[email protected]: Been Doon So Long – A Randall Grahm Vinthology

>>Female Presenter: Welcome to Authors and
[email protected] We welcome today Randall Grahm. Just completing a short intro and then Randall
will join us here up front. And thanks to everyone for coming. Randall’s fascination
with wine began in Southern California when he stumbled upon a wine shop close to his
parents’ house around when we was 20 years old. They asked him if he wanted to open a charge
account and he enthusiastically replied, “Yes.” He realized early on that to be able to experience
the kinds of wines he had there all the time, he’d have to learn how to make them himself.
Sometime later, he found himself working at the Wine Merchant in Beverly Hills sweeping
floors. Through exceptionally good karma, he was given
the opportunity to taste a large number of really good French wines. And this experience
turned him into a wine fanatic. He’s well-known as one of the pioneers of Rhone varietals
in California and he’s found success with obscure Italian varietals as well. In 1989, he was indicted into the Who’s Who
of Cooking in America by Cooks Magazine for “lifetime achievement and leadership and the
improvement and development of American cuisine.” He was also awarded the honor of Wine and
Spirits Professional of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1994. The 2010 Duboeuf Wine Book of the Year, “Been
Doon So Long,” is a collection of Randall’s writings from the Bonny Doon newsletter as
well as articles, speeches, and essays. It’s described as a “truly original approach to
the subject of wine. One that’s full of wit, intelligence, and mischief. He takes us through his journey of marketing
and crafting wine. He writes with passion about wanting to make honest wines–wines
that represent the places that they come from. He embraces the wabi-sabi approach to organic
winemaking as an essential element of the beauty of the natural wine. He believes that it’s through these flaws
that wines become revelatory and capable of directing our attention to new places and
ideas.” Soon, we’ll get a taste of this vision as Bonny Doon releases its first biodynamic
wines in two to three years. Please join me in welcoming Randall Grahm. [applause]>>Randall Grahm: Typically I begin these séances
with an invocation from Alice Cooper, “welcome to my nightmare”. [audience chuckles] And
I thought I would give you the Reader’s Digest condensed version of the, or the brief history
of Bonny Doon and then take you up to the present time. I started Bonny Doon in 1981. Basically, with
the quixotic notion that I was gonna make the great American Pinot Noir. This was my
obsession, my idée fix , my mantra. And I suppose fortunately for me, it didn’t quite
work out as according to plan. It was about three orders of magnitude more complicated
than I ever imagined it would be. So, I, luckily, made the acquaintance of the
Albanian wine merchant, Kermit Lynch, when he was a wine merchant in Albany, California.
And Kermit got me interested in Rhone varieties and I had a very simplistic hypothesis, which
was: “It’s warm and dry in Southern France. It’s warm and dry in the Central Coast of
California. Maybe the Rhone varieties would do well in California.” What an interesting
idea. And truly, I mean, we think of Rhone varieties as being mainstream, but remember,
30 years ago they didn’t really exist. There were three Sirah vineyards in California.
All of them uniformly dreadful in their own unique way. [laughter] There was Mourvèdre, but nobody knew Mourvèdre
was here because it was traveling under an alias of Mataró. And that was thanks to Darrell
Corti in Sacramento who clued me in on that. And no one, apart from David Bruce, knew that
Grenache could actually make red wine because all the Grenache that we experience was fairly
dreadful, drecky, pink wine that was quite sweet and quite horrible. But David had actually
made some amazingly–. Well, actually made one good one and one bad
one in 1970 and 1971 of Grenache. And this was in 1984. I was thinking, “You know, this
Pinot Noir thing is not working out quite as well as I had hoped. I need a Plan B if
I’m gonna stay in the wine business.” Having gone to Davis and this is what I decided to
do. I’m gonna figure out how to make this work.
So, I needed a Plan B. So, the Plan B was let’s try Rhone varieties. And maybe let’s
try a blend. Maybe if we blended Grenache, Sirah, and Mourvèdre together, we could do
something that vaguely approximated a Châteauneuf du Pape. [laughter] And that’s how Cigare Volant was conceived.
And looking back in retrospect, I have to say that it’s miraculous that the wine came
out as well as it did. There are a million ways to go wrong. There’s many infinite number
of ways to go wrong. And the fact that I didn’t go terribly wrong, too often of the time,
is a miracle in retrospect. Oddly enough, last year, Bonny Doon–. Bonny
Doon has been this funny journey for me and last year, last year or two, have been a recapitulation
and reevaluation of where I’ve been and just a pause in where is Bonny Doon going in the
next phase? So what’s interesting is we actually staged two vertical tastings of Cigare Volant. Twenty-five vintages of Cigare Volant. We
did one in New York at Hearth Restaurant in the Village and we did another one at Manresa
Restaurant in Los Carros. And luckily, we had some large format bottles and these were,
in many cases, the last large format bottle in existence. In some cases, they were the last of any bottle
in existence. So, we had all the vintages, many of them in large format bottles. And
I’ll you, this was the freakiest thing that happened at the tasting. Many things happened.
These tastings were extravagant. I mean, we had like literally 12 hundred glasses that
were used in this, that were harmed in this [laughter] exercise. Of all the wines we tasted, many
of them were very good and some of them were not so good. But they were all pretty much
alive. Pretty much every single one of them was alive. Of all the wines we tasted, the first two
vintages, the 1984 and the 1985 were arguably the most interesting wines of the evening.
