Two years ago, after tasting at the 2012 incarnation of the In Pursuit of Balance event (a bi-coastal roadshow of largely classy, vibrant, and restrained California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay offerings), I expressed surprise at the quality of wines coming out of the collaboration between sommelier Raj Parr and winemaker Sashi Moorman.
So after tasting at the 2014 incarnation of IPOB in NYC earlier this year, I shouldn’t have been surprised at the quality of wines coming out of the collaboration between sommelier Raj Parr and winemaker Sashi Moorman.
But I was, because where they’d hit it out of the park in 2012, they launched it clear out of the park, bounced it off the hood of a shiny Corvette Stingray convertible in the stadium parking lot, and sent just about into escape velocity and geosynchronous orbit in 2014. But more on that in a minute or two, after you watch the interview I did with Raj’s cohort and IPOB’s co-founder Jasmine Hirsch, to discuss the impetus behind the event, and how they graduated from brainstorming a wish list of participating winemakers and wines on the back of a cocktail napkin, to formally selecting the IPOB touring lineup. [ Special thanks to The Drunken Cyclist for the camerawork, and to Jasmine for staving off minor starvation for a few minutes so we could chat on vid. ]
All done? Good. Now let’s get to the tasting notes, because in this case, the wines themselves are most definitely the story…
I was a media guest at the event, and as always, I didn’t even attempt to taste all of the wines, because I require a functioning liver and coherent speech to get me through the day, and because I don’t want palate fatigue clouding my judgment. So I’ll give you a rundown of the highlights from the portion of the lineup through which I did taste… and you’re going to want to pay attention to many of these, which teaches from delicious on one end to profound on the other. The short version is that IPOB has evolved to encompass some of the most exciting wines being produced in CA, displaying, somehow both smugly and proudly, the kind of products that prove not only that the give-me-anything-but-your-dad’s-CA-style-wine hipsters will have their day, but that they deserve their day. And I’m not using hyperbole there (but I will probably use it below, because I’m that kind of nerd and cannot help myself, at least for the two selections that most blew me away, and will be the focus of our virtual time together today, for which I swear I dressed up and even shaved… okay, not really, but I wanted to make you feel as though I cared…).
Anyway, it’s a testament to what Parr and Hirsch have done in bringing these producers together on display to note that I could easily have written features on any number of the producers taking part in the event, and that lineup is as chockfull of strong contenders as any I can recall in recent memory. As it stands, I’ll focus on the two standouts, but you’d do well to check out any of the wines included below (in which you’ll notice some interesting patterns, such as the Savoy vineyard really coming into its own, likely a benefit from increased investment from new owner Cliff Lede).
In the “A” range
2011 Domaine de la Côte “La Côte” Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills, $90)
This is a wine that is, simply put, stupid amounts of good. The fruit comes from pure shale plantings which, according to Moorman, are on “a very soft shale,” which must be code for ‘it produces reedonclous superfruit’ because, well, that’s how this beauty by Parr’s and Moorman’s new collaboration tastes. Cloves, then wet stones, then ripe red berries, and a palate that’s Virgin-Mother immaculate in its spicy, lithe, and full expression. The fruit gives way to spices and black tea, then moves back to spices and again to fruit, playing through the migration for what seems like several minutes on the finish. It’s impeccable, with purity and staying power. It made me want to knee Moorman in the crotch in a jealous rage, then pick him back up and hug him in thanks for crafting something so excellent. Shut up, I told you there was going to be some hyperbole, but this PN deserves every twisted word of it.
2011 Hirsch “Reserve” Estate Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $85)
From older parcels comes this ringer crafted by winemaker Ross Cobb, who I think still owes me money for putting in the good word for him in landing his consulting gig with the Claypools (I’m not holding my breath in terms of collecting, by the way). This might be the best wine Cobb’s ever had a hand in crafting, with only about 400 cases made, using fruit from Hirsch’s older parcels. It’s a baby now, pretty, structured, vibrant, but close to the vest. Sweet red fruits begrudgingly peek out, but the bottom line is that this is a stunner in the waiting, with an undeniable purity at its core that will take time to mature and come out of its shell.
I know… I know… it’s a bit much. But those wines reminded me of why I haul my butt out to tasting events in the first place, and made me downright happy to be in this business (which, given the natural progression innocent enthusiasm being lost to jaded sense of entitlement that is the hallmark of one’s career in almost any field – wine writing included – is probably saying something.
In the “A-“ range
2011 Anthill Farms Winery “Campbell Ranch Vineyard: Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $46)
2009 Cobb “Joy Road Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $70)
2010 Cobb “Coastland Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $70)
2008 Cobb “Jack Hill Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $70)
2012 Failla “Haynes Vineyard” Chardonnay (Coombsville, $55)
2012 Failla “Keefer Ranch” Pinot Noir (Russian River Valley, $48)
2012 Failla “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley, $55)
2012 Hirsch Vineyards Estate Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast, $65)
2011 Hirsch Vineyards “San Andreas Fault” Estate Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $62)
2011 Matthiasson “Michael Mara Vineyards” Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast, $45)
2011 The Ojai Vineyard “Puerta Del Mar” Chardonnay (Santa Barbara County, $33)
2011 The Ojai Vineyard “Kick On Ranch” Pinot Noir (Santa Barbara County, $56)
2012 Peay Vineyards “Pomarium” Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $56)
2012 Peay Vineyards “Savoy Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Anderson Valley. $54)
2012 Sandhi Wines Chardonnay (Sta. Rita Hills, $35)
2012 Sandhi Wines “Rita’s Crown” Chardonnay (Sta. Rita Hills, $50)
2012 Sandhi Wines “Rinconada” Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills, $55)
In the “B+” range
2011 Anthill Farms “Comptche Ridge Vineyard” Pinot Noir (Mendocino County, $46)
2012 Anthill Farms Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $34)
2011 Domaine De La Côte Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills, $50)
2012 Failla Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $34)
2012 Failla Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast, $34)
2012 Matthiasson “Linda Vista Vineyard” Chardonnay (Napa Valley, $25)
2011 The Ojai Vineyard “Solomon Hills” Chardonnay (Santa MAria Valley, $33)
2012 Peay Vineyards Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast, $42)
2012 Peay Vineyards Pinot Noir (Sonoma Coast, $42)
2012 Sandhi Wines Santa Barbara County Chardonnay (Santa Barbara County , $28)
2012 Sandhi Wines Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills, $35)
2012 Sandhi Wines Amrita “Wenzlau” Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills, $45)