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Randall Grahm

Randall GrahmLike 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 was a permanent Liberal Arts major. 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 bit of 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 a hypnologically quaint area 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 hommage to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Le Cigare Volant firmly established Grahm as the leader of the Rhône Rangers movement in the United States. In 2001, Grahm led the industry charge converting all of his wines to screw cap closures, and since 2008, all his wines have featured full disclosure ingredient labeling.

In 1989, Randall was inducted 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.” He was nominated for Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1990 and 1993, and when the Foundation came to its senses, walked off with the award in 1994.

In 1992, Ted Bowell of the Lowell Observatory in northern Arizona named the “Rhoneranger” asteroid in his honor. Randall unaccountably landed the Bon Appétit Magazine 1999 Wine & Spirits Professional of the Year award though that distinction is still subject to a recount in New York State. In 2009 Randall was the recipient of the Green Wine Award by Sunset Magazine and was inducted into the Vintner Hall of Fame in 2010 by the Culinary Institute of America.

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 – until 2009 when his collection of poems, satiric literary parodies, essays, polemics and speeches was published by the presumably reputable University of California Press.

In 2010, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology was honored as the Beverage Book of the Year by the James Beard Foundation and was the Georges Duboef Wine Book of the Year.

Since 2002, Randall Grahm has focused on the sustainable and conscious practice of Biodynamic® farming and winemaking. Employing these principles to harmonize his activities in the vineyard and cellar with the rhythms and intelligence of nature, encouraging the health and vitality of the soils and vines – and ultimately in the wines. In May 2007 Bonny Doon’s Ca’ del Solo Vineyard, an esoteric planting of Mediterranean varieties such as Albariño, Dolcetto, Grenache, Moscato Giallo, Nebbiolo and Syrah received Biodynamic® certification from the Demeter, USA.

Today, in a scaled back operation, Randall describes himself as a terroir-seeker. His newly purchased property currently under development in San Juan Bautista, is farmed using Biodynamic® practices, in a fashion Grahm describers as ‘old-fangled.’ He acknowledges that while the subtext of his book is one winemaker’s quest for terroir, the real work now is turning his words into deeds.

Randall lives in Santa Cruz with his muse Chinshu, their daughter Amélie and his thesaurus.

Find Randall on Twitter @randallgrahm and online at www.beendoonsolong.com.

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