Vol 3 No 2.1 – to the home of the Rhone Ranger

After a great breakfast at Petit Soleil, it was off to Paso Robles (where I didn’t stop this time except to visit a friend in Templeton), then on to Santa Cruz – this is where it gets interesting.

The weather was threatening and all of you have by now heard of the horrendous rains in California. Leaving Paso, I was noticing the flooding in the vineyards, and in case you haven’t been to the Central Coast recently, it is virtually ALL vineyards from their to Kingsburg. Then I saw the first of two cars facing backwards on the center divider. Nope, not CHP trying to catch a speeder, but cars that had hydroplaned and spun into the divider, just moments before I passed. A mile further and there was another one on the opposite side of 101.

How bad was it? Well, the car’s GPS had HUGE red ‘X’s in rows from the time I passed the cutoff to Cambria and the famed Hearst Castle. I have driven this route literally hundreds of times in my life but had put Bonny Doon’s location in Santa Cruz in the GPS only to estimate my arrival time – didn’t want to be late for my meeting with Randall Grahm!

But when I got to the Santa Cruz turnoff, the GPS directed me to the next offramp – huh? About a mile down that road it told me to turn left at the intersection??? From there I literally zig-zagged to Santa Crux due to numerous landslides  resulting in closures including the main road, Highway 17! Never saw that before.

Frustrated but on time I arrived for my meeting with Randall. When I met him I was totally surprised by his warmth and friendliness…like he was greeting an old friend. But if you meet him, be prepared to talk wine…not just wine, but the ‘proper’ wine. He then led me into his office for an engaging discussion on his latest project, and a huge one it is.

Have you ever visited a famous cathedral in Europe and wondered at how much faith the builders had in a project they would never see finished…nor would their children or maybe even their grandchildren? Of course the were mainly serfs who built churches and fortifications during the dormant winter season.

But nothing Randall does is wasting time: there are his wines, his creative and fun newsletters, and now his project to find the true California grape. Not far from the Santa Cruz turnoff is the little town of San Juan Bautista, that my older friends know at least from the classic Hitchcock film, Vertigo, with the scenes of the mission there and the eucalyptus-lined Highway 101. It has always been one of our favorite stops in the area. Where else can you stand on the edge of the San Andreas Fault and look beyond at the hills and the Carizzo plain? Why not drive down now and see it in all its splendor, a bed of green with the wildflowers soon to show off?

His project, which caused him to sell off his low end but extremely well-made and popular Pacific Rim Riesling and Big House Red, now available in the box, is a sacred Indian site called Popelouchum, best described by the man himself:

“Join me on a journey of discovery to change the way we grow grapes, to change the way we think about vineyards, to perhaps discover an entirely new vinous expression, and to maybe even get a unique grape variety named after yourself!” – Randall Grahm

Make no mistake, Randall Grahm like TB is a firm believer in ‘terroir’ – a sense of place that helps one identify the tasted of a wine and is burned into your memory. Note this does not apply to all wines, only a select few: the best Burgundy’s; a few great Bordeaux, even fewer California Cabs, Chateauneuf du Pape, hopefully you get the picture.

Ironically, there is a new book out, not worthy of mention in either Randall’s or my opinion, by a since-retired professor at UC Davis School of Enology. A heretic in the words of Grahm and myself, as he says there is no such thing as terroir. Hope he enjoys his retirement as that is where he rightfully belongs.

Grahm grew up not far from TB in West Los Angeles with ‘enologically-challenged’ parents, but he stumbled into Beverly Hills’ Wine Merchant, one of the premier wine shops in the area and was hired. This was both a blessing and a curse because with virtually no knowledge of wine he was introduced to some of the great wines of the world with no point of reference.

