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Big Sur

Sipping in Santa Cruz: Bonny Doon Vineyard

On the heels of the Rhone Rangers Seminar and Grande Tasting, I had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with the man Wine Spectator Magazine has dubbed “The Original Rhone Ranger” — Randall Grahm, owner, and president of Bonny Doon Vineyards.

Original Rhone Ranger 2

Randall has a passion for wines that reflect the time and place from whence they came — vins de terrior — and believes that truly beautiful land will produce truly excellent wines. It is this passion that made Randall fall in love with Old World French Rhones that hail from the bounteous vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux. It is this love that makes Randall feel a responsibility as a New World winemaker to produce equally fruitful vineyards and delicately complex wines that speak of his California terrior.

wine bottles 1

So has he done it? Has he created that perfect vin de California? Randall admits after over 40 years as Bonny Doon’s owner and operator he has more questions now than he did when he started. He’s always experimenting with different grapes, vineyard locations, and — most importantly — the constant care and health of the actual land, the soil. A true scientist and philosopher, Randall’s always looking to learn from his last growth how to improve the next.

Bonny Doon LineUp 2

2015 Vin Gris: A light and lively Rosé that can be found at almost any local grocer.
015 Vin Gris: A light and lively Rosé that can be found at almost any local grocer.

That’s not to say that Randall isn’t happy with all that he’s achieved. Tasting a full line-up of Bonny Doon’s current releases, it’s amazing the broad spectrum of flavor profiles found in California Rhone varietals. There are those that are easy on the palate, produced for mass appeal, and daily drinking. Many of these come from vineyards with average conditions and farming techniques that are “more hands on,” manufactured.

Then there are those with a depth and complexity that give the drinker pause to think. These are the wines produced from grapes that were exposed to ideal conditions, left to enjoy those conditions and truly absorbed the essence of the land. These are the wines that tell a story of time and place.


2015 Picpoul

This wine, Randall believes, best exemplifies what it means to grow a happy grape — a grape in a region with a climate where it can truly flourish. The Bonny Doon Picpoul vineyards sits among the cooling comfort of Carmel Valley sea breezes. The nose on this wine is like a breath of fresh sea salt air, with a strong undercurrent of acidity. Take that undercurrent seriously, because this wine is not for the faint-of-tongued. Picpoul, literally translated, means “lip stinger,” and you’ll know why when sipping on this wine. Sure, there are wonderful stone fruit and wildflower notes with just a slight hint of bitterness that rounds out the overall palate — but it’s the wine’s natural acidity (as Randall says, “no acidification was doon“) that creates interest here. It tickles the tongue from start to finish leaving a lingering sting, as the name implies.

Vintage: 2015 Varietal: 100% picpoul Appellation: Arroyo Seco 12.2% ABV

Nero d'Avola

2015 Bianco di Nero d’Avola

Nero d’Avola, a Sicilian red grape varietal that traditionally yields red wine, in this case, was used to create a unique white wine. The somewhat amusing detail about this particular bottle is that the Tracy vineyard where the grapes were grown was one that didn’t foresee a lot of natural success. So everything from the farming to the winemaking process was quite hands-on.

The red Nero d’Avolo grapes were pressed without skin contact, resulting in a mellow yellow wine that emits a very prominent citrus perfume (like a pomelo or grapefruit). On the tongue, however, the wine still maintains red wine-esque qualities including spice notes, plum flavors, and even a hint of tannins. A truly unique wine that celebrates the unexpected — both in terrior and taste.

Vintage: 2015; Varietal: 100% nero d’avola; Appellation: Tracy Hills; 13.5%ABV

Grenache Cuvee

2014 Cuvee “R” Grenache
Sometimes it’s nature’s imperfections that lend itself to beautiful produce. Such is the case with this particular Grenache. The Bonny Doon team kept a hands-off approach when it came to the vineyard, which during this time meant letting certain viruses affect the grape-growing process — to an extent. An experiment that went quite right.


They kept this hands-off approach during the fermentation process as well, aging the wine in glass with lees, and implementing an oxidative winemaking process. Put together, this was all quite risky.


But because the Doon team let Mother Nature do her thing, the flavors of this wine are naturally well balanced. There are mixed aromas of citrus, nuts, and red fruits. On the palate, the wine is extremely open and airy, smooth from start to finish. This is the kind of wine to pair with a delicate cuisine, so as not to overpower the subtle, natural complexity of the wine.


