Wine Time

In Pursuit of Balance: California Winemakers Take Houston by Storm

Houston was literally buzzing yesterday with Californian winemakers and wine industry super stars who had come to Texas to pour their wines at the In Pursuit of Balance tasting (commonly known by its acronym IPOB).

From the morning seminars and afternoon tastings at El Parador to the late-night after party at Public Services Wine & Whisky, Houstonians -- and many Texans who had traveled here for the opportunity to taste -- interacted with some of America's best and brightest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir growers.

The group was formed in 2011 by legacy grape grower Jasmine Hirsch and celebrity sommelier and author Rajat Parr to champion California winemakers who embrace a leaner style of wine.

Historically, California Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have tended to be higher in alcohol, lower in acidity, richer in flavor, and more "extracted" (i.e., more concentrated) than Europeans' traditional interpretation of the classic Burgundian grape varieties.

Hirsch and Parr created the association to raise awareness of a new generation of winemakers and grape growers who favor restrained alcohol, higher acidity, and a leaner and arguably more food-friendly style of wine.

Now in its fifth year, IPOB accepts its members only after it executive panel tastes the wines and approves them for admission.

Thirty-one of the 33 grower and bottler members presented their wines yesterday.

The event is not without controversy: Wine establishment figures like Wine Advocate founder Robert Parker, Jr. and Wine Spectator editor James Laube have publicly derided the group and its founders.

"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 last year.

Both the trade and consumer tastings were mobbed yesterday.

Many Texan wine professionals had traveled from other cities for the opportunity to taste such a wide range of iconic Californian labels.

"It would be tough for me to taste all of these wines in California," said René Fagoaga, who had arrived the day before from Irving, where he works as a waiter and sommelier at the Four Seasons resort. "This is a way for me taste them all in one day."

The gathering marked the first time the event had been held in a U.S. city besides San Francisco or New York.

"It's another sign that Houston is becoming an important destination for wine," said Houston Chronicle sports and wine writer Dale Robertson, who attended the consumer tasting.

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen