Monday, July 27, 2015

Randall's Folly--Vitis Grahmbrusca


The plan is to create 10,000 new grape varieties, Vitis Grahmbrusca. Mainly because the 10,000 that Mother Nature created suck. We need 10,000 new ones. Varieties that will be planted on their own roots, the better to resist disease and drought. Vines that won’t ever need to be suckered—not like you're being at this very minute.


I thought of it. And who better? The wine business is moribund. We need some new ideas. We need dreams. We need more crackpot science. Vitis Grahmbrusca will do for wines what phrenology did for psychology. But it’s not just numbskulls I’m measuring, it’s credulity.

I won’t be doing this alone. By contributing, you’ll be a part of this research. Research that will change the way we think about wine, maybe not in a good way. I’ll also be consulting with other researchers at prestigious universities, like Davis, Fresno State, and Hogwarts. It will take time, it will take money, and it will take some kind of weird spirituality that I’m still thinking up. But we can do it.


Grapes haven’t had sex in thousands of years. Sound familiar? They’ve only had sex with themselves, like monks, and Donald Trump. This means that they haven’t evolved at all. Like monks, and Donald Trump. Imagine if you were exactly like your great-great-great-great-grandfather, the one the sheep were afraid of. Well, that’s what it’s like now when we make wines from Chardonnay and Cabernet— we’re just making more and more of the same old sheepfuckers. Like Donald Trump.

My plan is to try something that’s never been tried before. Unless you count God. Who, by the way, has never been on the cover of Wine Spectator. I’m going to breed grapevines that will be the greatest grapevines the world has ever known. How will I do this? Oh, don’t you worry about that. It’s way over your head. Think of the whole process as being like all the outrageous and obscure puns I put in my writing—you don’t need to know what I’m talking about, just laugh knowingly as though you do. Besides, if you give me enough money, I’m going to let you name one of my new varieties of Vitis Grahmbrusca. Isn’t that amazing? It will be like being a kid again and naming your imaginary friend! Only this time, it’s an imaginary grape. Yeah, I know, it’s remarkable. It came to me in a dream.


The most important feature is the creation of 10,000 new wine grape varieties. Imagine a vineyard where every single vine is unique. Each vine would contribute to expressing the vineyard’s terroir. Think of it like the internet of vineyards. Remember how boring it was when wine had only one voice, the Emperor of Wine’s? Robert D. Nero fiddling while Rhône burns? Now think about how much better the wine world is with 10,000 wine bloggers! Background and authority have been rendered meaningless, and the world is a better place for it. So it will be in viticulture when Vitis Grahmbrusca becomes reality. Like the internet, the vineyard’s terroir will be revealed by its ten thousand occupants to be a whole lot of empty noise.

Using good old fashioned science, I’ll create grapes that not only produce unique and delicious wines, but will help our warming climate by being far more drought tolerant and disease resistant. Don’t you want to be a part of this? I made a small fortune selling off my Big House and Pacific Rim brands, so I’m set. I’m not doing this for your money. I’m offering everyone a chance to be part of something as big as my chutzpah. One day you’ll be opening a bottle of wine made from Vitis Grahmbrusca and telling your children, “And, yup, I got a poster.”

The vineyard, which is already paid for, because, you know, I got Pacific Rim money, is in San Juan Bautista, which is eloquent and appropriate in itself. It’s a sacred place, this vineyard in a place named for John the Baptist. I feel I am in the mold of John the Baptist, though Vitis Grahmbrusca will be mold-resistant, too. I have wandered the Earth calling in the wilderness, a spiritual messenger preparing the way. And I’ve completely lost my head.


When it’s a Grahm Modified Organism, that’s when. I’m not one of those evil and mendacious agricultural corporations that manipulates plants so that they’re more productive and disease resistant. What I’m doing is different. Really. My experiments are intended to be shared with everyone, an open source for the future, and not intended to be profitable. It’s right there in the 501(c)3 status, that it’s knowledge to be shared with our community. It’s stated in what’s called the “Monsanto Clause,” and, yes, Virginia, there is a Monsanto Clause.

