Vinosophy: Burn it Doon. Jazz it up.

March 3, 2010

I’ll try to refrain from rambling and keep this on track, since I am still digesting the content of two back-to-back, meet-the-wine maker dinners, with Randall Grahm and Bruno De Conciliis. The fruits of the conversations, are still fermenting…

After debating about whether to enter the next items as independent posts, or somehow weave them together, and then simply doing nothing, ideas started welling up during a delirium brought on by the late winter bug that has swept through our day job, professional office.  As foul as I have felt, I am still deeply satisfied by the experiences that began this week, and grateful for the opportunities to participate in some serious conversation and serious fun.

Lovely meal tonight with new friends Deirdre and Caleb. Drama... on Twitpic

Our very talented friends, Dierdre Heekin and Caleb Barber, (progenitors and proprietors of Osteria Pane E Salute), hosted an off-the-hook, amazing dinner gathering with Randall Grahm ( of Bonny Doon ‘infamy’) at their Barnard home Sunday night, followed by another divine dining experience at the restaurant with Bruno De Conciliis on Monday.  The genius shown in the preparation of the food and cultivation of the atmosphere, was only befitting the intellectual and intuitive capacities of the gentlemen, dare I say vinoconoclasts, with whom we had the good fortune, to raise glasses.


Each night was stimulating, satiating, and terroirifying.
Once I get it together, and get a little rest, I’ll try to recount burning doon the house with Randall’s reading and ruminations, and then echo the memory of Bruno’s cool tempo, and jazzy juice.

Had it not been for my passion to learn about the winemaking process and the business of viticulture, I would clearly been way out of my league at both of these gatherings.  I think that the doon home dinner party participants had collectively consumed more volumes than than the fire at Alexandria…and Bruno’s handlers are a smooth and multi-talented crew, among which are a couple of gastronomic dark horses and a post-graduate level ethno-musicologist.  I had a good enough time, and enough enjoyable wine, that any reporting I do will in no way be objective, in the clinical sense.  I’ll simply retell the stories as best as I can recall.
Big Thanks go out to Meg and Steve Maker for makin’ it happen and delivering Randall, after hosting him through a power outage, a reception (via Meg) at Tuck Business School, and bringing him to the flaming sticks of Vermont.
Sunday night at Pane, we thank the Artisanal Cellars Team: Rafael, Winthrop, and Matt for hosting Bruno, who was traveling in the care of the reliably connected and impassioned importer, Iacapo de Teodoro of Vigniaoli Selections.  If anything went wrong, it would be Winthrop’s fault…

Sunday  2/28/2010

Caleb and Dierdre always put on such fantastic events for us…they always seem to make it effortless, but I know how much work it takes, so I offered to pitch in wherever they needed help.  We’d just gotten over two feet of wet heavy snow in the preceding days, the power was just back, the bonfire pit was buried, and the wood for said bonfire was under the porch and threatened by the quickening melt.
Starting fires is right up my alley, so I headed over to their place with my trusty  aluminum grain shovel, and while I dug out the slab that serves as the base, Edie next door, dragged their Christmas tree out of a snowbank, and lopped it into boughs.  Using every last stick we had, I built the classic ti-pi structure with the pine boughs curtained in layers between the deadwood.  Paper table covers recycled from the restaurant served as packing and fuses…the olive oil soaked ones are key.  Ran back home to get showered and changed, pick up my date, and back to Barnard for the party.  Caleb made the call, and we struck the matches.
Ok, so it was not big enough to interest the fire warden, or even the neighbors, but the evening was crisp, and the warmth (along with the mulled pommeau ) was pretty satisfying.  Originally Randall was to read from his book around the fire, but he made the good call to do it indoors, and we enjoyed listening after dinner instead.  He is from warm and sunny California after all, and had probably already seen enough of the snow, by the time he arrived and saw his Le Cigar Blanc chilling in it.

I’m not going to recount the blow by blow of the fabulous dinner, nor the progression of libations…I’ll just post the menu here and let you imagine for yourselves.   As far as the book “Been Doon So Long” is concerned…I’ll be dealing with that in the context of an upcoming book review video.

