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Winesipper

Bonny Doon Vineyards

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According to the folks at Bonny Doon, "Wine should be as much fun as government regulations allow." Randall Graham, the driving force behind this eclectic winery takes his job seriously. Like most good winemakers, he believes it all starts in the vineyard, and pushes his growers to embrace organic and biodynamic farming. He is a champion of relatively obscure grape varieties, the "ugly ducklings" of the wine world, as he calls them. And while it's easy to take wine too seriously, getting caught up in the nuance of flavor and aroma, Graham reminds us that wine is meant to be enjoyed, and he does his best to make the experience a fun one.

Visit their Web site at www.bonnydoonvineyard.com and you'll begin to get an idea of the Graham mission. Check out Dooniversity or Doontunes, where you will be entertained while you are being informed. Bonny Doon bottles sport some of the cleverest labels to be found. Take their Cigare Volant, a blend of Rhône varietals that pays homage to the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Back in 1954, after a rather disappointing vintage that the locals blamed on external forces, the village council decreed that henceforth cigar-shaped alien craft would not be allowed to land in the vineyards. The Cigar Volant label shows just such a craft caught in the act of beaming up a few villagers.

Of course, none of this would matter if what was in the bottle was not worthy. Recently I had the chance to taste through much of the Bonny Doon line-up and came away impressed by both the quality and the value of their wines. The 2003 Le Cigare Blanc, a blend of Rousanne and Grenache Blanc, proved particularly nice with its ripe peach, honeydew and lilac aromas, fresh fruit flavors and touches of mineral. Finished with a screw cap closure to keep that freshness in, the wine retails for under $20.

The Big House line comes in three shades: red, white and pink. Priced around 10 bucks, they offer exceptional value. This was my first taste of the 2004 Big House Pink, only the second vintage for this wine. It's a blend of too many grapes to remember, mostly Italian varieties. A crisp and fruity delight with flavors of cranberry, melon and strawberry, it makes good choice for the transition to fall.