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The Empire Strikes Back: Laube Takes on IPOB



Brother Laube comes out swinging against In Pursuit of Balance, in the Sept. 30 issue of Wine Spectator. (Sorry, no link. The Spectator has one of the best firewalls in the business. No subscribe, no read.) I’d been wondering how long it would take him. After all, Jim is famous for giving high scores to ripe, plush wines that can be high in alcohol—which is exactly what IPOB is against. You might even say that IPOB is the anti-Laube (and anti-Parker) establishment. So Jim had to declare himself sooner or later. He’s a nice, modest man who doesn’t pick fights, but even shy folks fight back, if attacked enough.



This isn’t to say that Jim is merely defending his own reputation. For there is something fundamentally irrational about IPOB. Jim implies this when he says that IPOB “admittedly [is] unable to collectively arrive at a definition of balance,” which is true enough: Ask around, and you’ll find that the majority of wine critics, sommeliers and merchants believe that the rationale of IPOB is for wines to be under 14% alcohol by volume. But I’ve heard co-founder Raj Parr say, at an IPOB event, that that’s not at all what IPOB is about. So what is it? IPOB’s Manifesto defines “balance” in rather boilerplate language. It doesn’t say anything about alcohol levels, only that alcohol should “coexist” alongside fruit, acidity and structure “in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed.” But there’s something tautological about that statement, not to mention deeply subjective. Which leads back to the question, What is IPOB really about?

Well, publicity, for sure. There’s some real marketing genius at work with IPOB, which in the few short years of its existence has become something of an insurrectionist force rather like, well, another 4-letter acronym group: ISIS. I Googled “In Pursuit of Balance” and came up with 155,000 hits, but that doesn’t even begin to measure the impact IPOB has had in sommelier circles from San Francisco to New York and beyond. IPOB has, in effect, gone viral.

Jim also referenced the “contentious relationship [that] has developed between somms and producers,” and I’m glad he did, for his voice carries weight. His message—to somms—is that if they don’t put certain wines on their lists just because of “a number” (alcohol percent), they do a disservice to their customers, who may prefer those kinds of wines. Somms, of course, are famous for not liking wine magazines and wine reviewers, who are threats to their existence: If all you need is a famous critic’s score, then somms would be out of a job. So joining forces with IPOB is, for a somm, a way of fighting back against a media elite they never much cared for anyway.

Be that as it may, this is not a quarrel among equals. For Wine Spectator’s senior columnist—one of the most powerful wine critics in America, if not the world—to throw down the gantlet to IPOB is a significant gesture. Jim has presented his case cogently and respectfully, and mostly without snark. (Well, “dim somms” wasn’t his invention, it was Helen Turley’s.) I think In Pursuit of Balance must reply to the rather serious charge that it fundamentally doesn’t know what it’s talking about.

READERS: You can comment here, or join the conversation at my Facebook page.

  1. I have no fundamental disregard for IPOB. That it cannot describe balance is no sin. I can’t either. My definition would be very nearly identical to theirs. My palate, however, is far more accepting of richness than are the denizens of IPOB. And therein lies the first problem. Who the hell are these people to try to define balance by their own wines and then make those efforts into a massive marketing effort?

    As with all these vinous cabals (not a nefarious word by definition) from biodynamics to natural, IPOB goes far beyond doing their its own thing and becomes, at its heart, a device by which the collective pushes its own view of the world.

    I would be OK with that except for the brickbats that get slung along the way. It is not enough for them to like their own styles. They feel the need to tear down the house in the process, and that, and the personal attacks, are what has finally pushed the quiet, thoughtful, kind Mr. Laube into action.

    What these people forget is that wine is not made by formula and that the consuming public does not come to wine with one narrow palate. Wines that are high in acidity and lower in alcohol have always existed, but if you are a big winery like an Iron Horse or a Cuvaison or a Marimar, then you are not considered part of the party. The Phelps wines from Freestone, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, ought to be the poster children of the movement, but they are not.

    IPOB is criticizable for all kinds of things, but perhaps their greatest sin is in damning, as Mr. Bonne has done publicly, wine that have any kind of wide distribution as if somehow the wineries mentioned above cannot be considered simply for their size rather than for the wines they make.

