Randall Grahm: A Californian Blend of Wine, Wit and Wisdom



Randall Grahm was born in Los Angeles in 1953 and attended the University of California at Santa Cruz where he was a permanent Liberal Arts major. Sometime later he found himself working at the Wine Merchant in Beverly Hills sweeping floors. By dint of exceptionally good karma, he was given the opportunity to taste an ungodly number of great French wines and this singular experience turned him into a complete and insufferable wine fanatic. He returned to the University of California at Davis to complete a degree in Plant Sciences in 1979, where owing to his single-minded obsession with Pinot Noir he was regarded as a bit of a holy terroir in the hallowed halls of the sober and sedate Department of Viticulture and Enology.

With his family’s assistance, Randall purchased property in the Santa Cruz Mountains in a quaint eponymous hamlet known as Bonny Doon, intent on producing the Great American Pinot Noir. The GAPN proved to be systematically elusive but he was greatly encouraged by experimental batches of Rhône varieties, and he has been a tireless champion of the grapes of the Rhône since the inaugural vintage of Le Cigare Volant. His idiosyncratic newsletters and articles have been collected, carefully redacted, and with the inclusion of some timely new material, published as the award-winning book, Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology in 2009.



  • When did Randall realize that he wanted to be a winemaker?
  • What was Randall’s worst moment in his winemaking career?
  • What the best moment from Randall’s winemaking career so far?
  • How are the farming operations at Popelouchum being done differently?
  • Why is Popelouchum more like a garden than a traditional vineyard?
  • How did Randall get the name “The Rhone Ranger”?
  • What does Randall believe California winemakers should be doing to redefine themselves?
  • What has Randall done lately to help differentiate his wines?
  • Why did Randall add rocks to his wine?
  • How did Randall end up in trouble with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF)?
  • What is Randall’s opinion on the increasing popularity of orange wine and natural wine?
  • How did the Rhoneranger asteroid come to be named in Randall’s honour?
  • Why did Randall choose the name “Le Cigare Volant”?
  • What are Randall’s tasting notes for Le Cigare Volant Syrah Grenache 2011?
  • What are Randall’s tasting notes for Le Cigare Blanc Roussanne Grenache Blanc 2011?
  • Which vintage of Le Cigare is Randall most proud of?
  • What led to the Funeral for the Cork?
  • Why was the switch made from corks to screw caps?
  • Why is Randall pushing for ingredient labelling on wine?
  • How does Randall feel about wine writers and scoring wine?
  • Which winemakers have inspired Randall over his winemaking career?
  • Which wine is Randall most excited about outside of his own?
  • What are Randall’s top two tips for the semi-novice wine enthusiast?




Wine Reviews


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Transcript & Takeaways

Welcome to episode 23! In today’s episode, we’re chatting with the rockstar Californian winemaker Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon winery who blends wit and wisdom unlike any other person in the wine world. He’s brilliant both in his insights and his metaphors.

That’s why I chose to help him with the fall harvest for my second book “Unquenchable: A Tipsy Search for the World’s Best Bargain Wines.” His wines are also often favourites of the students of my online courses.

Be sure to stay tuned for a bonus treat at the end, after I share my takeaways from our chat. Think of it like that extra scene you get at the end of a superhero movie after the credits finish rolling. Enjoy!


You can also watch the video interview with Randall that includes a bonus reading from his book, bonus content and behind-the-scenes questions and answers that weren’t included in this podcast.


Marvellous! Randall truly is an old soul who lives in the future. Here are my takeaways from this discussion:

  1. Despite his formidable smarts, Randall is both humble and wise. I love the way he talks about how making wine connects him to the universe in a way that the intellect can’t access.
  2. The resilience of those in the wine and other agricultural fields is astonishing: their entire business is wiped out with one tiny insect or climatic event, and still, they start over.
  3. New wine words of the day, “selection massale”: deciding which vine cuttings do best in a particular region and using them for new plantings. This technique is also used to preserve genetic diversity in the vineyard.
  4. Also, love Randall’s word “old-fangled” in reference to the importance of dry farming and the use of biochar or activated charcoal in the vineyard to make the vines stronger on their own and without reliance on irrigation.
  5. He makes a wise observation about California and other New World wine regions getting out of the shadow of Old World European regions. For example, the Rhone Rangers, a nod to Rhone Valley-style wines made in California, certainly helped him, as he acknowledges, but he finds the term derivative. California can define its own style of Syrah blends. Amen to that!
  6. It surprised me that wines closed under screwcaps can age 50% longer than those under cork and that the small egress of oxygen through a cork is not what helps age wine.
  7. Another great insight about winemakers from family-owned wineries, particularly in the Old World: their humility comes from realizing that they’re part of a continuum that started long before they were alive and will go on long after their death. That’s a great mindset for all of us.
  8. Don’t forget to keep listening after the usual endnotes here for a special bonus from Randall: he’s reading his own poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Rootstock from his book “Been Doon So Long.” It’s hilarious and so very smart.

Did you know that you can now listen to this podcast on your smart speaker? Just say: “Hey Google” or “Alexa — play the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast.” I’d love to chat about wine with you while you’re doing the dishes, the laundry, having breakfast, lunch or dinner… it’s always wine time.

You’ll find links to the wines we discuss, Randall’s social media links and website, and a link to the video edition of this chat in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/23.

What was your favourite tip or quote from this episode? Share that with me on Twitter or Facebook and tag me @nataliemaclean, on Instagram I’m @nataliemacleanwine.

If you liked this episode, please tell a friend about it. My podcast is easy to find, whether you search on its name Unreserved Wine Talk, or my name.

Finally, if you want to take your ability to pair wine and food to the next level, join me in a free online video class at nataliemaclean.com/class.

My next guest on the show will be Morgan Perry who pairs wine and yoga in her Vino Vinyasa classes. Find out whether Cabernet or Shiraz pairs best with the downward dog pose and more. It’s more than marketing or whimsy, it actually is rooted in a holistic lifestyle philosophy. You won’t want to miss it.



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