The approach appeals to me. It’s honest and doesn’t undermine man’s significance when it comes to wine production. After twenty years of wine passion I’m true to my taste. I know what I like. I’ve also learnt that the holistic approach to agriculture isn’t speaking to me. Hocus-pocus doesn’t do it for your vineyards, a passionate approach, an attention to detail when treating the land and a lot of skills, that’s what makes a difference in my world. After all, wine can’t be described solely as a product of nature, it is a product of man interpreting a part of nature, what the earth provides him with. Or as Sandhi Wines puts it; “…the collaboration between man, earth, and vine.”
Six months ago I had never tasted a Sandhi Wine. Then it all started, by pure coincidence. Let me tell you….
I’m at the office. A short break, checking out peoples updates when I see my buddy Zvonko are having a tasting for clients. The guy sits on the country’s best US wine portfolio where all the great names are included. Some gems as well. Best part? He’s chosen to have the tasting at a restaurant just around the block from my office. Five minutes later I’m there.
Lots of good stuff. The quality is on an impressively high level. But as always there are those wines that speak to you, to your preferences. That lunch break I fell in love with the stuff from Hilliard Bruce, Radio-Coteau and yes, Sandhi Wines. They all represent something, well, not new for California perhaps, more a style made before the concenrated stuff came into the picture twenty years ago. That, and of course, the knowledge of today. Cool character fruit, minerality, restrained wines which tells a story.
The Sandhi wines poured? A cool, wet rocks oozing 2009 Sanford & Benedict Chardonnay from Santa Rita Hills. Gentle, discrete oak presence, cool, dry stone fruits with just a dash of some unripe tropical fruits, minerality and acidity. Why Chardonnay is my weak spot? Sanford & Benedict.
The 2010 Pinot Noir, from the hills as well, shows a slightly floral, shining red fruit character with fine balance, minerality and an acidity adding structure. Most refreshing. This should appeal to European palates, those claiming US Pinot is all about too ripe fruit and lacks acidity. Again, the earth speaks thanks to a healthy vineyard, harvest at an earlier stage that is the standard – and of course a skilled winemaker.
When I find something new to me – I’m telling you, I do that all the time in this never-ending flood in the wine world – but I mean a wine that touches me, I give them a lot of thought. Three months later; guess the level of surprise when another friend of mine, Michel, one of the great connoisseurs of Californian wines, invited me for dinner and told me Rajat Parr would join us. Rajat Parr?! The Rajat Parr? The master sommelier? One of the guys behind Sandhi Wines?
Late November. Michel’s place. Some really great people around the table. Amazing meals and wines out of this world. As always. Next to me? Rajat Parr. It’s a true honor, to see the man decipher one wine after the other. Rajat has brought two wines from Sandhi Wines, the 2010 Bent Rock Chardonnay from Santa Rita Hills and the 2010 Evening Land Tempest Pinot Noir, also from the hills. The Chardonnay is served after two Corton-Charlemagne wines and Rajat looks, not nervous, but probably thinking a bit how the Bent Rock will be perceived.
I’m truly impressed. This is the best Chardonnay from Rajat Parr and the winemaker Sashi Moorman that I’ve tasted. Restrained, cool and those wet rocks, just delicious. On the palate it is easy to think Burgundy, it breathes of class. And yes, it surpassed the Vincent Girardin Corton-Charlemagne and gave the Bonneau du Martray a real fight. Prepare yourself for the new/old California, it will take you by storm and perhaps surprise! The 2010 Evening Land Tempest then? A real charmer and yet it has depth, minerality and a seducing floral nose. Such pure fruit, such fine delineation on the palate. Never an intrusive wine. Just one heck of a good, cool Pinot. Bravo!
Two weeks later, a blind bottle of the 2010 Bien Nacido Pinot Noir is served and boy is that a good glass! Slightly darker fruit, think black cherries, spices and flowers. Humus and a refreshing acidity with a greenish touch (Yup, that is positive). Got to love the pure fruit. Good concentration and fine long finale. Again, no excessive alcohol content, no super ripe fruit. I’m telling you, the Groffier’s 2010 Chambolle-Musigny Les Amoureuses had a tough time being up against the Bien Nacido.
Yes, this story could only end one way; I had to pour one of 2012’s greatest finds on the last day of the year. With lip-smackingly good scallops in a creamy lemon grass and coriander sauce on the plate, the 2011 Chardonnay from Santa Barbara did a great job because this is exactly what lower alcohol, minerality, restrained fruit and balancing acidity can do to your meal.
The philosophy of Rajat Parr and the winemaker Sashi Moorman – and of course Charles Banks who is one of the owners – is in no way spectacular, only sound. Although they don’t own the vineyards themselves they have a good relationship with the land owners, which is essential in order to keep as healthy vineyards as possible. Basically it is all about well-treated vineyards, cool location and vines pruned in order to keep the harvest quantity down.
Then of course the minimalist intervention in the cellar work by winemaker Sashi Moorman who works with wild yeasts and a restrictive use of new oak, maximum 30 percent. Sashi is also working with natural malolactic fermentation, which can be a risk if other organisms than the wanted takes hold of the cellar. There’s no stirring the lees, for the Chardonnay wines to uptake the flavor of the lees. Furthermore no fining or clarification either.
Sandhi Wines is no mass production which means they can be hard to find. But those of you lucky and able to do so, don’t miss out on a great project that might end up influencing a lot of winemakers philosophies in an already dynamic part of the wine world.
Want to buy the wines? Use the wine-searcher box in the top right corner of the site – or contact Sandhi Wines directly for further information.
Photography of Rajat Parr (at Michel’s place) courtesy of Michel Jamais – who also needs to be thanked for answering all my questions and providing some great materiel.