Not necessarily the best, but the most interesting. And so, it really gave me a lot of pause to
reflect. In other words, what the heck have I been doing for 30 years? [laughter] Such that, the first two wines that I made,
knowing absolutely nothing, were the two most interesting wines of the evening. And it did
make me think that maybe in the earliest days–. It made me aware of a couple of possible conclusions
of this, deductions from this. One is that logic and ratiocination really
doesn’t, is far more cracked up than it should be. In other words, thinking things out generally
doesn’t always work. Sometimes, you just go on your instinct and that’s a better way.
And certainly in the early days, I was operating on my instinct more than any real insight. Nobody knew anything about making these varieties.
Nobody knew for example, that Sirah was a cool-climate grape. That Sirah actually had
different requirements than Mourvèdre and different requirements than Grenache. The only thing I knew about winemaking was
what I had read in a book, which was “If you wanna make a faux Châteauneuf du Pape, or
if you wanna make something that tastes like a Châteauneuf du Pape, it needs to have a
lot of Grenache in it.” OK. A lot of Grenache in it. Check. “Needs to go in a large vessel.” OK.
Oops. Large vessel. Check. “Keep it away from oxygen.” OK. Keep it away from oxygen. Check.
And that’s what we did. And it worked. So, Bonny Doon has been on this funny path for
the last 30 years and the way I characterize it is it’s essentially been an adventure in
unbridled viticultural id. Any etiological id for that matter, too. So
in other words, it’s been experimentation. It’s been messing around. It’s been having
fun. It’s been trying every possible permutation and combination of grape variety that one
possibly could. Every winemaking style. And having fun. And making people happy. It’s made a lot of
people happy. The only person it didn’t really make happy was me, unfortunately. At least
in the last several years. Bonny Doon got very complex, very labyrinthine, almost Borgesian
in complexity. Yeah, labyrinthine, [chuckles] that’s a word. So, all along the way, I had always and am
always and have always been a lover of European wines. And I love European wines for their
uniqueness, their specificity, they’re sort of about something. This mysterious other
element. And what is this mysterious other element? This mysterious other element is terroir.
It’s a sense of place. It’s this idea that a wine can be not just about the grape, but
somehow also capture a quality of a place. And it’s not even just the place, but it’s
also the culture of the place, the history of the place, many, many different aspects. And this was what makes great European wine
great. And this is what arguably makes New World wines, relatively speaking, somewhat
banal. So, I’d been giving talks and writing articles about terroir and how beautiful it
is and how precious it is and how truly, it’s really the most precious thing that exists
in the wine business. And then looking at myself in the mirror and
observing to my chagrin, there was nothing at all congruent in what I was saying with
what I was doing. Not a single thing. I was producing zero Vin de Terroir. Not only was
I not producing any Vin de Terroir, there were no imminent prospects for producing Vin
de Terroir. So, it was time. This was my existential moment.
I had recently turned 50. I had a child. And I had serious medical problem. So, this was
my intimation of mortality and the thought was looking, “Now, what are you doing to do
when you grow up? It’s time to settle down, buckle down, and try to do something with
your life, Randall, for God’s sake.” So, the first thing I thought is Bonny Doon
is just way too complex. Too many moving parts. We were producing, in the heyday, about 450
thousand cases annually, which made us the 28th largest winery in the United States.
And this meant that we actually had to compete with people, who actually knew what they were
doing, who actually really were in the wine business and could do all these things. So, we accidentally became a large winery.
And we’re very leveraged and very, all the things that are very dangerous about being
in business. So, the first thought was, “I gotta sell Bonny Doon. I just have to do it.”
‘Cause the problem of course was that nobody wanted to buy Bonny Doon for more than like,
six cents. So, I ended up selling off those assets that
were semi-detachable. And it turns out, in fact, that these were the assets that I least
detached to. So, I sold off our large brands. I sold off Big House and Cardinal Zin. Shrunk
the production. Simplified the production. And then started focusing in on the idea of
finding a place where I could grow grapes and possibly do something in a true vin de
terroir. So, a couple years go by. It turns out that it’s really hard to rebrand yourself
when people think you are this goofy, happy-go-lucky, anything for a joke kind of winery with funny
labels and this whatever insouciant attitude that you have, allegedly insouciant attitude. It’s hard to get people to take the wine seriously.
So, it has been a bit of a struggle. And we’ve continued to shrink the production. And then
last year, I sold off this other brand we had, which was called Pacific Rim. And that
was a wine we had spun off in Washington. And all along the way, I’d been like, “How
can I get escape velocity and do this next thing?” So, I’d been looking at a lot of property
and going on a lot of realtor dates, if you will. And one property’s nice and another
property’s nice. And I never really was all that excited about any of them until this
one property I came too. It actually turned out that I had dreamt about
this property. And when I saw it, I said, “Hmm. I remember this property. This is quite
amazing.” And sure enough, this was the property. And it’s in San Juan Batista and I ended up
buying it. It gets even stranger ’cause I also dreamt about a mountain lion on this
property and I saw the mountain lion recently, which was also quite interesting. And luckily for me, it was quite far away,
but my colleague, Philippe, got to see it at very close range. And that was a little
more challenging for him. About 20 feet away, so that scared the heck out of him. Anyways,
so now I’ve got the property. Now what do I do? And so, the expressed intention is, how do
you make a vin de terroir? And the problem is, how do you do it, essentially, in a short
lifetime or what is left of one’s lifetime? There’s basically two ways of doing it, I
think. Well, there’s the European way, which is to iterate and observe over 500 to 800
years. This is not a practical way. [small laughter] It’s OK if you can consistently reincarnate
yourself with some degree of precision, it works. But failing that, less well. So essentially,
I think there’s only two ways to approach it. One is decide you love X grape. You are
just crazy about X grape and then figure out how are you going to make your X grape somewhere. In other words, how can you find conditions
that you know or believe will be brilliant for this grape? Pinot Noir is a good example.
