It’s Just “Annefield” Now.


Ten years ago we embarked on an exciting adventure, building a wine business in sleepy Southside Virginia. We had grand aspirations — multiple vineyards and a winemaking facility that would be no less than a temple dedicated to Virginia wine — something hip, but respectful of the architecture of the region.  The plan included promoting the region by applying for and getting designated an American Viticultural Area (AVA).

It’s always been our conviction that an AVA was essential if the region were to be taken seriously on the international stage.  We see time and again that whenever wine writers turn their attention to Virginia, they organize their guides by AVA; anything outside of one might be mentioned as an afterthought.  An obvious choice for the name of an AVA was “Southside Virginia,” but we quickly learned that the term “Southside” was frowned upon, because to the locals it bore the stink of backwardness and poverty. So the tourism agencies settled on the bland, yet palatable “Southern Virginia.”

Southside has never been clearly defined, being generally south of the James River to the dividing line with North Carolina, east to Tidewater, west to the Blue Ridge. Parke S. Rouse, Jr. famously wrote in Below the James lies Dixie (1968) “This is Southside Virginia, where the South really begins. This is the northern boundary of a rural world that time and machines have failed to destroy in 350 years.”  A world that remembers and cherishes a long-gone different time.

When we purchased Annefield and on occasion picked up The Richmond Times-Dispatch, we’d joke “Let’s see what happened in the Civil War today,” and sure enough, there would be a story about “the Late Unpleasantness.”  Even today we’ve been to parties near Annefield where heated discussions about “The War” (as if there were no other) inevitably occur.

In these pages we’ve always deferred to local sensibilities and referred to that conflict as “The War Between the States.”  We respect the heritage those words connote, and understand the pride that goes with them. But there is a drive to push all that away, and embrace a bold future. Part of that effort to reinvent Southside included getting away from that iconic crop tobacco, with a push to cultivate other crops — like wine grapes.

We still toyed with applying for an AVA, gathered information on climate and soil characteristics, graphed long-term weather patterns (while grimly noting the overall increase in temperature over time, thinking it was beneficial for ripening) and found what we though would be the perfect name for an AVA — Staunton River, which is unique for being a stretch of the Roanoke River that bears two names, known locally as “The Staunton River” and reserved for that portion in Southside Virginia and ending at the North Carolina line. It was named for one Captain Henry Staunton who patrolled the area in the late 1700s, who was charged with protecting the early settlers from Native Americans.

The name Staunton River wrapped up what we intended in one neat little bow: a clearly defined area, a meaningful designation for a relatively small watershed, and a nod to the history of the region.  Now if only some visionary chef or innkeeper with deep, deep pockets came along and purchased Staunton Hill with its dining facilities and multitude of guest rooms to create a resort and culinary destination comparable to the The Inn at Little Washington or Blackberry Farm, then we’d have something to contend with.  Of course we already have Berry Hill Resort, which is making a name for itself — but for whatever reason, none of the Virginia wines featured on their list are from Southern Virginia.

So we decided to be part of that emerging industry that seemed to be making strides and getting lots of attention, in part because of the attention bestowed by the Governors office. At first our plan was to grow grapes and sell the fruit, which simply is not profitable on a small scale (we’ve written on that topic several times and will not revisit it here); the value-added approach of actually making wine is the only economically viable approach.

Or so we thought.

We increased our acreage, drew up plans to build a winery, cultivated our wine club, attended innumerable festivals, tried every sort of marketing imaginable, yet the income never met expectations or, more importantly, covered expenses or (God forbid) made a profit.

Yet at the same time, it felt like the public and the media had moved on, with attention being given to craft beer and spirits. “Local food” should go hand in hand local wine, yet that rarely occurs — a curious disconnect on the part of restaurants who have no trouble pairing their locally raised and grown produce with a “lovely Pinot from Tasmania,” or whatever region has captured the imagination of the sommelier.

