Thursday, June 30, 2011

Iconic Wine in the Making

Thomas Jefferson, America's first wine connoisseur and gourmet, dreamed Virginia would one day make wines comparable to his most beloved French imports. I witnessed his dream come true this past weekend in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In observance of our nation's birthday, I wish to share a tale of wine, legendary in the making.
Portraits Courtesy of Emily Plimpton EmFlash Tumblr

Six am the alarm clock, better known as my daughter, started chattering away. The day peaked through the windows, crystal blue skies and no rain clouds on the horizon. Anticipation and intellectual curiosity stirred within. I threw off the sheets--and the dog--to prepare for an excursion into the Virginia countryside in search of an iconic wine in the making.
Portraits Courtesy of Emily Plimpton EmFlash Tumblr


Fast-forwarding through set-up and group assembly, the shuttle bus rolled down the highway. While passing gently rolling hills coated in wildflowers and meadow grass, I couldn't help to wonder how RdV vineyards would be situated on any slope of significance, where grapes could receive maximum exposure to light. The landscape appeared too flat. Soon enough, though, the bus wheeled on a narrow, curving road and slowly motored its way through a perfect, rural setting.  Driving underneath a lush canopy of green forestry, trees blocked our view for the most part, until suddenly, a clearing in the trees revealed a gate on the left. A quick glance led to an unexpected sight. A steep, south-facing slope loomed ahead of us, marked by emerald green vertical stripes. These parallel rows of vines lined the hillside, forming nature's own rendition of solar panels. Nestled at the bottom of the hill, wedged against a more easterly facing slope sat the winery itself, divided in half by an impressive silo with two stark white wings extending outward.

Upon entering the facility, the group immediately felt the raw force of architectural impact. Structured lines bounding open spaces without exact symmetry proved truly fascinating in scope. A centered stairwell descended to a lower level leading to the tank room, cellar, and underground cave. Natural, welcoming light illuminated the center of the foyer and penetrated the wings, highlighting a skylight silo grounded in a concrete base left unpolished by paint or surfacing. The dualism of natural, raw elements intertwined with man-made elegance took center stage for the remainder of the day.

The man himself, Rutger de Vink, approached the group in towering confidence. His aura quickly overtook the gathering and his energy seethed with sheer focus and determination. I could envision the silent dialogues within his mind, an invisible stream of ideas and philosophical curiosities, defining a man of great depth and drive. He reviewed the agenda for the day and quickly set forth to take the first group up the "mountain" while the second group departed for the wine cave with de Vink's winemaker, Joshua Grainer.

I promptly set off to the kitchen and missed the wine cave tour while my brother and I prepped for the afternoon's luncheon. Luckily, my roommate was all eyes and ears for the tour led by Joshua. She happened to glimpse minute aspects of the winery that added to its captivating tranquility. I have included her photographs below and a link to her Tumblr feed. She felt the magic and gentle peace that pulses from the very walls of a wine cave. She captured a couple's mumblings to each other and felt compelled to share them with me. An older lady whispered to her husband, "Honey, if we weren't already married, I would marry you in this room." How else can I describe the overwhelming power of standing in the depths of Mother Earth? Joshua Grainer simply states, "For me, wine is perhaps life's greatest intellectual and sensual pursuit. The environment at RdV allows me to take this quest to the pinnacle."
Portraits Courtesy of Emily Plimpton EmFlash Tumblr

Portraits Courtesy of Emily Plimpton EmFlash Tumblr


After lunch preparations were well underway, I joined the second group for the winery tour. We set out for an authentic hay ride. While we slowly inched up the hill, Rutger shared his wine beginnings and his vision for RdV. He explained his search for soil and viticultural experts worldwide who visited his land and provided consulting expertise. They all said he has the soil and site to produce magnificent wines, but they were too inexperienced with the Virginia climate to guarantee his success. He dared to forge ahead with his dreams, and now eleven years after his first plantings, we stood at the pinnacle of his vineyards and absorbed the fruits of his labor.
Portraits Courtesy of Emily Plimpton EmFlash Tumblr

Portraits Courtesy of Emily Plimpton EmFlash Tumblr
Portraits Courtesy of Emily Plimpton EmFlash Tumblr


The sheer, impressive landscape spread out before us lay testament to his noble intentions. The vines were expertly manicured and standing astute, ready to perform their duty, like Roman legions anxiously awaiting Cesar's next call-to-arms. A gentle breeze glided over the butte and the serenity of nature settled in as if the vines were practicing their vinyasa. I imagined how often I would come here just to sit and reflect. I listened eagerly as de Vink discussed terroir and the importance of water availability to the vines. He spoke to his past failures and immediate corrections and the current status of the grapes and weather. But, I felt transposed. I did not recognize this as my Virginia and homeland. I could have been standing in Napa or Piedmont, but never had I witnessed such undertakings and potential at any other Virginia winery until now. This fact was proven after we descended the hill and indulged in a tasting of RdV's 2008 vintage poured against a 2005 Chateau Montrose, a classified second growth of the Bordeaux 1855 classification, and a 2007 Opus One.
Portraits Courtesy of Emily Plimpton EmFlash Tumblr


My personal tastes ranked Chateau Montrose as the most complex, but the RdV was a close second still not showing all in its youth. A good portion of the group, though, preferred the RdV over the Montrose and Opus. A few enjoyed the Opus the best, but with the RdV ranking second instead of third. The RdV was predominantly a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The juice lapped lusciously over my tongue, revealing powdery tannins, pristine fruit, balanced acidity, refined levels of alcohol, and a finishing touch of finesse. The aromas were a bit closed down at that moment in time, but the wine still rang of purity. No remnants of herbaceous elements lingered on the edges as are usually evident in most Virginia reds. The body and texture of the wine was seemless and somewhere perfectly in between the body and texture of the Montrose and Opus--the Montrose offering loads of minerality behind the fruit, while the Opus was fortified with oak tannins and vanilla tones.

Regardless of how the wine was ranked, the RdV was clearly in its class as an iconic wine. Just as the 1973 Stag's Leap changed the path for Napa wine and placed the region on world class wine maps, RdV scales uncharted territory and redefines the world's perspective on Virginia's capability of producing fine wine. I cannot wait to buy more RdV for my cellar and experiment with its age-ability, and learn more intimately the evolution of its flavor profile.