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IPOB Is Gone—Does Anybody Care?

By Stephen Eliot

The big news among wine geeks this week is that the In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) organization has announced that it will cease operating at year’s end. The press release from founders Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch gave no reasons other than to say that the member-only association of some three dozen wineries had more or less achieved its aims of opening a dialogue about their views on what balance is and to promote California wines that met that criteria: “wines of purpose and relevance” as I recall one of their annual seminars intoned. Mr. Parr and Ms. Hirsch also pointed to the fact that their own businesses demanded more attention than they could provide while steering IPOB. It was, in short, time to get back to their vineyards and wineries.

Some have suggested that IPOB simply petered out, that its message had reached as many as it could. Others see it as having spawned a movement of great import that has taken on an energetic life of its own. I would not say that IPOB has died, merely that its organizers and governors have decided to move on, but the idea that IPOB has caused radical redirection in California winemaking is hard to accept. It is hard not to see it for what it was, a narrow-minded marketing effort. What is certain is that it got people talking, to say the very least. The high-acid/low-alcohol advocacy of IPOB and the subsequent reaction to the same have been, for better or worse, at the heart of much of the wine discussion over the past several years.

Organizations of winemakers and grape growers are not new. In spirit, at least, IPOB was no different than any number of regional vintner and growing associations bent on promoting this or that district or groups such as the Rhone Rangers, ZAP or the Paso Robles CAB Collective that champion specific varieties. It did, however, stand apart by virtue of its decidedly singular philosophical tone and by its presumptive aims to define what balance is and should be with respect to California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Some in the organization were quick to disavow any judgmental preaching by urging everyone to drink the wines that they like, but I always thought their self-righteousness rather thinly disguised. I will give Mr. Parr credit, I have never heard him demean others, and he only spoke of what he liked. I cannot say the say for other members of IPOB and their supporters. It was elitist by nature with a board of opinionated judges who would rule on who would and would not be allowed to join, and, if, yes, you should drink what you like, more than a few of its champions were willing to show you just how wrong and inexperienced you were. And, baffling statements such as this found in the IPOB Manifesto of Balance, “Pinot noir grown on the west coast has been the next big thing for a while now, but perhaps that shouldn’t be the case. Popularity is an exaggeration, a distortion of pinot noir’s defining qualities and a distraction from what makes it truly great,” added a particularly pompous, almost poisonous twist to their message.

If there has probably been too much rancor directed its way, the anger that its members’ “clique-like” behavior ignited was often justified, and I find their expressions of innocence at having started the fight to be a bit disingenuous. I suppose that is the way of with those who believe they have seen the truth and that those who do not are de facto blind. It all feels a little too much like religion to me.

The battle about style has spread well beyond Pinot Noir and Chardonnay these days with vocal advocates of high acid and low alcohol setting their sights on everything from Cabernet Sauvignon to Syrah, and fans of richness and ripeness just as noisily defending their style of choice. The denouement of IPOB has many doing early dances on its grave, some lamenting its departure and others simply wondering what its long-term significance may be. I was assuredly not a fan, but I suppose I would count myself among the wondering latter. Although nothing that IPOB ever did impressed me to be in the name of open-minded diversity, I welcome any development in the world of fine wine that broadens the spectrum of choice. I just do not need someone questioning mine and dismissively proclaiming me to be but a novice who has been led astray by wines of irrational exuberance.


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by Regina M. Lutz
Posted on:5/27/2016 1:50:34 PM

Hi Stephen,

Thanks for saying what the rest of us have been thinking! 'Way to clique-ish and pompous for me. Went to one IPOB event, attempted to contact organizers about joining -- never received a response. Oh well....

by Duncan
Posted on:7/10/2016 2:36:38 PM

Ya, I went against them a couple months ago. one week before they announced their cease, I got death threats in my email for a satirical instagram account i had by the name of @jazminehirsch with IPOO. In pursuit of originality. I sent her and all of her affiliates an email apologizing yet was forceful about my obligation to take down anyone who is unethically loosening the already light weak of a grasp that the public has on wine. I heard nothing until they announced it on sfgate...spooky. Natural wine movement is my next target. @winecountryking

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