Tag Archives: albemarle county

As Thyself

20 Apr

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

And the second is like to it:
Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
There is no other commandment greater than these. – Jesus of Nazareth

In the summer of 2008, I spent fourteen days in Ireland as a result of a generous teaching award. To say that the experience changed me would be a tremendous understatement. Ireland was really the beginning lesson of how to navigate this journey.What I learned there is beginning now to have its first flowering. At the time, I didn’t realize how the lives of everyday people would eventually show me a way to live that was ultimately more fulfilling, but now I see it. And every chance I have to revisit, even for the briefest of moments, places which resonate with the same quality as the time I spent in Ireland, I cherish them. Sunday, I was able to go back for an entire afternoon.

After having sampled the cider at Bold Rock , a spark of curiosity was lit. So packing a small picnic for Clar and I, up the road we went to spend a beautiful Virginia Sunday afternoon at Albemarle Ciderworks in North Garden. Even though the original focus was to enjoy Irish traditional music by Patrick Olwell and friends, expanding knowledge about local fare is a new interest for me.  Clar and I curved up the gravel drive among beautiful budding trees and boxes of fall apples, mellowed now in springtime. A light bottle blue sky framed green hills quite similar to ones I walked in Ireland. Immediately, I knew it would be hard to leave once the sun began to dip behind the blossoms.

Albemarle Ciderworks tasting room is lovely and I was entirely impressed by the knowledge and presentation of their five cider offerings. Perhaps impressed isn’t the best word, astounded might be a better one. I had no idea that an apple could be turned into something so similar to champagne, with all the nuances and notes of the vine. Top picks for me were the Royal Pippin, named for the main apple variety, the Albemarle Pippin and its greatest fan Queen Victoria.  The effervescence of cider promotes the tart lemon pineapple notes of this variety, plus all that sparkle is just plain fun. Jupiter’s Legacy, named for Thomas Jefferson’s servant in charge of his cidery, was the driest of their offerings, quite mineral and bright with a tiny hint of crabapple. The acidity of this variety is definitely something to balance out a rich cheese or cream dish. The Ragged Mountain was described to me as the most basic cider, resembling the kind colonial Virginians would have made and drank daily. Having slight backnote sweetness, it did resemble ciders I had experienced the day before, but definitely wasn’t what most would call sweet.

Cider has completely changed for me from visiting the Ciderworks. That an apple can be transformed into complex deliciousness through careful crafting has opened my mind to other traditional culinary arts, especially from Jefferson’s era. The story of John Adams daily morning tankard was just one of many lessons about the benefits of apple consumption I learned during my tasting. Cultural history is served alongside cider at Albemarle Ciderworks and the Sheltons are committed to the preservation and local history behind the fruit and ciders they produce.  I was warmly greeted mid tasting session by Charlotte Shelton, who taught me about the development of the apple farm and cidery. Efforts to promote the growth of heirloom apples was the first part of their mission. They host apple growing seminars and cider making forums, as well as offering apple trees and fruit throughout the year for sale.  Her hospitality and graciousness has been the most generous of any traditional craft beverage establishment I have visited.

Finally, I settled into a spot under the marquee on the patio with a picnic lunch, shrub of Royal Pippin to accompany my small spread of cheese, turkey, pepper, olive and sweet pickle. The happiest part of the day came, though, when Patrick Olwell arrived with friends for a session, a REAL Irish session. Patrick is a master flutemaker, his wooden instruments are so well crafted he is considered the Stradivarius of Irish flutemakers. At first, the music began with fiddle, flute, uilleann pipe and concertina, but as the afternoon progressed, more fiddles arrived and another concertina.  Sitting there, cider in hand, I looked to the hills and remembered that the music I am loving most these days, bluegrass, has its roots in the Irish immigrants who settled here , the green hillocks and mountains reminding them of a far away home. When I hear reels and jigs, I can’t describe how connected I feel to a culture and a sense of pride in my own ethnicity. Even though I am an American, my soul aligns itself with a people and history beyond these mountains all the way across a mighty ocean to a tiny island nation. In chatting with a gentleman and his daughter during the session, I explained the significance of what was happening, not just an Irish session but all musical fellowship. Friends and neighbors come together to share in the spirit of song, food and drink, story, and dance. Music connects to our emotions in a way words often cannot and our sharing of it imparts our love for each other as friend, family member, and as a human.

One of the musicians sat his tiny son next to him within the circle, gently placing a miniature fiddle and bow in his arms. Patrick’s adult son also played within the group, the musicians reflecting a wide range of age and experience. The outer ring of us echoed this continuity in life. From a sleeping infant in his stroller by a iron cafe table, all the way to a host of ladies in their senior years, toes dancing the bricks in joy, the  music connects us and we need it, often. I have missed these afternoons and the pub evenings by a peat fire with story and song, laughter or tears. These moments are the essence of communion, with each other, and with the earth in the turning of its seasons. Like the apple, each person is unique, unlike any other on the tree. Yet the tree creates us, feeds us, each limb a community, each globe of fruit, a family of nurtured seeds within. In time, our families grow and our communities widen and evolve, but always the traces of the past, are passed on in our art, in our sharing, and in our love and care for each other.

