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Rising Tides, Backhands, Damning With Faint Praise, and that Elusive $100 Bottle of Virginia Wine – A Commentary on recent RdV Media Coverage (with a dash of Snobbery?)
By most accounts, John F. Kennedy is credited as the originator of the aphorism; ‘a rising tide lifts a boats‘ — used by the President to communicate an idea of economic improvement wherein participants in an economy benefit when the general economy improves. If this cute little adage applies to the Virginia wine industry, the Commonwealth’s wineries may be in for a tidal surge equivalent to a category 5 hurricane moving up the east coast. That is, if one believes all of the recent press bestowed upon Rutger de Vink, the eponymous owner of RdV Vineyards, one of Virginia’s newest winery operations.
The Washington Post wine columnist Dave McIntyre was the first national wine journalist to report on RdV with a prominent feature on the cover the Post’s Lifestyle section. The flattering coverage of RdV continued with my favorite wine critic, Jancis Robinson after her visit to Virginia during the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference in July. More recently, James Conaway extolled the virtues of RdV with an article in a new-to-me publication called Garden & Gun magazine (from the title, am I to presume there are a lot of gardeners who also like guns?). As an adjunct to this print coverage, RdV has been the subject of much online chatter including a robust discussion on the Wine Berserkers forum and a piece at Wine Review Online by W. Blake Gray. I too added to the opinion pool with a short piece here on my blog — ‘RdV – The Virginia Wine Story of 2011?‘ — after my visit to RdV in May.
On the surface, this level of coverage for any Virginia winery is a big win for the entire Virginia wine industry, especially from an esteemed group of writers and publications with such a wide readership. I can appreciate wildly enthusiastic wine press as much as the next guy, especially about a Virginia vintner with the drive, knowledge, and global aspirations of Rutger de Vink (not to be confused with the same global aspirations of Patricia Kluge 10 years ago), but I take exception when such coverage is laced with a dismissive tone directed towards the rest of the Virginia wine industry.
Based on a couple recent conversations with winemakers who have been working Virginia’s land and producing excellent wines for years, the dismissive tone in recent articles has not gone unnoticed.
One of the more subtle, and innocent examples is found in Jancis Robinson’s article — ‘Virginia’s Climbers‘ — in the September 16, 2011 issue of the Financial Times. A glowing, yet balanced piece Mrs. Robinson writes, ‘I sincerely believe his [referring to Rutger de Vink] considerable efforts stand a good chance of putting the state on the world wine map.‘ One person is going to put an entire state on the world wine map? Really? I am definitely not qualified to question any wine related prediction made by Jancis Robinson, but I think we should slow down and consider evaluating a few more vintages of RdV (especially the 2011 vintage, marked by 30+ days of rain 🙂 ) before anointing Rutger The Virginia Wine Global Founding Father. I should note that Mrs. Robinson did include several other Virginia wineries in the ‘Jancis’s Top Virginia Picks‘ sidebar of this article.
For the record — beyond the trite rugged outdoorsy patagoniaesque shtick — I have huge respect for Rutger de Vink, the team he’s assembled, his drive, intention, knowledge, and of course RdV wine. I’ve tasted RdV wines on three occasions and my conclusion each time has been the same — unfair to taste them so young, but really, really good! It is, however, important to maintain perspective since there are a number of other really, really good wines being made here in Virginia (and have been well before RdV).
The dismissive tone I’m referring to can also be found in James Conaway’s piece in Garden & Gun magazine. Take the subtitle of the article for instance, ‘A few Virginia vintners are hell-bent on making the South’s first truly great wines.’ Just a few Virginia vintners are hell-bent on making the South’s first truly great wines? Of the nearly 200 farm wineries here in Virginia, only a few have winemakers that are working to make great wines in the South? Really? I guess this depends on Mr. Conaway’s definition of the South’s first truly great wines, which he never clearly defines.
I’m curious if early Virginia wine pioneers like Gabriele Rausse, who has invested a great deal of sweat equity farming the land here in Virginia since the 1970’s, would agree that only a few vintners are hell-bent on making great wines. I doubt other early groundbreakers like Dennis Horton, Lucie Morton, Luca Paschina, Doug Flemer, Shep Rouse, or even Jim Law would agree that just a few vintners are striving to make great wines. I could be wrong. I wonder if other Virginia winemakers — like Jeff White of Glen Manor Vineyards, Andy Reagan of Jefferson Vineyards, Jenni McCloud from Chrysalis Vineyards, Jon Wehmer at Chatham, Rachel Martin at Boxwood, Jason Burrus at Rappahannock Cellars, Jim Dolphin at Delaplane Cellars, Matthieu Finot of King Family Vineyards, Jordan Harris of Tarara, Stephen Barnard at Keswick Vineyards, Kirsty Harmon from Blenheim, Mike Heny at Horton Vineyards, or Michael Shaps — would be included in this ‘few‘ trying to make great wines?
Lest readers believe I am being defensive or shilling for the Virginia wine industry, I agree with Mr. Conaway that Virginia does have its share of vintners who have decided to cash in on tourism rather than quality. Like every wine region, Virginia has its share of vintners who possess a less than strong commitment to making quality wine and have no desire to make great wines. However, there are certainly more (many more) than a few Virginia vintners striving to make this great wine Mr. Conaway writes about.
Consistent throughout much of the coverage of RdV is a fetish-like fixation on the $88 price tag for a Virginia wine (gasp!). I find the obsession (or disbelief) with a Virginia wine priced at $88 humorous, and would like to see other Virginia wineries clean up their labels, use heavier bottles and affix a $100 price tag (just for fun and a little media attention of course 😉 ).
W. Blake Gray begins his piece at Wine Review Online with, ‘Virigina (sic) wine has yet to cross the $100 a bottle barrier…‘ This is not 100% correct (but, about 99%). One Patricia Kluge, namesake of the winery formerly known as Kluge Estates Winery, priced a limited number of bottles of her 2000 vintage well over $100 per bottle. Since these bottles were accompanied by a smart storage box, this likely does not meet the criteria as the first Virginia wine to cross the $100 barrier.
Gray continues with what I perceive as a snobby ‘dis to the rest of the industry with, ‘The prices [RdV’s] are breathtaking in a state where, until recently, mere adequacy was a worthwhile goal.’ I may be completely misinterpreting the meaning of mere adequacy, but I interpret mere adequacy as written here to be synonymous with mediocre or tolerable — implying that making adequate wine was good enough for the common winemaker here in Virginia before the state was blessed with the arrival of RdV. Mr. Gray is welcome to his opinion, but I’m not sure too many other winemakers or those familiar with the Virginia wine industry would agree that mere adequacy was or is a worthwhile goal.
Virginia is home to about 200 farm wineries, and like any wine region, our state has its share of winemakers producing wines at all levels of the quality scale — from adequate to tolerable to really good to great. Although RdV is the focus of most of the attention, many Virginia winemakers share Rutger’s global aspirations, intention, drive, work ethic, and goal of making great wine!
These are exciting times for RdV to be sure. These are also exciting times for the entire Virginia wine industry and I hope to see more balanced global coverage of more Virginia wineries.
Questions, Comments, Complaints, Random Observations? Contact Me Here
Dave McIntyre said:
Frank – many valid points here, especially your penultimate paragraph. What sets RdV apart at this early stage is not only its price, but the fact that de Vink has been able to take the lessons learned by Virginia vintners over the past 35 years and apply them anew, with a new perspective, (seemingly) unlimited resources, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to make the best wine possible. And the wine does speak for itself. You are absolutely right that the pressure will be on when we taste his 2011s, a vintage that will show all of us which Virginia vintners have a clue.
I don’t share your resentment of Jancis and Blake Gray – though I understand it – because I do think the “rising tides” argument will help Virginia’s reputation and visibility on the world wine scene. It may not matter if there isn’t enough good Virginia wine to go around, however! The industry is still quite small on a global scale.
Thank you, Dave for stopping by to share your thoughts on this subject. Since you were one of the first to taste RdV in a comparative setting and first to report on this exciting new operation, I appreciate your insights here.
Since there are only three vintages (’08, ’09, and barely ’10) in bottle or barrel at RdV, I think it’s premature to declare that de Vink “has been able to take the lessons learned by Virginia vintners over the past 35 years and apply them anew.” Lets taste these 2011s before we start throwing too many more accolades his way.
The wealth factor certainly makes a big difference in terms of being able to produce a ‘great’ wine (although far from the only factor, obviously), and de Vink is blessed to be in such a position. No doubt a few other wineries that are barely hanging on wish they too were in such a position.
To clarify, I don’t ‘resent’ either Jancis or Blake Gray. Other than a pleasant, short discussion with Jancis about RdV and Beaujolais at WBC11, I don’t know either of them enough well enough to resent them 🙂 . I do however take issue with how their articles seemed to dismiss virtually all of the Virginia wine industry while doting over RdV (some of which is deserved, but not all). Just my interpretation and opinion, which may not have been their intent.
Thanks again for commenting.
Stephen Ballard said:
I must agree with Dave that you make many good points about the RdV phenomena. It’s fascinating (and bemusing) to watch the unfolding coverage, but it is the unfettered praise that is objectionable. Why is such fealty being paid, as if he were the Savior of the Virginia wine industry? The hyperbole is breathtaking, and I’ll join in the acclaim on the sole point that RdV is certainly to be praised for the laser-like focus on quality. But beyond that, as you mention, there are a lot of other winegrowers with the same goal, but perhaps without comparable resources. Who wouldn’t want to have a “dream” winery building like that?
I have yet to try the wine. An “allocation” was purchased last year, and it rests in the cellar for the moment, either waiting for an appropriate occasion or until curiosity gets the best of me. I assumed they needed time in the bottle, so they were put away and forgotten.
A couple of weeks ago I exchanged emails with the RdV staff seeking to have a tour (we’re in the planning stages of building our winery at Annefield Vineyards and there’s no harm in having a look), only to be told that they were booked until next year, but “For guests who were unable to secure a tour reservation, we are offering a 3-pack (1 bottle of RdV and 2 bottles of Rendezvous) for a limited time. The total cost is $198 plus tax and shipping and there is a limit of 4 3-packs per person.” Nothing special there, though phrased as if it were a bonus — that’s the price offered everyone.
