Friday, May 4, 2012

Sashi Moorman argues for lower alcohol

When Juliet Moorman, now 4, is a great winemaker, I will be proud to have been the first wine blog to publish her photo
My column this month for Wine Review Online comes from an evening I spent visiting Sashi Moorman, who is not only a great winemaker and chef; he also has good genes. His 4-year-old daughter Juliet is beyond adorable, and seems to have inherited his boundless energy. In the photo, she has decided that winemaker Rick Longoria could use a makeover. Get on that, Rick!

Sashi Moorman also sees a potential makeover in his neighborhood; he makes some interesting statements about what the future of Santa Rita Hills wines could and should be. And I can get away with running a photo of a cute kid on my blog because Juliet's palate figures into the story. Unfortunately WRO doesn't allow comments on its pages, and I know Adam Lee at least has something to say, so I invite you to read it and then post your comments here.

I'm in Portugal with crappy wifi so please forgive me if I don't have any posts until the middle of next week. But when I'm back, I'll be back with a bullet. Metaphorically speaking. You can't get a bullet through US customs. Memo to TSA: Just kidding! Don't taze me, man.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...


Indeed, I do have something to say about the article.

I find it sad that Sashi, a fantastic winemaker, has chosen to dichotomize a region where I have found much more comradery than division. I have had the pleasure of tasting with Greg Brewer (of Brewer-Clifton fame, and not one to be dogmatic about ripeness levels) and Joe Davis (of Arcadian fame, one of the earlier proponents of less ripeness) on the same day while in the Sta. Rita Hills. I have received congratulatory emails when some of my SRH wines have received good reviews from winemakers of all stripes. As a whole, the winemakers of the Sta. Rita Hills have been incredibly supportive of all wines of all ripeness levels. And I think that is fantastic.

I think it is unfortunate, then, to sense that some of this is changing. To state that the Sta. Rita Hills could "create quite a name for itself if"....everybody only did why I do -- ignores that fact that Sta. Rita Hills has created quite a name for itself over the last decade plus -- thanks to the hard work of many people. I see the recognition of these wines in the marketplace now compared to the late 1990s and there is no comparison. (btw, I think there will be many winemakers in Oregon suprised to hear that they can't make elegant Pinots there).

I am also surprised and saddened to hear that the customers who like many of the riper Sta. Rita Hills' Pinots apparently have their palate analogized to that of a 4-year-old. That's really insulting and don't see how such statments will help increase the perception of Sta. Rita Hills wines in anyone's mind.

Again, I think we all have much more to gain by promoting a region's Pinot Noirs together, or praising their diversity, than we do in trying to take sides.

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Peter Cargasacchi Sta. Rita Hills said...

Suggesting that other people have the tastes of a 4 year old is very insulting. That's a text book insult by innuendo.

I suppose that is believed to be normal methods of marketing by some people?

What's wrong with describing his own wines and leaving it at that? Why denigrate and put down the competition?

Its hard to believe someone would stoop to this level.

Brian Loring said...

First off, I wish Sashi all the best. He obviously has a vision of what style wine he wants to make, and obviously he's found an audience for those wines. But, as Adam and Peter have pointed out, I too find it sad that he feels the need to point out that his approach is correct, and that the rest of us just don't get it.

In the early days of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA, Peter and I often co-ordinated visits of large groups of internet wine geeks, usually before other large local events like Hospice du Rhone. We were sure to include everyone, regardless of style of wine. And some of the early pioneers of the area are still idols to me: people like Richard Sanford, Rick Longoria, Bryan Babcock, and Bruno D'Alfonso. I continue to enjoy and respect the wines they make. I would never feel comfortable saying that I know more than they do - or that their ideas are somehow wrong... especially since I don't believe that to be the case. They have their reasons for what they do, just as I do, and as long as we're all true to those beliefs, what's to question?

