On Being Incongruent1 or A Very Dry Season

On Being Incongruent1 or A Very Dry Season

It has been a long, dry season.2 This is likely the driest year in Northern California for as long as anyone has been keeping records, coming off of two previous dry years; that we have experienced now only trace amounts of rain since the harvest season has been enormously disorienting and disquieting to me, (and certainly to everyone else in these parts).3 Is this serious drought a function of global climate change? Maybe, (likely) so, but that’s sort of beside the point.4
sunny
I’m depressed about the dry weather and depressed about the dry weather in my spirit as well, manifested as a desire but seeming inability to verbally express myself. It’s been a while since I’ve weighed in. I feel that much the same way one can neglect relationships with friends and acquaintances, I’ve rather unfortunately let this liaison with you, dear reader, lapse a bit, though arguably, it may well be the relationship I have with myself that has slightly gone off the rails.5 It is a bit complicated.You know that life at the Doon has been very tough for the last several years on many levels, not the least of which has been financially. I have worried at times that the grand plans to create new grape varieties from seeds and produce utterly distinctive wines expressive of place, may in fact have been the vivid illumination that the (at least fiscally) drowning man experiences just before the end.6,7
Erato (the muse of literature)
It has bothered me that these days I seem to have so very little to say; it’s a worry that the creative well has perhaps at last gone dry. Some of this silent treatment, as it were, has been a function of an incredibly busy harvest, and following harvest, a rather ambitious, if not utterly crazy course of sales-related travel.8 ,9,10 I have been busy, it’s true, and yet, I believe that my relative lack of inspiration – we are not particularly a-Mused – may be the fact that I’ve been feeling less and less myself, and that my company, which is another way of saying my art, seems, at least by a certain measure, to have diverged a bit from its stated values and aspirations. This is not really how I would design things to be, but it is rather a matter of trying to keep body and soul together as one aspires to the noblest ends. How much might one diverge whilst still keeping an eye to the prize?

I’ve heard and read in so many places that the secret to success in business (and likely in life in general) is to become as congruent as one possibly can be with oneself; this will make it ultimately a lot easier to express the truth of one’s brand (and more importantly, of oneself). You are pulling in a single coherent direction, at least as feasibly as you can, the one dictated by your heart. Intuitively at least, how could this not be right?
carboys
This is, in fact, what I have sought in recent years to do with the transformation of Bonny Doon. To focus on making better, more “natural,” wholesome wines, eschewing winemaking “tricks,” paying more attention to the infinite details of winemaking, and of course maintaining the aspiration of someday producing “necessary” wines, i.e. vins de terroir, those capable of capturing and expressing a sense of place, as reflected in the wine.11 Our wines are, in fact, better than they’ve ever been, and while there have been some limitations on our ability to achieve an echt enological éclat,12 we have made some real breakthroughs in our practice, to wit, the recent Cigare Volant and Cigare Blanc Réserve wines, wines that utterly knock me out for their coherence and seamlessness (this is no mean thing), but which, to my great disappointment, have been largely ignored by the wine press.13,14 Nor, for that matter, are our wholesalers doing the ecstatic, acrobatic back-flips over these wines that properly they might.15 Not that I’m complaining, mind you,16 but one really does have to wonder what it takes to sell wine these days.17 In retrospect, my “evolutionary” approach toward revamping the Bonny Doon proposition should instead have been far more revolutionary, and I should have worked harder and faster when there were more resources to hand to establish a more singular identity for the company.18 But the ideas and plans for the new Estate at Popelouchum, if it is to be truly revolutionary, must follow the soul’s path, one that meanders randomly and randally and in fact cannot be rushed.19
Biochar
I am surprised and frankly a bit chagrined that making more soulful wines through better practice has not particularly translated into a significantly warmer embrace from the people who buy, sell or write about our wines. I understand all too well (cf. footnote #13, supra) that the coherency of one’s narrative is absolutely crucial to convey a mental picture of what exactly it is that you’re selling; to my dismay, this narrative is becoming more labyrinthian and convoluted by the moment. We’ve lost a couple of biodynamic growers and haven’t been able to replace them – very disappointing – and it is not so easy to explain why fewer of the wines now carry the Demeter® certification. This is personally quite poignant to me. More people seem to have gradually woken up to the virtue of grapes (and everything else) grown in “live” soils and I wish we were in a position to bring brilliant Biodynamic/biochar enriched compost to all of the vineyards we work with.20 I am troubled by the fact that despite assurances to everyone who would listen that my company was “doon-sizing,” the number of wines in our portfolio seems to be growing both in volume and in number. I am particularly sensitive to the fact that cynical critics may wish to question the sincerity of my devotion to artisanal wines, and I might well continue to be tarred by the corporate or “industrial” Big House brush.21

