Like Columbus who sought a trade route to Asia, Randall Grahm set sail in 1979 for the Great American Pinot Noir, foundered on the shoals of astringency and finesselessness and ended up running aground in the utterly unexpected New World of Rhône and Italian grape varieties.
Randall was born in Los Angeles in 1953 and attended Uncle Charlie’s Summer Camp; excuse me, the prestigious University of California at Santa Cruz where he studied Liberal Arts. Liberally. (He was on the ten-year plan.) Some time later he found himself working at The Wine Merchant in Beverly Hills, sweeping floors. By dint of exceptionally good karma he was given the opportunity to taste an ungodly number of great French wines and this singular experience turned him into a complete and insufferable wine fanatic. He returned to the University of California at Davis to complete a degree in Plant Sciences in 1979, where owing to his single-minded obsession with Pinot Noir, he was regarded as a holy terroir in the hallowed halls of the sober and sedate Department of Viticulture.
With his family’s assistance, Randall purchased property in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the absurdly scenic hamlet known as Bonny Doon, intent on producing the Great American Pinot Noir. The GAPN proved to be systematically elusive but he was greatly encouraged by experimental batches of Rhône varieties. The late great Bonny Doon Estate Vineyard (1981-1994) was eventually planted to Syrah, Roussanne, Marsanne and Viognier and produced achingly beautiful wines confirming both that 1) California’s temperate climate is well suited to the sun-loving grapes of the Mediterranean; and 2) the blue green sharpshooter doesn’t know from Côte Rôtie. In 1986 Bonny Doon Vineyard released the inaugural vintage (1984) of Le Cigare Volant, an homage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
In 1989, Randall was indicted into the Who’s Who of Cooking in America by Cook’s Magazine for “lifetime achievement and leadership in the improvement and development of American cuisine” and in 1992, Ted Bowell of the Lowell Observatory in northern Arizona named the Rhoneranger asteroid in his honor. He was awarded the honor of Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1994, and an analogous award from Bon Appétit Magazine in 1999, though that distinction is still subject to a recount in New York State.
Randall lectures frequently to wine societies and to technical groups and occasionally contributes quixotically sincere articles to wine journals. His occasional idiosyncratic newsletters are frequently reproduced though never copied. Since 2002 Randall Grahm has focused on the implementation of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic principles in both vineyard and winery. In May 2007 his Ca’ del Solo Vineyard received Biodynamic® certification from the Demeter Association. Randall Grahm is a vitizen of the world, a champion of the strange and the heterodox, of the ugly duckling grape varietals whose very existence is threatened by the dominant Cabo- and Chardocentric paradigms. He lives in Santa Cruz with his muse, Chinshu, their daughter Amélie, and his thesaurus. (Read an excerpt of Been Doon So Long.)
The Winery and Vineyard:
(Quoth RG) The Great Dane once insisted ‘pon “more matter, less art,” and his point is extremely well taken. The tropes, figures and arguments advanced in this book, as witty and as moving as they may be, are but lovely divertissements, even, dare I say, sophistries, if they do not find some tangible application in the wine itself. The words are but prelude to the deed1 and the wine in the glass must embody the lessons learned. Bonny Doon Vineyard, which I began in 1983, has been a wild ride. As mentioned earlier, the Pinot Noir didn’t quite work at the time, but the Rhône grapes have been berry, berry good to me.2 Truth be told, the winery end of things ultimately morphed into something far larger and rather more unwieldy than I could ultimately manage. I found that I had by degrees diverged from the intention that was so important to me from the onset – the creation of original wine, expressive of place. In 2006, I sold off the Big House and Cardinal Zin brands, discontinued quite a number of wines that we were making or importing and spun off the Pacific Rim brand as a stand-alone entity, based in the Northwest. Bonny Doon Vineyard thus shrunk in size by more than a factor of ten; we are now very intently focused on making wines in a more natural, hands-off manner, working almost exclusively with Biodynamically grown fruit and seeking to reflect transparency in everything we do. We are still vectoring in on vins de terroir, but far be it for me to make that claim. But, the wines now really do show an originality of style and seem to be imbued with life-force and spirit, and this makes me very happy.
- If it ‘twere doon when ‘tis doon, then ‘twere well I were doon quickly.” [↩]
- Why does anyone do anything, but for intermittent positive reinforcement? I have been more than intermittently positively reinforced, working with Rhône grapes over the years, if only because it seems they are generally well suited to our climes. [↩]