Randall Grahm was studying philosophy at UC Santa Cruz when his palate took an unexpected turn. The college student took a break to work at a high-end boutique wine shop in Beverly Hills, allowing him the opportunity to taste First Growth Bordeaux and expensive Burgundies.
Grahm said tasting exceptional wines ultimately made him want to take the leap and create his own. The winemaker is behind our wine-of-the-week winner — the Clos de Gilroy, 2016 Central Coast Grenache at $20.
This is a feisty grenache with notes of raspberry, cherry, anise and pepper. It’s bright and has crisp acidity, but what makes it a knockout is its racy undercurrent of spice. It’s well crafted and an absolute steal for the quality.
“One of the things I’ve learned is that I very much like grenache from the Arroyo Seco region of the Central Coast, which is from where this grenache derives,” Grahm said. “What’s so special about this area is that it’s warm enough to fully ripen grenache (always very important) but cool enough to retain lovely color and fresh acidity, with a particularly characteristic spicy, peppery quality.”
Grahm, 64, founded Bonny Doon Vineyards in 1981 and the owner/winemaker has been working with Rhone grape varietals ever since.
Crafting wines of distinction is Grahm’s business model.
“In the old days you could provide a well-made wine at a fair price with an interesting story and that was generally enough to sell the wine,” he said. “No more. If you’re operating on a relatively small scale, as we are, I think that the most important imperative is to produce a wine that is utterly distinctive, possesses an element of hipness (who knows what that is?), and be very careful not to over-produce until you’ve tested the waters well.”
Grahm, the philosophy student, ultimately transferred to UC Davis where he completed a bachelor’s degree in plant science. He began his career intending to produce the great American pinot noir, but said he ultimately traded up for grenache.
“I certainly wonder how long it will take North American palates to realize that the wine style of their dreams is probably more consistently achieved with a cool-climate grenache than with a significantly more expensive pinot noir. Please note that this is not ‘sour grapes.’ I really do believe that grenache is generally more seamlessly matched to our growing conditions …”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.