UPDATE: Renegade wines stir up industry, are available locally

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Update: As is obvious, Sovereignty Wines commented on this post with a big ol' stash of In Pursuit of Balance wines it carries, including Cobb WinesFaillaKutch Wines, and more. Talking on the phone with co-owner Gundega Spons, it's clear the "upstart" winemakers are making interesting stuff, though it's not the cheapest out there.

"They are more expensive. The ones that I listed range from $30 to $60, so they're not going to be your $9.99 bottle you're going to pick up on a Monday night for pizza," Spons says. "Some of them are funky and weird. They're just ... they're handcrafted. They're made with care. They're made with the intention of making wine for a specific palate.

"I hate to pick on Yellow Tail — they just source grapes from wherever they can and dump them in a vat and call them wine, and it doesn't matter what year it is, what the soil was like that day, the weather was that summer, none of that matters to them — but these guys really take their time.

"And yeah, some of them are funky. We like to call it 'The Old World Funk.' Some of them are like that barnyard, which sounds gross to the novice, but is something that a lot of people look forward to."

——— Original post: Tuesday, June 2, 4:31 p.m. ———

Last week, the New York Times Magazine ran a great piece by Bruce Schoenfeld titled "The Wrath of Grapes." In it, we learn about the group In Pursuit of Balance, a collection of some 33 California wine makers who are tired of making "wines they deem generically obvious and overblown" — also known as "Parker wines," after the hugely influential wine critic Robert Parker. They want a sense of place to be obvious in the finished product.

The winemakers are taking the scene by storm, inciting blowback and support along the way, and replacing more traditional wines in restaurants in places like Brooklyn and San Francisco.

It's a little hard to describe what these new wines taste like (and a lack of consistency seems to be part of the fun) and I have yet to personally taste any, but here are some snippets:

• "Parr’s wines are full of aromas and flavors that admirers compare to things you would never think to connect to wine, like the leaf-­strewn ground in a forest. ... He prefers an alcohol concentration below 14 percent and often far lower, depending on the grape variety, as opposed to the 15 percent and higher that is common in California."

• "'It has to be possible to make more perfumed — more aromatically driven — wines in California.'"

• "They might be bottled without sulfur, which is used by a vast majority of winemakers to ward off bacteria, or aged underground in amphorae. They might look cloudy, or have a slight carbonation, or still be undergoing fermentation."

• "One seemed to taste more like minerals than fruit. Another was light and refreshing. A third seemed virtually flavorless, as if the wine wasn’t even ready to drink."

The whole piece is well worth a read.

Anyway, the wine sounded like a lot of fun, so I did some light checking. Coaltrain Wine & Spirits did not have any when asked, but Cheers Liquor Mart says it carries bottles from Calera Wine Company and Flowers Vineyard and Winery. The Broadmoor's Summit Restaurant also came through, with general manager Mike Lykens saying the restaurant pours Sandhi WinesRed Car and is trying to get Hanzell Vineyards.

"I like the idea of 'In Pursuit of Balance,'" Lykens writes in an email to the Indy. "These wine styles with lower alcohol and elevated acid is exactly the style of wine I personally like to drink and I feel pairs much better with food. Obviously there are foods in which big, powerful, rich red wines do well — and we carry those wines — but that isn’t something that we seek out. We seek out wines with structure and complexity. I have been lucky to have been around great [sommeliers] in my career, and the pursuit of balance in wine has been a consistent tune, well before the movement that we’re discussing."

See the rest of Lykens' take below:
The member wineries in the “Pursuit…” are wines that we have to seek out, and do. Their philosophies and approach to winemaking are exactly what we identify with here at Summit and what we’re looking for. Wines with a sense of place—we don’t want new world wines to try to be an old world wine, but their approach can be similar. Good winemaking is good winemaking—and a major part of winemaking happens in the vineyards well before the winemakers actually get their hands on the grapes. If the grapes are picked too late, there is only so much the winemaker can do. That’s why the philosophy is important, if the enologist and the winemaker, (and sometimes the owner) aren’t on the same page the end product will reflect that—disjointed and uninteresting.

Robert Parker has done a great job aiding the consumer in evaluating wines, if they find a wine that they like, and Parker agrees and gives the wine a solid score this gives the consumer confidence in their palate and a judgment of a wine. He has done a lot for the industry, he has brought attention to wine makers and regions that many consumers may not have been aware of. Parker also has a lot of influence on how a winery will approach their winemaking and ultimately the end product of a wine, which is a position that I have trouble with. I understand why so many wineries have catered to his tastes, because he is their best sales person. When Parker rates a wine at 100 points, that wine is going to sell out, and the law of supply and demand tells us that wine is quickly to jump in price. Unfortunately, we have wines out there that are incredibly expensive and the quality value just isn’t there. Then we have a very small percentage of people actually drinking this wine that is supposedly phenomenal—and Parker says it is so it must be true—but very few will actually be able to make that evaluation on their own.

My personal tastes are much different than Robert Parker, I don’t like overly alcoholic wines with driven by fruit and oak exclusively. These wines are uninteresting to me, but consumers have proved that they want those wines and are willing to pay for them, so you will find a majority of wine lists out there filled with these wines. Parker has an important place in this world of wine and wine writing and we get to draw a line in the sand and then argue about who is right and who is not. This is good for the industry… as long as we each have a glass of wine in hand while doing it.

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