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John Grochau has lots to say about the wine and bike racing scenes. After becoming a solid amateur racer in the US, he moved to the Loire Valley of France where he trained, ate and drank. He always loved bike culture--it was a little more folksy and less professionalized than other sports. So too was the wine scene in the Loire. Wine was on the table with dinner, whatever the food. It was not a statement of class or refinement.
When he returned home to Portland, OR, John started sniffing about for his next great adventure. The only thing that held his attention long enough was food and wine. After a dozen years in restaurants, he cast out on his own and built Grochau Cellars.
"I just have no interest in trophy wines. I don’t want to make a wine that only 15% or 20% of the population can afford"
Along the way he developed a commitment to showcasing the culture of wine he encountered in Europe. “I just have no interest in trophy wines,” he told us. “I really don’t like the exclusivity. I don’t want to make a wine that only 15 or 20% of the population can afford. I want to make an amazing daily drinker.”
Today, John eschews trophies of all sorts ($120 wines, $3,000 bikes with in-built iPads) in favor of creative, approachable wines that reflect the Oregon of his youth. That means a little punk rock, a little unconventional thinking and a hell of a lot of fun. In addition to the stable of wines he releases under the Grochau Cellars label, he started the Etheric Wine Project as a place to house his ambitious, experimental efforts. He also still throws down fast times on Strava.
As the pandemic roared across the US in early 2020, we all headed into our homes in search of something to do. One of the most popular diversions was Sourdough Mania. Take a look at the Google search volume for “Sourdough”, “Sourdough Starter” and “Make sourdough at home” in the graph below:
The frenzy led to a shortage of sourdough starters. From Boulder to Burlington, Vermont, there were reports of desperate bakers trading their last roll of organic bamboo toilet paper for yeast in their local Whole Foods parking lot.
If you too were sucked into the trend, you have a leg up in your understanding of pied de cuve, and also likely ahead of the rest of your Peloton class.
Pied de Cuve (foot of the tank) is a process by which a winemaker begins fermenting a small amount of grapes before the full harvest has come in. It works sort of like a sourdough starter. This process jumpstarts the population of natural yeast.
Why we mention it: John uses this technique in a number of his fermentations--particularly important since he uses native yeasts which can lead to a tricky fermentations.
Tell us more about how riding bikes led you to wine?
I started racing bicycles as a teenager, and I was good enough to rise to the top amateur ranks. I needed to pay the bills, so I started doing some restaurant work. The big advantage was that they fed me, and I was racing so frequently that food was as good as money. I landed a job at a fine dining restaurant because the head chef was a customer at the bike store. The owner was a wine lover, and he just started teaching me bit by bit. If I ever had a question that he couldn’t answer, he would pick up a book and look it up. That instilled in me an interest in self-education.
You spent time racing in the Loire valley. Did you just drink all the time?
Honestly, not really. I was racing a lot. But what I did learn is that wine is integrated with all parts of culture in this amazing way. It’s not about special occasions and celebrations, it’s just a part of life and a part of a meal.
What does wine culture have to learn from bike culture?
When I started biking in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was a bit like cross country running. In the US at least, it was for the misfits and renegades. It’s also a lifelong pursuit that’s centered on perseverance, of going and going and going. My first wines weren’t perfect. I didn’t start out with this idealized philosophy of what I wanted to be or do, but I got there over time. More and more, I’ve moved towards wanting to just create a good drink that reflects the place it’s from, and that doesn’t show too much of the hand of the winemaker. But getting to that place took a lot of effort, a lot of attempts.
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