  2. STEVE!
    I read Laube’s commentary. There’s not one original insight in the entire piece. Everything he said has been said about IPOB previously, and said more eloquently. He even takes a cheap shot at sommeliers, which is my department, by the way, calling them “would-be experts.” He doesn’t even mention the IPOB culprits by name! No mention of Raj Parr or Jasmine Hirsch. Wow, that’s hard-hitting journalism by a would-be wine critic.

    Laube may be a qualified critic–he’s certainly an experienced critic–and he may be a nice man. But his columns in Wine Spectator are meretricious at best.

    I’d link to my HoseMaster posts about IPOB, but I leave the links to Bob-0-Link Henry.

  3. Hello Hosemaster! I didn’t put up the Laube piece to comment on its journalistic merits or lack thereof. He may have been “late to the party” but it still strikes me as noteworthy that one of the senior wine critics in America has publicly taken this stand.

  4. Bill Haydon says:

    All this amounts to is the raging against the dying of the light by someone refusing to realize that the wine world has changed, the American wine consumer is rapidly changing and their days of being the ultimate arbiters of style and gatekeepers to the market are over. Laube may or may not be a nice guy and his critiques are at least somewhat more thoughtful than the hedonistic fruitbomb fueled late night online rants from Parker, buy they share one thing: being on the wrong side of history.

    Come gather ’round children wherever you roam
    and admit that the wines you once liked were overblown’
    and accept it that soon Parker will be virtually unknown
    for the wines they are a’changin’

  5. I sense in Laube’s column a feeling that his power is threatened. Why can’t we all let a thousand flowers bloom? Having different schools of thought in the marketplace of ideas about what makes a wine great ought to be a good thing. And people exercising their rights to express those opinions ought also to be a good thing. Laube has his realm of power, and somms have theirs. Calling IPOB advocates Dim Somms and narrow-minded, as Laube did, is crossing a line in my opinion.

  6. I’ve got Ron’s back on this one.

    Laube’s piece says nothing new about IPOB. The fact that balance cannot be objectively defined doesn’t cast significant enough doubt on the IPOB proceedings to question them in any meaningful way. I’ve been to a few IPOB outings, they don’t pick bad juice to show there.

    Now, if he wanted to really start to question IPOB, he’d start ripping into the selection process for the featured wines, but others have done that already. If IPOB has a problem, it’s that it seems to be wines selected by the “cool kids” and they are therefore theoretically gatekeeping / tastemaking in a similar manner as a mag like WS.

  7. Patrick, it’s common nowadays for people to say that anytime an older wine writer says anything at all critical of younger writers, the older writer feels “threatened.” This is nonsense and a form of ageism. Laube is simply pointing out what many others (of all ages and genders) are saying: that “balance” is impossible to define, and so for an organization to base its existence on “balance” is a little precarious.

  8. Joe–
    Way off base as to the difference between a critical review of all that is out there and a marketing organization that exists to peddle its own wares. The WS is not in the business of tastemaking. IPOB is.

    Sorry because I have no problem with the rest of your piece. Saying nothing new does not mean that he has said nothing of value.

    And yes, the selection process, such as it is, has little to do with merit and everything to do with those who are friends of the cause.

  9. STEVE!
    I understood the point of your post. But to say that Laube took on IPOB fails to take into account that his point of view is empty, his assertions summer re-runs, and his tone condescending. When you break down his arguments, it’s not much of a stand at all. It’s another 500 word column written for dullards–a specialty at WS.

    IPOB is a marketing ploy, and one that actually worked. In Pursuit of Attention might be a better name. If it did anything, Laube’s column gave them what they wanted and gives them more legitimacy, not less. There are lots of quality winemakers involved in IPOB, but the stated purpose of the group is disingenuous at best. I’ll quote myself on their approach:

    “Balance–We pursue it. Every other winemaker ignores it. We now own it. Want to have balance? Submit a sample. We’ll tell you if you do. Otherwise, fuck off.”

    Sorry for the f-bomb, but it’s comedy.

    Raj Parr and Jasmine Hirsch are peddling doubletalk. It’s so blatantly and laughably stupid that even Laube noticed. Has he mentioned Natural Wines lately? I bet he’ll really take those people down a notch!