The pacing of the meal was perfect, all twenty of us sharing family style at a long table that occupied the entire main room of the house.  At the center of the table, with his back to the wood stove, Randall shared with us the history of each of the wines as they were served.

28 febbraio 2010
a snow moon dinner with Randall Grahm

fuori opera (outside, the masterpiece)
bonny doon vineyard pommeau cocktail, served hot with lemon and star anise
gorgonzola-mascarpone-walnut on house-made cracker
bonny doon vineyard cigare blanc ‘07
caciotto with local honey and fresh thyme, braised radicchio with raisins and pinenuts
ca’ del solo Muscat ’08, monterey county
mixed cured meats, local house-made cicken liver pate with dried apricots on crostini
primo e secondo, insieme ancora (together, again)
ca’ del solo nebbiolo ’06, monterey county
farrotto with wine, leeks, and crispy pancetta
bonny doon vineyard cigare Volant ‘05
polpettine (the little meatballs) made with local lamb, beef, pork, and venison, dried currants, red wine, and bread crumbs
garlic-braised escarole
bonny doon vineyard vinferno ’08, arroyo secco
torta di mela: golden cake made with local macoun apples
l’alchemista mechant loup: the Big, Bad wolf, colline de Chateauguy

The conversation along the table was lively, and I was not kidding about what I would consider to be a literati crowd.  I know how much my wife is able to read, and she was happy as could be to be able to actually discuss books with people rather than cliff note them for me.  Dierdre has a recently published work “Libations: A Bitter Alchemy”, on the heels of the book that she and Caleb did together: “In Late Winter We Ate Pears: A Years of Hunger and Love”.  Meg Maker is an active web publisher and her works can be found at her own blog Makers Table, and she is also an Executive editor at the Palate Press.  So, it was a perfect crowd to enjoy Randall’s vinthology, and his reading from “The pHs of Romanee County”.  This piece is one of several parody pieces, that can be rather, well…naughty.



I was grateful to be able to sit across from the guest of honor, and share conversations about wine making, terroir, the challenge and potential of grapes in the north country…we’re still not ready for pinot noir.   I was not able to get the history of the Ruche, La Donna Cannone, but the obscure grape obviously has a place in Mr. Grahm’s heart, as he has planted it in California, and so, we may have the opportunity to enjoy it in the future.  The nebbiolo was the star of the night for me…on subsequent analysis, some other aficionados, tasting it the next day, said that it did not have enough character or bite.   I really think it was a food thing and you really had to be there, to understand how it’s soft and demure fruit, wrapped so nicely around the dinner.

The night was getting on, and Randall needed to be off to Boston for his next stop, and probably was in need of some serious rest.  He was kind enough to sign copies of his books, and the was safely delivered (we could only presume, based on a continued stream of tweets) thanks to DK Airport Service.

pommeauBonnyDoonBefore Randall left, I gave him a couple of bottles of wine from our own terroir, fa la the 09 harvest. I probably did not do a good enough job of explaining what they were, and I have to wonder if the poor guy was afraid to try them…what if I was some maniac groupie wannabe…and besides,  they were under cork, not screw cap!  In any case…Randall, if somehow you are still holding them, the champagne bottle is methode traditionale, with no desgorgement, so chill standing up, and don’t pour the last inch of wine…unless you like the yeast lees.  The half-bottle is a blend, that is very high acid and dry dry dry…no residual sugar in a tough ripening year.  If the aromas interest you, I’ll give you the details.

Randall is on a new mission to bring the idea of terroir to the mainstream US consciousness, so as to set a new standard for wine quality, and frankly I laud this effort.  We have a lot more to learn about wine in this country, and his missibeendoonsolongon is the great opportunity for us.  As a product of the California landscape, a perversion (?) of the UC Davis institution, as the creator strange products, and product labeling practices, Randall is a new-age expression of the new world terroir, and as such a perfect ambassador for our culture.   His is an eclectic, frenetic, creative, and revolutionary mind…and I am glad he seems to be on the side of the underdog.

I was really glad to get the chance to attend this next dinner, because Bruno had been scheduled for a visit this past summer, for an event we attended at la garagista, but he ran into travel trouble, and had to miss.  We’ve tasted the Selim bubbly on a few occasions, and have even had it in our cellar…but never for very long.


