Producer Profile: Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon and Popelouchum California


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Randall Grahm, one of California's most innovative vintners, founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard and Popelouchum is the guest of Looking Into wine.
We started by talking about his early days. After three years studying philosophy at Santa Cruz University, and completing a winemaking degree at UC Davis, Grahm acquired a vineyard site at Bonny Doon in the Santa Cruz mountains. His first dream was to make Pinot Noir, but he soon realised that it was too warm on the mountain. He then moved to Syrah with a great deal of success. Grahm recalls how it was to work with the grape in the 70s, and how difficult it was to find good cuttings.
Continuing with Rhône varieties Grahm started to grow Grenache and Mourvedre. ‘I thought that if I blended those grapes maybe something good would be produced’, his beliefs were well-founded.
In 1984 he produced the first vintage of the wine with which he will forever be associated, Le Cigare Volant (the story of the name features in the interview). Cigare, a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre (Since 2017 changed to Cinsault), Syrah, and other classic Châteauneuf grapes.
During his high time, Randall produced more than 30 wines on any given vintage. I ask which wine he was most proud of and impressed by the quality. His writings constantly return to the concept that has dominated his life: the search for a true vin de terroir, not a vin d’effort.
Randall's accolades are as numerous as the risks that he took over the years, including producing one of the first dry roses of California in the 90s, staging the "funeral" of Mr Bouchon aka Cork, using Demijohns (all the reasons are discussed in the interview) and he even managed to be interviewed by Oprah.
We then discussed his latest project Popelouchum (Poh-puh-loo-shoom), a "New World grand cru" experimental vineyard in which Grahm hopes to breed 10,000 new grape varieties. He explains how he's using natural cross-breeding to find a variety that is 100% suited to the growing condition of the site.
The project will take generations and so the restless experimentation continues. We will have to wait a long time to see the results of the San Juan Bautista project but whatever sort of wine it produces it will be nothing less than interesting. And Grahm will be that much closer to his goal of creating a true vin de terroir.
Randall Grahm is truly a maverick winemaker that has inspired many others in California.

26 episode