Saying you’re a fan of RdV is basically Virginia wine code for “Yes, I have a taste for very luxurious bottles – and I’m not ashamed to say it”.
Many would argue RdV is Virginia’s most famous winery, at least outside the state. It’s its certainly the most expensive. But put this into context; RdV provides a curated experience with wines that easily match up to very expensive bottles from Bordeaux or California, so you’re getting what you paid for.
RdV also has an amazing lineage, since owner and namesake Rutger de Vink was mentored by Jim Law of Linden Vineyards – one of the few acceptable alternatives for those who don’t point to RdV as the best winery in the state.
“How I found my vineyard”
Rutger comes from a well-heeled Dutch family but in his younger days apparently felt the need for some personal direction – so he joined the U.S. Marines and became a member of their Force Reconnaissance element (think Navy SEALs or Army Special Forces-level training). This background (that, plus an MBA and experience in a tech company) explains his devotion to methodical planning, which no doubt paid off here.
RdV also has perhaps the most famous “How I found my vineyard” story in Virginia. As the legend is told, he was driving on a back road in search of a vineyard site when his car was halted by some sheep crossing the road. After pausing he looked around, only to realize the hills around him seemed to have all the things he needed.
Turns out the property belong to a sheep farmer who only used this location for grazing as it was too barren for farming. Initially this gent wasn’t interested in selling, but not long afterwards the farmer realized his kids weren’t interested in keeping the land so he called Rutger asking for an offer. The rest is history.
Rutger must have gone ALL IN when designing this place; the winery is one of the most picturesque in Virginia. But it isn’t just about looks; a lot of thought went into the design, be it the long underground passageway or the tower/lightwell in the middle of the building. These are just a few of the details that come together perfectly.
I’d visited before, but that was before I learned to appreciate Virginia wine in the way I do now. At $75 a person (now up to $125!), you aren’t just signing up for a tasting – you sign up for an education.
You start with a personal tour of the building, while the guide explained why this location is so special for viticulture. Put simply – it comes down to rock. Lots of very, very hard rock.
The winery sits on a large hill of granite. This is actually perfect for a vineyard; granite minimizes water retention and soil nutrients, forcing the vines to struggle. It’s a counter-intuitive way to farm; ‘happy’ vines don’t produce good wine grapes, but vines that struggle put all their effort into ripening their grapes –which results in great wine.
The tour continues through an underground tunnel which doubles as their long-term storage and barrel aging area. The most interesting part of this walk is the bare rock face. While it may have been planned more for show, RdV realized this wall serves a useful purpose – it shows how deeply rainfall has penetrated the ground. That’s the type of info that vineyard managers love, so ‘art’ here serves a purpose.
After that, you finished with a stop by the bottling line and chemistry lab then moved upstairs for a tasting.
RdV is known for two wines; it’s Rendezvous (right bank, Merlot-heavy blend) and Lost Mountain (left bank, Cabernet Sauvignon-heavy blend). No white grapes are grown; their 16 acres of vines is entirely composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc (no Malbec either).
RdV does make several other wines, although those aren’t typically sold to the public. The best known is their more price-friendly Friends and Family red blend found at wine stores and restaurants – made from grapes that aren’t used for the two main wines. But on rare occasions RdV also makes a single-varietal wine (I’ve had their “Outlier” Petit Verdot at Field & Main restaurant) and even a dry Rosé they serve to club members.
Their blending master is Eric Boissenot. I admit I didn’t know the name, but wine snobs likely do – he decides the blends for 4 out of 5 of France’s “First Growth” wineries. RdV is his only American client – that’s how fancy this place is.
Normally I go into long tasting descriptions of the wine; but here I won’t. Suffice to say, RdV wine is world-class. I tried the 2017 vintages of the Rendezvous and Lost Mountain and both were amazing – although I actually leaned more towards the right bank style than the left bank one (much to my wallet’s relief). I’m actually in deep regret not getting more bottles – it was that good.
Your tasting is accompanied by a small charcuterie board and a serving of Dom Pérignon.
Some would say that this event is overpriced. My response – it depends what you are looking for. If you just want to drink some wine, skip the tour and buy a bottle. But if you enjoy being feted and receiving a full on wine education (that I enjoyed almost as much as the wine), make a visit. You’ll walk away with confidence that Virginia really can make wine on par with the best in the world.