An evening with Randall Grahm

One of the thrills of writing about wine, apart from getting paid to do my hobby, is that I get to meet my wine heros. And last night, for the first time, I got to meet Randall Grahm.

It was a dinner at Artisan and Vine (a natural wine bar in Clapham) hosted by wine tasting company Wine Unearthed. Randall was thoroughly entertaining, and as well as talking us through his wines, he did a couple of readings from his book, Been Doon So Long.

Full write up to follow. For now, some classic Randall:

On Cigare Volant, his flagship wine: ‘I started out trying to make Châteauneuf du Pape. I don’t even like Châteauneuf du Pape, but I do like Burgundy.’

On reduction: ‘One way I think of reduction in wine is like horniness in guys. It can be a little off-putting at times but it is a sign that they system is working the way it should.’

On cool climate viticulture: ‘A cool climate for me is also an appropriate climate. The grapes come in balanced. You don’t need to acidulate or dealcoholize the wine. If you have to manipulate the wine, this suggests that you are not growing the grape in the right places.’

‘Not all vineyard sites are created equal. Not all vineyard sites are good for grapes!’

On terroir: ‘The notion of terroir is the most beautiful idea in wine lore. A true vin de terroir needs a good rooting system. Terroir is a radio signal, and it is a question of the signal to noise ratio. We want to amplify the signal without distorting it. For example, if you restrict yields in a deeply rooted vineyard, you amplify the signal. Drip irrigation dilutes the signal. The ratio of roots to fruit is probably the single greatest determinant of wine quality.’

On the California wine industry: ‘The wine industry is a sort of disaster now – a victim of its success. When I got started, people did it because they loved it. It’s now a business, and too much money is invested in it. It has given the business a loss of self confidence. Everyone needs a consultant, and even the consultants need consultants. The era of cooperation and goodwill has largely gone.’

3 comments to An evening with Randall Grahm

  • Jamie
    Great to meet you last night. Randall was on good form and so were his wines. I thought they all showed well, the pick for me being the Cigare Volant 05, and the 03 which he opened after the tasting.

  • Martin V

    On terrior. What was it that George Orwell said in discussing the English language and journalism- “Never use a foreign phrase, a jargon word…if you can think of an everyday English equivalent” The English word “character” is perfectly adequate – varietal character, regional character, individual character, a house style, the winemaker’s style or thumbprint.

    Line up a range of masked wines and ask tasters to note which ones have “terroir” and which do not.
    Some wines will taste better than others, some will have more complexity, some will have individual character, some may even taste “earthy”

    None will reveal terroir.

    Then unmask them.

    No one will be any the wiser

  • Bravo, Martin! I couldn’t put it better myself.

    I think everyone should read Martin’s comment. I’ve always wondered about this term terroir myself. What does it smell of and what does it taste of? Does anyone know what a Bulgarian or Californian wine is supposed to be like?

    The reason I like natural wines is because they have more character whether that’s the character of the place I never know, nor do I dare claim to be able to pinpoint this specific characteristic in another wine from the area.

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