Randall Grahm Heads to Washington

Bonny Doon sells two top brands as Grahm starts new Washington State-based company.

Randall Grahm, known as "God" by those who work for him, announced on Monday that he had sold his Big House and Cardinal Zin brands to the Wine Group LLC, a management owned wine company based in San Francisco. The Big House and Cardinal Zin brands will become part of The Wine Group's newly formed Underdog Wine Merchants division, which currently includes such tongue stoppers as Pinot Evil, Tempra Tantrum, Killer Juice and Herding Cats.

The Big House wines, available in white, pink and red, account for roughly half of total Bonny Doon sales. They sell about 200,000 cases annually; Cardinal Zin, a single bottling with a memorable label illustration from Ralph Steadman, sells about 20,000 cases annually.

The two brands, which have been experiencing double digit growth since the switch to screwcaps, have "stressed our own resources and infrastructure to the max," according to Grahm. Calling it "Doonsizing" rather than downsizing, he went on to say that "this sale allows us to return to our roots, as it were, and refocus on the production of unique and distinctive, biodynamically produced wines. I have been raving on long enough about the transcendental value of terroir; it is now time to translate mere words into deeds."

The Bonny Doon brand will focus exclusively on estate wines, biodynamically farmed, and will produce about 50,000 cases annually. But the real story, hidden in the news of the sale, is the plan to split off a separate company, called Pacific Rim, and headquarter it in Washington state.

In an exclusive Wine Enthusiast interview, Nicolas Quillé, Bonny Doon's Chief Operating Officer ("I am number two after God" he explains), revealed that Grahm has long term contracts with two Washington vineyards and will harvest the first fruit this fall. "Pacific Rim will be a growth focused company," says Quillé, "focusing on Riesling and eventually adding a few other wines, specifically Chenin Blanc and a lighter red." Plans are to begin production at about 120,000 cases.

The 120 acre Wallula vineyard is planted to several different Riesling clones and is half organic, half biodynamically farmed. The 100 acre Desert Hills vineyard is all Riesling also, conventionally farmed. Quillé, who spent eight years at Washington's Hogue Vineyards, is actively searching for land to build a winery and tasting room, most likely in the burgeoning Prosser area.

Pacific Rim, which blends one quarter Mosel Riesling in with its Washington grown fruit, will ramp up from 75,000 to 100,000 cases this year. "Our plan is to continue to do 75 percent Northwest and 25 percent Europe blend," says Quillé. "We're thinking about extending that to Chenin Blanc by blending in some Loire juice; and possibly the same when we launch our red wines."

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