I assume the “limited time” is until they are sold out. Let’s not forget that in the end, no matter how glamorous the winery owner or inspiring the winery, we all, in the end, have the same goal: selling a product. Some of us do it by cultivating a following one person at a time; RdV appears to be succeeding by seducing the press with attention-getting pricing and a good story.
Stephen, I appreciate your thoughts on this subject as well. I may not have done an adequate job of emphasizing the point that the Virginia wine industry is FILLED with winemakers/winery owners with the exact same global aspirations, drive and goal of making globally recognized wine as de Vink. The big difference, as you note, they are without ‘comparable resources.’ One wonders, who couldn’t make great wine with what seems to be significant financial resources. Certain wine media outlets of course eat this up like a kid home alone with a freshly stocked cookie jar.
Despite the dismissive tone of some of the coverage (again, I may be too sensitive), I do feel RdV is great for the Virginia wine industry as that spotlight will shine on the rest of the industry too.
I can’t help but wish that one or two other Virginia wineries would follow RdV’s pricing structure as an experiment. Easy for me to say since I have no capital invested, but I think this would be quite an interesting experiment (and results may actually be pleasantly unexpected!). There is much to learn from RdV for sure.
Based on the RdV wines I’ve tried, I would highly recommend keeping those bottles on your racks for at least a couple more years. I believe you’ll find the wine to be excellent when you do open.
Frank, when I read the article in Garden and Gun magazine I kept asking myself what demographic is this publication striving to reach? Even in the South I have not noticed much overlap between gardeners and gun club members.
THANK YOU This needed to be said. You are right others are talking about how the rest of the industry is relegated to second fiddle so to speak. Its easy to be impressed by the new kid on the block who has lots of money and shinny new cool toys but those do get worn out like the rest of them sooner rather than later. The real question is shouldn’t we expect a winery with lots of money to produce great wines and anything short of great be deemed a total failure?
As always, Frank… another interesting, thought-provoking piece. In the long run, the RdV coverage will be good for VA, but you bring up an important perpsective that needed to be addressed.
I truly feel Virginia is in catapult mode. Hold on to your wine bottles! Great job, Frank!
I know you’ve heard of Chateau Montelena. One winery put California on the world wine map, and then others followed suit. So yes, I do believe one winery can start a movement (and then it’s up to folks such as yourself to propel it forward.) As you’ve said, Virginia is full of farm wineries and they’re mostly just that, small, some of excellent quality, some who just want to stay small and make Virginia wine, which is just fine; some have neither the means nor the desire to become global. Because the fact of the matter is that Virginia = tourism, for now.
Instead of the internal questioning, I think we should embrace the attention that one particular winery is receiving–Virginia is being noticed, and not just because of RdV, I do hope you can agree with me on that. Virginia has been garnering some nice press lately. One fact to remember is that the Virginia wine industry is still so relatively young and it may take many more years to acquire that global recognition.
This is a fascinating article, thanks for taking the time.
Stephen Ballard said:
After sleeping on this, some more comments.
I have no recollection of what kind of coverage Boxwood Winery received when it opened. After all, it is backed by very deep pockets, it features a fascinating building designed by a prominent architect in which no expense appeared to be spared, consultants flown in from France – the whole nine yards. What was the response of the wine press when that venture was launched? Their business model is not much different, although the price point is not as attention getting. I’m sure there was some response; I just didn’t take notice. Why is RdV getting so much attention? Could it simply be the influence of Jancis Robinson? Or is it simply that RdV is the current “flavor of the month?”
Which brings me back to one aspect of the business I think the industry needs to focus on, which is creating a forum that connects the producers with such aspirations to the decision makers and buyers. We need industry-only trade shows open to the trade. The Boston Wine Expo, for example (coming up in January) has two hours of dedicated time with industry representatives each day, and an “Open Pass” program that will give trade representatives access to any Grand Tasting session, with additional trade-only seminars being offered.
The London International Wine Fair in May attracts some 350 members of the wine press, and thousands of sommeliers, wine shop owners, restaurant owners, brokers and the like. The wineries presenting usually release their wines there so the journalists have lots to write about.
If Virginia were to do something comparable, one wonders if the industry would show up. But I think its worth exploring. The Virginia Wine Expo is a step in that direction, but for now it is more consumer oriented. The trade comes, but they have to fight through the crowds of consumers “kissing the devil” so they can visit with the wineries.
I’ll second Tina’s comment: “Virginia is full of farm wineries and they’re mostly just that, small, some of excellent quality, some who just want to stay small and make Virginia wine, which is just fine; some have neither the means nor the desire to become global.” Look at any wine region in the United States (its probably worldwide, but I haven’t checked) and you will see the same – some wineries that make what they know they can sell, others that want to emulate the top regions of France or Italy, with greater aspirations for global recognition. I want to be clear I wholeheartedly support RdV and welcome the attention, although I wish, as you note, the praise wasn’t so breathless (as if he’s re-invented the wine industry) and dismissive of the rest of the wineries in the Commonwealth.
Now some thoughts on “Garden & Gun” Magazine – that happens to be a personal favorite of mine. I received a complementary copy some time ago, thought it a bit strange, but after picking it up again and after reading a few more issues, I was hooked. It’s simply a lifestyle magazine about the new South, chronicling its food, culture, destinations, shopping, sporting life and the like.
“Gardens” Appreciating “gardens” in the American South I think brings us back to British antecedents, where in the late 18th Century and early 19th century (when much of the South was developed so those architectural influences are everywhere) we see the Romantic movement taking shape with a desire for a closer connection with nature, and the builders of the Georgian period started making houses with larger windows that often went all the way to the floor; where before we had the piano nobile floor where most living was conducted on a higher level, with the servants dwelling below (in Europe, anyway). With Georgian architecture the floors were lowered so the main living rooms had a more direct connection to the outdoors, and by extension, into the gardens. In the South with its oppressive humidity, this was a natural and much living was conducted outdoors. The garden perfectly encapsulates this aesthetic, being both a human construct and a natural feature. Picture a stroll through Charleston, South Carolina and peering into the courtyard gardens of the single houses with those broad piazzas overlooking gurgling fountains in the middle of lush gardens, and you’ve got it.
“Gun” of course alludes to two things: independence and hunting, two things loved by most (if not all) Southerners.
And by the way, if you go to the Garden & Gun website today, you’ll see a photograph of a very sexy looking Jim Law in his vineyard illustrating an article entitled “Be Thankful for Southern Wine.”
“We need industry-only trade shows open to the trade.”
A resounding YES! This is Virginia’s biggest detriment. The wine industry here is seen as too much of a “festival” mentality. No problem there, but industry-based tastings must take precedence, otherwise we’ll never see progress here.
Stephen, make it happen.
Jordan Harris said:
Frank: I completely understand the points you are making and also personally agree. There are a lot of winemakers that are striving for better. That said, this publicity is great and is happening because the rest of the Virginia wine industry is doing so well lately.
Stephen mentions Boxwood and Kluge was also mentioned early. I would say there are two big differences being timing and newsworthiness. Did or do both manke stunning wines from state of the art facilities, absolutely. But there is nothing news worthy about another $25-30 bottle of great wine. Media has to write to appeal to their readership which means there needs to be something of interest, like almost $100 for a Virginia wine. The other issue of timing is really too bad, especially for Boxwood. We probably have the best wine marketing team in the country, but they have not been around very long. RdV just happened to be the new top end wine that came to the media at the same time as the Marketing office as a whole has created tons of attention for Virginia as a whole. If they had been there 2-3 years earlier Boxwood probably would have gotten the attention.
Tina mentioned Chateau Montelena which is a good comparison but I don’t think it is completely accurate for what RdV is responsible for and will drive. Montelena, BV and Mondavi could all be looked at as the old school that lifted Napa from the start (Montelena simply got extra kudo’s from the judgement) and created a demand for the region as apposed to singular estates. I think RdV is more in direction of places like Screaming Eagle for what it can do for the Virginia Wine industry. RdV is about building cult status on Virginia wines. For that they are the only one right now and will likely stay that way until there is proven success and more money coming to Virginia wine. Screaming Eagle created a new sensation for Napa wine giving a far more elite status. It is not always the best wine made in Napa each year, but it is always the most expensive and sought after. That is what RdV can be to Virginia and is why the media attention is warrented.
Having met Blake when he was here, I don’t think he was intentionally dismissing Virginia as a whole, nor do I think many of these writers are. They are simply stating that RdV is doing something different that is putting them in a different level, which they are. Are the RdV wines the best in the State or will they be? That is up to the taster to decide and I think the media is starting to cover more and more of the other wines, but there does need to be a starting point which RdV is fitting right now. Sure, as a winemaker I would love it if my wines were the darling of Virginia right now but now I just have something more to work for. I think RdV and the media can not only bring attention to Virginia as a whole, but it can help force us to strive even higher to make sure our wines are of the quality to be mentioned in the same articles.
I do need to add a big thank you as well for always being such a supporter of Virginia wines as a whole.
It is a fun time to be in the Virginia wine industry.
Dave McIntyre said:
Now, wait a minute here, Frank – Chateau O’Brian has that $78 late harvest tannat; Williamsburg has the $60 Adagio; Kluge (there’s your money going nowhere) started the New World Red at about $65 (after the initial release extravaganza). In other words, other Virginia wineries ARE and HAVE pushed the price envelope. But they haven’t matched it with commensurate quality.
I agree that RdV doesn’t have the track record that major Bordeaux chateaux have – that can only come with time. But I have done (and written about) the comparative tasting, and I did it on my own, without de Vink present and not at the winery, with people who know more about this stuff than I do. They agreed that the RdV belonged in the company with Chateau Montrose and Dominus. The wine really is that good. I’ve tasted the 09s and 10s, and I think they’re as good if not better. Yes, the 11s will be very interesting – he probably senses the wolves circling already hoping he will fail.
So yes, only time will tell – but I think it’s a little unfair (if understandable) to resent de Vink for his initial success with the wine and with the press.
Stephen – regarding Boxwood: I recall the Post did a glowing piece several years ago when the vineyard was planted (written by Walter Nichols, if memory serves, who I believe also wrote one about Patricia Kluge). And I featured Boxwood in my Loudoun County piece in October 2009, shortly after they released their 07s. I’ve probably mentioned them a few other times. Rachel has been very active in courting the media.
