Randall Grahm of California's Bonny Doon winery last week astonished British journalists with his own interpretation of the concepts of 'terroir' and 'minerality' in wine.

At a London tasting last week the maverick winemaker presented four samples of the 2001 vintage of Le Cigare Volant, a wine that uses various of the permitted grape varieties in Châteauneauf-du-Pâpe.

Three of these were strongly influenced by the flavours of different types of Californian rocks – Grahm had infused the wines with chunks of ‘Riprap’ granite, black slate and ‘Nolyo’ cobblestone, dunked using cloth bags, on the same principle that some wine makers use oak chips.

‘I call them my rock quartet’, Grahm told the assembled members of the Circle of Wine Writers.

Randall Grahm is notorious for playing pranks – as when he asked a group of visitors to a vineyard to whisper, saying that the plants were sensitive to sounds.

But he swears this is not a practical joke, and if he can obtain approval from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms he will put the wines on sale.

At the same tasting Grahm showed older vintages of Le Cigare Volant. Two of these, the 98 and 97 were ageing at roughly double the desired speed, he explained, through his use of synthetic cork.

Although Grahm has (literally, on one occasion) written the obituary for natural cork, the current vintage of Cigare Volant uses a natural cork. He has found plastic stoppers are either too tight, in which case they can’t be drawn, or not tight enough, letting in too much oxygen and oxidising the wine.

Grahm plans to move future production to screwcap.

Written by Patrick Matthews11 April 2003