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The Vineyards at Dodon – A Day of Wine and Rolling Hills – A Summer Welcome with a Winery Surprise

June 20, 2015

By Claudette Veronica Ferron, Vice Chargée de Presse, Bailliage of Greater Washington, D.C.

Close your eyes, feel the warm sunshine of eve of the summer solstice, the suppleness of a just harvested cluster of ripe grapes in hand, and bask in sensuous scent of the fertile earth of wine country – but where? Alsace, France; Baden, Germany; Duero River Valley, Spain? No! The bucolic countryside of Davidsonville, Maryland, just 30 minutes east of Washington D. C. This was the experience of Greater Washington D.C., Bailliage, as they lazed away day on the prelude to summer with a wine tasting Mondiale event at the Vineyards at the Dodon with vintners and husband and wife co-owners, Tom Croghan and Polly Pittman.

In lush, verdant vineyards characterized by “deep, well-drained soils, . . . ideal for balanced, aromatic wines with a subtle minerality uncommon to most winemaking regions,” under the canopy of a vineyard-side pavilion, members and guests of the Bailliage enjoyed a superb wine tasting, while feasting on two extraordinary paellas provided courtesy of the Bailliage’s own Maitre de Table Restaurateur, General Manager Adriana Lucca, and Sous Chef Dominick Torlucci of Jose Andres’ Jaleo, in Arlington, Virginia.

The perfect alfresco afternoon began with a pleasant pastoral drive to the vineyard along a winding, blossomed filled country road, providing a fitting foretaste of the wonderful experience to come. Upon arrival members and guests were warmly greeted with a glistening glass of the Dodon Rosé 2014, a lively, but delicate coral-colored wine with a complex nose, mandarin orange, kiwi and peach notes, and velvety finish. Complementing the delicious aperitif were exquisite hors d’oeuvres. First, Aceitunas 'Ferran Adrià', 'Ferran Adrià' liquid olives, superb, gossamer bubbles of subtly savory, molecular magic, were followed Pinchitos de sandía con Caña de Cabra, watermelon skewers with tomato, refreshing and zesty cubes of succulence bursting with the flavors of summer. Then, rounding out the wine tasting introduction, the Dodon Sauvignon Blanc 2014, a golden hued, silky white wine, showcased the unique characteristics of the soil of Dodon with its intense minerality and floral aromas that gently yield to gooseberry and tropical fruit notes. Paired with Tomates rellenos de cangrejo, lusciously ripe Campari tomatoes stuffed with divinely tender and fresh Maryland crab meat, the Sauvignon Blanc brilliantly prepared members and guest for the glorious viticulture education to come.

As the wines and hors d’oeuvres were savored by all vintner and co-owner Tom Croghan eloquently recounted the history of the vineyard and the genesis of the extraordinary Dodon wines. Intrigued members learn that the Vineyards at Dodon is a 550 acre working family farm whose history goes back to 1725, when it was purchased to produce tobacco. Owned and worked by nine consecutive generations of Pittmans, including current vintner and co-owner Polly Pittman, and ancestors who rode with George Washington during the Civil War. Members and guests also learned that Dodon’s its history is intertwined with thoroughbred horses and the farm is still home to an equine training facility, the Dodon Farm Training Center. Vintner Croghan went on to describe how the vineyards were established in 2007, using only grapes grown on the farm, and techniques that emphasize individual attention to each grape cluster and meticulously protecting the quality of the fruit. Members then were told that Dodon now consists of more than 10,000 vines planted over seven acres and varietals include: Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, selected because of their growth characteristics and the quality of the fruit during field trials.

Moving the event out to the vineyard Vintner Croghan explained that the vineyards are in very low vigor sites that drain well, with an unexpected minerality and flinty quality usually associated with limestone soils. However, because of the lack of topsoil and little to no organic matter and few earthworms, composted manure from the horse operation is used as the foundation for the organic nutrient program to improve soil structure and prevent erosion. Vintner Croghan also emphasized that cover crops are planted in the winter, and foliar sprays are used to apply essential minerals like calcium and magnesium to protect the vines from mildew and reduce use of harsher measures, resulting in improved soil, healthier vines and more complex wines. Members and guest were also told that at Dodon they edge and leaf pull the canopy by hand, rather than mechanically, to manage sun and shade exposure; and during the growing season each cluster is inspected weekly, sometimes more, and often touched by a human hand. In addition, members and guests learned that harvesting is done exclusively by hand, allowing for the selection of ripe fruit and removal of any unripe or damaged berries before they reach the cellar.

The educational treat continued into the winery where Vintner Croghan shared how the red wine grape clusters are destemmed then sorted by hand, and the cleaned fruit pass through crush rollers and is collected in fermentation tanks through gravity-based methods to preserve the fruit’s expressive aroma. The red wines grapes are then fermented using state of the art techniques, including cold soaking, oxygen management, pump-overs, and extended maceration, to enhance the wines’ structure. Following fermentation, red wines are pressed, and aged in oak barrels, while white wine grapes are pressed prior to fermentation and the Sauvignon Blanc is fermented in 100 percent stainless steel tanks.

After enjoying the edifying tour of the immaculate winery and charming tasting room, Bailliage members and guests were welcomed back to the picturesque vineyard-side pavilion by Vintner Polly Pittman, an equally gracious host, to partake of the afternoon’s meal. While the tour of the vineyard and winery was unfolding Chef Torlucci, was busy creating two beautiful paellas. Ensconced beside the pavilion, the chef expertly worked two large paella pans on portable gas burners conjuring porcini mushrooms, mixed vegetables, green and black olives and thyme into a delicious, earthy Arroz Mediterráneo Paella, reminiscent of the flavors of a country garden. Then, with deft hand the chef created a classic Paella Valenciana with sautéed chicken, tender rabbit and fresh green beans. The paellas were paired with the last wine of the day, the spectacular Dodon South Slope 2013, a deep ruby red wine with hints of violet, intense raspberry and dark chocolate flavors softened by flint and gravel, and a long smooth finish. Finally, a Selección de Polvorones – a selection of Catalonia cookies were a sweet ending to the extraordinary event and beautiful day of vine, wine and feasting. With the sweetness of the afternoon lingering on palates, a mild summer breeze skimming the tops of early fruiting vines, and the warmth of companionable conversation quietening, the seduction of the Vineyards at Dodon was complete. And as Bailliage members and guests slowly made their way over the pastoral landscape to their cars for their journeys home, the accord was undivided -- the Mondiale event at the bucolic vineyard tucked away in the rolling hills of Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C., was near perfection and unforgettable. Clearly, the wines of the Vineyard at Dodon have a stellar future and will be amongst the favorites of restaurants and wine connoisseurs in the region.

Fortunately, the Bailliage’s next event will undoubtedly continue to elevate the increasingly high standard set by each of 2015 preceding events, as members celebrate Bastille Day at Washington’s own gastronomic paradise. On July 13, 2015, the Bailliage will make its annual pilgrimage to the world renowned Inn at Little Washington for an exquisite private luncheon when the Bailliage’s own Maitre Rotisseur, Patrick O’Connell, and the “Pope of American Cuisine” is planning a superb feast honoring a very special day, and will autograph his cookbooks and permit a tour of the Inn’s legendary kitchen.

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