Randall Grahm talks terroir

Randall Grahm talks terroir

Iconic winemaker, Randall Grahm, was at WINE WORLD last week to share his experiences and beliefs about terroir, Randall shared his wines and his expertise with a small group in the VIP lounge.

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon

Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon


Over thirty years ago, Randall started out obsessed with Pinot noir. but by his own admission greatly underestimated the “Pinot problem“. The challenges of growing, ripening Pinot noir grapes  and turning them into the wine of his dreams were too great, in his opinion, for California.

Frustrated with Pinot, his friend Kermit  Lynch inspired Randall to look at Rhone varietals instead. Back then believe it or not, there only three  Syrah vineyards in the entire state of California.  1984 was the year that Le Cigare was first released. Randall named the label “flyer cigar” in response to a 1954 law outlawing flying saucers and flying cigars!

lecigareRandall states he continued with intermittent reinforcement. The positive response to Le Cigare encouraged him to continue his exploration of crafting Rhone blends  while seeking wines that express terroir.

The wines that most intrigue Randall are the wines that give a sense of place and adds an emotional affect to the wine. There is a continuum of wine that ranges from wines of effort to  wines of terroir which has minimal intervention. In the last ten years, he realized that he really wasn’t meeting his intent. Life changes convinced Randall that it was time to really focus on the pursuit of finding terroir in California. Six years ago, he sold all of his big wine brands and reduced his total production to 1/20 to focus on his quest to create a terroir driven wine in the New World.

The Future

Randall states that he dreamed about San Juan Baptistery  property before he found it. He had the best geologists he could find testing the soil and they concluded that this may be the place in California that is capable of a truly terroir driven wine. To truly represent terroir, the land must be dry farmed. That isn’t the easiest thing to do in areas of California with limited rainfall. So, Randall began researching biochar.

Hans-Peter Schmidt has been studying the effects of biochar on vineyards. He has found that biochar enhances water capacity by 35% and holds onto that water, releasing it slowly. Biochar also increases beneficial microbial activity. For Randall the Holy Grail of biochar is that it slows oxidation. Conventional fields take 6 years to truly go biodynamic or organic.  It only takes takes two years with bio char to restore the soil.

[infobox color=”000000″ backgroundcolor=”FFFFcc” bordercolor=”000000″ icon=”” ]What’s biochar? Basically, it’s organic matter that is burned slowly, with a restricted flow of oxygen, and then the fire is stopped when the material reaches the charcoal stage. Unlike tiny tidbits of ash, coarse lumps of charcoal are full of crevices and holes, which help them serve as life rafts to soil microorganisms. The carbon compounds in charcoal form loose chemical bonds with soluble plant nutrients so they are not as readily washed away by rain and irrigation.[/infobox]

Randall wants to demphasize varietal and focus on terroir influences on his wines of the future. He is also exploring growing grape from seed  instead the standard practice of using rootstock so the entire plant is from that specific place.

The Wines

Tasting the Cigare Volant

Tasting the Cigare Volant

After sharing his experience and dreams, Randall shared his wines! His goals for these wines  is to invite vs assault wines. Wines should evolve and intrigue  but not overwhelm the palate.

2012 Albariño was grown in a very cool climate and fermented with indigenous yeasts. It was  only bottled 4 weeks ago so it has a hint of bottle shock today that will fade in a couple of weeks. The Albarino has bright acidity with strong citrus notes, making this a great wine to pair with seafood.

Vin Gris 2011  Grenache, Grenache Blanc, Cinsault, Mouvedre  grapes  were designated for the Vin Gris and  harvested at 22 Brix. Typically rosé is made from by products of red wines juice. Rosé wines made from by products need to be manipulated to balance the wine. Sweeter than I expected up front, but food friendly acidity kicks in. It isn’t sweet, but a semi dry wine.

2011 Clos de Gilroy is a red wine that Randall loves to serve chilled. This red wine is primarily Grenache, and a bit of Cinsault and Syrah. Grenache can be grown in cooler areas in CA because of the long growing season. This wine has a very fruit forward nose, predominantly strawberry.  This wine has a cherry lush mouthfeel up front before the tannins kick in. Randall recommends pairing with truffles or seafood.

2010 Syrah Pousseur mixes Syrah grapes from cool and warmer  regions, adding complexity to the wine. 2010 was a very cool year in California so this is a herb bomb not a fruit bomb: herb, pepper, beef jerky, black licorice. The grapes were harvested on waning moon to prevent sappiness of the stems. I love that it is only 12.8 ABV

2008 Cigare Volant 2008 was a big year,  so this is a big Chateau de Pape. It has a nice balance between fruit, rosemary and other herbs  It tastes exceptionally rich  and luxurious. This Volant wine is capable of very long aging. No new oak  has been used in 7 years.  Randall suggests pairing the Volant with roasted braised meats with soft texture, cooked in fat.

Randall Grahm, David LeClaire, Lenny Rede

Randall Grahm, David LeClaire, Lenny Rede

2009 Cigare Blanc comes from a single biodynamic vineyard.  A 60/40 Grenache Blanc and Rousanne blend  this has a rich luxurious mouthfeel. This white wine has the acidity to handle rich and creamy dishes.

NV Verju de Cigare is basically a green grape juice. The grapes are picked about  half way during verasion at 16 Brix. Verju is best used in cooking and cocktails. Chef Lenny says use it in Beurre Blanc!  He also offers an intermezzo idea, dilute the Verju with a little water and freeze it for a refreshing palate cleanser.