Vineyard under a purple sky


Odd name for a wine, what? “The Language of Yes” or La Langue d’Oc is the term that medieval folk of southern France and adjacent environs used to describe who they were by how they spoke (differentiating themselves from “La langue d’oil” spoken by their northern neighbors – a oui bit of parochialism, non?) “The Language of Yes,” a precursor of modern Provençal, is a window to a particular sensibility – the language of the love poetry of the troubadours – one that esteemed passion and romance above cerebration and most significantly, expressed a deep, almost mystical love of the land.

Map of Languedoc Roussillon

So, what’s up, d’Oc? “The Language of Yes” is the language we seek to articulate in our dar-flung New World outpost in the Central Coast of California, a dedication to affirmation and positivity. Great wine can only come from vignerons who love their land deeply, and whose love poetry is the vinous expression of their passion. The Language of Yes wines preserve the old ways, revealing the utmost respect for the integrity of the sites from which they derive. The raising of the wine is done with the lightest possible hand, allowing the natural exuberance of the vines, the grapes, the wine and the winemaker to joyously emerge, unmistakably pronouncing The Language of Yes.

All of the above is just fancy way of saying that The Language of Yes owes a cultural and aesthetic, even moral debt to the wines and vignerons of southern France. However, bear in mind that what we are trying to achieve here is not to blindly emulate the Frenchies, but rather, to try and find our own original style and voice, informed by the uniqueness of the vineyards, climats, and by the (mostly) sunny disposition of the Central Coast of California. The Language of Yes is certainly a journey of discovery, continuously working rather more to find. than to create complexity and soulfulness in the vines and wines.

Historical image of Rue de l"Amandier in Montpellier


An obsession with terroir-driven wines, uncommon varietals, and the Central Coast of California is what brought legendary winemaker Randall Grahm and Joe C. Gallo, founder of Maze Row Wine Merchant, together in a collaboration aimed to be a vehicle for Randall’s pioneering work. A few of the key folks:


Vine reaching towards purple sky

The pink wine is inspired by the very obscure variety, Tibouren, found rather sparsely in Provence’ but also showing up in Liguria, where it travels under the name of Rossese, producing haunting, lighter-bodied reds reminiscent of Burgundy transposed to a slightly rustic octave. Tibouren is a grape perfectly suited to pink wine; fruity and juicy but also expressive of a slightly herbal note, sometimes evoking the garrigue or underbrush of the limestone soils of southern France; Tibouren wines (even the pink!) are known for their great longevity and capacity for evolution. Along with Tibouren, we’ve blended Cinsaut, a brilliant if tragically misunderstood variety. Both the Tibouren and Cinsaut are sourced from the Creston Ridge Vineyard Pomar district of Paso Robles. Yields of both varieties are carefully controlled and aggressively thinned for uniformity in ripening.

The red wines currently due for imminent release are Grenache and Syrah, both grown in the Rancho Réal Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley. It has been a great misunderstanding, at least in my opinion, that these two particular Rhône varieties are best suited to warmer climes. Indeed, grown at the hyper-cool location of Rancho Réal, both varieties have the opportunity to enjoy a preternaturally long growing season, thus developing a startling degree of complexity and articulation. There are certain exceptionally interesting aromatic compounds, to wit, rotundone, the molecule that imparts the quality of pepperiness to wines, a sesquiterpene somewhat ubiquitous in many grapes that we know and love, and whose formation is favored by cooler climes, lower light conditions and a long hang time on the vine. The Rancho Réal vineyard is one of the coolest sites where vines are successfully grown in California. In the future, we are looking to potentially expand the planted acreage at Rancho Réal with a range of particularly expressive clones/biotypes of Syrah, Grenache and Cinsaut, in search of an added dimension of complexity and nuance.


The leading proponent of the grape in France is the domaine, Clos Cibonne, which features Tibouren in virtually all of its cuvées; they are so head-over-heels about the variety, they were able to successfully lobby for the word, Tibouren to be included prominently on the front label along with the Côtes de Provence appellation.

Cinsault might well qualify as the Rodney Dangerfield of grape varieties. Large clustered, pale in color and poor in tannin, it is sometimes unfairly dismissed as not “serious.” (It is in fact also grown as a table grape in Southern France and North Africa.) But Cinsault, especially grown in cooler climes, expresses a haunting perfume of griotte cherries, and imparts a delicate topnote to any wine in which it is deployed.

Tibouren, at least in Provence, exhibits the vexatious characteristic of rather uneven ripening, in part a function of its unreliable fruit set, making what would otherwise be a dream variety slightly nightmarish. There actually seems to be a reason that the grape has not been universally adopted by every vigneron of southern France.)