Vintage: 2014 Varietal: 100% grenache Appellation: Monterey County 14.5% ABV

Le Cigare Blanc 20112011 Cigare Blanc Reserve
cloudy glass
It’s hard to photograph, but this wine was quite cloudy.

This is by far my personal favorite of Bonny Doon’s current releases because, to me, it is the most complex. This Grenache Blanc-Roussanne blend has been bottled without filtration, so is quite cloudy in the glass. The grapes again come from the hills of Arroyo Seco in Carmel Valley and gives off that ocean air on the nose. So without even taking a sip, in sight and smell alone, this wine is speaking of its terrior.

The flavor profile of this wine is other-worldly. Amidst classic stone fruits and a hint of honey, there’s an overlying essence of umami — that illustrious fifth sense of taste — that provides a bit of bitter and a bit of spice. Then there’s the minerality that speaks quietly in the background, just enough to keep things calm and cool on the tongue. The lingering finish leaves soft, peppery, herbal notes on the palate.

This is one of those wines that makes the mind as well as the mouth work — what is that smell; what is that taste; where did this wine come from; where is it going; what’s the story?

Vintage: 2011 Varietal: 62% grenache blanc, 38% roussanne Appellation:Arroyo Seco 12.5% ABV
The Story of Bonny Doon’s Flagship/Starship Wine


The wine at Bonny Doon isn’t all about business, but a bit of wit and whimsy as well. Their flagship (aka starship) wine, Le Cigare Volant, is an homage to French wine folklore.

In 1954 the village council of Chateauneuf-du-Pape truly believed that flying saucers (or literally translated, “flying cigars”), were hovering over their vineyards. The primary concern was that these aliens would land their spacecraft and ruin the vineyards. So, to this day, there is an ordinance that states that any of these “flying cigars” found on the land shall “be removed directly to the pound.”

This stellar achievement is celebrated all over the tasting room — from bottle caps to wall decor.

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Invading one wine at a time
boîte à cigares
Of course, there’s a steampunk statue

Whether simple or complex in its nature, each wine tells a story. And if you’re local or in the area, listen to a few stories at Bonny Doon, where the Old World and New World collide, creating a world of its own. Cheers.

Bonny Doon Front Door

For more information about Bonny Doon, their Tasting Room, social events, and to purchase their available wines, please visit their website.

**Want to have your winery, vineyard, or tasting room featured? Please Contact the Author via her blog**

LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle – Monterey, CA


LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle
Municipal Wharf Number 2, Monterey, CA 93940

It was time to leave Reno, time for the vacation I had been dreaming about all year. My husband and I were going to embark on a California coastal tour down Hwy 1, with absolutely no schedule or agenda. We decided to include the word culinary to our vacation title, so here it was, our California culinary tour down the coast.

Our first stop was in Monterey, CA. We got into town late, so we found a quick bite and headed back to the hotel room where the beach waves that were right outside our hotel room crashed down so loud for a minute you thought you were living in the ocean.

Morning came quickly, and I was borderline hangry, but you can’t be angry in such a beautiful place, so we will stick with hungry. We found some locals and spoke to them about what breakfast places they recommend, and they directed us to Lou Lou’s Griddle in the Middle on Municipal Wharf 2.

As we approached the wharf, we noticed a bright yellow little building sitting literally, right in the middle of the wharf. Municipal Wharf 2 is a working wharf so there were many vendors and fisherman working away at their normal life, the normal life I escaped. I was in awe of everything, in awe of the fisherman, the people, the big boats, the trucks and even the courageous birds that were so bold and not scared of anyone.

We walked in to LouLou’s and noticed they were full. It was Tuesday around 10am, and full…it must be good! We waited a short time and then Gigi, the owner, greeted us with her genuinely warm smile and sat us at an adorable little booth by a window. It’s a one row classic diner stop that is colorfully decorated. We were able to see everything all in one birds eye shot. The restaurant is casually paced and the smells, oh the smells reassure you made the right decision to dine here. Diana Ross was jammin’ over the radio and the sounds of newspapers wrestling and coffee being poured joined Diana’s tunes.


