Bonny Doon’s labels bare all – Randall Grahm, part I

Spotted yesterday at a trade tasting: Bonny Doon’s labels are now baring all and putting a full “ingredient” list. This is not a legal requirement but more comprehensive labeling for wine is a subject that is in play. While more information on labels is a probably good thing, it would be helpful to have some context about some of lesser-known aspects of winemaking. But maybe that’s what the internet is for, researching things like wine ingredient lists. What do you think about more information on wine labels?

I asked Doonmaster Randall Grahm what prompted him to take this extra step. He said his reasoning was twofold. While admitting it was a little bit “pious” on his part, he said that he was doing it in part to encourage the industry to do more with less and to be more natural while “trumpeting our own virtue.” Further, he said that it is kind of an enforced discipline: “if you have to add it to the label, you think twice before doing anything.” He added, “It makes a better wine.”

Stay tuned for more with the Randall Grahm as I ask him about screwcaps and his new project!

In case you can’t read it from the blog-blurry photo of his 2008 Albarino (find this wine), here’s the text after the jump:
Ingredients: Biodynamic® grapes and sulfur dioxide.
Other ingredients used in winemaking: indigenous
yeast, organic yeast nutrient and bentonite.
At time of bottling, this product contained:
65 ppm total SO2 and 20 ppm free SO2

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22 Responses to “Bonny Doon’s labels bare all – Randall Grahm, part I”

  1. I wonder if they will list copper treatments to manage hydrogen sulfide odors.

  2. This is a great idea and it’s quite easy to envision Randall’s diabolism. I hope other wineries follow suit. I can’t help but think that the big dogs of the industry will use their attorneys and lobbyist to water down any ingredient legislation that would be of any use to consumers. Bravo Mr. Grahm, love your verve. Thanks for doing more with less.

  3. Product labelling in New Zealand also sees the addition of any fining agents used – a typical back label may state that fish, dairy or egg products may have been utilised in the making of this wine – some traces may remain. The majority of the readers of this site will know that isinglas, casein and egg white are all products used to fine (clarify) turbid wine and that any remnants would likely be at a molecular level. In my experience as a wine retailer I have found that many relative newcomers to wine are quite baffled by this type of labelling and have visions of fish products routined added to the fermenting must or some such. Also, vegans who happily drank the wines when they were unlabelled are now confronted with the use of animal products and are finding their choices hugely diminished.

    As an aside; one of the results of a greater awareness (if not understanding)of organic wine production and farming methods seems to be a demonisation of sulphur dioxide (Preservative 220). I regularly have people telling me that they can only drink organic wines as these wines do not use sulphur and they are allergic to it. I generally have to respectfully and gently point out that organic wines also use sulphur dioxide and that many of the food products that we eat such as tinned foods, dried fruits, breakfast cereals/muesli, pre packed meals and so on contain sizeable amounts of sulphur so it is unlikely that sulphur is the cause of their allergies.

    While concise food product labelling can be a blessing, it can also be a curse….

  4. I am going to classify this as more of a marketing technique than anything else.
    What’s next, nutrition labels?

  5. Hey Brian –

    Indeed, Randall told me that the would put copper on the label if they used it. But he said that they don’t now that they are Biodynamic (I didn’t know BioD spoke to copper in the winery since it does allow copper as a fungal treatment in the vineyard). Bonny Doom used copper in the winery in previous, screwcapped, pre-BioD vintages he said.

    Mark – Thanks for your observations as a retailer. It is confusing and no doubt needs more space than a back label allows to explain everything.

  6. I applaud Randall Grahm. The real issue is that most wine marketing disconnects wine from agriculture and the process. For the majority of the wine industry this will be seen as more of a threat than a marketing tool.

  7. Transparency = accountability. I hope more winemakers follow suit and that there will be more resources for wine consumers to reference ingredients and wone making processes.

    Cheers to Bonny Doon for encouraging this socially responsible practice!

