So how do Grahm's new wines stack up against the old standbys? Pretty well, actually. But that isn't surprising, is it?
The first thing to know is that the new Bonny Doon wines are just as different as the old -- no cabernet sauvignon, no chardonnay, but wines made with grapes like grenache blanc, cinsault, and loureiro. (The latter is my favorite; not only had I never heard of it -- it's a Portuguese grape used to make vinho verde, a very light white wine -- but I can't imagine that anyone in California would grow it. And, if I read the 2006 report from the California Department of Food Agriculture correctly, hardly anyone does. There are apparently less than 10 acres planted in the state.)
This is in keeping with Grahm's philosophy. First, the world does not need another cabernet or another chardonnay. And, in fact, the two most popular grapes in California in 2006 were chardonnay and cabernet, which accounted for more than one-quarter of the grapes that were crushed to make wine. Second, the world does not need cabernet or chardonnay grown in the areas where Grahm gets his grapes, which aren't especially suited for cabernet and chardonnay. It gets back to terroir -- the wine should reflect where it's from, and not some preconceived notion about what it should taste like.
It's also worth noting that most of Grahm's wines are low in alcohol. He shuns the Frankenstein yeasts that others use to get 15 percent or higher levels, preferring indigenous yeasts that are much less efficient than their high-tech cousins. (Yeast is used to ferment the sugar in grapes, turning it into alcohol.) In addition, Grahm is an advocate of biodynamic farming, which goes beyond organics to take into account what's called the natural balance of the vineyard. I'm not sure I understand it, let alone whether it's a force in making better wine, but Grahm is convinced it's the way to go. He wants to make all his new wines with biodynamic grapes with five or six years.
• Vin Gris de Cigare 2006 ($17). I'm not convinced pink wine needs to cost more than $10, though Grahm makes a good argument with this one. It's not quite as dry as a Provencal rose, but is French-like nonetheless.
• Le Cigare Blanc 2006 ($26). This is Big House White taken to a much higher level. Made with grenache blanc and roussanne, it somehow keeps its fruit character while offering a bit of heft and sophistication that is rare in California white wines at this price. And you can't tell that it has been aged six months in oak, which by itself is almost worth the price of admission.
• Le Cigare Volant 2003 ($33). A Rhone-style blend with 13 1/2 percent alcohol. And who says that isn't possible in California? I actually liked the syrah a bit better. I don't think this wine is quite ready yet.