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.
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Thanksgiving pinot noirs
River Road, 2014 Stephanie’s Cuvee, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Pinot Noir, 14.3%, $25 ★★★★
This is a bright and tangy pinot noir, which makes it a perfect Thanksgiving pick. It has striking red fruit -- cherry, raspberry and strawberry jam. It’s also layered with notes of cedar and smoke. But what makes it a standout at this price point is its pitch perfect balance.
Anaba, 2014 Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros Pinot Noir, 14.1%, $38. ★★★★1/2: This is a complex pinot with gorgeous red fruit — cherry and a hint of red raspberry — coupled with bright acidity. It also has great minerality, and finishes crisp. A knockout Thanksgiving pinot.
Siduri, 2015 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, 14.3%, $24. ★★★★: This is a pretty pinot noir that’s also edgy. It has bright raspberry fruit and crisp acid. It also has savory flavors of mushroom and smoke. All of this makes it a smart pick for your feast. Well crafted.
Three Sticks, 2014 Durell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 14.1%, $65. ★★★★: This is a pinot with a racy streak of wild raspberry running through it. What sets it apart is its depth and lush texture. Great with the meal, and equally impressive solo.
Sea Smoke TEN, 2013 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir, 14.5%, $119. ★★★★1/2: This is a dense and earthy pinot that has red and black fruit. Complex, with a range of flavors — black cherry, blueberry, dried herbs and mushroom. Best to drink solo because it would overwhelm the meal.
Garnet Vineyards, 2014 Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County, 14.4%, $36. ★★★1/2: A treat for Thanksgiving because it’s a bright and lively food wine. It trumpets tangy red fruit — cherry and strawberry -— with notes of mineral and white pepper. Lovely.