In 1991 Randall was indicted into the Who’s Who of Cooking in America by Cook’s and in the same year Ted Bowell of the Lowell Observatory in northern Arizona named the “Rhoneranger” asteroid in his honor. He was proclaimed Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in 1994. Randall lectures frequently to wine societies and technical groups, and occasionally contributes quixotically sincere articles to wine journals. His idiosyncratic newsletters and articles were collected, carefully redacted, and with the inclusion of some very timely new material, published as the award-winning book, “Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology” in 2009. In 2010 the Culinary Institute of America inducted him into the Vintner’s Hall of Fame. He lives in Santa Cruz with his muse Chinshu, their daughter, Amélie and his thesaurus. (bio taken with permission from website Bonny Doon Vineyard).
When I clicked Follow on Randall Grahm’s Twitter page, never did I think he’d follow me back: but he did. That’s the kind of guy he is. He’s a celebrity, a cognoscente, a writer, an artist and all around musingly, dreamily thoughtful personality. Many have said that the future belongs to those who challenge the present. Does this describe Randall Grahm? I believe so; read on and decide for yourself. The words you see in red are links, click on them to see additional information.
I’m not going to write about his long history in the world of wine. He’s been interviewed so many times and on so many topics related to wine: just put Randall Grahm’s name into your internet browser and hit search: you’ll see pages of articles and interviews written about him, video interviews, and his own musings at times.
The name of this blog is Wine and Meaning. Meaning is grasping the connection between things. Randall Grahm has graciously done many, many interviews. The goal for Wine and Meaning is to connect you with the man behind the wine. There are so many more questions to ask and hopefully, in the future, he will grant Wine and Meaning a second interview.
When I read this quote by Albert Einstein, it reminds me of Randall Grahm: “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
Before I share our conversation, here is a brief video for you, courtesy of Austin Beeman. If you’ve read my bio, you’ll see why I can relate to Randall Grahm.
As always, I ask all interviewees the first three questions. Here is Randall’s contribution plus a few extra questions.
W & M: What is your every day wine?
RG : Riesling in summer. In winter, I’d say I have a style or type of wine I like, which is Burgundy, I like Pinot Noir from Burgundy, Cab Franc from the Loire, high altitude Nebbiolo. I like wines with an elegance, a lightness and not too alcoholic, with a higher acidity. On occasion, I like a Sagrantino or Amarone.
W & M: What is your special/splurge wine?
RG: It would be a GREAT wine of those same types, maybe like a great Burgundy, a great Barolo.
W & M : Do you have a favorite wine quote?
RG: I’ll have to think about that.
W & M: Please tell the readers one winemaker you admire.
RG: Serge Hochar
W & M: Please suggest a book or resource to the readers who want to learn more about wine.
RG: The book by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson, World Atlas of Wine. It’s a really beautiful book, comprehensive and the illustrations and maps are fantastic. The maps are a really useful tool for grasping the utter specificity of terroir. One can see how small these wine growing areas are and how much they change in a short distance. This book gives the reader a sense of the enormous richness of the world of wine.
If Randall Grahm were not a winemaker, he points to a career as a writer or a film maker, explaining he’d use a similar skill set to that of a winemaker. He is talented at seeing patterns and is able to do a number of things reasonably well, putting them together into a coherent form.
I’m reading The Science of Wine: From Vine to Glass (2005, by Jamie Goode). Goode talks about climate change and the rise in alcohol levels in wine being PARTLY due to global warming producing riper grapes: therefore higher sugar levels. Moreover, because of advances in viticulture and the tendency to harvest based on phenolic ripeness ( flavor maturity ) rather than simple sugar levels. Randall and I discussed this topic. He notes phenolic ripeness is a subjective term. What does phenolic ripeness really mean? In other words, what is one person’s phenolic ripeness is another person’s overly phenolic ripeness. Randall explains if you wait for all your berries to turn brown, which is one definition of phenolic ripeness, then your sugar level will be 26 or 27 Brix. Can you get by with 80% brown, he would argue that’s phenologically ripe enough, and you can pull that off at 23.5 Brix. His point being, there’s quite a bit of wiggle room here for making definitions mean what you want them to mean.
Randall Grahm has a tremendous career. He described one unforgettable moment among many. About 3-4 years ago, he did a retrospective of Le Cigar Volant. He and his team did 25 vintages, about 1300 glasses of wine, opening about 40 different large format bottles. He remembers of all the bottles tried that evening, the two most interesting bottles were the ’84 and ’85. Back then, he admits he didn’t understand about aging, about grapes or even winemaking. For Randall, this was a philosophical moment, a moment of reflection. This begged the question for him, what had his career really given him? Had he learned anything in the 25-30 years since then? He knows, even back then, he had a deeper connection to something and moving forward now, he is reconnecting once again to that organic, intuitive part of himself. Unlearning occurs now so he can see things with a fresh palate.
