Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Bordeaux Meets Virginia: Visiting Rutger de Vink and his RdV Vineyards with Anne Cuvelier from Chateau Leoville Poyferre in St. Julien, Bordeaux

Picture: Anne Cuvelier of Chateau Leoville Poyferre and Rutger de Vink at RdV in Virginia, USA

Anne Cuvelier from the Cuvelier family that owns, inter alia, Chateau Leoville-Poyferre in St. Julien, Bordeaux, was in town (Washington DC) for the Heart’s Delight Event. On the side, Annette Schiller from wine tours by ombiasy organized a winemaker dinner with her at Eola on P Street in Dupont Circle in Washington DC. Anne also wanted to visit Virginia wineries. We visited 3 of the leading wineries in Virginia, all three of them intertwined with Bordeaux: Boxwood, Linden, RdV. This posting focusses on the visit of RdV.

Picture: Entering RdV

See here for the Leoville Poyferre Dinner at Eola:
Château Léoville-Poyferré Winemaker Dinner with Anne Cuvelier at Eola in Washington DC, USA

For upcoming ombiasy wine tours, see:
Germany Wine and Culture Tour August 2013
Bordeaux Wine Tour September 2013

RDV is a new, small winery about an hour west of Washington DC, founded, owned and run by Rutger de Vink. RDV produces some 1,800 cases of ultra-premium wines: the Cabernet Sauvignon driven Lost Mountain (US$ 88) and the Merlot driven Rendezvous (US$ 75). Jim Law of Linden Vineyards, who many consider as the father of the Virginia wine boom, has described his close friend Rutger de Vink as “the next generation of Virginia wine.”

RdV – Next Generation of Virginia Wine

Wine grapes have been grown in Virginia for 400 years. Thomas Jefferson tried out vines he had imported from Europe, but he did not succeed. It has been only in the past few decades that a serious Virginia wine business has developed. Today, a handful of ambitious winemakers, including Luca Paschina at Barboursville (founded in the late 1970s by Gianni Zonin of the prominent Italian wine-producing family) and Jim Law at Linden, successfully craft premium wines, selling in the US$ 40 to 50 range.

Now, Rutger de Vink with his RdV wines has appeared on the scene, with considerably higher price points, which were unthinkable for Virginia just few years ago. And, in blind tastings, Rutger de Vink likes to taste his wines side by side with ultra-premium wines from Napa Valley and Bordeaux.

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller, Annette Schiller from ombiasy wine tours, Anne Cuvelier from Chateau Leoville Poyferre in Bordeaux and Rutger de Vink from RdV in Virginia

“When I got into the business over 30 years ago, Napa was still growing and making Gamay and Riesling. Oregon was focusing on Muller-Thurgau, and nobody had heard of New Zealand wine. They all re-shuffled and refocused once a few leaders showed the way. It takes an epiphany wine, like the Stag’s Leap 1973 cabernet for Napa, the Cloudy Bay sauvignon blanc for New Zealand or Sassicaia for Tuscany -- all these are iconic wines for their regions. I believe RdV will do the same for Virginia” Jim Law says.

The Early Years

Rutger De Vink always had a strong interest in wine, but he became a winemaker only in his mid-thirties. Initially, he went for an MBA, spent 3 years in high-tec and also did 4 years in the marine corps, including a stint in Somalia. In 2000, Rutger de Vink decided to make vine-growing his life. He prevailed upon Jim Law of Linden Vineyards to take him on as an apprentice and worked for him in 2001 and 2002. Rutger learned winemaking from Jim Law.

Pictures:Annette Schiller, Christian G.E. Schiller and Didier Cuvelier at Château Léoville-Poyferréin St. Julien. For more see: Lunch with Didier Cuvelier at Château Léoville-Poyferré in Saint-Julien, Bordeaux

At the same time, Rutger de Vink started searching for the right land for his winery. Typically, Virginia vineyards are afterthoughts: Someone has land and decides to grow grapes on it. Not so in the case of Rutger de Vink: He spent three years searching for an ideal spot to make wine.

Rutger de Vink could take advantage of what Virginia winemakers had learned over three decades of experimentation: The best results come from vineyards planted on steep slopes (so cold air and water dissipate quickly, thereby reducing the threat of frost or rot from humidity) and with poor, dry soils (to reduce vegetative vigor and those nasty green flavors from unripe fruit).

And he had excellent advisors. In 2002, on one of his visits to Bordeaux, Rutger De Vink struck up a friendship with fellow Dutchman Kees Van Leeuwen, viticultural consultant at Château Cheval Blanc in St-Emilion.

In 2004, Rutger de Vink bought a hilly sheep farm off Route 17 in Delaplane, with the financial backing of his well-heeled family.


Rutger de Vink: “RdV enjoys two essential elements of great terroir: Thin, gravelly, granite soils force the vines to stop vegetative growth during the latter part of the growing season and channel energy into the reproductive system, thus ensuring the small, concentrated berries and ripe seeds that yield wine with ample supple tannins.

Secondly, the fruit slowly reaches full ripeness in the cool autumn days of early October - conditions ideal for wines with complexity and finesse.”

