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Banana Slug Wine

news3Art and wine come together with Bonny Doon Vineyard, UCSC partnership

"A former colleague said I’m looking more like James Joyce,” admits Randall Grahm, the witty vintner whiz behind Bonny Doon Vineyard, in reference to how he and the aforementioned Irish author wear similar circular eyeglasses.

The comparison of the men could continue, given the avant-garde creativity and unique paths forged by both. Yet, while Joyce demonstrated his keen awareness of the world through a stream of consciousness writing style, Grahm continues to capture his originality in wine bottles. This knack is evident in his latest label, for which the winemaker time-travelled back to his days at UC Santa Cruz.



In the ’70s, not even a decade after UCSC was built, Grahm was a philosophy and pre-med student, affiliated, unsurprisingly, with the artsy, free-thinking College Five, known today as Porter College (proud owner of “The Squiggle”). Another prized Porter possession can usually be found inside of an office overlooking this curvy red statue: Dean of the Arts David Yager. Ever since being named dean two-and-a-half years ago, Yager has made a deliberate effort to implement creative collaborations between UCSC and the City of Santa Cruz, taking the term “college town” to a
new level.

One of the most fruitful of these partnerships began almost six months ago, as Yager chatted with Grahm over coffee. The pair decided that one lucky UCSC art student would have the chance to design a wine label for Bonny Doon Vineyard, and a portion of the proceeds would go toward art department scholarships.
This partnership seemed like a no-brainer from the get-go as far as Yager was concerned. “It was a combination of [already] knowing Randall Grahm, looking for an avenue to create more student scholarships, and seeing how passionate people are about wine here,” explains Yager.

The result? The 2010 Banana Slug Roussanne—a white wine, though appropriately yellow in color, that is the embodiment of light autumnal fruit, such as quince and Asian pear, yet is simultaneously strong enough to be paired with rich dishes.

Essentially, “It’s a white wine that thinks it’s a red wine,” says Louise Leong, quoting Grahm himself. Leong is the UCSC art major, education minor, and illustration editor for the student-run newspaper City on a Hill Press who designed the label. Art department staff selected three art students to submit label designs, from which Grahm and Yager chose Leong’s.
Leong’s label was conscientiously crafted. After all, it had to be, according to Grahm. “The objective of a wine label is to somehow communicate, in an oblique way, the contents of the inside,” he says.

Grahm says the two other significant functions of a wine label are “to attract someone to the bottle—to pick it up and buy it” [and] “to set [someone’s] expectations and have those expectations met.”
Leong’s winning label strays from the farmlands, quaint cottages, et al. featured on traditional wine labels, and instead uses bright colors and bold techniques in its depiction of a banana slug (suggested by Yager), a pear, bees, Grahm’s celebrated car (a 1972 DS-21 Citroën), and a Flying Cigar—a reference to Bonny Doon’s flagship wine, “Le Cigare Volant,” which is also the name of the winery’s on-site restaurant.

Leong is now part of a group of internationally acclaimed artists that includes Gary Taxali and Ralph Steadman, who have also provided entertaining, clever images for Grahm’s creations. The collaboration went so well that Leong is currently working on another label for Bonny Doon Vineyard—an opportunity that is sure to further her plans for pursuing illustration and design professionally once she graduates from UCSC in June.

Pleased with this project, Grahm also hints toward further partnership with the UCSC Arts Division, revealing, “It’s very likely we’ll do a red as well.”

Leong’s artwork, along with the labels designed by runners-ups Arriane Martin-Cuadrado and Kristen Gautier-Downes, will be on display at the Le Cigare Volant Tasting Room on April 30, in honor of the official release of the highly anticipated 2010 Banana Slug Roussanne, which runs $16 per bottle (or $13.60 for Bonny Doon Vineyard members).

For those intrigued by Grahm’s transformation from student to winemaker, the 2011 book “An Ideal Wine” by David Darlington explores Grahm’s fondness for Santa Cruz and UCSC’s influence on his stimulating career. Plus, it’s chock-full of unforgettable Grahm-isms, like this one—found on page 45:  

Wine was my LSD … it was like discovering sex—it created all sorts of possibilities that weren’t there before, and added a richness to life that was all new to me.”


Bonny Doon Vineyard is located at 328 Ingalls St., Santa Cruz. Call 425-6771 or 425-6737 for more information. To purchase a bottle or case of 2010 Banana Slug Roussanne, go to bonnydoonvineyard.com.

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