Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon Vineyard
Dorothy J. Gaiter interviews Santa Cruz wine pioneer Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard.
DG - How did you start to make wine?
RG - What drove me to drink was... I think it was a pathological fear of running out of fine wine to drink. I had the great fortune to work in a wine shop in Beverly Hills, California as a very young man and was exposed to the most extraordinary wines, I mean absolutely amazing. I cut my teeth on these fabulous wines and I thought, I will never be able to afford these wines. If I am ever going to have wines of this caliber I am going to have to learn how to make them myself.
DG - And how did you go about doing that?
RG - Well you know when in doubt go back to school, so I went back to school, UC Davis. They did their best, they tried.
DG - Was there a particular grape that reached out to you?
RG - Well of course, it was Pinot Noir. Why, because it is a difficult grape, it is an impossible grape. And being a guy you want to do impossible, difficult things to your everlasting glory - and immortality. it didnt work out all that great.
DG - Well Pinot is about site, about location, cool climate?
RG - Well it is about everything, Pinot is the most complicated grape to make. I think the point of it is that our paradigm is Burgundy. We love Burgundy. And Burgundy has had the ability to iterate over hundreds if not a thoursand years and really find what absolutely works for their site. I'm afraid in the new world maybe the best we can hope for is a pallid imitation of this platonic ideal. I am not interested anymore in making a good replica.
DG - Your wines are everywhere and they are well thought of, because they deliver fruit, they deliver.
RG - They deliver everything but a sense of place. They are lovely wines, they don't yet have a sense of place. And that is fine except I want to make a wine with a sense of place. That's what drives me, that is my deepest passion.
DG - Well how are you going to do that?
RG - I'm glad you asked. It is going to be tricky. It isn't going to be easy and maybe it is going to fail, but I have some crazy ideas about how to make a wine of place. They are pretty unorthodox ideas. They are maybe even goofy.
It involves creating a large population of different grape varieties. A vast number of different grape varieties and essentially de-emphasising varietal characteristics to allow site characteristics to emerge. It is kind of a Gestalt problem, if you will.
Cool earth is the first thing you smell when you open a bottle of the '08 Cigare Volant, followed by the comforting fragrance of peppermint and raspberry. Tasting the wine, one is struck by its bright acidity and black fruit â€“ mulberry, cassis and black raspberry â€“ coupled with a discreet earthiness (telegraphed, as it were, in the nose). The tannins are gentle, but the wine still possesses a strong upright spine; every element stands in very exquisite balance.