BACK TO THE LAND
Parr walks through a plot with Chardonnay grapes—yes, he has planted that too but it is farmed organically and biodynamically—to check for mildew. He examines the vines the way one would handle fine silk and seems satisfied. These grapes, biodynamically produced and harvested —farming practices using natural materials, soils, and composts that treat the vineyard as a single ecosystem where each portion of vineyard is linked to another—will become “zero-zero” wines. No additives to enhance taste and portability, zero sulphites as preservatives, he explains. It is an ambitious exercise, not least because such wines may not get the permission for export. No matter. For Parr the farmer-producer, process is everything.
Once he figured out how to be a sommelier, Parr’s restless mind shifted gears. Having drunk “some 100,000 wines,” he knew that he loved French wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. He wondered why the French style of making wine with whole clusters of grapes being fermented to give a low-alcohol, aromatic, fresh and well-structured wine was not possible in California. In 2010, he joined hands with Sashi Moorman, a winemaker, to farm and create two wine labels, Sandhi and Domaine de la Cote. A third label, Evening Land is farmed in Oregon. The wines they make aren’t too expensive: in the sub $100 range. Their success lies in the fact that they successfully created wines that were at the level of fine Burgundies. Today, while the two remain partners, Parr is spending most of his energy on Phelan Farms.
As we walk through the tiny plots, Parr points out his jars of his herbal concoctions that he will use to spray instead of pesticides. “It is amazing how the plants respond,” he says. Last week, for instance, there was mildew in the vines. Parr sprayed milk mixed with herbs on the vines and voila, the mildew was gone.
At the edge of his property is an animal enclosure where about a dozen St. Croix sheep and hens are contained. Guarding them from coyotes are two beautiful sheep dogs named Leroy and Fleurie. The sheep droppings are used as manure for the farm. Parr throws in the vegetable waste he is carrying. The sheep gather around to eat. He is grinning as he watches the animals, calling out to his dogs, checking the chicken coop for fresh eggs, and surveying his domain which will soon hopefully become a Domaine. For now, Rajat Parr’s restless mind is at peace.