My Boony Doon moment came during the 2011 Le Cigare Blanc. I said I liked it a lot, and Grahm smiled and offered that it would be even better when he added picpoul to the blend, which is currently grenache blanc and roussanne. Which demonstrates his creativity and passion, but also what Grahm admits may be a less than consumer-centric approach to winemaking. It’s not as if wine drinkers are clamoring for a $25 white blend made with three grapes they’ve never heard of.
But how dull the world would be if all we drank were chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon. Which, of course, is part of Grahm’s reason for being, and why so many of us appreciate what he does. After the jump, the eight wines and cider we tasted (all were samples):
No one holds court like Randall Grahm, the winemaker and president for life at California’s Bonny Doon Vineyard. Last week in Dallas, in front of a dozen or so retailers, sommeliers, and media types, Grahm discussed the Swiss anthropologist Henri Junod; the role of magnets in winemaking; his efforts to develop grape hybrids and rootstocks that are best suited to the 21st century’s climate and soil; the backlash against screwcaps; and, though I’m not quite sure how, electrons.
Along the way, he punned whenever possible — “The doonside of winemaking,” for example — and even managed to talk about his new wines, including a very subversive fruit cider, a delicious riesling so new it’s not on the winery website yet, and perhaps the best vintage ever of the Le Cigare Blanc.
Disclaimer first: I like Grahm, and he makes some of the most interesting and enjoyable wine in the world. So it’s always a treat when he comes to Dallas, and this year was no exception. The man makes me smile, and how often does that happen?
Do Grahm’s wines taste like anyone else’s? Nope, so be warned — if you need scores or 15 1/2 percent cabernet sauvignon or baseball bat chardonnay, what follows will almost certainly annoy you. It annoys many of my colleagues, and Grahm has been at war with the Winestream Media for more than a decade, despite what he claims are his best intentions. But he can’t stop telling the James Laube joke, and he told it again last week. That’s hardly detente, though it is damned funny.
Would that the Winestream Media could see past Grahm as prankster and realize that he wants the same thing it does — for Americans to enjoy wine. He just takes a different road. “Wine has to be pleasurable,” he told us. “You shouldn’t have to ask yourself if you like it.” But, having said that, he also acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges for wine drinkers, including himself, was to “learn how to push out of my safety zone,” to try wine we don’t think we’re going to like.
Among the other topics:
? The backlash against screwcaps, which Grahm has championed for years. “The cork people are like girls in junior high school who each have their own cliques, and they don’t want to let anyone in their clique,” he said. And anyone who says wine with screwcaps suffers in quality or doesn’t age? “It’s a myth,” says Grahm. “The wine just ages differently.”
? Oak in winemaking: “It’s a condiment and anyone who thinks it’s more than that also thinks ketchup is a vegetable.”
? Terroir is all. “We can’t replicate European wines” in California, Grahm said, because California isn’t Europe. On the other hand, de-emphasizing terroir with California-style winemaking, which he says happens even with some of the most expensive and highest-rated wines, isn’t the answer, either. “It’s about real wine. Does the wine have life or not?”
There they were, one of the most interesting and honest wines in the world sitting next to one of the most manipulated and most cynical.
What kind of cosmic imbalance caused this? How did the trickster of the gods manipulate the retailer's inventory software. Ad think of the embarrassed sidewise glances.
How could Randall Grahm ?s Bonny Doon Vin de Gris rose ? ?one of his best roses ? austere and fresh and dark, ? as I wrote last year — end up next to Skinnygirl ?s pink wine, made not to taste like wine but to contain 100 calories and which Elin McCoy said is ?barely acceptable chilled plastic cup party fare?"
Grahm makes wine that tastes like wine. The Skinnygirl, to quote from its producer, Beam, Inc., is a ?brand that continues to blaze new trails and is solutions-driven. ?
The most important lesson I ever learned about seafood came from the late, much loved and much missed Merlin Kleinpeter: If you can ?t buy it from Robert at Bayou Seafood, she used to say, then don ?t buy it.
Which was Merlin ?s way of telling me that fresh is what matters, and that any supplier who wasn ?t honest about things like freshness wasn ?t worth my time and money. If the crabs weren ?t good that day, then Robert told her so, and Merlin didn ?t buy them.
I mention this because food and wine are inextricably linked, and not just about which wine goes with which food. Pairing wine with most takeout pizza, which never tastes as good as you think it should, is one thing. That ?s what $10 grocery store merlot was invented for.
But pairing wine with honest food ? food that someone cared about and that required them to make an effort when they prepared it — is another matter entirely. More, after the jump:
? Whither the family-owned winery? Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm takes to his award-winning blog to ponder the future of the family winery, and more specifically his winery. Those of us who care about these things should be especially concerned when Grahm writes that his bank is not pleased with Bonny Doon's finances. The post is quite long, but worth reading — not only for the insight it offers into the modern wine business (something Grahm touched on when we had lunch last fall), but for the usual Grahm wit (as a kid, he sold first-aid kits door to door) and footnotes. Yes, he puts footnotes in blog posts. And there are people who think the Wine Curmudgeon is odd.
? Bring on the Skinnygirl wine: Beam Estates, which owns a bunch of wine brands but is better known for spirits, is going to launch Skinnygirl, a line of reduced calorie wine similar to its Skinnygirl cocktails. The story in the Wine Spectator reports that the brand is aiming for 100 calories for a 5-ounce glass, which is about 25 less than it would normally have. Maybe they'll take the flavor out. The Wine Curmudgeon, oddly enough, has a passing knowledge of Skinnygirl cocktails. I was trying to convince a Dallas retailer to sponsor a local wine event last year, and he said what his chain really wanted was something like the Skinnygirl, former reality show star Bethenny Frankel, to make an appearance at one of his stores. Could we do something like that?
? Georgia legislature, always on the job: Georgia legislators have decided that wine tastings at retailers that sell spirits — as opposed to retailers that just sell wine — is not a good thing. The story, from Georgia Public Broadcasting, notes that package stores would face horrendous insurance problems if allowed to do wine tastings. Which, of course, does not seem to be a problem in other states that allow wine tastings in package stores, including that well-known bastion of sensible liquor laws and erudite legislators, Texas (where I live). Still, as excuses go, it is quite original and almost as good as the one that the beer business gives when it lobbies to restrict Internet wine sales: Teenagers will buy wine online and lie about their age!
This is the second of a two-part series detailing my recent chat with Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm. Part I is here.
Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm and I tasted five wines during lunch at Dallas’ Blue Plate restaurant; my only regret was that we didn’t try the Vin Gris de Cigare, Grahm’s rose. It has always been one of my favorites, even at $15 or so.
The wines, as always, were interesting and different. Grahm never met a grape that he didn’t want to try and use in some way — as long as the grape wasn’t chardonnay, cabernet savignon or merlot. He’ll have none of that at Bonny Doon, where his goal is to make wines with grapes that make sense in his vineyards in his part of northern California. And those three don’t (as well as Grahm’s first love, pinot noir). What we tasted, after the jump:
This is the first of a two-part series detailing my recent chat with Bonny Doon winemaker Randall Grahm. Part II — a look at some of Bonny Doon’s wines — is here.
The last thing Randall Grahm looks like is the California winemaker that he is. Instead, he looks more like the one-time liberal arts major at the University of California that he was.
That contradiction goes a long way toward explaining why Grahm is one of the Wine Curmudgeon ?s favorite winemakers, and why his Bonny Doon wines are some of the most interesting made in California. Grahm understands that not only is the wine business about making enough money to stay in business, but about making wine that people want to drink — and not necessarily wine that they ?re told to drink, More, after the jump.