Tag Archives: Randall Grahm

My lunch with Randall Grahm, part I

randall grahm
randall grahm

Randall Grahm: “Wine has to be pleasurable. You shouldn’t have to ask yourself if you like it.”

This is the first of two parts detailing my recent chat with Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm. Today, Grahm on wine, winemaking, and the post-modern wine world. On Feb. 24, reviews of the wines we tasted.

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?”

For more on Randall Grahm:
My lunch with Randall, part I
My lunch with Randall, part II
My dinner with Randall, part I

Winebits 272: Randall Grahm, alcohol ads, wine and health

Is the world upside down? The Wine Spectator’s James Laube writes a mostly favorable profile of Bonny Doon’s irrepressible Randall Grahm. Why is this so odd? For one thing, Grahm has never had any use for the Winestream Media, scores, the kinds of wines it likes, and how the system works. For another, he once wrote of Laube: “I’d rather have a frontal lobotomy than a Laube in front of me.” Laube mostly let bygones be bygones: “The latest wines are striking for their structure and individuality. …” Though, in true Winestream Media fashion, only one of the four wines reviewed in the piece scored higher than a 90. Which, given my experience with Grahm’s wines, once again emphasizes how useless scores are.

Ban ‘em all! A British doctors’ group wants to phase out all alcohol advertising as part of its latest campaign to tackle the country’s drinking problem. The Alcohol Health Alliance says children need to be protected from booze ads; hence its plan to restrict them to newspapers and magazines with an adult readership. Eventually, all ads and sponsorships for alcohol products would be banned. This is an amazing proposal from the country that gave the world civil liberties in the Magna Carta, and raises all sorts of constitutional questions. I wonder: What would Horace Rumpole, whose love of cheap wine was surpassed only by his respect for Magna Carta, ”our ancient rights of freedom,’“ say to the doctors?

One more silly claim: The Wine Curmudgeon would be happier if health claims for wine would be banned, which I’ve done here on the blog. The only reason I’m mentioning this one is that it demonstrates why all of this is so foolish. Red wine, in moderation, can help old farts like the WC make women happy. Does this mean my natural charm isn’t enough?

Catfish meuniere, Randall Grahm, and Spy Valley

Honest wine

Honest wine is the best pairing for honest food.

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:

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