Randle Johnson has forgotten more about grapevines, soil, and wine than many of today’s new winemakers will ever know. A medical student turned viticulturist and winemaker with a multi-page resumé and 40-plus vintages notched on his pruning shears, Randle is a practical wine-man of the first order. From Mount Veeder, to Mendocino, to Sonoma, to Argentina’s Calchaqui Valley: from Cab, to Zin, to Malbec to Verdelho, Randle is a living, breathing search engine on all things vino. Yet, the eternally curious winemaker with a particular love interest in Zinfandel as the longtime winemaker for Artezin, is known to say humbly, “There should never be a day in the wine industry that you do not learn at least a few new things.”
Yes, from doing comes wisdom.
Literally a mom and pop operation, Randle and his wife, MaryLee Johnson, have been making and offering small lots of homegrown and hand-crafted wines in St. Helena since 1979. They named their winery Calafia after the mythical queen of an island in a book written in 1503 by the Spanish author Montalvo. Spanish explorers charting Baja made reference to the book’s Queen Calafia and it’s widely believed that this is the origin of the place name California.
And getting to spend time tasting and learning about wines with this affable master of grapes is a special treat. For a tasting of their small-production wines, including a Rockpile Zinfandel, arrange a visit with Randle and MaryLee at their vineyard on Fulton Lane in St, Helena.
In addition to a box of prized bottles and memories, expect to come away from Calafia with a deeper appreciation for growing and crafting Zinfandel, plus a few fun facts about California history – and Spanish literature.