Stephen Ballard said:
Dave – I don’t doubt there was coverage of Boxwood — I was just saying whatever coverage there was, I missed it or had no recollection. I remember profiles in The Washington Post when they started opening the stand-alone stores, a story on John Kent Cooke — come to think of it, maybe I didn’t miss it. And I do recall seeing a piece recently in Wine Enthusiast Magazine on them. I know they haven’t been ignored. This feels different.
And as an aside, I’m thrilled Rachel is working on an AVA for Middleburg — a pet peeve of mine is the lack of interest in creating more in Virginia, which might help distinguish Virginia wines in the marketplace. But we’ll leave that that hornet’s nest alone right now; its a pretty contentious issue among growers.
Great continuing discussion and thoughtful comments. These ‘discussions’ make writing an article like this worth the time. I tend to learn more from the resulting comments than I did from researching a particular topic for a post. I appreciate everyone’s input (and it’s not lost on me that the comments are better reading than the post itself 🙂 ).
@Dave Mc. — Thanks again for weighing in here. I should have been clearer in first response to Stephen… “I can’t help but wish that one or two other Virginia wineries would follow RdV’s pricing structure as an experiment.” I should have added “… priced above $100…” since the $100 barrier is so talked about and esteemed. Would be interesting to gauge the coverage of such an experiment (obviously winery would need to update label, bottle, etc.). Just my opinion.
And, you got me on that $79 Limited Reserve Tannat and Late Harvest Tannat – both I had forgotten about. I’ve not tried either of these bottlings so I can’t speak for quality, but they must be selling because one of them is sold out.
You are right, there probably are a few of those ‘wolves circling’ hoping for results resembling failure, but I’m certainly not one of them. I wish de Vink and the RdV brand much continued success for sure!
@Tina M. — Thanks for stopping by to comment. For reasons Jordan noted, I feel we may be stretching just a little to make the Ch. Montelena comparison. I’ll leave that for another post as that would be a lengthy one. And, I do believe this level of press is indeed good for the larger Virginia wine industry — no argument here (i.e. – much more good than bad).
@Stephen B. — I like your idea of a specific industry-only trade shows . I believe there are a few of these here in Virginia, albeit much smaller than you are likely referring to. Annette Boyd at the VaWine Marketing Office would be the perfect person to contact about exploring such an event.
Regarding the Garden & Gun magazine – I was being a bit cheeky in my reference to the magazine, but that was new to me when I first read the RdV article. I just recently stayed at a B&B on Virginia’s Northern Neck and noticed several copies available on coffee and end tables. I did skim through a couple issues and found it interesting. If a Garden & Gun rep is watching (which I know one is), please forward subscription. 😉
I hope the discussion continues.
Wait a second, is this drinkwhatyoulike.com or swirlsipsnark.com?? Mr. Morgan, look at you stoking fires all of a sudden!! I loved reading this article, yet can’t really comment too in depth as I have never tasted Rdv wine nor have I read any of the other articles. I will say that this begs the question is a wine great because we truly believe it is great? Or are we just being told that it is great and charged accordingly? Like I said I haven’t tasted his wine so I cannot speak to that, but my initial thought is that it makes me think of the cool kid in school. He never ran around and said “look at me I’m cool! Really I am”….those were the not cool kids, the cool kid was just cool, there was something about that person a certain presence. Liken that to this story, Kluge, RDV et al are making me think of the foot stomping attention starved kid clamoring to be cool. Look at Jim Law, Bernd Jung, Jenni McCloud, and many others, they have wines that I am sure are equally as good if not better, (and many more vintages of them). So they let the wine speak for itself. I was hanging out with another winemaker who was disagreeing with a point I had made in a past somewhat infamous comment that there are indeed many winemakers and owners striving to be great and make a difference, just off the top of my head I rattled off 60 folks, I’m sure with a little more time and a wine guide I could have come up with at least 20 to 30 more. One person is never going to define any industry such as ours, there are simply too many variables and too many opinions. At some point it’d be nice if folks would stop looking to make things so singular, as if there is only one person responsible for anything. As a young nation we had founding fathers, not a founding father. Barboursville wines have been served at the white house, my wine will be served at The James Beard House, many articles have been written about myself and plenty of other winery owners and winemakers and I am sure many more will be written about us in the future. So actually maybe Rdv is really just the new kid at school and we aren’t sure whether he’s cool or not, but he’s new so somewhat more appealing than what’s been here all year. Either way I already put Virginia wine on the map so might as well not worry about that point.
Jordan Harris said:
The other thing that is really left out a lot when discussing why RdV has garnered so much attention is the model of creating the winery after one style. The other pricier wines that Dave mentions above are from wineries that make everything from sweet to dry, many varieties, etc.
RdV is going at the the approach of a single Estate with the emphasis on One wine (yes I know there is three). The Other wines are declassifications much like the Bordeaux Chateau model or the One Estate One Wine model of the Napa Cults.
Instead of being worried about if RdV is getting an unfair amount of attention, I am all for watching how it works out and learning from it.
One statement that keeps popping up is the 2011 vintage. Frank, I know you and I have discussed this already and I don’t think there is any reason to think about looking at RdV’s success based on a sole vintage good or bad. RdV will not make a bad Grand Vin in 2011. If it is not of quality, I would guess, much like many of us he will second guess releasing a top wine. If he does, I am sure it will be because it passes his quality standards. There is too much to lose from releasing over priced wine from 2011 for any winery.
I will argue one statement from Dave though on it being the only one of the expensive wines to back up the price with quality. While I have not tasted all the vintages of Adagio, the ones I have tried are incredible and I would happily put them in that price point.
Frank, really great post — and, oh my God, how do you manage to insert so many links? all very helpful, believe me.
Haven’t had the opportunity to taste RdV yet, hope to get the opportunity one of these days, but I’ve certainly read a lot about the wine, including the WashPo piece that you cited. I’m guessing it will be wonderful — though like you, I wonder how the 2011 will turn out; the year seems like a worldwide disaster.
But having said that, I agree with you. There’s a lot of good wine being made in Virginia, and a lot of great people making it, from Gabriele Rausse to Kirsty Harmon, to Jim Law, to Jim Dolphn — and well, as your post shows, the list goes on and on. If Trump and RdV bring more attention to the Commonwealth’s wine industry, than so much the better — maybe they’ll do for Virginia what the Judgment of Paris did for California — but no one should overlook the great things others are doing.
BTW, loved your reporting from Europe, must have been great to meet George Tabor.
Very good article Frank. I have mixed feeling about RdV. Unlike most wine drinkers, I don’t necessarily have a problem dropping $100 on a bottle of wine, but I am highly unlikely to do it on a wine from an estate that has not proven itself.
I like a lot of what he is doing in terms vine placement, land maintenance and the care he takes with the fruit, but the same could be said for dozens of wineries in Virginia.
I also like the fact that he focuses on one style of wine and tries to do that really well. It does have a Bordeaux-like feel.
I think the comparisons to Boxwood are apt, Rachel and team take the same care, put the same care in planting and harvesting and focus on producing limited numbers of great wine.
Boxwood also received, relatively speaking, a great deal of press coverage when they launched. But, Virginia was a lot less well-known as a wine region when they launched, so they received less coverage overall (does that make sense).
Dave – I’ll add one more to your list: The Breaux Vineyards 2001 Nebbiolo, that is a $90 wine that is worth the price. It is a quality wine that was produced in the Barolo style and has received great praise from critics like Oz Clarke.
Hi Allan, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this post here. Like you, I don’t necessarily have a problem dropping $100 on a bottle of wine, although I rarely ever do. And, if I’m going to spend $100 on a bottle of wine (which, in my world, now equates to several cases of diapers and wipies – have to consider the opportunity cost of every big purchase), it’s coming from an established producer with a notable track record.
What RdV has done by pricing their inaugural vintage at $88 is quite ballsy, and perhaps part of the reason for some of the attention (which is part of the rub for me). You reference the Breaux Nebbiolo, which is a stellar wine! I can see dropping $90 on the Breaux Nebbiolo… Breaux is established, I’ve had other vintages, etc, but I don’t believe Breaux released their Nebbiolo at $90? For some reason I recall $55 or $60 being price of prior Nebbiolos (I could be wrong about this). Breaux has earned their place in the market, as have many other wineries here. In my opinion, RdV is still in the ‘earning’ phase… Thanks again for sharing your thoughts here – cheers!
Dave McIntyre said:
Allan – I believe I purchased a bottle of that 2001 Breaux Nebbiolo at the then extravagant (or so I thought at the time) price of $40. I opened it several years later (about 2008 or so) for friends who had lived in Italy – and it was showing really well. My friends ID’d it immediately as a nebbiolo and were astonished when I showed them the label. I haven’t tasted it since, but I’m glad you report that it is still terrific.
Richard Leahy said:
I’d like to commend Frank for opening up a very thoughtful discussion topic, and all the rest of the people posting comments here for contributing to it.
Fundamentally, this really isn’t about RdV or even Virginia wine, as much as it is about the perception of wine quality, its relationship to price, and the stereotypes about any particular region.
Face it; every major wine region in the world has a quality pyramid which is even recognized and codified with the AOC system now standardized in the EU. In that system, there are four tiers of quality, from bottom to table wine to quality wine to high quality wine, further parsed by vineyard or village ratings. In Burgundy, not only will you find lousy wine, you’ll have to pay more for it than you would for lousy wine most anywhere else in the world of comparable lousiness…just because it’s lousy Burgundy, apparently justified by the alleged epiphany of drinking the great stuff (if you can find or afford it).
What Dave McIntyre established in his Washington Post column was that, while his highly qualified tasting panel all agreed that the RdV wine was on a quality tier with the other high-end wines tasted, they all doubted that a wine from Virginia could command the same price as one from a renowned Napa Valley producer (Christian Mouiex and Mondavi) or a 2nd growth classified Bordeaux. This assessment needs to be examined carefully. Quality: agreed is generally the same. Price is a function of perceived value by the market, i.e. people spending the money. While it’s hard enough to get a group of wine judges to agree on general quality guidelines for a given wine, it’s a lot harder to get any group of consumers to agree on what they would pay for a wine, if they are tasting blind and can’t hold the bottle (for weight) or read the label (for clues). John Cleese demonstrated this when he did a blind tasting with consumers, and most people could not pick out the $100 wine by taste alone.
