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Bonny Doon sells off Big House, Cardinal Zin

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon vineyards has sold off two brands to wine giant The Wine Group.

As part of Grahm’s self-styled ‘doon-sizing’, the Big House and Cardinal Zin names were sold to the group earlier this week for an undisclosed sum. The deal includes the takeover of all branches of the wines from grape suppliers to logos.

Grahm told decanter.com he intends to buy or lease vineyards which will be planted to Rhone varietals – which will go into the much-lauded Cigare Volant – and Pinot Noir.

The former will be about 30ha, the latter around 8ha. Making Pinot will be a new departure for the Europhile winemaker. He loves Burgundy, he said, and ‘if the wine I make can express a sense of place, I will feel I have succeeded.’

All Grahm’s other wines, including Cigare Volant, will remain under his control. The Santa-Cruz based winemaker, known for his sense of humour, could not resist making a joke of the sale.

‘I had envisioned a catchy headline like “Big House brand escapes the shackles of the tyranny of terroirism”, but I thought better of it’ he said. ‘We’ve been joking around for so long, it is hard for people to know when we are serious.’

Grahm said the Big House and Cardinal Zin brands had been so popular that company resources had been stretched ‘to the max’.

‘We are not so much downsizing as doon-sizing,’ he said, ‘creating a company that is more congruent with our deepest values.’ The Santa Cruz winery, at present bottling around 400,000 cases, may be superseded by a new, smaller winery on the new site.

‘We are shrinking all round,’ Grahm said. ‘I want to make the operation more distinctive, and get to the point where I can make wines with uniqueness and distinction.’

The Wine Group LLC, based in San Francisco, is the third-largest wine producer in the US after E&J Gallo Winery and Constellation Brands. It sells over 40m cases of wine a year and owns brands including Franzia, Concannon and Corbett Canyon.

The two Bonny Doon brands will be made under the Underdog Wine Merchants division which includes the Pinot Evil, Herding Cats, Angel Juice and Devil’s Marbles brands.

Written by Oliver Styles

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