Winemaker Rutger de Vink says what drives him in marketing his vineyard, apart from a passion for good wine, is a belief that people, particularly in the Washington area, want new and adventurous experiences. He hopes to offer just that, plus good wine, when he begins a series of weekend “brown bag” wine-tasting salons this Saturday. He’s designed the program to be suitable for wine enthusiasts as well as for wannabes.
“We’ve been very leery of opening this winery to the public, and we wanted to do it in the right way,” de Vink said to a small group of friends who gathered for a test run of the salon at the vineyard in Delaplane, Virginia. “So we came up with the idea of a brown bag tasting. We want it to be a fun event.” He said too often wine tastings become technical and intimidating, which is not what he wants for this new program. “We’ll talk about our philosophy of wine, our philosophy of winemaking—a fun discussion. We want it to be interactive.”
What patrons will get for their $60 per person ($50 for the winery’s “ambassadors”) is a glass of sparkling wine upon arrival, followed by a 20-minute tour of the handsome facility, including de Vink’s private wine cellar, where he stocks some of the world’s great wines, to be used both in the brown bag tasting and as his benchmark for measuring the integrity of his well-regarded Bordeaux-style wine. The tour also includes a visit to the stainless steel wine vats, the moody and dimly lit underground cave of bays where the wine barrels rest, a wall-size portion of the rocky earth under the vineyards, the room where the wine bottles are filled, labeled, and packaged, and a virtual laboratory where de Vink and his team test and blend.
When the tour is complete, it is time for the tasting, which is held in the glass-walled main room of the winery. The views outside are of the vine-covered hills and the Blue Ridge Mountains on the horizon. During my visit the group of us sat together, with de Vink at the head of the long table. Before us were four glasses of red wine on a placemat labeled “1” through “4,” as well as a pencil and card for tasting notes. Our host told us the four wines represented two from his vineyard and two famous wines from beyond the borders of Virginia—one from Bordeaux, France, and one from Napa, California. Everyone tasted quietly—swirling, sniffing, sipping, rolling the wine on the tongue, and scribbling notes.
The studious tasting part of the salon lasted about 15 minutes, and was followed by a long and interesting discussion of what we’d tasted, with refills as requested and plates of pâté and cheeses for nibbling. At first people were shy, which is normal, but then as we each began to speak up, the shyness eased and the discussion took off. After we declared what we thought of each wine, and which ones we thought were Bordeaux, Napa, or RdV, de Vink revealed they were all of the 2009 vintage, with number 1 being a Château Lynch-Bages from France, which runs about $175 a bottle, numbers 2 and 3 his own Lost Mountain and Rendezvous, both in the $80 range, and number 4 a Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa, about $125 a bottle. Not a bad flight at all, and with compelling and worthy comparisons. Interestingly—or fittingly—it was the Lynch-Bages that was the tightest and most in need of further aging.
The tastings will occur on select weekends from now into June and are offered at 11 AM and 2 PM. Because a full meal isn’t provided, it is a good idea to make plans for lunch at a nearby restaurant. We headed to the Hunter’s Head Tavern in Upperville for salads and, naturally, more wine.