  10. Charlie,
    The WS is not in the business of tastemaking? Really? That’s a bit absurd on the face of it. Advertisers are there because WS is about tastemaking. Lifestyle magazines are all about tastemaking.

    We agree about IPOB, but WS is definitely about tastemaking, my friend. It’s what they do almost exclusively.

    OK, Joe, now we’re even…

  11. I don’t understand why people criticize Laube’s column for saying nothing new. Everybody arrives at their conclusions in their own good time. Some sooner, some later–what difference does it make? It’s not a contest to see who was the first to call out IPOB. The important fact is that Laube has called them out. He deserves some credit for that — especially in light of the semi-bashing he’s taking here, which may have been what made him think twice before doing it.

  12. STEVE!
    Semi-bashing is when you drive your car into an 18-wheeler.

    My view is that it’s NOT important that Laube call out IPOB. Is it news that Rush Limbaugh calls out President Obama? No, STEVE!, it’s news when he agrees with Obama. That would be important. If Laube thought twice it wasn’t because a bunch of jokers on blogs insult him; more likely it was because he knew that his disapproval only serves to make IPOB more mainstream and acceptable. Don’t you think Raj Parr is happy that Laube disapproves? I’m certain he is.

  13. So, let me get this right…

    IPOB is Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

    Wine Spectator is the Galactic Empire and Laube’s article is Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.

    I wonder what happens in Episode VI??

  14. Ron–
    I see a massive difference between the IPOB take on what is right and what is wrong and the Spectator’s indifference to maker. Whether one agrees with them or not, neither they nor any other reviewer is in the business of saying “there is one narrow style” that is acceptable and it is ours. IPOB is no different from the bio makers calling us all together, as they did a few years ago, to promote their wines under the banner of “ours are better than the other guys'”.

    I may think that my rag is fully independent and has no axe to grind other than to say that one needs to judge what is in the glass, not on the label, to judge and how a wine tastes, not the process that got it there, and, sure, some folks follow our tastes, but that is not because we have said that we are the guide to big wines or high acid wines or small winery wines. And neither is the WS or WE or WA.

    IPOB is. That’s my position and I am sticking to it.

  15. Charlie,
    Fundamentally, I agree with you. You and your “rag” have integrity. IPOB wants to sell wine, so they create a story, sell that story, stick to that story. Marketing 101.

    Here’s another way to look at Laube’s column, the way I poorly explained. Laube rants at “know-it-all” somms who adhere to IPOB’s definition of balance as being lousy gatekeepers. I agree with that. But those same idiot somms who buy wines based on his “objective” numbers? Aren’t they also “would-be wine experts?” Aren’t they also lousy gatekeepers? Are they blind to the wonders of wine he awarded 87 points, prejudiced because of his opinions? I haven’t read any column of his that takes those morons to task. His stance is hypocritical on the face of it. Listen to IPOB and you’re a lousy sommelier. Listen to WS and, well, you’re open-minded. It’s condescending crap whether he’s right or not.

  16. Fortunately, Ron, they can always listen to us–and then where would they be?

    Your larger point: following anyone or any ideology blindly marks you as a would be expert–is something upon which we should all agree.

    I do have sympathy with consumers because most of them cannot do the amount of tasting that critics, somms and retailers can do. If they know their own palates and find a voice or two that leads them to wines they like, then they are not nearly so out of line as the pros are when they do not think for themselves.

  17. David Vergari says:


    Jeepers, creepers, my vocabulary sorely needs an upgrade!!!

  18. I’m really enjoying reading what you smart fellers have to say to each other about this. My experience with IPOB is limited to two winemakers I know. Stylistically, their wines are very different, but their winemaking philosophies are very similar. The one thing that I think they really have in common is that their wines are popular among industry people. I think that’s where IPOB gets its “cool kids” reputation; at least that is my impression of IPOB.

    I agree with Charlie that IPOB is different from WS or WE or WA because they don’t taste blind – if anything, the winery style and philosophy is much more important than the way one particular wine tastes. As a winemaker, I respect that they take that context into account, but I also worry that salesman and hucksters will replace craftsmen and farmers.

