In October 2006, I took my then nine year old son Charlie to the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA to experience Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon performed by Roger Waters, principal lyricist, founding member, bass player and co-lead vocalist of Pink Floyd.

Roger Waters injected politics into his concert, performing Leaving Beirut, a musical retelling of being taken in by an Arab family in Lebanon when a younger, poorer, Waters was caught hitchhiking in a torrential downpour. The song included strong criticism of President George W. Bush and his choice to bring war to Iraq. Waters also wrote political messages on a lighter than air inflatable pig that was carried from the stage into the audience and (unlawfully) released. Messages on our pig included “Habeas Corpus Matters A Lot” “Impeach Bush Now” and “Vote Nov. 2nd””

Waters’ messages of peace over war, human rights over torture and illegal imprisonment, and disapproval of our involvement in the war in Iraq was met with general approval in Mountain View, although I did hear a few people complain about paying to be lectured to and not liking it. Several East cost performances of Leaving Beirut were met with even greater displeasure. In all cases, jeers were turned to cheers as Leaving Beirut was followed by Sheep from the Pink Floyd album Animals – the irony lost on most.

During the war in Vietnam, Rock music was a vehicle for political expression, and years later Waters again used it to marry the power of words, music, and crowd. Compared to the near endless supply of mindless pop acts dancing through lip synched performances featuring auto-tuned recordings, I was grateful for Waters’ artistry and ability to move and educate me.

I can almost hear you asking, “so, four paragraphs about music John, what does this have to do with wine?” Thanks for asking.

I received a copy of Been Doon So Long, a Randall Grahm Vinthology, by Randall Grahm.

A couple of quick notes; I revere Randall Grahm, I was three days away from buying this book when it was delivered to my door for me to read and review courtesy of Amy Cleary of UC Press. When I worked selling wine books and wine accessories for the Wine Appreciation Guild, I used to arrange my sales trips to allow me to wake up in Santa Cruz so I could enjoy Bonny Doon wines at their tasting room for breakfast.

Randall Grahm is the owner and Winemaker of Bonny Doon Vineyard. Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon are nearly synonymous, so inextricably are the two linked for wine lovers. Randall Grahm became well known as one of the pioneers of Rhone varietal wines in California (Cinsault, Grenache, Mouvedre, Marsanne, Roussane, Viognier), and was at least equally well known for his mold breakingly unique wine labels (Chuck House, Ralph Steadman). Grahm found additional substantial success with relatively obscure Italian varietals.

Fortunately for anyone who loves wine, literature, and wine literature, Randall Grahm is also famous for his marketing prowess, which included  his writings in a Bonny Doon Newsletter. While the Bonny Doon Newsletter was intended to aid the mercantile, to promote and sell the wine, the Newsletter became more ambitious, educating and sharing Grahm’s point of view.

Randall Grahm’s writings for the Newsletter were not limited to mere articles alone, or pre-blog blog entries in print medium; they included brilliantly executed parodies of notable literary works including Don Quixote, Catcher in the Rye, and A Clockwork Orange. Couched inside of each parody, Grahm commented on notions Doon-ian, and often poked fun and sometimes derision at a host of subjects enological or viticultural satirically. Grahm also parodied literary poets like Ginsberg in poesy, and popular song lyrics – including Have a Cigar from Roger Waters of Pink Floyd.

Been Doon So Long is a collection of these writings from the newsletter, as well as articles, speeches and essays. Sure to please his many fans, and educate a legion of new ones, Randall Grahm has also written a wonderful review on the history of his many wine labels.

The quality of literary playfulness, genius, makes this work of literary parody a great literary work in its own right.

In the book’s center, at its core, is the book’s masterwork, a parody of Dante’s Divine Comedy. In  Da Vino Commedia: The Vinferno, over nearly 60 pages with beautiful illustrations by Alex Gross, Grahm tells the tale of being taken “doon” through the nine circles of wine hell. After pointing out the sins of the industry in fullness, Grahm writes of being made to face his own sins and a desire to save himself from mortal zin, um sin.

As Grahm has grown older, he has grown wiser, and Grahm has reconsidered his priorities. A young daughter Amelie and a health scare have caused Grahm to focus his energy; his spiritual path has seen him divest himself of over 2/3rds of his labels and decrease his case production to less than 10% of Doon’s previous output. He writes with passion about wanting to make honest wines that represent the place they come from, that have Terroir.

In an effort to achieve his goal of producing wines with Terroir, Randall Grahm is moving his wine operations from Santa Cruz to San Juan Bautista to grow grapes in the limestone rich soil, perhaps from seed, without irrigation or trellising, dry farmed and head grown; he wants to make Rhone and Italian varietals , wild and profoundly original, complex and emotionally resonant of the land itself.