We’ve got a lot of people running around who are obsessed with Pinot Noir. Most of them
are men. Why? Because it’s really, really difficult. And if you’re a guy, you are just genetically
predisposed to do things that are like, pretty much impossible because that’s how you know
that you’re a real guy. So, you got all these people out chasing this Holy Grail. And the
problem with this, I believe, is that at the end of the day, the very best thing you can
do is produce something that tastes vaguely Burgundian. It will never be as interesting as proper
Burgundy. However, it will be like ten times as expensive as proper Burgundy because the
effort that you have to put into replicating these conditions is so wildly expensive. And
at the end of the day, I’m not sold that you’re really gonna come up with anything all that
original. So that’s one way of doing it. The other way
of doing it, I believe, maybe there’s other ways, but I haven’t thought of them. The other
way is find a piece of property that you imagine, rightly or wrongly, possesses the possibility
of expressing terroir. Now, it’s a little bit tautological. What is terroir? Terroir is the sense of place.
OK, well every place then, expresses a sense of place by definition. Not all places are
as interesting or as expressive or as eloquent as others. Some don’t have a lot–. It’s like
people. Some people just don’t have a lot to say. Some people have a lot to say. Some terroirs
have a lot to say. Those are the ones that are interesting. Terroir is essentially the
ability of a site and a plant to solve each other’s problems. So in other words, a brilliant
terroir is one that solves the problems more elegantly than the other surrounding areas
most of the time, such that it’s able to impart distinctiveness to that wine. And in Europe, it’s quite extraordinary where
literally the different terroir, or the different cru, or vineyards, are separated sometimes
by 30 feet or 40 feet and they will be very different, one from the other. So, this is
really, really extraordinary. So, how can you get at this? How can you illuminate this in a short period
of time? So many of these decisions seemed utterly arbitrary. What kind of root stock
do you grow? What kind of variety do you grow? What kind of spacing do you grow? What sort
of row orientation do you grow? Do you plant them on–? How do you trellis
them? Do you irrigate? Do you not irrigate? OK. So, I’ve had this idea that there’s certain
things that need to be observed. So, let me get back to what I think is really the gist
of terroir, or the gist of a great wine. The gist of a great wine is, I believe, a grape
variety or a blend of grape varieties that somehow have a perfect congruency to the site
on which they’re grown. So in other words, Pinot noir is a brilliant
grape, but it’s not a brilliant grape when you grow it in Fresno. It’s a ridiculous grape
when you grow it in Fresno. But when you grow it in Maurice Saint-Denis, or von Romenay,
or Chambretaud, it’s totally brilliant. Nebbiolo is a brilliant grape when you grow it in Barolo,
not very many other places. Cabernet is a pretty good grape when you grow
it in Napa Valley, but it’s an extraordinary grape when you grow it in the Medoc. So, my
belief is that there’s not necessarily–. There are some grapes that are more interesting
than others. That’s for sure. And there’s some grapes that are not very
interesting at all. But essentially, what is interesting about a grape is how well-suited
it is to the place where it’s grown. So, the real question is how do you find that congruency
between the grape and the place that it’s grown? So, here’s how I’ve broken down the problem.
The first problem is I decided if you wanna grow a grape that expresses terroir, you need
to amplify the signal. And it’s basically kind of a physics or electronics problem.
What you want to do is amplify the signal without distorting it. So, its signal to noise ratio. So, how do
you boost the signal without distorting it, creating noise? One of the ways is not irrigate.
In other words, if you have grape vines that are exploring a large volume of soil territory,
they’re imprinting on more of the qualities of the site and expressing it and distilling
it, if you will, into the wine that’s expressed. You want to have probably limited production.
So in other words again, this concentration effect. Lots of roots, very little fruit.
It’s kind of again, concentrating the signal. You don’t want to deform the wine in the winery.
You don’t want to use a lot of new oak. You don’t want to pick it overripe. You don’t
want to use cultured yeast. You don’t wanna use high-tech methods of reverse osmosis.
All those things, essentially, deform the intrinsic character of the wine. So, I came
to this like, “OK, I need to dry farm. I need to grow grapes without irrigation. I’ve got this land. It’s got really interesting
soil. But you know, it only rains about 16 inches a year in San Juan Batista.” In a good
year, it might be 20, but most of the time, it’s like 15 or 16, which is pretty marginal.
Some of our soils are nice and deep and hold a lot of moisture. Others are sandy, not so deep, not a lot of
moisture. I ran into a friend of mine a couple of years ago at a barbecue who follows these
things. And I said, “You know, Greg. Do you have any ideas about what can I do to really–.