Even Michael Pollan has endorsed my plans. And Jamie Goode. If Rudolf Steiner were alive, I’m sure he’d be on board. It’s just that crazy.


Wine is about community. Especially the natural wine community. A central tenet of natural winemaking is that the customers are supposed to pay for the winemaker’s experiments, but usually after it’s been bottled. I’m offering the unique opportunity to pay for those wildly imaginative experiments TEN YEARS AHEAD OF TIME! Opportunities like that don’t come along every day. Ask the friends of Bernie Madoff.

When my plan succeeds, and Vitis Grahmbrusca is a reality, you’ll have been a part of it. But let’s just say that I don’t raise the $350,000, because people like you don’t want to be part of my natural wine community, because you simply don't recognize reality when it's staring right at you. Then how are you going to feel when I succeed? Ask yourself that. I’m trying to build a viticultural Noah’s Ark, and you’re calling me nuts. Where would the world be if Noah hadn’t built that Ark? There’s the reality.


Don Clemens said...

I think that post this perfectly defines "low hanging fruit". Thanks once again for the morning smiles.

Thomas said...

I'm so glad you got to this one. It required a satire--or maybe it is its own satire.

Cabra1970 said...

As usual Ron, you hit the cluster right on the stamen..... thanks for keeping this going. New Marketing Slogan for the San Juan Bautista Appellation: "SJB - Where the Men are Men and the Vines Are Nervous"!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Don and Thomas,
When a story like Randall's breaks, a story that screams to be satirized, my inbox fills with people asking me to write about it. I guess I take that as flattery. Others see it as "low hanging fruit," as though it's shameful to pick low-hanging fruit. (I know you're kidding, Don.) And, truthfully, most folks are too cowardly to talk about this kind of story in anything but glowing terms, Randall is our teacher's pet, so they expect me to. Well, I have a lot of posts to fill every year. I'll take a gimme every now and then.

And, by the way, all of you should rush over to read Chris Kassel's piece on the same subject. Damned funny. Here's the link:

Unknown said...

Jesus Ron...methinks this would have been thought from us up here in the Great White North.

Charlie Olken said...

Randall has been peddling this idea for a couple of years now, but not peddling it for money. The idea itself is kind of cute: create vines that are nothing individually but everything collectively therefore the only thing the wine will taste of is the vineyard itself.

I have seen this vineyard. Lovely rolling hills. Could be in the Rhone. Except it isn't. It's in SJB, and we are still waiting for the any wine from that area to be so significant that the world would want to rush to grow grapes there.

Personally, I can't wait to taste the wine from vine 4597 because inside word has it that it is going to be the most complex, varied, heat-tolerant, drought tolerant variant of the bunch.

This is not the first time that Randall's ideas have been questioned--like the time he put stones in the fermenter to increase his wine's minerality or the time he held a wake for the cork and used plastic plugs instead for his 1996, I believe, vintage and found all the bottles horribly oxidized in short order.

But, along the way, he did some pretty interesting things and has managed to be a beacon of light in the wilderness even if the path did not always lead anywhere. This time, the path looks like 10,000 unproven paths. I hope some very wealthy folks send him a lot of money. I am keeping mine and will invest in this round piece of plastic my granddaughter just invented--I am going to call it the Hula Hoop.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm not questioning his ideas. Maybe his sanity, but not his ideas. And that he's asking everyone for money to fund his vanity project.

Everybody likes Randall. I like Randall. He's a dangerously smart guy. Which is all the more reason not to leap onto his bandwagon just because he's driving it. Even if it's a great idea, and a gift to the universe, which it likely isn't, it's more than likely just another quickly abandoned harebrained scheme. Albeit witty and cute.

I, too, admire Grahm's ability to be a beacon of light in an otherwise dull business. One has to like his style. His crowdfunding will fail, I think. It's only at 12% of goal as I write this. So then what? We'll see.

Quizicat said...

Parker has never had his face on the cover of Wine Spectator? '

Would you turn down a Pacific Rim job? Sounds like jealousy to me.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Oh, no, I'd never turn down a Pacific rim job. Take it all the way down to the Mariana Trench!