    I guess it is naive to wish that we could all get along, but I do think that both styles of tasting have merit. It’s tough to say one way is “good” and another way is “wrong”, but I guess it’s makes for a more interesting article. One thing I know for sure: as the HMW pointed out, having James Laube call them out is the best thing that ever happened to IPOB.

  19. Steve, can I be ageist if I am older than both Laube and you? (I am.) Laube did more than point out (correctly) that balance is hard to define. He also called people some names, which is not a good idea IMHO. Maybe I also engaged in that behavior by saying that it looks like he feels threatened. I probably should not have put that sentence in there, because it seems to have kept you from seeing my other points. Sorry. Why can’t we all let a hundred flowers bloom?

  20. Garden-keepers tend to only let the flowers the like bloom..

  21. First of all, thank you, Bob (Henry), for sending the links to very interesting articles!

    I think IPOB has its fair share of voice and representations here in SF because I’ve seen its wines at some nice restaurants that I tried in the city. When an IPOB bottle and its food pairing was a compatible match, it definitely doubled my dining delightfulness. But with a bottle of estate Calera pinot noir, does anyone care about its acl %? For you know, with certainty, that it delivers nothing but deliciousness and that unique taste of terroir. The same is true for a bottle of 2005 Napa cab from Rutherford that I opened and drank last year:it taught me about “Rutherford Dust”; it was above 14% alc but was undeniably sophisticated, flavorful and with finesse.

    Speaking of the pleasure from wine-drinking, another Napa bottle red wine (1999 Bordeaux-style)(again) with 14-plus % alc did the case study for me-it was sensationally unforgettable, so much so that I dreamed about it all day for several days for that was how long its yummy flavor lingered in my palate. So I fell in love with the big Napa reds.

    Like Patrick said, why can’t let a hundred flowers bloom? If I’m naive to say so, then all you’re testifying is the truth of an ancient saying, which is translated in English as “those in the same industry are foes”.

    I have the copy of Mr Laube’s commentary right in front of me. Its theme is highlighted in red ink “To be denied a place on a list based on alcohol level doesn’t sit well with many who make wine in warmer climates”. Mr Washam apparently has a soft spot for somms. But not all readers think Mr Laube condescended somms by sharing what his friend witnessed at a top Napa restaurant. Mr. Washam, I did go to your blog to look for the piece you mentioned regarding IPOB but had no success. (Good marketing, by the way, for your blog.) My intention was to find a piece of writing that would distinctly define IPOB by someone with Yuda-calibre wisdom.

    Now time fast forwards to 2064: Someone is working on a research paper on California wine industry & its evolution from the official archives. Will he/she come across IPOB and its case studies? If so, how will they be documented? And who will document them?


  22. Roll back the hyperbole Steve!!!

    You just compared a wine group with which you disagree to a murderous cabal that is cutting off heads, murdering children, and enslaving women!!!

    You are better than this.

  23. Austin: Steve did not really mean to say “empire”. He meant “umpire”. As in the one who calls you out.

  24. Reading all the discussion about IPOB it seems the major issue everyone has is alcohol levels. If a wine is really good it isn’t important what the alcohol level is. However, if you are going to drive home after dinner and possibly pass through a DUI checkpoint would you rather have shared that 14.5% or higher Napa Cab or maybe something down in the 13 to 13.5% range?

    I don’t drink wine to get drunk, I drink it because I enjoy it. Lower alcohol wines allow me to enjoy more wine in a single sitting. I enjoy sitting in the backyard in the afternoon with some wine. If I have high alcohol wines I start to get a buzz relatively early, lower alcohol wines allow me to spend more time out there without having to switch to water or stop drinking.

    There is room for everyone’s tastes and preferences and both sides of the debate should respect the others preference. Reading the discussions in magazines and online it sounds as if some people feel threatened by the others views.

  25. Ms. Wu,

    Sorry you had to scroll through so much of my useless babbling. If you still care about my little satire of IPOB, here is the link:

    Also, Ms. Wu, though I do have a soft spot for sommeliers (having been one for many years), the remark you quoted from Laube’s article is a direct reference to Raj Parr, who famously remarked that for one of his restaurants he wouldn’t buy any wine that was over 14% ABV. I’ve never heard any other sommelier make a similar remark, though, admittedly, I rarely pay attention. I meant that Laube’s piece was condescending in general, not just to sommeliers.

