The Art of Doing

Visionary Vintner Randall Grahm:
An Artist’s Interpretation

Terroir wines have been cultivated in Europe for centuries. But could it be done in the New World? Visionary vintner Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard took up the challenge, asking himself: “Am I capable of such a transcendental feat?” Read more here.

Randall Grahm by Karen Barbour
Randall Grahm by Karen Barbour with excerpt from “The Art of Doing”

The Art of Doing Artist’s Interpretation Project is a collaboration between us and the artists we’ve asked to depict superachievers from our book, “The Art of Doing.”

When we wanted to find someone to portray the wildly imaginative Northern Californian vintner Randall Graham we thought of the wildly imaginative Northern Californian artist Karen Barbour whose work—in its joyful organic complexity—looks like how we imagine Grahm’s mind to be with its visionary thoughts floating and exploding.

Grahm is the wine world’s renegade, a viticulture rebel, who knows as much about the grape as anyone and yet has ceremoniously rejected the cork (and held a mock funeral), slapped on full-disclosure ingredient lists to his bottles “to keep himself honest” and prodigiously markets his tongue-in-cheek vintages like Le Cigare Volant (The Flying Cigar), named after U.F.O.’s feared by Frenchmen in the Rhone region in the1950’s.

But that was all before Grahm took the ultimate step, eschewing millennia of man’s attempt to tame Nature to produce the wine of his dreams—vins du terroir. These are the wines, Grahm explains, that so embody the essence of the soil and microclimate from whence they come that when tasted, they express a sense of place. These wines only exist in the Old World where they have been cultivated in centuries’ old vineyards.

In the service of cultivating a place-centric terroir wine, Grahm has had to make a radical shift in his methodology as a vintner. He has abandoned what he now considers the heavy-handed attempts to control and manipulate the cultivation and fermentation of wine. He plans to sow seeds and harvest according to the position of planets and phases of the moon, to irrigate in a more natural manner, to vary the flora and fauna in the vineyard to encourage biodiversity instead of using pesticides and finally to forego the man-made additives, techniques and finishers. In short, to “Let nature do the heavy lifting.”

Whether or not he will succeed remains to be seen but Grahm is committed to the creation of a New World terroir wine. “If I’m going to be a vintner,” he told us, “that’s the wine I want to make.”

For more on Grahm read our chapter on him “How to Cultivate an Exceptional Wine” in “The Art of Doing.”

To find Grahm’s James Beard award-winning book, “Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology,” go here.

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