Parker's been on the cover of WS. He's not God. Anymore. Haven't you heard? God is now a committee of bloggers.

Marcia Macomber said...

"Robert D. Nero fiddling while Rhône burns" - love it! And all the other zingers.

Aaron said...

If you want any other Kickstarters to lambast, (remove the dreaded sulfites!) and (fund opening a new wine bar in LA) seem ripe for roasting. Especially the "wine purifier". I almost kicked in $1 in order to comment to try and convince people that it really isn't that big a deal...but then I decided I didn't even want to support them by $1.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Marcia Love,
Thanks! And you're here in a timely fashion! Kudos!

Oh, man, those are doozies. The wine bar guy has raised five whole dollars! Even his friends think he's a loser. And a gizmo to remove sulfites? Oh, man, that's just playing off people's irrational fears--a time-honored American tradition! I didn't bother to read the science. How do you know after you use the gizmo that the sulfites have been removed? Does it play a little electronic melody? Every good institution needs a Sulfight song.

Thanks for the links. Very entertaining. The wine world is filled with wackos.

Aaron said...

You're welcome HoseMaster!

Yea, that wine bar one...oy. I actually have a friend who is in the process of business plan/investors for a good wine bar on the Westside (since we don't have a good one). And she's not looking for a measly $46K. You might be able to start a one night a month pop-up for that much money, but definitely not a full wine bar.

As for the sulfites...yea. The person who backed it and said (in comments) she was able to have 4 glasses of red wine whereas she would have problems with headaches with even 1 glass...yea, I bet it was the quality of wine she was drinking otherwise. Or it's purely placebo effect. Or maybe it's actually filtering out the other chemical manipulation that goes on in industrial wine making.

Anyway, I did breakdown and put in $1 to post a comment (the big one, with all the real information). Hopefully I'll remember to cancel it before the campaign finishes. I'm actually very much interested to see what the creator will post in response.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Most people offer a penny for your thoughts. Instead, you paid a buck. Doesn't seem so bad. It was clearly gnawing at you, like a wine beaver. Good for you. I'll troll on over there and see what you wrote. Don't worry about canceling the dollar, he probably won't make his goal anyway.

The woman's testimonial is probably a fake, but I've heard lots of fools imagine cockamamie symptoms from sulfites. Most of them say they only get them from red wines, as though white wines are without sulfites. Ah, ignorance, where would FOX News be without it?

I was thinking about what a dump you'd put up with $46K for a wine bar. The damned wine license costs much of that. But he's at $5, so not to worry. He can barely buy a wine opener for that.

Aaron said...

Ah yes, ignorance indeed. Not to mention white wines often have more sulfites than reds.

I wonder if you can get a license for a pop-up wine bar... Unfortunately licenses are tied to a location. Except, I think in CA (don't know about elsewhere), "tasting" licenses. Unfortunately that probably means you have to pour a maximum size and maximum per person, so that'd be infeasible. *sigh*

Thomas said...

The idiots who claim sulfites give them a red wine headache don't know there's more sulfites in white wine than in red. They don't know because they are idiots. They believe what some asshole tells them. They should believe me instesda. I'm at least a knowledgeable asshole.

Thomas said...

is that instead hiding inside intesda? You bet.

Aaron said...

You might be able to convince me of that Thomas, but I've got to see a Wikipedia article on it, or perhaps a prime-time news broadcast saying it's actually "instead". I won't believe it otherwise, and there's nothing you can say to convince me! /s :P

Samantha Dugan said...

Well Gentlemen, the last seven Pacific Rim Jobs I gave were a reaction to sulfites so you simply don't know what you're talking about.....

Thomas said...

Sam, I thought it was a Pacific Rim Shot that you gave intesda.

Thomas said...

AAron, Wikipedia is a hoax.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Samantha,
Clearly, My Love, your answer is tongue in cheeks.

Sign me up to drink cheap white wine with you!

I love you!

Paul in St. Augustine said...

^^ I think I like you!^^

Paul in St. Augustine said...

damn, missed by 2 minutes

Samantha Dugan said...

