My goal here is to share with other wine enthusiasts my discoveries as I judge at wine competitions and visit wine regions, with occasional commentary about issues touching the wine scene, especially in California.
OK, the wine is called "Bone-Jolly." Its label is a traditionally jaunty salute to Dia de los Muertos, one calavera playing a guitar, another an accordion as they dance about a table set with wine. Cases of the stuff are stacked in the middle of the wine department at Corti Brothers in Sacramento, showing up right on the eve of Halloween.
A novelty wine, meant to capitalize on the country's zany affection for all things Halloween, right? Not so fast. Given the amateurish and superficial marketing so popular in the wine trade these days, no one can be blamed for such suspicions. "Bone-Jolly," however, isn't an effort to exploit the grim jubilation that attends Halloween. "Bone-Jolly" has a long and colorful history, and to see it on the market just before Halloween is more an accident of timing than coy manipulation, I want to believe.
The full and proper name of the wine is the Edmunds St. John 2010 El Dorado County Gamay Noir Bone-Jolly. Berkeley winemaker Steve Edmunds has been producing Bone-Jolly for around a decade. He wanted to make a wine that recognized the cycle of growth and death as represented by the gradual development of grape clusters followed by their quick dispatch, all in a spirit appreciative yet light-hearted.
"In perfect balance, a man with life's weight on his shoulders (Gravitas) smells a bouquet of violets and his spirt soars out over this weary world. A jolly-ness (la Jouissance) ignites in his bones. He laughs in the face of death, and the dead laugh, too; it's a joke shared across the abyss," writes Edmunds on the back label.
Only one style of wine, he adds, can evoke this mystery - Beaujolais made from the grape gamay noir au jus blanc. It's a variety not much cultivated in California, but after Edmunds found some being farmed at around 3,000 feet up the Sierra foothills he began to turn out his earnest yet happy interpretation of Beaujolais. "Bone-Jolly" is a wine lean, frisky and light-hearted, meant to be consumed casually, with more levity than gravitas. As Beaujolais, it's a wine to be celebrated for its knack at promoting unaffected jolliness about the table, quickening the pulse and raising spirits. Call in the musicians.
The name "Bone-Jolly" is a play on Beaujolais - say it fast and repeatedly. Tom Rozum did the art of the label. The wine is a light ruby with a fringe of purple. It's fruity but dry, with threads of fresh flowers, dried herbs and granite weaving through its youthful fruit, which presents itself embracingly up front, then excuses itself quickly but politely, finishing with a snap of citric tang. It's a playful wine, lithe and spicy, but with an earthy vitality. It comes in a screwcap bottle, with just 12.4 percent alcohol. It sells for $18 at Corti Brothers, but it is somewhat of a cult wine, with an avid following that waits to pounce upon its release, like some zombie hiding behind a tree.
Footnote: I was just finishing this item when what should be delivered but the hot-off-the-press newssetter for Edmunds St. John, wherein Steve Edmunds announces that the 2011 version of Bone-Jolly is just being released. Read about it here. Note that the suggested retail price for the 2011 is up $2 over the 2010.