In May, the RdV team visited Bordeaux and Cognac with the express desire to further refine our barrel regime. We spent five days meeting, touring and tasting through four different cooperages. Here at RdV we use exclusively French oak, which comes from two specific species of white oak found in seven main government controlled forests, many of which were originally planted during Napoleonic times for shipbuilding. The forests, mostly located in central France, impart distinctively different flavor characteristics due to their own terroir, just like grape vines. Furthermore, coopers have their own house style. Add to this varying levels of toast and you’re presented with myriad options. It would certainly be easier and less expensive if we simply selected one cooper and one forest. But we would be getting only one note, whereas we’re striving for a more symphonic, layered approach. Even our favorite barrels require various companions to provide color commentary.
While visiting with Taransaud and Vicards’ Cooperages we were treated to tours taking us from tree to stave to finished barrel. What quickly caught my attention was the fact that the finished barrel is equal parts art, craft, science and desire. Only a select few master craftsmen bearing France’s high accolade of Meilleur Ouvrier de France are allowed to make the finest quality barrels that we seek. Each personally oversees every step of the process with minimal help from machine. It reminded me of that very eastern cultural idea of striving toward perfection, knowing it’s not ever really obtainable but always reaching further. If you’re not sure what I mean, watch Jiro Dreams of Sushi or observe one of these master coopers for yourself.
It’s great to know that our barrel partners are as passionate in their pursuit of excellence as we are.
Every spring with great excitement we await the arrival of our consultants, Eric Boissenot and Jean-Philippe Roby, for our blending trials. After all of these years we have developed a familiar and fun rhythm together, with precise winemaking and lively, jovial meals striking a beautiful balance.
This year we were so happy to include Michael Silacchi of Opus One Winery in Napa, along with his significant other Victoria, in the non-stop pace of our Bordeaux team’s 2-day visit. Michael not only brought with him all of his years of experience as a winemaker, but also an outside perspective with his own valuable insights.
After gathering everyone together from France and California, our first night was a cozy dinner at home while sharing some very special wines. I will say that Victoria was an instant favorite with us after she first chose Lost Mountain and then Rendezvous as her favorites in consecutive flights of blind tastings! We officially have a new super fan.
The next day was down to business with the morning spent blending our 2015 Lost Mountain. I prepared a simple stew for all to enjoy together for lunch, before it was time to focus on blending Rendezvous in the afternoon.
To celebrate our 2015 vintage and toast to friendship, we all headed in to DC to enjoy a delicious dinner at Kinship, Eric Ziebold’s new restaurant. From the sea urchin to the roast chicken, every course was to be savored along with the assortment of wines that seemed endless, and delicious. At around 1:00 am we decided it was time for bed!
The next morning there was a real treat in store for us, as Michael most generously shared every vintage of Opus One from 2001 – 2015. The opportunity to evaluate, discuss and enjoy these exceptional wines amongst such talented palates is something that will always be remembered. We are truly grateful.
Our whirlwind blending and tasting extravaganza always culminates in a traditional Mexican lunch that we gather to share with the entire team. We know how fortunate we are to be surrounded by such a dedicated group and celebrating that fact has become just as important as the work we do.
Over the weekend our Ambassadors were given the opportunity to taste the individual components of our blend in order to better understand the nuances of each varietal. The enthusiasm for winemaking and the conversations about blending revealed an eagerness in the group for everyone to create their own personal RdV blend!
As with all things at RdV, our sense of camaraderie and welcoming new friends into the fold defined our intense, inspirational and laughter-filled days. This is a special group of people, and we are honored to share our time with them.
As we head into our ninth year of this endeavor, we want to reflect on the many people who have made RdV possible. They have shaped RdV with their expertise and support, and we are grateful for their many contributions.
Considered the Godfather of Virginia wines, Jim Law exemplifies a true wine grower and mentor. During my two-year apprenticeship with him at Linden Vineyards, he taught me the fundamentals of viticulture and winemaking, and the importance of site. We have remained close friends and continue to taste, travel and share ideas together in the pursuit of great wine.
Kees van Leuween is the consulting viticulturalist at Cheval Blanc, as well as a university professor in Bordeaux and leading authority on terroir. In 2005 I had the opportunity to work the harvest at Cheval Blanc with Kees, who helped me cultivate my understanding of terroir and the key characteristics that link great sites to great wine.
Armed with the basic idea that I wanted land with low water holding capacity, I was determined in my mission to find the right property. Leading local soil scientist Alex Blackburn helped me find the right vineyard site in Virginia, after countless days of digging holes and analyzing samples from Charlottesville to Leesburg.
I will forever be grateful to Sue Rucker and her family for selling me the magical granite hillside that is now RdV. Sue was instrumental in teaching me all she knew about farming the land. I miss her but know her spirit is a part of this place.
