“In Pursuit of Balance” Thursday, February 26th 6pm
A few years ago, then Michael Mina Restaurants wine director, Rajat Parr along with Jasmine Hirsch from Hirsch Vineyards, launched a concept they entitled “In Pursuit of Balance”. Here is an excerpt from their website–
“In Pursuit of Balance is a non-profit organization seeking to promote dialogue around the meaning and relevance of balance in California pinot noir and chardonnay.
This growing group of producers is seeking a different direction with their wines, both in the vineyard and the winery. This direction focuses on balance, non-manipulation in the cellar, and the promotion of the fundamental varietal characteristics which make pinot noir and chardonnay great – subtlety, poise and the ability of these grapes to serve as profound vehicles for the expression of terroir”.
Needless to say, it created much controversy, as wineries lined up taking sides/stances on the issue. There is never just one right answer to these things, AND to me, the issues were, in fact, not as important as the questions being asked.
The IPOB website further asks—
“What is balance in pinot noir and why does it matter?
Balance is the foundation of all fine wine. Loosely speaking, a wine is in balance when its diverse components – fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed. The genius of Pinot Noir is found in subtlety and poise, in its graceful and transparent expression of the soils and climate in which it is grown. Balance in Pinot Noir enables these
characteristics to reach their highest expression in a complete wine where no single element dominates the whole. The purpose of this event is to bring together like-minded growers, winemakers, sommeliers, retailers, journalists and consumers who believe in the potential of California to produce profound and balanced Pinot Noirs.
This isn’t a rebellion, but rather a gathering of believers. This is meant to open a dialogue between producers and consumers about the nature of balanced Pinot Noir, including:
- Whole-picture farming and winemaking. Artisan winemaking techniques are a given at this point. Looking beyond that, let’s consider farming, or even pre-farming decisions, and the thought process behind identifying a great terroir. How do these decisions affect the balance of the ultimate wine?
- Growing healthy fruit and maintaining natural acidity to achieve optimum ripeness without being overripe. What is ripeness and what is its relation to balance?
- A question of intention: Can balance in wine be achieved through corrections in the winery or is it the result of a natural process informed by carefully considered intention at every step of the way?
- Reconsidering the importance of heritage Pinot Noir clones with respect to the omnipresent Dijon clones.
What do heritage clones contribute to balanced wine?
Pinot Noir grown on the west coast has been the next big thing for a while now, but perhaps that shouldn’t be the case. Popularity is an exaggeration, a distortion of Pinot Noir’s defining qualities and a distraction from what makes it truly great. As Pinot Noir lovers, we face a collective challenge in the search for truly expressive, honest wine: What must we do to achieve balance in California Pinot Noir?”
For this tasting, we have chosen wines from 4 members of IPOB (from 4 different vintages) to showcase what can be—
from the cool confines of the Anderson Valley, this vineyard is located in the hills to the east, roughly 1300 to 1500 feet elevation, 30+ year old vines—2A & Pommard heritage selections. Business entrepeneur Peter Knez a few years back purchased both Demuth & the adjacent, well renown, celebrated Cerise Vineyard. Both vineyards feature bear wallow soils on a wind pounded hillside. Knez smartly hired Anthony Filiberti of Anthill Farms to over see this project & the wines have so far been pretty darn good–lighter in color, enticingly fragrant, fresh & snappy with wonderful texture, refinement, balance & only 13.2 alcohol, naturally. This is just the beginning………
Jason Drew is one VERY talented winemaker. We have watched, in fascination, him grow & develop over the years & there is NO doubt, he is in the zone right now. The Valenti Vineyard is perched up in the Mendocino Coastal Ridge roughly between 1200 to 1600 feet elevation, planted to 667 & 10% Rochioli cuttings. This 2009 is absolutely gorgeous & well textured. 72 case production. Yes, this boy is on fire right now.
Ojai is the wine project of Adam Tolmach, one of California’s true winemaking masters of all time. Over the years, his wines showcase an Old World sensibility, especially for minerality & balance. This 2008 Clos Pepe Vineyard designate is produced from a Pommard heritage selection harvested at a scant 1.5 ton per acre. This vineyard is continually pounded by a gusting coastal wind, which at least partially accounts for its low vigor. I don’t typically quite understand wines produced from the Clos Pepe vineyard. (Although, I actually prefer the Chardonnay to the Pinot Noir). The wines are often lean, angular & tight fisted. Furthermore, I am not sure this is a Cru quality vineyard, but I would say, Tolmach produced a wonderfully pure, minerally, well balanced, wonderfully textured, classy Pinot which is very tasty, sumptuous & interesting right now. 140 case production.
The Bien Nacido vineyard is very large at over 800 acres. Over the years, the 2 blocks which have really stood out for Pinot Noir are “Q” & “N”. Justin Willett now gets tiny quantities of “N” Block–Martini heritage selection, planted in 1973 on its own roots. (I also believes he gets a tiny bit of Q Block too). As expected, this finished wine displays lots of vinosity & character, much more so than the “G” block fruit he previously worked with, AND much more interesting & provocative. Yes, this is quite a standout & well worth trying to get. Roughly 100 case production.