I wanna dry farm. Are there any really clever techniques that you know of to enhance the
water holding capacity of the soil?” He says, “You know, I’ve been reading about
this stuff. There’s these things in South America. There’s this stuff called biochar.
And you may wanna just check it out. I don’t really know very much about it, but a couple
of people who are really interested in it and it seems like it has a lot of potential.” So, I filed this away and a year goes by.
And then I finally got the property and we’re ready to do something with it. And I remembered.
And I started doing some research on biochar. And it turns out that biochar not only is
the answer for producing grapes in a dry climate, it’s probably the answer for enhancing the
terroir of your site. And it’s probably also the answer for saving
the planet. So, here’s the deal with biochar. I go to see the biochar maven, who name is
Hans Peter Schmidt. He’s in Bern, Switzerland. He’s manufacturing biochar. However, so this
is what biochar does. Biochar is essentially charcoal that is derived from biomass that
is heated in the absence of oxygen. And you get this crumbly charcoal material.
You mix it with very high-quality compost, roughly 50/50. You incorporate it into the
soil. And it enhances the water-holding capacity of the soil by about 30 percent, which is
coincidentally exactly the amount that I’ve calculated I need to increase mine by to dry
farm. But more interestingly than that, the biochar,
the molecular structure, the chemical structure, the physical structure has a lot of micropores.
And this creates, and also a really interesting carboxyl groups at the ends of the molecules,
and this essentially is like crack-cocaine for beneficial soil microbes, for mycorrhizal. So, it provides a habitat for them to live
and a nutritional source for them to live. So, the mycorrhizal population goes completely
out of control and this is what brings minerals into the plant. This is what nourishes the
plant, keeps it healthy, keeps it vital, and amplifies terroir. So, if you’re growing produce, if you’re growing
root vegetables, the vitamin content, the mineral content, the sugar content of all
these things just goes up enormously. We’re gonna do, I think this afternoon, a comparative
potato tasting. Of, this is your potatoes on biochar, here’s your potatoes normale. And I’ve never done this before. I’ve no idea
how it’s gonna come out. They’re probably gonna taste exactly alike,– [laughter] but we’ll find out. We will be the first ones
in Mountain View, California to ever experience biochar potatoes. OK, so then it turns out–.
So, Peter is making this biochar and having really amazing results. However, it turns
out that only represents a small part of what he’s doing. And it’s not even the most interesting thing
that he’s doing. The most interesting thing that he’s doing is he’s turning his vineyards
into gardens. And he’s developed a set of rules for formulizing how do you turn essentially
a farm–. How do you turn a monoculture into a polyculture into something that resembles
a state of nature, a balanced ecosystem? So, his vineyards don’t look like vineyards.
They look like gardens. You’ve got a row of grapes and then interplanted, you’ve got a
row of apple trees or a row of pears and olives and pêche de vigne and rosebushes and flowering
rosemary and sage and lavender and this and that. And bee hotels, which he calls them. And you
get an immense amount of biodiversity in these fields. And therefore, you can produce grapes
with minimal intervention. Switzerland, it rains a lot. It’s very humid, so they have
to do something. But in California, I’m convinced we can pretty
much create an eidetic situation with no need to any kind of sprays whatsoever. So, this
is very, very interesting. OK. So, a couple of problems solved. How are we doing on time,
by the way? Are we OK? OK, great. It still begs the question, what the heck
do you grow? And how do you develop a methodology for figuring that out? It came to me. I’m
not sure exactly how it came to me, but it came to me.
Nothing ever comes in one flash. It comes
in multiple flashes, I guess like sunsets or LSD or something. But I was having dinner at Oliveto Restaurant
not too many months ago. And the owner, he says, “Well, can I pour you something?” I
said, “Great. Pour me something wacky, something interesting, something fun, tasty, whatever
you think I should have. Pour me a glass.” He pours me a glass of this stuff. Totally
great. Amazing, mineral, complex, fabulous wine. He says, “What do you think it is?”
I said, “I don’t know. It reminds me a little bit about the wines of Mount Etna–the Nerello
Mascalese from Mount Etna.” He said, “Very good guess, Randall, but no. It’s not Mount
Etna, but very good guess.” I said, “Well, what the heck is it?” He brings
out the bottle. It turns out it’s a wine from the Canary Islands, from Lanzarote and the
grape is called Listán Negro. I said, “This wine is fantastic.” He says, “Let me show
you a picture of these vineyards.” He goes out in the back, prints off a page from the
website. And he shows me a picture of the vineyards
and this looks like the moon if the moon had vineyards with palm trees on it. That’s what
these vineyards would look like. The vines are planted inside of craters and around the
craters are little volcanic rocks, basalt rocks, that shelter the craters because it’s
very windy, it’s very dry, and they need to capture every molecule of moisture that lands
anywhere in the vicinity and shelter the vines from the wind. So, this knocks me out. This has to be like
the most extreme place on the planet where grapes are grown. Hot, windy, miserable, terrible.
