Archive for October, 2009
To many people, the charismatic front-man of the iconic Boony Doon wine brands, Randall Grahm, is the Mad Hatter of the wine world.
Once they read Randall’s recently-released book, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology, those same people will realize that they’re dead wrong.
Randall Grahm is not the wine world’s Mad Hatter; Randall Grahm is the wine world’s Cheshire Cat, equally (and eloquently) adept at satirizing the modern trends of the wine industry as he is at continually surprising wine consumers with quirky, excellent wines inspired by a desire to transmit the equally quirky and excellent message that California’s terroir has to tell.
Been Doon So Long is, at times, a masterstroke; it’s just as interesting, funny, poignant, and acerbic as any wine that California has ever had to offer. Clearly an avid lover of literature, music, and wine, Randall Grahm has somehow managed to utilize all three as he takes us through the history of Bonny Doon, offers intimate glimpses of his personal demons, and sends up many of the wine world’s most sacred cows. If he has a mad hat, Grahm is clearly capable of pulling rabbits out of it – both when it comes to wine and when it comes to writing.
Been Doon So Long is a unique work, and while it might not be the kind of book that you’d expect from the world of wine, it’s probably the book that the wine world deserves right now. I found reading the book to be rewarding, but rather like the fabled rabbit hole, the deeper you get into it, the more difficult it becomes to fully explain. Which is why I figured I’d let someone msarter (Randall) explain it instead.
[ Special note to the FTC: Have I received the book and Bonny Doon wines as free samples? Yep. Did that influence my review of the book? I don’t think so, but I’m not a psychologist. ]
Following is an interview I conducted with Randall this week while he’s in the midst of his promotional tour for Been Doon So Long. Like the book, the interview will give you a glimpse into the rabbit hole of Randall’s mind. You’ll encounter below a guy with a formidable prowess with the written word, strong opinions, a consuming passion to find a Californian wine that truly speaks of its origin, and who isn’t afraid to wear his emotions in plain view.
But before you head down this rabbit hole, be sure to gather up your smarties, love of literature, an open mind, and a glass of something unique and terroir-driven. You’re gonna need ‘em…
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I have seen the future of wine criticism, wine dialog, and wine expertise.
Wanna see it? Great – go look in the mirror. Because the future wine experts look an awful lot like you. You look great, by the way – did you cut your bangs?
A little over a week ago, Slate.com ran a piece penned by Mike Steinberger in which Steinberger, among other things (like skillfully recapitulating the recent kerfluffle over code of ethics violations on the part of Robert Parker’s staff, and ending sentences with prepositions), offers a glimpse of what he sees as the future of wine writing and wine experts:
“Like other journalistic niches, wine writing is in crisis at the moment… We are moving from a monologue to a dialogue, and this reflects a fundamental truth about wine: It is a matter of taste, and taste differs from one person to the next. There’s still a need for expert opinion, but authority is going to have to be worn a lot more lightly going forward, and it isn’t going to command quite the deference that it used to.”
I know what you’re thinking: Did Joe actually use the word kerfluffle? Also, what’s the big deal about that? This post isn’t about blogging, is it?
Don’t worry, this post is not about blogging. It’s about you, and (albeit tangentially) about how Steinberger might have gotten it just a bit wrong.
You see, wine writing isn’t in a state of crisis, unless you get paid for it, in which case it’s in no more a state of crisis than any other form of paid journalism – welcome to 2009, folks. If you’re a consumer of wine information, on the other hand, then wine writing is actually in a state of liberation.
I think Steinberger is right on the money when he says that tastes are ultimately personal, and that there will still be a need for expert opinion – he’s just missing the point of where that opinion is, which is of course with YOU. That’s because YOU are the new wine expert…
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If I have a love affair with any one fine wine grape, it’s got to be Riesling. I’m not a fan of saying that a particular grape is superior to another when it comes to producing fine wine, but we all have our preferences and at the end of the day if you forced me to pick one variety for stocking up wine for a stranded-on-a-desert-island scenario, it’s going to be Riesling for me. There’s just something about the purity, diversity, and transmission of a sense of place (while still retaining a ‘signature’ that clearly defines it) that Riesling delivers like no other wine grape.
So when I found out that TasteLive.com and Wines of Germany had lined up Mosel Riesling producer Raimond Prüm’s wines for a Twitter Taste Live event… well, I was sooooooo there.
Raimond Prüm is the tireless, red-headed force behind all things SA Prüm, which is by any account an historic producer of (very, very good) Mosel Riesling. I had the pleasure of being Raimond the Red’s guest earlier this year when I toured Germany’s wine regions with a group of journalists, stopping last at SA Prüm in the Mosel. The thing I remember most about “Der Specht” (so named due to his red coif) was the way that he pronounced the word “unbelievable” when describing Mosel wines (as in, he constantly referred to the wines of the Mosel as “unbelievable”). Raimond drawls the first syllable, stretching it to a verbal breaking point, then smashes the remaining syllables together quickly and decisively.
“I’m telling you, the wines are uuuunnnnnnnnn… beliveable.”
He said this. A lot.
He’s also a pretty good cook when it comes to his outdoor grill, and generous when it comes to sharing that food and showcasing his wines. Oh, yeah, he’s also one hell of winemaker, and justifiably proud of his wines, which consistently over-deliver with seriously powerful QPR Kung-Fu – many of them are excellent, and several are under $20. It helps that “Der Specht” is presiding over some of the most favorable sites for growing Riesling in the Mosel, where small changes in sun exposure can have a huge impact on the ripeness potential of Riesling and various soil types help to impart differing flavors and minerality to the wines.
It also helps to have a personality eminently suited to a Twitter Taste Live event, and a family winemaking history rivaling the grandest in all of Germany…
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