The wines of the largest Virginia producers remain on wine lists and grocery store shelves, but for anything else a trip to the countryside is required.  Virginia doesn’t seem ready for the high priced boutique wine grower that gains national attention.  Those that try struggle along with the rest while putting on a brave face and ready smile for the next wine festival, the next trade tasting, the next wedding.

Our gamble did not pay off.  We learned that Virginia wineries need tourism traffic to survive, and here in Southside we don’t have the volume to support the business. And unfortunately, the grape growing business is no better. For years we’ve heard how there is a grape shortage with all manner of schemes to increase plantings, yet the price of fruit remains stagnant, because the wineries are intent on keeping grape prices down so they can keep their bottle prices down and remain competitive in the marketplace.

The Washington Post recently reported that Virginia produced a little over 500,000 cases last year, a record.  But to put that in perspective — we know of one producer in California representing ten or so labels that has an annual output of 37 times that.  Imagine their economies of scale — one producer selling the equivalent of 37 Virginias — how are Virginia wineries to compete against that?

The climate — frosts, hail, temperature extremes, and the pests — insects like spotted wing drosophila, Japanese beetle, glassy-wing sharpshooter, and of course the fungal diseases like black rot, downy mildew, and powdery mildew seem insurmountable sometimes, and it feels like no matter what we can’t win.  Couple that with the challenges of retail and wholesale sales and distribution, festivals and events, plus the side businesses so many indulge in  to survive (Innkeeper, Restauranteur, Wedding Planner among them) there is barely time to sit back and honestly assess the situation.

The Climate Crisis.

When we planted the vineyard 10 years ago, we weren’t that concerned about climate change. Truthfully, it wasn’t even on our radar; we were more concerned with the end of the fossil fuel age, though ironically that crisis leads to this one.  Our advisors and consultants were near unanimous in informing us that we could expect some frost damage every seven years or so, on average.  That seemed tolerable and we didn’t give it another thought.

Just a few years ago the climate we dealt with seemed more moderate, more predictable.  Now, spring frosts are more frequent, and in summer we experience extreme temperature spikes, both during the day and at night, which are not good for any living thing, and certainly not for grapes.  It doesn’t suit them, and these extremes prevent the vines from properly ripening their fruit.

Numerous reports at the time were optimistic and noted that the mid-Atlantic wouldn’t suffer as much as other places. But it has become increasingly clear that this was a mistaken notion. This was before the sudden onset of what is now known popularly as the polar vortex — the destabilization of the jet stream caused by climactic events on the other side of the globe.

In recent years we have had these events annually, usually in the depths of winter, but this year we had one after the start of spring, a particularly devastating time to have this disruption in the life cycle of vines and fruit trees.  We suffered a complete loss of crop in 2012, followed by a stellar 2013, then lost our Viognier in 2014 — all due to late spring frosts.  The next year was by most accounts a very good year, though because of equipment issues our fruit quality was not what it should have been.  Now this year, we had two days of freezing temperatures within a few days, which took out the entire crop — again.

How explain this frigid weather?  One study (of many) is pretty convincing, noting causal events that are beyond the control of man.

The study “Weakening of the stratospheric polar vortex by Arctic sea-ice loss,” by Baek-Min Kim,, Seok-Woo Son, Seung-Ki Min, Jee-Hoon Jeong, Seong-Joong Kim, Xiangdong Zhang, Taehyoun Shim & Jin-Ho Yoon (Nature Communications, 2 September 2014) is an attempt to determine the impact of melting Arctic sea ice on extreme weather.

By using statistical analysis of recent weather and computer modeling, the study finds a link between the warming ocean, melting ice, and the weakened polar vortex. They concluded that extreme ice loss in a remote part of the Arctic between Scandinavia and Siberia is the proximate cause.

Their conclusion: The intense cold air deviations in recent winters across the Northern Hemisphere are a side effect of global warming. Abnormally warm water in the tropical Atlantic travel up the Gulf Stream toward Europe in the late summer and fall months. This causes sea ice melt in the Barents-Kara seas north of Scandinavia. When the area is ice-free, the open water releases heat into the atmosphere, and sets up a blocking pattern over the Ural Mountains. By midwinter (January and February), as more heat is being transferred to the Arctic, the troposphere and stratosphere link up, destabilizing the polar vortex, weakening the jet stream, and sending waves of cold air southward.

