In Pursuit of Bullshit?

By Michael Eigen

Have you all read the article from the New York Times that talks about the Pursuit of Balance movement in California? Here it is!  I’ll give you a minute to read it over. Done yet? Good. So what did you think?

The article touches on some very interesting and hot button points in the wine industry and it is really not so easy to parse. On one side, you have this group called In Pursuit of Balance that is seeking to convince us that they know better what we want to drink, and that we’ve had it all wrong all these years. Wine shouldn’t taste good as long as it’s balanced. Still with me?

On the other side you have Robert Parker, the controversial creator of the 100 point rating system and a man many hold responsible for “ruining” wine with his over the top palate.

It creates an interesting debate. As the Grand Old Man of modern wine, Parker is an easy target for the younger generations who have seen what he has done. And what exactly has he done? I don’t think you can overstate his influence in creating awareness; but on this point I agree with the balance guys: Parker has in many ways homogenized wine and has created a style of wine that is big, often overripe, and oaky. The key knock against Parker is that his wines lose a sense of terroir and to the balance guys this is unpardonable. As if.

For years there have been attempts to create expressions of terroir in the New World, so please explain to me why these guys know better than everyone that came before them? Terroir is an expression of place and in most case California grapes tend toward ripeness. That’s geography. So what they are really saying is that they are actually going against terroir to create wines that are not necessarily representative of the area, rather they are representative of the entitled sense that they know what’s better for us. So they have created the first Nanny State wine. Ignore the fact that it doesn’t taste that good, this is the only way you should make wine.

I was talking to someone in the wine business about this yesterday, and he referred to In Pursuit of Balance as the “cool kids club”. He noted that some of his wineries couldn’t even get into the group. So you have a bunch of smarter-than-everyone winemakers making up their own pronouncements and rules and then trying to shove them down the throats of some poor hipsters in Williamsburg. There is no reason wine should not be delicious and you can make delicious wines that are in balance and terroir driven. Just ask someone in Burgundy.

I started this trying to maintain “balance” in my ideas but the more I think about it, if I start to agree with Parker then I have an issue with these guys.

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