From the man that recommended MacDonald, Sandlands, Beta...Phelan Farm!

It is has been a while since I have found a new California producer that is as exciting as Phelan Farm. As you recall I was the first to recommend MacDonald, Sandlands and Beta. It is not because they are not out there, moreso, because I have turned my full attention to Germany.

I have heard a lot of buzz about Raj Parr’s current project Phelan Farm, especially from Abe Schoner who is working on other projects with Raj and has followed along front and center with this project.

They do have a mailing list:

I believe Raj is directly responsible for both the farming and winemaking. According to Abe

Raj has taken over all of the farming on 12 acres of land in an isolated canyon in Cambria. The land is fertile, but the canyon, facing the Pacific, only a few miles away, is cold and the vines move slowly. Raj is engaging in a very innovative and idiosyncratic kind of farming: he is doing everything organically, and following some of the precepts of biodynamic farming, but without dogmatic adherence. He is combatting mildew without the use of sulfur, and concentrating his farming efforts on soil microbiology, and a vine health that flows from the vigor of the fungal microbiome in the soil. He does all of the work himself together with his dear partner, aided by only one employee, and a constantly shifting team of friends. The vineyards were originally planted only to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, all on their own roots. Since he took over a five years ago, he has grafted much of the land over to 12 other varieties, mostly from the cool climates of the Jura and Savoie.

More from Abe below (edited slightly because the pictures did not post):


One of the most amazing grape-growing projects in the country

I have a special mission today. I want to introduce you to what my friend Raj has been working on with a kind of blinding dedication since 2019. You have a sense from these missives, and perhaps from the chronicles of Instagram too, how closely we have been working together during this time. But I have never really made clear what is going on up in Cambria, what it means to me, and what it could mean to you.

The occasion for all of this is the first release of the wines that Raj has made from this land; you will find a link to the wines at the end of this little narrative.

I am going to try to convey the essence of Phelan Farm to you in five vignettes:

About 10 years ago, Raj was approached by a grower way up the coast, offering him Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for Sandhi. The grower was Greg Phelan. He was managing a ranch that has been in the family since 1851. They had planted 4 blocks of vines on their own roots in a cool, misty, valley bordering Heart Castle, and less than a mile from the Pacific. Raj went up and looked at it and saw something that went way beyond blending into Sandhi.

The vines are on their own roots because the valley is isolated and no grapes have even been grown nearby. The isolated valley is magical, surrounded by soaring hillsides with volcanic outcroppings. The valley is not only cool, it is the coldest vineyard that I know of anywhere in California.

Here is the most important thing that I have to tell you. When Raj took on the vineyard, he took on all of its farming, in absolutely every respect. There is no vineyard management company. There is Raj and his inseparable lieutenant, Abad.
And as remarkable as it may be that this former sommelier now spends his days with his hands literally in the dirt, or wrapped around the wheel of a tractor, or stirring a compost tea— even the fact that he does this real work himself is not what is most important. Raj is following no rules, or handbooks, or consultant’s directions. He is teaching himself about grape growing in the vineyard, every day, from the ground up, from the first pruning cut. In this way, he is engaged in the radical project of re-thinking the daily work of grape-growing from its very foundations.

It is easy now to sign on to the principles of biodynamics, to hire a consultant, or even an experienced organic farmer. Raj has done none of these things. Instead, he goes into the vineyard every day, at every season, and asks: what is the most holistic way to do this? what is the least intrusive? how do we work with every living thing in the vineyard, bacterium to fungus to thistle to red-tailed hawk? How do we encourage, make stronger? We decided on this principle a year ago for managing pests at Phelan Farm: The aim would never be eradication, only collaboration.

They are filling a plastic tank. That tank is for spraying, for spraying the vines, most often to prevent mildew. What are they putting into the tank? Not sulfur, or some even more gentle poison still allowed by the rules of organic certification. That’s Milk going into the tank. He learned about this from a friend in Burgundy and believed in it and was determined to try it. Not “try” in the sense of make an experiment: but to launch in, with no previous experience, and the whole harvest at risk, and to try to make this organic farming fairy tale work. And he did. Raj sprayed no sulfur in 2021 and had no more mildew than any careful, conventionally farmed, vineyard.
So yes, Phelan is farmed organically; but that is the least of it. It is farmed boldly and courageously, with everything in jeopardy in a daily pursuit of beauty.

I want to point out one more, very special, thing going on at Phelan Farm. There is so much thinking going on there, so much inquiry, so much attention paid to small things— and so much looking outward, to the work of others. In some way, it is like a very collegial research institute, with constant visitors— students and faculty alike. And this collaboration, in the vineyard and at the dinner table, is bringing the cultures of Napa, Paso, and Cucamonga, California and Oregon (and soon Europe and the US) closer together. The wines of San Luis Obispo county are often overlooked and have a certain reputation for conservative predictability: Raj’s work in Cambria is helping to bring a new momentum to the county, and to fertilize the already sprouting seeds of new thinking.

One the two important things that wine can accomplish is to capture and translate a place. This power is amazing and an object of reverent gratitude for me.

Think about this: Phelan Farm, the harvest of 2021, nourished by kelp-compost teas, protected from mildew by milk, You can take the fruit of this harvest, this very specific harvest from this very special place, ferment it, bottle it, and ship it around the world. And then you have captured something that is essentially from Phelan and nowhere else. And shared it. The wines can bring Phelan Farm to you.

Phelan Farm is like a lens, focusing joyous energy and the sharpest thinking on the project of growing grapes. The bottled wines are the last lens, the final bringing into focus.

Go and you will learn much more of what Raj is up to; you will learn especially how he has grafted over most of the Chardonnay and Pinot to grape varieties from Jura and the Savoie; how he is making apple, pear, and grape co-fermentations; and you will see some traces of our work together in the anti-Cambria of Cucamonga.

I am so grateful, as always, for your attention. I hope I have conveyed some of what is magical about this place.


I have now had just two wines from Phelan Farms. A Pinot-Gamay blend that was utterly fascinating. Reminded me of Julien Guillot 910, one of my favorite “natural” wines. 12.5 abv. Lively, delicious, tasted like a hypothetical blend of Burgundy and cool climate California but it also had this saline quality that was so fascinating. The second wine was a Mencia that I was skeptical that it could be grown in California because it is such a distinct grape. And yep it tasted just like Mencia and again at 12.5 abv. These wines to me represent what is what I love about wines that are called natural. Super clean, precise, easy to drink, food friendly and pure. The wines just hit NYC and every somm / wine buyer who has tasted them that I have talked to is buzzing about them and I can see why!

To be completely frank this project could have come off as a poser project trying to make Overnoy in the Central Coast; however it is anything but and I plan to buy many more of the wines. Kudos to Raj!


Thanks, I really like Sandi and Cote, so definitely going to give this a try. I’m kind of surprised given the types of wines Raj makes that his wines are not more represented on this Board.

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I would agree. I have enjoyed the Sandi and Cote wines I have had. It seems like U.S. wines that are not so mailing list driven get less traction here. Just a guess.


Thanks Robert!

Is it just me…or does anyone else immediately think IPOB when they hear the name Raj Parr? I try not to because it really triggers me…but i can’t help it, ha!


That was also my first thought. Don’t know if he’s still tilting at that windmill…the wine details on the site strongly suggest he remains an IPOB operative at heart, if not overtly.

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Not me. He has done so many other things since then in California, Champagne, Oregon.

IPOB might have been a bit preachy but judging from what I see, most of the wines we like on this Board are closer to the style they were promoting than the big wines of the late 90s early 2000s.

Edit: I might have forgot just how controversial IPOB was…this is a good summary.


I think it’s great that these varieties are being vinified in CA. (where’s Gringet? :wink:)

However, I can purchase Poulsard, Trousseau, and Savagnin from reputable Jurassic producers with a track record (Cavarodes, Marnes Blanches, Bodines, Gahier) for less than what Phelan charges.

$59 Gamay? Really?! No need to list all the Beaujolais producers that are less expensive (even Foillard Cote du Py costs less). Then there’s Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly Gamay Noir for less than half that, if you want a domestic comparison.

It is a fair point. I would say the wines although more expensive are not that much more expensive and based on the quality and rarity of the wines I think they are fairly priced. I have felt exactly as you about most of the California Trousseau I have had but these wines are an entirely different level of quality and hence why I was so excited to mention them.

To be frank I was not expecting to want to buy more and actually add them to my cellar.

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Was thinking the exact same thing when I saw Robert’s post. Never understood why his wines don’t get more attention here.


I think some of the lack of notice of his wines truly has to do with where he produces them. I know I’m sounding like a broken record, but it just doesn’t seem like our region gets a whole lot of notice in the wine world as a whole. Part of the blame just happened to do it geography and part of it has to do with our lack of truly marketing our region as well as we should.

The whole ipob thing is and was very interesting and polarizing as well.That said, he had a vision and issued and I think what he and the others achieved was gaining notice for a different style of wine that was currently being produced at the time period

Interestingly, Jim Clendenon had been producing that style for decades, but again, due to where he was making his wines, never gained the notoriety he should have.

Hopefully things will change in the future . . .


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Larry - These wines, and Sandi & Cote, have great placements on wine lists in LA, NY, SF etc. so they are getting recognition. I had the Mencia last night at Naro and the somm said he took every bottle he could of the entire line up.

What do you think of my theory that non mailing list driven wineries just don’t seem to get the attention here. Think about Bedrock, Sandlands, MacDonald etc. that gets tons of buzz. I think the mailing list aspect and the next big thing contribute to the interest.

Au Bon Climat, Dunn and others like them have produced great wines for years but it is not hard to buy them so I think it takes some of the excitement away from them. I know this makes no sense but it is definitely something I have observed for many years.



Getting selected placements because of Raj’s connections in the somm world are differnet than being noticed by wine geeks.

And i am a firm belierver that if Jim Clendenon made wine in Sonoma, he woukd have been much much much more known and celebrated…



I agree with you on Jim Clendenon. How about a winery like Whitcraft, those seem to be another somm favorite from your region. Another winery I don’t see mentioned here.

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Another example of a winery that has a great relationship with Somms that is not popukar or ‘known’ by wine geeks. And again, another example of the lack of notice of our region in general . . .


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That’s my gripe about so many domestics. How come you can buy great quality, local Bourgogne from the cellar for like €13 and so many domestics are charging $60-75 for their Pinot?


Went to the website and entered my email to sign up and haven’t received any email confirming said signup. This was about 5-6 hours ago


Wine is more of a luxury good in the US. US winemakers also don’t want to undercut the 3 tier price at the cellar door, I assume.

$60 cali poulsard seems like a stretch. sandlands makes nice wines that are relatively modest in price for a hype mailing list winery but i still feel like i can get better value from old world counterparts. from the uninitiated and perhaps uninformed perspective, phelan farm seems to be trading on a similar new age mystical type of marketing that hiyu channels with their branding and identity.


If you think about the other wine lists you mention here:

Macdonald: premium grape, premium land, people are excited even at a moderately premium price

Sandlands: unpopular grapes, unpopular land, people are excited to find an interesting wine for $30 or less in most cases

Phelan Farm: mostly unknown grapes, mostly unknown spot, $70?? And add to that the above where people who do like these grapes can get world class examples of the grape(s) for under $50. Cali Cab Franc isn’t popular at $100 bc you can get great cab franc elsewhere for half that.

It’s quite a stretch to blame this on Santa Barbara County. I really enjoy the Sandhi and Cote wines, but in general believe I can get better wine for less $ elsewhere at the typical pricing. Does that mean I don’t like SBC? I would say that it says I don’t find as much value there as I do in other places.


Firat off, Phelan Farms is actually in SLO County.

Second, if Raj was better known for his winemaking style, I believe fokks would be willing to pay more $ than for another less heralded winemaker.