Another study, same conclusion: “Bombshell: Study Ties Epic California Drought, ‘Frigid East’ To Manmade Climate Change,” by Joe Romm (Climate Progress, 15 April 2014).  A press release detailing the study noted that the research provides “evidence connecting the amplified wind patterns, consisting of a strong high pressure in the West and a deep low pressure in the East [labeled a ‘dipole’], to global warming.” Researchers have “uncovered evidence that can trace the amplification of the dipole to human influences.”

Another study published just this year (“Trends in atmospheric patterns conducive to seasonal precipitation and temperature extremes in California,” by Daniel L. SwainDaniel E. Horton, Deepti Singh and Noah S. Diffenbaugh in Science Advances (Vol. 2, No. 4 (1 April 2016)) looked at the phenomena of the “Ridiculously Resilient Ridge” that has bedeviled California since — surprise, surprise — 2012, the year of our first polar vortex induced frost event that resulted in a complete loss of our crop.  That ridge of high pressure off of the west coast of the United States has the effect of deflecting winter storms from California, which was a major contributor to the multi-year California Drought.  That same high pressure system has the effect — when other factors destabilize the polar jet stream — of funneling that Arctic chill down into the Central and Eastern United States, contributing to our polar vortex events.  The authors found that the frequency of this North Pacific atmospheric pattern significantly increased over the 67-year period studied.

Their conclusion: expect more drought years, though the frequency of extreme wet years stayed the same. “We have high confidence that specific dry and warm patterns increased in recent decades, but the wet patterns have not decreased and may have actually increased,” Swain said. “The problem is that we see the extreme droughts or flood events more frequently.”

What causes the “Triple R”?  It appears to be the result of warm waters in the western tropical Pacific Ocean.  Tropical thunderstorms, driven by warm ocean water, pump heat into the tropical atmosphere, where it meets cooler air from the north, strengthening the jet stream.  This increased energy redirects storms away from the US West coast.  This convergence strengthens the “Triple R,” contributing to its persistence.  That combined with the instability of the jet stream caused by the melting Arctic is likely contributing to the increased incidence of Polar Vortex events, to say nothing of how it keeps winter storms from tracking over California, a contributor to the relentless West coast drought.

And guess what?  It looks like “The Blob” responsible for the Triple R is back.

Alea iacta est: “The Die is Cast.”

What does all this mean for wine grape growers in Eastern North America?

We think it means that in coming years, the changing climate makes the East Coast inhospitable to the growing of quality Vitis vinifera wine grapes.  This is our conclusion, based on what we’ve studied; climate scientists disagree with one another on multiple things, and they would probably disagree with our conclusion, as would many growers.

Yet a number of studies have focused on the wine industry, all reaching the same conclusion.  For example:

Climate change, wine, and conservation, by Lee Hannah, Patrick R. Roehrdanz, Makihiko Ikegami, Anderson V. Shepard, M. Rebecca Shaw, Gary Tabord, Lu Zhie, Pablo A. Marquet, and Robert J. Hijmans, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 110 no. 17 (2013).

Abstract: Climate change is expected to impact ecosystems directly, such as through shifting climatic controls on species ranges, and indirectly, for example through changes in human land use that may result in habitat loss. Shifting patterns of agricultural production in response to climate change have received little attention as a potential impact pathway for ecosystems. Wine grape production provides a good test case for measuring indirect impacts mediated by changes in agriculture, because viticulture is sensitive to climate and is concentrated in Mediterranean climate regions that are global biodiversity hotspots. Here we demonstrate that, on a global scale, the impacts of climate change on viticultural suitability are substantial, leading to possible conservation conflicts in land use and freshwater ecosystems. Area suitable for viticulture decreases 25% to 73% in major wine producing regions by 2050 in the higher RCP 8.5 concentration pathway and 19% to 62% in the lower RCP 4.5. Climate change may cause establishment of vineyards at higher elevations that will increase impacts on upland ecosystems and may lead to conversion of natural vegetation as production shifts to higher latitudes in areas such as western North America. Attempts to maintain wine grape productivity and quality in the face of warming may be associated with increased water use for irrigation and to cool grapes through misting or sprinkling, creating potential for freshwater conservation impacts. Agricultural adaptation and conservation efforts are needed that anticipate these multiple possible indirect effects.