    OK, I’m going away now.

  26. I hope I can include an article by Andy Peay from his most recent newsletter. I think he discusses issues all can agree with – I’m sure it’s old territory for many of you. Perhaps that’s what’s valuable in that he’s defining “balance” in the context of his own winery’s wimemaking practice with no (evident) ax to grind.

    Laube is putting down IPOB-like adherents without recognizing that he’s promoting his own very specific point of view, as are many in this thread. It’s all a bit too industry-centric here. Many of you aren’t directly dealing with the real issue at hand–the wines.

    I like the type of wines IPOB sponsors, though I’m hardly monogomous. Laube’s IPOB wine descriptions bear little resemblance to the wines that I taste.

    In Pursuit of Balance?

    By Andy Peay


    It has become quite vogue to say you make wines of balance. I admit, I’ve said it myself. Peay is even a founding member of a group of wineries who promote balance in wines and cross the country (soon, the globe) spreading the word about balance in California Pinot noir and Chardonnay. But does anyone think they make wines of imbalance? Oh sure, there are a few people who embrace their hedonistic, full-throttle, fruit-bomb style (perhaps encouraged by a couple of influential wine critics) and declare more reserved, multi-faceted wines to be lacking and perhaps a little sissified. But the majority of folks feel they make wines of balance and, in most cases, they can defend their claim as balance is a mushy word. It lacks a clear definition.

    Remember those big black boxes with the ten or twenty numbered levers audiophiles used to stack in their stereo cabinets? Folks over 40 will. I never understood exactly what each lever did, but my father had an “equalizer” and I would tinker with the levers when he was blaring his opera around the house on Sunday afternoons. It was interesting to see how changing a level would effect the overall impression of the music. Bizet’s Habanera would become muffled, shrill, or simply careen in a jumble depending on which level(s) I moved in an extreme direction. At any volume setting, Carmen’s famous aria was identifiable but altering the frequency of an input would throw the whole song into disarray. The essence, the soul, of the song revealed itself and attached to my body and brain only when the levels were in the correct, um, balance with one another. No one frequency was over-powering or muted, altering what makes the song individual and arresting. Each component of sound, though not necessarily in the same magnitude, would adhere to the overall intelligence of the song. It is like Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture pictured to the right. The tower is comprised of big rocks, small rocks, sharp rocks, rounded rocks. Each one must – is mandated by laws of physics—to consider the overall balance of the other components of the tower or the result would be a pile of rocks. And what is so unique about a pile of rocks? The logic is the same with wine.

    Every vineyard has a unique signature or fingerprint. The ridges of the fingerprint are made up of many sensory components, some inherent from the site, some shaped by the husbandry, and some created by winemaking decisions. These sensory components include: alcohol, fruit expression, acidity, non-fruit flavors, tannin, oak flavors, stem flavors, oxidative qualities, off aromas, et al. These are the frequencies, the sensory vibrations, the consumer tastes and smells when drinking a wine. When the winemaker determines where to source the fruit, when to pick, and how to make the wine, her decisions tinker with the levels of these flavors. The wine may need some oak for lift and framing. It may need tannins to provide structure and texture. It may need stems to provide lift and floral aromatics. Nothing should be done doctrinarily, but in consideration of what is necessary to best reveal the signature of the vineyard.

    Humans can understandably be reductionist, preferring a simple short-hand for guidance as the world is rife with complexity and no one can be a polymath, understanding all dimensions on every subject. As a result, some—perhaps most—people focus on one or two characteristics as indicators of a balanced wine. Low alcohol levels are the ne plus ultra these days with many racing to see who can pick earlier and make wine with less alcohol and claim the crown of hippest winery of the moment (“Ha, I picked my chardonnay at flowering.”) Of course, most of these wines lack balance as the fruit is unripe, the acid shrill, and the flavors simple and out of harmony. But the alcohol is 11%! As if low alcohol alone would mean the rest of the components of the wine are at their ideal level and the identity of the wine has emerged. And that is the goal of making wine; to bring into light the unique personality of a wine made from a specific site.

