Californian winemaker Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard will receive an inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from U.S. wine group the Rhône Rangers.
The freethinking winemaker and marketer introduced Rhône-style wines to the American public through tongue-in-cheek labels such as Old Telegram and Le Cigare Volant. His contribution to the American Rhône wine movement will be recognized at the Rhône Rangers' annual winemaker dinner on March 22 in San Francisco.
Starting his wine career as a delivery boy for a wine store in Beverly Hills, Grahm returned to university to study plant sciences before setting up Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz in 1983.
He produced the first vintage of his flagship wine in 1984; it was – and still is – a homage to the wines of Chȃteauneuf-du-Pape.
Grahm said his first vintage of Le Cigare Volant was a step into the unknown. “It was a different day in California; Rhône varieties weren’t exactly easy to come by and no one really knew what they were all about.
“Could grenache actually produce a red wine? Syrah was grown in some place called 'Côte-Rôtie.' That had to be blazing hot,” he quipped.
Dubbed "The Rhône Ranger" by the Wine Spectator in October 1989, Grahm paved the way for others to follow his lead. There are now around 150 wineries in the Rhône Rangers organization, producing wines from the 22 grape varieties originally made famous in the Rhône Valley. These varieties range from the better-known syrah and viognier to the up-and-coming mourvèdre, grenache and roussanne, and the more obscure counoise and picpoul.
Bonny Doon Vineyard recently issued a 25th-anniversary release of its Cigare Volant. The label, depicting a "flying cigar" or UFO beaming up a wine producer and his oxen, is a nod to the curious 1954 ruling that UFOs are forbidden from entering the Chȃteauneuf-du-Pape appellation.