  8. I agree with Randy that it is sound marketing, but that doesn’t default Randall’s reasoning for doing this. He has his heart in the right place, and I appreciate his sentiments on keeping the wine honest.

  9. For my own wine purchasing I like Randall’s labeling idea, but I already know what all of that stuff is used for. If his intention is to market his wines as natural I think that he is missing the boat. The general public already see wine as a natural agricultural product. Listing his additives emphasises the perception (opposite of his intention)that his wine is a processed food. Even though he adds relatively little to his wine, all that an average consumer will see is that he is adding things that are “not grapes.”

  10. Sounds like Randall is trying to follow the lead of the late (and great) Walter Taylor of New York’s Bull Hill Winery. Walt was talking about Honesty in Labeling on wine at least 40 years ago………..How quickly we forget!

  11. I think what Randall is doing is great. I actually saw one of his wines with copper sulfate listed as an ingredient.

    The problem is that most wineries claim to be natural and forget to mention all of the things they add to the wine.

  12. […] Dr Vino brings up an interesting trend in wine making where the wine maker (or marketing department) is actually listing out all of the ingredients on the back label. […]

  13. Tyler:
    Wine is one of the only food products that doesn’t list ingredients (other than the meaningless “contains sulfites”)
    Most people have no idea what goes into wine and assume its just grapes and perhaps yeast– leaving out in some cases the bacteria, acids, sugar, added wines from sunnier climates in bad years, wood chips, artificial and natural flavors, fining agents, and other pimping products… I agree its not appetizing to see on a bottle, but more transparency is welcome.
    Randall has always been edgy and this move is an interesting challenge to the industry.

  14. It’s an interesting debate, but I agree with Mark, the concern for me is that the general public doesn’t understand what the listed ingredients are actually used for. Listing yeast hulls and bentonite is all well and good, but with no explanation, that leaves the consumer standing in the aisles of the wine store a little confused. As a sommelier, I constantly hear the headache / sulfite complaint from customers, especially with red wine. While I try to politely exlpain that sulfites are not the agent causing headaches from red wine consumption and that white wine generally needs more SO2 than red wine for protection from oxidation, microbes, etc., it’s close to impossible to convince people. There is a big misconception, at least in my LA experiences, about the purpose of additives. If we are transparent, then we need to provide more information about the additives.

    In just reading what I can from the photographed label, I can see “yeast nutrients” (maybe there’s more to it that I can’t see), that means nothing to the average consumer. It sounds really nice and natural. But to me if I read that in store, I’d think it was a euphemism for DAP or FermAid K or something. (That wouldn’t stop me from buying a wine I liked btw) I guess what I’m saying it “yeast nutrient” sufficient? Is it still misleading? How specific do we need to be? I think these are issues that need to be explored further.

  15. […] Bonny Doon’s labels bare all – Randall Grahm, part I – March 12, 2009 […]

  16. […] Bonny Doon’s labels bare all – Randall Grahm, part I Bonny Doon Vineyard Permalink | SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: “Randall Grahm – the way back is the way forward – part II”, url: “” }); | American wine This entry was posted on Thursday, March 26th, 2009 at 2:48 pm and is filed under American wine. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. Mar 26 2009 […]

  17. […] But American wineries are not required to print lot numbers on bottles. They should. And they should have a standard of 100 percent accuracy. Maybe some progressive wineries will start to do this as Bonny Doon has with ingredient labeling. […]

  18. […] we ingredient labeling on American wines, would they have to add naked woman if they do the traditional pigeage? Permalink | Comments (0) […]

  19. […] movement in the wine business that says that all wines should carry ingredient labelling (see what Bonny Doon are doing) just as most other food & drink products do. The question will be, will any consumer […]

  20. […] Bonny Doon’s labels bare all […]

  21. […] we discussed Randall Grahm’s decision to bare all on his labels and that the FDA may push all producers in that direction. And don’t forget […]

  22. […] with Ridge Vineyards, Bonny Doon, and Calera putting lots of info on their labels, there must be something in the air of the Santa […]


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