Virginia Wine: Pursuing a Dream
The dream of a world class Virginia wine began with Thomas Jefferson. Although Jefferson knew that Virginia had the weather and terroir for grape growing and winemaking, he never saw his dream come to fruition. This is, in part, due to Phylloxera–an aphid-like insect that feeds on the roots and leaves of grapevines. However, Virginia grape growers now understand that to successfully grow European grapes, they must first graft the vine onto phylloxera resistant American rootstock. This was the first major hurdle to realizing the dream of a Virginia wine, the next, proving the viability of grape growing as an agricultural endeavor.
Officially, the wine industry in Virginia began in 1976 with the Zonin family. One of Italy’s largest wine producers, the Zonin’s bought Barboursville in Orange, an area near Charlottesville, with the hopes of starting a vineyard. Underlying this decision was the belief that European grapes could thrive in the Commonwealth of Virginia. After the purchase of Barboursville, the Zonin’s invited Gabriele Rausse, an Italian winemaker, who is currently the Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello, to assist in making the dream of a Virginia wine a reality. Today, the Commonwealth boasts hundreds of successful wineries and vineyards, many producing award winning wines–including Barboursville Vineyards, Virginia’s first commercial winery. And, Gabriele Rausse is partially responsible, having consulted on 40 vineyards and 10 wineries in the Commonwealth, including his own. He is considered the “Father of Virginia Wine.” Grape growing and winemaking in Virginia have been firmly established for almost 30 years, and many have lead the way in this fast growing agricultural industry.
There is definitely an art and science to making great wine; not to mention, a whole lot of work as well. After all, growing grapes IS farming. And, I respect farming in all of its forms, including viticulture. I also admire those who adhere to their ideals and passion for integrity in order to create something exceptional. Rutger de Vink embodies this philosophy. As a wine enthusiast as well as a Virginian, my interest was sparked in de Vink and his vineyard, RdV, after reading an article about his dream of making a Bordeaux-style wine with a Virginia terroir. Soon after, my husband and I joined RdV’s wine club, and we’re glad that we did– the wines are sublime! We visited the vineyard and winery last month with friends. And, all I can say is what an experience!
De Vink, a Dutch-born, retired Marine officer with an MBA from Northwestern University is both idealistic and passionate about his vision of making a Virginia wine that ranks among the world’s best. Initially a novice, de Vink has no formal education in viticulture or winemaking. After leaving the Telecom business, he participated in an apprenticeship with Jim Law of Linden Vineyards in Virginia in 2001. He then proceeded to work on vintages in Sonoma, Saint-Emilion and Saint-Julien. After gaining experience, it was time to look for a vineyard. He settled on a 100-acre farm and planted grapevines on 16-acres of rocky topsoil on a hillside of granite in Delaplane, Virginia. RdV Vineyard, named for Rutger de Vink, is a small, boutique winery located about 50 miles west of Washington, D.C.
According to the tour guide at RdV, de Vink chose this unusual spot for his vineyard after researching soils that grow the best grapevines. What he discovered was soil with good drainage appeared to be the key to great terroir. He understood that grapevines need to struggle a bit. If they’re grown on a flat, fertile ground, then all the energy goes into the plant, leaves and trunk. However, growing vines on a rocky hillside where they’re stressed for moisture and nutrients encourages the plant to go into survival mode by focusing its energy into the fruit. The plant makes really ripe fruit that may be eaten by a bird that drops its seed on more fertile ground. It’s Mother Nature at work. That aside, these really ripe grapes also make better wine. De Vink is meticulous and steadfast in his quest for excellence. The vineyard is separated into sections or blocks with each block analyzed for its soil nutrients, drainage and sun exposure. These blocks are planted with a specific grape that thrives under those particular conditions; they are then hand-harvested and sorted. De Vink made his first wine in 2008 and shared it with a friend in Bordeaux, who then sent a sample of his Cabernet Sauvignon to Eric Boissenot, consulting winemaker for four of the five Bordeaux first growths: Lafite, Latour, Margaux, and Mouton. Boissenot thought the terroir was exceptional and agreed to lend his expertise to RdV’s winemaking team.
RdV Vineyard produces two wines, Rendezvous and Lost Mountain, using Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Rendezvous is more Merlot-based; whereas, Lost Mountain has at least 70% Cabernet Sauvignon; these wines are barrel aged for 18-20 months in French oak. While Rendezvous and Lost Mountain are on the expensive end of the price spectrum, de Vink’s wines are worth it. The combination of minerality and fruit–France meets California, combine to produce a beautiful, velvety wine that is truly sensational–a Bordeaux-style wine with a Virginia terroir.
Here’s the thing: If you are interested in visiting RdV Vineyard, plan to call ahead; wine tastings are by appointment only. The tour and tasting are extensive and well worth the price. On approaching the winery, you may think that you’re driving toward another lovely farm in Delaplane, complete with barn and silo; however, upon entering the building you are transported into a completely modern, industrial space with lots of natural light. It’s definitely an experience you won’t forget.