Climate change is shifting wine grape harvests in France and Switzerland, By Michael Cabbage and Leslie McCarthy, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (2016).

During a study of wine grape harvest dates from 1600 to 2007, researchers discovered harvests began shifting dramatically earlier during the latter half of the 20th century. These shifts were caused by changes in the connection between climate and harvest timing. While earlier harvests from 1600 to 1980 occurred in years with warmer and drier conditions during spring and summer, from 1981 to 2007 warming attributed to climate change resulted in earlier harvests even in years without drought.

The finding is important because higher-quality wines are typically associated with earlier harvest dates in cooler wine-growing regions, such as France and Switzerland.

“Wine grapes are one of the world’s most valuable horticultural crops and there is increasing evidence that climate change has caused earlier harvest days in this region in recent decades,” said Ben Cook, lead author and climate scientist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University in New York. “Our research suggests that the climate drivers of these early harvests have changed.”

Climate Change and Global Wine Quality, by Gregory V. Jones, Michael A. White, Owen R. Cooper and Karl Storchmann,Climatic Change (2005) 73: 319–343

Abstract: From 1950 to 1999 the majority of the world’s highest quality wine-producing regions experienced growing season warming trends. Vintage quality ratings during this same time period increased significantly while year-to-year variation declined. While improved winemaking knowledge and husbandry practices contributed to the better vintages it was shown that climate had, and will likely always have, a significant role in quality variations. This study revealed that the impacts of climate change are not likely to be uniform across all varieties and regions. Currently, many European regions appear to be at or near their optimum growing season temperatures, while the relationships are less defined in the New World viticulture regions. For future climates, model output for global wine producing regions predicts an average warming of 2 ◦C in the next 50 yr. For regions producing high quality grapes at the margins of their climatic limits, these results suggest that future climate change will exceed a climatic threshold such that the ripening of balanced fruit required for existing varieties and wine styles will become progressively more difficult. In other regions, historical and predicted climate changes could push some regions into more optimal climatic regimes for the production of current varietals. In addition, the warmer conditions could lead to more poleward locations potentially becoming more conducive to grape growing and wine production.

For years we’ve read or heard from many people who claim that Virginia is unsuitable for growing grapes, though they seem ignorant of the fact that our forests are filled with wild grapes.  So qualify that: they claim that Virginia is not suitable for cultivating European wine grapes.  Vitis vinifera is not particularly cold hardy, which is why many growers turn to hybrids bred for cold climates, though to this wine drinker, most hybrid wine flavors are a bit “off,” with a few exceptions: Vignoles, Vidal Blanc, perhaps a couple of others.

In spite of the progress made in cultural practices, and strides made in the control of disease and pests, with these increasingly clear weather patterns influenced by climate change, perhaps (now comes the heresy), yes (we’ll qualify it) perhaps in the near future Virginia may not be suitable for growing Vitis vinifera wine grapes.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has raised the alarm for the entire industry, stating that “The total area within the continental United States suitable for premium wine growing could be reduced as much as 81 percent by the end of this century.” (Climate Hot Map: Napa Valley, California, USA).  As noted in our last post, the higher nighttime temperatures coupled with extremely high summer temperatures are making it increasingly difficult to ripen quality fruit.  That’s been our experience the last few years now.  And there appears to be no moderation — certainly no reversal — of that trend.

The press in other counties — New Zealand, Australia, France, for example — speak candidly about how the changing climate is forcing growers to re-evaluate where they plant their vineyards.  In Australia, there’s a rush to buy up land in Tasmania because its their cooler region, and in Europe there are constant rumors of Champagne producers buying land in England, yet in the United States, there is barely a peep about it.  Why is that?