    When a wine is young, the flavors you experience are obvious; I can easily write tasting notes for young wines as the aromas simply leap out at me. They are bold and strident, each fighting for recognition. Only with time will they meld into a cohesive person, with an identity, a personality, and dare I say, a soul? In aged wines, it is not as easy to pick out the flavors. The fruit fades a little and floral aromas become more lifted making the wine ethereal. The oak-derived flavors no longer are as evident but meld with the other flavors to give the overall wine a boost of energy. The tannins soften to gently frame the wine. Stem flavors, if there are any, will become floral and sweet tasting and, hopefully, lose their astringency and green edge. It is difficult to actually pick out any individual flavors. Instead the drinker remarks, “that tastes like Peay Vineyards Pinot noir (or Chardonnay, Syrah, Viognier, or Roussanne.)” And that is why balance is important. Balanced wines will allow the essence of the wine—the character of the fruit and where it is grown— to emerge harmoniously over time.

    That is the ideal, however. If the tannin level in a wine is very high, the aromas will never cross the palate. They will cease to be inhaled as the aromas dry out on the mid-palate never reaching the olfactory sensors. The risk is those tannins may never “resolve” or polymerize; a fate I fear for a few of the Barolo I have in my cellar. If the wine is dominated by oak or the winemaker has used heavy charred oak barrels, the wine may always taste like oak and the flavor will never become one with the fruit. Wines that show astringent tannins and green flavors due to high use of unripe stems, face a similar dilemma. Twenty years down the road the green flavors and dry tannins may soften and the wine may become lifted and pretty. Or not. The wine may always be gritty and mean. Massive, high alcohol, fruity wines have a worse fate as the dried fruit flavors (prunes/raisins) will always be overripe and taste like what fruit grown anywhere tastes like when it becomes overripe. Years down the road, you will end up with a tired, leaden, “hot” wine that tastes like prune juice. The best moment for those wines is on release when the monochromatic fruit character of the wine impresses with sheer power.

    We seek to make wines that speak of our little piece of land on the West Sonoma Coast. These 51 acres have a unique voice. Depending on the weather conditions, some years the grapes may express more of one flavor component than another. Nick considers how best to farm so you can feel in our wines the windy, foggy, hill top. Vanessa is very focused on picking the fruit and turning it into wine in a fashion that summons the vineyard’s voice. In any vintage, you should be able to clearly know that you are drinking Peay Pinot noir (or Chardonnay, etc.). As for balance, it is a pursuit. A pursuit worth the undertaking.

  27. Mr. Bourget–

    Surely you exaggerate. The difference in the effects of 14.4 alc wine and 13.4% are so limited that neither you nor anyone else can tell the difference. At a half bottle, consumed over an hour, you BA would so similar that the results would not be significant. And if you are drinking more than an half bottle of wine over that period, then you are going to get drunk on either. Do the math.

  28. kcphillips-

    Thanks for sharing Andy Peay’s piece. I think he has hit the nail on the head.

    The problem I have w/ IPOB is that they insinuate that their members are the only winemakers out there seeking to make balanced wines when, as Peay points out, that is in fact the objective of virtually everyone who makes wine. In fact, in my opinion, many non-members (e.g., Merry Edwards, Fred Scherrer, Bob Cabral, Rod Berglund, among others) consistently make beautiful, harmonious wines, while some of the IPOB wineries, by pushing (un)ripeness or playing w/ incredibly high tannin levels, make wines that are interesting in the same horrific way that a car crash is interesting, but hardly balanced.

    Anyway, I get that it is a marketing endeavor, but I prefer marketing that isn’t based on running competitors down. In an industry as small as the wine industry, that approach really stands out in a negative way. The whole premise seems laughable when you look at who is doing the choosing, and who is chosen.

  29. Charlie Olken,
    Yes, a 1% difference isn’t going to make a lot of difference but many wines are well over 14.4% in addition to whatever fudge factor the producer uses on the label.

    Usually in the summer I drink a lot of white wine and I can certainly tell the difference between several glasses of a Chablis at 12.5% or a Chignin at 11.5 and a Napa Sauvignon Blanc at 14.5%. Granted they are different grapes and climates.