It’s even more difficult to shift the paradigm on a wine region’s perceived quality once it’s stuck in the minds of the general public. Look at the rise of California wine (led by Napa Valley) in the minds of the American consumer by 1990 compared to where it had been in 1975.
Closer to home, let’s look at Wolffer Estate on Long Island. It may have been Stephan Derencourt who recommended to winemaker Roman Roth that they make a reserve merlot and charge $100 for it. It was the first New York wine to ask three figures on release, and it made a stir in the New York City restaurant scene, not just because it was ballsy, but because it was really that good. I tasted the wine myself, and it’s worth $100, but only as long as (1) you can appreciate the distinction from a $10 merlot and (2) you’re willing to pay for it.
The Kluge New World Red had Michel Rolland as its much-touted winemaking consultant, and for all that, it’s an impressive wine; very Old World in its style; elegant but not flashy, lots of earth and minerality and no planky new oak. It is retailing now for a very fair $34, which is probably right where it should be.
When I was offered a taste of the ’08 and ’09 vintage wines at RdV (only because I happened to be with the Circle of Wine Writers visiting at the time), the wines struck me as being very Bordeaux like, but with more concentration, purity of fruit and finesse than the New World Red. Of course, that’s only my personal taste impression, and the wines are different styles. We shouldn’t leave Barboursville’s Octagon out of the discussion; it’s now priced at $40, and that is also a fair price considering quality and style, and the price of wines elsewhere. As with the current pricing of the Kluge New World Red (now under the Trump Winery banner), I believe that the RdV wines are fairly priced. To understand this, you not only need to have tasted a lot of Bordeaux and California high-end reds, but to have walked the vineyard rows at RdV, noting the meticulous precision with which they are managed, and then stand in the pristine winery where each vineyard lot has a dedicated tank, to understand their dedication (and also understanding, which is often missing when money is spent on vineyards and wineries) to making world-class wine in Virginia. All this is detailed in my upcoming book, Beyond Jefferson’s Vines, to be published by Sterling in New York, next spring.
Hello Richard – Thanks for stopping by to comment. You raise many excellent points, as have all the commenters. What a great topic for discussion, eh?.
You raise an excellent and critical point that I’ve spent some time thinking about recently — “It’s even more difficult to shift the paradigm on a wine region’s perceived quality once it’s stuck in the minds of the general public.” In October, I attended the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Italy. I met, and traded ‘tell me about your wine region’ stories with many attendees. In several cases, people were already familiar with Virginia wine as they had tasted a few of ‘our’ wines at the London International Wine Fair held in UK in the spring. I was pleasantly surprised by their familiarity. However, as you might expect, the more common response was ‘oh, I didn’t know wine was made in that part of the US.’ Thud. So, for the most, the perception by some (perhaps many) international wine industry folks is that Virginia isn’t even on the winemaking map… which is preferable to the ingrained perception by the general consuming public (at least our social sphere of friends) here that Virginia’s quality is lower, much lower in some people’s mind. In many circles, Virginia wine does need a ‘paradigm quality shift.’ How does that happen? Many ways, and some time! If RdV can make that happen – GREAT! Although I do not believe just ‘one’ wine can shift paradigm of the general wine consuming public (or, that next tier above general consuming). We’ll see!
I laughed when I read your statement about paying more for lousy Burgundy than anywhere else in the world for comparable lousiness. So true. At a dinner with colleagues in that region recently, I attempted to show my (own perceived) wine prowess by selecting a Burgundy to go with game hen for the table. Although I did not recognize the producer the server noted this was made by a long-time vigneron, I ‘thought’ (shows my lack of skill 🙂 ) a bottle at the EURO 95 (~ $125 US) from established producer would be safe – NOT so! It was one of these ‘lousy’ Burgundies you referenced – awful, poorly made, yuck. So, true, poor wine made everywhere indeed.
I completely agree about the ‘meticulous precision’ with which the vineyards at RdV are managed – impressive to be sure. I certainly have no problem with RdV at all – in fact, as I’ve said, RdV is good for Virginia wine – just like to keep the ‘RdV Phenomenon’ in perspective with all the other excellent wines here in Virginia, including the ones you noted.
Thanks again for commenting.
Dave McIntyre said:
It has to start with one wine.
Richard Leahy said:
As you’ll see, I have some ideas about the unexamined reasons why fashionable consumer magazines seem to shun regional wines (of course, California used to be unfashionable before the Judgment of Paris).
I have mixed feelings about RdV too, but not because of the pricing. Frankly, the real rip-off in VA wine today is tannat. I found out while researching my book that it is the most over-priced varietal in the state, and Virginia may have set a dubious record for the most pricey tannat on the planet, a distinction I don’t think will do us much good.
I think the downside of this conversation, especially with RdV’s example and the outstanding 2010 vintage, is that we may see a lot of prices going up. On the other hand, if that helps raise the perception of VA wine with consumers and the critics, that’s not so bad. At the same time, I recall before the Great Recession that our cabernet francs were commonly running in the high $20s, which is pushing it. By and large, prices have dropped a lot in the VA wine scene, which I think is sensible considering the Recession.
Frankly, if you consider VA as a microcosm of something like the behemoth California market, there should be room for all price categories of wine here that give consumers quality wine and value for the money no matter the price. We certainly have the potential, but with vintages like 2011, it will never be as easily reproducible as it is in California (although their vintage sucked as bad as ours this year).
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Brian Roeder said:
I truly love this conversation and the people who are having it know far more about wine than I do. But I do have a few points to make.
1. I am thrilled for Rutger and the wine he is making is excellent. Every article that covers his efforts does help the Virginia wine industry. In like fashion, the efforts of Jim and Lucha, Dennis, Lucy, Bruce and many others with many years invested have made what is happening now possible. The understanding and implementation of best practices are a huge part of Virginia’s emerging success.
2. There are many ways to help our industry become recognized. Rutger’s relies heavily upon favorable reviews by guys like you whose views people listen to. Frankly, that is a gutsy business model because his success is dependent upon the whims of critics. He is very good at what he is doing: He’s making excellent wine and he is marketing it in a way that is gathering buzz among the right crowd.
3. I own Barrel Oak Winery. I announce that because we are a “destination winery”. Our business model is largely being dismissed by writers and critics. It seems – as asserted above – that we are perceived as one of the vintners who have “decided to cash in on tourism rather than quality”. However, I have always struggled to understand the dichotomy of popularity at the expense of quality. I have heard my peer Jim Law say as much on several occasions – perhaps because he both runs his business and makes his wine. In such a situation it is almost impossible to control quality when your attentions are also on running a successful business. So from his perception you cannot do both well. But I am not making the wine at Barrel Oak. I am only running the business.
So the key question is, “if the business is popular, does that of necessity mean the wine is inferior?” I ask this question because it is certainly being asserted in many of the comments above that if the wine is excellent, then the business cannot be popular with tourists.
What is overlooked in this entire discussion is that tourism and warm bodies packing a winery is of necessity a measure of the quality of the wine. Why? Because plonk is not rewarded with return visitations. As a result, when there are 600 people at Barrel Oak on a Fall Saturday and half are return customers with their guests in tow, it is first and foremost because they find that the wine is very good. They also like every other aspect of the business because we work very hard to make every other aspect agreeable. Because of the second effort, please do not dismiss the success of the first. To do so is -as our industry is so often accused- the height of arrogance. Yes, we are wine geeks who know and do care more than most – but our palettes are still our most subjective asset – and greatest handicap. Faith in our informed palettes and our superior knowledge manifests in some as the assertion that they know what others cannot, thereby bestowing the right to judge the common man as inferior to our refined appreciation of wine.
4. Now I am not suggesting that the fine writers and bloggers and commentators above are in this group. But I do believe that we all should check certain assumptions and look at many separate ciphers of excellence. For example, most of the wineries in Fauquier and Loudoun price their least expensive and most popular wines in the $15-$19 range. Our entry price is $25 a bottle. While a winery may sell a case or two of $75 a bottle wine in a good month and get folks to write about how much a Virginia wine fetches, we will sell 350 cases of $25 a bottle wine in a good month. Yet no critics are writing about how a Virginia winery is successfully paying its bills in its third year of operations. I argue often that this story is extremely important if our industry is to attract the investment that will be necessary to emerge as a world class wine region. In a year where the two largest wineries in the Commonwealth have failed, the economic viability of our wineries will ultimately decide our fate as much as any single great vintage.
5. So once a winery has been dismissed as a “tourism destination”, (A perception of Barrel Oak originally promoted by a few of our competitors and broadly and uncritically accepted elsewhere), is it then incapable of making great wine? Who would know? The critics and bloggers will no longer visit, taste, or write. But what then is being missed? Well, in our case, in 4 vintage years we have had 3 Best in Shows. Our wines, all of which are made by our winemakers on premiss have won Gold and Silver medals from National Women’s, San Francisco International, Pacific Rim, LA International, Tasters Guild, Long Beach Grand Cru, San Diego, Finger Lakes, AWS, Indy, and Hilton Head. This is a record of accomplishment and a measurement of excellence that any wine maker would be proud of – and yet goes unremarked because they are assigned to a tourism destination.
I can only use our winery as an example. And there are some others like us. We work our hearts out to pay the bills by attracting as many customers as possible while our wine makers create a track record of excellence in the cellar. As a result of these efforts, this year another 50,000 people will have been pleasantly introduced to the Virgina wine industry because they walked through Barrel Oak’s doors. Those people will be more receptive to Virginia wines the next time they visit a restaurant or shop in a wine or grocery store. They will tell their friends that – surprise – Virginia wines are really quite good! Many will return to Barrel Oak and perhaps try other wineries as well. They may not pay $75 for a bottle of Virginia wine and they may not ever visit RdV which is by appointment only. And they may not read this blog.
But they will be enjoying excellent and popular wine while sitting on our patio with their friends.
I am happy to send anyone who has written above a couple bottles of our finest. Taste and review – good, bad, or indifferent – or not. At least you will be able to ascertain for yourself if tourist popularity really in truth means the wine must not be any good.