Readers of this space know that we’ve been touched by frost three times in the last five years.  What if these patterns persist and it happens every year? The frost from this past spring, the increasingly hot summer temperatures (both day and night) and the growing consensus from recent research on climate change has forced our hand.  In spite of our previous announcement that we intended to continue growing fruit, we’ve decided that the risk isn’t worth it (coupled with the dubious economics), so we are pulling out the vineyard.  Work began September 22.

There are a host of factors that make removal advantageous to us and we could go on, but the main driver (as of this writing) is the perils of this unsettled, changing climate and the high likelihood of our inability in the future to produce fruit that meets our standards.  If the fruit isn’t good, no one will buy it — it’s that simple.

So this is the end of Annefield Vineyards, and with that, the end of this blog, which we’ve enjoyed writing, and we hope you’ve enjoyed reading it, too.  The property is now simply Annefield.

The blog will remain online until October 12, so if there are any stories or recipes you wish to preserve, print them now.  We’ll preserve a copy using a utility that saves entire websites.  We have a tangible reminder of our time in the wine business — all of the bottles festooned with all of the medals we won over the years are displayed in our personal wine cellar, every wine from every vintage, a winner.

It’s a bittersweet end, wrapping up ten years of anxiety, happiness, disappointment and very hard work — yet satisfying to bring it to a conclusion of our choosing, on our own terms.  A line from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest come to mind: “The good end happily, and the bad unhappily.  That is what Fiction means.”


The End


Delays, Delays, Delayed Ripening.

WoNow that summer is easing into the cool, clear days of fall, we’re apt to forget some of the headlines we’ve seen this past summer about our record breaking summer temperatures, to wit (and these are just a few of many):

  • “2016 climate trends continue to break records,” by Patrick Lynch (NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, 19 July 2016)
  • “Hottest ever June marks 14th month of record-breaking temperatures,” by Michael Slezak  (The Guardian, 19 July 2016).
  • “Get used to these extreme summer heat waves,” by Lydia O’Connor (The Huffington Post, 24 July 2016).

What scientists are noting, however, is that nighttime temperatures are similarly elevated.  What does this mean for a grape farmer in Virginia?

Typical uneven ripening.  Photograph courtesy of Dr. Tony Wolf.
Typical uneven ripening. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Tony Wolf.

Tony Wolf, the Viticulture Extension Specialist at the Virginia Cooperative Extension publishes a newsletter, Viticulture Notes.  Something he wrote in the last issue (September 2016) caught our attention, especially in light of these summer temperatures:

In hindsight, the 2016 turned from very wet early in the season to another record-breaking year for heat. We’ve not yet begun regular monitoring of primary chemistry on our research vineyard varieties, as harvest is not typically before 20 September for the Petit Manseng and mid-October for the Cab Sauvignon; however, we noticed in late-August that the Cabernet was unusually delayed in completing visual color changes associated with véraison. Even today (7 September) some clusters still had many green berries. The photo shown here reflects a minority of the clusters, as most have completely changed to blue-black color, but the change has been slower this year. The crop levels are not greater than in previous years – although there is a lot of fruit illustrated in Figure 1 — even our lightest cropped vines bore clusters that had delayed color transition in late-August. The canopy condition is excellent, and the vines have had adequate moisture as evidenced by persistent shoot growth, so the delayed ripening has been difficult to explain. We had a slightly delayed bloom in the Cabernet which might explain part of the delay of progress on véraison. I am leaning more towards the probability that the delay in berry coloration in the Cabernet reflects the unusually warm/hot conditions of the 2016 season. The high temperatures might have affected both photosynthesis rates, and possibly more dramatically affected whole plant respiration rates. Briefly, photosynthesis rates peak at around 86°F and then decline, precipitously so at temperatures above the mid-nineties, with variation in optimal rates due to variety, water and nutrient status of the plant, and other factors. It’s no surprise that 2016 has been a hot year, and we’re seeing a persistence of the heat well into September. With many days hitting max temperatures above 90°F for us this, year, it could well be that daytime highs were reducing photosynthesis and delaying grape development, including véraison. This might be a more prevalent issue in “warmer” regions of the state where growers occasionally comment on “stalled ripening” – often in Merlot, but we see it in a number of varieties; the juice hits about 18 – 20°Brix and then sugar accumulation flat-lines and pH increases.

