Designed For Drinking


 Five of our favorite Bonny Doon Vineyard labels

By Paul Wetterau


Randall Grahm, winemaker for Bonny Doon Vineyard, is known for employing out-of-the-box winemaking techniques. Fittingly, his marketing methods are just as unique. He has an unparalleled knack for harnessing the talent of great artists to convey the moods of his distinctive wines. He’s done this to such great effect that Cal Poly San Louis Obispo’s viticulture and vinification program has offered a class that specifically focused on the stories behind Bonny Doon Vineyard’s labels. Herewith are five of our favorites.

Artist: Ralph Steadman
Wine: “A Cardinal Zin”

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It would be a cardinal sin if you were a student of wine that didn’t recognize this label by Ralph Steadman, who is famous for his work for Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Turning to the famed illustrator was a natural fit for the equally avant-garde Grahm. When ask
ed what it was like to work with Steadman, the local vintner says, “There was not much I could get him to do. He’s a genius, so I would just let him do his thing.” In 2001, the label was banned in Ohio, as their state code on wine labeling forbids advertisement or representation portraying pictures of children or religious subjects. In 2006, Bonny Doon Vineyard sold this brand to the Wine Group LLC (one of the largest producers in the country) to help stay congruent with their deepest values.


Artist: Chuck House
Wine: “Le Cigare Volant”

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With this label, artist Chuck House paid homage to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region of France. “Chuck is really easy to work with,” Grahm says. “He asks a lot of questions, [like]: What’s the wine taste like? What types of people are going to be
drinking this wine?” The French village is well known for its great red wine, and is also famous for its bizarre ban on extraterrestrials. In 1954, in response to burn marks in the vineyards, the mayor at the time passed a law against aliens to prevent this from happening. The story has it that, just before this law was passed, a man from Northern France said he had seen two deep-sea divers emerging from a cigar-shaped space ship. This Southern Rhone red blend comes fixed with Bonny Doon’s signature screwcap, and is an iconic label in the world of wine marketing.


Artist: Anne Bascove
Wine: “A Proper Claret”

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The back label of this blend best explains this wine, “If you are enjoying a joint and Yorkshire pudding, you will want to be drinking a Proper Claret.” On the front label lies a proper-looking man adorned with a monocle, fishnet stockings and a pocket silk. The names of the varietals are listed on the bindings of books in the background and the vintage is found on the character’s shirt cuff. Bascove, who works in Manhattan, has also helped with the winery’s “Gravitas” and “Les Pousseur Syrah” labels. When asked where Grahm gets the ideas for the these off-beat labels, he laughs, “Lots of drugs.” All jokes aside, this wine is for the sophisticated crowd—not barbarians.

Artist: Lindsey Sonu
Wine: “I’m Not Drinking any $%&*#! Merlot”

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Art can come in various forms. In this case, graphic designer Lindsey Sonu helps shed light on a varietal whose reputation was damaged by the popular film Sideways (2004). The label evokes memories of Miles, the film’s main character, shouting, “I’m not drinking any f—ing Merlot!” Ironically, one of Miles’ favorite wines is Château Petrus, which is 100-percent Merlot. Images of Buellton and the Hitching Post Restaurant come to mind when seeing the bumper of this car label. In a market that’s seemingly dominated by Pinot Noir, thanks to Sideways, this bottle of Merlot-dominant deliciousness is a great value and much different than the syrupy wines that the movie character Miles dislikes so much. Sonu can be found on her lunch break surfing Steamer Lane, perhaps thinking of the next label idea she and Grahm are dreaming up.

Artist: Wendy Cook
Wine: “Beeswax Vineyard Picpoul”

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The wine—pronounced “peek-pool”—is enough to grab the attention of any sommelier or wine geek. With fruit sourced from the organic “Beeswax Vineyard” in Monterey County, the label’s look is fitting: hand-drawn, organic, sleek and simple. Wendy Cook, who works as a calligrapher in San Francisco, decanted this one perfectly. The varietal, which translates to “lip stinger,” doesn’t have much presence in the average wine store, but who knows how long that will last? The juice sits in contact with the lees (dead yeast cells) for extended periods of time to add complexity. This label serves as a great introduction to what Bonny Doon Vineyard is
doing out in San Juan Bautista, where some 10,000 varietals could eventually be planted and made into organic wine.

Christianna Fjelstad

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