Two-Year Design & Construction. Wine-Tasting Room Now OPEN!
Updated: Dec 15, 2020
The Story, The Wine, The Design
RD Winery, the first Vietnamese-owned winery in the Napa Valley, has at long last opened its doors. The 1600-square-foot tasting room had just completed an extensive, two-year-long remodel this past spring when the pandemic prevented its celebratory grand opening. Since July, however, visitors have been able to enjoy food and wine pairings on its generous patio along with strolls through its bird-chirping garden. And now, restrictions have eased enough to allow interior seating at 25% capacity.
To quote RD’s mission statement, “We build bridges and relationships over the joys of lively conversation, exciting food, and great wine.” As we near the end of 2020, who couldn’t use a good dose of that?
The story of the winery’s founder, Dong Van Nguyen, is one of rags to riches. As one in a family of nine, born in the Quang Ngai province along the South Central Coast of Vietnam, his father instilled in him an entrepreneurial spirit, high standards and a sense that nothing is impossible. In 1994, Mr. Dong established his company, Rang Dong Group, (translated as “the rising sun”) and created a successful construction and real estate company in Vietnam.
Mr. Dong grew to be an avid wine lover and collector and after a visit to the Napa Valley, became inspired to start a winery of his own. In 2011, he established relationships with individual growers throughout California. In the early years, wines were produced for export to Vietnam and then in 2018, Mr. Dong set his sights on opening a public tasting room in Napa. He chose the former Hakusan Sake Garden site near the intersection of Highway 29 and Jameson Canyon Road.
RD Winery has two labels, Fifth Moon and Hundred Knot. The Fifth Moon label represents the Vietnamese holiday that celebrates the summer solstice. Varietals are sourced from outlying areas in California and are described as “fresh and easy-drinking”. They include Malvasia Bianca, rarely known in California, and is described as “energic and exotic with mineral-laced tension and verve.” It pairs well with seafood and Asian cuisine. Its Gruner Veltliner is both spicy and fruity and compliments heavy flavors like curry as well as delicacies like sushi. Fifth Moon also has a clean Rosé and a juicy red blend.
The Hundred Knot label refers to a Vietnamese fable about the power of love and determination and the notion that, with passion and steadfast persistence, anything is possible. It is with these principles that RD’s vineyards are tended, good wine is produced, and relationships are bound. Hundred Knot wines include a refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, an opulent Chardonnay, a high-density Syrah, and a hearty Cabernet Sauvignon. Something to suit every cuisine from seafood and vegetables to cheese platters, baby back ribs and brisket.
Winemaker, Timothy Milos, is a sixth generation Bay Area native from rural west Marin. He practices conservative winemaking using classical techniques. As he describes, his approach is “minimalistic doing only what is necessary to reveal the vineyard and the vintage.”
Wines range from $20 to $50 per bottle. They can also be purchased as a trio gift package for $80 or $95 and is accompanied by three perfectly paired food recipes.
Dong Van Nguyen’s roots, and the essence behind his labels, are reflected in the ambiance and design of his tasting rooms. With just a little imagination, visitors can feel transported from a valley of vineyards to the turquoise waters of Vietnam’s picturesque Ha Long Bay.
In 2018, I received a call from Mailynh Phan, who introduced herself as RD Winery’s CEO. She explained that she had received engineering plans for a remodel of their facility, inside and out, and asked if we could meet. On my way over, I thought how exciting it would be to create an experiential destination that not only offered wine tastings, but done so in a unique and unexpected setting. I soon learned that Phan had the same idea. She described her vision as “high-end fishing village.” That is, indeed, unique but I understood exactly what she meant. Natural materials that one might find in a tropical location such as bamboo, teak, palms and a coastal color scheme coming together in a high-quality, imaginative way.
Over the next few months, I presented Phan with conceptual designs, drawings, and furnishings for both a public and private tasting room, a seating lounge equipped with a television and a kitchenette for tour bus and limo drivers, rest rooms, a patio, and a bit of landscaping at the entrance. I also introduced her to General Contractor, Dan Knego, of Knego Construction, who made our vision come to life.
With a tropical village in mind, I found wall tile that resembled wicker and floor tile that resembled driftwood. For budget’s sake, I did not use an exotic wood for the bars, tables, cabinets, and restroom vanities but chose white oak that I could have stained dark brown. I also designed accent tables with metal bases and bamboo tops. Bamboo chairs and barstools were upholstered in turquoise faux leather and dark mahogany-based loveseats in a turquoise leaf-patterned fabric.
I commissioned fine artist and faux painter, Dusty Kramer, to decoratively paint the bar soffit and areas of the walls with a coastal shoreline in mind. He accomplished this with several shades of blue and highlights of white which represented foam that remains on the sand as waves flow back to sea. With a stroke of luck, I found light pendants for the main bar in these same colors and even the same seashore pattern.
The center of the public tasting room posed a challenge. There was an inconvenient 20-foot post that could not be removed or ignored. But this eyesore of an obstruction would become an impressive, main attraction – a bamboo structure reminiscent of large umbrellas seen at beach resorts. To this day, neither Phan nor I know what to call it but it’s somewhat like a Mexican palapa. I then had a round table top made to encircle it which accommodates seating for eight more guests.
The private tasting room also has a central attraction – a 10-foot, custom-designed, hand-blown glass chandelier. It consists of 24 pieces of glass shaped in the form of turquoise waves. This room also features an art gallery showcasing original photography and original oil paintings all by Vietnamese artists. I chose images with vibrant and joyful colors that evoke feelings of celebration.
The private tasting room is designed to seat 24 guests (six under current Covid-19 protocol.) It is available by reservation for private parties, business conferences, and special occasions. Phan is presently working with a chef to create an Asian-fusion cuisine that will highlight the versatility of their wines.
How it all happened. 2 years condensed into 4+ minute video!
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