Dinner at the Osteria con Bruno…

una sera con Bruno De Conciliis
de conciliis Selim
de conciliis falanghina, fiano ‘08
mixed cured meats, local fresh mozzarella and grilled green onions, cozze ‘mpepate (stuffed mussels with breadcrumbs), roasted squid, crostini alla napolitana (local chevre, anchovy, parsley, sun-dried tomato with Bruno’s olive oil)
de conciliis donnaluna aglianico ‘08
‘mpanata di maiale
torta stuffed with local black pepper pork sausage, cauliflower, potato, and black olives served with Caleb’s radicchio and escarole from the greenhouse
de conciliis naima ‘04
pollo alla diavola
roast local chicken in black pepper and sage, Bruno’s oil
broccolini in aglio e olio de Bruno
a little more naima
crostata alla maniera di zi filomena
local sour cherries and chocolate
“va dove ti porta il cuore”

Another knockout dinner.  Caleb’s genius is in how he makes the most simple rustic dishes into transcendental experiences…a deep reminder of the fundamentals of the life support and the health of body and spirit that food provides us.  Bruno’s short discourses on the de Conciliis wines, were equally simple, pure, and powerful.  Although he is modest about his english pronunciation, Bruno is perfectly eloquent.
His description of his reverent approach to wine as a ancient food/energy source, and to the required sensitivity and delicacy of the vine growing and wine making process, prompted me to tell a table mate, that Bruno was definitely a jazz wine maker.  Not that he hangs any kind of oak or extractive window dressing around the wine, like cheap riffs around a basic scale…but rather, it is his courage to have faith in his improvisation, and how he provides the harmony, to the new song that unfolds each vintage, following the the tempo and melody that mother nature jams out.
Although De Conciliis have a couple of biodynamic wines, my feeling is that this distinction, inthe case of De Conciliiis, is just a simple market-recognizable way of labeling their special human connection to the land and the vines, that their wines reflect.  The people of this region were practicing an indigenous form of earth oriented viticulture, long before Steiner’s epiphanies.   I have my own concerns about the market effects of a trend towards biodynamism, but am all for new practices and views that move us closer to the intelligence of the earth, and away from what has become “conventional” agricultural practices.
I would certainly look forward to visiting Bruno’s part of Italy.  Cilento, Campania is certainly not too far from some of my own family origins, and maybe that is why I picked up on a vibe from Bruno that was not just based on great wine and a nice presentation.  One of our correspondents, who was on the scene that night, subsequently turned up an interesting reference to the people of Cilento, that I think aptly describes the intuitive depth with which Bruno and his familia approach their craft:
2500 years ago, Zenone wrote to his mentor describing the inhabitants of Cilento: “The people of Cilento belong to their land in the same way that that the local plants belong to its soil, they both share the same attributes. Like the local olive trees, they grow strong and full of life, and share in the abundance of their fruit without too much concern as to who is picking it. Often, just like the olive trees, they endure suffering and wounds, but they will be unmoved in their resolve, as they bear their pain in silence. They follow the rhythm of nature around them, and even when nature turns unkind, they adapt to the new conditions and will prosper and propagate right where the damage was strongest.” Zenone’s mentor, upon hearing such a description replied: “Let us hope for our sake that the people of Cilento will never change their ways and always want to belong to the land instead of wanting the land to belong to them.”

Let’s hope that Bruno and his familia continue to make wines that show ingenious adaptation to the changing world, but also provide leadership back to a very old way of dancing with the earth.

Again, just a fabulous night of friendship, food, the fine results of fermentation…and another winemaker who is, in his own way, an honest expression of the terroir from which he grew.


Both of these guys are mavericks for lack of a better word…they both have broken rules, and possibly made new and important ones in the process.  They certainly have made delicious and gently crafted wines, that we can enjoy both now, and in the future.  Bon chance, and buona fortuna to each of them respectively, for their continued adventures.  May we have the good fortune to share wine and conversation with them again one day.


Burned doon, no logs.

Burned doon, no logs.

Comments (2)


  1. todd says:

    Interesting to find this WCAX article about Randall and bio-dynamics…

  2. todd says:

    W. Blake Gray has a short but sweet article about the ‘grape from seed’ project that Randall described that night at dinner…

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