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samedi, 15 avril 2017



A french vision of  wine with  of Californian twist

Claude Gilois

Randall Grahm is one of the most charismatic and articulate winegrowers and winemakers of the Californian Industry. Born in 1953 in Los Angeles, he attended UC Davis and gained a degree in Plant Science. After initially concentrating on Pinot Noir he quickly focused on Rhône varietals and gained the nickname of Rhone Ranger. He is a pre-eminent advocate of terroir wine, biodynamic, screw cap and he is a fervent advocate of labeling ingredients on his wine labels. He is also known for his sharp wit in his writing, his newsletters and articles were collected and published as the award-winning book, "Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology" in 2009.


1/ Randall, vous êtes aujourd’hui un vigneron incontournable de Californie, pouvez-vous nous dire les différentes étapes qui vous ont permis d’arriver à ce niveau d’excellence ?


I'm not sure if coming from California has helped or hindered me on my career journey, but I would say there are elements that have both helped and hindered. First, I hope that I am not being unfair to my California winemaking colleagues, but I do think that many Californian winemakers are in fact quite parochial, that is to say, many of them only glimpse one very small part of the wine world. The whole notion of the value of a vin de terroir will often completely elude them (as it does most of the American wine drinking public), and they might often have very simple ideas about what constitutes excellence or individuality in wine; they might well imagine that extreme ripeness and concentration are the primary criteria for "quality." (!!!) (This view is sometimes validated by the American wine press, lamentably.) It did take me a while to learn that it was only myself and a few like-minded customers, I needed to please, not necessarily Mr. Parker.



I was incredibly fortunate to have had an early exposure to great European wines; indeed, these were the first wines that I really got to know. Moreover, I have been lucky to have spent a lot of time in Europe with winemaking friends and colleagues, who gave me a much broader vision of what is possible to achieve with a bottle of wine, indeed, the realization that wines can transmit the qualities of the place from which they arise. I sincerely believe that the only wines that really matter are "wines of place," (and those are the wines I aspire to produce.) On the positive side, our relative lack of history/tradition in winemaking in California has also allowed us incredible freedom/latitude in our practice. We can grow the grapes that we wish to, where and how we wish to, and this is an incredible advantage, if someone is willing to take advantage, i.e. experiment in doing things out of the norm. I sometimes joke that while my aesthetic sensibility is certainly a lot more European than Californian, if I were to make wine in Europe, I would most certainly already have been put in jail. There are too many rules, at least as far as grape-growing and winemaking. My critique of European wines is that there is not an easy mechanism for them to evolve and potentially deal with the changing climate and changing growing conditions.

To return to the main thrust of your question, in my career, I have perhaps been too interested in all of the fascinating side-roads, that is to say, in diverse grape varieties and wine styles, and it has taken me a while (maybe rather too long) to really settle down and focus on that which is truly important. But someone learning about the wider world of wine has prepared me for the next step in my journey, which is to attempt to produce a true vin de terroir in California. This can only happen if you are deeply connected to a particular place, (which in my case, is my farm, Popelouchum, in San Juan Bautista.)

2/ On vous décrit comme un artiste, un personnage atypique…, comment vous qualifiez-vous ?

In fact, it has taken me a while to even begin to think of myself as an artist, but the results of many years of self-observation have confirmed the diagnosis. For one thing, while I may sometimes, even often behave like someone with an attention deficit disorder, most of the time, at least in regard to the things that I really care about, I am an absolute perfectionist, and sweat all of the details. I have found that I have been completely fanatical about the process of label/package design, and would sometimes drive crazy the artists/designers with whom we work with infinite last minute corrections and revisions. Even with the winemaking, wine-blending, I am always fiddling until the very last second. But, having said that, I believe that, moving forward, I hope to adopt a very different practice. I want to be as absolutely careful as I can be in planting precisely the right grapes in the right location, farming them in the most appropriate manner, and then largely taking a much more subtle, generally hands-off approach to the winemaking, allowing the wine and the vintage to express itself (rather than have me impose my own aesthetic vision on the wine). This will require a new level of discipline and self-control, but I think that I'm now ready to "let go" to a much greater extent. If I were to try to describe myself, I think that it would be as someone who is absolutely determined to try to find more meaning in my work, that is to say, to always strive to make wines that "matter," that make the world more interesting.

3/ Bonny Doon est situé dans la région de Santa Cruz, quelle est la situation et les particularités de cette zone pour la production de vins ?

For the record, while the winery has been located in Santa Cruz, we have purchased grapes from a much larger area - specifically the Central Coast, generally south and east of Santa Cruz, from Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. In general, we've looked for the coolest areas (climatically speaking) that will also enable us to ripen our grapes properly. As a result, we have generally been able to make wines without too much manipulation, i.e. the need to acidify; we aspire to make wines that are perhaps slightly lower in potential alcohol than many, which still have plenty of flavor. In future, we are hoping to move to a 100% Estate model, focusing on the grapes of our Estate in San Juan Bautista (about 50 minutes from Santa Cruz). Apart from the very ambitious initiative of breeding a number of new grapes varieties, we plan to farm this vineyard in a traditional manner, i.e. without irrigation. The unique geology of our soils as well as the fact that we will dry-farm, and farm biodynamically, I believe will make our wines of the future significantly more distinctive.



4/ Vous avez été l’un des premiers à adapter les cépages de la Vallée du Rhône en Californie, quelles similitudes et différences rencontre t’on lors de la production ?

Of course I was initially struck by the climatic similarity between the Central Coast of California and that of southern France, specifically, that both climates are generally quite warm and dry in the summer. The other realization, and this came to me by degree, was that it is very difficult, if not almost impossible (with a few exceptions, and Ch. Rayas comes to mind) to succeed with a monocépage wine in a Mediterranean climate. Essentially every Mediterranean grape growing region has come to the same conclusion, i.e. you need to blend different varieties together (one for acidity, another for tannin of structure, perhaps another for body or for fragrance) to make a wine of real complexity. Of course, when you blend different grape varieties together that come from different sites, you lose the possibility of expressing terroir, but terroir is perhaps more difficult to express in a warmer climate; I believe that it is more articulate in cooler areas.

5/ Quels sont les éléments incontournables à vos yeux pour réussir un vin chez Bonny Doon ?

That is a deceptively simple question, but it really is a complicated one. A successful wine for us is one that delights the taster in some unexpected way, a wine that continues to unfold and develop over time. I don't believe that we are yet producing real wines of place (I'm hoping that will come soon), but I do aspire to produce wines that have a certain sort of "life-force" or qi, to them, wines that are capable of movement and certainly of evolution. I do love wines that are balanced and restrained, and especially wines that have an elegant or haunting fragrance. We also look to make wines that are not just "sweetness and light," but might also have something like a dark or brooding side, wines not just of sun, but also of shadow. I hope that I am not being overly mysterious.

French distributor: Valade & Transandine


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