We're all striving to make the best wines possible - wines that reflect the terroir of the individual sites. I have my rationale for why I think that the unique growing conditions of SRH result in deep, richly flavored wines with great structure and balance - albeit with higher alcohols than were traditionally seen in CA. It has to do with latitude and daylight hours during the growing season. And it's based on 12 years of experience working with SRH Pinot. Doesn't mean I'm right, but where we're at now works for me.

And I think that SRH will continue to build on the name that it's already made for itself, but not by some committe of commonality, but rather by individuals exploring their own vision and taking risks to figure out the terroirs of each site. And by people who have the guts to stick to their beliefs despite what others might say. I'd like to think we're part of that latter group, and I'd consider Sashi to be as well. It'd just be nice if everyone respected each other's beliefs.

Joel BrĂ¼t said...

Those Sandhi Chardonnays are very, very delicious. That style suits Chardonnay perfectly. I am going to pick some up at Los Olivos Cafe tomorrow actually! The PNs are more controversial though.

W. Blake Gray said...

I may regret this, for I have been drinking Glenrothes 1994 in Portugal and it's after midnight and I haven't slept in ... but ....

Sashi had his opinion. Respect it. Listen to it. Or not. But let's not attack people for having opinions. The great majority, maybe 85%, of my favorite wines are made by strongly opinionated people.

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...


Yes, better to wait until morning for you (I, too, have had many late night posts...regreting a few).

Nobody is attacking Sashi. I like his wines, and am fine with any decisions he makes to make them.

But nobody compared his tastes to that of a young child - he was that one that did that. And nobody else said that SRH would be better if they followed their techniques - it was Sashi who did that.

As an anology, if someone wrote that anyone who likes the wines that Blake Gray recommends has the taste of a 4-year old, compared to those who like the wines Robert Parker recommends which are liked by people with mature palates....would that be an opinion or an insult?

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

W. Blake Gray said...

Adam: OK, now I'm sober and I think you're overreacting.

Part of this is my fault. It's a poorly written transition; the column was rushed for reasons I won't get into. The quote from Sashi about peaches really belongs below the quote about strawberries, because we were talking about grapes, not wine. That's not clear in the story, and for that I take the blame.

Here's why I still think you're overreacting: He's not comparing your palate or my palate or anybody else's palate to a 4-year-old. He's comparing his own palate to his 4-year-old daughter's. Now, I think we can fairly extrapolate that 4-year-olds everywhere like more sweetness in food than adults.

4-year-olds don't drink wine: not even winemaker's daughters. And not just because they can't. I strongly doubt they would like it. Do you remember your first taste of alcohol? It would blow them away. It's not a realistic comparison to say: "A 4-year-old would like these wines," because she wouldn't.

Is it fair to say that adults who eat, say, supermarket ice cream with fudge and candy sprinkled on top have the palate of a 4-year-old? Maybe. I'm not going to sugarcoat (heh) the childishness of many Americans' obsession with super sweetness.

But that's also not what we're talking about when we talk about very ripe Pinot Noirs. The grapes may have been that sweet, but the wine won't be.

Re your analogy: I would jump to the defense of my readers, so it doesn't work. I'm fairly used to being insulted myself, so if you want to say I have the taste of a 4 year old, I'd just jump back with, "A 4-year-old alcoholic, maybe."

But nobody here is accusing anyone of having a 4-year-old's palate -- nor is anyone accusing anyone of making wines a 4-year-old would like.

W. Blake Gray said...

Adam: Sorry, forgot to respond to two other complaints:

1) Sashi is saying that SRH has the unique ability to have ripe fruit flavors with low alcohol every single year. He IS saying you can't do that in Oregon, and it's true; you can't even do that in Burgundy.

2) Sure, he's saying SRH could create an identity for itself by specializing in these wines. I don't see why you find that provocative. It's food theory. It's also true.

Very few wine regions in California have a real identity, where if only the appellation was listed on the wine, would you know what you're getting. Oakville, Rutherford. Maybe Howell Mountain. Where else?

I agree with him. Sure, SRH could specialize in bold full-bodied Pinots ... but so can Russian River Valley and Anderson Valley and a bunch of other places. You may not WANT SRH to be known for ripe, low alcohol Pinots, but that's different from saying what it COULD be.

