Friendship Turned Partnership: How Raj Parr & Sashi Moorman Built Their West Coast Winemaking Projects
Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman are compelling forces on their own; together, the pair is unstoppable. Prior to meeting one another, both Raj and Sashi had carved their own paths in the industry, establishing themselves across various facets of the trade. While Sashi studied geography, winemaking, and spent his time amongst the vines, Raj worked his way up through California’s burgeoning restaurant scene, eventually becoming one of the world’s most respected sommeliers. So how did the two end up with numerous joint business ventures along the West Coast?
It all started in 2003. Sashi, along with his wife Melissa, founded their small-production wine label, Piedrasassi. While building their own wine program, Sashi was also working full-time at Stolpman Vineyards. The following year, he headed to northern California on a sales trip, where he stopped in Michael Mina’s RN74—and ultimately crossed paths with Raj for the very first time.
After tasting Sashi’s wines, and discovering that the two shared the same interests in producers, Raj invited Sashi back to the restaurant to pop some bottles after a long day’s work. “We quickly realized that we liked the same kind of wines,” Sashi recalls, citing traditional producers from France and Italy. However, the one domaine that the pair completely locked in on was Domaine d’Auvenay. “It was just a major connection. We loved the concentration and lift in her wines,” Sashi says. Mutually drawn to one another’s shared interests, the two struck up a friendship and stayed in touch. Sashi returned to Santa Barbara and pursued winemaking, while Raj continued to build multi-million dollar lists across Mina’s restaurant empire.
A few years later, Raj founded his small négociant business, Parr Selections, though one significant piece to the puzzle was missing—a winemaker. He took to Lompoc and joined forces with Sashi. “The first time I met Sashi, I found that he was very eloquent and spoke about wine in a very unique way, one that was not scientific but very precise, and that stuck with me,” Raj recalls. After their initial meeting, Raj began traveling down to Santa Barbara to spend more time with Sashi. “We realized that we both loved tasting, drinking wine, and cooking, and that’s how our friendship was built,” says Raj, describing long nights around wine-laden tables.
In 2007, the pair made a small amount of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Syrah under the Parr Selections label. “We were both aspirational wine drinkers, and we took that aspiration to our winemaking,” Sashi recounts. “We wanted to make the best wines. We were full of confidence, maybe too confident,” he laughs. At the same time, Raj was publicly speaking out against the Parkerization taking place in California, publicly eschewing the presence of 14%+ alcohol wines on the market. Raj recalls the pair’s constant exchange of ideas, as well as their mutual attention to detail and passion for organic farming.
“The wineries producing big wines were incredibly threatened by Raj,” Sashi remembers, affirming that he never cautioned Raj’s outspoken ways and always supported his beliefs. It was clear that things in California were changing. While thick, palate-coating fruit bombs still continued to please many, there was a new wave of balanced-focus drinkers on the horizon.
“I think my influence on Sashi’s winemaking is that it became a bit more casual in a way,” says Raj. “It’s not that the winemaking has become easier, it's just that little things don’t make a big difference.” Raj notes that over the years, the winemaking focus has shifted away from ripeness and sorting and more onto elevage and extraction. With regards to farming, both have always agreed that at minimum, farming organically is a non-negotiable, though their focus has also grown to incorporate the plant life in and around their vineyards, with an emphasis on biodiversity.
In 2010, Charles Banks proposed starting a wine company with Raj and Sashi, which permitted them to make wines in the style in which they believed. The following year, the first release of Sandhi was officially on the market. While Sandhi was in its early stages of life, Sashi continued to consult for other wineries on the side, including Evening Land Vineyards. At the time, Evening Land Vineyards was located in Santa Rita Hills. The property fell into various hands over the years to follow, and as of 2013, Sashi and Raj took over the property themselves, renamed it, and officially formed Domaine de la Côte.
Though the joint ventures didn’t stop there. In 2014, Raj signed on to partner with Evening Land Vineyards (for which Sashi consulted), which now focused only on Oregon. Although Sashi had been part of the Evening Land organization since it’s beginning in 2006, it wasn’t until 2014 that he and Raj took the farming at Seven Springs into their own hands. Between Domaine de la Côte, Evening Land Vineyards, and Piedrasassi, all was going pretty well, though one piece of the puzzle was missing. In 2016, Raj and Sashi made Charles an offer to purchase Sandhi. Since then, all the brands have entirely been under their management.
From the beginning, the thread that ultimately tied Raj and Sashi’s mentalities together was the notion that West Coast vineyard sites were capable of creating sophisticated, thought-provoking wines with ample amounts of energy and restrained levels of alcohol. A shared passion for organic farming, low intervention winemaking, and an overall consciousness for the ecosystems around them, coupled with a shared insatiable curiosity and passion for vineyard site idiosyncrasies, have not only caused their ventures to be successful, but to thrive.
While larger businesses seek a consistent product, Raj and Sashi embrace the unique differences that come with new sites and growing seasons year in and year out . It’s this welcome flexibility, pursuit of discovery, and all-encompassing zest for life that keep the pair consistently seeking more.