2016 Bonny Doon, Old Telegram, Mourvèdre, Contra Costa County.
This dark garnet and ruby edged 2016 Old Telegram is lovely aromatic and firmly structured, as Mourvèdre should be with crushed blackberries, violets, dark cherry, currant and savory elements leading the way and while California expressive there is some old world rustic charm present, making for a delicious solo varietal effort. Taking on more concentration and richness with air, adding a juicy plummy quality, some cedar wood, anise and grilled herbs, there is also nice contrast here with a meaty, spicy and sanguine edginess adding to the overall appeal. The Boony Doon Old Telegram, which was sadly discontinued after the 2018 vintage, is 100% old vine Mourvèdre from Contra Costa is an under the radar wine that is a tribute to the tannic and powerful Bandol reds, from the classic producers in the region which is on the Mediterranean sea in France’s picturesque Provence, a far cry from the deep sands, ancient decomposed granite soils, of the Delta in California’s out of the way Contra Costa, where incredible old head trained vines have flourished for well over a hundred years. In recent years we’ve seen a renewed interest in this region and the quality of the wines from here has reached new levels, especially after Bedrock’s Morgan Twain-Peterson MW took over the amazing Envagelho Vineyard after many years of working with the prior owner to rejuvenate it and its 130 plus year old vines. While Randall was one of the first to do a single varietal Mourvèdre in California and in particular from here, there are now a whole new legion of young winemakers doing it and his legacy will live on, even if he has ceased to make this Old Telegram, sadly it has even been scrubbed from history by the new owners of Bonny Doon, who it seems have taken down almost all mention of it on their website, which still has a huge collection of Randall’s blog posts and winemaking articles. While disappointed that this wine is done and dusted, Grahm’s pioneering legacy lives on in any or all bottles that are tucked away and for the passed touch, as the soul of this wine certainly lives on!

Over the years Randall has adjusted his winemaking, going from traditional to ultra modern and back again, sometimes on a whim, but for this wine he kept pretty true and almost old school, it was never a bottling to be drunk young and usually displayed the most fiercest of tannin of all of his wines. I always remember it being dark and blooding with more grip than was common in California at the time. Grahm was always railing against the high percentage of TCA found it natural cork, which produces the dreaded corkiness flaw in wine, and was one of the first premium producers in California to switch to screw caps, and his Old Telegram, from the most recent vintages, proudly sports its stelvin closure, guaranteeing its non spoiled state for anyone lucky enough to have this now rare bottle! The Old Telegram label identifies it as Mataro, an alias under which this thick-skinned, late-ripening Mourvedre sometimes goes under, as seen on Ridge’s versions. The Mourvèdre grape, as grown in California is in good hands though and we will see many exciting versions to be continuing for the foreseeable future with exceptional single varietal and blended wines coming from the likes of Ian Brand, who once worked in Randall’s lab, Hardy Wallace of Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah!, Tablas Creek, who brought over their Beaucastel clone, the mentioned Bedrock Wine Co., below Rhone Ranger John Alban, Ridge Vineyards and Tegan Passalacqua’s Sandlands Vineyards to name just a few to look for. Randall Grahm first created the 100-percent Mourvèdre Old Telegram wine originally as en hommage to (or teasingly) the venerable Chateauneuf-du-Pape estate Domaine de Vieux Télégraphe, who used a high percentage of Mourvèdre in their classic bottlings, even though Grahm’s version is more Bandol like. Randall, never one to miss an exciting opportunity, long ago discovered the quality of these Contra Costa old vines, finding these sandy vineyards of Antioch and Oakley many years back when he began working with old-vine Mourvèdre for this almost cult wine bottling of Old Telegram, as well as using some for the iconic Cigare Volant, his classic California version of a Chateauneuf du Pape. Mostly known for exploration of Rhone style wines, so this Old Telegram is more based on the mentioned Bandol, the signature wine of Provence and maybe to the legendary Domaine Tempier as well.

A southern California native, Randall Grahm, was born in Los Angeles in 1953 and attended the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he was a permanent Liberal Arts major, and the place he fell in love with and located to after becoming a winemaker. After college he, as he says, found himself working at the Wine Merchant in Beverly Hills, where besides sweeping floors, he got the chance to try some of the world’s greatest wines, including a range of classic French offerings, which would influence his own wines later in life. While first and foremost a Burgundy lovers and wanting to make the great new world version, he became much more famous for his artistic Rhone style wines, most notably the mentioned Cigare Volant, an ode to Chateauneuf du Pape. Lesser discussed is Randall’s adventures and faith in almost unheard of grapes and his work with out of the way vineyard sites, including now widely known historic Besson and Enz Vineyards, as well as making Grenache before it was cool. Randall’s residual effect of the California wine scene, his visionary ideas that now have come to fruition, has been his influence on the current winemakers doing Rhone style wines and giving a push to seeing these varietals planted in the central coast, believing in the potential for them in Monterey County. He pioneered Picpoul and Vermentino, as well as cool climate Syrah, along with other Rhone Rangers, and has earned a place in the state’s winemaker hall of fame for his incredible body of work, which includes this Old Telegram Mourvèdre. In fact, as Grahm notes, he was inducted into the Vintner’s Hall of Fame in 2010 at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, though he was not all that pleased at the time, since most of the inductees were already long dead and Randall has much more to do and give, including his 10,000 new grapes project and, as he continued, to finally produce a world class estate wine at his extraordinary property in San Juan Bautista, which he calls Popelouchum, (the Mutsun word for “paradise,”) where his final chapter is set to begin and most likely end. After tasting early samples and a few insightful conversations with Randall, I have total believe that he will be hugely successful here, and I look forward to watching this new adventure almost as much as I love his old wines, like this one!
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

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