When I first started in the wine business almost thirty-five year ago it seemed like a perfectly reasonable idea to pursue the varietal wine of one’s dreams. Broadly speaking, you were either a Cab guy or a Zin guy or a Pinot guy. (There were a few outliers like the eccentric Charbono Society of Inglenook […]
I may have mentioned once or twice that it was during my tenure at the Wine Merchant in Beverly Hills that I had became obsessed with pinot noir, and this mania achieved full-flower when I was a student at UC Davis.1 I didn’t have a chance to taste so many Burgundies when I worked at […]
I’ve had recent occasion to meet up with a number of “old-timers” in the wine biz, guys (mostly) I’ve known in some capacity over the years and with whom I’ve chanced lately to become reacquainted, bumping into them typically at industry trade shows, and even at times in far-flung vineyards I’m sniffing out. (They, sly […]
Maybe not enough time has gone by to really breathe the deep sigh of relief that I am longing to breathe. And maybe I’m being a bit indiscreet in talking about matters that are generally not spoken about so openly. I almost lost the Doon. Not because the wines were no damn good. Really, rather […]
On (At Long Last) Planting a Proper Vineyard1 It has been a long time, indeed almost twenty years, since the tragic demise, grace Ã la maladie de Pierce, of the Estate vineyard in Bonny Doon. In the relatively short life of the vineyard, initially planted in 1980, we went through one episode of replanting – grubbing […]
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 […]
“Maybe Not Racked”1 by Syrah Mix-A-Lot I like big butts2 and I cannot lie You other winemakers can’t deny That when you taste great wine like the “Hill of Grace”3 And a lot of funked-up esters in your face you get sprung I’m talking about juice that got da funk Not the spoofulated shizzle that […]
Did a vehicle Come from somewhere out there Just to land in the Andes? Was it round And did it have a motor? Or was it Something Different? –F. Zappa, “Inca Roads,” (from One Size Fits All) It is shameful to admit, but I am no great shakes as a thoughtful appreciator of music. Most […]
It broke my heart to close the restaurant. Actually, my heart was broken many times over in the course of the life of Restaurant Le Cigare Volant, Cellar Door. We had built the most extraordinary tasting room at the winery facility on Ingallsstrasse—did you see the great airship, fashioned after Jules Verne?—after selling the old, […]
This post(mortem) is a bit of meditation on the 2009 Contra, a wine I have utterly adored (we’ve just recently sold out) but has been, in spite of very favorable press, very favorable price, and a strenuous, if not Herculean marketing effort—we really pulled out all the stops on this one—a bit of a commercial […]
There is a problem, and it is somewhat unexpected, even counter-intuitive, if you will. When I blurt out to people that my company is not making any money, many tend to be incredulous. “The brand is so famous, you are so famous,” I will hear, and “the wines are better than ever.” “You’ve shrunk the […]
I’ve been a partisan of “alternative varieties” for a long time, partially because I am a non-conformist by nature, but also for two significant reasons: 1) I am convinced that so much of what has been planted in the New World is a result of an historical accident1 and/or a function of commercial expediency, not […]
My company, Bonny Doon Vineyard, is in some danger, perhaps some real danger if we are not careful, and by extension, so are my great and vivid dreams. Yes, the company has had its ups and doons over the years—a fire or two here, a plague of lethal bacterial-laden insects there, some less than favorable […]
In planting my new vineyard/garden/Eden in San Juan, I aim to bring something of real beauty into existence. But I also see it as an opportunity to connect myself to Nature—both the natural world and, more pointedly, my own essential nature.
I’m a little nervous about characterizing my quest to produce a vin de terroir—a wine expressive of a specific place—as a “spiritual journey.” Any journey must be grounded in genuine action, but whither forward?
If one is looking for true originality in a New World wine, grape hybridization may well be the most rational way to proceed. But I have some nagging doubts about the potential brilliance of vinifera hybrids, and what might really be meant by “wine quality.”
Real success in the wine business simply may lie in making real wine, and of course having the ability to communicate about this real wine you have somehow achieved.
Solstice 2010 has come and gone, and the year has started once again to wax, with an auspicious, adumbrating total lunar eclipse to boot, providing an excellent moment to reflect upon what’s behind us, and to look ahead with hope.
When I started making wine, I was little concerned about the future arc of the wine’s narrative; I wanted people to like them, so they would buy them and drink them now. But I have grown to embrace the beauty of natural, unmanipulated wines, and our the new Cigares are quite different from Cigares d’antan, and are capable of aging for a very long time.
By amplifying the qualities of terroir, and by growing grapes from seeds, we may be able to create a real sensory paradigm shift in how we experience wine.
Lately, in thinking long and hard about what grape varieties (and anything else) we might plant at the new estate in San Juan Bautista, I am facing yet another variant of the New World Conundrum. I’ve publically proclaimed myself to be a “terroirist,” i.e. someone committed to “expressing the unique individuality of the site.” All well and good, and while this sounds quite noble when declaimed from the mountaintop, what exactly does it really mean?
Andy, as you recall, the last time we spoke, I was very keen on the idea of growing grape vines from seedlings at our new property in San Juan Bautista. I’d like to catch you up on my current thinking and ask a few questions, as this project is potentially fraught with a non-trivial amount of danger. It would seem that there are some clever things that one might do, and some not so clever ones as well.
