Even before the advent of marketing groups like IPOB, “balance” was a word that was used nearly omnipresently by wineries to describe their wines. Because of this, balance had as many definitions as it had folks employing it. For each “overwrought trophy^” that the owner thought was balanced, there is now a “light and watery” example that is thought to be balanced as well.
Though the IPOB manifesto describes a wine to be in balance
when its diverse components – fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol – coexist in a manner such that should any one aspect overwhelm or be diminished, then the fundamental nature of the wine would be changed….
the shorthand for this elusive quality has come down to alcohol content. Supposedly, wines that are greater than 14% alcohol are inherently unbalanced while those that do not cross that graceless meridian maintain their magical symmetry. As with any shorthand, much of the nuance and drama are lost in the reduction.
I had the opportunity to participate in two seminars and taste Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the 33 member wineries of IPOB in San Francisco yesterday. I learned much from the speakers – winemakers from Santa Barbara County and the North Coast – and learned even more from the many stunning wines available to taste.
Within a relatively narrow range, there are many ways to make great wine. While those wines are generally products of doing less rather than doing more, it is in the details of how fruit is farmed and the winemaking techniques used that these offerings reach their stylistic and qualitative peaks.
Some producers age their Chardonnay on the lees but don’t stir as in the case of the wines from Failla. Others stir the lees, presumably to bring out a touch more palate richness and complexity of flavor as in the wines from Liquid Farm. Others inoculate their fermentations while the wines from Matthiasson and Littorai are fermented with native yeasts. Some ferment in stainless steel, some in concrete, some in barrel – small and large.
I have a specific vision in mind for each wine I make, and I do only those things that I need to do to try to bring that vision to bear in nose and mouth and mind. And while the techniques I use (and of equal importance, the sources from which I acquire fruit) may differ from other winemakers, it is the balance of effort to vision that separates the great from the good.
^Quotation from the Keynote Address presented by erstwhile SF Chronicle writer, Jon Bonne.