So, the next day or two days later, I’m having dinner with a wine critic from The Chronicle,
Jon Bonné. And I say, “Jon, I had like the most amazing wine the other night. This freaky
wine from Lanzarote called Listán Negro.” And he starts laughing. I say, “Jon, what’s
so funny?” He says, “Do you have any idea what Listán Negro is?” I said, “It’s Listán
Negro.” He said, “There’s a synonym for Listán Negro.” I said, “Well, what the heck is it?”
He’s all, “You’ll never guess what it is.” “OK, I give up. What is it?” It turns out Listán Negro is synonymous with
what is called the Mission Grape. The Mission Grape is the first grape that came to California
with the Spanish missionaries. My vineyard is on Mission Vineyard Drive, as it turns
out. But here’s the kicker. The Mission Grape is arguably the worst vinifera
grape that has ever been invented, ever been discovered, ever been observed. It has no
redeeming qualities. [audience chuckles lightly] It has no color, no flavor, no acid, nothing.
It’s horrible. It’s totally horrible. However, under these conditions, it produces completely
brilliant wine. Go figure. What does this mean? What does
this mean? I think it means, again, there’s no such thing as most brilliant. There is
best-suited. And I think also it means that if you have a terroir that is strong enough,
and I strongly believe the terroir on Lanzarote is about as strong as it gets, if the terroir
is strong enough the variety itself, or blend of varieties, really pales in significance. And it really essentially becomes a carrier.
It’s just simply a carrier. It’s really not something that–. You just want to get the
balance more or less right. You want it to have the right amount of acidity and the right
amount of sugar. But apart from that, it’s just there to bring this other character along. So, it’s really in a sense a question gestalt.
So, instead of focusing on one foreground, you flip-flop it so the variety is really
in the background and the terroir is in the foreground. So, how can you do that? I think
I may have found a way to do it. You grow the grapes from seeds rather than from cuttings. And why might this work? For a couple of reasons.
It might not work. I mean, this could be like, I’ve talked to people who know about these
things. Roughly, it’s half and half. Half the people say, “Randall, this is gonna be
the most expensive waste of time ever.” And other people say, “You know what?” Some variant of, “This is so crazy, it just
might work.” Or something like that. Here’s why I think it might work. One, seeds behave
very different than cuttings. Grapes, whatever plant you’re growing, whether it’s a tree
or a vine, when you grow a grape from a seed you have what is called geotropism. So, the roots go straight down to China whereas
if you grow grapes from a cutting, they move laterally. So, certainly there’s gonna be
more of this desire to find water at all costs from a seedling. The second thing that I think
is quite interesting is instead of having a single variety, or two or three clones,
or two or three varieties, you have essentially a true population where every vine is genetically
distinct from every other vine. Theoretically, they’re all in the same family.
They’re all from the same clan, but I’m imagining the difference between a full orchestra and
chamber group. Chamber group is lovely, but it’s small. An orchestra has a depth, a complexity,
a richness of sound that you can’t replicate any other way. So, I’m thinking that with this tremendous
diversity, something is gonna happen. Now bear in mind, what I’m trying to achieve is
not identify the best grape. Maybe I might accidentally find the best grape or find the
best grapes, or certain class of grape that seem to be well-suited to the site, but really
what I’m most interested in is what happens to a population. What can you achieve with a population? And
maybe, within that population, are there criteria for inclusion or exclusion, some rules that
you might want to enforce in generation two, when you decide, “OK, the grapes that are
the wrong color, we’ll put them over here. We’ll make another wine out of them. Or, the
grapes that ripened too early, we’re gonna put them over here.” But I think, at the very
least, you’re bringing something unique into the world. At the very least, you’re bringing
ten thousand new varieties that didn’t exist previously. So, I think it’s a good bet. And whether the
wine’s any good or not, I think it’s gonna be distinctive. I think it’s gonna be amazing.
As we often say at Bonny Doon, “What could possibly go wrong?” [laughter] So, I think that’s pretty much the state of
the Doon right now. I could read a section from the book, or I can entertain questions,
or both.>>Female Presenter: Let’s do both.>>Randall Grahm: OK. Questions first or book
first?>>Female Presenter: For questions, folks can
just ask and then you can repeat them if you want to.>>Randall Grahm: Sure. Of course. You gotta
have some questions. Yeah?>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #1: I noticed you were
using European words to describe terms like noise. How do you come by such terms having
been in the wine business?>>Randall Grahm: Oh, if you stay in school
long enough as I did, you learn all kinds of weird stuff. [laughter] If you majored in six things, you know. When
you go to Santa Cruz, you can never actually graduate in four years. It’s a known impossibility.
So, if you stay in school long enough you learn all these goofy things. Yeah.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: So in a lot of
the vineyards of old people would make field blend.>>Randall Grahm: Yes.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: Which is sort of
akin to the Bordeaux of making it from scratch instead of–>>Randall Grahm: Correct.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: You sort of get
what you get>>Randall Grahm: Right.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #2: I don’t know if
those fields are clones of each–. If the wines are clones of each other, but how do
you compare that with the field blend?>>Randall Grahm: So, the question is how I
compare this project to a field blend. Essentially, it is a field blend on steroids, if you will.
I mean, the–mostly Italians, some Portuguese–who did the original field blends, I think they
did this by intuition. You get a sense–. It’s like when you’re making a dish. You want
some elements. I need color from here. I need acid from here. I need body from here. And
when you grow grapes in a warm climate, in a Mediterranean climate, every Mediterranean
climate has come to the same conclusion that you need disparate elements. You need several elements to produce a wine
that’s balanced and complex. And a field blend is really just something that enforces that.
