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The New York Times discovers IPOB



Nice, balanced treatment of the In Pursuit of Balance movement and those who think it’s silly by Bruce Schoenfeld in the New York Times magazine. The very fact that this phenomenon has hit the pages of the Gray Lady is indicative of how important IPOB has become in the weltanschauung of our wine conversation.

Let me get this out of the way immediately: I’ve thought since IPOB’s inception that they’re too ideological in declaring that some wines are “balanced” and some aren’t and that the dividing line is some ill-defined notion of alcoholic strength.

I don’t believe I’m one of the “invective-filled…partisans” who opposes IPOB, in Schoenfeld’s words; he catches the family quarrel well, but does tend to exaggerate the animosities a little bit—bringing in Robert Parker and his stinging critiques of IPOB (“jihadists,” “anti-pleasure,” “useless”) makes things sound worse than they are. For my part, I certainly wouldn’t use inflammatory language like that. But then, IPOB’s supporters haven’t gone after me the way they’ve gone after Parker. (I’m not important enough.)

If you believe IPOB you’d think that their members all make Pinot Noirs below 14%, but at the recent San Francisco tasting, there was Calera, whose wines can exceed 14.5%. For example, the 2007 Ryan I reviewed was 14.7%, and it was a very good wine I gave 93 points. But how do you explain Calera’s presence in IPOB? This is not a diss of Calera, whose wines I quite like, or of Josh Jensen, whom I respect, but it is a question posed to Raj Parr and Jasmine Hirsch. Why is Calera there? Are you saying that most other Pinot Noirs of that alcohol range are “unbalanced” but by some divine intervention, Calera isn’t? Enquiring minds want to know.

I give IPOB credit for sparking this conversation. Whether it’s a conversation that actually leads to any responsible conclusions, however, remains to be seen. Some years ago, the conversation in California was all about “food wines”—what they are, what they aren’t. Then, it was the application of oak that was at the heart of the chatter. This IPOB thing is a modern rendition of that discussion, which actually did have the positive result that it led to a renewed consideration of the proper application of oak to wine. There seems to be something self-regulating in the American wine industry—helped by social media and the chatty opinionizing that characterizes the wine industry—that perceives excesses almost as soon as they occur and tries to curtail them. This is a good thing.

But I suspect that IPOB will run its course in due time; other organizations will arise and fall, people’s attention will be diverted elsewhere, California’s climate will certainly play a role, and Raj, Jasmine and IPOB will go on to other, less contentious things. In the meantime, they’ve already succeeded in making wineries (which means winery owners) make, at the very least, contingency plans for what to do if, in fact, there is a serious consumer swing towards low-alcohol wines. I don’t think there is, yet, although if you read the wine press voraciously you might be forgiven for thinking it’s already happened. But this is how the media works nowadays: somebody stirs the pot, everybody starts talking about it, and the next thing you know, self-fulfilling prophecies pop up all over the place.

Have a great weekend!

  1. TomHill says:

    The whole IPOB discussion is so….yesterday. Raj & his cabal don’t use alcohol levels as the sole means to identify those members who embrace their philosophy/schtick. It’s mostly just winemakers who agree w/ Raj’s general philosophy and are willing to pay the $$’s to belong. That would make Josh & his wines qualified. EhrenJordan is a card-carrying IPOB member and his wines are certainly not the anemic/emaciated/eviscerated/green wines that many like to characterize the IPOB wines.
    I think it’s time for all the bloggers/wine writers to turn their collective backs on the whole IPOB crowd, let them babble on about their philosophy and take their shows on the road to convince the wine geeks of their superiority. Same as you’ve done w/ the “natuural” wine crowd, another discussion whose intensity seems to be waning.
    I think it’s time for you & Charlie to lead us wine geeks into other battles. I would suggest that you both should lead the charge against the 7% Solution movement. Then, in a few yrs when that controversy has played out in the blogosphere, search out new targets…like those who think RibollaGialla or Nebbiolo can make good wines in Calif.
    C’Mon, Steve. Step up to the plate and lead us sheep into new battles. The IPOD thing is sooooo…yesterday.

  2. doug wilder says:

    Recently, I have added a paragraph to my publication introduction page. Here is an example from April, my attempt to illustrate there isn’t necessarily a correlation between alcohol and what a critic thinks of the wine. Sorry, Tom Hill, I looked it up and IPOD is already taken!

    The top 50 highest ratings in this issue range in ABV from 12.2% – 15.8% and the bottom 50 lowest ratings range in ABV from 12% – 15.1%. If you use alcohol levels as an important factor in selecting wines you may miss some delicious bottles. Prices ranged from $18 [Vaughn Duffy’s 92 point Rose] to $115 [Wayfarer’s unreleased 2013 designated Pinot Noir 94 – 95 points].

  3. Duncan King says:

    Im hosting “The 93% Problem”

    I got 93% problems and valdiguie ain’t one.

    Instead of trying to show the public the wines that they didn’t know existed I’m getting them to understand more about the wines they have a 93% chance of running into. Although i do have some “7 percenters” on the line up.

  4. Duncan King says:

    I had the IPOO handle for a while “In Pursuit Of Originality” but started getting threats.. true story. Issuing open letter of apology to jasmine hirsch and the ipob affiliates concerning balance tomorrow morning.

  5. Bob Henry says:

    Words to live by . . .

    Groucho Marx’s letter of resignation to the Friars’ Club [of Beverly Hills]:

    “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

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