He goes on to observe that respiration (“the flip side of photosynthesis”) is also affected by temperature, though respiration rates continue to increase with increasing temperature beyond what is optimal for photosynthesis.  He notes the increase in nightly low temperatures they’ve observed:

Again, the three-year trend was for warmer nights each year, with 2016 being the warmest of the three.  Compared to the summed average daily heat unit increases (17%), the summed low temperature heat unit increase was 33% over the period of interest.  Again, we can’t say for certain whether this is impacting the rate of grape ripening, but it’s a testable hypothesis.

Our takeaway: here in Southern Virginia we’ve experienced the “stalled ripening” which affects “warmer” regions; not so much in the white fruit, it has been more a frustration with the red fruit.  This year (just a week ago) most of our Cabernet Franc looks very much like the fruit in the photograph.  The Cabernet Sauvignon had a little, none in the Petit Verdot.

The fact of species shifting to higher elevations has been studied and well documented for years — birds, for example, shifting their range, trees “moving” to higher elevations where the temperatures suit them better.  Our grapevines know no such luxury.  The fact is, our hotter climate is making it difficult for us (as an industry) to grow quality fruit at lower elevations.  If the fruit won’t ripen, what’s the point?

Survival of the industry will mean planting grapevines that can thrive in these conditions.  And what are they? Jacqueline Coleman, writer of the blog History & Wine offered a short list of fruit that does well in hot regions: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Syrah.  The flip side: how might they fare in freezing temperatures?  We know Cabernet Sauvignon can manage, but we have no experience with the other two.  For white varieties, we’d probably look to Southern Italy and Greece.

As Dr. Wolf notes, “Maybe — hopefully — 2017 will be cooler, but the outlook is not encouraging.  A potential topic for more fully evaluating varietal responses to our environment!”

A Visit to the Outer Banks of North Carolina.


We had not been to the beach in a very long time — simple pleasures like that usually aren’t available to one minding a vineyard (much less a winery), but this year, with the crop looking pretty good and disease under control, we opted to spend a week on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

In the middle winter (during a snow storm, naturally) we were discussing the possibility, and with a quick search on the web found Sun Realty and this bloated house that seemed, and was, perfect.  Countless bedrooms (each with its own bath), a wet bar with pool table and other toys on the ground floor, a game room on the second floor, a massive family room and kitchen combination on the top floor; a movie room with seating for a dozen people, decks on every floor, and two of everything — two dishwashers, two ovens, two washer/dryers, three full size refrigerators (one in the garage), two ice makers.  Seating in the dining room was for fourteen.  Outside featured a swimming pool, putting green, and steps down to a private beach on Pamlico Sound.


The house was right next to the Inn on Pamlico Sound, and one of their dogs, Leila, was a frequent visitor, crossing the beach and coming right up to the house to play with our dogs.

Being on the Sound is a very different experience when compared to the pristine beaches.  There are no waves on the Sound, and you can wade out a great distance, if you want.  Close to shore we saw crabs skittering everywhere, which made a long walk out (without proper footware) possibly hazardous.

With no real agenda but relaxing, to spice things up we did plan a couple of “theme” nights.  Ours was a Mexican fiesta — pulled-pork tacos, assorted sides and salsas, and to let off steam, a Nipyata — basically a pinata filled with tiny bottles of liquor.  Very fun.


To make the drive tolerable from Northern Virginia, we spent one night going and coming in Virginia Beach, that consummate beach town.  Traveling with the dogs wasn’t so difficult, with planning.  But that limited us to staying at motels, which was fine — La Quinta Inns allow dogs of all sizes, so that was the Inn of choice.  We found them using an iPhone app called Bring Fido, which also helped us find restaurants where we could bring them, too.