And my own experience has been–. I work with field blends in Antioch, in Oakley, California,
in Contra Costa. They’re extremely interesting. But my own personal experience has been when
I’m producing, if you will, a varietal wine, a Sirah. In every instance, there might be
in this field three or four or five or six different clones of Sirah planted. And one
clone is said to be superior because it has smaller clusters and that the wine is darker
or it has better acidity. But in every instance, in my experience, the
blend of the six different clones is always better than the individual clone. So, taking
that principle–. And again, as long as the elements are all coherent, I think that this
diversity will just enrich the wine. Here’s another way of thinking about it. The French make this, I think, really salient
distinction between what they call wines of effort and wines of terroir. And a wine of
effort is one that bears the strong stylistic imprint of the winemaker, where the winemaker
is really trying to determine as much as he possibly can. And we do this in the New World. We do this
very successfully in the New World. And it’s not a totally stupid thing to do. You want
to know. It’s like reading a book. You want to know how it comes out in the end, so you
wanna know what steps you can take to make the wine come out a certain way. You want it to taste consistent year after
year. You want it to have a certain flavor profile that people like. And this makes a
lot of sense. However, I would argue that it may make sense, but ultimately makes a
wine that’s completely banal and beside the point. And essentially, everyone ends up making the
same wine. What has happened lately in the last few years is there are certain influential
critics, who will remain nameless, that would be Robert Parker– [laughter] and the Wine Spectator. And people now are
trying to reverse engineer Parker’s palate. And they’re really successful at it. And there’s
a company in Sonoma called Enologix , that more or less can predict the Parker wine score
before the wine is even finished fermenting within a great degree of accuracy. So, and they’re just out there acting on their
economic interest. If Parker gives it a 94, the wine can sell for this dollar amount.
If he gives it a 91, it can sell for this dollar amount. So, it’s totally rational except
it’s evil and bad. And more to the point, ultimately, maybe when good triumphs over
evil, people will understand that wines made in this fashion have a certain hollowness
to them, a certain simplicity to them. They’re only as smart as us winemakers and
that’s not very smart. A vin de terroir, on the other hand, really tries to, forgive the
expression, leverage the complexity of nature, or expose the complexity of nature, or reveal.
If you can reveal the complexity of nature, it’s a much vaster universe. It’s a much vaster system, a more intelligent
system than the intelligence of a human being. And I think, therefore, vin de terroir are
revelatory. There are depths to these wines that we cannot fashion through our artifice.
Yeah. Grace.>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: You brought an
innovation to the user experience of actually consuming wine, which anybody who’s ever lagged
behind a corkscrew can appreciate. You’ve really pushed through more uses of screw caps
in your earlier incarnation of Bonny Doon.>>Randall Grahm: Yes.>>FEMALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #3: Is there anything
you think that needs to be done to help the user experience, the consumer experience,
of a wine that will help consumers appreciate terroir and really get it?>>Randall Grahm: The question is what can
be done to, if you will, turn on the light bulb for terroir. I’ve thought about this
for consumers. I’ve thought about this. It’s really complex. It’s a complex question. It’s
a deceptively simple question, but I think there’s kind of a quantum moment where you
literally flip from one universe into another universe. I don’t know what it takes to trigger that
moment. But again, it’s a little bit like a gestalt because you’re focusing on one element
or several elements. For me, when I first started drinking wine, I liked wines that
had oak because I thought oak correlates to quality. Oak correlates to softness. Oak correlates
to smoothness. Therefore, good wine equals oak. And that was one of the signifiers of
quality. And there were a few others, the texture, certain elements that for me signified
quality. For Parker, it’s raspberry juice, or raspberry jam, I should say, things that
are soft and opulent, for him, equals quality. And at a certain point, something happens
in your brain where you say, “You know what? Those are nice things, but maybe I’m looking
at it the wrong way. Maybe these other aspects of the wine that I wasn’t really noticing
before, they shift and come into prominence. And they become important.” This minerality,
this persistence, this chalkiness, this something about this wine, this is actually what’s interesting
about the wine. Not the fruitiness. Not the oakiness. These other elements are what is
interesting. And then, once you can cue in on it, then you start looking for it and that
becomes consistently what you look for in wine. And then at that point, you can never drink
a Napa Valley Cabernet ever again. [audience chuckles lightly] So, I don’t know exactly
what it takes. I think it’s something like being in situ, going to Italy. It’s like Italian
wines. If you were to just pour an Italian wine, a Chianti for somebody, a California
wine person, they would say, “Ew. This wine is acidic. This wine is weird. Where’s the raspberry
milkshake aspect that I’ve come to trust and know?” [audience chuckles] But if you’re in
Italy and you’re eating a bowl of pasta, you’re sitting outside and you’re drinking this Chianti,
it’s the most brilliant wine that you’ve ever consumed. So, I think having a context really
helps. Understanding where these wines come from,
what they’re trying to achieve in these wines. Mainly, what do you eat it with? And when
do you eat it? And when do you drink it? So, I think those are the things that really set
the stage for that “aha.” Yeah?>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: For grape seeds,
how close to the fence do grape seeds–. Like when the vine grows from seed just how much
like its parent is it? Where do you–?>>Randall Grahm: Really good question. Really
good question. It depends on a lot of factors, mostly how old the selection is. For example,
Carignan, which is a very old grape, it’s been around, is genetically very stable, so
the offspring look a lot like the parents. Cabernet sauvignon, which is a relative youngun’,
the offspring don’t look a lot like the parents. Now, here’s the problem in a nutshell. Well,
I won’t be in a nutshell. In a grape shell. Here’s the problem. It would seem, on the
face of it, that if you like Grenache, as I do, the straight forward thing to do would
be to get some Grenache grapes and dissect out the seeds and germinate the seeds. The problem is that plants are, vinefera plants
are mostly, but not all, 99 percent of them are hermaphrodites. So, they have male and
female parts. And it’s a little bit like what happens in other species when they interbreed.
