I arrived early at DC’s Union Station; it was a cool morning with a constant drizzle of rain. I met up with my group, and we shot out of town toward the countryside west of DC. One of the group members was Adi Badenhorst. He is one of my favorite winemakers from South Africa, whose Badenhorst wines from the Swartland are taking the American wine world by storm at the moment (as they should). With a long salt-and-pepper beard, hair to match, and a “t-shirt for any occasion” style, Adi debunks any theory inferring wine or winemakers are pretentious or snobby. Also along for the ride was John Mitchel, the talented and knowledgeable Sommelier from Stella! in New Orleans.
The transition from city to country is gradual, but after forty minutes the scenery turns from apartment buildings and box stores to rolling green hills and patrician hunt club manors. After getting a little lost, we found our way to the gate of the winery. The main building is a replica of a country farm — silo and all — looking very similar to the entrance of Fearrington Village. I felt at home!
Upon entering the winery we met the RDV team, including Rutger de Vink, head of marketing Jackie Ross, Wine Director at the Inn at Little Washington Jennifer Knowles, and Wine Director at Ashby Inn Kevin Switz. We started by touring the press and fermentation room, which was the most state of the art I have seen east of the Mississippi river.
Then we made our way downstairs to the cellar, or in this case a true Cave, which seemed to round about for an eighth of a mile. Half-way through the cave there is a portion of granite wall that they left bare during construction. It is the sub-soil of their vineyard, and it is nothing but rock 25 feet below. From there we went by their bottling line and Rutger’s private cellar, which includes a lot of Bordeaux, Alsatian Riesling, and a little bit of everything from all over the world. One thing is for sure, judging from Rutger’s cellar he has got good taste.
After the tour, we went up for a tasting of Adi Badenhorst and Rutger de Vink’s wines. I will save my notes about Adi’s wines for another posting (they deserve their own). So I will focus on the two RDV wines, The Rendezvous and the Lost Mountain. Rutger, who like Adi, helps enforce a down to earth notion of the winemaker, took us through the 2010 vintage of both wines.
Before talking about the wines there is a little back story that should be mentioned here: Rutger is a former marine who wanted to create an iconic winery in Virginia. He purchased a hill in rural Virginia from a farmer who said “he is wasting his time, that soil there is horrible for farming.” This is exactly what Rutger was looking for. The hill has a top-soil of gravel and a sub-soil of granite. The sub-soil goes very deep beneath the vineyard, as is evidenced by their cave. Rutger being a fan of Bordeaux wines, planted the property to the Bordeaux varieties Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot. He then went on to hire some of the best experts from Bordeaux, most notably the Oenologist Eric Boissenot, who is the main consultant for Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Haut-Brion, and almost any of the other major properties on the left bank of Bordeaux.
Rutger is very passionate about the winery, and about food and wine in general. Now back to the wine tasting…The first wine that we tried was the Rendezvous, which is their Merlot dominant blend. It had the rich dark plum and blackberry fruit of the new world, but balanced by a certain herbaceous quality, bell pepper, and forest leaf component. On the palate it was full bodied, but very elegant, silky in texture, with surprisingly present acidity, and ripe tannins. The 2010 vintage was a warm one in Virginia and these wines had more ripe fruit than past vintages I had tried, but none-the-less they were outstanding.
Next we tried the Lost Mountain, which is their Cabernet Sauvignon dominant blend. This wine at first reminded me of some of my favorite Washington State wines, Quilceda or Pepper Bridge, with that balance of dark fruit and spice/herbal qualities of Cabernet Sauvignon. On the palate, I was suprised again by the acidity, and the over all structure, not only are these wines enjoyable in their youth, but they are made to age.
Over lunch Rutger brought out the 2008 vintage of Lost Mountain, so we could see how the wine shows with some age (a side note: Boissenot was not involved with the winery when this wine was produced). Being a cooler vintage the alcohol was lower, and the herbal notes were more prevalent, but it had my three favorite things in a wine: charm, elegance, and character (something that all of the RDV wines have in common).
After lunch we climbed to the top of the vineyard which rises behind the winery. The climb to the top of the vineyard is steep and the perfect after lunch trek. At the very top is Rutger and his families home, a permanent and luxurious Streamline Motorhome, with a huge garden up front, and amazing views of the Appalachian foot hills. They own 6.5 hectares of vineyard total, which comes to almost 16 acres. The wine I was already impressed with, but the vineyard and the country side completed the story.
RDV is a very special winery, not just for the high quality of their wines, but for what they represent in a growing wine region like Virginia. Rutger and his team are on a search for perfection, that allusive goal that so many of us seek, and whose benefits come from the seeking and not necessarily reaching that goal. In essence the winery’s existence brings the whole region to another level. So watch out for RDV, you will hear a lot about them, not just now but into the future.