When holding a casual conversation with anyone who has a hand or two in the Virginia Wine Industry, you can inquire as to their opinion of who are the big names when it comes to producing good wine in the state. Many will ramble off names such as Jim Law, Luca Paschina, and Michael Shaps due to their respective reputation of either producing good wines or consulting for a large portion of new vineyard startups in Virginia. However, there is a name missing in that list – Gabriele Rausse. Many people do not realize that when Gabriele first came to the United States, he landed his first vineyard job stateside with fellow countryman Gianni Zonin and his new startup, Barboursville Vineyards, in April of 1976. Prior to that, Gabriele had completed his University studies in his home country of Italy and began working for Santa Margherita until he enlisted in the Italian military. After leaving the service, Gabriele then jumped onto an opportunity making wine in Australia, followed by a job working at a nursery in France and then landing in Virginia. He went on to tell us a story about his very first wine made at Barboursville. In 1978, before they could legally make wine and sell it due to lack of license, Gabriele made only a few bottles that Mr. Gianni Zonin told him to either drink or give them to his friends. Rausse’s wife crafted a handmade label for each bottle to number and give to their friends. They gave Gianni 3 bottles labeled as 10, 11, and 12 for his children, which he jokingly responded, “Hey, where are the other 9 bottles?”
In 1979, Gabriele put in his resignation at Barboursville and began focusing his efforts assisting in the building of a new winery, Simeon Vineyards, which is now known as Jefferson Vineyards in 198. It was at that time he began his efforts to rekindle Jefferson’s dreams and passion by grafting vines at Monticello as show, much like that of their orchards and other gardens. Over a decade and some change later in 1995, Gabriele was offered the opportunity to work at Monticello as the Assistant Director of Gardens and Grounds. Just two years later, in 1997, he decided to take his passion a step further by establishing his own winery, Gabriele Rausse Winery. Now, Gabriele holds the position of Director of Gardens and Grounds at Monticello while also tending his winery operations with the help of his son out of his house, as well as maintaining his winery consultant business practices. He is also making wine from the vines that he grafted many years prior for Monticello on Jefferson’s grounds. This has proved to be an amazing achievement that he has performed with historical accuracy. Aside from those ventures, Gabriele was also heavily involved with establishing Kluge Estate Winery and Vineyards in 1999 as well as consulting opportunities with Afton Mountain Vineyard, Blenheim, First Colony, Stone Mountain and White Hall Vineyards.
As we sat and discussed with him the state of Virginia wines, his winemaking philosophies, his journey to the United States, and various stories in between, we shared many laughs and learned a tremendous amount about the history of not only Gabriele, but also Virginia wine as a whole. Rausse made a statement that has stuck with me and resonated in my head. For a man with such rich roots and helped pioneer a lot of what you all see as the current state of Virginia wine, it really put things in perspective. It was a statement that was filled with passion and determination. Gabriele put it simply: there are people who make wine and people who try to run a winery as a successful business, but what it all comes down to is making quality wine and nothing else. Over the few hours that we were lucky to spend with Gabriele, we were able to taste many of his European style wines as we talked. This pioneer is clearly part of the standout class as every wine poured proved to be better and better and each was filled with passion, detail, and love. Almost 90 percent of Gabriele Rausse wines are sold in the Charlottesville area at local shops, Gabriele mentioned, as he takes great pride in having no advertising campaign or budget except that for word of mouth. Gabriele Rausse wines are often poured at Charlottesville local wine shops, festivals throughout the state, or by appointment. The possibility of a future tasting room was mentioned during our tasting, but I will be sure to keep you all posted on any future developments. I want to thank Gabriele for hosting us at his home for this tasting, and truly look forward to another opportunity in the future. With that being said, I give you my Gabriele Rausse Winery’s tasting notes. Enjoy!
- Vin Gris de Pinot Noir 2012 – A Vin Gris style wine is basically white wine made from red grapes, specifically Pinot Noir. Gabriele crushes the Pinot Noir (when he is able to obtain Pinot Noir that has ripened enough), runs off the juices to avoid contact with the skins, ferments it in stainless steel and then bottles shortly afterward. The result is a smooth, soft textured wine with a juicy, well balanced acidity containing copious amounts of bold, crisp fruits. Notes of citrus and stone fruit greet the nose while flavors of smooth candied apple and floral notes brush on the palate and add just a hint of juicy grapefruit and minerality to tickle the finish for good measure. AMAZINGLY GOOD! (4.5/5)
- Viognier 2012 – Beautiful bouquet of wild spring flowers and hints of orange peel grace the nose while a smooth, soft mouthfeel that is prevalent in Gabriele’s whites encapsulates flavors of ripe apricot and lemon zest that are toned down by nuances of honeysuckle, all concluding with a gorgeous assortment of white stone fruit flourishing on the finish. 25% Barrel Fermented / 75% Stainless (4.5/5)
- Rosé 2012 – Made using the French bleeding method or Saignée, Gabriele utilizes Nebbiolo run off as his source to create a remarkable off-dry Rosé that bears strawberry character from start to finish. The nose adds hints of cream to the strawberry backbone while the palate is graced with much of the same up front in an off-dry manner, but swiftly advances to bone dry as it makes its way to the finish line. Great wine! (3.5/5)
- Pinot Noir 2011 – Shockingly good for a Virginia Pinot Noir! Filled with juicy cherry and light raspberry character wrapped in smooth subtle oak, balanced with smooth tame tannins, and a juicy fruit forward finish. Light ruby color, very aromatic, light to medium bodied, and extremely approachable. A great drink now wine for any occasion. (3.5/5)
- Cabernet Franc 2012 – Dark berry and smoky oak waft on the nose while the addition of black currants and mild tannins add a bit more depth to the palate of this medium bodied, supple Virginia variety. (3/5)
- Nebbiolo 2011 – A Rausse favorite filled with a plethora of blackberry, cherry, rose petal, and light spice that incorporates some earthy qualities mid palate, but finishes with a balance of spicy tannins and ripe fruit. (3.5/5)
- Nebbiolo Reserve 2010: A dynamite reserve bearing cassis, blackberry, and cherry features built on a solid foundation with dusty tannins and a smooth texture. The finish stands strong and bold with primarily notes of black cherry and blackberry that add in just a kiss of oak and earth to the lengthy, dramatic conclusion. (4/5)
- Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2010: Bold bing cherry, oak, and a kick of spice roll over the palate with elegance while finishing with velvety smooth tannins and luscious lingering fruit. Plenty of depth, character, and very well balanced. A truly remarkable Cab Sauv. (4/5)
Gabriele Rausse Winery
P. O. Box 3956
Charlottesville, VA 22903
Visits by appointment only: