Today's Pioneers

California has always attracted vanguard winemakers. Here are four who exemplify the state's renewed sense of viticultural adventure. Will Bucklin is among California's growing ranks of natural winemakers. The old zinfandel vines on his Old Hill Ranch in Sonoma (dating to 1851) have deep root systems that mine for water, so Bucklin, 49, can forgo irrigation, keeping grapes small and dense and concentrating flavor. This is just one way he works with nature. "Yes, coyotes eat some grapes, but they also eat gophers," he says. "Gophers turn soil, and getting air down to the roots is important. Lizards live on the old vines and eat insects, and so it goes." --Dara Moskowitz GrumdahlPenny De Los Santos
Ted Lemon is a standard-bearer for the new California focus on terroir. He studied winemaking at the Universite de Bourgogne and became the first American to manage a Burgundian winery in 1982. At Domaine Guy Roulot he learned to "understand wines of place" and to cultivate "patience for things that deviate," including wines that stray from textbook development. At Littorai on the Sonoma coast, Lemon, 52, tends to specific vineyard lots to draw from them wines that telegraph the unique qualities of the landscape. --Jon BonneCourtesy of Littorai
Randall Grahm's Le Cigare Volant, a rich grenache-based red, catapulted him to fame in 1983. Dubbed "the Rhone Ranger" for his obsession with the grapes of that region, Grahm went on to make dozens of wines from grapes that had been overlooked in California. In 2006, Grahm sold off several labels from his Bonny Doon Vineyard and returned to the small production of uncommon varieties. "Bonny Doon is not for 'trophy' wine collectors," says Grahm, 57. "It's for sophisticated palates who have a sense of adventure." --Karen MacNeilCourtesy of Gertrude and Mabel Photography
Vanessa Wong combines the best of new- and old-world winemaking. She followed up her 1992 U.C. Davis degree in viticulture and enology with studies at Bordeaux's Institut d'Oenologie and stints at Chateau Lafite Rothschild and Burgundy's small Domaine Jean Gros. At Peay Vineyard on the Sonoma coast, Wong, 41, makes technically precise yet personal wines with the artisan sensibility she acquired in France. "The whole family is involved," she says of Jean Gros. "They eat and breathe this existence." --J.B.Penny De Los Santos