3) Adam, you're not going to like this, but you're going a little Limbaugh on me here, spinning simple statements into outrages ("really insulting;" reading more into the Oregon statement than needs to be read.) Plenty of people in the wine world DO attack what others do, but Sashi didn't; he was pleading for what they could do.

Greg Walter said...

I am a firm believer that in wine (making or drinking) we are all on pretty much a level playing field in terms of the relative value of our opinions. There is no right or wrong with regard to wine styles, and other than blatantly flawed wines (which are harder to find now than they were when I got in this business 35 years ago) I believe that if a wine is well made, it doesn't matter to me from which end of the style spectrum it comes. The last thing the Santa Rita Hills (or any other West Coast wine region) needs is a governor on creativity and experimentation with different wine styles. The West Coast is far too young a wine producing region for anyone to lay a template over how Pinot or any other wine should be made or how it should taste. I, for one, love the diversity and will continue to resist the black and white "I'm right, therefore you're wrong" approaches.

Greg Walter

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...


1) You wrote, "Sashi is saying that SRH has the unique ability to have ripe fruit flavors with low alcohol every single year. He IS saying you can't do that in Oregon, and it's true; you can't even do that in Burgundy." --

Did you ever consider asking him, then, why every single 2009 Evening Land Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir has a listed alcohol of 14.1% or higher. And every Oregon and Burgundian Pinot from Evening Land has an alcohol level of below 14%?

Now personally, I could care less what the alchol is (I have made SRH Pinots below and above 14%), but I think that apparent contradiction is something that a journalist might want to inquire about. Perhaps you could ask Sashi to post an answer.

2) SRH has made quite a name for itself already. It doesn't need to be pigeon-holed into one particular style of Pinot Noir to do that. Personally, I think that much of the reason that it has made a name for itself is because of the uniqueness of the soil there (much more calcerious/silica soil than we have in any of our other CA vineyards). That, along with the climate (which is the morings, but more windy, less foggy in the afternoon), leads to thicker skins in Pinot Noir combined with higher acids. That makes for incredibly unique Pinot Noirs, and why the SRH has made a name for itself wines varying in style from Sanford, to Babcock, to Arcadian, to Brewer-Clifton, etc. Always amazed at how many writers say they believe in terroir but apparently ignore soil.

3) I had my first taste of alcohol at age 19 so not sure I am a good example to cite when it comes to first exposure to alcohol. But I have 3 kids -- ages 12, 8, and 6. The oldest, Christian, at 4 was caught taking Garys' Vineyard out of the tank. He had always liked the two Garys personally so we let him taste it. He spit it out and said it was horrible...that it was much heavier and bitter than any Garys' he'd ever had. That is when we realized that the only Garys' wines he'd had before were Pinot Noir, not Syrah...and this was his first taste of Garys' Vineyard Syrah. -- Perhaps you feel comfortable grossly oversimplifying the tastes of an age group, or of a country (as you do with American's tastes in your response -- care to criticize the Germans for producing and consuming wines with residual sugar?), but I won't do that.

4) Two days ago on Twitter you characterized Sashi's comments as "provocative" - now your implying that they aren't provocative and compare me to Rush Limbaugh for being provoked by them. You do realize that provocative and provoke have the same etymology?

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Dapz said...

When one is buying a wine from Napa, he/she pretty much knows the style of the wine in the bottle.
It is very hard for the average consumer to know the particular style of each individual winemaker. I too would love for regions to have a defined typicity.
It seems to me, it would be commercially better for the region as well.

Brian Loring - Loring Wine Company said...


"1) Sashi is saying that SRH has the unique ability to have ripe fruit flavors with low alcohol every single year. He IS saying you can't do that in Oregon, and it's true; you can't even do that in Burgundy."
And many of us would argue it's even less likely in Sta Rita Hills. While I'm glad Sashi is happy with his wines, and that you find them pleasing as well, I would argue that he's still picking underripe fruit to acheive low alcohols. We prefer not to put a pre-condition on the region (i.e. it must produce low alcohol wines) and instead accept what the terroir wants to produce.

