California's In Pursuit of Balance winery association is calling it quits.
With fewer than 40 small wineries from around the state, it never amounted to much in a commercial sense. But its stance and that it knew balance echoed faintly across the vast market of U.S. consumers like someone talking in a canyon. It could be heard when the wind blew in the right direction.
What did IPOB accomplish since its inception in 2011? With several thousand wineries in California and thousands more brands, IPOB barely made a dent in the state's armor. But it did achieve a few things.
It unified those few who felt their wines were being overlooked on stylistic points. It brought the balance debate to the forefront. IPOB's main critique was that too many Golden State wines were too big for their bottles, with soaring ripeness and alcohol levels that were overpowering, at the expense of finer balance.
Defining balance is akin to defining beauty, elusive at best. IPOB stated that it was founded "to show what balance in wine means to us," filling "an information gap between the full-throttle, high-alcohol wines, and the more subtle, nuanced wines our member wineries were producing," one of its founders, Hirsch Vineyards' Jasmine Hirsch, said in a statement announcing the organizations cessation of activities at the end of this year.
IPOB danced around specific alcohol levels, although its members preferred wines not exceeding 14 percent. They championed Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and implied that cooler climates produced superior wines to those grown in warmer climes. The use, or overuse, of oak was another bugaboo. No Cabernet or Zinfandel producers were members.
It started as a small event to draw attention to producers who weren't "chasing after ratings from wine critics," said one of its founders, Raj Parr of Sandhi. "It wasn't supposed to be an ideological war, but we felt that balanced wines [in California] weren't being paid enough attention to by the wine community, so we decided to shine some light on what we were doing."
Ironically, a number of its members did earn high scores, at least from Wine Spectator. For example, I gave 95 points to the 2012 Chardonnay from Mount Eden Vineyards in Santa Cruz ; it was No. 5 in our Top 100 Wines of 2015. Sandhi wines, owned by Parr, earned 90 points or better for three of its 2012 Chardonnays from Sta. Rita Hills. Hanzell and Littorai in Sonoma have been featured in our pages.
IPOB reminded some of another only-in-California movement from the 1980s, dubbed the "food wines" craze. It too believed the size of too many California wines of the era overpowered cuisine. It supported those with lower alcohol and higher acidity, leading too many wineries down the path of linear structure at the expense of flavor, body and texture.
The topic of balance will always be with us. The debate is healthy, but there is plenty of room for everyone. California wine should be inclusive of all styles and not just the hand-chosen few. IPOB reminded us of that.