The Wine of the Flying Cigar

Craft brewers in these parts put out plenty of good t-shirts: wineries, not so much. The exception is Bonny Doon Vineyards, which has put out plenty of truly cool tees. Like this one

Even though the business isn’t mainly in Boony Doon anymore — more like Santa Cruz’ West Side, along with half a dozen other wineries and a couple of brewpubs.

Boony Doon Vineyards belonged to a special kind of person. The wife and I used to see him every morning at the same West Side coffee house. The rearmost table pretty much belonged to this middle-aged guy in a tee-shirt: long, flyaway hair, Harry Potter glasses, and a slightly frazzled expression. The t-shirt usually had a message printed on it — likely in French.

You’d have judged him a middle-aged hippie or perpetual grad student: except for the big leather dispatch bag stuffed with documents and an ever-present Macbook.He’d shuffle paper and read email, then drive off in a 40-year-old Citroen station wagon, the kind that looks ready for space launch.

He had two of them, one red and one white. The red one had a vanity plate that read “Le Cigar,” or close.

Eventually we found out that he was Randall Grahm, rebel and dreamer of the world of winemaking and viticulture, and proprietor Bonny Doon Vineyard for decades. He’s reinvented his business and methods several times over the years: sometimes radically, always subversively.

Everybody knows Bonny Doon Vineyards: it makes strange, playfully-named wines with interesting label art. Grahm took a creative approach to the wine, to its its naming, and even the wine label art. Which also appeared on t-shirts in the gift shop.

Boony Doon Vineyard’s best-known wine is “Cigar Volante” — French for “Flying Cigar,” the name given to UFOs spotted in French wine country in the ‘50s. Grahm’s red Citroen looked a little like a “flying cigar” — hence the vanity plate “Le Cigare.” I don’t have a Cigar Volante t-shirt right now — wore mine out — but here’s the label itself.

Grahm has always been interested in doing things that others don’t, not making crowd-pleaser wines. Twenty years ago Bonny Doon Vineyards got too mainstream and successful for Grahm’s taste, so he sold off his best selling lines to concentrate on more interesting wines: a few months later, the world wine market crashed. His timing is good.

The label (and t-shirt) for this syrah is both funny and outrageous: wine-maker as Renaissance French pornographer, slyly tempting you with wines from within his cloak as if they were naughty French postcards.

Grahm still lives in Santa Cruz, but sold Bonny Doon Vineyards concentrate on whole new ways of growing wine on new land that he purchased south and east of here. Always looking for something newer than new: that’s him.

And Grahm once again has great timing: he sold Bonny Doon Vineyards just before the COVID-19 epidemic and world-wide economic downturn. His luck, or timing, remains spectacular.

Click Here if you’d like to see more Bonny Doon Vineyards wine label art. It’s pretty special.

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