Saturday, November 01, 2003

Virginia: Land of Apples and Wine

Speaking in broad generalities, I'm not the biggest fan of Virginia. It's a regional thing, I guess. I was born in Maryland and ever since I moved to the DC area, I have lived north of the Potomac even though I work in Virginia. Perhaps you have to live in the region, but there are Maryland people and there are Virginia people and they can learn to coexist, but our state and their commonwealth will always have a bit of a standoffish attitude toward one another.

That being said, Evelin and I found ourselves driving south on Route 29 again this weekend headed down towards Charlottesville. This time, we skipped the presidential homes in favor of the fruits of the land.

Vintage Virginia Apples had its Fall Harvest Festival, so we went to taste apples of all sorts of old and new varieties. We came home with a fairly good supply for eating and cooking. Winning varieties included Albemarle Pippin, Golden Russet, Black Twig, Ashmead’s Kernel, and Arkansas Black. We also came home with a GoldRush tree. It's a little guy, and we probably won't see any fruit for four or five years, but we love GoldRush apples, so the idea that we could have some in the backyard is really cool.

After the checking out the festival -- actually, we only dove into the apples, got advice about growing our tree, and then took off -- we continued south to the Apple Shed, where we loaded up with other, less exotic varieties, including Ginger Gold, Rome, Stayman, and Empire.

[Sidenote: If anyone likes apples, Roger Yepsen's book Apples is a great reference guide with drawings and histories for tons of weird varieties.]

After loading up with apples, we turned our attention to wine. Yes, I'm not supposed to be drinking, but Evelin let's me slide a little here and there, and visiting wineries is an allowed exemption. (In retrospect, however, maybe it shouldn't be; I don't know if the wine interacted with the sinus meds, but I got a killer headache in the afternoon.)

The Virginia Wine Marketing Program has a guide to wineries and festivals across the commonwealth, and it includes a wine passport. You are supposed to get a sticker at each participating winery and if you visit 20 wineries in a year, you get a "fun, all new Virginia wine prize." Visit 35 or more, and you get a "unique Virginia wine accessory." I want my gift or accessory, so when we are near a Virginia winery I haven't already been to, I like to stop.

We started off at Wintergreen Winery in Nellysford. They had a nice cabernet franc that should lie down for a few years before becoming a very nice cabernet franc, as well as a vertical tasting of their 2000 and 2001 reserve chardonnays. 2001 was a drought year, which really mellowed the fruit and made for a nice wine.

We then hopped onto the Blue Ridge Parkway for a few miles, stopping at an overlook to watch eagles soaring around. I kept trying to act like a mouse, but none of them were fooled.

We then ended up in Afton, where we stopped at Afton Mountain Vineyards and Veritas. Afton had a 1999 and a 2001 pinot noir, both of which were surprisingly nice for a grape that shouldn't do that well in Virginia. Veritas was a much bigger operation with a construction of a new function hall going on. They had some very nice wines, including a very smooth, big cabernet franc and a more velvety petit verdot. Also nice was the 2002 late harvest viognier. Veritas also won interest because they seemed to have a fair number of dogs lazing around the place, including a Jack Russell terrier that was investigating cars in the parking lot very intently and at least three hounds who were wandering around. I think they are all working dogs, tasked with keeping the vineyards clear of deer, raccoons and other animals that might want a grapy snack.

The final winery of the day was White Hall Vineyards, a bit north and west of Charlottesville. They were a madhouse this afternoon (I think it was parents weekend or homecoming at University of Virginia, based on the mix of people we kept running into), but we managed to tour the winery and to taste the full range. The pinot gris was nice, as was the gewürtztraminer and the 2002 petit verdot.

In addition to the apples and wine, we got a taste of the tail end of autumn foliage. Most of the trees were orange shading to brown, but a few flares of red and yellow were evident, and the mountains were gorgeous. Maryland does have a small swath of mountains that compare with the Blue Ridge, but it is a very small swath. And, in general, our wines lag a bit behind Virginia's. But things continue to improve on the wine front, even if we can't manage to expand our mountains ...

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