The Best Damn Wine Club I Ever Joined
Requiem for a Doon
In the white-knuckle days of the 2009 recession, I wasn’t so much cutting corners on my spending as taking a Microplane to the splintered places in my budget where I’d already lopped off whole branches. No restaurants, no new clothes or shoes or material frills of any sort, countless hours in the grocery store determining which brand of pasta cost a fraction of a cent less per ounce than another. And yet I kept forgetting to cancel my Distinctive Esoteric Wine Network subscription. Fine: If I’m being brutally honest with myself, I didn’t forget. Opting into a purchase that will pay off later, whether it’s a concert ticket, vegetable seeds, or a culty wine club, is a pure act of optimism—an investment in the pleasure of future you—and Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Vineyard never failed me on that front. Now it’s going away.
Grahm is a marvelous weirdo who makes fantastical wines, and he thrilled me from the first glass, handed to me by a man I was dating. It was an ink-black Madiran called Heart of Darkness, complete with an artfully gory Ralph Steadman illustration (one of several collaborations between Grahm and the Hunter S. Thompson favorite) that came packaged with a voodoo doll, love letter eraser, and bittersweet chocolate for Valentine’s Day. I swooned for the Rhône Ranger’s anarchic Le Cigare Volant blend, complete with an alien-head screw cap, and poured Muscat Vin de Glacière for a wine-snob boyfriend I was trying to impress. In 2004, frustrated by the legwork it took to actually acquire the bottles, I became an official “DEWNstah,” ensuring that four to six bottles of whatever the hell he felt like sending would arrive on a quarterly basis, accompanied by Grahm’s newsletter—generally a collection of cheekily footnoted tasting notes and philosophical musings that, should a future generation or interplanetary visitor uncover them, might lead them to believe that all of Earth-kind was completely off their foudre.
God, what a joy it’s been. Grahm’s biodynamic, experimental, and monomaniacally terroir-driven wines have been a constant exercise in expanding the boundaries of what I understand as wine, and rather than putting me off, they beckoned me in with a crooked E.T. finger. It’s OK if I can’t blind-taste a new Bonny Doon and immediately ID the region and varietal because this particular combination of grapes, soil, time, and thought had never existed before. If I walked into a wine shop, I don’t know that I’d be emboldened to seek out these exuberant, challenging, wild-souled wines: “Excuse me, do you have an uninterfered-with white wine that tastes of sunshine and the beeswax I used in art school?” “Why yes, ma’am, this way to the Picpoul.” It just showed up at my door, often with an old favorite or two in the mix, or a variation of the sort—an alternate version (unfiltered, or racked in a glass demijohn) that felt like a 12-inch remix of a song I love—as well as a bottle or two of something that felt like the Old World wine of a planet I have yet to visit.
In January, Grahm announced that he’d sold Bonny Doon to WarRoom Ventures and the DEWN club was shutting down; only the Cigare family and Picpoul would remain. “I am continuing as the consulting winemaker for an indefinite period of time,” he wrote in a letter to club members (with the subject “Not Dead Yet!”), “But ultimately it is certain that my fate leads me to Popelouchum.” (Popelouchum being the vineyard he purchased—aided by a 2015 Indiegogo campaign—with the goal of breeding 10,000 new grape varieties to discover a “New World grand cru.”)
Bittersweet, yes, but Grahm assured existing DEWN members that we’d get first crack at the ultra-limited Popelouchum offerings and signed off, “The Doon Abides.” I’ve stayed on the flying saucer ride this long; I suppose I’ll have to stick around to see where in the universe we land.