One of the most vitriolic debates in the wine world over the past few years has been about balance in a wine—what it is and who achieves it. The debate was pushed forward by a consortium of wineries called In Pursuit of Balance, formed in 2011, who promoted the idea that only when Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are produced using artisanal methods with alcohol levels below 14% can wines achieve balance. Higher alcohol, excessive ripeness, and too much oak, they argued, masks the flavors and inherent vitality and finesse of these grapes, and too many American producers chasing high intensity and higher scores had crossed the line, producing hyperbolic, artificial fruit bombs that sullied the reputation of Pinot Noir and distorted our palates.
As you might imagine, this jeremiad scandalized lovers of lush, ripe Pinot and its producers who felt under attack for giving consumers and their advocates what they wanted. People chose sides, the rhetoric escalated and keyboard warriors had a field day taking names and keeping score.
Last week, Rajat Parr, the instigator of In Pursuit of Balance, announced that the consortium was disbanding at the end of the year having accomplished its task of getting balance on the agenda.
Those critics who thought that IPOB were doctrinaire extremists are now dancing around the grave lamenting the blood that has been spilled and hoping for a more peaceful future. (See here and here for example)
As for me, I think these debates are healthy, a sign of a robust culture of taste where people have an aesthetic vision and are willing to advocate for it.
In Praise of Balance had a point. Some California Pinots are too ripe and hot, and halting the escalating alcohol levels is a good trend. But there are nevertheless producers such as Siduri, Foxxen (and countless others) who make ripeness work. And some of the members of In Praise of Balance—Au Bon Climat and Thomas Fogarty for instance—make gorgeous wines. Others not so much.
There are no hard and fast rules in winemaking just as there is no formula for creating art. In the end, this is a bit like arguing about whether Picasso or Van Gogh was the better painter. They painted in different styles with disparate aesthetic visions and can’t be fruitfully compared. Thankfully for us, they both existed.
I feel the same about wine styles. The more there are, the more interesting wine becomes. Let 1000 flowers bloom but keep the arguments coming.