A Grahm of the Bonny Doon

Bonny Doon VineyardEarlier this month, the smashingly charismatic founder and leader of Bonny Doon Vineyard (Twitter) wrote an article that got me thinking…again. Randall Grahm (Twitter) is as much a household name as can be found in the wine biz, as the founder, longtime winemaker and quixotic leader of the alternating huge and boutique Bonny Doon winemaking endeavors over the decades.  Part devoted vigneron, part Biodynamic cheerleader, part shaman and part brilliantly funny and educational writer…it is difficult to try and put Grahm in a box. Indeed, if you were to try, he’d probably try and find the best, most neglected grape variety in which to grow in that shaded box.  One thing that cannot be said about Grahm is that he isn’t willing to risk everything in order to find the best place to grow the best grapes.

So, what was this article that got my mind running and my palate thirsty?  First off, a description of Grahm’s writing style is in order:  You can find more footnotes than your average college textbook of his seemingly random pop culture, classical and modern music, Latin and/or philosophy references in each piece…or even paragraph.  Yet each reference really does connect perfectly with the overall flow of each essay and while filled with whimsical puns at each turn, tie together the web of intellectual, seemingly disparate thoughts which Grahm is intending to legibly secrete from his darting mind.

His writing is so renowned that he recently released an anthology of his many wine parodies, essays as a self-commanded “terroirist” and a major proponent of Rhône varietals of wine over the last 30+ years.  Been Doon So Long is a fascinating read and one that, while challenging for the intellect and vintellect, is a hugely entertaining and hilarious tumble through the ups and downs of now 31+ years of winemaking in California (I received a signed sample copy).  Been Doon So Long by Randall GrahmGrahm does not humor dullards nor the stupid people of the world, yet he is also very humble and at times consumed with self-doubt, all of which is reflected in his writings over the years to his wine fans and club members.  Having the fortunate chance to chat with Grahm after his induction into the Vintners Hall of Fame for 2010, I’ve happily learned that he is much the same in person as he his in his writings.  All of his various forms of writings are included in this compendium including poems, essays, stories, speeches and much of the most provocative artwork that has been featured in his newsletters and on his highly unique wine labels.  I highly recommend opening a bottle of one my fav’s, the Bonny Doon flagship Le Cigare Volant after purchasing the signed tome and kicking back with some very engaging wine writing.

It is with this history of wine making and writing that I can now explain the stimulation which I received from Grahm’s latest article on his fine book/blog vinthology site that is also called Been Doon So Long (and well designed by WineLog’s own Jason & Kim Coleman via their Stranger Studios arm). His latest post, The Bee’s Knees, touches on the recent sale of his former wine property Pacific Rim and an update on the slow development of his dream vineyard in San Juan Bautista.

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It is within the comments for this post that I came across a reply of Grahm’s that included a tidbit about the challenges that will surround their use of dry-farming the SJB vineyard – namely that the little vines will need to their roots to dig 600 feet before comfortably finding a consistent water table!  OldWorldWK - WKBadgesThis small statement, replete with some juicy biology geekiness, set my mind wandering…can grapevine roots really reach 600 feet!? No way, I thought and I eventually wandered over to other parts of the interwebs.  Not even a few days later, I happened upon a fascinating article about the Croatian wine renaissance in the Jakarta Globe and there they detailed vines whose roots exceeded 200 meters in depth!  I tweeted over to Randall that my disbelief was unfounded and yet another interesting wine fact was filed into my humbled brain.  It’s continually heartening to find that not only am I the only one that geeks out on the smallest bit of wine info, but that this tendency has been repeated in others throughout history, including those in my own wine backyard.

Check out many of the wines in WineLog from Bonny Doon Vineyard in the list below and let me know your favorite wine made by Randall’s busy hands in the comments below.  Cheers!

Bonny Doon Vineyard:

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Book Review: "Sippin' On Top of the World"

I received a very intriguing book sample a few months back, “Sipping On Top of the World: Toasting Good Times and Better Days,” courtesy of the author, David White and his organization, the Institute of Wine & Spirituality.  I say intriguing because while I’ve also considered the premise of the book, to actually see an entire life philosophy designed around its topic is quite novel, no pun intended!  David proposes that wine can help to direct oneself to the necessary reflection, introspection and celebration of life through its vinous pleasure.  Coming from a lifelong interest in philosophic and religious texts, I was very interested to read through this book.

David’s work of non-fiction is structured into six subject sections of 88 different “Sips” or short essays discussing different and concise subjects that can be used to launch a larger discussion amongst oneself or with a small group of like-minded friends.  The essays are the remainder of a total of 160 some-odd conversations and emails that David has had with various friends and associates over the years.   As such, many are scribed by David himself, or by various guest authors and philosophers that have been heart-felt friends of David over the years.  At the end of each Sip is a set of 3 questions to help guide discussion around each topic and 1 additional blank question for each reader to submit their own Reflection Question for a topic.

One of things that I most appreciated about the collection was their inherent connection to and happy reliance upon the pleasure, calmness, altruism and self-awareness that can come with a glass of fine wine and the comforting embrace of long-time friends.  I have *exactly* the same belief and have wondered time and again, at the ability of wine to induce such expansion.  Reading through the different Sips in “Sippin’“, I found some of the same feelings and thoughts that I’d enjoyed while having good wine with great friends and family over the years.  The shortness of the essays sometimes seemed overly austere.  While I can understand that these are meant as lunching points for further introspection, many times I was just getting into a Sip to find that I was on the last paragraph.  Many of my favorite tomes over the years, while leaving self-analysis to the reader, have also provided more of a starting point for the ruminations.

That said, I did find some of the Sips as good companion ideas to issues that I’m currently dissecting in my own life.  David wrote a very incisive essay entitled “How are Wines & People Parallel in Mellowing With Age?” which gave me one of those “of course!” moments while reading through its lines.  IWS Advisory Board member Sondra Barrett wrote another favorite entitled “What Happens in Accessing Inner Beauty”.  Here she analyzes the mistakes that come with taking something or someone at face value. First impressions are very hard to make and just as hard to receive with a mind that is tempered by the notion that first impression is just that; it is one single experience.

I found “Sippin’ on Top of the World” to be a good introduction for someone that might be just starting to experience the physical, mental and emotional joys of wine.  While I didn’t find that this book fit my particular tastes for philosophic or meditative texts, I think that it can be quite appealing to a number of my friends and readers.  You can find David White’s book at the IWS website, or it is also available at a number of wineries and on Amazon.  Cheers!

Book Review: "Red, White, and Drunk All Over"

Red White and Drunk All OverNatalie MacLean deserves all of the buzz that her first collection has garnered since its release in 2006. Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass (978-1582346489) is a phenomenal work of wine writing that manages to touch on all aspects of wine from producer to consumer, with a freshness and vivacity that more than lives up to its reputation.

You might be familiar with Natalie MacLean through her highly rated and visited website, Nat Decants. You might have even read her article about Valentine’s Day ideas here on WineLog.net. Ms. MacLean has built up a very strong following of wine enthusiasts in her native Canada, as well as around the rest of the world. Her writing has garnered her prestigious awards from numerous food and wine organizations including the James Beard Foundation, the Association of Food Journalists and the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Her website has a tremendous food and wine pairing tool and her free newsletter is read by tens of thousands of readers every month.

Ms. MacLean writes from the angle that wine and food are tactile, sensual experiences. As such, descriptions of both should reflect that sensuality, particularly when it those experiences titillate the body like a fine, brooding Brunello or a viscous and dripping demi glace. Descriptions such as “I close my eyes as the aroma envelops me, a silk drapery of scent brushing my cheeks and settling gently around my shoulders,” given while conveying the experience of tasting an elegantly aged Burgundy abound in the book where all of the senses are considered necessary to explain a wine.

Natalie MacLeanThe stories cover all aspects of the wine trade and you follow Ms. MacLean all over the world as she investigates wine-making, drinking and even wine marketing. Her ability to maintain dignity while still displaying an unusual amount of self-deprecation in her writing only adds to the story-telling. Ms. MacLean finishes her book with a great guidebook to food and wine pairings.

Red, White… is one of the most entertaining and riveting wine books I have ever read. The wine facts and knowledge are continuously purveyed in a manner that almost leaves you surprised at your new status as a fount of wine information by the end…you don’t realize how much you’ve learned after all the fun you had following her adventures. I highly recommend this book for wine newbies and seasoned, purple-lipped winos.

Disclosure: I received this book compliments of Natalie MacLean and her publisher.

Nat Decants FREE Wine E-Newsletter Wine picks, articles and humor from Natalie MacLean, named the World’s Best Drink Writer at the World Food Media Awards in Australia. Natalie is also the author of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass. For more details on this book and to sign up for the newsletter, visit www.nataliemaclean.com.