In addition to Randall Grahm’s passionate views on Terroir, Grahm opines on the superiority of a screw cap to a cork as a bottle closure, the general banality of California Chardonnay, the adult theme park that is the Napa Valley with its focus on lifestyle instead of life, and his abhorrence of point scores for wine (they are fixed, reductionist while wine is living, ever changing).

Randall Grahm’s incredible grasp of the esoteric, his depth of wine knowledge, his passion for grape growing, his literary bent, and sheer talent brought together in Been Doon So Long caused me to feel unadulterated awe as I read his words, to shake my head in admiration (and a touch of NV) at his writing skill. More than once, reading in a public place, as I came upon a particularly naughty passage, I burst out in laughter causing those around me to seek the cause.

Randall Grahm fights the fights, going against the grain, doing things the hard way, in an effort to make something special. I have always loved that he makes un-boring wines. Doing things Grahm’s way has meant having to write messages on an inflatable pig – or the Doonian equivalent. Newsletters, Radio, interviews, meet the winemaker dinners, anything and everything in service of educating a public unfamiliar with Bonny Doon’s unfamiliar wines. I like wine with a message. Grahm’s wines are message laden beverages – communicating unusual varietals, unique techniques used to produce them, visually artistic labels, and the wealth of information printed on them ; similarly his book is filled with messages, sometimes stuffed into satire, and further wrapped in the cloak of parody, or song, or poesy. Delectable, complex, textured, dense and filling.

Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology is not Wine For Dummies; but if you have someone in your life who loves wine or literature, or in a perfect world loves both, this book would make an incredible gift that will be appreciated greatly.

I read over 100 wine books while working as a wine seller and marketer, while working for wine book publisher the Wine Appreciation Guild, and as a consumer and lover of wine. Simply put; I have never enjoyed a book on wine as much as I enjoyed Randall Grahm’s Been Doon So Long.

DISCLOSURE: I received Been Doon So Long, A Randall Grahm Vinthology as a sample from Amy Cleary at UC Press. My love of the book Been Doon So Long is in no way linked to how I came to receive the book.

In the past, stainless steel wine tanks for fermentation and storage of wines required Nitrogen gas be pumped into the headspace between the surface of the wine and the interior top of the tank to blanket the wine from oxygen, and special gas outflow venting.

David Coleman, eccentric genius winemaker and founder, with his wife Ayn, of Adler Fels Winery, is credited with inventing the adjustable top fermentation tank while at Chateau St. Jean in the 70’s.

Coleman’s tank lid design allowed for variable volume of wine to be fermented or stored without harmful oxygen in the headspace. Coleman felt that pumping Nitrogen into the tank was rougher on the wine than necessary.

David Coleman’s tank design featured a lid that was lowered down the inside of an open top wine tank and held in place on top of the wine surface by means of a chain and pulley system.

The next major innovation in stainless steel tanks was the floating lid. Amity Vineyards claims the first wine tanks with a floating lid in 1981.

Like Coleman’s original adjustable top fermentation tank, the floating top tanks allow variable capacity without exposing the wine contained inside to air and oxygen via a tank lid that can be lowered by means of a chain and pulley system onto the surface of the wine, then sealed against the tank sides my inflating a tube contained within the lid’s side. The main improvement comes from a lid that floats and does not require a chain from the lid to a structure above the tank to hold the lid in place on the surface of the wine.

Recently, I unfavorably reviewed the Vacu-vin wine saver wine preservation pump and stopper system. The Vacu-vin was shown not to work over and over again in laboratories, did not maintain wine flavors any better than the old cork in blind tastings, led to wines suffering an aroma stripped nose, and didn’t maintain the marginal partial vacuum created. The product was a complete and total failure.

In response to my Vacu-vin evaluation and review, Shannon Essa, who I worked with at the Wine Appreciation Guild, asked me if I was familiar with Wine Preserva, and offered to send a couple of samples for me to test. Elliott Mackey of the Wine Appreciation Guild did the sending, but my thanks go to both Elliott and Shannon.

Made in Melbourne, Australia by inventor Barry Rees, the Wine Preserva is a flexible disc that floats on the surface of wine in a bottle. The makers claim of Wine Preserva claim its use protects wine from air and oxygen in between glasses, lengthening the time that a wine may be enjoyed, up to five days.

Available in packs of 6 or 50, each Wine Preserva comes in its own protective packaging. The protective individual Wine Preserva wrapper can be opened in the center of the top and bottom, and a fork provided in the 6 or 50 pack can be used to move the Wine Preserva from its wrapper into the wine bottle to be protected.

