Rajat Parr / Photo by: Andrew Schoneberger
In the foothills of San Simeon, on California’s Central Coast and just a few miles east of the Pacific Ocean, Rajat Parr is driving a tractor through vineyard rows, spraying a homemade concoction of milk thistle, willow branch and stinging nettles that he fermented in seawater.
This is Phelan Farm, where Parr—who was born in Kolkata, educated in New York and rose to fame in the restaurants of San Francisco— is tending to his own vines with his own hands.
After years of buying grapes to make such brands as Sandhi, Evening Land and Domaine de la Côte, he’s exploring innovative techniques on the 12-acre vineyard. Aside from some preexisting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he is growing grapes originally from the Savoie, Jura and Burgundy regions of France, as well as northern Spain, including Poulsard, Mondeuse, Gringet Altesse, Trousseau, Pink Chardonnay, Mencía, Gamay, Jacquère and Savagnin.
We caught up with him to talk about trying different grapes and farming techniques as the climate changes.
Matt: Do you see more vintners trying to chase the coastline as temperatures warm?
Rajat: Chasing the coast is important. We want acidity, that natural freshness, and we want to ripen as late as possible while holding acidity.
But on the flipside, sometimes you get those Santa Ana winds. Your grapes might get roasted early. There is definitely a toss-up there.
Matt: Why did you decide to plant these particular grapes?
Rajat: The first time I went to Phelan Farm, the clay reminded me of the Savoie or the Jura. It’s a canyon with sycamore, oaks and willows around. This does not look like normal California vineyards. We picked each vineyard to have its own identity.
Matt: Are the grape varieties you selected trendy right now, or is there something more here?
Rajat: These wines are wines that I drink regularly from the Jura. It wasn’t just to plant this vineyard anywhere. It was to plant it in a place where you can really get it right and retain the freshness.
I’m picking Poulsard in the middle of October and it might be 11%. That place is right. It goes there.