Sandhi Chardonnay ‘Rita’s Crown’ Sta. Rita Hills 2012

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What I dream of is an art of balance. This famous line of Henri Matisse emblazons each bottle of Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman’s Sandhi project. Sandhi revolutionized Chardonnay in California and Parr was the heart of the now defunct “in pursuit of balance” seminars that helped push California wine toward what it has become today: far more diverse with a revived focus on value, freshness, and authenticity (of grape, site, farming, winemaking, etc.).

By Matisse’s standards this can be measured a success. As Matisse wrote in his 1947 art-book “Jazz”: “An artist must never be a prisoner of himself, prisoner of a style, prisoner of a reputation, prisoner of success, etc. Did not the Goncourt brothers write that Japanese artists of the great period changed their names several times during their lives? This pleases me: they wanted to protect their freedom.” The “art of balance” of which Matisse spoke was the corollary to a radical freedom the artist was to engage in: never letting norms, ready-made images, or cultural and personal customs interfere with the artist’s perception. The work of art was to become an ideal of purity and serenity divorced from obvious signs of artistic effort. It was meant to free the quotidian mind to ready it for the radical freedom to begin again.

The Sandhi project and, on a larger scale, the In Pursuit of Balance event series, sought to embolden grape growers and wine makers to engage in this radical freedom to see the possibilities of wine in California from an idealistic perspective free from what had come before. I think this tiny space-time rift did help to precipitate the massive growth of what some call the “new” California.

As for the Chardonnays, they are radical things. Rocky, steely, sinewy and precise. Alcohols under 13% with seaside freshness and a saline kick. This 2012 single vineyard from Rita’s Crown showed the wine’s stunning ability to gain complexity with age but retain perfect freshness. Blind, this is hard to peg. Despite the great diversity and quality of Chardonnay in California, the wine still gave me a moment of reflection on the state’s unexplored possibilities.

The american art. Complete. This Sandhi got there.

$85 at LCBO


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