Where you there?! Sure as shit felt like a "Jobs" to me.

Ron Love,
I've got the Gruner if you gots the time. Love you too!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Samantha My Love,
I got the parsley, sage, rosemary and time, Baby. Do me.

Thomas said...

I this youporn or hoseporn?

Joe Roberts said...

Man, you left soooo many potential items on the table with this one!

Run-on sentences, run-on puns, and extensive footnote utilization...

You need a Part Deux for this!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

You're right. In some respects, that was intentional. I was really parodying Randall's crowdfunding essay, which isn't at all his usual style. I wrote a paragraph that had about thirty "doon" puns in it, but decided to take it out. Footnotes aren't very workable on Blogger, so I let that pass, too. And he didn't use them in his crowdfunding essay.

Randall's a very talented writer. He doesn't need my approval, of course. I chewed a lot on how to approach this piece, and decided to take the easy way out. It was the Vitis Grahmbrusca scheme that I wanted to make fun of, and the whole Kickstarter phenomenon, too. That didn't seem to require doing a long piece in Randall's essentially inimitable style.

I just wanted it to be funny. So much for that.

Thomas said...


Fret not. You've doon a good job.

winesmith said...

So is this some kind of new idea, making new grapes, or am I missing something? Haven't they(Cornell, Munson) been making new grape varieties on the east coast, and Midwest U.S. for a while now...Norton?

Thomas said...

winesmith, what you are missing is that this project will create a bunch of new grapes (what a pun!) that will produce one distinctive wine from a distinctive place, so that, I suppose, there will finally be a California wine production area with its own 10,000 grape varieties and one wine identity. Or something like that.

The problem with such a project is that you do need about 10,000 crosses to develop a few promising grape varieties, and if you are doing it all from seeds, you will need a psychiatrist on staff, too.

winesmith said...

Thomas, right. So I would donate to name one of the grapes. IF I get to choose which grape to name, probably the one that would be most promising. I have tasted and worked with wine from some new varieties NY3079, and a few others like that. Some of them make ok wine, but the hard part is getting people to recognize it over Cabernet, or Chardonnay.

Too me, coming from the Midwest I see this as being a little pretentious. Trying to create a true American grand cru? There might be some out there already, without that classification.

Charlie Olken said...

There is no guarantee that anything of merit will be created. It might all be mediocrity, or end up tasting like it in that no one is ever going to taste wine from one of the new "creations".

This idea is not about the grapes per se but about the terroir of the place. As such, Randall's first bet in this project is that he had identified a "climat" with special potential. His second bet is that he can create a cross-section or blend or mix or composition of vines and grapes such that the "varietal character" will be entirely secondary to the contribution of the land.

So, why name a grape or vine or anything else when the grapes are not the focus? If anything, try naming a few rows on west or east facing hillsides.

Unknown said...

Just looked up the "Wine Sulfite Remover" on Kickstarter. I have some serious doubts about the science behind this device. I sterile filter white wines in an absolute filter below 1/2 micron, and it doesn't remove any sulfites. Unless I can see some better evidence, I'm calling BS on this thing.

Unknown said...

Mr. Grahm has long suffered from "The Grass is Always Greener Syndrome." And now it's apparent he may be smoking that grass.

He was enamored with Pinot Noir until he saw it was not a grape suited to his vineyard site. So then he took up Syrah and its affiliates while then finding even another vineyard site in hopes that worked.

Before mastering that arena, Grahm dabbled in Italian varieties (anyone remember Nero di Troia or Ruche) before losing interest in those.

Perhaps one of the real issues here is some sort of ADHD (always delusional heterologic dysfunction) and his lack of an ability to pay attention to something that might require a commitment longer than the life span of a bottle of his Vin Gris de Cigar.

Randall has not been able to pay attention for very long to classic grape varieties (Riesling, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, etc.), so how will he possibly manage with 10-thousand unknowns?

