Bonny Doon Vineyard, the boundary-bucking brand from California’s Central Coast that helped put domestic Rhône wines on the map, has been acquired by WarRoom Ventures, the parent company of Lapis Luna Wines. Terms of the deal, which became effective on January 1, were not disclosed.
“I have some ambivalence,” says Randall Grahm, who founded Bonny Doon in 1981. “I’ve had Bonny Doon for almost 40 years. It’s been home base. But I’m relieved to be out of the day-to-day business. The business part has been less fun in recent years, and I’m glad not to have to worry about that kind of stuff anymore.”
He will remain as winemaker of record and a partner, and thinks the new ownership will benefit the brand. “They should be able to scale the company and get more successful than I did,” says Grahm. “That’s their hope and I wholeheartedly support that.”
WarRoom Ventures is owned by Andrew Nelson, who acquired and relaunched 20-year-old Lapis Luna in 2018. The brand now produces creatively labeled, value-driven wines from the North Coast and Lodi. Based in the Paso Robles area, Nelson was previously a partner in Rabble Wine Co., featured in a 2017 Wine Enthusiast article.
“He’s an idol of mine, I learned about him in school.” says Nelson. “It’s such a fantastic brand with an authentic story and a very defined wine style. It’s so different from Lapis Luna, which is fruit-driven and from widely available commercial varieties. Bonny Doon is the opposite—Old World [in style], floral, savory and a higher price point.”
Nelson plans to tighten the label’s focus as well. With day-to-day winemaking handled by Grahm’s longtime production manager Nicole Walsh, the lineup will consist of Vin Gris de Cigare Rosé; Le Cigare Volant, a red Rhône-style blend; Le Cigare Blanc, a Vermentino-based white blend; and Picpoul Blanc, a grape Nelson feels “could just be massive.”
The plan is to grow the Vin Gris production from 20,000 annual cases to 100,000 over the next three years, and take the Cigare red from the current output of 11,000 cases annually, to 100,000 over the next five years.
“There is always a worry that we’re going to capitalize on the name and just change everything,” says Nelson. “But we want to be authentic to Randall’s vision. A big part of our due diligence was meeting with the growers to make sure we can continue on with this style and ensure that the sourcing is secured and scalable. Ideally, we can just steer and scale this very cool brand that I really do believe the world needs now more than ever.”
In addition to staying on as “guarantor of gravitas” for Bonny Doon, Grahm will continue to focus on his Popelouchum Vineyard near San Juan Bautista, where he is developing a “New World Grand Cru.” He hopes that 2020 will provide the first commercial harvest for that brand.
“I’ve got enough irons in the fire so I’m not bored,” says Grahm. “It’s been a roller coaster ride. There have been a lot of unexpected twists and turns, but I guess that’s normal.”
Nelson, meanwhile, is excited. “I think we got really lucky,” he says of the purchase. “We’re going to take care of Bonny Doon.”