If you know Dani Rozman and the wines of La Onda, you’re going to want to go ahead and skip this fluff and get straight to the ordering of the wine. It’s scant! As always. But if you’re a new kid on the scene, bored, thirsty, and enjoy a good story, keep reading.
Dani farms some very wild land up in North Yuba (Sierra Foothills, way north and east of Napa). It’s a place where bears constantly eat his Semillon grapes and damn his yields to a mere one barrel, where water buffalo trample your hard work (literal not metaphorical), and where he turned forgotten fruit from the base of a paltry, step-child like slope of Cabernet Sauvignon into one of my favorite “white” wines of all time. Not the restaurant, but like, of all time in history, of life and land. Anyway, I don’t have that wine on hand (just in our fridge, at home), but we do have a few couple cases of El Colo, one of my other favorites and perfect for right this moment. As the weather warms and we are granted new freedoms to enjoy some gentle reflection and solitude (also a ripe time for euphemisms!), we need wines like Dani’s, and in particular, El Colo. It is lush, fresh, juicy, balanced, and soulful, but not hard to understand, not hard to approach, and well-suited for everything you are eating. That’s a promise.
Every month or so Dani and I will hop the phone to catch up. We always veer down the dirt roads of life, business, dreams and hopes and that stuff, passing by the subject of wine like a turnoff we never quite take. But day to day Dani’s whole life is basically a form of quarantine. Almost year round he’s in the vineyards. It’s just him, tending the vines by hand, cane pruning or weeding with old Japanese gardening tools, not because he wants to be fashionable, but because he wants to see what’s possible. He walks the rows, cutting off suckers and sisters (farmer lingo, google it), removing diseased plants, guided by his own knowledge and intuition and very little else. He’s not a guy that does things for attention, in fact he hates it; he is self-deprecating in a endearing manner and with an acerbic sense of humor; he’s intelligent, realistic, and has this sort of endurance to just keep going, quietly, for the right reasons. His wines are the same. He faces down challenges and losses that cost him money and time and heartache, all a part of farming he’ll say; and yet, he retains that rare breed of optimism and honesty that I think is just rooted in a love for the earth and the need to contribute to an end that goes beyond the wine he puts in bottles. That’s just my own conjecture, based on some years of friendship and drinking wines together and talking about life; he’s probably a way better guy than I know.
As it relates to El Colo, it goes down too easy for how scarce it is. It’s made from two grapes, Counoise and Mourvedre, and it is as easy to love and consume as pizza, as stirring and rare as Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush on vinyl. La Onda’s are wines I’ve come to wait for each year, knowing there won’t be much (a guy can only do so much by hand, alone!), and always full of soul and story. There’s no need to over-intellectualize this wine (or any other for that matter). And to the question of whether it’s natural or not, it’s more: it’s delicious, it’s a labor of love, and it’s made with integrity by one honest man I am lucky to call a good friend.
Dani will tell you turning grapes into wine is a pretty simple deed, if you follow nature and work with it, and don’t get all controlling about outcomes. He’s right. But just because something is simple doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop and pay attention. The sun meets its horizon every night but I couldn’t imagine passing up an opportunity to drink it in twice as often, were it possible.
“Hands-off farming is actually a ton of effort; it’s back-breaking, knee-bending work. Manually pulling things up instead of spraying chemicals or driving machinery is relentless, physical, painful…And out of that comes something. Struggle breeds tension in the wine.”