Rhone in the USA, 6th Annual Winemakers Dinner

Rhone in the USA Events at Smithsonian National Museum of American History

Free wine tasting at the Smithsonian? That’s a hard sell. (Not.) Maybe if you throw in Randall Grahm pouring his 30-year anniversary Le Cigare Volant…. Oh. Randall Grahm will be there, pouring that wine. (Please note that by “hard sell”, I mean “sign me up”.)

The bad news is that there’s already a long waiting list.

The good news: Team Great Big Reds will be there, and we’ll give you the play-by-play on how good all the wines were.

Seriously: two events… a free wine tasting / seminar on Monday afternoon (6/18, 3-5pm), and Tuesday evening (6:30pm-), a fundraising four course dinner (plus dessert), with each course designed to match the accompanying wine.

It’s called: “Rhone in the USA, an exploration of Rhone grapes and their many expressions in American regions.”

Here’s what we know so far….

The Wine Tasting / Seminar

Dave McIntyre writes a weekly column about wine for the Washington Post. He will moderate the discussion.


Tony Wolf, director and professor of viticulture at Virgina Tech

Doug Margerum, Margerum Wine Making Co., Santa Barbara, California

Randall Grahm, Bonny Doon Vineyard, Santa Cruz, California

Shannon Horton, Horton Vineyards, Gordonsville, Virginia

State funded universities played a major role in the success of the California wine industry. As one wine grower said, “I didn’t know anything about viticulture and enology…. All I did was to do what the experts were telling me to do and it worked out very well.” He planted cabernet sauvignon in Napa Valley in 1961. It worked out well.

At Virginia Tech, they followed that approach and identified which grapes to grow in what type of soil in Virginia. Also, probably a lot of scientific mojo about how to make it work. (If you ever noticed, the “soils” of Rhone vineyards look nothing like fields in Virginia — much more similar to gravel parking lots than VA farms.)

The reward for sitting through the discussion: WINE TASTING.

I’m told there is a long waiting list, so you should not show up and expect to get in if you aren’t registered, and they haven’t contacted you.

That said, there is an exhibition on the history of wine in the US since prohibition.

The museum is at 12th and Consitution in DC. If you are registered, look for signs pointing the way to “SC Johnson Conference Center, First Floor, West”, 3-5pm. (“West” being the side closer to the Washington Monument, and farther from the Capitol. If you’re visiting DC, we hope you’ll enjoy our views!)

The Wine Maker’s Dinner

The food to go along with each wine will be chosen and prepared Cedric Maupillier, chef proprietor of Convivial, a spiffy/trendy hotspot in DC.

Each of the winemakers will make a presentation, it appears. We’re hoping we don’t have to wait for all of their speeches before food arrives.

Four courses, plus dessert:

– Light canapé, 2015 Espirit de Tablas Banc from Tablas Creek Vineyards,

– Daurade carpaccio, 2016 Viognier from Horton Vineyards,

– Bouillabaisse, 2017 Riviera Rose from Margerum Wine Co.,

– Lamb loin, 2013 Le Cigare Volant 30th Anniversary from Bonny Doon Vineyard,

– Daube de boeuf Provençal, 2013 Lytton Estate Syrah from Ridge Vineyards,

– Framboisier cake, 2015 Grenache from Margerum Wine Co.

(In my brain, I’m starting to slosh.)

The dinner is also mega-soldout. But if you are one of the lucky ones — “lucky” in the sense that you coughed up some cash to support the museum and hang with serious wineratis — it’s at 6:30 at the Castle.

Randall Grahm has denied the rumors that he will show up in Rhone Ranger mask and blue suit. And anyway, the horse would have to be valet parked.

Recommendation: check out the website for the Wine for the Table exhibition. Reading/grazing goes really fast with both the history and photographs of the tools of winemaking.

Wine is seriously fascinating, and gets more fascinating, the more you learn.

At Great Big Reds, we’ve been pretty serious about wine for a couple/three years. We know more now than we had imagined there was to know. And now it’s obvious that we have barely scratched the surface of the knowledge that the Smithsonian has assembled, bringing these wine makers and experts together.

So there’s that. And then there’s the wine tasting, aka ‘drinking’.

If you’ve registered, please do say ‘hi’! I’ll be on the right, purring and asking questions about sagrantino and petit verdot….

The Rhone Rangers

No, seriously. California, at one point, had lots of zinfandel and grapes from Bordeaux. A handful of winemakers created a whole parallel track of California wines: grapes and blends from the Rhone River region in France. At the north end, Cote-Rotie — with syrah… that some are known to obsess over. Farther south, much more granache. But there are fairly long lists of red and white grapes that were established in France, and have gained popularity in the US over the years.

To overcome the marketing edge of established wines, some antics may have ensued, and the Rhone Rangers were born.

Stay tuned!