The line-up included:
Dirty & Rowdy semillon, 2011
Dirty & Rowdy mourvedre, 2010, 2011
Coturri chardonnay, Grebenikoff 2010
Coturri zinfandel, Estate 2007
Coturri red blend, "Sandocino" NV
Montebruno pinot noir, 2007, 2008, 2009
Hardesty merlot/cab sauv, "Trinity" 2009
Of all the wines we tasted that night, I'm going to focus on just one producer-- Dirty & Rowdy-- because, well, I was sitting next to Hardy Wallace, aka Dirty (one of the winemakers) and we talked mostly about his wines.
I always wonder what it must feel like for hard-working winemakers who see all the grit-- the dusty, bloomy grapes, the bugs and pests, the mess of the crush, all the gross after-stuff of fermentation, the clean up, the unrelenting, backbreaking, sleeplessness of harvest time-- and then see their finished wine in a leisurely setting like a private dining room in a fancy NYC restaurant, packaged in bottles, served by people in suits, and sipped by well-heeled diners. It must be a trip. Wine is a delicate agricultural product that, at times, can seem so far separated from its farm-based source. The wines served with this dinner are all wines that attempt to bridge the separation that can occur after grapes are transformed into bottles wine, and all are made by small-volume winemakers specifically focused on organic farming and natural winemaking.
At dinner I sat next to one such winemaker, who goes by his nickname "Dirty," (yes, he is the "Dirty" in Dirty & Rowdy). First, a little bit about Dirty & Rowdy. Two guys: one wine blogger (Dirty South Wine), one former food blogger from Atlanta. They frequently collaborated on their websites, and one day decided to make wine. After quitting their jobs they up and moved to California, then set up shop making wines. I love that this can happen for some people in life.
The label has a pretty cool story.
Dirty and Rowdy have spent hours upon hours up in the Santa Barbera hills at the mourvedre vineyard with old school weed-whackers and clippers. During the weed-whacking, Dirty puts on headphones, but the whacker still creates a constant drone in the background, an almost lulling sound that can make you forget about the two dangers he is always on the lookout for: poisonous snakes and mountain lions.
When it came time for a label design, they had the idea to be battling snakes and mountain lions with weed-whackers and clippers. Their artist friend took some liberties and made the snake an anaconda, and the mountain lion a formidable tiger.
Rhythm, Wine, & Expression
As a semi-artistic expression created out of available resources, the genesis of their mourvedre has parallels in other disciplines. As a drummer, I couldn't help but think of the early beginnings of the drum set. The short version is this: marching bands in New Orleans were called upon to play dance music in dance halls. It didn't make economic sense to split up the band money between a cymbal player, a bass drum player, a snare player, etc., so somewhere along the way, one guy got the idea to stick them all together & play them all himself. It caught on fast, and the individual band members all got a bigger cut because of it. The drum set was created happenstance out of available resources and financial restrictions. Each drummer assembled their drum set a bit differently (as they still do today). The idea of a "drum set" is a universal one, yet the enactment of any single particular drum set is one that is personal and distinct and can result in a highly unique configuration based on available resources. In this way, the drum set is much different from most other instruments that are standardized in form (such as the trombone, the violin, the saxophone, and the modern day piano).
In one of my favorite books that touches on the subject, Percussion: Drumming, Beating, Striking (John Mowitt: 2002), Mowitt makes a statement that has stuck in my brain for years:
Though wine and drumming seem like two disjointed subjects, after a glass of wine I had the courage to mention this thought to Dirty. "Ok," I said, "this may sound kind of off-subject, but I play the drums and how your mourvedre came to be kind of reminds me of how drum sets came to be." If he looked disinterested I had a plan to change the subject, fast.
Dirty paused, looked at me for a minute, and blinked through his glasses. "You play the drums? I play the drums too, I don't think that sounds weird at all." Both our eyebrows raised and something clicked-- like two random guys suddenly realizing that they both were in the same fraternity but from different colleges.
Indian Classical Music and The Raga
Indian Classical Music traces its deep origins to the Sanskrit Vedas, where the concept of the raga is an integral notion of music. Slightly similar to the concept of a scale (but not quite), the raga is a series of notes used to construct a melody. The raga is integrally linked to mood, time, and place. There are ragas for early morning, ragas for dusk, ragas for the heat of summer, ragas for winter... the idea is that music is linked to the mood of the time and place. How illuminating it is that the etymology of the word raga is hue, and like a hue, a raga is useful in coloring the sonic landscape of time, place, and circumstance.
A raga has defining parameters, but once inside a raga, a musician has room to stretch and play with improvisation, embellishment, and time. The execution of these sometimes subtle freedoms distinguish good musicians from great ones, and they also allow the musician to tailor the particular performance to what is happening in the moment.
Is there anything else besides a raga (or music in general) that has the ability to-- each time it is endeavored-- capture and portray a unique collision of time, place, and circumstance? Is there some other human endeavor that also seeks to highlight the beauty and struggle of the passage of time, and then transmit this aesthetic to others in a form consumable by the senses? I'd venture to say that winemaking does just this. Dirty alluded to this when he once posted on his own wine blog:
Grapes are the instrument(s)
Sun is the conductor
(The winemaker selects the speakers and adjusts the volume)
And we had dinner....
Cauliflower Custard Dirty & Rowdy Semillon 2011
This was a great pairing. The semillon is grown in Yountville (Napa, CA) and fermented in two different ways. Half of it is skin fermented (orange) and the other half is done in a concrete egg. The two batches are then blended. The skin fermentation adds density, weight, tannin, and texture. The concrete egg portion is interesting-- the shape of the egg forces the CO2 back down into the bottom of the egg, so the contents are always in motion and no cap management is necessary. The finished wine is unfiltered, so it's a bit cloudy-- but nothing to be afraid of! The savory aromas and the richness of texture went so well with the custard and cauliflower.
This was possibly one of the best pairings of the night. This duck preparation is one of Chef Bearman's classic dishes, and it went beautifully with the Dirty & Rowdy mourvedre.
Long Island Duck, Moroccan Spices, Fregola Sarda, Baby Turnip, Medjool Date, Beldi Olive, Marcona Almond
Dirty & Rowdy mourvedre 2010 & 2011
And, if you missed it earlier, Dirty & Rowdy and their wives have risked stepping on angry snakes and getting jumped by mountain lions to bring us this high elevation mourvedre from Santa Barbera. Thanks guys!
Mowitt, John. (2002) Percussion: Drumming, Beating, Striking. Duke University Press: Duhram and London.