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. ]
1WineDude TV Episode 59: In Pursuit of Balance with Jasmine Hirsch
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)
14 thoughts on “1WineDude TV Episode 59: In Pursuit Of Balance (And Ridiculously Good California Pinot) 2014”
The cinematography on that video is incredible.
You'd do well to practice your Academy Awards speech now…
I'd be interested, in a Devil's Advocate kind of way, to know what wineries In Pursuit of Balance rejected for admission. And why. I don't expect them to respond, why would they?, but maybe those wineries would like to speak up. Maybe I just like unbalanced winemakers.
Ron, agreed, but I suppose we've got as much chance at seeing that as we have of Robert Parker giving us backrubs.
Robert Parker gives you back rubs? Glad I'm no Robert Parker….
Well, you've never seen my back…
Joe, I actually know one winery that, I was told by a very reliable source, was turned down by IPOB, and wasn't happy about it. The winery has been making balanced and pretty wines for years, and was perplexed at the rejection. My guess? Not trendy enough.
Ron, one tasting panel's balanced wines are another's disjointed wines, I suppose. It could be fun to do a tasting of wines rejected from these tastings. Regarding trendy, I noticed after the fact that Twomey was there at ipob (at a section that I didn't even manage to get over to see, since I waste 75% of these tastings gabbing), and while I've no doubt the they deserved a spot (I'm a fan myself), their Silver Oak ownership probably is not viewed as trendy in the circle of tasters that ipob is courting.
I'll admit that when I first saw the list I was surprised that Arnot-Roberts and Rhys wouldn't be there. They both seem to be making "balanced" pinot and chardonnay.
Jason – agreed. Though I've no indication they tried out and were rejected. I suppose that we could come up with a dozen more names that weren't included but make killer PN or Chard…
Jason and Joe,
I remember Arnot-Roberts being at one of the IPOB tastings in San Francisco, so they may still be part of it. Rhys is great wine, to be certain, and would surely be included if they asked. Let's not forget that, in essence, IPOB is a marketing tool for Jasmine and Raj, a very successful marketing tool, but, at the end of the day, more about selling themselves than promoting wines with balance. Winemakers have been IPOB since winemaking began. The notion that Jasmine and Raj get to decide what that is is ludicrous on the best day.
Ron, I’m not disagreeing with you, but I’m also not sure it’s any more ludicrous than when I decide if a wine is any good…
Over at Steve Heimoff's wine blog, and James Laube's wine blog, they have both characterized the 2011 vintage California wines as being afflicted with mold and mildew:
"An inconvenient truth about Pinot Noir" | STEVE HEIMOFF
Excerpt: The problems I’ve encountered with rot, mold, green tannins and flavors and vegetal notes in Pinot Noirs from 2010 and 2011 are worse than anything in my previous experience. It’s been truly shocking. Erratic, too: wineries that bottle numerous vineyard-designated Pinots (as so many do nowadays) will have one that’s ripe, and another that’s green and moldy–often from the same appellation. There are some famous brands that, in my opinion, should have declassified their wines, especially the 2011s; but declassification is rare in California.
The numbers express it interestingly:
2011 Pinots I scored over 90 points: 127
2009 Pinots I score over 90 points: 489
"More on the troubling 2011 vintage" | STEVE HEIMOFF
Excerpt: . . . “musty” and “moldy” aromas and accompanying bad flavors are exactly what plagues so many 2011s. That, and a generalized unripeness across the board.
"The Curtain Is Dropping on California's 2011 Vintage" – Wine Spectator
Excerpt: 2011 is the first vintage I can recall where there are a significant number of wines marked by a high presence of musty and even moldy flavors.
Was there any discussion of this phenomenon at IPOB?
(I see a good number of 2011 vintage wines in the tasting line-up.)
Bob, there weren't any sessions apart from the tasting, so we didn't get into it generally. From what I tasted, there weren't any mold aroma issues, but we are talking about a very small subset here of CA PNs at the tasting.
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