Rajat Parr, wine director for the Michael Mina group, began making wine in California with the 2004 vintage. What originally began as a quest to vinify whole-cluster Syrah led him to Beckmen's Purisima Mountain Vineyard. He also sourced a little Chardonnay from Jim Clendenen at Au Bon Climat from the 2004 and 2005 harvests.
From 2006 through 2009, Parr's wines were under the Evening Land umbrella before consolidating the Sandhi project with partners Charles Banks and winemaker Sashi Moorman in 2010. Parr and Moorman purchased a 40-acre Pinot Noir vineyard in Sta. Rita Hills from Evening Land in 2012 with plans to make wines from it under the Domaine de la Côte label. Sandhi wines are from purchased fruit.
Now, Parr and Banks are making wine in Burgundy, under the Maison l'Orée label, with the help of Nicolas Potel and his team at Domaine de Bellene in Beaune. I caught up with Parr recently in New York.
"My heart is in Burgundy," he said, a region he discovered by mistake in 1996, when he couldn't find a hotel in Dijon and found himself further south in Beaune. "I look for classic vineyards that I like and have a passion for."
With Potel's contacts in the region, Parr sought grapes, juice and wine from vintners whose style he likes. The wines undergo an 18- to 20-month élevage in barrels chosen by Parr, with no racking until the assemblage and bottling. There is no filtration, and fining for the whites only.
The first vintage was 2009. I recently tasted the range of 2010s and they are promising, with the wines ranging from very good to outstanding. More important, they reflect their origins.
The Maison l'Orée Chambolle-Musigny Les Sentiers 2010 is elegant and perfumed, offering cherry, black currant, floral and spice flavors. The Vosne-Romanée Vieilles Vignes delivers a pure cherry note accented by spice and matched to a succulent texture. As expected, the Gevrey-Chambertin 2010 displays hints of earth and tar bolstered by rugged tannins, while the Nuits St.-Georges Les Boudots 2010, a mix of black cherry and violet notes, straddles the divide between earthy intensity of the appellation's more muscular southern wines with the elegance and suppleness of the Vosne quarter. All these 2010s exhibit the linear profiles and vibrant acidities of the vintage.
There's not a lot of oak to get in the way of the site and fruit. Typically 1- and 2-year old barrels are used for the villages and premiers crus, with the exception of the Griotte-Chambertin. Only one barrel was made so it is new oak.
Parr travels to Burgundy seven or eight times a year, particularly before and after the harvest. Currently, one of Potel's team looks after the fermentation, due to Parr's commitments in Sta. Rita with Sandhi and Domaine de la Côte. The goal is to eventually rent vineyards; in 2014, Maison L'Orée will move into a new cellar and a full-time person will be hired to oversee the cellar work.
With the entire production sold in the United States and plans to put down more roots in Burgundy, Maison L'Orée is a label to watch.