note, as well as the more floral side of white pepper.
As Grahm describes, the X Block also highlights the Miller family’s, and the Bien Nacido team’s willingness to tend closely to the winemaker’s needs. They have worked with Grahm to modulate issues of vigor and ripeness variation, as well as develop biodynamic practices for the section. “The current regime is very easy to work with and really a pleasure. They have been open to the idea of biodynamic farming, and really make it their business to give the customer precisely what he/she wants.”
Thank you to Randall Grahm.
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