Call him what you will: Wild man, prognosticator, “Defender of Misunderstood and Underappreciated Doon-trodden Cépages of the Earth…” Randall Grahm is also a radical “terroirist”; no matter what else you get from his wines, he wants you to get where they come from.
To this end, Grahm is really digging in the dirt for his latest project – his attempt at a legacy and a true American vin de terroir. He’s hybridizing his best-adapting vines and planting the resulting seeds, without any idea of what will actually happen, in his new vineyard in San Juan Bautista, California.
To get an idea of just how novel this project is, you have to understand that no one does this sort of thing. Grape vines are all grown from cuttings taken from other grapevines. Sometimes new cuttings are grafted onto old rootstock, but entirely new plants are never nurtured from seedlings. It takes too long, it’s too risky, it’s too expensive.
Negotiating with an existing vine to live in a new environment is entirely different from coaxing a seed to germinate, take root and grow. But imagine the juice from vines that were born in a specific place; bred to thrive exactly where they are. We’ve tasted this from France, Italy, Germany — never from the New World.
But that is why Grahm is on this new mission. If successful, he will have created a true American vin de terroir — a wine of the land. “We in the New World have been pretty focused on the varietal of the wine,” he says. “We buy because it is a good example of the varietal. But I want to find an interesting expression of the place itself; it doesn’t matter what the variety is.”
The actual grape will probably look like something from the Rhone, in France. Maybe a little like Grenache, a bit like Pinot — but probably like nothing we’ve ever seen before. And that’s only if it works. Grahm estimates that half the plants won’t produce any fruit at all.
As a winemaker who has taken risks his entire career, this is only one more experiment in a long line of “vinarchist” ventures, but it could be his greatest achievement…or his undoing. Ultimately, the final result rests with what the land decides to do. Whether the result is a celebratory swansong or an ironic betrayal, there is no way to know until Grahm’s been “Doon” that road — toiling away on his “reign of terroir” — for many years to come.
For more on Randall Grahm, check out the official “Mutineer Interview”.