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Ambitious Winemaker Aims to Create First New World Grand Cru

It will be made with 10,000 new varieties of grapes.

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Winemaker Randall Grahm
Winemaker Randall Grahm

Winemaker Randall Grahm — the founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, Calif. — has launched an Indiegogo campaign to create the first New World Grand Cru. A Grand Cru is a regional classification of wine that denotes "the highest-quality vineyard areas." Grahm hopes to transform the "unique terroirs" of his Popelouchum Estates in San Juan Bautista, Calif. into a vineyard that achieves the designation.

"If anyone could do it Randal Graham could."

To do this, he plans to breed 10,000 grape varieties that have not existed before and blend them into a new wine. The campaign explains: "The intention of the breeding program is to incorporate the features of disease and drought resistance into the vine offspring, making them more sustainable, in light of global climate change, and ongoing impact on the planet." Grahm and his team want to provide these grape varieties as an "open code" to any "viticulturist throughout the world who may be interested in them." He also plans to use the money raised to plant 45 acres of Rhône grape varieties as well as to plant a five acre garden to supply a "‘pop-up' dining experience in the summer months."

Says Brian Cronin, Master Sommelier and national education manager for Palm Bay International, a wine importer, "If anyone could do it Randal Graham could. He has been innovating wine for a long time." Still, the process represents a completely new undertaking in the world of American wine, and though there are varying ideas about what defines "terroir," setting out to create a new one could be a reach. Cronin: "The real Grand Cru to come out of this will be the wealth of information from all the hands on research."

Graham is seeking $350,000 for the project. Perks for donating include an invite to the launch party ($250) that will be held in 2025 and includes a bottle of wine from the vineyard. For $35, contributors will receive a tasting webinar with Grahm while for $75 they can name their own grape variety. And for $800, donors will receive dinner for four at the estate. So far Grahm has raised $7,715 and there are 31 days left to contribute. Check out the campaign's video about the project below: