Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Dirtiest Wine Ever.

It's a given that if you run with my wolf pack (a rather lethargic, purple-toothed pack at that), then this guy is sort of a celebrity:

Alright. It's not technically a wolf pack. Just a bunch of people, and there are zero wolves (but there is at least one sweet wolf shirt, belonging- not surprisingly- to yours truly). The folks I'm talking about are Atlanta wine drinkers, and beyond that, the online community of wine bloggers, social media [insert hackneyed descriptor, like "mavens", "ninjas", "gurus", etc.], and industry chaps.

But I was actually a bit surprised when a few local friends of mine did not know the name "Hardy Wallace". The guy- affectionately known as "Dirty"- rose through the blogging ranks, evangelizing about the crunker aspects of the fermented grape on Atlanta's own Dirty South Wine. For brevity's sake, here's the condensed story: Dirty got laid off, won a little contest in 2009, moved to California, and now helps make and sell wine. The guy's been a huge boon for the Atlanta (and beyond) wine scene and its bloggers, and he's also a particularly appreciated supporter of this little opus here. Dirty's also a super bouncy ball of energy, a man of more comical facial expressions than a young Rip Taylor, and as absurdly humble and genuine a fella around. Hardy- I pop an obscure, overly-aged-and-oxidized white wine and pour a little out for you, buddy.

While "Dirty South Wine" has perhaps become secondary to Hardy, the stuff he's got going on at Santa Rosa's Natural Process Alliance is worth the focus. The cat went to work for Kevin Kelley (known as the winemaker behind the tasty and easy-to-find Lioco, as well as tasty and rather elusive Salinia juice), and they're primed to make the "klean kanteen" and The NPA household least within a 100 mile radius of the wine's origin, as it's not sold beyond, despite my efforts, ranging from unappealing bribery to weak-armed coercion.

Why the Pat Buchanan-like isolationism? The juice is good; word should be spread. However, this is perhaps the most natural wine commercially made. Little to no sulphur dioxide is used (an addition in traditional winemaking so common, it's often listed as a critical step in the process). Wild yeasts- contrary to more common inoculated yeasts- are allowed to create spontaneous fermentation in the crushed juice. The NPA wines are also not filtered or fined. Ever drank cloudy wine? The crystal-clear stuff you're probably accustomed to gets that way by using a protein to precipitate out suspended solids. Such proteins can include egg whites, stuff made from fish fins, and even bull's blood in the seemingly bull-slaughter-happy ancient times.

What is left in the kanteen is a fragile wine: evolving, terribly susceptible to heat and travel, and fly paper for oxidation (as sulfites are a preservative). However, the product Kelley's making in that Santa Rosa warehouse, and that Dirty's filling your keg or kanteen (via draught, no less), is spectacular. Honestly, like nothing I've ever tasted. I think we've been conditioned to a way wine is "supposed" to be made, is supposed to look, is supposed to taste. This juice farts in the general direction of those edicts, and the payoff is a totally unique wine experience.

Pinot Gris that looks like ruby-red grapefruit juice and smells like sweet tea and peaches. Chardonnay that kicks both the "unoaked" and "butterscotch bomb" camps in the genitals (that's about the best I can describe it. My tasting notes simply said, "Chard: mention genitals, but in a good way"). But I think the Sauvignon Blanc from the NPA is the star. Sauv B's generally never been a wine that I'd put on my wish list (unless it's blended with botrytized Sémillon and labeled "Sauternes"). But I literally crave this one. It looks like grapefruit juice. It smells like grapefruit juice. And grass. And every other descriptor given in the world of Sauvignon Blanc, including the elusive gooseberry, and I've never even seen or tasted a stupid gooseberry. There's just tons of wacky stuff going on in this one, and its big flavors and acidity rip down your tongue when knocking it back for breakfast. I'm serious: have some for breakfast. Your job's not that secure anyway.

I'm not just writing this article because I know and like some of the folks at the NPA. Hopefully, it's been established in over two years that I'm neither a jaded critic nor a pandering buffoon (operative word = "pandering". I could very well be a buffoon). However, I think when something interesting is going on, it's worth a mention. Are these the best wines I've ever tasted? I'm not prepared to say that. But are they absolutely unique? Definitely. Kevin Kelley's doing something really special, and the wacky kid from Atlanta and putting it on the map.

So, if you find your way to Northern California, make a track to Santa Rosa. Stop by Rancho Mendoza Super Mercado for an incredible torta. Maybe buy an extra one or two for the winemaking crew. Next, throw out all your preconceived notions of what a winery visit should be. Then, hit up the NPA. You'll be glad you did.

And, yes. I really do own that wolf shirt.

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