Richard Leahy said:
You raise some excellent points. Again, I think this comes back to the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” dilemma for the regional wine industry. If you’re a commercial success, you must be a sell-out. OR, if you have the nerve to charge $50+, it must mean the wine region has finally arrived. Neither is necessarily true.
We also have to remember that there is no one wine market. People flock to VA wineries and spend money (repeatedly) because they’re finding what they like. Other smaller wineries cultivate a clientele that doesn’t mind going out of the way or finding minimal tasting rooms for exceptional wine quality, and there’s room for everyone.
In my upcoming book, one VA wine industry veteran looks down on fruit wines and says he wonders which will prevail in the end, fine wine or “gimmick” wines? Another producer says he can’t fault a colleague making money selling fruit wines. I think the answer is, it doesn’t have to be “either-or”, it can (and already is) both. The wine drinking public is diverse; we need more than pallet stacks of more industrial cabernet, chardonnay and merlot to define VA wine, or why bother competing with California?
Hi Brian – thank you for sharing your perspective here. I appreciate the points you’ve made, and everyone who has taken the time to share their opinions and experiences. Given the thoughtful comments, this is clearly a subject that has been on the minds of many. This post has provided a forum for discussion on the topic larger than RdV – marketplace ‘perception’ – that sits on top of the industry (just my opinion, some will definitely disagree with me on this). For some, this subject served as the proverbial bandaid being pulled off to reveal that the ‘second-rate perception’ wound still exists. And, this is why I wrote this piece – to communicate that ‘perceptions’ about Virginia wines not being ‘good, great, world-class, whatever’ may not be based on actual experience with Virginia wine.
You make an interesting point, one that I hold – both consciously and maybe at a deeper level subconsciously – that wineries who focus on tourism may not be perceived as focusing on quality wine like those wineries that have eschewed the tourism/bachelorette party/events crowd. I do ‘wrastle with this. Although one of my favorite Virginia wineries is one that is focus on tourism/events, I still hold the opinion that those wineries that do not focus on tourism/events make better wine (for my palate). As a result of me preferring the wines of those wineries that are not tourism/event-driven (altho all benefit from tourism to an extent), I somehow equate this to tourism/events.
I personally do not tend to visit the ‘tourism/event’ wineries due to the large crowds. With this opinion, I clearly am as guilty as the people I wrote this article ‘to.’ I have never visited Barrel Oak, and believe I’ve only tried one of your wines. I will make a point to stop by for a visit and conversation in the near-term.
All the best – cheers!
Brian Roeder said:
I really appreciate your original post about Rutger’s efforts as well as your response to my views. And you raise a very important point – we are mobbed weekends and many don’t like that. Of course, we are open 7 days a week and the other 5 are quite quiet and lovely. (Such was the day that Daniel Shanks visited and I am sure the serenity was more impressive than several of the wines he tasted).
Your willingness to examine a disposition that many share regarding popularity and quality says much about you. Of course, we are doing fine without the bloggers and critics, but if I am right, then the oversight of our wines is truly a shame. I appreciate deeply that you will be coming to visit and I welcome that day.
What I have not yet said is that our two winemakers, Sharon (my wife) and Rick Tagg, are exceptionally passionate about making wonderfully drinkable and wonderfully crafted wine. It is not lost upon me that my efforts to sell that wine -or more accurately – to attract enough people to buy enough wine to pay all of the enormous debt we carry, have at times obscured the quality of their efforts in the eyes of people who might otherwise recognize their accomplishments.
No, none of us at BOW have devoted our lives to wine as has Rutger. I truly believe that he is capable of making the finest Bordeaux bland in North America. And he deserves enormous respect for what he is accomplishing.
I just wish that people who write about wine would check their assumptions about the false zero sum balance between quality of wine and quality of the experience. If I was to accept such an argument in order to become worthy of recognition by the writers, we would be out of business in mere months because I would have to make the experience much more unpleasant in order to drive our customers away from the excellence of our wines.
Brian – ‘preconceived assumptions’ is certainly something that I am guilty of (especially in this case), which is why I need to get out for a visit, tasting and conversation to learn about what you guys are doing. Thanks again for adding to the discussion here.
I meant “Bordeaux blend”…NOT…”Bordeaux bland.
Jordan Harris said:
Richard: First off I so dearly hope that not many Virginia wineries raise their prices for 2010 wines. The reason that idea worries me is that there is no way the same amount of wineries are going to be willing to lower their prices for 2011. It is a sticky slope when industries raise their prices due to great vintages because it makes the off vintages that much harder to swallow. Secondly, as you mentioned directly after, vintages like 2011 do not give us a disadvantage to California. California has had 2 years straight of struggles and it could be argued 3 for those that had to dump smoke tainted wine. Everywhere (includuing the West Coast, but Washington less then anywhere since its wine industry is in a dessert) has vintage variation and has their own positives and negatives. We are no different and I really do not believe it is any harder to make great wine here, even after 2011.
Brian: I don’t think critics simply dismiss wines because the winery is popular or is a destination winery. If they are given a great bottle, then they will judge it as such, same if its bad. Where being a destination winery will put you at a disadvantage to getting the attention of critics is that their job is to discuss wine. The will not go out of their way to source out wine from somewhere that it appears not not be the main focus of the business model. They will direct their efforts to finding the people that are solely concentrating on wine. They only have so much time. If the model is more then wine that it will become your job as you have done here to go to them and knock on their door, because they will always use their spare time to go to Linden, RdV, Glen Manor, etc and rightfully so. Wine is there job and there is nothing at those wineries muffling their perceptions. That is why we have stopped doing large events, festivals, weddings, etc. We are now wanting to concentrate on wine simply because that is where our main passion is and we want our success to be based on that. It is also good to mention that our bottom line grew dramatically the first year we stopped doing the extras because we were focused and our wine sales grew while our expenses shrank. It is not fair to say that Jim has his success with wines and his vision solely because he makes the wine and runs the business either. Linden is a very popular destination in itself. I have never been there to find an empty tasting room. He may try to restrict it as much as possible, but they are busy and popular as well but it is solely focus on the wine. RdV is simply taking a different approach, possible from seeing some of the struggles Linden has with popularity of visitors. Does he see 600 people on a Saturday, I doubt it, but he sells a boat load of wine to those that do come in which is also evident from the fact his wine sells out. The fact that Jim makes his own wine is also not a rationale for having a superior wine. I have worked for many people that would not accept anything but great wine even though they were not personally making it. That was part of their job running the business to make sure I did my job.
So once again, I don’t think critics dismiss destination wineries because they are popular. That is simply a false statement. Linden is popular. Breaux is a destination winery and get loads of acclaim. It is simply a matter of how each individual winery decides to generate their revenue, do their marketing, and run their winery. You just can’t expect that if it is not the main focus of the winery that you are going to garner the same hype as those where it is. That would be like saying we should be covered by all the local dog groups because they are allowed on our property while on a leash (not in the tasting room however). It is not part of my major marketing focus, so I don’t expect it.
Brian Roeder said:
You raise interesting points. I do understand that critics are mostly about the wine. The interesting thing is the assumption that because a winery such as ours is intensely marketed and promoted, that that doesn’t mean that we apply the same intensity and focus to the wine. What amazes me in our industry is that the “either or dichotomy” is so casually applied – “you’re either this or you are that”. But somehow you can’t be both excellent at attracting visitors and excellent at making wine. We are dismissed by critics because we obviously cannot be making great wine because we obviously are attracting so many customers. Yet the most successful businesses strive to be excellent at everything that they do. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we say that you cannot be making great wine if you are greatly satisfying your customers in every other possible way. And that is the inherent assumption explicitly stated in the damning words “decided to cash in on tourism rather than quality” The grand wizard of wine himself was foremost a marketing genius who put an entire region on the map. Yet Mondavi’s companies have produced great -even historic vintages.
Look. If our wines weren’t taking top honors in international competitions, I’d understand that critics wouldn’t write about them. But it is quite clear at this point that our wines are not written about because most don’t care if they are remarkable. That are instead treated as inherently unremarkable because of the way that they are marketed. So be it, but if I am correct, it is a damn shame and it is a huge blind spot for those write about and seek to support the Virgina wine industry.
Put another way, my friend Rutger is a very smart man doing all of the right things to receive very deserved recognition. Your argument is that critics would not be writing about his wine if he ran horse rides and had BBQ and 1000 visitors on his property each weekend because then wine would not be his only focus. This is a strange argument to me. The man is making excellent wine. How is that affected by the business model? Conversely, few critics are now interested in coming to our winery, so they cannot taste our 2009 Petit Verdot – which White House Usher – Daniel Shanks – declared to be one of the best Virginia reds that he has had. San Francisco International agreed, awarding us a gold medal for a wine that sells at $39 a bottle. None of that really matters though, when your credibility lies with the public and not with the critics.
I’m really just exploring a point here. It is called damning with faint praise and backhanding. And it doesn’t just exist when we say that Rutger’s efforts on their own will finally get us all acclaim – acclaim that has been deserved for quite some time for the efforts of many of our predecessors – such damning praise is also exercised when excellence is dismissed because it is wrapped in popularity with the common wine drinker.
Scott Claffee said:
Great article and equally great, thought-provoking discussion. I’ve tasted the RdV lineup on several occasions, most recently at a dinner that I organized at the winery where they poured the ’08 and ’09 vintages of both RdV and Rendezvous. We brought along a lot of wine to taste alongside, from both Old and New Worlds, including cult-ish Napa Cabs like Ghost Horse and Outpost, old standards like Duckhorn, classic Bordeauxs like Montrose and La Reserve de Leoville Barton, and wildcards like Montes Alpha M from Chile. The RdV wines showed extremely well, and indeed stood out for their particular expression of terroir, which we continue to debate to this day. I invited a prominent wine blogger, a well-regarded D.C. sommelier, and a bunch of wine geeks, and RdV won over the skeptics and earned some fans.
What is notable about the dinner is that almost everyone that I invited had the same view of Virginia wines — that they just aren’t that good as a whole, and don’t belong at a serious wine tasting dinner where enthusiasts are opening cellar gems to enjoy and discuss. This seems to be the prevailing opinion of wine drinking circles, even local one (let alone people from CA or the world who don’t care or know that Viriginia makes wine). I guess my point is that it’s not just a media narrative — it’s a belief, right or wrong, among consumers as well. RdV managed to change this one group’s collective minds about the possibility of great wine being made in Virginia. Will it cause them to consider other VA wines now? I don’t know, but let’s hope so. The problem, I think, is that while there are other *good* Virginia wines, many of which I enjoy, there are few, if any *great* Virginia wines, in my opinion (and I support the local wine industry!). As Richard pointed out above, RdV really is that different — and that good. It has managed to achieve greater power and finesse than any other VA wine I’ve tried, with a distinct signature and sense of place, without any of the negative aspects of VA terroir (greenness, among others). So I wonder, unless/until someone else catches up, if it’s almost a negative if people who like RdV seek out other VA wines and are disappointed. I didn’t mean that last sentence to come out as provocative as it did now that I see it in writing.
I should add, though, that Rutger might not be helping things when he tells people that he’s not trying to make a wine that is “good, for a Virginia wine,” but that he’s trying to make a world-class wine that happens to be from Virginia. One way to read that sentiment is that he thinks his wine could be from anywhere, and the first part of the statement implies that the overall level of quality in VA is not good. I hope (and think) that’s not his intent, anyway.
Finally, I’ll mention as an asise that I no longer can give any credence to anything Blake Gray writes about VA wine, since he completely mixed up the blends of the RdV wines and responded rudely and arrogantly when I pointed out his error on Twitter.
Scott, thanks for weighing in here. As someone who has tasted RdV in a comparative setting – alongside very good company – I appreciate the perspective you bring to this discussion. Outpost, Ch. Montrose, etc… excellent company for a comparative tasting, and I’m glad to hear that the group concluded that RdV stood as an equal among such well established names. Would have been interesting to include at least one other Virginia wine (Octagon, Hardscrabble, or Boxwood).
I’m working on a similar tasting, but plan to include a at least one other (maybe two) Virginia wines along side a couple of the wines you noted. Maybe the RdV will clearly stand out (most would bet that it would), but I won’t be convinced until I actually experience this myself. I have tasted RdV on three occasions, but not in a ‘proper’ comparative setting.
I’m curious, when you say “The RdV wines showed extremely well, and indeed stood out for their particular expression of terroir…,” how, specifically? Can you expand on the terrior expression?
Comments like the one you noted (“…good, for a Virginia wine…”), certainly do not help his standing among his peers or the outside perception of the industry, however, I doubt he intended it as a swipe (at least I hope not). During my visit, he had many positive things to say about the industry and was very humble, supported by notable confidence, in talking about RdV. From all this discussion, I think we’re giving Rutger, not his wine, ‘Cult Status.’ 🙂
Agreed on your point about Blake. I believe he noted that RdV was Merlot dominate, on my bottle Cab Sauv is by far the dominate grape. Oh well.
All the best – cheers!
Richard Leahy said:
Scott mentioned that RdV helped change some connoisseurs’ minds, but the general impression in those circles is that Viriginia just doesn’t make top wines.
I helped organize the visit last year to Virginia wine country by the Circle of Wine Writers based in London. They were very impressed, but they are also “real” wine people who don’t feel that fine wine is directly relational to price. For example, they loved our cabernet francs and viogniers, which the connoisseur circles in the New World may never have tasted. Bartholomew Broadbent raved about Barboursville’s wines (viognier, Octagon and malvaxia) in Decanter, and Jancis Robinson, recently keynote speaker at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, wrote of RdV in the Financial Times but also posted a comprehensive list of tasting notes on other wines on her Purple Pages.
If Virginia wines are good enough for them, what’s the problem?
I think it’s a circular problem; “serious connoisseurs” would be afraid to be bullish on Virginia wine for fear of being scoffed at by their peers. As with other non-West Coast wine regions, if the place hasn’t been officially deemed fashionable by famous wine critics or glossy publications, they won’t be bothered to give the wines a fair try.
Some of the leading VA wines have been mentioned above; I’d like to add Jim Law’s Hardscrabble red blend and Harscrabble chardonnay (both ’09), Breaux 2007 cabernet franc, Jefferson meritage 2008 and reserve chardonnay 2009, King Family meritage 2007 and 2008, Barren Ridge meritage 2007 and 2008, Chester Gap viognier 2008 and cabernet franc 2008, Horton reserve cabernet franc 2008 (best 10 barrels), Barboursville nebbiolo 2007.
I’m not sure what it would take to convince the skeptics. Maybe the industry should organize a Win Over the Skeptics event that would include library wines. Only thing, is that it should be a blind tasting including comparably priced wines from CA, France, Italy. If they had to guess which were the “bad” Virginia wines, it could be pretty embarrassing, and pretty informative at the same time. Thoughts?
Ah, Richard, you managed to summarize as I was unable to – “I think it’s a circular problem; “serious connoisseurs” would be afraid to be bullish on Virginia wine for fear of being scoffed at by their peers…” So, very, very true! I feel much of the perception in the marketplace is not based on actual experience with Virginia wine, or, experience with just a few wines (of many hundreds of different wines produce each year). Thanks much for adding to this discussion.
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The debate between destination winery and serious winemaker is fascinating, in part because it is occurng as Rachel Martin and Chris Blosser are on a plane to London to attend the Circle of Wine Writers. These are two very different types of wineries, but are still being recognized by very prestigious writers and critics.
That being said, there is some truth to the notion that destination/wedding/wine tour wineries are treated differently than those that are perceived to be “serious wineries”.
But I think that is by design. If you are a destination winery, and have any kind of business sense, you are going to make different wines than if you are trying to pass yourself off a serious winery.
With a destination winery you have to make a range of wines that please a variety of palates and a lot of inexperienced wine drinkers. So, while I agree, Brian, that your 2009 Petit Verdot is excellent, it doesn’t change the fact that most people think of Chocolate Lab when they think of Barrel Oak.
Horton suffers from the same problem: they make some phenomenal wines, but you have to get through the 30 fruit wines to get to them – but those fruit wines make them the hit of every festival.
To give a very specific example of this, take The Boxwood Tasting Rooms. They have different wines in each of their tasting rooms to account for the different clientele. The Middleburg Tasting Room has more Bordeaux than the Reston tasting room, which caters to a younger, less wine savvy crowd. When the wine club I organize does an event in Reston we can easily get 30 (plus another 30 on the waiting list) people there because of the types of wines, but when we do an event in Middleburg we are lucky to get 10 people (its not location, we can get 30 people to join us at Barrel Oak, Three Fox and destinations even further out).
There is nothing wrong with being a destination winery, but doing so means it is going to be hard to get taken seriously. The type of wine that appeals to the average member of a bachelorette party is not the same type of wine that appeals to wine critics. Of course, the one commonality of the two is: neither bachlorettes nor wine critics spend a lot of money in the winery. Bachlorettes don’t have any and critics expect everything for free :). And if a bachlorette wine critic ever walks into your winery, watch out….
Brian Roeder said:
LOL…Allan. Love the light and insightful touch. I agree with everything that you are saying. The reality is that we are building a hugely profitable winery in the Piedmont. Without critical acclaim. And critics write about wine…not the wine business. So I should not expect critics to care to write about a successful winery. And you are right…40% of our sales are in off dry and dessert wines. If we were only making “serious” wines, we’d have far fewer customers.
But Sharon & Rick are also making 5 or 6 quite impressive wines in any given year. These typically include the Vio, Reserve Chard, PV, Petit Manseng, and CF. I will put any of these wines up against the Commonwealth’s best in a blind tasting. Pick 6-8 wineries in each vintage. I have $1000 for your choice of charity that says three at least of BOW’s would be in the top three of each blind comparison and/or at least one would be best overall. Anyone want to play? Dave, you’ve been listening in I know…maybe you, Allan and Richard and Jordan and Frank and a couple of others can join us. January…a private room at the Capitol Grille downtown…I’m happy to treat dinner afterwards with the wines and friends…in tow.
I always wonder what it will take for our wines to get a fair hearing by the people who write about Virginia wine. That is why i pop up occasionally in these dialogues curious to see who will reexamine their assumptions about who can and who cannot make good wine. I am sure it is clear to all by now that I will fight to the death against the assertion that good – even great wine cannot be made at popular wineries. I hope that doesn’t make me a dick in people’s eyes and of course, we can all disagree. But, allowing for your insightful observations, great wine can be found where-ever talent and passion and intuition are brought together in the cellar. BTW, for the record, BOW wines are 100% Virginia, 100% made on site. 100% by our winemakers, one of whom is the owner. I am surprised at how often that is not the case at other wineries. Yet it is something that we have in common with the best wine makers in VA. I repeat…why not do everything with excellence?
So, having done the books, I’m off to BOW to greet customers. I hope someone will take me up on my offer. It would be fun!
Brian – I am in! Thank you for stepping up and putting it out there – the literal putting your money where your mouth is. As I’ve noted in previous comment replies, I have not, for the most part, given wineries like BOW a fair shake and deeper look because of that ‘tourist/event perception.’ What you’re suggesting would be a great way for me to learn (and, perhaps not prejudge, too). I’ll reply to your email to schedule. Thanks again for being an active part of this discussion. Frank
Brian, please put us (Wine About Virginia) in there. We will even donate a bottle of something good from Virginia to compare. But why downtown DC? I’m sure we could find someplace in Virginia : )
Scott Claffee said:
I’m late coming back, but I’d pitch in for this hypothetical charity tasting/dinner. David Denton would take good care of us at TCG, but there are plenty of other good options as well.
Brian Roeder said:
My offer stands. I’m hoping you guys will take it and run with it.
Brian Roeder said:
@Kurt – location can be in VA also. I’d love to do something at Eve for example. Wherever we can get excellent support for the tasting and perhaps some press interest for all participating parties. I’m very open to suggestions. Hope that this will move forward after the new year. Frank and I have worked up what I believe would be a very interesting and rigorous blind tasting. I am on the hook for evening’s costs and the $1000 charitable award if we come up short.
VA Wine Diva said:
I’ve been enjoying following the conversation, and I can no longer resist chiming in.
First,let me say that my only experience with RdV wine was taking a taste of a bottle of Rendezvous brought to a post-conference party by someone else at WBC11 this summer. We can’t afford $40 per person for a tour and hesitate to spend that much money on a bottle of wine. In fact, I’m pretty sure the most I’ve ever spent on a single bottle was $70. Don’t get me wrong, if I loved a wine and found it worth the price, I’d pay it, but I’m not in an income bracket where I feel comfortable doing so.
With that disclaimer stated, let me raise the issue of price and second something Richard brought up. Quality and price don’t always go hand in hand. Great wines can be bargains, and expensive wines don’t always taste great (at least not to any given person). Every winery has a right to price their wines however they’d like to, and there is actual data to support the idea that consumers equate a higher price tag with quality. That said, if I can get a wine of similar quality at a lower price, I’ll typically pass on the more expensive one. I don’t drink cult wines because I can’t afford them, and no one is giving them to me for free. [Almost every wine I drink (and write about) is one I’ve paid for.] Given this, I don’t have the context for broader comparisons with RdV that many of the rest of you have, but I have tasted many VA wines that stand up well to similarly (and even higher) priced wines from other wine regions, and if more people tasted regional wines blind more people would have their assumptions challenged.
As for destination wineries, Brian is right that the quality of their wines shouldn’t be immediately dismissed. I am a fan of some Breaux wines, but since I hate the crowds,when I visit, I try to do so as soon as they open. When we’ve made it to Barrel Oak, we’ve often taken a similar approach. I also think it’s important to note that many have talked about Barboursville as a quality leader, but their tasting room is also often packed (and because of this, the experience of being a taster can be miserable at times). That said, Brian also noted that his wines are priced higher than those from other VA wineries in his area. We’ve, in fact, talked about this on our blog. We have liked some of the BOW wines, but not always enough to pay the price to take them home. As an example, while I haven’t had the current petit verdot release, I’ve heard good things and really like the grape. Despite this, I don’t know if I’d pay $40 for a bottle when there are many in the state I can get for $20-$30 that I really enjoy. Hopefully we’ll actually make it to BOW soon so that I can figure this out for myself, and in the meantime I’m sure Brian will sell many a bottle.
Now that I’ve rambled for a bit, what I’m really saying is that everyone needs to stop getting so hung up on price. If a wine sells at a given price and it makes a business money – great. Higher price doesn’t mean better wine, however, so we need to remember to separate these issues.
VWD: “Higher price doesn’t mean better wine…” True indeed.
Blake Gray said:
Hey folks, you’re ignoring the reason people like me write articles like these.
We have readers who don’t know that Virginia wine exists. Or if it does exist, that there are any good ones.
The reason RdV is a compelling story for readers of Wine Review Online is that what I’m saying is, even if you live in Oregon or Minnesota, there is a reason to buy this wine. it’s world-class.
It’s easy to lose perspective on how a region is perceived when you live in that region. Do y’all drink Texas wines? Do you know anything about them? Well, I’ve been there too, and I’ll never know as much as a Texas wine specialist, but I can come in and taste a bunch of Texas wines and tell people how they compare to the European and US West Coast wines I drink every day from an outsiders’ perspective. Many readers outside of Texas want that outsiders’ perspective.
BTW, I do want to address something in previous comments: Rutger deVink personally gave me the wrong ratio of Merlot to Cab in his wines; he just read me the numbers backwards. These things happen.
But you shouldn’t need that as a reason to not pay any attention to what I have to say about Virginia wines. I’m not pretending to write as a local; if you live there, you should read a local, not an outsider.
Jordan Harris: Your wines are very good (but you know that), and I might yet write about them in another setting.
But here’s something else y’all must realize on some level: People don’t pay me (or anyone other than Dave McIntyre) much to write about Virginia wine. They want me to write about French or Italian or California or Oregon wine.
If I write about Virginia wine, it’s a labor of love, or curiosity, or perhaps both. It’s not where my own personal economic interests lie.
Thank you, Blake for adding your comment to the discussion. As the author of one of the articles I referenced in this post, the context you provide is important to better understanding your piece in Wine Review Online.
At the risk of over-exercising this subject, you write, ‘The reason RdV is a compelling story for readers of Wine Review Online is that what I’m saying is, even if you live in Oregon or Minnesota, there is a reason to buy this wine. it’s world-class.’ I agree, there certainly is a reason to buy this wine, and I hope wine enthusiasts across the US and in global markets do buy RdV wines. From my local perspective, I believe there are many Virginia wines worthy of these purchases, not just RdV (which is why I wrote this post). I may be too close to this to see clearly through the weeds.
We’ll agree to disagree on the following, “It’s world-class.” I disagree, and do not consider RdV “world-class” … yet. At the risk of be placed even higher on the RdV Persona Non Grata list, I feel RdV (the wine) still has a lot to prove, and earn, before receiving the ‘world-class’ label.
Thank you again for stopping by to comment and provide additional context to your piece. All the best!
Scott Claffee said:
Thanks for finally acknowledging the error in your article. Next step would be to actually correct it so as not to continue to mislead consumers.
Brian Roeder said:
You have drawn important attention to Virginia wine. We need that. Our local efforts like the revised and newly rigorous Governor’s Cup will help further. But I always try to tell another story as well – that people should be opening wineries in VA. They can make very good wine and they can make a very good living. We need investment in wineries if we are to continue to grow in popularity and in quality. That is why it is so important that we have success stories like Barrel Oak. We know of the failures – Klugie & Sweeley. I want to hear more about the successes. Yes, it is about the wine, but it is about more also. As I like to say…you can be making the best wine in the world, but if no one drinks it, does it really matter?
John Hagarty said:
Frank, I’m somewhat reluctant to contribute to the dialogue. Lots of cogent comments already posted.
Nonetheless, I think anyone who has not tasted the wines—which I have not—would be hard pressed to comment on its quality vis a vis the rest of Virginia. I think our top tier vintners are getting a bit dissed without the opportunity for a broader audience of wine drinkers weighing in on the discussion. Until there is a wider availability of RdV wines the subject seems somewhat academic. Will only one producer put Virginia on the wine map? I doubt it.
Richard Leahy said:
Good point. I should point out that Jancis Robinson MW has previously stated (as have other top critics) that Jim Law at Linden and Luca at Barboursville have a consistent track record for defining top Virginia wine.
Since I consider Jancis as a penultimate wine critic (“interpreter” would be a better phrase I think), it’s worth considering what she said and what that means. She said “I sincerely believe [Rutger’s] considerable efforts stand a
good chance of putting the state definitively on the world wine map.”
In every wine region there’s a pyramid of quality. Self-styled connoisseurs (including a lot of tradespeople) are really only interested in emerging wine regions inasmuch as authoritative wine commentators of the world declare them to be worthwhile. As we saw with the “Judgment of Paris”, that made all the difference for the California wine industry in 1976.
We need to distinguish fine Virginia wine, as well as fine wine from anywhere else, and “world class”. That latter is a very small pinnacle of the wine world pyramid. Anything on that pyramid needs to stand as a peer to its varietal/blend counterpart from anywhere else on the planet.
Any region in the New World is understandably slow to ascend to a plane to be considered admission to that tier of the pyramid, and usually it’s only for one grape variety; shiraz for Australia (later also riesling for Clare and Eden Valleys), malbec for Argentina, sauvignon blanc for New Zealand (although now also pinot noir), and cabernet sauvignon for Napa Valley.
Jancis has praised other Virginia wineries and wines in the past and on her blog. What she’s saying is that RdV stands out in its capacity to produce a wine that can “put Virginia definitively on the world wine map” which will be a boon to all wineries in the state, as the Judgment of Paris was to the entire state of California and its many wineries.
That being said, this takes nothing away from any of the other fine Virginia wine producers (as would have been the case in CA circa 1976). I’d like to point out that Rutger, unlike others, took the trouble to take Lucie Morton’s advice and apprenticed under Jim Law to learn the business from the ground up, and he’s made a point of acknowledging his (and Luca’s) long and patient work to bring him and others to where the industry now stands.
More in person to follow,
Jordan Harris said:
Brian: First, thanks for including me in the idea of a tasting. I am certainly not a critic so my opinion does not really matter, but I do love dinner!!! I think you are missing the point I am trying to make (pretty easy because I ramble). I agree that BOW has some great wine and Sharon’s and Rick’s passion to make great wine is second to none. I personally do not think you are being shunned because of being a destination winery, nor does anyone believe you can’t make great wine as a destination winery. Maybe I am wrong about that, but I see it differently. I simply do not think they will source you out, and the sad reality is it is not news that will sell to say “Hey, this winery is profitable, doing welll and has some good wines.” The media has a business, just like you and what I have to work for. Their business is selling news which they need to develop into what they believe their readership wants to see. I do think that pretty much all of these bloggers, media (local and national), etc will write about your wine if you bring it to them. My direction since I personally don’t believe in competitions is that I send my wine to the critics and a large majority have tasted and written about them, and those that haven’t might sometime. Thye did not source me out either because we are not newsworthy any more. I could say that it is something they need to write about because we have 23 years of experience and are even re-inventing ourselves now over the past couple of years, but the readership does not care as much about that as they do some super exclusive $88.00 bottle which is a first for Virginia. The big difference that RdV has brought is an apparent success so far at something unknown to Virginia. Is expensive new, no, but all the other expensive initial releases have been slammed for not showing up with the quality, RdV does so far. Comparing the idea of the destination winery to Mondavi is also flawed. Was he a marketing geniuous, absolutely, but the Mondavi name was made from his revolutionizing New World winmaking and and through his new enology practices and technology that we all use today. The destination winery comparisons that we have in Virginia to Napa would be more along the lines of Castello di Amorosa or V. Sattui (same owner strangely) or Darioush that are developed on bringing guests in for their facility more then their wine. That said, all of these places also have great top end wine, but that is not what they are know for. Does the media write about them, sure, when they submit their wines. They would stop though if they stopped submitting. The media however would never stop writing about Screaming Eagle because the readership expects to see how they do each year.
