The drought may have turned all of California into a pitiless desert in the popular imagination, but a week in July spent visiting fine-wine regions all around the state painted a more nuanced picture.
From the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, to El Dorado in the Sierra Foothills, to Napa Valley and the Sonoma Coast, the drought, now in its fourth year, has affected every area differently. Some regions have been hard hit, like eastern Paso Robles on the Central Coast and the Central Valley, source of much of the grapes that go into cheap bulk wines. But other regions, like the North Coast, are bearing up well.
While individual estates may feel the pain of the drought keenly, the California wine industry has continued to prosper through it.
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.
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.
A magnum of the 2014 Red Car Rosé is chilled during the IPOB tasting in New York.