We source fruit from all over California, and apply the same measure of ripeness to everything (seeds at least starting to brown, pulp detacting, etc), and the fact is that in order to acheive that in SRH, you need to wait later into the growing season. You simply can't overcome the issue of less daylight hours at the more southern latitude. The glory of SRH is that the cool weather and soils (that Adam mentioned) mitigate sugar accumulation and acid loss - thereby allowing you to wait until the fruit is truely ripe without resulting super high alcohol levels or loss of structure. And that, to me, is what makes SRH distinctive. And why it's already created a name for itself.

In my opinion, Sashi's the one who's saying what the region SHOULD be instead of what it COULD be (and already is, in the eyes of many other producers).

W. Blake Gray said...

Peter Cargasacchi, I'm going to call you out on "It's hard to believe someone would stoop to this level." I haven't forgotten your anonymous Ms. Pinot Noir. Wouldn't you agree that was quite a bit more personal than anything Sashi said?

Adam: Christian's going to be a hell of a winemaker. And he already doesn't like heavy wines. Nice.

Re stereotyping Americans' taste: Please see the word "many." Do you want to say that many Americans don't have a sweet tooth? Go ahead, say it.

Re Sashi posting a response: Well, yes, I'd like to see it. Some of his quotes come from long conversations and may not express his thoughts as completely as he'd like.

Sashi, I'm sure you're reading this, or somebody who knows you is reading this. Care to weigh in?

Ross said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ross said...

The article was fun and to the point. I think Blake did a good job summarizing Sashi's opinions and interests. His tone was confident and focused on the SRH. It is disconcerting to hear about the comparisons between this region and that, as if it validates oneself. It would be hollow for a winemaker from, say, Burgundy to compare their wines in a superior tone. In the end, the winemaker that held a diplomatic approach might impress in the end. My humble opinion of SRH. Ripe, acidic, dark and consistently representative of the area, somewhat independent of the winemaking. Site trumps all, even SM. Let's all be proud of the wines we make, and like a family picking wild raspberries at the roadside; get over yourself. Enjoy your wine and hope everyone else agrees with your approach.

W. Blake Gray said...

I wish I had pointed this out earlier:

When it comes to peaches, I guess I have a 4-year-old's palate. I like my peaches very ripe, as Juliet Moorman does. And I'm obviously not ashamed to admit it.

Wine's different.

The Etruscan said...

Adam Lee wrote "Perhaps you feel comfortable grossly oversimplifying the tastes of an age group, or of a country (as you do with American's tastes in your response -- care to criticize the Germans for producing and consuming wines with residual sugar?), but I won't do that."

As an aside, Germany has somewhat infamously lost its palate for residual sugar in its wines as a market. From what I've been quoted by a number of people, Germany now exports almost all the sweet wines it makes.

This has no bearing on the argument at hand. I just think it's kind of interesting.

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...


Interesting point. Certainly the direction Germany is heading, though a bit premature perhaps. The latest study I found shows that 59% of the wines made in Germany and consumed in Germany are off-dry or sweet, but that is down quite a bit.

Here's the link on the latest:

Adam Lee
Siduri Wines

Dapz said...

I'll tell you what:
This engaged discussion made me very curious to try the Sandhi Wines so I went ahead and bought two bottles; plan to drink one now and the other in a few years. Hope they show well.
The discussion here, although heated at times, is what makes this my favorite wine blog; folks with so much knowledge in the industry leaving intelligent comments where I can learn from.
Thank you all for keeping this space so interesting

Can't wait to try Siduri wines as well, so I joined their mailing list, hope to be able to buy a couple of bottles soon!!

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines said...


Saw your sign-up on our mailing list and tried to drop you a personal email but it bounced. Can you drop me a direct email at so I can see what kind of wines you like and point you in a direction?


Adam Lee
Siduri Wines