Daniel Roberts of Integrated Winegrowing is a soil scientist and viticulturist in northern California who consults on the development and operations of vineyards he considers to be in the top 99th percentile of the industry. To my pleasant surprise, he rose to the challenge of making a world-class wine in Virginia. He designed our eleven-parcel layout, oversaw the planting of the vineyard, and continues to help us with nutritional analysis of our plants.
Alfred Cass, a key member of Daniel’s team, is a leading soil scientist who developed a method that determines how deeply to rip the soil prior to planting and helps to match rootstock with soil. His knowledge and attention to detail was obvious in his approach to our project and management of the excavation team.
I had the opportunity to work the 2006 harvest at Ramey Wine Cellars in Napa with David Ramey. David is considered one of the top winemakers in the United States with a resume that includes creating benchmark wines for such wineries as Matanzas Creek, Chalk Hill, Dominus and Rudd, as well as Petrus in Bordeaux. He taught me many lasting lessons – including the importance of taking risks.
Another great experience was working the 2007 harvest at Chateau Lagrange in St. Julien, where I met Matthieu Bordes, now the General Manager. That harvest was made difficult by rain and botrytis and I learned a great deal about overcoming challenging conditions by observing Matthieu. He is also a gifted taster and through many blind tastings together he helped me develop my palate immensely.
When it came time to make wine, we turned to a great wine maker from Bordeaux. Marie-Helene has a distinguished resume that includes the title of winemaker at Michel Roland’s Le Bon Pasteur property in Pomerol. For both the 2008 and 2009 vintages, she spent six weeks in Virginia with the RdV team guiding us through harvest and sharing Bordelaise winemaking techniques.
Andy Lewis is the mastermind behind our beautiful winery, He is not only a talented architect, but a true artist as well. I chose to work with Andy instead of an architect from Napa because it was important that the winery fit into the landscape, with a nod to our location in Virginia. He designed a building that pays homage to our agricultural setting through its barn-like aesthetic and strikes a perfect balance of form and function.
When we were ready to get the word out about our wines, we were fortunate to receive the help of Kathy Morgan MS, Washington, DC’s first Master Sommelier. From the very beginning, she appreciated our vision of producing a world-class wine in Virginia and offered us tremendous support.
Picking up the torch from Kathy, Tim Gaiser MS helped us spread the word of RdV beyond the Mid-Atlantic. Having such an influential Californian show support for a Virginia wine seemed like a coup. Tim is one of the leading educators to the Court of Master Sommeliers and his enthusiasm and encouragement have been both humbling and instrumental in helping us gain national recognition.
My travels to different wine regions around the world continue to be some of my most rewarding experiences. Aside from enjoying the sheer beauty of these places, I always appreciate the valuable opportunity to taste wine and discuss ideas with leading winemakers. On our recent trip, Jenny and I were once again grateful to meet many talented people and form lasting friendships.
We began in the Médoc at Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande with the opportunity to compare RdV’s pre-blended 2015 wines with those of several leading Bordeaux châteaux. Needless to say, the Cabernet Sauvignon was a favorite for many. We weren’t the only outsiders invited to this rare sharing of new blends. Michael Silacci, winemaker at Opus One, joined us to pour his beautiful baby wines as well.
Later, as is our custom, we visited a couple of other châteaux. We stayed in the north of Médoc to call on two Saint-Estèphe properties–Château Phélan Ségur and Château Calon-Ségur. The commune is known for their rich, robust wines but I was impressed by the remarkable elegance accompanying such power.
We eventually made it across the river to St. Émilion, where we joined long-time friend and mentor, Kees van Leeuwen, and his guests for a magical dinner in the fermentation room of the renowned Château Cheval Blanc. Some rather special wines were uncorked that evening!
We capped off the trip with one last appointment at Château Margaux, where we shared a great tasting and lunch with their winemaking team.
The winemakers of Bordeaux continue to inspire me with their ability to innovate while paying homage to long-standing traditions. The fact that they show such continued interest in our venture here in Virginia is humbling and a tribute to their intellectual curiosity. I’m honored to be a part of this industry and to call these wonderful people both colleagues and friends.
When the morning air slowly begins to shift, becoming light and crisp, we know it’s nearly time. Social calendars are cleared, picking shears are sharpened and tanks are polished. The cave is scented with the hint of sweet vanilla from the new oak barrels waiting to be filled.
The office begins to resemble a weather station as computers constantly stream the latest radar updates. We watch, we debate and we pace the vineyard rows. Our fingers and lips turn purple from berry sampling.
The Merlot on the upper east slopes is the first to reach perfection. We make the decision and head out. It will be a marathon, yet we depart with enthusiasm befitting a 100-meter dash. Fast on the heels of the Merlot are the Cabernet Franc and then the Petit Verdot. Harvest becomes a blur. Soon the vineyard is bare and the tanks are full. The unmistakable fecund aroma of fermentation fills the winery. I listen as the autumn rains begin to fall on the tin roof and can’t help but smile. I know we’ve done well.
The vineyard crew polishes off another case of beer and we toast the newly arrived vintage.