Our rental prohibited leaving the dogs alone in the house, which limited our ability to dine out — especially with the tremendous heat we experienced that week, with heat indexes routinely in the range of 102 to 105 degrees.  We managed to dine one night at the Inn next door, which proved a civilized respite in a rough-and-tumble kind of place.  Someone was always home during the day when we did go out, so they were never unattended.


One of those days we took the ferry to Ocracoke Island, a wild, wind-swept slip of land, the next island west of Hatteras.  You drive the length of it — totally undeveloped — to get to the town of Ocracoke, which has the look and feel of a New England fishing village.  We’d definitely have to plan another trip to spend some time there.  Another afternoon we stopped at Pop’s Raw Bar (48967 NC-12, Buxton, NC 27920) — one of the few places open between 2 pm and 5 pm (most restaurants close between lunch and dinner).  Totally unpretentious — we had wonderful oysters at the bar.




On the way back we stopped at Kitty Hawk to see the Wright Brothers Memorial, but the walk to the hill (in the blazing heat) where they launched the planes was a bit too much for the pups, so we had to take it in from a distance.  All told, it was a relaxing week (not without its dramas, of course) and a welcome getaway from it all.






A June Wedding at Hunting Creek Vineyards.


June weddings.  Why are so many weddings held in June?  We recall reading someplace that the tradition dates from Roman times, when June 1 was dedicated to the Juno and Jupiter, Jupiter being the goddess of marriage and childbirth.  Also back then there was probably pent-up demand, because May is the month the Romans performed rites of exorcism to rid their homes of malevolent ghosts.

As noted in the all-knowing Wikipedia, “Because of this annual exorcism of the noxious spirits of the dead, the whole month of May was rendered unlucky for marriages, whence the proverb Mense Maio malae nubent (“They wed ill who wed in May”).

But June it is, and last weekend we had the pleasure of attending a wedding at the winery of our neighbor and good friends at Hunting Creek Vineyards in Halifax County, Virginia.  For others a destination wedding, but for us just a trip down the road.  Beautifully arranged, perfectly catered and attended to, we had a great time.


A Fine Spring Afternoon at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

Mt Vernon

Our Northern Virginia residence is on land that was once part of George Washington’s River Farm, and neighbors of Mount Vernon are offered membership to Neighborhood Friends of Mount Vernon groups.  Its a way of connecting to the community, and keeping the neighbors excited about what goes on there.  And lots goes on there — we are constantly being invited to various talks, events, dinners, parties — so how could we resist?  Membership gives a number of perks, one of which is early access to tickets to the Spring Wine Festival and Sunset Tour at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

It has been a very long time since we’ve been on the customer’s side of the table at a wine festival.  Frankly, after working far too many festivals, we never imagined going again — ever.  See, for example, a couple of rants: “Those Blasted Wine Festivals” (19 October 2011) and “Taming the Festival Beast” (1 May 2013).  Our displeasure with them when we were selling wine was no secret.  With the proverbial “shoe on the other foot,” how would it feel?

So we rounded up a group of friends to go.  Everyone assembled at our place for drinks, then we headed over to the festival.  We contemplated joining the crowds and tormenting the pourers with some of the ridiculous questions we’ve heard over the years, such as “Do you have Orvieto?“, or a favorite howler, “Which forests in France do your barrels come from?”  But rather than sample, and lacking the energy to be jostled by crowds, we found a spot on the lawn below the mansion, bought a few bottles and enjoyed the warmth, the stunning view of the Potomac, and the company.

One visit to the tent was enough.  We ordered cheese boxes (which were waiting for us on arrival) that came with the best baguettes, assorted cheeses, sliced fruit and vegetables, a dip to accompany, charcuterie, and little pecan, chocolate and lemon tarts.  Precious?  Yes, but the box was well worth it.