Rutger explained that it was his deep exposure to some of the top properties of Bordeaux that gave him the determination to find a site that was well drained. Virginia was lots of rain and good drainage is essential.

Picture: Rutger de Vink Explaining the Different Soil Types of RdV

With 6.5 hectares under vine, the vineyard is divided into eleven parcels and planted to Cabernet Sauvignon (40%), Merlot (40%), Petit Verdot (12%) and Cabernet Franc (8%).

The vines were planted in 2006.  Rutger de Vink’s travels in Bordeaux also put him in touch with Jean-Philippe Roby, Professor at the University of Bordeaux, who advised him on planting.


The tank cellar comprises 12 stainless steel fermentation tanks with six arrayed on each side. Rutger explained that as there are 11 parcels in the vineyard, the tanks allow each of the parcels of fruit to be fermented separately, with the largest (Cabernet Sauvignon) parcel split across two tanks. In general there is enough yeast on the fruit and in the winery for fermentation to start within 2-3 days. The wine is fermented for approximately 9 days followed by 2 to 4 week maceration. RdV employs both punch-downs and pump-overs two to three times per day.

Picture: In the Cellar

The barrel vaulted cave is spaced by stone and cement ribs. The initial vintages were aged in 100% new French oak barrels. The goal is to have 60-70% new oak for each vintage.  The barrels are racked once every six months. The wines are typically aged 18-22 months depending upon the vintage. When bottling occurs there is no filtration.  RdV may fine the wine using egg whites.

Picture: In the Barrel Cave


RdV is located on one of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The property consists of 100 acres of land that was originally home to cattle. With its distinctive silo, RdV’s exterior fits well into the rustic Virginia landscape, but its interiors incorporate a contemporary edge with materials like concrete and metal.

On the winery's first floor, guests can gather for wine tastings in the hearth room, which boasts a fireplace, modern couches, and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the grounds. A circular staircase leads to the fermentation room downstairs, which is filled with 12 stainless-steel tanks. Also downstairs is the wine storage cave room.

Wine Portfolio

RdV Vineyards makes two wines: Lost Mountain, a Cabernet Sauvignon dominant Bordeaux blend and a blend of mostly Merlot called Rendezvous.

Rutger de Vink made 1800 cases in 2010, with a goal to get to 2500 cases total, perhaps 800 of them Lost Mountain.

Rutger de Vink also hired Eric Boissenot, a consultant to four of Bordeaux’s five first-growth chateaux, to blend his wines. Still today, Rutger explained, samples of RdV are overnighted from Dulles International Airport to Paris, and from there to Bordeaux, so Boissenot can taste and analyze them and electronically transmit recommendations back to RdV.

A Quick Tour of the Winery

Guided by Rutger, Anne Cuvelier, Annette Schiller and I took a quick tour of the winery, after a glass of Champagne.

Picture: A Glass of Champagne

Rutger took as to a place where he could show us the soil of the vineyards, granite soil with sandy loam, and 30% rock content. There are 18 inches of clay and gravel then almost 40 feet of decomposed granite which is at a consistent depth throughout the knoll.

We then went to the tank room which is the tallest space ranging from the floor at the basement level all of the way to the roof.

We continued to the barrel vaulted cave and the part of the winery, were the bottles are filled and stored. The Spartan design of the bottle aging cave frames the back wall of exposed rock. Here we are some 40 feet beneath the surface of the vineyards.

Picture: Exposed Rock

The bottling line is located within a small glass enclosed room. Just outside of the bottling room, is the laboratory. It too is glass enclosed.

Picture: Bottling Line

Dinner with Rutger de Vink and Anne Cuvelier

Rutger de Vink had just returned from the en primeurs 2012 tastings in Bordeaux and naturally, the conversation went back and forth between the wines of Bordeaux and the wines of Virginia. The focus was on the 2009 wines, but we also drank earlier vintages.

Picture: Getting Ready for Dinner

Lost Mountain 2009 

Eric Boissenot: “With a vibrant ruby color, Lost Mountain reveals a complex nose of dense black fruit notes and subtle oak. Its young and lively nature, coupled with velvety tannins, creates a wine with remarkable flexibility and refinement. Balanced elegance and structure provides a stunning and delicate finish.”

Jancis Robinson: “Lustrous crimson – very healthy looking. Lovely delicacy and lift. Charmer. Sort of a Margaux! Really juicy and articulate and just a hint of spice on the end. Great build. 18/20 points.”

Grape Varieties: 77%  Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 9% Petit Verdot.

Rendezvous 2009

Eric Boissenot: “Rendezvous has a brilliant core of deep ruby color with a delicate nose hinting at sweet notes of pastry.  On the palate, the wine reveals a ripe tannin structure that is both harmonious and flattering, leading to a supple approachability.  It finishes with an energized backbone that sings of minerality from the hillsides’ granitic soils.”

Picture: Leaving RdV at 9 pm with Rutger; he had to go to a late night presentation of his wines in Washington DC

Jancis Robinson: “Putty nose and very polished and complete. Nice dry finish. Great balance. 17/20 points.

Grape Varieties: 35% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Cabernet Franc, 12% Petit Verdot.

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