The Language of Yes is a collaboration between the pioneering winemaker Randall Grahm and Maze Row. From the vineyards in the Central Coast of California, Randall is crafting wines of terroir using Old World sensibility but with a distinct local expression with lighter extractions, whole cluster fermentations, no filtration, and a focus on Rhône varieties from cooler sites.
The Language of Yes began in earnest in 2020 as a collaboration between Randall Grahm and Maze Row, giving the auteur winemaker his pick of Gallo’s top vineyards in the Central Coast, as well as access to the company’s significant grape and vine research.
The aim of the project is to bring an Old World sensibility to California, with gentler extractions, whole cluster fermentations where possible, no filtration, and a focus on Rhone varieties from cooler sites. Indeed, the first wine released for The Language of Yes was a Tibouren-based rosé, a variety native to Southern France and Northern Italy, prized for its creamy texture and ageworthiness.
The inaugural 2020 vintage also featured separate bottlings of Grenache and Syrah from the Rancho Réal vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley AVA. Both wines are clearly informed by a love of the Old World, but not without respect for New World terroir. Or, as Randall puts it: “Searching for elegance in a rustic universe.”
California winemaking legend. Marketing maverick. Outspoken proponent of balanced, elegant wines at the peak of “Parker-ization.” Randall Grahm is frequently described as “quixotic,” but it’s this author’s opinion that his work was never quixotic, just ahead of its time.
From Randall’s bio: Randall was born in Los Angeles in 1953 and attended the University of California, Santa Cruz where he was a semi-permanent Liberal Arts major. Some time later he found work in a fancy wine shop in Beverly Hills sweeping floors. But by dint of exceptionally good karma he was given the opportunity to taste great French wines; this singular experience turned him into a complete and insufferable wine fanatic.
Randall returned to UC Davis to finish a degree in Plant Sciences in 1979, where, owing to his single-minded reverence for Pinot Noir, he was regarded as a bit of a holy terroir in the hallowed halls of the otherwise sober and sedate Department of Viticulture and Enology. With his family’s assistance, he 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 he produced there, and he has been a tireless champion of the grapes of the Rhône since the inaugural vintage of [Bonny Doon’s] Le Cigare Volant. In 1989 Randall appeared on the cover of the Wine Spectator, clad in blue polyester, as “The Rhône Ranger.”
In 1991 Randall was inducted into the Who’s Who of Cooking in America by Cook’s Magazine and in the same year had an asteroid named in his honor. He was proclaimed the Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year by the James Beard Foundation in1994 and received another award from the Beard Foundation for his book, “Been Doon So Long: A Randall Grahm Vinthology” in 2009. In 2010 the Culinary Institute of America inducted him into the Vintner’s Hall of Fame.
In 2010, Randall purchased an extraordinary 400-acre property near San Juan Bautista, which he calls “Popelouchum,” (pronounced Pope-uh-luh-SHOOM), and has very ambitious plans to breed 10,000 new grape varieties there and perhaps produce a true vin de terroir in the New World. He sold his majority interest in Bonny Doon Vineyard at year-end of 2019.
The Language of Yes project, initiated with the 2020 vintage, captures Randall’s passion for exploring the possibilities of both the classical and more arcane varieties of southern France in the Central Coast of California. Randall continues to live in Santa Cruz with his muse Chinshu, their daughter, Amélie, and his thesaurus.
– Randall Grahm.
ESTATE & LOCATION
Region: Santa Maria Valley, Central Coast
Proprietor: Partnership with Randall Grahm & Maze Row
Winemaker: Randall Grahm
Vineyards: Rancho Réal, Santa Maria Valley
Environmental: Estate vineyards SIP Certified Sustainable
According to Randall Grahm: “‘The Language of Yes’ is the language we seek to articulate in our far-flung New World outpost in the Central Coast of California, a dedication to affirmation and positivity. Great wine can only come from vignerons who love their land deeply, and whose love poetry is the vinous expression of their passion. The Language of Yes wines preserve the old ways, revealing the utmost respect for the integrity of the sites from which they derive. The raising of the wine is done with the lightest possible hand, allowing the natural exuberance of the vines, the grapes, the wine and the winemaker to joyously emerge, unmistakably pronouncing the Language of Yes.”
PORTFOLIO IN DETAIL
Grenache “En Passerillage”
A lithe and delicate bottling of Grenache, thanks to the cool microclimate of the Rancho Réal vineyard, and winemaker Randall Grahm’s light touch in the cellar. The wine is 50% whole cluster fermented and spends some time in stainless steel and older puncheons before bottling.
“Burgundian” Grenache? Grahm is showing the more elegant side of Grenache with this bottling. Despite the preponderance of rich and extracted Grenache from Southern Rhône, Barossa Valley and Priorat, Grenache is, in fact, a thin-skinned variety capable of great elegance (like Pinot Noir).
Inspired by the high-altitude Garnacha being made in the Sierra de Gredos appellation of Spain, Randall has vinted a more “open-knit” wine (to borrow a phrase from wine writer Elaine Chukan Brown), with lighter color and far more elegance than is typically found in California Grenache.
Manwhille, “passerillage” is a French term for the process of drying grapes after harvest (“appassimento” in Italian). After harvest, winemaker Randall Grahm dries the grapes for just a few days on paper trays in the vineyard. The purpose of this is not to concentrate the sugars, but rather to lignify the stems. Brown stems provide structure but give less astringency (as opposed to green stems) to the finished wine; crucial, since the wine is 50% whole cluster fermented.
Bottlings from The Language of Yes feature photos from the early 20th century of vignerons in Southern France. Colors and gold leaf have been added to the black & white stills.
This is a supremely refined Syrah for California (under 14% alcohol!), combining old world structure and complexity with new world aromatic intensity. The cool microclimate of Rancho Réal enabled a long growing season, helping to bring out a peppery quality to the finished wine (the chemical that causes that scent – rotundone – only develops late in the growing season). The wine is 50% whole cluster fermented and spends time in old barriques before bottling.
Going deeper: The Syrah was co-fermented with Viognier (which makes up 14% of the blend). This is common practice in the Northern Rhone (particularly the Côte-Rôtie) as the Viognier helps to (counter-intuitively) fix color and add aromatic complexity in the form of florals.
Maze Row represents four wines in The Language of Yes portfolio: a Grenache and Syrah from Rancho Réal Vineyard, “Les Fruits Rouges” Pink Wine, and Cuvée Sinsó Red Wine from California’s Central Coast.