I suspect that I might still be the most Pollyanna-ish person in the wine business. Wine is (or at least should be) sold on the basis of its quality, but the real business end of the proposition is, as I’m so painfully learning, the business end of it. I am not bothered so much that I must choose between how to spend the very finite amount of resource that we as a company possess; this is just Reality 101 and we are (for the most part) grown-ups. But I am appalled – this is the Kali Yuga, so what should I expect? – that spending money for marketing and sales promotions seems to yield a much greater return on investment than buying compost (biodynamic or not) for our growers or spending the money for a supplemental crop-thinning pass. It is truly doubtful that viticultural virtue is really much rewarded these days (or maybe if ever) apart from the cases of the greatest wine growers in the world. And I look longingly at that rarified world as if through the looking glass.
Popelouchum
I seem to understand better every day what must needs be doon at Popelouchum; there is nothing else I would wish to talk about, dream about than this. But as soon I begin I will just as soon grow mute; the voice inside me always reminding me of the increasingly deeper disparity between word and deed. I am approached by people all the time – especially in this recent season of road warriorship – who ask me, “So, Randall, how’s the seedling project going at San Juan?” “How long will it take to get your first harvest from seedlings anyway?”22 “And, when will we see some wine?” I am utterly embarrassed to tell them that while we have some modest Grenache seedlings in our little nursery plot at San Juan,23 the actual, massively ambitious project of the breeding of new varieties is still several years off.24 What do we have on the positive side of the ledger? We have planted a little over a half-acre of Pinot noir – very intensively spaced, I hasten to add – and we’re likely to see some grapes this vintage. And there are some fairly substantial nursery rows of sundry grapes – Grenache of the noir, blanc and gris persuasion; they’re bearing beautiful, intensely flavorful fruit, even at a very tender age, and some other exotics, notably Ruchè and Rossese that look incredibly promising.25 I am half, nay 98%, convinced that truly almost anything grown at Popelouchum will be exceptional. (But, how much San Benito County Ruchè the world is ready to cellar away remains to be seen.)
A Proper Claret
The problem is that the more I say, the more I elaborate, the greater the set of (unmeetable) expectations I begin to create. I feel like the pathological fabulist who begins with a relatively modest fib and every time he tries to explain or clarify, he is compelled to embellish the original small untruth with greater ornament and dissembling.

How far has it gone? Years ago I planted Bordeaux varieties at our estate vineyard in the rustic hamlet of Bonny Doon – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec,26 and produced two vintages (1985, 1986) before grafting them over. (I’m not quite sure I even remember know why I planted the Bordelais cépages in the first place, but the world then was a lot simpler.)27 I laconically called this blend “Claret,” as I had not yet really learned to embrace marketing schtick, but understood well (even then) that there was a certain gravitas to an Estate wine.28 I just loved the simplicity and elegance of the term, “Claret,” tout court.29,30 The two vintages of Claret, even coming from very young vines, were actually quite remarkable.31 But when the wines we were making with Rhône varieties began to click, it seemed wise to simplify our product mix and graft the Bordelais cépages over to “Roussanne” and Marsanne to focus on Rhône-styled wines. Even with my limited understanding of marketing principles, I was trying to create something like a coherent product mix and coherent narrative, after all. At that point, I publicly and somewhat theatrically foreswore Bordelais cépages, and rather immaturely essayed to systematically take the piss out of the Napalese and their Medocian monoculture.32 Cab-burn-net, baby, burn.
Fishnets
Now we’re making a Bordeaux-styled blend called “A Proper Claret.”33 I pretend (somewhat half-heartedly) that I have absolutely nothing to do with this vinous adventurism, that it was in fact Some Other Doppelgänger Dude (this is slightly far-fetched) who has masterminded the whole project. But this little antic has allowed me to have some fun (fun always useful in these stressful times), trying my hand at ventriloquism in the pseudonymous voice,34 and of course working with varieties I haven’t seen in more than twenty-five years.35 We enclosed a pair of red fishnet stockings for the distributors to try on (if they so elect to do so) as they taste the wine. Frankly, I had hoped to put aside this sort of theatrical hijinx with the sale of the Big House brand, and induce our customers to focus instead on the intrinsic qualities of the wine. I am dooned, it seems, to a life of playing the clown.

