Randall Grahm, one of California's most innovative vintners and the founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard, has sold the brand to WarRoom Ventures LLC after 35 years in business. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Grahm will remain as winemaker and a partner with WarRoom. Bonny Doon's production manager Nicole Walsh will also stay on board to oversee the winemaking.
"I've never been a brilliant businessperson," Grahm told Wine Spectator, adding, "I have other valuable assets, but WarRoom will be more successful in managing the finances." WarRoom Ventures is a small, new wine company that invests, develops and manages wine brands.
A trailblazing vintner, Grahm founded Bonny Doon in 1983 with his family's help in the remote Santa Cruz Mountains, intending to make Pinot Noir. He quickly turned to Rhône varieties and released the inaugural vintage of Le Cigare Volant in 1986. Le Cigare Volant has been the winery's flagship label ever since.
Regarded as one of California's earliest advocates for Rhône-style reds, Grahm was a constant innovator and envelope-pusher. He was one of the first to use microbullage, adding tiny oxygen bubbles to the wine, in California and to employ screwcaps on premium wines.
Bonny Doon is known for its eccentric labels and interesting blends. The winery was a nearly 500,000-case operation before Grahm sold several of the brands in the portfolio in 2006, including Big House Red and Cardinal Zin.
In 2009, Grahm purchased 400 acres near San Juan Bautista, Calif., for a project he called Popelouchum. He hoped to breed 10,000 new grape varieties. That vineyard was not included in the transaction.
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There have been hints that Grahm would step back. In late 2018, he announced that the Le Cigare Volant style would change, explaining that he felt like the wine had lost its relevance to the modern market. The winery closed its popular tasting room in the coastal town of Davenport last month.
But Grahm believes there's been a renewed interest in the wines, and that they are more relevant than they've ever been. "The wines have evolved and developed, but they are arguably the most interesting we've made in a long time," he said. Grahm confessed that the number of labels he created had become burdensome for his wholesalers, but that plans have already been in the works to focus on the Rhône-style wines. "'All roads lead to Rhône' leads to a more coherent presentation of the brand," he said.
Grahm adds that he'll still be very much involved, but will spend less time in the market and more focused on the winemaking and vineyards. He said the 35,000-case winery will continue to represent great value and stylistic diversity, but hopes the investment will help grow the brand and provide Bonny Doon with an opportunity at a long, robust life.