The Edmond Sun


January 27, 2014

Celebrating balance in Pinot Noir

White's Wines — “If a Pinot Noir is overwhelmed with fruit — or, indeed, by any element, like oak, fruit extraction, fruit ripeness, or alcohol — you’re going to lessen the possibility that the wine can express essential place. And for me, Pinot Noir is all about essential place.”

If any grape demands contemplation, it’s Pinot Noir. The great ones translate time and place, clearly expressing the characteristics of their vintage and the soils and climate in which they’re grown.

So I wasn’t surprised to hear these words from Jasmine Hirsch, as her father, David, planted what is considered one of America’s top Pinot Noir vineyards nearly 35 years ago.

We were chatting about an annual wine event she launched with Rajat Parr, a celebrity sommelier, in 2011. Dubbed “In Pursuit of Balance,” it applauds the California winemakers who eschew ripeness and power in favor of restraint and elegance.

The event has helped counteract the notion that California only makes fruit bombs. And it’s brought attention to some of California’s top Pinot Noir producers.

In Pursuit of Balance traces its roots to 2008, when Hirsch entered the wine industry by taking over sales and marketing for her family’s winery. At the time, she was living in New York and had fallen in love with Pinot Noir, so it made sense to join the family business.

But the wines that stole her heart came from Burgundy. She was continuously “blown away by what they were able to achieve” in France.

When she started working for her family, she began drinking more California Pinot Noir. Too often, she didn’t enjoy the wines. They were, quite simply, too big. In ripeness, alcohol, and oak, they lacked the subtlety and poise she’d grown to love in Burgundy.

Around that same time, Hirsch developed a friendship with Rajat Parr, the wine director for the Mina Group, a restaurant management company with a global reputation for its wine program. Parr was known for his obsession with Pinot Noir, so Hirsch asked him why California couldn’t produce more elegant wines.

Parr showed Hirsch that the state could. Indeed, a handful of producers had been making Pinot Noir that achieved the grape’s higher purpose — translating both time and place — for decades.

The two friends soon hashed out a plan for a formal tasting for sommeliers, journalists, and eager consumers. The first brought together nearly 25 California producers and generated tremendous buzz.

At that time, Hirsch said, “California was facing an identity crisis.”

Most oenophiles believed what Hirsch thought just a few years prior: that California wines were over the top. Parr and Hirsch sought to debunk this notion.

The wines they showcased weren’t always popular. Then, as now, the best-known critics gave their highest ratings to ripe, powerfully concentrated wines. While this praise is certainly defensible, such wines were the antithesis of what Parr and Hirsch looked for in Pinot Noir.

Naturally, the event stirred controversy. By presenting a limited number of producers, Hirsch and Parr created an exclusionary event. Plus, the word “balance” — which refers to fruit, acidity, structure, and alcohol coexisting harmoniously, with no single element dominating — is a lightning rod. Last year, Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman proclaimed that he “[resented] the implication that richer, more full-bodied wines can’t be balanced.”

Hirsch and Parr acknowledge these criticisms. Today, wineries that hope to join their tasting must first pass muster with a panel of judges who taste blind. And Hirsch admits that the event might have been misnamed.

For my palate, the wines that Hirsch and Parr have chosen to celebrate are among America’s most exciting and delicious. Producers like Copain, Littorai, and Peay make precise, focused wines that are full of charm. The wines from Hirsch’s own property and Rajat Parr’s two labels, Sandhi and Domaine de la Cote, are similarly stunning.

Pinot Noir is one of viticulture’s most fickle grapes. It’s challenging and expensive to grow. By bringing attention to the California wineries that work hard to achieve Pinot Noir’s higher purpose, Hirsch and Parr deserve everyone’s praise.

DAVID WHITE is the founder and editor of, which was named “Best Overall Wine Blog” at the 2013 Wine Blog Awards. His columns are housed at Grape Collective.

Text Only
  • UCO, local Y create community garden

    A new community garden is providing a transformative learning opportunity for students and helping stock UCO’s Central Pantry.
    The University of Central Oklahoma’s Volunteer and Service Learning Center and the Edmond Rankin YMCA are sponsoring the garden, providing a transformative learning opportunity for students, and organic fruits, vegetables and herbs for the food bank.

    July 31, 2014

  • Tips for summer grilling safety

    When it comes to summer fun, one thing many families enjoy is cooking on the grill. Whether it is charcoal or gas, there is something that definitely says summer when grilling.

    July 28, 2014

  • Beaujolais: The Greatest Secret in Wine

    One hundred years ago, the Wine Society, a wine club in London, offered its members a Beaujolais from the appellation of Moulin à Vent for $29 per case. It offered cases of Burgundy from the appellations of Beaune and Pommard for around $36 each.

    July 28, 2014

  • Shopping smarter for family necessities can help the environment

    There’s a growing trend among consumers to make choices reflecting the goals and values that matter to them most.  In fact, two out of five people say they’re more inspired to try a natural product that does something good for themselves, their family and the planet, according to a recent study conducted by Toluna for natural products brand Tom’s of Maine.

    July 21, 2014

  • Back to school lunch Build a better bag

    Brown bag lunches and back to school go hand in hand. As you’re gearing up for the start of a new school year, it’s the perfect time to stock the pantry with healthy sack lunch options and after school snacks, too.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Kids Cook Simple ways canned foods get children cooking

    When it comes to teaching children about healthy eating habits, there’s no better classroom than the kitchen.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Garden Vegetable Spring Rolls The Canebrake offers summer recipe for Garden Vegetable Spring Rolls

    The Canebrake, a destination hotel and spa in Wagoner, is offering the following recipe from its restaurant for Garden Vegetable Spring Rolls with Avocado Wasabi Puree.

    July 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fruits and Veggies Tips to increase your fruit and vegetable intake

    It’s no secret that the vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables are a key to good health — from building immunity, to decreasing inflammation, to helping you maintain a healthy weight.
    Luckily, there are many ways to ensure you incorporate a sufficient amount of produce in your diet to fuel your day and help you feel great.

    June 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Comic books and thoroughbreds, inspired by wine

    Outside the Bay Area, few wine enthusiasts realize that California’s wine scene is incredibly welcoming.

    June 23, 2014

  • Wines of the West slated for June 7

    Stockyards City presents the fifth annual Wines of the West festival on Saturday. The event takes place from noon to 4 p.m. and features wine tasting in an Old West environment. The stockyards area of Oklahoma City has been active for more than 100 years offering western wear, entertainment and ambience. Stockyards City is on the National Register of Historic Places and still has weekly live cattle auctions.
    Ten wineries will provide samples of a variety of locally produced wines. The wineries participating are: Plain View Winery, Stable Ridge Winery, Wood & Waters, Oak Hills Winery, The Range Winery, Whirlwind Winery, Summerside Winery, Canadian River Winery, Base Vines and Cattle and Wakefield Winery. Tasting will be available as visitors browse retail shops in Stockyards City. Food vendors will be set up in the street for convenience.

    June 3, 2014