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California winemaker lays cork stopper to rest

Randall Grahm, an iconoclast who has long ridiculed wine-cork ritualism, is staging last rites for the cork stopper.

The California winemaker, who has put screw caps on 80,000 bottles of his 2001 Bonny Doon Vineyard Ca’ del Solo Big House Red and Big House White wines, will preside at a mock funeral dinner for the cork on 2 October in Manhattan.

Known for his black literary humour, Grahm is holding the feast at the Campbell Apartment, a Grand Central Terminal restaurant, which will be decorated in black. The menu will feature such foods as black-mustard-scented uni, miso-glazed black cod, black mole roasted venison, ‘a salad of dark and bitter greens’, and chocolate tortoise.

The feast will be washed down with 17 vintages of Le Cigare Volant, eight of Old Telegram and two of Le Sophiste, arguably Grahm’s most famous wines.

The invitation (above) has been extended to at least 50 people, largely members of the wine trade and journalists.

Jancis Robinson, editor of The Oxford Companion to Wine, is to deliver the eulogy. Those not invited will be able to read her words on the www.bonnydoon.com and www.jancisrobinson.com web sites from 3 October.

The cork, Grahm says, was born in 1585, and in his view it died this year. With its contaminants taking a heavy toll on wine for years, the closure has become progressively enfeebled. This year, producers have begun tilting toward synthetic versions, and such alternatives as screw caps, which had long been deemed déclassé.

Grahm, who founded Bonny Doon, near Santa Cruz, in 1980, characterises himself as ‘a champion of lesser-known grape varieties and experimental vinification techniques’, who adopts ‘an irreverent and erudite approach to winemaking’.

To the macabre, too. A coffin containing an all-cork sculpture of a human corpse will be brought by hearse to Grand Central, and then, accompanied by a dirge, to the restaurant. The deceased, Grahm has decided, is named Bouchon (the French word for cork stopper).

Written by Howard G Goldberg in New York27 September 2002

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