Time to Breathe

24 Jan

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine — Neruda

The past weekend’s ramblings took me into the hills of Nelson and Albemarle to some local Virginia wineries. After meeting Michael Shaps representative Santa Rava at Magnolia Foods here in Lynchburg and chatting, I knew I wanted to venture out to Wineworks for a visit. The lovely aspect of visiting wineries in Virginia is really the drive itself. Most seem to be tucked up into some “holler”, the drive a virtual “over the river and through the woods” adventure to some high hill and vines. In any season, the windy road yields more often than not a surprising vista, a tree that begs a stop to say hello or motionless cows by the fence just being cows. And when one arrives to the rows of vines, usually a small cottage is settled in behind them, filled with bright bottles. Similar to Martin Luther’s thought, if beer is of earth, wine is definitely of the heavens. The varieties are so complex, the combinations fascinating from white to rose’ to red, steel aged to oak aged, dry to sweet to fortified. All wine presents a challenge to me,  to decipher the magic that went into making it. I know a bit about wine, probably more than the average person, but there is so much more to know.  The best part about this challenge is that to do so, one must taste. So to tastings I go.

Clarence and I rambled up Route 29 to Wineworks on Saturday afternoon, but I didn’t find a little cottage in the woods in which to pause; it was the back of a warehouse. Remodeling is occurring, so finding the restroom among hoses and forklifts was an adventure in itself. The warehouse room was cold and concrete, filled with boxes and barrels, so I stood with my coat on to sample all the wines once again. Somehow this time, they were different. I previously enjoyed the Michael Shaps wines, especially the Chardonnay and the Petit Verdot, but the ones which seemed so amazing to me on Friday last were not so today, and yet others were better than before. After going through the line up white to red, my picks were the Wineworks Rose’, the nose faintly floral with a lovely soft strawberry, slight cedar back note, and the 2010 Merlot /Malbec blend. I shouldn’t even comment on it since it’s sold out, but it had wonderful cassis, cherry, and spice. I almost offered to buy the rest of the open bottle.

As I tasted, I fell into conversation with two lovely young nurses who had also stopped by. As we talked, the conversation rolled into traveling and philosophy, and then the universe was at work again. One of them said, “You know, I should be getting married and having children, but somehow that’s just not really what I want right now” There’s that “should”. So I chatted with her about journeys and Joe, and as she talked about what she wanted in her life, I thought about how conditioned we are to walking a cleared road, one we can see without too much scrutiny. We talked about relationships, about personal ambitions and it lead me to think of the many lessons in wine.

Like so many other women, I was conditioned to believe that this is how it goes:

You educate yourself enough to get a good paying job while trying to find a partner to marry, have children, and live out the middle suburban dream of house and hearth and family, either working in the home or doing the job and family like Superwoman. There is that time issue when it comes to children we are told and honestly, it is true that most people partner in the first part of their adult lives with greater ease. Meeting these two young women confirmed for me, though, that the development of self is so important. To be entirely who one is with no apologies. Then, the bringing of that lovely prepared wine to the table of relationship can happen.

But as I reflected further and we chatted more, I realized there is another caveat in this. To fully appreciate the wine, it must be served correctly. Most good wine needs to breathe, to develop into what it was intended to be while it is being enjoyed. There is the making of self and then there is the sharing of it and both must be accomplished in balance for magic to happen. Nuances are lost in crowding, in not letting the air transform it. From one bottle to the next, in one environment to the next, the wine changes and one must allow the time and space to then experience it at the right moment.

I traveled to First Colony later on in the day and then to Delfosse on Sunday, but the visit to Wineworks stayed with me. At First Colony, the pourer barely gave me a sip in each tasting, so I couldn’t judge well. She stood right in front of me with the next bottle, so I felt pressure to decide quickly. It was the shortest tasting session I’ve ever had, and although I liked the Reserve Chardonnay well enough to buy a bottle, my experience wasn’t pleasant. I’ll not go back.

At Delfosse, the pourer was busy, and I’m sure tired of pouring the same thing, saying the same thing, for the hundredth time. It showed. But I slowed my experience, and that in turn, slowed his pouring. He didn’t seem to mind me taking a tiny bit of extra time to smell, to taste, to note. In a way, it gave him some moments to catch his breath, to take in some air. My decision of what to buy waited until after I had enjoyed the delicious crepes offered for the day, too. My picks? The Viognier, which has a wonderful apricot and honey quality and slight effervescence, and their Deer Rock Farm red blend which has a slight sweet berry edge with high vanilla notes and is served chilled. Then, my favorite, the 2007 Merlot which is so balanced. Beautiful nose, firm structure and body, rich blackberry, smoke, and oak on the palate.

I stayed until closing, resisting the urge to watch the clock or my phone. Before I left, I took Clarence for a walk around the small lake there and on the way home, I pulled over on Route 29 to watch the last bits of sunset behind black velvet and Chantilly  tree limbs against an apricot grey-blue panorama. I thought of how important this time is to take, to allow space enough for changes to this wine of self, and to breathe. I sat for a long while on the side of the road. A long while.

%d bloggers like this: