My “Tastemaker” series is dedicated to highlighting the true tastemakers in the North American beverage scene — not sommeliers, buyers or writers. Each installment focuses on one of the passionate, talented people making the best beverages in North America today.
Stinson Vineyards’ winemaker Rachel Stinson Vrooman was supposed to be featured on this site a few months ago. After falling hard for her 2015 Mourvedre Rose last year, she was firmly on my radar. Then, I visite the winery and walk the vineyard during the 2017 Virginia Wine Summit, where I was blown away by a few of the wines, including one of my favorite Sauvignon Blancs this year.
But we had a slight delay in getting this story together. You see, Rachel and her husband — Nathan Vrooman of Ankida Ridge Vineyards — welcomed their first child, Wells Evelyn Vrooman, to the family over the summer. Congratulations, guys!
Now that harvest season is firmly upon us up and down the East Coast, it seems fitting to re-launch my tastemaker series with Rachel. There is so much delicious, distinctive wine being made in Virginia today that it can be hard to stand out. I think Rachel, and her wines, do that. There is a freshness and a purity to her wines that I appreciate. Restrained use of oak. Low alcohol. These are the things that allow a wine to express where it’s grown.
If you haven’t had the Stinson Vineyards wines yet, I’d encourage you to do so. I’ve tasted most of the portfolio and while there aren’t any clunkers, my favorites are the rosé, the Sauvignon Blanc and the skin-fermented Rkatsitelli, named Wildkat.
Get to know Stinson Vineyards’ Rachel Stinson Vrooman, a true tastemaker and someone you’re going to hear a lot more about in coming years.
Current Job: Winemaker & Director of Operations, Stinson Vineyards
Wine/cider/beer of the moment: Domaine Tempier Rosé, because that’s all I care about in the summer! The 2015 vintage is drinking so beautifully right now. I’ve also had some great bottles of Pinot Noir Rosé and Blanc de Noirs from a recent trip to the Finger Lakes.
My winemaking style in 1-5 words: Vibrant, balanced, elegant, evolving (I hope!)
First bottle of wine I remember drinking: The first wine I really remember taking seriously was the Millbrook Vineyards 2005 Tocai Fruiliano. I went to college in the Hudson Valley and the summer I graduated this wine was everywhere! Although I’d had decent wines before, it was the first specific bottle I actually took the time to seek out. It still has a very special place in my heart. I stock up on the latest vintage every time I visit.
How I got here: I was living in New York City when my parents found the vineyard property, which had been planted in the 1970s with Cabernet Sauvignon. My Dad kept bugging me about coming down and helping him start a winery. I visited a few times and really just fell in love with the area and the industry so it wasn’t a hard sell!
We wound up using Matthieu Finot, winemaker at King Family Vineyards, as our consultant and he got us off on the right foot.
My winemaking style — in more words: I think of good winemaking as good decision-making. It’s all about knowing when to intervene and when to leave things alone – both in the vineyard and in the cellar. There’s sometimes a fine line, and that knowledge evolves more and more with each vintage. The goal is to express the integrity of the fruit and the intricacies of the site in the final product, but some years that takes more work than other years.
Mentors: Matthieu Finot at King Family Vineyards. He basically taught me everything I know about winemaking and still talks me off the ledge when I have a brett scare. My husband Nathan Vrooman of Ankida Ridge Vineyards is also a huge source of inspiration to me. He’s working with Pinot Noir – one of the most fickle varietals in the state – and doing a beautiful job of growing and vinifying it.
Music playing in the cellar right now: The Chris Cornell station on Pandora, may he rest in peace. It’s so good right now.
Favorite thing about the local wine industry: The sense of community. At the end of the day, it’s just wine – and you can’t take any of your successes or failures too seriously. What really lasts is the connections between people and the shared feeling that we’re all in this together, for better or worse.
Least favorite thing about the local wine industry: A lack of local resources. There’s definitely been progress since I joined the industry in 2010, but it’s still hard to reliably service equipment, get barrels and supplies delivered, run tests, etc.. The production scale here is relatively small so we’re not super high on anyone’s priority list.
One surprising thing that I’m really good at: IFilm photography. A valuable skill for sure! I majored in it in college.
What I drink: Sake! Sakaya in New York City has a great Sake Club that keeps me stocked up.
My “Desert Island Meal” — wine/cider/beer included: Oysters on the half shell, gazpacho, and grilled Caribbean lobster with butter sauce. All paired with a Premier Cru Chablis – crisp and minerally with minimal oak.