Wine of the week: Clos de Gilroy, 2011 Central Coast Grenache

Randall Grahm is well known as a maverick, an iconoclastic marketer and a dauntless Rhone Ranger.

The Rhone Rangers, for the uninitiated, are vintners and growers producing wines in America from grape varieties originally made famous in France's Rhone Valley. With an eye to the 16th annual Rhone Rangers Wine Tasting in San Francisco this weekend (, our blind tasting this week features Rhone reds and Rhone red blends.

Grahm won wine-of-the-week honors with his Clos de Gilroy, 2011 Central Coast Grenache at $18. The layered grenache is tasty with notes of red and black tangy fruit, cinnamon and white pepper. It has bright acidity and a zesty finish.

"I had the very simplistic idea," he said, "that maybe one could produce a complex blend from Rhone varieties in the style of a Chateauneuf-du-Pape . . ."

Grahm, 59, calls himself "president-for-life" at Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, and this year, he's being honored at the Rhone Rangers event with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He produced his first vintage of the flagship Le Cigare Volant in 1984.

"Certainly the popularization of Rhone varieties was something, but the reality is that this was something that was inevitable," Grahm said. "If it hadn't been me, certainly it would have been someone else a year or two later. . . . If I were to die anytime soon, they would say 'What a great marketer he was.' "

Grahm's labels are legendary, including notables like Le Sophiste, Old Telegram, Clos de Gilroy and My Favorite Marsanne. But he said his outside-the-envelope marketing has been a mixed bag.

"On one hand, it has been enormously successful in selling popularly priced wines," he said. "But it has also established the perception that I can never really get serious about anything, that I'm always on some level kidding around . . ."

Grahm said he expects his best work is yet to come; that is, "If I can live long enough."

"Now that I imagine I understand a thing or two about wine, I feel I'm ready to do something truly original."

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 707-521-5310 or

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