I recently sold my vineyard in Soledad in the Salinas Valley. I didn’t really want to do it – it was arguably producing the most interesting grapes with which we were privileged to work. The AlbariÃ±o and Loureiro seemed to consistently produce wines that were elegant, true expressions of the grape1 and the Moscato Giallo was lovely – elegant, balanced and haunting.
I’ve been asked by my colleagues to write about the recent James Beard award for Been Doon So Long, presumably to not so discreetly draw attention to this highly creditable third party endorsement. I presume they are hoping to get from me something like a sincere lump-in-the-throat profession of pride; maybe a gracious conveyance of thanks to the legions of supporters of the book would also go over well. Don’t they know with whom they’re dealing?
Life is a recursive circle. We are given our genetic or karmic marching orders, it would seem, as some sort of holographic imprint, a model we follow, and we follow it over and over again, like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, until the end of our days. Maybe, with luck, in each successive iteration, we are able to interpret and act on this internal siren song with ever-greater skill and insight.
It was just about a month ago (March 13th to be precise) that I was inducted into the Vintner’s Hall of Fame at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, CA. (Dramatic pause here, to let the irony sink in.) I confess that as much as I seek approbation from my peers – perhaps even to a neurotic degree – I often do have some problems in graciously accepting it when it is actually proffered. So, this particular honor has been a real tough one for me.
We are just about to bottle the 2008 vintage of Le Cigare Volant and celebrate, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of its continuous production. I’ve written elsewhere about a number of the winemaking details and the stylistic evolution of this wine, as well as about changes in my own thinking in regard to what we have achieved and might hope to achieve with Cigare…
What I’m really thinking about these days – above and beyond how to survive in this extremely challenging economic climate – is how one might find real meaning in the wine business, in the Maslovian sense, after one’s basic needs for survival have been met.
My friend Amy recently told me, “Randall, you’re really missing the boat.” “Of course I am,” I told her. “The nautical conveyance and I haven’t been, shall we say, intimate for quite some time.” “No, you’re missing a great business opportunity.” “And, what pray tell, Amy, might that be?” “You make chick wine,” she said. “You should be marketing your wine to women.”
Years ago, when I had decided that Pinot Noir and that other Burgundian variety were just not going to work so well at our Estate Vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I began to focus instead on RhÃ´ne varieties. We produced then an extraordinary haunting wine from our Estate called “Le Sophiste,” a putative blend […]
The reader may know or be able to infer that I live a somewhat convoluted, self-referential life; that is to say, many of my personal points of reference seem to exist in the realm of vinous and the arcane (generally both). Eliot footnoted The Wasteland; why not to footnote a Bob Dylan song parody about […]
J. Locke’s in the cold cave | Drinking down the old Chave
I’m on the crushpad | Thinking about the Advocate
The man in the lab coat | Reporting on a horsy note
Final review’s just now set | Says we’ve got some bad brett,
Sees filtration as a safety net. | Look out grahm
You’re gonna get slammed
Imagine wine as possessing two disparate aspects or poles – the lower and the upper, that which goes down to the ground and that which ascends to the sky. The “bottom” of the wine is its skeletal structure, its power, its centeredness, its ability to tolerate oxidative challenge, which in some sense can be thought of as its “life-force,” and is certainly linked with its ageworthiness.
We’ve been making Le Cigare Volant since 1984, back when I thought it would be an interesting and fun thing to make a blend of the principal grape varieties of ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape, grown under California conditions. I didn’t quite realize at the time that Cigare would become so synonymous with Bonny Doon and vice-versa, nor that I would ultimately come to identify so strongly with the wine itself.
This is a speech that Randall Grahm delivered in Washington, D.C., at the Inc. Magazine Conference, September 2009 (part 3 of a 3-part series): While I have been hoping to elevate the level of discussion about our wines, what seems to be happening is that many of our most loyal customers just miss our old wild and crazy labels and are somewhat disappointed with the relative placidity and mysteriousness of the new ones. The problem of course is that it is not so easy to redefine yourself once there is a reasonably well-embedded image people have of you. In my case, it is perhaps that of the ADD-afflicted joker, someone who just can’t get serious, flitting from one wine style and grape variety to the next, and of course there is certainly an element of truth in this characterization. It’s been difficult to shed the negative association with Big House the perhaps a few slightly iffy vintages of Cigare. It brings to mind the old joke about having carnal relations with “just one goat” and what do people call you?
This is a speech that Randall Grahm delivered in Washington, D.C., at the Inc. Magazine Conference, September 2009 (part 2 of a 3-part series): Some back story. I started the company in 1981 with the naÃ¯ve aspiration of producing the Great American Pinot Noir in the little hamlet of Bonny Doon. My efforts were systematically thwarted, but I discovered RhÃ´ne grape varieties and my efforts were intermittently positively reinforced, so I’ve continued to do what I do. Bonny Doon grew and grew organically, which is to say in a random, unplanned fashion and ultimately became quite complex and convoluted, beautiful in its way, but mostly untenable, kind of like a CitroÃ«n automobile.
This is a speech that Randall Grahm delivered in Washington, D.C., at the Inc. Magazine Conference, September 2009 (part 1 of a 3-part series): I thought that I might talk about what one might do to survive in the economically apocalyptic times in which we live. This is the 900 lb. gorilla in the room, indeed in any room you go into these days. Certainly, if we are honest with ourselves, we are all looking for some guidance and inspiration about how we might intelligently proceed. Many of our businesses seem to be confronted with the dilemma expressed by the Boston cab driver, the famous, “You can’t get there from here,” conundrum…