Harvest in wine country, says Hardy Wallace of Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery, is a bit like juggling squirrels. There are vineyards to check on and grapes to pick as soon as they're ripe—and most of those vineyards aren't anywhere close by. There's weather to worry about and fermentations getting started in the cellar. Wallace recently left his day job to focus on the project he shares with his wife Kate Graham (call them 'Dirty') and Matt and Amy Richardson of Atlanta (AKA 'Rowdy'). And it's good he did, because things are getting busy.
I met Hardy Wallace online back when he was blogging at Dirty South Wine (subhead: 'Wine is Meant to Be Crunk'), around the time he won a promotional contest that landed him a winery social media job at Murphy-Goode in Healdsburg, California. Relocated from Atlanta to Healdsburg for the Murphy-Goode gig, Wallace found himself in wine country with exciting options. He spent some time working with Kevin Kelley of The Natural Process Alliance, and in 2010, Dirty and Rowdy Family Winery made their first Mourvedre from grapes picked on Halloween. Since then, he's been mentioned in the New York Times and named among the top 100 'most influential U.S. winemakers.'
This year—Dirty and Rowdy's fourth vintage—they're making six different single-vineyard Mourvedres. They're also continuing to work with Semillon, Petite Sirah, and adding on Chardonnay from north Mendocino County, plus two new sparkling wines made from high-elevation Pinot Blanc. "It is both unbelievable (in many ways) and a bit scary," says Wallace of his switch to full-time focus on the project. But the time comes in handy: "Sampling is crazy," he says. "Saturday I drove 700 miles sampling just two of our vineyards. 1 hour of sleep on Monday. This time of year is really incredible. Crazy hours, lots of nervous energy, relief, excitement. Everything tastes better, looks more beautiful, sounds better." He says he's "blissfully overworked."
Even though it involves starting his days at 3:45 am, spending time between the vines is clearly a dream come true—"This is really what I live to do," he says—and Hardy Wallace's passion for these vineyards is pretty contagious. I asked him, for example, about soil composition at one of his Mourvedre vineyards in Mendocino county. He answered:
"The soil was first described to me as 'Redwood Valley Dirt', and though that's kind of a wise-crack response to my soil question, the description sits in the back of my mind a lot while in this vineyard. This dirt is a mix of alluvial clay loam, with some redvines soil. But something about just 'dirt' and these old vines feels right. These vines are rugged, tired, and at 80 years old they have a remarkable story, are living history, and if you asked them about their soil, they'd say they were on dirt, too."
I asked the Dirty and Rowdy team to share some snapshots from the growing season and harvest so far, as well as a little preview of the wines to come. Head over to the slideshow for a peek.