Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon, Popelouchum

Winemaker Randall Grahm is attempting to breed 10,000 new winegrape cultivars [Photo by Ted Holladay, courtesy Bonny Doon Vineyards]

For winegrapes, the challenge of climate change lies principally in drought resistance, disease resistance, and flavor. With his Popelouchum Project, Randall Grahm, winemaker and creative force at Bonny Doon Vineyard in Davenport, Calif., is tackling all three.

His plan is to start by planting part of his 280-acre property (outside of San Juan Bautista, Calif.) with some 30 French and Italian grape varieties on drought-resistant rootstock. Over the course of several years’ observation, some will be selected as parents in an audacious attempt to breed 10,000 brand new cultivars. Just a few years into this ambitious project, basic infrastructure has been constructed and rootstocks are in the ground. They’ll be given a year or two to get established before being grafted over to something that will be allowed to bear fruit.

The key to it all will, of course, be picking parent plants with the most potential to produce interesting offspring that not only have the practical attributes of disease resistance but also the undefinable qualities of elegance and minerality. Genetic inputs may come from cultivars bred by Andrew Walker at the University of California at Davis, which show resistance to both mildew and Pierce’s disease, or possibly from a different grape species such as Vinifera arizonica. The results will be a long time in coming—a decade, at least. It’s easy to be seduced by the possibilities, however, and captivated by the notion of a brand new wine that embodies the ineffable qualities of an American terroir.