I must confess that playing around with the Bordelais grapes I pretend to despise has actually been intellectually quite stimulating and the guerilla marketing quite amusing (despite all protestation to the contrary). By all reckoning, “A Proper Claret” appears to be well on its way to becoming a great commercial success. We’ve produced more in 2013, even adding a substantial amount of Merlot to the blend. Merlot! How strange is that? And how ironic would it be if it were these putatively despisèd cépages that saved the Doon?36
Perelandra
What I most want to be doing right now is sending you reports of the Great Work-in-Progress. I want to be spending time communing with the Nature spirits of a wildly promiscuous plantation, following the lead of the utterly strange garden book, “Perelandra.”37 I want to be telling you what it feels like to “castrate” a male grape flower.38 Or, to walk a row of vines grown from seedlings, looking for the outward characteristics that might serve as a proxy for grape quality, and to share these febrile impressions with you. It is unfortunate that I am and most certainly will remain a Luftmensch for the rest of my days, but even if I could learn to “see” if not read just a little bit of Nature’s expressive signage in this lifetime, that would represent an extraordinary personal achievement. Most of all, I want to be doing the things in my life that I feel really matter and are potentially exemplary, especially in the realm of sustainability – producing biochar, perfecting the techniques of dry-farming a vineyard. It still seems to be very far away, but objects in the distance may, in fact, be closer than they seem.