He, like so many great winemakers, was bitten by the bug from which there is no cure. He attended UC Santa Cruz then UC Davis where he received a degree in Plant Sciences. With his family’s help he bought land in Santa Cruz (Bonny Doon), and was determined to make a great Pinot Noir. This was his biggest disappointment because he had picked the wrong place to grow that regal grape but after meeting Kermit Lynch and Alice Waters, as did Bob Lindquist, he fell in love with Rhone style wines which he felt were best suited to the area from Santa Barbara to Santa Cruz…and how right he was! He humbly gives credit to Gary Eberle for being the first to plant Syrah in the Central Coast but was named the first ‘Rhone Ranger’ in a magazine article and cover. Today that applies to all those who are disciples of wines from around the 42nd parallel.

Despite his laid-back demeanor, he is a serious winemaker and recognized as one of the most influential winemakers in California and has been inducted into the Hall of Fame. He was the first American winemaker to see for himself if the Aussies and Kiwi’s were right about screw-caps (more properly Stelvin capsules), and the first to shun corks entirely, proving that they have a place in top quality winemaking. You will have to wait for the book for more on his philosophy and the interview.

In the tasting room, he is very proud of his wines but let’s you decide for yourself. As always his Cigare Volant exceeded my expectation and the Cigare Volant Blanc, captured me as only a white grenache can. Then he completes the trilogy with a Vin Gris de Cigare -an excellent example of  what a rosé from the region can be (note that in 2016, for the first time, rosés were the fastest growing segment of the wine spectrum, finally overcoming the ‘sweet’ stigma that early California winemakers had imposed on it.  Also, don’t miss his ‘Proper’ series of more affordable wines, a Proper Claret, Proper Pink, and others. His quiver doesn’t stop there however, with his Old Telegram (not a knock-off but a tribute to Vieux Telégraphe, which Kermit Lynch introduced him to years ago).

Sadly, the meeting had to end as he had to pick up his daughter, but I bought several of my favorites of his wines…the Cigare Volant Blanc, did not make it home. As we would approve, it was quaffed with friends over a nice dinner at Artisan Bistro in Lafayette, California, while celebrating my wife, Marybeth’s birthday…3o something! Her birthday was a movable feast also celebrated in Napa Valley, Seattle (our son, Greg flew out to surprise her), and then in Bend and Portland, Oregon.

Before I left, Randall asked where I was headed, and when I said Oakland, he shook his head and said, “good luck.” As it turned out the drive up the coast was absolutely beautiful and when I turned inland for the San Mateo bridge the traffic was light until I neared the bridge but despite it only being around 4:30pm, the opposing traffic headed home to Santa Cruz the only way available was bumper to bumper and at a crawl. I felt very sorry for them.

We had a great weekend in the Bay Area seeing many of our old friends before heading north to Napa Valley on Monday morning…many great visits there to be reported in the next edition.

TB

 

 