    I don’t buy wine based on the alcohol level, I just like to be aware of it and if a winemaker can make a good wine at a lower alc, I don’t see why so many have a problem with that. If he makes substandard wine in a quest for low alc then consumers won’t buy it. I certainly won’t.

  30. Peter–

    Thanks for your response. We have little upon which to disagree except for the notion that people have a problem with makers whose wines are lower alcohol. NO ONE of serious mind that I know of has such a problem. It is the “braying, mine is better and yours sucks attitude” that denies the possibilites of a balanced wine not made in some narrow style that is at the heart of the discussion.

    And by the way, very few of the wines produced by the IPOB group are 11.5% ABV or even close to that. The new Hirsch Vineyard releases (folks who head up IPOB) are stated in the range of 12.8 to 13.5% range. I have not tasted them yet as they do not come onto the market until next week, but I and most critics, including many mentioned here, have liked those wines in the past. Most critics do not have a problem with style so much as with the arrogance that some in the IPOB camp exhibit towards anything but their own.

  31. Charlie,

    This seems like the type of “straw man” argument that has been used against organic wines, natural wines, and now IPOB. I have not heard anyone from IPOB saying their wines are “better” than wines that are not associated with their organization. I have only heard them saying that they represent a certain style of wines that does not always receive accolades from people like Robert Parker of the Wine Spectator.

  32. Gabe–I will search out a link to the video of their latest meeting.
    I have not watched it for a while. We can both view it and decide.

    I will tell you this. One of the members of IPOB board has described the popular style of Chardonnay as “silly” and also called Kosta Browne Pinots “wines for novices”.

    But, let’s wait for the video before examining the attitude of some IPOBers.

  33. I’m the one who seems to be “late to this party.”

    (Geez, 31 comments — and counting? What is this, a 1WineDude thrust and parry titled “The Wine Blogging Community Is A Joke”?)

    Thanks Ron:

    “I’d link to my HoseMaster posts about IPOB, but I leave the links to Bob-0-Link Henry.”

    I think I’ll print up T-shirts with that moniker and hand them out. Please don’t launder them using using Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO).

    Dry clean instead.

    Thanks, Susan. (As a shill payment, what size T-shirt should I send you?)

    Let me throw out this non-rhetorical question:

    Do IPOB-ers embrace Port? Brandy? Cognac?

    How ’bout whiskey? Bourbon? Single malt Scotch? Tequila? Rum?

    I’ve not read any comments on those beverages. But surely if somms are doing the job generating bar revenue for their employers, then serve some of those high alcohol beverages on premises.

    To Peter Bourget:

    Separate from the alcohol level of the wines you are drinking is the size of the pour.

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Personal Journal” Section
    (May 1, 2007, Page D1):

    “The Accidental Binge Drinker: How Much We Really Pour”


    By Tara Parker-Pope
    “Health Journal” Column

    Chances are you’re drinking far more alcohol than you think.

    The reason? Wine, beer and spirits glasses are surprisingly deceptive, and most of us — even professional bartenders — are over-pouring the alcohol we serve.

    . . .

    A standard “serving” for an alcoholic beverage is 5 fluid ounces of wine, 12 ounces of regular beer or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All three portions contain 0.6 ounce of alcohol. But glasses today come in so many different shapes and sizes — tall “highballs,” wide tumblers, bowl-shaped wine goblets and now the new popular stemless wine glasses — it’s virtually impossible to estimate the right serving amount. Although a traditional wine glass holds about 7 ounces, many wine glasses today hold 16 ounces or more. Beer glasses often hold 20 ounces.

    “Often my clients think they are just having one or two drinks, when really they’re having more like three or four,” says Lisa R. Young, a New York University nutritionist.

    Try this experiment at home. Take your favorite wine or beer glass and use water to estimate drink size. Pour the contents into a measuring cup to see how close you come to the standard 5-ounce wine portion or 12-ounce beer portion.

    I did this myself, and was stunned by the result. I filled my favorite wine glass just half full. But I still ended up with 300 milliliters or 10.14 ounces — double the standard serving size. I tried again — this time with a smaller wine glass and then again with a large bowl-shaped goblet. But each time I still poured 200 milliliters or 6.76 ounces — 35% too much.

    . . .