For what it is worth I also do not think the RdV or the Rendezvous from 2008 are are the best wines Virginia has seen. They are great wines, but they are far from what I would deem the best in the State to date. I have not tried you PV or the others mentioned but should make my way out there to try, but much like the media and bloggers, there are over 200 wineries here in Virginia and thousands in the USA so it is hard to taste from everyone and selection sometimes has to be made. No one is talking yet about the repeat buys of RdV or repeat visits so there is nothing differing them from you, us or them in that sense. There has been more written about BOW or Tarara in the past as RdV, just not as recently and not about all the same subject matter. Really the only odd one that I have no clue about is the Gun and Garden Mag and honestly I don’t care about that one. Jancis did write about others and gave here view, as did Blake Gray. If they don’t agree with us, that is part of playing with the media. Sometimes we hear things we don’t want to hear but need to. Dave has written about all sorts of Virginia wine. If you want to get the BOW wines to them, simply send them. They will likely get put in cue to be tasted when it is appropriate. If they don’t get written about, sometimes that’s good and sometimes thats bad. Keep in mind most of these critics have stopped writing about wines that they have negative reception to. I am not saying that is the case with BOW, Tarara or any of us, but even an order of tasting can be off and it is better to not be published. May the wine is corked and they are not going to contact everyone. All I am saying is that RdV is new, exciting and has a business model made for this. He has chased media and when one starts they will often all follow because something has become newsworthy. I don’t think anyone is shunning you, Breaux or any destination winery, they just need you to go to them and get them samples. So far that has worked for us for the most part locally, around the State, Nationally and Internationally over the past year.
Now, everyone that is questioning the one wine thing. Dave said it earlier. It needs to start somewhere with a bottle of wine. If we glut the market with saying you are all wrong, look at all these wines, many will simply say it is another mere Virginia wine push. With RdV it is sincerely getting people interested who might at least try the next new guy and so on. This can eventually lead to a more open approach to all of us. Where I think the flaw and mis-interpretation of RdV’s media attention is that RdV is not putting Virginia on the map, but a new piece to the Virginia wine market. We have never had a well publicized or promoted trophy or cult wine. RdV has the potential to act like a Screaming Eagle, not a Mondavi. Putting in perspective to Napa since it is the region that has proven this model, Screaming Eagle was the sweetheart of Napa (still is the most sought after and expensive) only makes about 750 cases, but it spawned others like Sloan, Hundred Acre, Harlan, Bond, Bryant, etc. This is the new Napa that Mondavi, Beringer, etc did not build. It was created by a mere 750 cases of great wine which is usually also not the “best” is Napa (that is by heresay since, no I do not make enough to taste one ounce of Screaming Eagle – anyone want to donate some?)
AS for price to quality ratio. There is becoming simply no such potential measure in the wine world. We no longer even know what is good quality in this industry, which is frustrating as heck and some of you now know my frustration. Oak is bad, but great wine needs it historically. Stainless steel can help preserve freshness, but at the detriment of oxygen managment helping “fatten” a wine or assist in ageability. Commercial yeast helps consistency, but native yeast can assist in complexity. The list goes on and on. I would argue that most of the analytically great quality wines of the world are under $10.00 since they have massive QC departments that dictates what the wine has to be numerically and has qualified QC tasting panels. Someone producing more expensive wine is often looking at terroir, expression of style, site, variety, etc. How can that be measured? It can’t. Quality and price are two completely different discussions now in my mind. Price is often reflective of supply, demand, terroir, exclusivity, ego, capital start-up, business model, etc. Quality is not definable with wine (flawed is, but great quality is not). It is up to the taster and industry standards are disappearing.
Blake: Thanks for the compliment on the wines. It is a goal for us to make the best wines we can from great sites. I am learning more and more daily how hard it is to understand if they are great. Some think so, sme don’t I guess.
Trick dawg said:
Wine is a fashion. And no amount of appeal to reason or logic will shed light on why wineries are judged the way they are.
Thanks Brian and Frank. Carol & I would love to join you.
Jordan, we were at Tarara the other weekend and were impressed with wines we tasted.
Brian, we need to get back out to BOW soon. Need to check out this PV. Planning a Valley trip this week-end though. Several wineries out that way we haven’t visited.
Jordan Harris said:
Thanks Kurt – I wish I had been here to meet you. Could have shown you a few of the up and coming wines. The Single Vineyard 2009’s and 2010 whites are still just hanging out until Spring probably before release.
Jordan, we had a great time. See our review http://wineaboutvirginia.blogspot.com/2011/12/terrific-tarara.html
Tai-Ran Niew (@tairanniew) said:
Arriving to this very late! I am an “out-of-towner”, but over the last few years I have been in VA regularly and do have a soft spot for the region. I know Frank’s post is actually a pop at media coverage of, rather than the wine of RdV. The following is more a response to some of the comments. I am also writing just as an wine enthusiast. My apologies if I am speaking out of turn, but I do so out of a fondness for Virginia.
It seems one of the key problems for wine in emerging regions, is that the world is not short of nice wine to drink! It is very tough to convince anyone to devote any time or money to try a wine from a new region (unless it is cheap, if you are in the UK!).
Lets say Virginia wants to make an impression to a visitor, and
– if the world (outside of Virginia) is going to decide based on one tasting, and just one tasting, whether to come back to Virginia again
– if you can only show two wines at the tasting, one red and one white, and those are wines that will define the region forever,
putting aside bruised egos, what would those two wines be? What is Virginia’s “Haut-Brion” and “Montrachet” (I am talking about quality, not price!)?
As a humble consumer, I don’t think this scenario is that far from the truth. Will there be people who no longer have an interest in Virginia wine, because the first winery they walked into is the wrong one? Or how many keep going with the view, “well it’s Virginia, we shouldn’t expect more”. These are real responses from people to whom I have tried to introduce Virginia wine.
Probably the worst thing that can be done is to produce wine trail maps with no distinction as to the quality of the wine. Again, for a tourist, they may only go to 2 to 3 wineries. And that will be their only impression of Virginia, forever …
Diversity for the sake of diversity is not a virtue. Having 200 wineries is not an indication of quality or potential. Most consumers are already suffering from a tyranny of choice. The Bordelais do not market on the basis of having 8000 wineries! Perhaps Virginia should always put its best foot forward? Even if it means it is a small set of wineries? I don’t know how big or small that subset is, and I suppose the politics and clashed-egos of establishing that would perhaps be intolerable!
I know It is incredibly harsh, incredibly unfair to the thousands working the land. Solidarity is admirable, as is the incredible effort that I am sure a lot of wineries are putting into their venture. Whether you have $500k or $10m, putting all of it in, is still putting all of it in. And the sweat and toil! (I have experienced winter pruning here, it’s brutal … ). To say most are not trying is perhaps wrong … unless there is statistical proof? And solidarity should come from the sharing of ideas and experience, of providing a helping hand, not a blanket assumption that everyone is good?
AND, to Jancis Robinson’s point, it is not just about trying, but also about getting there? Regions will always be defined by the “humdingers”. Her love for wine would indicate that she tastes without prejudice, and the comment comes from a genuine belief in the gulf in quality?
Even the very best in Virginia, will face a tough struggle to establish a sustainable reputation on the world stage (if that is an aim …) There is a lot of good wine in the world. And for $100, the consumer (in a large market) will have a lot of choices. For those that have made gargantuan efforts to date, they should all be applauded? The road ahead is still very long…
Those that run commercially successful wineries in Virginia will scoff at my analysis. So what if “wine-writers” and “critics” don’t like what we produce, I have people queuing up. To that point, perhaps another note! Let’s just say to assume that the public won’t like a Latour without ever giving them a chance to taste it, is very patronising. What is the point, you might say, given no-one can ever afford “that”! Not strictly true, of which more anon. I also do believe taste is subjective, and we should not be prescriptive, but we won’t know what someone’s taste preferences genuinely are, unless they have been given a chance to try a genuinely broad range?
Jordan Harris said:
Tai-Ran – I agree with pretty much everything you have said. I think the biggest problem that blocks us right now is that we don’t know what our best wine or representation is. I can promise you I have my thoughts on what works for us in different areas of Virginia, but I am equally sure that out of 200 wineries there will be atleast 100 wineries that will completely disagree with my thoughts. It gets into that ego piece you bring up both on my end and others. Am I willing to say I am wrong. With proof yes, but that has not happened yet.
I do think the coverage of RdV is awesome. The concept of RdV is something that can put us on the world stage. Is the wine itself world class? No one really know since we only have a few hundred cases in the world to use as a basis of comparison. Let’s see how the vineyard matures, or even how the second vintage is let alone following ones. In reality, RdV will not be a “Montrachet” or “Haut Brion” in our life-time nor will any winery in Virginia. We simply don’t have old enough vines or the centuries of knowledge toward our sites that has carved our the 33 Grand Crus and 512 Premier Crus of Burgundy or the more political selection of growths in Bordeaux. RdV has another 15 years minimum before we will start to see what that terroir really has to offer. In my belief there is no root structure to a vine less then 20-25 years old that has the mass to really express terroir and even that is way too young to expect it to be in top form for quality.
We do however have the ability to lead a great New World charge through understanding each of our regions even if the individual sites might take a bit more time. We can at least hope to understand what the top varieties are for our different regions (Virginia is not a region. It is a State that simply can’t get lumped together).
To NOT answer your question though as two what are our best wines, who knows? That changes every year. I can promise that RdV would not have been on that short list 3 years ago because they didn’t exist. Bordeaux, Burgundy and really most of the old world has a mature and established industry that has outlined the leaders. Take any New World region and it simply can not yet be defined who is leading the charge. Look at California, 30 years ago it would have been Montelena, Heitz or Caymus. Then came some newer blood and the cult wine movement of Screaming Eagle (who is still the most expensive) but now there is such a selection in this catagory that it would be impossible to say Dalle Valle, Sloan, Bryant, Harlan, Bond, Continuum, etc would not be lumped together. What they do have though is that they understand Cab Sauv must dominate. I guess you could also argue that To Kalon could be a leading resource for many wineries but the expressions even from this vineyard are so wildly different it is hard to characterize as a single Cru.
I guess, in a not so short response. I do agree with you completely. I just don’t know how choosing our leaders can be accomplished. I am sure someone will pipe in and say the new Governors Cup is meant to do this but it has just completed its results so can’t yet show consistency in results. Right now it would say that we make better Reds then Whites and Cab Sauv is far superior to Viognier in Virginia. I will need more results to prove that to me.
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