For the wine, we picked two producers: neighbors of ours from Southern Virginia, Rosemont of Virginia and Veritas Winery.  We chatted with our friends Justin and Aubrey Rose of Rosemont for a minute; they’re great people and it’s always fun to catch up, but they were quite busy dealing with the crush of humanity.  Justin is the winemaker at Rosemont — quite accomplished and passionate about his work — it shows in the wine, which is stellar.

Afterwards, back to our place for a little more wine, homemade pizzas and Fior di Latte gelato.  Also homemade — our first attempt.  Gelato is so much easier to make than ice cream; making that custard for ice cream is far more labor intensive, while gelato is thickened with tapioca starch (or, in a pinch, cornstarch).  You just need to be careful to cook it long enough; its like adding corn starch to gravy.  The starch gives you that incomparable smooth, silky mouth-feel.

On a second attempt a few days later, we made cherry gelato — essentially the Fior di Latte but with chopped cherries added immediately after cooking the base.  This wasn’t as successful, and here’s what we learned: we had only two percent milk in the fridge and used that, but on churning the volume was twice what it should have been, and when frozen and served, there were lots of ice crystals.  Still delicious, but the mouth-feel wasn’t right.  So — don’t even think about being calorie conscious when making gelato and use whole milk.  Yesterday we tried our hand at chocolate, which called for the addition of a couple of egg yolks.  We’ll report on that and other experiments, another time, and perhaps share a recipe or two.

Forgive that aside … we had so much fun, we just may participate in Mount Vernon’s Fall Wine Festival & Sunset Tour, which this year is October 7 through 9, 2016.  Member pre-sale begins October 15, and sales open to the public August 22.




A Derby Day Lunch — and a Disaster.

Philippa & Mike

With a friend coming to Annefield for the weekend from Washington, we decided to host a very small gathering for a decadent lunch.  With the non-stop rain all week, we were lucky to get into the vineyards to get out a much needed fungicide spray.  And happy to get it done, because we had a lot planned for Saturday.

We hadn’t seen one of our travel companions in a while, so with just four of us it was — manageable.  Still more work than dinner at home, what with selecting the china, glassware, silver, linens, and so on.  We started with an amuse called Carrot-Ginger Elixir, which called for a simple syrup infused with fresh ginger, lime juice and fresh carrot juice.  Very simple, unexpected and refreshing (we finished it at breakfast the next morning).  The first course was a Pasta Primavera, followed by Creole Chicken Fricassée over steamed rice, and in the end a Rhubarb Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream.  We paired these with Kistler Vineyards Kistler Vineyard Chardonnay 2009 and Kistler Vineyards Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2010.  There was supposed to be another salad course but we ran out of time, and appetite.  No one missed it.

After lunch and (and for some, a nap) before leaving for the Derby Party, we had to partake of at least one Mint Julep, “The Very Dream of Drinks.”

Pasta Primavera


Rhubarb Tart


The main event of the day, though, was a Derby Party at a friend’s house over in Halifax, Virginia with about 20 other people.  This house overlooks the Banister River; it really is a lovely setting.  The plan was to gather for drinks, watch the race, then head over to Molasses Grill for dinner.  Before heading to dinner, though, “selfie culture” raised its sodden, ugly head and there was a call for a group photo out on the deck.

Those with a sense of foreboding know what comes next.

The deck collapsed under the weight of about a dozen people, falling about 12 feet to the ground — one corner dropping to the ground seemingly in slow motion with a pause halfway down, with potted plants and patio furniture hurling down the surface.  But thankfully — miraculously — no one was seriously injured — a few bruises, a couple of people had cuts, but nothing requiring hospitalization or anything other than a bandage (yours truly landed on one of the hosts and emerged unscathed).  The potted plants did the most damage, covering most of us with mud as they came tumbling down.  Fortunately they were in lightweight plastic pots, not terra cotta.

So we cleaned up as best we could, and headed out to a lovely dinner.  Those dining at the restaurant didn’t quite know what to make of this large group of people coming in covered with mud.  In a thank you note, our guest wrote “The deck disaster was the highlight of the weekend.”  What a good sport.


David & Mike