Controversial Pinot Noir Festival Slated to Come to Houston in 2015

California grape grower and winemaker Jasmine Hirsch led a guided tasting of her wines last night for collectors at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted.
California grape grower and winemaker Jasmine Hirsch led a guided tasting of her wines last night for collectors at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.

In yet another sign that Houston is becoming one of the leading "wine destination" cities in the United States, California winemaker and festival co-founder Jasmine Hirsch (above) revealed yesterday that the controversial "In Pursuit of Balance" tasting will be held in Houston on March 30, 2015. It's the first that the event has been held outside of San Francisco or New York.

Borne out of a "conversation" with celebrity sommelier, winemaker, author, and In Pursuit of Balance co-founder Rajat Parr, the annual festival, now in its fifth year, features California producers of Pinot Noir who favor a leaner, high-acidity, low-alcohol, "old world" style in their wines.

Since the 1970s, the California wine industry has been dominated by a richer, fruit-forward, low-acidity, and high-alcohol approach to winemaking -- the so-called "modern style."

"Balance is the foundation of all fine wine," writes Hirsch in the festival's manifesto.

"Loosely speaking, a wine is in balance when its diverse components - fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol - coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed."

She and Parr have been openly criticized by über critic Robert Parker, Jr., founder of Wine Advocate and creator of the 100-point rating, for the group's membership criteria.

"I just don't think that people making those wines should be trashing the other wines that are big, rich, full-bodied, and alcoholic as some sort of beverage for Neanderthals," said Parker while speaking at a public gathering of wine professionals earlier this year.

And Parker is not alone in his stinging criticism of the festival. As the popular American wine blogger Steve Heimoff put it, longtime Wine Spectator editor James Laube "came out swinging against In Pursuit of Balance, in the Sept. [2014] issue" of the magazine.

Classic rillettes served country-style last night at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, where wine director Vanessa Treviño Boyd presented Hirsch and her wines to guests last night.
Classic rillettes served country-style last night at 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, where wine director Vanessa Treviño Boyd presented Hirsch and her wines to guests last night.
Photo by Jeremy Parzen.

Acutely aware of the controversy that the tasting has stirred, Hirsch writes on her site: "This isn't a rebellion, but rather a gathering of believers. The wines presented here should speak for themselves and lay the groundwork for a discussion on the nature of balance in California Pinot Noir."

Currently, the group consists of 33 producers, each of whom must submit their wines every two years to a tasting panel composed of leading wine writers and fellow In Pursuit of Balance members.

As Hirsch notes, the debate over the emerging California style is "one of the hottest topics in the wine world."

Hirsch and Parr are currently in negotiations with a Houston restaurant where the event will be held. It will include seminars as well as a walk-around tasting for trade members and consumers. Roughly 25 producers will pour their wines, said Hirsch, who noted that each winemaker can present up to five of her/his wines. In previous years, tickets have cost between $125-150.


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