Rajat Parr: ”A great wine list should have no fillers”

Rajat Parr.
Andreas Grube
Published 09-February-2022
Interview

Renowned sommelier, author and winemaker Rajat Parr spends most of his days developing his newest vineyard Phelan Farm in Cumbria, California. Rajat is also one of the judges in the upcoming UK Wine List of the Year awards.

”A great wine list should have no fillers. Every selection should be meaningful and there for a reason, whether you have 60 or 2,000 wines on your list,” he says.

Sommelier turned winemaker, successful author and famous for having one of the world’s best blind tasting skills. Rajat Parr doesn’t need further introduction. In the last decade, he has been focusing on winemaking in Oregon and California: Sandhi is his label of purchased grapes, while Lompoc, Evening Land and Domaine de la Cote are made from vineyards he runs together with Sashi Moorman.

In the last couple of years, Rajat has spent most of his time farming his new vineyard in Cumbria.

”I still oversee the other vineyards, and I’m still a partner and all that. But most of the time, I’m here at Phelan Farm. We have 4.5 hectares and 14 different grape varieties planted,” he says.

Phelan Farm is my main focus going forward, try to develop and tweak the vineyards that we have

The history of Phelan Farm dates back to 1851, but it was in 2007 Greg Phelan decided to plant Chardonnay and Pinot Noir on their own roots and chose four sites best suited for viticulture. Rajat Parr got involved in 2017 and decided to focus on regenerative farming practices, and he diversified the vineyards with a selection of vines from across Europe.

”I mostly work with grape varieties from Jura and Savoy, and I’m doing it in a Jura style. The philosophy is very simple: add nothing and remove nothing,” says Rajat.

The first wines were bottled in 2020, and the wines are both varietal and blends.

”It’s a really great place to live and farm. Apart from the vines, we also have sheep and chickens, and I’ve also planted a small apple orchard. Phelan Farm is my main focus going forward, try to develop and tweak the vineyards that we have.”

Rajat Parr is also part of Star Wine List’s top sommelier jury for the upcoming UK Wine List of the Year, and he was judging Star Wine List of the Year Denmark last year.

”In my previous life, I was travelling a lot, but I don’t do that as much anymore, so it’s fun to see what is happening out there. How wine lists are evolving, how people have handled the pandemic and so on,” he says about his jury duty.

When we do this interview, Rajat is in the midst of going through the wine lists in the UK, and he says that he is impressed by the overall high level.

”The UK is a very interesting place, and especially London. There’s such a great mix of wines here. London has everything: classics and more modern wines. It is very nice to see.”

Rajat Parr with the book The Sommelier's Atlas of Taste, that he co-wrote with Jordan Mackay.

What defines a great wine list?
”A great wine list should have no fillers. Every selection should be meaningful and there for a reason, whether you have 60 or 2,000 wines on your list.”

What is the most interesting wine region in the world right now, in your opinion? And why?
”There are a lot of exciting places, but I have to say Spain and Portugal. I love how they work with indigenous grape varieties, we need more of that, it is much more fun than planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. People should focus more on the old varieties and traditions, focus on what has been planted there before.”

What is the single most important aspect of a great wine?
”Number one is, of course, that it has to be delicious. But also that it shows authenticity of a varietal and a place. For example, I’m not a fan of when Cabernet Franc grown in warmer climates lose the pyrazines. As a winegrower, you have the responsibility to make the wine in the most authentic way possible.”

What is your go-to wine on a night off?
”I don’t repeat a wine very often, but I think everything from Jura and Savoy is what I drink most of. I also drink a lot of German and Austrian wines, and I try to keep track of all the new and interesting producers in Burgundy and Champagne.”

You’ve written a couple of books together with Jordan Mackay – are there any more books in the making?
”No, not right now. Books take such a long time to write, and right now I’m putting all my focus on the farm.”

Want to know more about Rajat Parr's Phelan Farm? Check out the website here.

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