  1. Bear in mind that while this note is indeed a genuine cri de coeur, things could in fact be much worse (for everyone). The title of this piece could have been “On Being Incontinent.” []
  2. I must apologize at the outset for the slightly whiny and at times seemingly self-pitying tone of this narrative. I am, in fact, quite grateful for the incredibly great fortune I have enjoyed over the years: I’ve had a remarkably long and fruitful run (that is by no means over, to be sure.) This little exercise in abreaction is my own attempt to vent some frustrations, try to cleanse them from my system, and get on with the business of bringing some great and important wines into the world. []
  3. That dry-farming is the centerpiece of my intention for the Popelouchum Estate creates yet another rather poignant irony. []
  4. Whether we can ever establish with 100% certainty that the causes of climate change are man-made is moot. It should be compellingly obvious that we must act as if the very survival of the species depends on changing our behaviors to mitigate climate change, as very likely it does. I’ve written about the use of biochar in farming as a strategy to effect carbon sequestration. For the planet, it is likely the most practical, feasible strategy that we can adopt at this point to rapidly mitigate climate change (and enjoy numerous other salutary benefits besides, including but not limited to enhanced soil fertility (and concomitant eschewal of outside inputs), healthier and more nutritious crops, and significant water conservation). However, to my great consternation, neither Bonny Doon nor the planet has seemed able to respond soon enough to forestall a potentially catastrophic end for either entity. []
  5. I mentioned this fact to my shrink the other day, and in fact, she proposed that I consider the opposite proposition. (She is undoubtedly right about this.) It has been so tough in recent years that perhaps I have been unable to really get in touch with my feelings. It is only now that the coast is clear (or maybe more accurately, slightly clearer) that I can allow myself to feel all of the dread and apprehension that I’ve blocked out in the recent past. []
  6. Happily, the company is doing far better than it has doon in years. I am completely certain we will make money this year, not a crazy amount, but some. It is just that some of the things that it seems we have been compelled to do as a company make it a bit more difficult to really line up as congruently with myself as I would ideally like to see. Had I been more skillful in managing things over the previous years, perhaps this slight diversion from the True Path might have been at least partially averted. []
  7. In the last few years I have grown accustomed to relative deprivation (at the very least in the land of capital expenditures) – i.e. anything that did not seem to result in a fairly immediate return on investment or a project that was on some level considered “fun,” i.e. suspect, was immediately relegated to the back burner. Therefore, the recent glimpse of the possibility of now advancing the planting if not planning agenda has induced a slight feeling of vertigo, perhaps even a tinge of panic. I am reminded of the character in Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, who throughout the book is working on building a boat. Whenever he is near completion of his boat, he feels compelled to rethink the entire concept and design of the project and must begin again from scratch. This is due, of course, to the fact that he is utterly terrified of going into the water. []
  8. Another enormous feeling of incongruence has come from the observation of what it is that I do most every day and comparing/contrasting it with the misty fantasy of how I imagined my life to be at this juncture in my career. What I had imagined was that I would be able to spend most of my time doing what I loved the most – primarily working outdoors in a beautiful vineyard, deeply reflecting upon and observing how one might fashion a truly original wine, one reflective of a sense of place. And on another level, meditating on how one might fashion a truly sustainable wine, elegantly minimizing external inputs, discovering the potential synergies one might have in fostering a complex ecosystem in what is called a “promiscuous culture.” What in fact I am mostly doing is flying on airplanes (as I am at this very moment), arriving or leaving airports, spending time in hotel rooms, presenting the Bonny Doon range at distributor sales meetings and public tastings, (though sometimes at fancy restaurants, which is not too bad lest there be six enormous courses of Animal Protein’s Greatest Hits, the plates of which I will inevitably polish to a high degree of reflectivity, down to the last pea or baby carrot in fact, to comfort myself and ease the slight feeling of anxiety, because I am (still) nervous talking to strangers, and with too much frequency being driven around by unspeakably and dangerously mindless salespeople, who will talk or text on their cell phones whilst driving – just got to get that very last order in before the warehouse closes – steering with their knees – this has truly happened on multiple occasions – as they navigate lane changes at a heart-stopping rate of speed. []
  9. This explanation doesn’t quite wash, because, in fact, I’ve done some of my best writing while traveling on airplanes, trains, and in the odd hotel room in the odd state. (And some of the states to which I’ve traveled recently have been plenty odd. []
  10. And to my great chagrin, another utterly ridiculous, epic travel cycle will shortly begin again. []
  11. There are really no top secrets to making great wine, apart from paying attention to the zillions of details involved in the process, and most significantly, beginning with great grapes, which can come your way if you grow them yourself (skillfully), or alternately have the wit do discover/discern them and have the deep pockets (likely) necessary to purchase them. Alas, California’s cache of great undiscovered/undervalued grapes has largely (but not completely) been picked over/depleted, with some significant exceptions, cf. infra. I have written elsewhere about the existential Angst associated with the planting of a new vineyard – how it seems like such an utterly random and contingent choice, and one might well live in great dread of the “Curse of the Home Ranch Fruit,” but I am completely over this potentially debilitating fear, I assure you. []
  12. This would undoubtedly be rectified by the appearance of a dry-farmed Estate vineyard, ideally planted to a unique genetic mix of grape varieties (and God knows what else), which I’ve been talking about for years. I think that within the press there has occurred something like “Randall Fatigue,” or to put it another way, a certain wariness of “The Boy Who Cried Terroir, which is to say that unless and until I can stand and deliver the really authentic goods, it will likely continue to be difficult to be noticed much at all. []
  13. Which is not to say that these wines are anything like vins de terroir, indeed they are anything but. Apart from deriving from multiple vineyard sites of diverse geology and geography, the wines are somewhat stylized (what is one winemaker’s stylization is of course another’s transparency); they are just Umami Central, due to the zealous degree of lees conservation and incorporation. []
  14. One hurdle for our future success will be our ability to acquire the skills to market a “luxury brand,” the clientele for which is not exactly the typical BDV cohort. I’m not sure what sort of psychic deformation might occur in the acquisition of these branding skills, but it can’t be pretty. I’ve chanced to recently spend small intervals of time at a friend’s country club; maybe homeopathic exposure to high net-worth individuals will help this effort. []
  15. This may well in part by due to the ever constricting nature of the 3-tier system – wholesale distributors are becoming generally less adept at building brands (and in some sense, BDV is much like a start-up), but equally, a function of our lack of expertise in marketing a “luxury brand” – whatever the hell that is – or perhaps just the seemingly oxymoronic juxtaposition of BDV and the luxe value proposition. (Rebranding is, as they say, a bitch.) I’ve written about this issue quite a bit over the last several years, perhaps even obsessively, trying my best, like Job, to understand why the Order of Nature seems to work in such mysterious ways. Maybe the problem stems from the deeply conservative nature of human perception. It is my operational theory that wine critics who should in fact know better, are largely (and somewhat tragically) incapable of discerning the evolution (especially if subtle) in winemaking styles, and perceiving that our wines (just for example) are in fact much better than they’ve been in ages. (It is a lot easier for them to discover relatively new producers whom they are looking at with new eyes and relatively fresh palates.) I think this may partially be due to what one might call, in Dali-esque fashion, “the persistence of taste-memory,” i.e. you, that is to say, everyone, has a certain idea of how things are, or at least were, and barring a major, shocking re-set of those perceptions (more about that in a second), one continues to “see” things not as they actually are, but largely as they were. Wine tasting and wine judging is actually incredibly difficult to do (not that I really want to take these critics entirely off the hook). There have been numerous studies that show the utter capriciousness of “objective tasting” and the enormous disparity of tasting results at wine competitions. If you are making wine for any of the highly influential wine publications that shall remain nameless, it is, in fact, fairly easy to predict if you have a likely winner or not. You might cynically and somewhat simplistically say, “Just look at the optical opacity and textural density of the wines.” But charming the more subtle palates of the wine press and public and overcoming their preconceived notions about a wine or winemaker is a far more challenging proposition. As percipients, we use the “knowledge” (whether factual or not) we have about the world to inform our perceptions and fill in the vast liminal areas surrounding the generally incomplete and blurry phenomena we are experiencing. Maybe it’s a function of our intuition that we can’t entirely trust our own senses (it’s true, we can’t), and that we really need to rely on something like “objective” data to avoid colossal and embarrassing error. (When tasters are told that a certain wine is more expensive, it consistently tastes better; 1st growths almost always taste better than 2nds, especially if you’ve been privy to see the label.) You can think of this as a sort of perceptual Auto-tune. Therefore, I would gently suggest that while we could no doubt make better wine, and indeed we should continue to strive to do so, our problem is not so much that our wines aren’t quite good, or even quite price-worthy, but that we haven’t properly created the right set of received signifiers that offer the conceptual rationale for a revaluation of our wines. There is no doubt that, irrespective of any real changes in wine “quality” (itself a term fraught beyond words), simply by claiming that the wine comes from old, head-trained and/or dry-farmed vines, or was Estate grown, or utilized 100% whole clusters, or was farmed biodynamically or was aged in 100% new, 4 year-old air-dried barrels from the recherché Romanée-Conti cooperage, (or better amphorae from rare clay dug from the Estate itself,) or was produced from a special suitcase clone from the aforesaid Burgundian domaine, or even resulting from privileged winemaking communiqués via Ouija board from the spirit of Henri Jayer, would likely result in the perception of our wine (or indeed any wine) in a new and more flattering way. Maybe it is beside the point that an Estate grown Cigare would likely be truly extraordinary (though we won’t use 100% new barrels, or indeed possibly any barriques at all), but this sort of dramatic paradigm shift seems to be what is necessary to create a real change in the perception of the brand. []