It took me three bottles to develop a proficiency, I was not initially deft getting the Wine Preserva into the bottle from the wrapper without touching the disc with my fingers. I am not the most graceful or patient person, but I have mastered the action required.

Here’s a link to a “how to” video:

http://www.winepreserva.com/howitworks.html

The disc is a circular clear plastic disc. the center utilizes bubble wrap type bubbles to ensure floatation, and the outer edge is radial cut to provide a flanged adjustable surface allowing one Wine Preserva to fit a variety of different bottles.

I bought some inexpensive wine from the grocery store to use to test the Wine Preserva. I opened twin bottles of a 2008 FoxBrook Cabernet Sauvignon, California, made by Bronco in Ceres, CA. Although the same price as Charles Shaw, $1.99, I can not say it was as good.

The wine at opening was a bright burgundy red in color, and showed youth. The nose had notes of dusty cocoa and dark blackberry fruit. The wine was light, thin, with a little tannin and was a little green with not quite ripe blackberry and cherry flavors in the mouth, with a plummy finish. with 12.5 alc, it was wine, it was unremarkable, it was not bad, it just was not particularly good either, it had no wow. After getting baseline tasting notes upon opening, I poured 1 cup from each of the two bottles (which i used to marinate a pair of tri tip roasts). I inserted a Wine preserva disc into one of the bottles, and put the original cork back in each bottle. I stored both wines in the back corner of a dark closet for 96 hours.

I opened a bottle of 2008 Rodney Strong state Vineyards Russian River Valley pinot Noir, Sonoma County, $13.48. Having tasted the FoxBrook made me want to taste a wine I liked. A deep garnet in color, this wine had quite a bit more body and complexity. 14.4 % alc, it had a nice round rich mouthfeel, medium bodied, spice, cherry and rose petal and pefume nose, floral rose, herb and spice, leading to oooh candy cherry in the mouth, and a long lingering tapering finish. I did pick up some green notes of youth, and will happily go back to the 2007 vintage and let the 2008 age a bit more.

I had one glass of the Rodney strong Pinot, and put a Wine Preserva into this bottle as well – for a full 5 days.

Okay here’s the results:

After 4 days, the FoxBrook Cabernet protected by the Wine Preserva disc had maintained the dusty cocoa and fruit nose, and there was still fruit evident in the mouth. The Foxbrook Cab sealed with the cork alone was nothing, the nose was lighter and the mouth was spent and off putting, making me want to wipe my tongue off.

After 5 days, the Rodney Strong Pinot was still drinkable, the aroma and flavors maintained and still present and lively.

Available at the Wine Hardware stores in Sonoma, Walnut Creek, St. Helena, and South San Francisco, or online at http://winehardware.com/ for $5.99 for a 6 pack or $29.99 for a 50 pack; I can report they work as advertised and add only $0.60 – $1.00 to the price of a bottle of wine while allowing the wine to be enjoyed at a maintained drinkable quality for days. While many people laughingly say, “I always finnish the bottle,” this is a great and inexpensive tool for those who drink more for flavor than effect. Wine doesn’t come with a funnel to aid in immediate consumption for a reason; and Wine Preserva allows the 6th glass in a bottle to taste like the first glass in a bottle, days after the wine is opened, at an additional cost of just $0.10 – $0.17 per glass for home use.

The Wine Preserva is a simple, elegant, logical wine preservation device. It works in a wine bottle exactly like a floating lid works on a stainless steel wine fermentation and storage tank.

“Greenies” will appreciate that Wine Preserva is both recyclable and biodegradable, and can be left in the bottle, and does not alter a bottle’s recyclability. Packaging materials are made from recyclable paper and plastic as well.

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Yesterday, the mailman brought a sample copy of Randall Grahm’s book “Been Doon So Long.” Thanks to Amy Cleary at UC Press; as I revere Randall Grahm, I will be getting into this beautiful book very soon.

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Disclosure: the Wine Preserva discs evaluated in this review were provided by the Wine Appreciation Guild.

It is silly, but the FTC requires these ridiculous disclosures by online wine writers at the risk of an $11,000 fine. I am not required to make the same disclosure if this article appears in traditional print media. This week, it was suggested that Gwyneth Paltrow does not have to disclose gifts she writes about in her online blog, because celebrities can’t be bothered to keep track of all their gifts. It appears the rules only apply to online writers who do not make money or have fame.

I am not paid to evaluate or review anything sent to me, I do not benefit from sales of anything I recommend. If I received a sample, and didn’t like it, I probably wouldn’t write about it. If I receive a sample and I do like it, you’ll probably read about it.

No promises, no guarantees, full disclosure. Greater transparency, and I think honesty, than most wine publications that take money from the people they review. I’ll try never to violate the trust I ask you to place in me when you read a review or evaluation from me.

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