The sale to WarRoom Ventures, a wine production and marketing business, was announced on 9 January. Grahm closed his Santa Cruz tasting room in Davenport on 23 December.
Grahm will become a partner with WarRoom and stay on as head winemaker, while Bonny Doon’s production manager Nicole Walsh will also remain to oversee winemaking at the Santa Cruz winery.
Grahm told the San Francisco Chronicle that his talent was not particularly in the financial aspect of wine, and that WarRoom appealed to him because ‘they can sell wine like crazy’.
WarRoom’s president Andrew Nelson has worked with liquor conglomerate Diageo as well as wineries including Edna Valley, Beaulieu Vineyards, Sterling, Provenance, Rosenblum and Acacia, among others.
After starting WarRoom in 2018, he acquired Lapis Luna Wines, and now has added Bonny Doon.
Graham will retain creative control of Bonny Doon’s wines, but production will change from 35,000 cases of 15 different wines annually to just four wines: the flagship red Rhône blend Le Cigare Volant; Le Cigare Blanc (based on Vermentino); Vin Gris de Cigare (a Rhône varietal rosé); and a 100% Picpoul.
Nelson plans to increase production of each of these wines to 100,000 cases annually, with prices ranging from $15 to $20 (£11.50-£15), and distribute them across the US.
Grahm founded Bonny Doon in 1983 in the Santa Cruz Mountains and soon focused on Rhône varieties – one of California’s pioneering Rhône Rangers.
Known for his whimsical labels and odd sense of humour, Grahm released the first vintage of his iconic Le Cigare Volant red blend in 1986, named for the unusual French law that prohibits UFOs from landing in the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
In 2018 he removed the Mourvèdre in the blend for more Cinsault, reducing the price and making it a more approachable, food-friendly style. He said he felt that after 32 vintages the wine had lost its relevance in the modern market.
In 2006 Grahm sold several brands in his portfolio, including Big House Red and Cardinal Zin, and in 2009 bought 162ha near San Juan Bautista on California’s Central Coast.
Called Popelouchum Vineyard, Grahm will now focus on this new project (not included in the WarRoom sale), planting out hybrids of hundreds of different vines with the aim of discovering the next new classic grape variety.
Additional reporting by Tina Gellie