Randall Grahm has a clear vision and shall I say a passion for expressing where complexity and greatness resides in a wine. The world of wine is clearly a business world. In finding equilibrium- I asked him how does he balance the business of wine with his passion for wine? (This one’s for you Roz) His answer is a simple one but not necessarily an easy thing to do, in my opinion. He has given this a lot of thought. He defines several different spaces, one being a sacred space. In this sacred space, there is no compromise. He talks about doing whatever it takes to honor the wine, the place, and giving it everything he has, with no compromises. I asked him if he includes himself in that list. His answer: “of course”. At the end of the day, he wants to know he did everything he could as a winemaker and really showed up for this wine. On the other side, he acknowledges that he does this work also as a means to an end and for profit. This means a different role, without compromising values and it’s done with a consciousness.
Mark Twain said “No one likes change except a wet baby”. In my experience, as one ages, change often becomes more meaningful, one’s priorities change, and we may become more true to ourselves. How has change revealed itself in his life? As a man with a self-described past addiction to novelty, he went on to share his personal insights. As a winemaker, he notes addiction to novelty as a fault, preventing him from real depth as a winemaker. He recounts being a clever dilettante and is now challenging himself to live with something for a long period of time. Thereby, expressing that he wants to delve into his role in a deeper way, winemaking in a deeper, more committed way. True to Randall Grahm’s way of picturesque description, he conveys an image of a “monogamous” relationship with a vineyard. “This is my vineyard, I can’t change it, I can’t pick another vineyard.” He details that this is a totally different way of being for him and narrows his focus.
Click here to learn more about Popelouchum Vineyard (pronounced poh-puh-lou-shoom). Randall’s newsworthy project has an extensive website for more information. When asked what has surprised him about this project, he answers “everything takes longer and is way more expensive than imagined”. He reveals that anything they’ve grown in Popelouchum Vineyard seems to be superb. He considers that maybe it isn’t about which grapes to choose but rather it’s about finding the right vineyard site. He is more relaxed now that he has found the right place and finds a comfort in knowing this is the right vineyard. This affords him less vexing about ” finding the right grapes”. He is clear that this is a hypothesis.
Giving back to the community is always important. The Popelouchum project is seeking 501(c)3 status to share the fruits of their labors with the community at large. They state they will offer their catalogue of discovery to others who want to follow in their footsteps. He notes that the community also includes consumers, patrons.
Randall Grahm tweets regularly, sometimes very adorable things about his daughter, age 12. He would like to see her working in the world of wine in the future. He opens up about her inquisitiveness about the project. She asked him how he would figure out which grapes are the interesting ones. She is asking exactly all the right questions. I recognize that he’s quite pleased with her thoughtful questions. He told her they would look at some bio-chemical markers, among other things.
Continuing with the family theme, I asked Randall about his parents. I’ve observed Randall to have a good sense of humor. He is philosophical, a deep thinker, and artistic. Did he get these qualities from his mom or his dad? He disagreed with me and said he isn’t sure he’s a deep thinker. He describes himself as an inquisitive and curious person. He credits his mom with giving him the love of language and the trait of being a problem solver. His sense of humor comes from his mom and his dad. His dad was a business person and so Randall (although self deprecating of his own abilities as a business person) said whatsoever business sense he does have, he got from dad.
If you’re not familiar with Dr. Masaru Emoto’s work, here’s a link. I have followed his work for many years and I believe that thoughts and words indeed have energy to them and help to create our environment. Masaru Emoto was a Japanese author, researcher and entrepreneur, who claimed that human consciousness has an effect on the molecular structure of water. His research shows how spoken words or music, affects the shape of water molecules. I asked Randall to discuss crystallization of wine molecules he placed on some of his wine labels. Bonny Doon website notes “sensitive crystallizations create a visual representation of a wine’s organizing and growth forces—a snapshot of its internal harmony”. To my delight, Randall is familiar with Dr. Emoto’s work. Randall affirms that even on a molecular level, there is information stored in some coherent, replicable pattern. Thought and mind actually have interaction with physical reality. By putting the crystallizations on wine labels, he was giving a visual representation of terroir. Terroir is a reflection of the organization of a particular land, a particular site. So, the crystallizations were a representation of this organization.
Lastly, as much as I resist being a psych nurse and as much as I try, I can’t seem to get the psychiatric nurse practitioner out of me. I really just want to work in wine but alas, 30 years in this career just won’t leave my side. Ergo, I played a word association game with the witty and obliging Randall Grahm. Wine and Meaning says a word and Randall gives the first word that pops into his mind. He is valiant!
W & M: Intuition
W & M: Chi
RG: Life Force
W & M: Terroir
Thank you so very much to Randall Grahm for giving his time to Wine and Meaning.