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 Filed as : Featured WinemakersPeopleWinemakers

The Ugly Duckling?

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  • Publish Date: Aug 10, 2009

On the wall of the tasting room is a large plaque inscribed with the phrase “Ugly Ducklings?” along with a depiction of a disheveled looking Mallard.

For Randall Grahm, the story of the “ugly duck” is a metaphor for his career that has been built by breaking convention. Having worked with over 100 varietals, there is no grape he deems uninteresting. As the plaque goes on to explain, “The oddball grapes – the Freisas and Ruchès and Nero d’Aavolas and their confrères – have been an unmitigated joy to work with: they give the world color and texture and strangeness and nuance.” Evidently this man is no Ugly Duck: he’s a Philosopher Duck.

He has already created a wine empire at Bonny Doon Vineyard based on oddball grapes and sometimes-provocative marketing techniques, but Mr. Grahm seeks to break convention yet again. Like many producers, he plans to produce wines that TRULY demonstrate a sense of place—a task he admits is easier said than done. But unlike others, he's willing to give up the farm to do it--dropping his 400,000 case production to 30,000 since 2006?!

Randall has recently purchased new plots of land where he will use dry farming (no irrigation), bio-dynamic practices (“the esoteric world of crystals and subtle energy”), and wild vines (no wires to manipulate how they grow), to make wines that represent the land from which they came. The most modern practices available…circa 1750.

A true example of his skill and vision is the 2008 Ca’ Del Solo Muscat ($18) that is produced from a rare clone of the Muscat grape. As he puts it, “Our Muscat is a musky, melodious, melon-like meditation on minerality.” Sorry, we couldn't say it any better.

To explore Randall’s wordsmithing and wines, go to

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