Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bonny Doon Querry: hard cider from Randall Grahm

Randall Grahm can't help himself. Sometimes he's an astute businessman who foresees the Riesling boom coming and founds a company, Pacific Rim, to surf that wave. But more often, he likes to drink something and decides to make it himself: damn the logistics, full speed ahead.

That's why he's now in the cider business. He just likes the cider from Asturia, Spain, and decided to try his hand at making it.

For a guy who's one of the best promoters in the wine industry, he's not telling many people about his cider; heck, he hasn't even sent James Laube a bottle yet. I happened to be eating in the same restaurant as Grahm last weekend -- Oliveto in Oakland -- and saw it on the wine list. So I ran to his table and said, "You're making cider?" Without evicting his daughter from his lap, he told me the story.

For his first vintage, 2010, Grahm miscalculated how much pressure the in-bottle fermentation would cause and Boom! Half the bottles he filled exploded. Now he's worked out that problem, so fruit sourcing is his biggest issue.

Spain grows apples specifically for cider; they have more acidity and less sugar than eating apples. Those apples probably exist somewhere in California, but Grahm had a hard time sourcing them, so he decided to make the cider from apples, pears and quince.

The production may be a hassle, but the finished product is quite good. Bonny Doon Querry ($16) is very fruit-forward, yet dry and refreshing. Apple is the dominant flavor, but there's a waxiness to the aroma, possibly from the quince, that gives it good complexity. It's just 7% alcohol and is lightly sparkling.

The Spanish drink cider with mild blue cheese -- well, in Asturia they drink it with everything. I found Querry refreshing in the middle of a meal, as a change-of-pace palate cleanser. I can also see it as an interesting beer alternative with salty snacks while watching football. Maybe that's lowbrow, but in Asturia they're more famous for how they pour cider than how they drink it, so pairing with football might elevate it a notch. And it's nice to see Randall Grahm score another esoteric goal.

You can order Querry from the Bonny Doon website.

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  1. Blake,
    We are DEWN club members at home, and late last year I ordered a bottle of the Querry among some other more esoteric BDV offerings, and we opened it at our New Years Day Bubbly Brunch. Light, fresh, fruity, brisk, and a fine dry was evident, and the pear showed through as well. I think that we are on the verge of a national revival of the cider industry, and finely crafted examples like this one, point to what is possible for our future.
    PS We still have lots of abandoned heirloom cider apples littered all over the northeast...time to be grafting.

  2. Todd: You're so right, with locavorism increasing and the Northeast's difficulty with wine grapes (outside Long Island/Finger Lakes) and great terroir for apples, cider is due for a major renaissance. Many people want lower-alcohol beverages; hard to beat 7% with full flavor.

  3. "best promoters" -- faint praise!

    I was DEWN member but dropped it. They were interesting, some quite good, and two memorable duds

  4. I definitely sense interest growing up here and know of at least one old orchard that is being revived up the valley from us. While I'm definitely a proponent of the cold hardy hybrid vines, that can grow pretty much anywhere apples can, this year I definitely have to make room in the fall crush for some cider.

  5. Aaaaand it's gone... glad I ordered a couple bottles. Thanks for sharing this. Always looking for interesting domestic ciders and the addition of quince sounds zingy and refreshing. Can't wait to try it.