SF Wine Blog

Exploring wine in and around San Francisco.

In Pursuit of Balance: A Primer


The hot topic in the Pinot-loving wine world right now centers on one word:  balance.  Indeed, a debate has erupted over the definition of  “balanced Pinot,” as illustrated in this NY Times wine column by Eric Asimov and the subsequent Twitter-fueled fallout.

One of the most eagerly anticipated tasting events, In Pursuit of Balance (“IPOB”), has helped spur the discussion.  And  it seems there is strong demand for this type of dialogue (at least among the Bay Area wine drinking community):  tickets to the public tasting sold out in a few work days.

I’m not going to weigh in on the “balance” debate at this point, but will do a post-IPOB wrap-up next week.  For now, I just thought I’d provide some resources for those of you interested in learning more about the “balance” issue.

IPOB Panel Discussion Webcast

Prior to the IPOB public tasting, there will be a distinguished group of panelists discussing (you guessed it) balance and Pinot Noir.  You can watch the live webcast through GastroTommy – http://www.gastrotommy.com/webcast – from Noon – 1pm PDT on Monday, March 28.  You can even submit questions for the panel by logging on to Twitter and using the #IPOB hashtag.

Vanessa Wong (Winemaker/Owner, Peay Vineyards)
Wells Guthrie (Winemaker/Owner, Copain)
Jeffrey Patterson (Winemaker/Owner, Mount Eden Vineyards)
Sashi Moorman(Winemaker, Evening Land Vineyards)
Geoff Kruth, MS (Director of Operations – Guild of Sommeliers and Wine Director – Farmhouse Inn).

On Site Moderator: Ray Isle (Wine Editor, Food & Wine Magazine)
Web Moderator:  Ward Kadel (Wine Ambassador for WineLog.net and EnjoyBordeaux.com)

Background Reading

Below are a few articles, mainly from the point of view of those promoting lower alcohol Pinot Noir.

  • March 2009 NY Times article by Eric Asimov regarding California Pinot producers going championing a more restrained style.  Props given to many of the IPOB participants including Au Bon Climat, Calera, Copain, Littorai, and Peay.  See also Asimov’s related blog post on the same subject, and providing more details regarding his preferred Pinot producers.
    • Key quote:  “In the current issue of Wine Spectator, the highest-scoring pinot noir from California is described as ‘superrich, bordering on syrupy.’  Those are apparently compliments.  Now, I haven’t tried that wine, but I can’t say those qualities are what I desire in a pinot noir.  I prefer words like elegant and energetic….”
  • March 5, 2011 Vinography summary of “Alcohol Levels and Balance in Pinot Noir” panel during World of Pinot Noir Conference.  The panel was moderated by Eric Asimov, and included Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat), Adam Tolmach (Ojai Vineyards), Josh Jensen (Calera Wine Company), Rajat Parr (RN74 Restaurant), Adam Lee (Siduri Wines), and Michael Browne (Kosta Browne).  Make sure to read the comments section, too, especially Adam’s explanation of the events that transpired.
    • Key quote:  “I personally don’t like higher alcohols . The sign of great wine is complexity, not horsepower.” – Josh Jensen, Calera Wine Co.
  • March 13, 2011 SF Chronicle article by Jon Bonné regarding same, and mentioning upcoming In Pursuit of Balance event.
    • Key quote:  “What’s quietly losing favor, then, are those inky, oak-loaded Pinots made for flash and impact, for success with a handful of critics who are slowly fading into the background. These wines have contributed to the de-Pinoting of Pinot as much as the bottom-shelf stuff.”

List of Participating Wineries

For your continued reading pleasure, here are links to the different wineries that will be participating in the IPOB tasting.  I’ve included the names of the current winemakers and the source of at least some of the Pinots produced by these wineries.

Alta Maria Vineyards (Central Coast)
James Ontiveros and Paul Wilkins

Ambullneo Vineyards (Central Coast)
Gregg Linn

Au Bon Climat (Central Coast)
Jim Clendenen

Calera Wine Company (Central Coast)
Josh Jensen

Ceritas Wine (Sonoma Coast)
John Raytek

Chanin Wine Company (Central Coast)
Gavin Chanin

Cobb Wines (Sonoma Coast)
Ross Cobb

Copain Wines (Anderson Valley)
Wells Guthrie
[NOTE – Wells will be at Arlequin Wine Merchants in Hayes Valley for a tasting this Thursday.  See our weekly events post for more information].

Evening Land Vineyards (various sites, including Sonoma Coast and Oregon)
Sashi Moorman

Flowers Vineyard & Winery (Sonoma Coast)
Darrin Low

Freestone Vineyards (Sonoma Coast)
Theresa Heredia

Hirsch Vineyards (Sonoma Coast)
Ross Cobb

Kutch Wines (Sonoma Coast / Anderson Valley / Russian River Valley)
Jamie Kutch

LIOCO (Sonoma Coast / Anderson Valley / Monterey / Russian River Valley)
Kevin Kelley

Littorai (Sonoma Coast / Anderson Valley / Russian River Valley)
Ted Lemon

Miura Vineyards (Monterey / Santa Lucia Highlands) [no website]
Emmanual Kemiji
NOTE: Miura is doing a winemaker’s dinner at 1300 Fillmore on April 13.

Mount Eden Vineyards (Santa Cruz)
Jeffrey Patterson

Native9 (Central Coast)
James Ontiveros and Paul Wilkins

Peay Vineyards (Sonoma Coast)
Vanessa Wong

Sandhi Wines (Central Coast)
Sashi Moorman

Soliste Wine (Sonoma Coast / Russian River Valley)
Claude Koeberle & Donald Plumley

Tyler Winery (Central Coast)
Justin Willett

Wind Gap Wines (Sonoma Coast)
Pax Mahle


2 thoughts on “In Pursuit of Balance: A Primer

  1. Pingback: Vinopanion | Blog | In Pursuit of Balance: Pinot in the Spotlight

  2. Pingback: On Balance: A Recap of IPOB | SF Wine Blog: having fun with wine

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