“When I got into the business over 30 years ago, Napa was still growing and making Gamay and Riesling,” Law said. “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.”
What’s so different about RdV Vineyards? Most Virginia vineyards are, quite frankly, afterthoughts. Someone has land and decides to grow grapes on it. De Vink, on the other hand, spent three years searching for an ideal spot to make wine. He had the advantage of knowing what Virginia winemakers had learned after 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).
De Vink also hired the best consultants he could find in California to help plant his vineyard -- and here it’s important to remember that viticulture in California is dramatically different today than it was just 15 years ago. The phylloxera epidemic that ravaged the Golden State’s vineyards in the 1990s allowed growers to start over using closer-spaced vines and different vineyard techniques. The fixation with different clones of grape varieties also began during this period.
De Vink then looked to France for advice, hiring Eric Boissenot, a consultant to four of Bordeaux’s five first-growth chateaux, to blend his wines, as well as Jean-Philippe Roby, of the University of Bordeaux, to help with his vineyards.
All of this winemaking knowledge fhas had an effect already at RdV. “My red wines have taken a huge leap in quality over the past few vintages because of the incredible people [de Vink] has introduced me to,” Law said. “This old dog has learned some new tricks.”
Roby was surprised at what he saw when he first toured Virginia vineyards with de Vink. “I saw jungles!” he told me, referring to the typical Old Dominion vineyard with its high, bushy canopy and excessive vigor. When he tasted the commonwealth’s wines, Roby found one notable bottling from Barboursville Vineyards.
“I told Rutger -- Octagon, that’s your target,” Roby said, naming Barboursville’s flagship wine that sells for $40.
De Vink is looking beyond Octagon, judging by his comparative tasting, in which he pits his RdV against highly rated competitors from Bordeaux and California. He is betting that discerning collectors will look beyond the label and appreciate his wine for its quality -- and maybe even consider it a value at nearly $90 a bottle.
Law argues that RdV wine can handle the price pressure. “This Virginia wine can sell for $90 because it has the quality and value of similarly priced wines in the global market,” Law said. “Up until now, luxury Virginia cuvées have been priced according to aspiration and ego rather than their quality.”
“Skeptics will remain skeptics until they find themselves running to catch up,” Law said. “Fifteen years ago, I thought the Internet was a toy for geeky teenage boys.”