Charlie's journal will need additional pages to cover all the new categories in Doon-Dumb.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Clark, Thomas, Charlie,
You've all hit on the fundamental fantasy. That in some way a human, albeit a superhuman like Randall, a Piltsdoon man, can, first of all, determine the elusive terroir, and, second of all, throw enough money, not his own, and time at a project that took Mother Nature thousands of years, and no money, to create varieties so amazing that 10,000 of them will combine to make something extraordinary. It's not just ambitious, it's delusional. It's almost sick. Sure, the Wright Brothers and Edison and Galileo had skeptics, who turned out to be fools and small-minded. But lots of other people, chasing perpetual motion and nuclear fission and phrenology and mental health through Scientology, deserved the criticisms because, at a fundamental level, they're just making shit up. Proposing schemes that are not only delusional, but flatout shady. I like Randall, everybody likes Randall, but this whole thing is sad.

But great fun for a satirist.

Anonymous 1,
Yup. The whole thing is wildeyed and crazy. And I'll be the very first to admit it if I'm wrong. Will the boneheads who have supported Randall be as honest? Raj Parr and Jamie Goode and Michael Pollan? Not a chance.

Charlie Olken said...


Two days ago at 12%, or about $42,000.

Today at 14%, or about $48,000.

Unknown said...


So you, Ron and Samantha each coughed up $2k?

That's generous of you...but do you really need to have more wines to write about for CGCW???


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Long way to go. But more and more folks trying to help. I do love that Randall has such good will, but he won't make his goal, it appears. Maybe that's sad.

I may have been sort of harsh with him, but that's my job. I'm sort of hoping it was Grahm's "A Modest Proposal," and was satire all along.

Anonymous 1,
By the time those wines are reviewable, Charlie will be up among the 10,000 varieties in the sky... And I'll probably be there with him if Laube and Grahm get a hold of me.

Charlie Olken said...


Despite the delusional aspects of Randall's proposal, I have found myself sort of wishing that he would succeed in raising the dosh simply because some delusional ideas turn out to be brilliant. That rare possibility does not make them exempt from satire, and certainly, 10,000 Vitus Grahmbrusci is, in itself, a concept ripe for the picking.

We need more people with imaginations in this life, not fewer. And there is nothing wrong with failed experiments. It just may be that a Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier, Barbera, Assyrtiko cross would turn out to be the next big thing. Or not.

I think Anon 1 has it right when we wonders how we will ever know. But, hey, I have a solution for that as well. Send an army of MS candidates into the vineyard to taste the grapes. There must be 10,000 of those delusional souls by now as well.

Oh, and I find that comment about my rapidly approaching final scene to be greatly exaggerated.

David Larsen said...

Randall, I'm sold and would like to go all in! Like Donald Trump. How much can I invest?

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I'm with you on people with imagination and taking risks. And God knows, I throw away a lot of money on useless things--this wouldn't be the worst choice ever.

But I'm not sure why 10,000 Vitis Grahmbrusca would reveal "place" better than the 10,000 or so Vitis Vinifera. Because Randall says so? Plant one of each variety currently available, maybe hybrids and native grapes too, and why wouldn't those create something unique to the site? I'm sure I've misread Randall's intention, but that's because I skim. No matter, it's at least interesting, and hilarious, and, honestly, the wine world is a boring place filled with boring people. One of whom is not Randall Graham.

You're on the right track, David. Maybe Randall should go on "Shark Tank." They'd give him a few fins.

Wines for the People said...

Does anyone remember Mr. Grahm's earlier experiment in a similar vein, when he collected the seeds, presumably Grenache x Grenache, from a fermentation with the aim of growing them to see what wondrous new varieties might be identified? This was around 2010. I never heard a follow up.

I am bothered by the claim that grapevines have not had sex in thousands of years, which I recall from Grahm's missive as well. They have sex every year--it's the reason grapes have seeds, don't you know--it's just that few people are interested in their offspring.

Samantha Dugan said...

Hey, I have sex about once a year too....does this mean I too has the seeds?

Bob Henry said...

As of 9 PM (Pacific Time) this deadline day, with 3 hours still to go before calling an end to fundraising, Randall Graham has made his "nut":


raised by 1,111 people in 1 month
107% funded 3 hours left