Doug Margerum smiling on stage with other speakers.

Rhone in the USA Day One: rough notes

Like superheroes, wine makers all have origin stories. In this case, we even call the wine makers “Rhone Rangers”, though no one wore a mask.

David Margerum’s story involves being a fourteen year-old boy traveling with parents. And, oh, try some wine! In Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Shannon Horton’s story involved “punching down” the grape skins as a ten year-old.

Randall Grahm’s story is more about journey than origin: can you make a quantum leap to achieve something beyond yourself? In winemaking.

The players:

Moderator Dave McIntyre writes a weekly column about wine for the Washington Post. He will moderate the discussion.

Tony Wolf, director and professor of viticulture at Virgina Tech

Doug Margerum, Margerum Wine Making Co., Santa Barbara, California

Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, California

Shannon Horton, Horton Vineyards, Gordonsville, Virginia

Warren Winiarski, who started Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars just in time to win the ‘Judgement of Paris’.

Dave kept the conversation moving, posed interesting questions, and gave the speakers room to tell their stories.

These are notes, paraphrasing or copying from my handwritten notes. A future article will fact check all of this against the recording of the event. I apologize if I’ve mischaracterized/etc. anything someone said.

Some notes:

Randall on syrah: You lose all the brilliance in a warm climate.

Shannon’s family were ‘early adopters’ of wine making in Virginia.

Shannon: viognier worked pretty well from the beginning in their Virgina vineyard. She gave a lot of credit to her mother’s farming skills.

Tony: 280 wineries in Virginia; 200 of them make viognier.

Tony: the two biggest problems for grape varieties in Virginia are the rain, and very cold temperatures in winter.

Randall and Doug: USA has great freedom for wine making, in part because of the lack of legal restrictions that exist in France, Germany, and Italy, for example.

Randall spoke about wines of effort versus wines of terroir. Basically, does the winemaker work toward making a wine that the winemaker envisions, or toward a wine that expresses the terroir.

Doug: likes blending, e.g. putting together a pinot noir wine from seven vineyards, or M5, a blend of five different grapes, changing the percentages from year to year to get a consistent falavor. His background in the restaurant business instilled a motivation for consistency.

Shannon: a lot of wines are like Swiss cheese… full of holes that you need to fill in.

Doug: with syrah and viognier, cofermenting is the key… not blending afterward.

Warren asked Shannon to comment more on what ‘elevates’ a wine. Shannon used the word ‘complements’ — brings out elements you didn’t know were there. Randall added the word ‘harmonics’: that cinsault can enhance syrah even though other grapes would be overwhelmed. “The only way to civilize a syrah is to add cinsault.”

Toward the end, Randall gave an overview of his Popelouchum project, which was recently featured in a lengthy New Yorker article.

Shannon poured a sparkling viognier and a (rare) Virginia-grown syrah.

Doug poured a granache and a granache rose.

Randall poured two wines — the first ever — from Popelouchum. Of one, 15 gallons were made, of the other, 30. Yes, *gallons*.