There's a joke often told in wine circles that if you ask Rajat Parr if he's had the '89, the reply will be "1889 or 1989?" If you hear him speak about a wine or witness him blind-taste one, it's tempting to assume he was born with the preternatural understanding of the beverage. But even legends have to start somewhere and in Parr's case, that was as a food runner at Drew Nieporent's star chef-making San Francisco restaurant, Rubicon.
The Calcutta native moved to California after teachers at the Culinary Institue in Hyde Park, New York, suggested that he find someone to work under and learn from. That someone, was acclaimed master sommelier Larry Stone, then Rubicon's wine director. "I worked for free for Larry for many hours before he finally made me his assistant," Parr says. At Rubicon, a chance tasting of 1986 Raveneau Les Clos set him down the rabbit hole of Burgundy obsession. He read every book on the region he could get his hands on. After Rubicon, Parr ascended to be the wine director of Michael Mina's restaurant group, overseeing the wine programs in each restaurant as the group grew to 25 outposts throughout the world.
Rajat Parr (Photo credits: Domaine De La Cote)
Now, after helming four Wine Spectator Grand Award wine lists, coauthoring the acclaimed book Secrets of the Sommeliers (Ten Speed), and helped launch a number of sommeliers who have in turn become some of the industry's most prominent voices, Parr has attained a level of influence and respect enjoyed by few wine professionals. He has won three James Beard Awards, including recognition as an author and as an outstanding service professional in the drinks space, among other accolades. Yet you could just as easily measure Parr’s success by his partnership in three of the country's most exciting wineries: his very own Sandhi Wines, the cult label Domaine De La Côte and the prestigious Evening Lands Vineyard winery.
Sandhi Chardonnay. (Photo credits: The Winecurious)
Founded in 2011 by Parr and his winemaker partner Sashi Moorman, Sandhi is a small production Californian winery focusing on select vineyards from the Sta. Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County. "Sandhi is an ancient Sanskrit word that means collaboration," explains Parr, "Sandhi Wines represents a union essential to the production of wine: the collaboration between man, earth and vine." When asked why he chose Santa Barbara County, he replied, "I feel like Santa Barbara County has the most promise of any new wine region in California. I think that Santa Barbara County is the only place where I can produce the style of wines I like—wines that are intense and rich with balance and vibrancy."
Shop Sandhi Wines here.
Domaine de la Côte
Domaine de la Côte “La Côte” Pinot Noir. (Photo credits: The Wine Boar)
Domaine de la Côte has, in a very brief period, established itself as one of California’s top proponents of Pinot Noir. "These are some of the most viscerally thrilling Pinot Noirs being made in California today" reviews Antonio Galloni of the lead wine critic site, Vinous. Domaine is based on six vineyards on the western edge of the Sta. Rita Hills: Memorious, Bloom’s Field, Siren’s Call, Clos Juliet, La Côte and a sixth site that’s appellation Sta. Rita Hills, all purchased by Parr and Moorman at the beginning of 2013. Domaine organically farms its vineyard and makes its wines with the philosophy of 'add nothing; take nothing away'.
Shop Domaine de la Côte wines here.
Evening Land Vineyards
Evening Land Vineyards Seven Springs Chardonnay. (Photo credits: Evening Land Vineyards)
The Evening Land Vineyards are first and foremost, faithful stewards of the historic and special Seven Springs vineyard, planted by Oregon wine pioneer, Al MacDonald in 1984. While Evening Land was founded by film producer Mark Tarlov in 2005, he left in 2012. Parr and Moorman now stand at the vanguard of the winery that biodynamically grows and vinifies fine Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gamay. "Our goals are simple but lofty. We want to make wines that express the essence of Seven Springs. We aren’t worried about branding, marketing or anything else" says the duo.
Shop Evening Land Vineyards wines here.