For many of us, Randall Grahm was the ultimate Sixties Case. He was the first Rhone Ranger, the guy who ripped out his Chardonnay vines to “rout the Chardonnay-sipping running dogs.” His witty and literate commentary on the world of wine was second only to the unusual bottles he crafted at Bonny Doon.
Then, a strange thing began to happen. Randall seemed to be making more and more wine. His Big House and Pacific Rim labels, once small-production gems, started to turn up on the grocery store shelf. The center of the New World Rhone Revolution shifted from Santa Cruz to Paso Robles, and Randall was just another guy who used to be interesting.
In 2006, Grahm sold off his Big House and Cardinal Zin brands, moved the production of Pacific Rim to a separate facility in Washington State, and set about restoring Bonny Doon. He decided to farm according to the biodynamic method, and focus on making 30,000 cases of Rhone-style wines in his original Santa Cruz winery.
So how’s he doing? In a few words, much better. Some of his wines miss the mark, but some display flashes of originality and brilliance. With the Ca’ del Solo wines, there is substantial confusion in the mind of the consumer (“See, it was called Ca’ del Solo once upon a time, then it became Big House, and now it’s Ca’ del Solo again, but it’s different…”). The 2008 Ca’ del Solo Albarino and Muscat (both $15) are solid and well-made, but the Albarino lacks the verve and delicious fruit that makes Albarino such an appealing drink; the dry Muscat, while bright and floral in the mouth, is a bit heavy-handed and one-dimensional.
When you get to the 2008 Vin Gris de Cigare ($15), all is forgiven. This is glorious dry Rose’, sexy and spicy, filled with beams of acidity and flavors of peppered strawberries. Le Cigare Blanc 2007 ($25) is even better. The blend of Roussanne and Grenache Blanc is reminiscent of a top white Chateauneuf du Pape—full-bodied, rich and intense, with hints of minerals and lemon zest. Le Pousseur Syrah 2006 ($20) is ripe and elegant, filled with jammy black fruits and hints of fresh herbs.
Grahm is best known for Le Cigare Volant ($35), his homage to red Chateauneuf du Pape. I had the opportunity to sample two recent vintages (2005 and 2006), and both were outstanding. The 2005 is medium-bodied and balanced, with a beautiful core of ripe raspberry fruit; the 2006 combines a rich, forward palate with stiff tannins, and needs a few years to come out of its shell. By the time it does, the once and future Doon should be hitting its stride.