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Stalking Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm

The Swill’s Courtney Cochran – author of the Hip Tastes book and blog - checks in with the following nuggets from a hard-won tête-à-tête with Mr. Vinovation himself, Randall Grahm.

[Photo: Flickr/Courtney Cochran]

I wrangled a bit of rare face time - using means that might qualify as borderline stalker behavior, I’m not embarrassed to admit - with Mr. Bonny Doon, the loquacious vintrepreneur behind the trailblazing Santa Cruz label. Mr. Grahm was in SF for a whirlwind mid-crush appearance to promote his wines at Press Club's Visiting Vintners soirée, a recurring Thursday affair. I found the author of “Been Doon So Long” amusing, thoughtful and provocative. He dished with gusto on topics ranging from Twitter (“maybe an alien virus”) to drinking while writing (“generally not a good idea”) to the SF food scene getting its mojo back after languishing too long “under the burden of St. Alice.” Ahem. Here’s more from the man whose Twitter bio self-describes as: "Terroirist/Vinarchist and Prez-for-Life @BonnyDoonVineyd, Defender of Misunderstood and Underappreciated Doon-trodden Cépages of the Earth." Game on.

What's the occasion?
I'm not sure, we're in the middle of harvest.
(The purpose of Grahm’s visit is clarified by a Press Club staffer, who appears to deliver a Belgian beer the vintner has ordered and later declares “sensational.”)

Okay, speaking of harvest, how are things looking this year?
It's a cool year in California and, in my opinion, cool years have the potential to be very elegant and produce wines that are balanced. But they also carry great peril, because they're late—and there's always the risk of rain.

When I think of you I think of Hunter S. Thompson and that phrase he coined, “get weird.”You're like the weird wine guy.
Yes, it's a double-edged sword.

So what are you doing right now to maintain your reputation as the weird wine guy?
I'm actually trying to change my reputation?I'm hoping now not to be weird but to be very progressive and imaginative and creative?There are a lot of wines I'd like to make that I've not made?I'd love to make wines without sulfur dioxide. But at the same time I don't want to make wines that simply are weird, I really want to make wines that give people pleasure, myself included. At the end of the day somebody has to drink them and enjoy them. It's not enough just to 'épater le bourgeois,' you have to produce something that people actually enjoy drinking, I think.

Well I’ve certainly enjoyed your wines thus far, so I’ll look forward to what you do next. You’ve written a book and your quirky-cool wine newsletter is famous. What’s your take on drinking while writing?
[Laughs] It’s generally not a great idea. It worked for Hemingway and Faulkner, but it doesn't work for me.

You have almost 360,000 followers on Twitter. How is Twitter influencing wine discourse in general?
It's unknown. I think Twitter may be an alien virus that has infected our nervous systems?It can take a lot of time, if you let it?it can take over your life. I have to be careful not to let it take over my life?I’m tweeting right now at 4am.

Santa Cruz wines have never gotten as much attention as those in Napa or Sonoma. Why do you think that is?
It’s quite understandable: the wines are not as consistent. The Santa Cruz Mountains are a large area, but the producers in it tend to be very, very small and slightly disorganized and slightly anarchic. They don't listen to anybody else, they don't follow anybody else. So we're disorganized, in other words.

Sounds like an intriguing place to make wine for the same reasons. What's your take on the current state of the SF food scene?
I think the SF food scene is regaining its mojo. To be totally honest, for a while there was a certain timidity to the food scene. People were afraid to do anything outlandish, and they labored under the burden of St. Alice. Her impact is so great nobody dared diverge from her strictures. What's most interesting is happening in neighborhood restaurants...Frances is one of my favorite spots in town.

Thanks for that honest insight. What's the wine you make that you want us to know about right now, and why?
A wine that's been driving people crazy is the 2010 Vin Gris de Cigar, which is sold out [via the winery]. I'm sure there's some of it left in the arteries of commerce in SF. It’s splendid. It’s pink.