    Dr. Young says that a solution is for drinkers at restaurants to count each glass of wine, beer or spirits as two servings. And at home, conduct practice pourings with a measuring cup to see what a real serving looks like in your own wine goblet or drinking glass. And avoid short, wide glasses that increase your risk of over-pouring.

  34. Charlie,

    “Film at 11?” Let’s roll the tape . . .

    ~~ Bob

  35. Charlie,

    Fair enough. I haven’t seen the video, and I will certainly admit that you are more plugged-in to what is happening in the California wine scene than I am, including IPOB. I will only say that the the (very small number of) Oregon winemakers that I know associated with that group are humble and hardworking dudes. They make interesting and esoteric wines that are outside of the mainstream, and I am happy to see them find success with a group of people who appreciate that sort of thing. I am sure that they are not trying to displace Cakebread Chardonnay with Willamette Valley Sparkling Riesling.

  36. Bill Haydon says:

    A lot of California wine is silly. The same people who viciously attack IPOB or “natural wine” or whatever threat is on the horizon tend to get their panties in such a bunch when somebody calls out mainstream California wines. Well, I’ve had my share and whether it’s Vineyard 7&8’s buttered popcor…errrr Chardonnay or some hideously overblown Kongsgaard Syrah, they are silly ego juice.

    They had their day, but that day is rapidly fading. When all is said and done, they will be nothing more than a transitory blip of bad taste on the history of wine drinking. Leisure suit wines!

  37. gabe: I think the implication by IPOB is that the wines they show at their public events are better.

  38. One more non-rhetorical question.

    If IPOB-ers generally like red Bordeaux for their “restraint,” then what are some of their leaders’ thoughts on the higher alcohol “fruit bombs” that the 2003 vintage produced?

    (Shit happens. Oops — sorry for the s-bomb. But that’s comedy.)

    Those of us with long memories recall this dust-up between Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson over the 2003 Pavie:

  39. RE: IPOB videos. From the 2013 conference.

    These are two videos of which I am aware. Both are from their 2013 lovefest that is recapped at

  40. Bob Henry says:

    Citing these excerpts from W. Blake Gray’s wine blog titled “David Ramey Q&A: ‘Alcohol level is not a political decision'”

    W. BLAKE GRAY: What did you do when you went back to California?

    DAVID RAMEY: The first job I got was with Zelma Long at Simi, for almost five years. Then I was asked to replace Merry Edwards at Matanzas Creek. I changed the style of the wine completely. The reds had been highly acidified. Because I worked in Bordeaux, I knew the wines there were not that acidic. Haut-Brion would be 3.8 to 4.0 pH. UC Davis was telling people to acidify wines for technical reasons. I said, I’m not going to acidify. I did a comparison block, one with malo(lactic fermentation), and one without. The malo block was so superior. The idea that malolactic is a California intervention, it’s such bullshit. All over Burgundy there’s malo. So going full malo and not adding acid, that was my change.

    . . .

    W. BLAKE GRAY: What do you think of the ongoing argument over alcohol percentage?

    DAVID RAMEY: I’ve never made hyperbolic wines but I see no need to make anemic wines either. The middle road is the better path. 15 percent is not high for ripe Cabernet. It’s what Bordeaux will be in a ripe vintage. It’s what some white Burgundies will be in a ripe vintage. You get these guys making 12.5 percent wines now. There’s a reason that people in Burgundy have been chaptalizing for all these years. The alcohol adds pleasure to the mouthfeel. It’s an ideological thing, alcohol level. It’s polemical. Good wine just tastes good. It’s not a political decision.

    W. BLAKE GRAY: How do you decide when to pick?

    DAVID RAMEY: With Chardonnay, it’s a style issue. Chardonnay is the red wine of whites because of barrel fermentation. You have people who want to throw out what makes Chardonnay great because of excesses by some producers. Is there overoaked, over-buttery Chardonnay at 4.0 pH? Of course. Classically in Burgundy, before global warming, they picked as ripe as they could and chaptalized to their point of balance, about 13.5 percent alcohol. I think in Carneros the point of balance is about 14.1. But I’m not making as much Chardonnay from Carneros anymore. Little by little, Chardonnay is moving west. That’s the story of California.


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