When a plant interbreeds with itself, there’s a lot of genetic defects. It’s like the Hapsburgs with idiocy and hemophilia.
[light laughter from audience] So, with vines that are–. A lot of the seeds are not viable.
They’re not productive and they grow weakly. There’s a lot of problems. So, what you really
wanna do is actually hybridize them, rather than take the grapes from the seeds themselves,
from the plants themselves. Did I answer the question? I’m not sure I
answered it.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #4: Yeah, part of it.
But also like, how much variety will there be?>>Randall Grahm: Oh, so how much variety will
there be? So, yeah. The question is how much–. What will the offspring look like relative
to the parents? So, it turns out if you take the Grenache seeds from a Grenache vine, it’ll
be very Grenache-y. Grenache-ish. Certain varieties have more genetic variability.
Pinot noir, for example, if you take the seeds from Pinot noir they’ll really look weird
and different. Some will be pink. Some will be white. Some will be red. Some will be polka-dot.
They won’t be polka-dot, but they’ll be red, white, and pink. But in most instances, they’ll be less interesting
than the parents. Now, if you hybridize them, that’s where you get really interesting vines.
And the male part imparts certain characteristics and the female part imparts different characteristics.
I’m told, that when you hybridize grape vines, it’s like a bell curve. You get 80 percent kind of look a lot alike
and then ten percent on one side look, are really weird and bad, and ten percent on the
other side are really weird and good and different. So, you might–. Generally, when you hybridize,
when you’re breeding grapes, you’re looking for the ten percent that are really interesting
and positive. But most of them are gonna look a lot alike.
Yeah.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: I have a similar
question. If you’re planning on, if you’re growing from seed and not from a known root
stock, how do you plan for disease resistance?>>Randall Grahm: Correct.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #5: Phylloxera or something
like that.>>Randall Grahm: You pray pretty much. In
other words, how do you ensure against disease resistance? Well, first you start planting
in virgin territory that has not had phylloxera before. That’s a good place to start. We cannot
protect ourselves from phylloxera. If we grow grapes from seeds, they will eventually
have phylloxera most likely. But in vineyard two point o, the thought is grow them from–.
Grow root stock, but grow the root stock from seed. So, one of the things I’m gonna be doing
this fall is going to Texas and collecting wild Vitis berlandieri and dissecting out
those seeds and then rooting those seeds. And those are gonna be the root stock for
the next iteration of what comes first. So, that’s how you protect yourself. Yes.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #6: I’m just curious.
Is there a general rule of thumb when you should save a bottle as opposed to opening
it? I know there’s different varieties, obviously, but for the wine ager–.>>Randall Grahm: OK. If it comes from California,
don’t save it. [laughter] That would be my rule of thumb. Drink it in
the parking lot, would be the best advice I could give you. Yeah, California wines generally
don’t age very well. It’s a very complex–. Some things that you’d never imagine would
age, age amazingly well. German Rieslings, sweet German Rieslings, for example are the
most brilliant wines to age. They’ll last 20, 30 years. Oddly enough, in Burgundy, white
Burgundies, which have a reputation for aging well, don’t age very well anymore. Nobody knows why, but they don’t. The one
rule of thumb is look at the alcohol. If the alcohol is really high, either don’t buy it.
My advice would be don’t buy it. Or, if you do buy it, drink it in the parking lot because
ripe wines–. They say, the adage is the wine either ripens on the vine or it ripens in
the cellar. So, if you’re starting with grapes that are
too ripe, they will not have really great longevity. Wines that are 12½ , 13 percent,
all things being equal, will live much longer than wines that are 15 percent. Yes.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #7: You start getting
into the genetic part and I have questions. And I’m wondering why that didn’t come up
more in terms of matching genetics to terroir, because there are wines that do well and grapes
that do well in Germany and grapes that do well in Afghanistan, you know. And so, it
seems like you could find part of that terroir match with genetically suited toward the region.>>Randall Grahm: Well, you could. And certainly,
and I had two consultants, the Claude and Lydia Bourguignon, who this is basically what
they do. And they’re terroir experts. And so, I put the question to them. “So, like
I’ve got this kind of volcanic soil over here and this kind of soil over here. What do you
think?” Well, the problem is their database, their
knowledge base is limited. They know what grows in France. They know that Cabernet sauvignon
grows on gravelly soil. Merlot grows on clay soil. Pinot noir grows on limestone soil. I had some chalky soil and they said, “Why
don’t you grow some of that–what’s the grape in Sherry?–the Palomino. Grow some Palomino.”