  16. I am complaining and bitterly about the essential unjustness of the world, which, of course, I am in no position to change. []
  17. I will, in fact, tell you in just a moment. []
  18. But, what’s Doon is Doon. []
  19. This sounds to me, as I read it, like perhaps a bit of a rationalization of my own behavioral limitations. My own process is in fact quite slow, maybe just too slow to accomplish what must needs be doon in the remaining years allotted to me. Or maybe I’m subconsciously just not rushing things (as much as they could be expedited) with the knowledge that when the vineyard is fully planted perhaps my work in this lifetime is doon. []
  20. The virtue perhaps, but not necessarily the value. The harsh reality is that farming biodynamically, while a supremely beautiful and noble thing to do, has not, at least in our case, particularly enhanced our ability to raise prices or to increase the velocity of our sales. []
  21. The public and wine industry still remain remarkably confused about where I currently stand in relation to the entity that is BDV, as well as to the Big House and Cardinal Zin brands; many know that I sold something a few tears ago. (Everyone has a slightly different story, but many just assume that I sold the entire company, and have been enjoying something like a life of leisure for the last seven years. []
  22. For the record, it seems to take three years in the ground from planting at Davis, CA and approximately ten years in Torino, Italy. In San Juan Bautista, I would venture that we could split the difference and say perhaps six or seven. []
  23. Remember these are the offspring of the self-fertilized Grenache vines and as such they carry a number of recessive genes, resulting in the botanical equivalent of hip dysplasia in collies, hemophilia and cretinism in human beings. []
  24. We must begin first with establishing mother vines, and observing how they perform, then make the most thoughtful, intuitive extrapolation possible as far as what sets of parents might make the most felicitous union. This is viticultural matchmaking at a very high level. []
  25. Whether it was the biochar that we used in the preparation of the nursery rows, or (one hopes) the biochar in conjunction with the magical qualities of Popelouchum itself, every bit of produce that we have grown from grapes to tomatoes or strawberries, or olives, has evinced incredibly intense flavor and concentration. Maybe this is too important a point to bury in a footnote, but the disparity of the sheer brilliance of the fruit and veggies that we are growing at Popelouchum and the scale at which it is being grown causes me a level of psychic distress that I can only begin to convey to you in this missive. []
  26. Even then I was drawn to the proposition of blended wines, or perhaps intuitively understood that it made sense to hedge one’s bets. []
  27. I also planted Chardonnay and Pinot noir as well; the former was actually quite nice, the latter rather lackluster. This, of course, turned out to be a rather lucky break, as it led me to the Rhône varieties, which, in sum, have worked out quite well for me. I could have quixotically continued to chase after Pinot for all of these years, and ended up sadder, poorer and likely no wiser. []
  28. I am perhaps greatly belaboring the point here but when you produce an Estate wine you are telling the world precisely (and literally) where you stand. If the grapes you are growing make sense and you do it skillfully, there can be no greater expression of congruity. []
  29. The rest of the California wine scene was becoming rather keen on varietally designated wines at that point. []
  30. I lobbied (albeit not so strenuously) for the use of the term “Claret” as a substitute for the incredibly lame term, “Meritage.” []
  31. The take-home lesson here is that a great site, as the original estate seemed to be, will produce wonderful wines from a vast range of grape varieties. []
  32. There is now at last a legitimate reason to take the piss, as with but a few exceptions, the ubiquitous overripe and overwrought style of Cabernet in Napa and elsewhere is just beyond the pale. []
  33. The predominant percentage of the grapes for this wine derives from a vineyard near the Arroyo Seco of Monterey County, generally considered to be the coolish limit for Cabernet. But another instance of utter incongruity here: These grapes are pruned to a style that is called “box pruning,” which is to say they are mechanically pruned as if to resemble a box hedge. I had seen this style of pruning while a student at Davis and was utterly horrified. The vines are ginormous; they clearly use a vast, presumably unsustainable amount of water for their upkeep. And unless you have spent a lot of time in the San Joaquin Valley, you have likely never seen so many grapes on a vine. Virtually everything about this set-up made it my first impulse to flee in the opposite direction. And yet, looking more closely at the vines I observed that all of the fruit was borne on the outside of the plant, well exposed to the light (but not sunburned), and further, the clusters themselves (albeit prolific) were exceptionally small in size, as were the berries themselves. Most significantly, they all appeared to be more or less uniform in their degree of ripeness. This is quite important because underripe Cabernet, especially in a cool climate will give you very unpleasant vegetal flavors that are the kiss o’ death as far as far as drinkability and certainly, commercial viability. But my intention here was to make an elegant wine, with good natural acidity, restraint in alcohol and tannin; at least based on first principles, it seemed as if this programme might work to achieve this end. And of course, it did. I do feel quite pleased with myself to have identified some perhaps undervalued assets (Cabernet and Merlot[!!!]) and to have added incremental value to them. []
  34. As an example of this self-indulgent foolishness, I reproduce for you here an extract from of one of the pseudonymous notes I sent to the retailers and restaurateurs on our mailing list:

    Dear Stockist/slash/Restaurateur,

    Harumph! I’m writing on behalf of Randall Grahm – Mister Smarty Rhôney-pants – who (to my great chagrin) seems to not particularly fancy the noble Bordelais cépages and the brilliant wines they are capable of producing. Pity.

    Oh, pardon my manners. I’ve failed to introduce myself. My name is Reginald ffrench-Postalthwaite, the loaf behind A Proper Claret Wine Company, temporarily garrisoned at the Bonny Doon Vineyard office in Santa Cruz. I’m currently ensconced at Randall’s desk, while he is still off mucking about with the last of the grapes, as the harvest has well winded doon…

    (The letter goes on and on and closes with the hope for “greater Claret-y.”

    and to our distributors – writing in my own voice):

    …Bonny Doon Vineyard is, as we all know or should know, a strictly Cabernet-free zone, at least it has been for the last twenty-eight years. Personally I have nothing but opprobrium, bordering on vaguely amused disdain for this popular grape variety. I will not bother you with the details of how we came to be entrusted with the distribution of this wine Suffice to say that we grudgingly, harumphingly agreed to do this as a favor to a friend…

    As to the label, what can I say? I am just scandalized. It’s hard to countenance opportunistic wine marketeers who stoop to using lurid imagery merely to sell a bottle of wine. Has it just come to this? It is only because I enjoyed the wine so much that I’m willing to put up with the tasteless monstrosity that is this label. “Proper?” Claret. Indeed. []

  35. This in fact has been quite rewarding and quite useful, requiring me to move far outside my own vinous comfort zone. If the new Popelouchum experimental vineyard is to succeed, I will need to learn how to taste wines that will likely be rather foreign to me, and to develop enough broad-palatedness to embrace them in their (undoubted) strangeness. []
  36. The Merlot is actually, unexpectedly truly delicious, which makes me really wonder if I understand anything about anything any more. []
  37. “Perelandra Garden Workbook” by Machaelle Wright is a rather strange but compelling practicum in guided meditations helpful to communing with nature spirits. It thinks of these spirits as sagacious counselors, informing the myriad number of decisions taken in planting a garden or farm. []
  38. This is an integral, if painful step in the creation of new varieties, and rather tedious, exacting work. []

7 Responses to “On Being Incongruent1 or A Very Dry Season”

  1. isabelle says:

    I understand that you are feeling a little bit sad, Randall. You are indeed making marvelous wines, true terroir wines (the Cigare Volant, the Pousseur, also the Contra that I like a lot) but I must say I was a bit surprised to find now a Claret, a Pinot, even a Sparkling … Maybe that’s how you make a business; in this country, people like choice and they expect to find Cab sauv and Pinot everywhere, maybe that’s the price to pay to continue to make what you really want to make. Sigh, and please keep enchanting us with the real stuff.

  2. Randall Grahm says:

    Isabelle, thanks so much for your note. It is a sad fact, but a fact nevertheless, that at least at this time I can’t really survive making only the wines that I love. Certainly, when we are producing some great Estate wines, I am fairly certain that they will be compelling enough to speak for themselves, and the situation will then be a bit different. Until then, #staydooned

  3. Carl Helrich says:

    This is one of the toughest blog posts I have ever read, which probably means it was one of the toughest ones for you to write. I see the difficulties and hear the stress, and all I can add is that our sympathies are with you.

    I am keenly aware of what you are going through (I think), and it’s something I struggle with as well. The tension between the creative and the financial makes one feel downright psychologically unbalanced at times. I sometimes think being contradictory would be easier than being incongruous, but I don’t think we have any choice in the matter.

    It’s hard not to offer suggestions from the peanut gallery, even though you don’t ask for any. So, in the immortal words of Red Green, “Remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.”

  4. Randall Grahm says:

    Carl,
    Thank you so much for your very sympathetic comment. it is much appreciated. The reality is that I think I really need to appreciate the depth of the contradictions/incongruities before I can really work to resolve them. And certainly try to resolve them I will. (Or go doon swinging.)

    • Randall, I’m liking your big roots theory. Have you heard about bore hole irrigation? Actually the name has muted to saturasion irrigation. How can I get a hold of you?

      Gravity Rules!
      B

  5. Randall Grahm says:

    Bryan, Totally with you on the idea of deep irrigation; we’ve tried it and it seems quite promising. But next biggest challenge is really enhancing water-holding capacity of soil through enhanced organic matter, use of grazing livestock, biochar, etc. You can reach me @ randall.grahm@gmail.com. Traveling this week, but back mid-next.

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