Energy in Wine is Everything

“My intention is to remove myself from the winemaking process as much as possible.”

— Dani Rozman, La Onda

The power of our wine shares allows us to share with you super-limited wines that otherwise are gobbled up for wine lists at a few of our favorite natural wine spots, generally at on-premises pricing. The focus of this Third Thursday Share is on natural wine made by Makers based in the New World (as opposed to our First Tuesday of the Month Share, which focuses on natural wine made in the Old World – wine made in Europe).

This month we’re proud to offer you three wines made by Dani Rozman, who founded La Onda in 2013. La Onda literally translates as the wave but also is slang for the vibe. Dani decided to use it as the name for his winery because he often heard it used around him when he was in Argentina, and it inspired him.

La OndaOriginally from New Jersey, Dani studied history and political science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He caught the wine bug big-time while traveling in Chile and Argentina. He was backpacking in Mendoza, and wound up working at a start-up, Vines of Mendoza, an American-owned vineyard, resort and spa in the Uco Valley in Mendoza. During this time he had numerous conversations about organic and biodynamic viticulture with a winemaker friend, so he crossed the border to work in the Bio Bio region of southern Chile. He then bounced back and forth for a little while between the two countries putting time in with natural wineries.

Dani then decided he wanted to gain experience in other countries, so he started looking for wine work in the United States and Spain, but it wasn’t easy finding the right situation. “I didn’t have internet on the farm so I was using a neighbor’s dial-up modem to make cold calls and send emails to wineries. Cold calling from abroad was tough; people were generally confused by my story and probably thought I was trying to prank them because the calls kept cutting out.”

Dani had the incredible good fortune of getting a response from Gideon Bienstock of Clos Saron. Gideon, one of the pioneers of natural wine in California, replied to Dani’s email with an eager curiosity about the old vines and traditional practices in the Itata Valley, where vineyards were first planted in the 1500s, and you can still find vines that are hundreds of years old. They continued exchanging emails. Eventually Gideon offered Dani a job.

Working with Gideon at Clos Saron, Dani says, “reaffirmed everything I thought, but didn’t actually know. I thought if you do things a certain way you could make incredible wine; you probably don’t need to use these chemicals and things could be very simple. You go there and see the way he farms; he kneels in front of each vine and studies it. The winemaking is incredibly minimalistic. Tasting the wines and tasting the energy in those wines just blew my mind. To me, energy in wine is everything. I like them to be energetic, I like them to be clean, and I like for them to have some kind of distinctive quality that separates them from other things…”

Dani also spent some time working at The Scholium Project, where he learned there’s “nothing to hide,” that there’s “value in tasting and discussing successes and failures, even with visitors.”

Dani bottled his first wine at Clos Saron. His labels are derived from a photo his mom took of a flamenco party in Spain in August 1969. He’s been making La Onda wines in Chile and California. In California, he works the Renaissance Vineyard* in North Yuba, which he co-farms with Frenchtown Farms. Dani feels blessed that his dream has become reality. It’s our pleasure to share his vision with you.

2016 La Onda Blanco de Tinto

Dani produced just 600 bottles of this white wine, which has a yellow-orange hue. It’s made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Renaissance Vineyard, Slope 1, at 1900 foot elevation, planted in iron-rich volcanic soil. The vineyard was cleared and planted in 1976, is farmed by hand, with the help of sheep, and without the use of irrigation or chemicals. The grapes were harvested over the course of two days and then whole-cluster pressed into a tank for primary fermentation.  Once dry, the wine was racked (with its lees) into a used puncheon (500 liter barrel) for élevage.  The wine was aged on its lees until the day before bottling, when it was racked, and given a small dose of SO2, and then bottled the next day unfined & unfiltered.

It looks a bit like an orange wine but it’s called Blanco de Tinto because it’s made from a black-skinned grape, and it’s color and texture anyway are more like a white wine than a rosé. On the nose, it’s intriguingly peaty; on the palate, a touch of tart blackberries, star anise, clove, salinity, and a pleasant dose of acidity. It was bottled January 2017. We’d pair it with a fleshy fish or Carbonara.

2015 La Onda Cinsault/Pais

As part of an agreement with Leo Erazo of the winery Rogue Vine, Dani was allotted the fruit for this wine in exchange for his labor. The grapes are from Bio Bio, Chile’s southernmost and coolest region. Bio Bio is considered to be one of Chile’s oldest and most traditional wine-growing areas. Jesuit priests planted and cultivated the first wine grapes (the Pais grape aka the Mission grape) here in the sixteenth century.

Composed of 70% Cinsault and 30% Pais, the 80-year-old Cinsault is from Guarilihue at 400 feet of elevation, and the ancient-vine 150-year-old Pais from Quillon in the Itata Valley at 350 feet of elevation.  The Cinsault was harvested and foot-stomped on March 20th.  Some of the clusters remained completely intact and thus went through an intracellular fermentation.  The Cinsault went dry and was pressed/barreled down, waiting for the addition of Pais. The Pais was harvested and foot-stomped on March 29th, and then pressed and added to the Cinsault, once dry.  Dani made a small SO2 addition after malolactic; then left the barrels alone until bottling.  Unfined & unfiltered, and without any further SO2 additions, the wine was bottled February 2016. Dani produced only 864 bottles.

A truly special bottle of Chilean wine, it’s spicy, fruity, earthy, with an undercurrent of eucalyptus. By the way, Cinsault is Dani’s favorite grape and he suggests pairing it with a Chilean dish like Porotos con Riendas y Longaniza, which is a thick soup with beans, noodles, and sausage.

2015 La Onda Carignan Mendocino County

Dani produced just 576 bottles of this old-vine Carignan from the Poor Ranch in Mendocino. It was harvested from the Coyote Rock vineyard, which is both organic and dry-farmed, on August 24.  The grapes were stomped whole-cluster and began spontaneously fermenting in an open-top container a few days later.  The must was eventually pressed and produced enough wine to fill just two neutral oak barrels.  The wine was bottled unfined & unfiltered, directly out of barrel, with a small amount of lees inclusion.  A small amount of SO2 was added the day before bottling. It was bottled July 2016.

The wine has a pleasant density of fruit, lovely herbal and savory notes, and a grippy finish. Dani suggests pairing it with with veggie or lamb kebobs.

*The Renaissance Vineyard has a rather, ahem, interesting history. If you want to dive deeper, and read a bit about how the apocalyptic-minded group, the Fellowship of Friends (whose leader, a former schoolteacher named Robert Earl Burton, predicted a nuclear holocaust for 2006) created Renaissance Vineyard/Winery, with Gideon Bienstock as the winemaker, go to this link.