It’s like, Jesus, God. I need Palomino like a hole in the head. And so, you can do these
things, of course. And probably succeed, but again, you’re probably, your Palomino in San
Juan Batista on chalk soil is probably not gonna be as interesting as the Palomino grown
in Jerez, where they’ve had this opportunity to really fine tune it. So, I think you go with your instinct and
you go with your instinct. And then you pay attention. And make mistakes. And maybe some
of these things will work out really well. And try to create a mechanism where you can
actually iterate and learn from something and then adapt. We shall see. Yeah.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #8: Have you ever tried
to basically just try a bunch of different grapes in Year One when you bought the property?
Just put a bunch in and see what happens?>>Randall Grahm: Well, the problem with that,
is that you can do that and it’s actually not–. If you’re 25 or 30 years old, that
is like a really good idea. The problem is you really don’t know what you’re gonna get
for at least seven or eight years, maybe ten years. So, you kinda have to go for it. You just
have to go for it. And not quit your day job, I think, is the–.>>MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER #8: Does it take even
longer from seed then? Like how long until you get a good sense of–>>Randall Grahm: It does take longer to grow
from seed. The problem of course is that in some cases, the grape varieties that I wanna
propagate don’t exist in California, so I have to clandestinely–. Oops, being recorded.
[laughter] I’m sorry. I have to somehow obtain some of these unusual grape varieties, propagate
them, and then collect the pollen and blah, blah, blah. So, it becomes a very complicated process.
Anyways, we’re marching forward. Somehow, we’re marching forward.>>Female Presenter: It’s out of time almost.
I don’t know. For the wine tasting, did you want to quickly say something about the book
or read something from the book?>>Randall Grahm: OK. Five minutes-ish?>>Female Presenter: Five minutes. It’s 5:10.
So, people are showing up. Do you have a copy of the book up there?>>Randall Grahm: I do. So, I’m gonna read
you just a segment, a couple of paragraphs. So, the book is pretty goofy. There’s a lot
of literary parody and poems and songs and essays, but when I first started doing these
parodies, I thought I just need to parody classical literature. So, I did Kafka and Joyce and Shakespeare
and Cervantes. And then, I realized I could parody popular literature as well. So, I did
J. D. Salinger. And then I took the plunge and I did Phillip Roth, with Portnoy’s Complaint.
And this is called Trotanoy’s Complaint. It’s very, very, very naughty. So, I won’t read you the raciest bits, but
I’ll read you a little bit. So, the character’s called Alexander Trotanoy. [reads from book]
“‘I lived at home with my parents well into my young adulthood, Doctor. It gives me no
great pride to admit. They were a constant source of anxiety and shame to me and in no
small part, due to their incomprehension of the elegant nuances and extraordinary possibilities
of fine wine. “For them, the acme of oenological excellence
began and ended with Manischewitz Elderberry kosher le Pesach. They were preternaturally
frugal and refused to ever throw anything away. Always decanting the unconsumed glasses
back into the bottle at the end of the yearly Seder, which was the only occasion that wine
was ever to be seen at our table when I was growing up. “I’m quite sure there was but a single bottle
of Manischewitz Elderberry produced during the Johnson Administration that lasted us
at least until the ouster of Tricky Dick. In recalling it now, I know it was an old
bottle because its familiar clunky square shape did not have a government warning label
on it. “Though it was possible that the warning
had fallen off due to exposure to toxic levels of mutant microbial life forms germinating
in the science experiment that was my mother’s refrigerator. My parents were quite moderate
in their consumption, considered it extremely bad form not to at least take a taste of wine
when the berakhah , or ritual blessing over the wine, was said. “I remember one Seder when it was absolutely
impossible for me to consider tasting this impossibly disgusting liquid semi-life form
that had been decanted and recanted an endless number of times. ‘Just a taste, Alex. It wouldn’t
kill you,’ my mother says to me. “’No Mother, I beg to differ. It would kill
me. In fact, it will kill all of us. The CDC in Atlanta will be very interested to know
why the entire Trotanoy family of Newark, New Jersey, was sickened unto death by uncontrollable
hemorrhagic bleeding from all of their orifices, as well as from the formation of gangrenously
separating green pus.’ “ ‘Would you look at the mouth on him?’
she asks my father. ‘He’s such an expert wine taster. I don’t know what kind of palate you
have Mr. Big Shot, Mr. Wine Snob, but you’ve got quite a mouth on you, I’ll tell you that,
Alex.’ ‘Are you or are you not going to say a barakhah and taste the wine?’ “’Please, Mother. I’d rather not.’ ‘Are
you saying that you’re too good, too refined, too la-di-da for Manischewitz?’ ‘Uh, yes,
Mother, I am.’ [laughter] ‘As your mother, I command you to taste the
wine.’ This would be utterly comical except for the fact that my mother, and I’m not kidding,
Doctor, my mother had taken the corkscrew into her hand and was holding the business
end of it poised to my throat.’ ‘Just take one little sippy for your mother, Alex.’ My
mother was going to stab me with a corkscrew if I did not take at least a little sippy
of Manischewitz.” [audience laughs] [end of reading] There you have it. [applause]

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