Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Adam Tolmach's Change of Heart at Ojai Vineyards

Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards is in the LA Times today. It looks like Adam has gotten tired of serving the dark Sith lord Darth Parker and decided that his own Jedi palate should rule the day. That may be a geeky over simplification of the LA Times article but its simply astounding to hear a successful winemaker be honest about how he feels he may have compromised his own vision in order to attain certain scores from a certain someone. But then if you ask Adam himself, he says the LA times misquoted him and he has never made wines to please critics. Check the thread on Mark Squires Board at However, Adam states plainly that he plans on picking even earlier for next years harvest in order to make the wine he loves, even if it means these wines may not garner as much praise.

"The goal is to produce 14%-alcohol wines with nuance", Tolmach says. He wants to avoid overripe prune and jam flavors and preserve acidity to allow the more delicate floral and herbal qualities to emerge. "I want to take the Eurocentric sense of balance and apply it in California. We add no acid. No water. It's about picking at the right time and from cooler climate vineyards," he says." -Quote & photo from LA Times

"Tolmach thinks that other wine critics are beginning to get the attention of wine lovers. "-La Times. Is Tolmach perceiving a new trend in the wine industry? There has been plenty of talk about moving away from high alcohol wines all over the place. Even to the point of some wine shops deciding not to sell wines above a certain alcohol percentage. I think Adam Tolmach is right. Wine blogs like this are part of a wine blogging community that are already providing an alternative to the monopoly of a few palates. Perhaps the next generation won't be so beholden to one critic's scores and will instead have the confidence to disagree and rely on multiple sources for wine recommendations. I've met plenty of people who get turned off by wine after only drinking Parker recommended wines. This especially seems true with women who think they don't like red wine because of the hot fruit bombs they've encountered. I 've suggested what I consider more elegant, balanced wines and they are so happy to find that there are red wines out there for them. Considering women are making around 57% of wine purchases, there is additional support for more elegant wines in the marketplace. Keep in mind I don't mean making wines that are heavily marketed, generic chick lit girlie wine. I agree with Kris Curran who said "I find it demeaning, It's implying that women don't have as sophisticated a palate."- quote from International Herald Tribune Patricia Leigh Brown.
In the end I am not saying that Robert Parker is evil, even if the jokes are fun. He, like everyone else, has every right to his or her own palate preference. If you love only Parker wines, then he is the wine critic for you to follow. However, it is unfortunate consequence of Parker's success, that 28 brix(at harvest), watered back/micro oxed, high residual sugar, high alcohol wines are what it takes to get the 90 plus point scores and therefore to sell wine. Its time to bust up this Monopoly of taste. The consumer deserves to be able to choose a bottle of wine at dinner that does not overwhelm their food and is not so high in alcohol that its actually splittable on a date. High alcohol wine = TMI ( too much information) for a first date... Lets hope they start voting with their dollars. I applaud Adam and look forward to trying Adam's new wines in the coming years and hope you do too.

Check out some of the comments over at on this topic... Drama!


Dr. Debs said...

I bought my first Ojai wine from domaine547 and now I will be buying them regularly--if for no other reason than they understand that women don't want wines with labels like "Little Black Dress." They just want wines that aren't palate thumpers with all that alcohol. Good for them. Good for us, too. Kris Curran is right; it's demeaning. And my compliments to Mr. Tolmach, who understands that and knows a good winemaker doesn't need stratospheric alcohol levels to make good wine.

Thanks for piecing all those stories together--it brought extra dimension to the one story that I read.

SB Wine Advocate said...

Just for further edification here is Adams comment on the LA times article.. I took this directly from the story. Thanks Monkuwino for catching it.
I have never made wines to please wine writers. I make them for myself and my customers. I was misquoted and my statements utterly misconstrued in the Los Angeles Times article.

We have always strived for balanced wines that drink well with food. It's embarrassing for me to say this, but I think we have a pretty good track record of making flavory, delicious wines that age quite well.

A few of our pinot noirs have been too big for my taste, that is to say, I don't get great pleasure drinking them. To that end we have been experimenting with picking less ripe grapes and are finding the results satisfying. In the last 15 years we began to farm our grapes more meticulously and have throttled the yields to ridiculously low levels. We are discovering that this has given us physiologically riper grapes at lower sugars. We are applying this knowledge to the other varieties we craft as well—attempting to make even better balanced wines that are zesty and full of life and a bit lower in alcohol.

And yes I do think these more nuanced wines will be less noticed by the critics; however, I think there are customers interested in finesse. An interesting fact is that back in 1991 we used to be the last winery to pick a vineyard, and today we are almost always the first. We have always aimed at 25% sugar as an ideal—what changed was everyone else. The norm in the San Luis Obispo to Santa Barbara area is now 28 or 29%. Wine makers often wait a month after physiological maturity to pick. The resultant wines are monstrous alcoholic things with no acidity—and if
they aren't low in acidity and high in alcohol they clearly have be manipulated to the point that they have lost any personality.

If you want a little more detail about my thinking look at The Ojai Vineyard website and my older “notes from the vineyard”. Don't believe everything written in the newspaper!
Adam Tolmach, Ojai Vineyard, USA

SB Wine Advocate said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more - people need to learn their own palate. Maybe Parker is the guy for you, but maybe he isn't. He certainly should not be the end-all-be-all of palate preferences.

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