Pursuing Balance In New York

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Comparing two Kutch wines at the IPOB conference in New York on Feb. 23

Today is the annual In Pursuit of Balance conference in San Francisco and here I am at my desk, fidgeting, stalking #IPOB on Twitter and Instagram, and wishing I was there – even though it was only a couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to attend the New York event.

I heard Ted Lemon give his Keynote on the history of California wine, followed by a seminar on how winemakers try to achieve their goals of “balance.” A few hours later, I took full advantage of the public tasting with 33 California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers.

As a non-industry participant, it was fascinating to hear winemakers talk about their decision-making processes, and then taste the wines that corresponded to their achievements and falters. It was as if I was eaves-dropping on their private club. Those who have followed IPOB know that the entire industry does not  necessarily embrace this group, and as Food and Wine Magazine Wine Editor Ray Isle teased in his introduction to the panel discussion, he thought he was coming to the “IPOB Church” and it was “nice to know this was a discussion and not a cult,” which gained laughter from the audience. 

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The “Getting It Right” panel moderated by Food and Wine Magazine Wine Editor Ray Isle (left), winemakers Andy Peay, Bradley Brown and Jamie Kutch, and Sommelier Raj Vaidya (right).

Rajat Parr, the famed sommelier and winery owner who hosts the event with Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards, was clear to point out prior to the panel that the purpose of IPOB is to have a “discussion among friends” and it’s about “learning from each other… It’s not a fight against someone, not a ‘we’re better, they’re bad,’ it’s not that.”

As a first-timer here (these events began in 2011), I believe they were successful in that. Here are 33 winemakers who all have similar goals. This is not just an opportunity for them to have internal dialogues and market their wines to the industry, but a very approachable way for enthusiasts like myself to learn. Follow this up with the opportunity to taste and have individual conversations with the winemakers during the tasting portion of the event and you can’t deny it’s a fun experience for your mind and your taste buds! 

The group has posted videos of their seminars on its website. If you’re a fan of these wines, it’s worth the watch.

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A magnum of the 2014 Red Car Rosé is chilled during the IPOB tasting in New York.

Wine School – Week 2!

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(Photo: A 1996 bottle of Chateau Sociando-Mallet bottle from Haut Medoc, in Bordeaux. It was opened at a gathering I went to last week. Little did I realize, later that week I would be learning about the region. )

Last night’s class was all about varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. But it’s impossible to talk about those grapes without lessons in winemaking, climate and geography. It served as a wonderful reminder of how well-rounded studying wine can be. 

As I mentioned last week, I don’t want to rehash my classes, but I do think it’s fun to leave behind some random facts (not necessarily part of the lesson plan). Here are a few from last night:

  • There’s less sulfer in a bottle of wine, than in trail mix. The sulfer dioxide that many people are afraid of helps keeps grapes oxidized, it fights mildew in the vineyards and fights against yeast and bacteria in the wine.
  • Even though Burgundy is usually associated with Pinot Norir, more than 60 percent of the region is planted with Chardonnay.
  • The hotter the season, the more rapidly acid falls. Wines from cooler climates have higher acidity levels than those from warm and hot climates.
  • A lot of Chardonnay now grows in China and North India, too.
  • Irrigation is not (or very rarely) allowed in Burgundy, unless you obtain special permission, which is hard to do.
  • A fair guestimate that about 95 percent of all wines don’t get better with bottle age.
  • New Zealand now makes more Sauvignon Blanc than France.  
  • Our instructor highly recommends trying a White Bordeaux from the Pessac Leognan winegrowing area of Graves.
  • 2012 was a fabulous year for Oregon Pinot Noir.

Probably the most important take away from this class – not related to the formal lesson plan – is that it confirmed my general dislike of many Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux (red) wines (we tasted both a Bordeaux and a California in class). Even when blended with other grapes. Sadly for now, those green bell pepper flavors don’t agree with my palate.  I’m not going to give up on them, and with food pairings and age, maybe I’ll eventually grow to like them.

As for that empty Bordeaux bottle I posted at the top of this page, I did enjoy the wine, but I didn’t ask for a second glass. Instead, I reached for some Burgundy.

Cheers!