A very spunky and energetic waitress came around and offered to take our beverage order. She also made some fantastic menu suggestions. I also noticed that the busboy was working with a smile and chuckling with the fishermen outside. Everyone who worked here truly enjoyed being there and was pleased to serve.

After staring down all the guests plates in the diner, my eyes couldn’t believe what they were seeing. Pancakes, the actual side of a hubcap. They appropriately  called it the Hubcap Pancake. I don’t think I’ve seen a pancake that large. I decided to go with the Seafood Reef Rider Omelette which was a fluffy three-egg omelette with
shrimp, crab, mushrooms and monterey jack cheese. Hold on though! I wasn’t done ordering yet! I had heard the clam chowder was killer, and love me a good bowl of chowder, so I also ordered a bread bowl clam chowder for my husband and I to share.


The clam chowder stole the show. It was smooth and creamy with oversized chunks of clams and potatoes. It wasn’t overly seasoned with fish base, this was the real deal. The bread bowl was warm and toasty and perfect for sopping up that amazing chowder that truly was a gift from the wharf gods. I ate and ate, with no limits. I kept repeating over and over, “That Chowder Though” until finally my husband asked if I was going to save him any. Oops!


Next arrived our Reef Rider Omelettes. They were filled with warm melty cheese and succulent shrimp. The eggs were light yellow and fluffy, beautifully and perfectly prepared. You would think we would be getting full, but no. My husband noticed they had fried oysters on the menu and wanted to sample those as well as we are both oyster fanatics! You could hear them drop into the piping hot fryer and hear the sizzling and gurgling of the fryers. Shortly after being shucked, battered and fried, they arrived to our table and let me tell you, they brought sexy back.


The oysters were FRESH, they were gigantic, they were juicy and not overly greasy or seasoned. The fryer oil was clean, you can tell they maintenance their fryers well because the color on the oysters was a beautiful golden brown and didn’t taste old or rancid. The oysters were delectable and superbly delicious.

DSC_0379Once I introduced myself as a food blogger to the staff, it seemed to make more sense as to why the hell we were eating so much. Chef Benito visited our table and brought us a sample of his signature dish. He cooked this dish for Guy Fieri when Diner’s, Drive In’s and Dives paid them a visit. He brought us a beautifully constructed abalone slider with a seared sea scallop and prawn. The abalone was tender and lightly breaded and laid upon a slaw that complimented it nicely. The sea scallop was seared to perfection, falling right apart as you took your first bite. You can taste the passion that fires from within Chef Benito’s soul. He has been the Chef there for 14 years and clearly is a master at what he does.

I highly urge my readers to please swing by LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle and experience culinary mastery at it’s finest. I have no problem driving 5 hours just to get my hands on another bowl of their Clam Chowder! They will NOT disappoint!
Loulou's Griddle In The Middle Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

A Treat Amongst the Trees. The Maiden Publick House, Big Sur, Ca.

My Husband and I found ourselves in Big Sur, enjoying a mini vacation, which is a rare moment in our lives. While our plan was to camp and cook, and drink wine on the beach, we found ourselves just steps away from a cozy little pub.  Who can resist a beer mid-day in the sun amongst the trees?

While the bar was quaint and cozy, the beer list was far from lacking.  With a tap selection of California micro classics from Speakeasy to Port Brewing, to great imports like Paulaner and Unibroue, I had a hard time making a decision.  On top of the great draught list, was an incredible Belgian bottle selection, which always brings a smile to my face.
The Staff was incredibly warm, and I felt right at home.  I was feeling the “end-of-summer blues” so I ordered a Twilight, an american blonde ale brewed by Deschutes Brewery.  Just off the highway, The Maiden is surrounded by Redwoods, so we had to take advantage and sit on the patio.

The Twilight was easy drinking, soft citrus notes, and caramel flavors, with great persistent bubbles.  I love this kind of beer when it’s warm, and it didn’t disappoint.  Without fail, my husband orders a Rodenbach Grand Cru (I can’t blame him, I do consider this to be the beer I would hope to have if I found myself on a deserted island).

And without fail, I generously helped myself to his beer (thank god he’s patient with me).  Really, I cannot express enough how it always satisfies, no matter what the time, the weather, or the occasion.  Cheers to great beer in Big Sur. And a big thank you to The Maiden, and mother nature itself.

If you find yourself on the coast in Big Sur check out The Maiden Publick House which is located on Highway 1, at The Village Center Shops.