‘Let’s start with: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Pinot d’Aunis, Mondeuse Blanche, Duras, Schioppettino, Teroldego, Gamay, Corvina, and Grüner Veltliner

One very startling hypothesis is that the plant’s elaboration of rotundone may well be a response to perceived fungal disease pressure, which of course is associated with cooler, wetter sites. I imagine I have observed this phenomenon myself years ago with the variety, Grenache, in Monterey County, where I noted truly heroic levels of pepperiness in a certain vineyard, but there is little mention of this effect in the grape literature. It is Olivier Geffroy, an aroma researcher in Toulouse (whose license plate reads ROTUNDONE, who has proposed this hypothesis.


There’s far too much (red)undant, (white)dundant, and frankly (pink)dundant wine sloshing around in the world, but there is always a shortage of original and, dare we say, inspirational wine produced. As I mentioned before, The Language of Yes wines are not meant to copy any sort of Platonic form, but rather, are an exploration of what original expressions we are capable of achieving in our climes. The effort is to eschew the intrusive effects of gaudy vinous maquillage (exogenous inputs) but use more gentle techniques to coax out complexity. One such technique, since you have asked, is the practice of passerillage, or post-harvest drying of the grapes before crushing; we do this in the cool Rancho Réal Vineyard by placing the grapes on paper raisin trees in the shade of the vine itself. This practice allows for a slight dehydration and concentration of the grapes and as significantly, a maturation (or lignification of the stems of the bunches). When the stems are more or less lignified, they are an excellent source of tannin, supporting the overall structure of a wine; the inclusion of the whole clusters allows for a slow release of grape sugar into the fermenting must, which improves the kinetics of the fermentation, thus creating a much slower and controlled process, less stressful for the yeast and winemaker). “Clean” (non-stressed fermentations are a particularly helpful complement to the process that we term “reductive élevage,” central to the style of The Language of Yes.

Vine against a blue sky

We plan to air-dry the Cinsaut for a new red wine this year, but since it comes from a significantly warmer site, air drying al fresco is not a realistic possibility. The plan for the moment is to air-dry the fruit in the cellar of Edna Valley very slowly but for a longer period to achieve a greater degree of dehydration – not unlike the process of making Amarone. If the timing works, the Cinsaut will then be co-fermented with Syrah from Rancho Real that will be harvested approximately a month later.

Green stem are generally not what one wishes to include in one’s red fermenters; they impart a sort of herbaceous stalkiness that is more than slightly rustic and frankly, a bit of a distraction. It is scant consolation that in the fullness of time (usually on the order of 15-20 years or so), the “greenness” of the wine is ultimately transformed into a very pleasant minty character, but likely the bottles have been dispatched well before then.

I understand that we’re perhaps really getting into the weeds here, but pay attention, THIS IS IMPORTANT. A “reductive” (or oxygen exclusionary) élevage (literally, “raising up” or “cellaring”) protects the “fruit” and freshness of a wine as it ages, as well as allows for the formation of earthy complexing notes. Minimization of oxygen ingress is generally accomplished through substantial lees retention (they’re oxygen scavengers), infrequent (or no) racking, more frequent barrel topping and the utilization of larger and less porous storage vessels.

Stressed yeast will produce during fermentation certain sulfur-containing compounds, which one does not wish to have persist in one’s wine as it matures, except at virtually homeopathic levels.

Another note on reductive élevage sur lie: The wine it produces tends to have a greater degree of textural integrity, a kind of warmth or “wholesomeness,” such as one finds in a dish that has been braised for a long period of time.

In addition to the utilization of non viti-normative grape varieties in the pink wine, we are planning an interesting variant in the élevage of same: the utilization of 5-gallon carboys, holding the wine sur lie. The very small size of the vessel provides a most favorable surface area/volume ratio for the efficient autolysis of the yeast lees into the wine. Any follower of my work over the years knows that I’m a most enthusiastic fan of the power of wine lees; they keep the wine fresh and protected over time as well as add enormously to the creamy texture and length of a wine, a distinct savoriness or umami character. A propose of all powerful and delicious things, this stratagem must be deployed with wisdom and discretion. Too much of a great thing – think truffle oil – is, well, too much.

A propos of all powerful and delicious things

While we are certainly not beyond the use of innovative (or even back to the future winemaking techniques, the primary method of achieving originality is (as it must be based in the vineyard. We are planning a series of agronomic initiatives involving both irrigation practice and the use of certain soil amendments to enhance homeostasis (or self-regulation of the plant, helping to better cope with a range of stresses – disease, drought, and heat. We are particularly intrigued by the proposed use of a biochar/compost mixture, which has the property of enhancing both water holding capacity and the formation of symbiotic microbial associations in the vine roots, enhancing mineral uptake. Ecco, a terroir amplifier! As mentioned before, I am a strong advocate of biological and genetic diversity in vineyards; this is also a powerful technique for introducing unique complexity and likely sustainability/longevity. While wine is arguably a creature of a day, its appreciation is also an affirmation of a great cultural tradition, one that binds us both to the past and inexorably to an aspirational future.

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