Tasting with Hardy Wallace, the front man (and winemaker) for the Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery is just plain joyful, with a healthy dose of wine geekiness thrown in.

You gotta love this guy.

A razor sharp, new world natural winemaker with an infectious love of wine, honest humility and a good dose of chutzpah.

IMG_4345We met a month or so ago online when I was ordering a Dirty & Rowdy T-shirt, which quickly morphed into a mutual email rant on what constitutes intent in natural wine making.

We connected in person last weekend at the Jenny & Francois’s Natural Wine Week workshop ‘Dirty & Rowdy Does Fermentation’. This was a wine geeks dream, a deep dive into whether you can taste the effects of where the wine was fermented, in their signature concrete egg or in steel.

We tasted samples of his Yountville Semillon (2011 to 2013), from barrel to bottle. Each a blend of single vineyard juice, some fermented in a concrete egg, some fermented on their skins in old barrels and stainless tanks.

The deck was kind of stacked on this one as the power of the skins and the subtlety of the egg are not really apples to apples, but it was a terrific  hour of smart banter with the satisfying takeaway that I was tasting something very special.

And I came away a big fan.

Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery  is entering their 5th vintage in Napa Valley, working with 10 different parcels of rented land, from Santa Barbara to Humboldt. With no land of their own, they sleuth out the curious and disparate plantings of Semillon and Mourvedre, then drive some 35,000 miles during the season, keeping tabs on the vines and working towards– what is to them– the key of winemaking: when to pick.

The Dirty & Rowdy approach to natural wine is a unique blend of non intervention with a strong sense of real engagement in the process. They are in no way non engaged bystanders or patient wine shepherds.

Screen Shot 2014-03-04 at 1.02.36 PMAs Hardy told me: “I am sure fermentation may happen on its own, but even though seen as minimalists, we are active participants along the way.”

He is emphatic that when you pick is what you get in the glass. I agree to a point but Hardy is super creative and playful in how he ferments and blends, and that is part of what I’m drinking and part of their unique character.

Hardy as a winemaker is somewhere between the idea of a painter who starts with a blank canvas and an image in mind, and the sculpture who uses the least amount of chisel blows to unearth the hidden shape in the stone.

Some interesting factoids from the tasting.

Why use the concrete egg, and why a blend of egg and skin contact fermentation?

To Hardy, these blend together. The power, texture and aroma in the skins and the neutral roundness and temperature consistency in the concrete egg.  Neutrality in the vessel, without tension or angles is why the egg is the shape of this wine to the mind’s eye..and at it’s best the shape of the taste as well.

Why an egg rather than an Anfora Qveri like vessel?

Besides cost and availability, he pointed out that the egg is an upside down version of a Georgian Qveri in shape. Small at the top creating more lees contact. The unique characteristic of the science of the shape naturally recirculating the juice is the same, but the emphasis is different.

Hardy is just downright likeable and Dirty & Rowdy has carved out something unique to themselves.

It’s in the grape choices partially as Mourvedre and Semillon are not standard fair for Napa. Neither are the terroir specific Chardonnays that he is working on now.

You should visit their site or better, taste with Hardy if you can.

This winery is all about the joy of wine, about finding the ‘happy spot’ in our palate. Beyond this, and beyond their geekiness, they seem to have a real Dirty & Rowdy balance in mind.

You can sense it in the intensity of how he presented fermentation as a process that you can nudge in different, yet natural ways. You can sense it when he isolated (my favorite winery in the Jura!), Domaine de la Tournelle as the epitome of a terroir driven Chardonnay that they are striving towards.

This is a guy onto something with a focus. His wines are in that sacred territory of being both interesting and delicious.

Hardy is riding the natural wave, he’s open and flexible, and he’s got a real sense of where his unique palate–and market– lies.

I’m bought in big time.

This is good stuff being made by good people who love what they are doing.

Do spend the time to search out the wines. They make little and it is gone as soon as they release. In New York, Jenny & Francois  distributes and whenever there is local allocation available, Chambers Street Wines and Frankly Wines both get a healthy dose.