The Language of Yes: Grahm x Gallo for some interesting Rhône-inspired Californian wines

This is an interesting pair of wines from the articulate and engaging Randall Grahm, who made his fame with Bonny Doon, which he later sold. The Language of Yes is a collaboration between Randall and Gallo, and he explains how it came about. ‘I was approached by Joseph C. Gallo not long after I had sold Bonny Doon Vyd., who said he was interested in collaborating on a project in the Central Coast of California,’ he says. ‘Gallo had not been doing as much in the Central Coast as elsewhere, nor had much representation of Rhône varieties in their portfolio. I am perhaps projecting/imagining a little bit, but I think that they approached me in part due to my long experience of working with these grapes in this area, but also I think that they were keen to get a somewhat fresher perspective on things and perhaps create a bit of innovation in their processes and wine styles. While not everything is going quite as fast as I would prefer, we’ve made some good progress on a number of fronts, chiefest of which has been the work we’ve done with Tibouren. I think that Gallo has been persuaded of the great potential of this grape in California, especially for pink wine. We don’t have a lot planted, but everything I’ve seen so far fills me with great hope.’ 

‘Gallo has a few excellent vineyards in the Central Coast, in particular the Rancho Réal Vyd. in the Santa Maria Valley, from whence comes the Grenache and Syrah. Despite climate change, this area is still among the coolest sites where grapes are grown in California, and there is generally a very long growing season that allows for the complete ripening of both varieties, albeit in late October.’ 

‘As far as my role, I’m offering some viticultural guidance; I’ve been able to persuade the vineyard manager to change his irrigation practice – watering between the vine rows rather than within the vine row itself – to encourage more widespread rooting, and of course, watering significantly less. We are lurching toward organic certification for at least a portion of the vineyard, if that’s possible; it hasn’t quite happened yet but definitely moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, I live in Santa Cruz, which is not exactly proximal to the vineyard in Santa Maria, nor the winery in San Luis Obispo, where the wine is made, but I am still involved in determining the winemaking protocol and drop in perhaps weekly during harvest to check in. I’ve brought some interesting winemaking/élevage practices to bear.  We have been able to air dry the fruit for 4 days prior to crush to lignify the stems, allowing us to successfully use 50% whole clusters in the ferment. (We spread the grapes out on raisin trays under the vines and spray them with a non-sacchromyces yeast that out-competes acetobacter and other unwanted organisms, so as to minimize the need for SO2 adds.) Using tactics to delay onset of malolactic fermentation is another stratagem for keeping volatile acidity in check without the need for additional SO2 additions. We are able to bottle a sound, clean wine with very low total SO2s: a beautiful thing.’

The Language of Yes Syrah En Passerillage Rancho Real Vineyard 2020 Santa Maria Valley, California
14% alcohol. 87% Syrah and 13% Viognier, the wine was created using en passerillage, air-drying the grapes post-harvest. Fresh, sweet black cherry and blackberry nose with some peppery hints. Smooth, textural palate with a slight meat and olive savouriness, as well as sleek ripe cherry and berry fruit. This has a core of very sweet fruit with a slight saltiness on the finish. Lush and ripe, this is forward and enticing. 92/100

The Language of Yes Grenache En Passerillage Rancho Real Vineyard 2020 Santa Maria Valley, California
14.5% alcohol. 100% Grenache. The wine was aged in larger vessels to minimise the amount of oxygen ingress in its élevage. Lovely aromatics here: sweet cherries and strawberries with a dried herb edge and some subtle pepper spice. The palate is silky and elegant with a lovely supple texture and a core of very sweet fruit. This is rounded and textural with nice purity. Some herbs and pepper around the edges with a distinctive sweetness at its core. 93/100