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traderbill

How did Trader Bill originate? It was conceived by me as a way of providing information summaries of global financial markets so that friends and associates could bring themselves up to speed on events and changing market conditions upon their arrival at work. In addition, it provides information on speakers and economic releases that day with consensus estimates and level of last release so that the reader is prepared to react, or knows how the market might react upon the release of information. Who is Trader Bill? Initially any reference to me was as ‘i’. This is to remove the aura of ego and to suggest that i am but a humble reporter, albeit with 35 years of investment experience. Investments are demanding of ego, however, or one would not feel that he was qualified to manage someone else’s money in the first instance. Therefore i needed an ‘alter-ego’. Like Winchell and Mahoney, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and especially Trader Vic and Mai Tai’s! Why Trader Vic? Because he was a likeable man who delivered pleasure to his customers and knew exactly what their desires were. The reason for the alter ego became obvious once I introduced Trader Bill into my commentaries: people started asking what Trader Bill thought. They had never asked me what I thought before, but suddenly they wanted to know what TB thought! Now mind you they KNEW that I was Trader Bill but for some reason he became bigger than life. Maybe it was the small ‘I’? What does Trader Bill try to do?His goal is to educate from his years of experience. Consider that most of the traders and people managing investments weren’t even around in 1987 for the crash! Consider that Graham and Dodd, and even Warren Buffet are not relevant to them, too old hat. Their historical perceptions of markets and fundamentals (earnings, price/earnings ratios, bonds, debt service coverage) are irrelevant in this fast moving world. This is the NEW ECONOMY, or is it? How did your style originate?Years ago i found that i had a knack and talent for writing. In addition, i developed an ability to analyze market news about 15 years ago. It took the Crash of ‘87. Prior to that i was just listening to what others said about the economy. But bond yields had been soaring in ‘87 yet the stock market just kept hitting new highs. That was when i began to learn about markets. i have both a dry and witty sense of humor (some call it inane!). Therefore i attempt to make even the worst news somewhat amusing: whether it is the absurdity of an economic release, or the comments of a CEO. This is trading desk humor (or gallows humor). It isn’t politically correct but it does ease tension. Ironically, it is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel (in the Navy they say: it’s always darkest before it’s pitch black!), that allows you to be more objective in your analysis, as bad as a situation is there will still be a tomorrow! You will see that i practice three-dot journalism, a style made famous by San Francisco reporter Herb Caen, whom i idolized. At least to me it is effective. What is so special about your analysis?Frankly, i don’t know that it is special, but at least it beats “the market closed down today on profit taking.” What i do know is that most of what you read is spat out without considering whether or not it is rational, like the above statement. Is it right? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, and that is the key to what is different about my analysis: it is meant to make you think. Is Dan Rather right or is Trader Bill right? If it causes you to stop and think about it, regardless of whether you agree, i win! Because THAT is my goal…not to have you think i am a guru, got that? Bet you never heard that ANYWHERE before in my business! Instead they want you to think just how smart they are but remember in this business if you are right 60% of the time you ARE a genius! Another thing that is different is when i am wrong on an analysis i will tell you, not hope you forget what i said. So now you have the tools to do what the speculators and hedge funds do: challenge authority, and if you make money it is because YOU did it not me. i was just a tool, your flunky to do the grunt work and let you decide…course you could be wrong too but at least you looked at the big picture. But the goal is also to have fun! This shouldn’t be a business of hushed tones and grim faces. It is a living, breathing thing and nowhere else in the world do you have the odds as much in your favor as here. Just beware of the guy who wants to put his arm around you and tell you he is your friend. So there you have it. I hope you select me as one of your sources for market information. If you do I promise to work my best for your financial success. Trader Bill

3 thoughts on “Vol 3 No 2.1 – to the home of the Rhone Ranger”

  1. The great Cathedrals of France were built by stone masons and artisans They were NOT serfs; serfs tilled the soil. The construction of the great European cathedrals lasted from the eleventh century through the fourteenth century. The biggest obstacle to their construction was money or lack of it. I have visited many French cathedrals; I know the Cathédrale de Saint-Marie in Bayonne France intimately; I attend Mass there regularly and I do volunteer work for the parish. One of the sacristians led me on a tour of the inner rcesses of the steeples and the attic; I took a lot of photos. Most of these photos are on my Facebook page. The stone shaped giant rosetta shaped window frames which hold intricate stained glass window were carved out of a solid piece of limestone . The great cathedrals of Europe were built by serfs? No way; serfs grow mediocre wine grapes in California and the Pacific Northwest.

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  2. Stephen, I wrote hastily thinking of the last part, the fortresses and castles. However, I seriously doubt that there were no ‘hod carriers’, etc.
    I hope you aren’t implying that the wineries of the Northwest or California are inferior to the French. I suggest you read Vino Business by a French woman, Isabelle Sapporte, if you believe Bordeaux is superior. I believe she would not be alive if she were not French.
    Good wine is made globally by people with passion, something the big corporations are totally lacking in.
    Let the Chinese buy all the overpriced first and second growths saturated in herbicides and pesticides sprayed by helicopters while the local ‘serfs’ fall ill.

    Liked by 1 person

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