Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chianti In The Carolinas

Thursday saw no let up in the heat wave that has been beating down the East Coast this June.We had places to go, wine to drink, and Cheyenne decided she was going to find cool spots wherever they might be. I gassed the car and sister-in-law Geeta tried to reassure Cheyenne I hadn't gone forever when I disappeared into the loo.
Brother-in-law Bob saw my pink Crocs in the trunk the day before and presented himself attired thusly for our tour of the North Carolina wine Country:Bob grew up in Alabama, the proper son of a proper Methodist, and took his wife to India as part of the round the world honeymoon tickets they got as a wedding gift from her parents. They embraced Hinduism and Quakerism and a few other -isms along the way. But now the curse of the Pink Croc has struck again. I am thinking of making it a cult. This is what an apprentice Pink Croc follower wears:Cheyenne passed out as we took to I-40 from our home base of Asheville toward Winston Salem and the wineries of Boonville and Yadkin County.This isn't Napa Valley, though Bob did point out this is the most pretentious looking of the places we planned to visit. The No Pets thing immediately got up my nose and I swore we weren't buying from them.Lovely it is too. Indeed they call themselves Chianti In The Carolinas...Blake checked our IDs (! No really!) and told us a dog fight between visiting animals led to the pet ban, so in the end one has to agree that it's stupid people at play once again that ruin it for the rest of us. We bought four bottles and a packet of prosciutto for lunch.It is not well known but wine making is an up and coming business in this part of Eastern North Carolina, not far from the Virginia state line. The beauty of this part of the world is that the snobbery of Napa and Sonoma has not yet taken root. wine tasting here is a casual affair, friendly and informal. With every opportunity to meet the rugged farmers who actually do the work. Straw hats and all.On to Laurel Gray for more wine and our picnic lunch.Here for instance Geeta and Bob are tasting wine poured by the owner's daughter, a fifth generation farmer from this part of the world. Her ancestors settled the area in 1777 she told us. Bob snagged himself a t-shirt form the dust catcher shop. Homo pretentious is the last stage of the evolution, of which there is far too much in the world of wine, we agreed. It was hot but it didn't put us off our food, olives and cheese and bread and fresh fennel (Bob's liquorice flavored contribution which was, as usual, a picnic food not normally seen in my family). laurel Gray had some of the best white wines I have tasted in a while and I am not a fan of white so much as red (wine of character for people with character, I always say). They also made a light Cabernet that was as good as any I have tasted. I am rather tired of heavy dark wines, what Wine Spectator is pleased to call Super Tuscans, a ridiculous appellation in my opinion. Tasting a pleasant refreshing wine that doesn't give you a head like a steam hammer and a mouth filled with asphalt is just fine by me. Oh and expect to meet dogs in North Carolina wineries. Cheyenne was on her best behavior.The cider was a disappointment here,more like a sparkling apple wine, but that was okay.
People were buying and we heard that the economic implosion does not seem to have affected wine sales around here. They ship too (to 63 of Florida's 68 counties, weirdly enough. No doubt the dank, dry ascetic Christian counties of Northern Florida hold wine sales to be immoral or some such stupidity. Did not Christ himself turn water to wine in the Christian myth?).
For Cheyenne, water is wine, and she had her own tasting. Before I used the loo, I hasten to add, in case you thought I torture my dog.
You wouldn't think we were hauling iced water around in a cooler for her to judge by that picture but she likes what she likes. My wife, in a contemplative moment, enjoying her favorite pastime, cruising the wine country, any wine country.
Bob challenged me to a game of checkers, blue painted corks versus yellow painted corks. He thought he had it in the bag when I admitted I had forgotten how the pieces move (diagonally). But with Geeta a helping him he managed to box himself into a corner and I nailed him so hard he surrendered and yielded the field to me. Ha!Home sweet home, though I have to confess I am not missing the islands as much as I should be. Green leaves look real nice this long hot summer.
Here's another sign outside an inconvenience store along the highway.Personally I'd prefer to pay for minnows that weren't crap but I'm not from these parts.
The clothing around here is to buy a bottle of wine and sit out on the porch and suck it down. These people were from Tampa spending an entire vacation touring the wine country. There are something like 3 dozen wine making operations in this part of the world.
Here is an actual owner whose day job is working as an architect in Winston Salem thirty minutes away but he spends his off time working in his own vineyard. His wife does the same and his business partner also raises Llamas, hence the name.
They don't have much time to sit out rocking on the porch.
We stashed the loot in the rapidly filling, capacious trunk of the Fusion.
It's been a long time since I saw a wheat field. Not much agriculture in the Keys. None at all actually.
Whether or not they are divine I couldn't say but they are bizarre,especially after they have been shaved to keep them cooling the summer. They have 45 of them on the farm, raised as pets and for sale as guard Llamas, I kid you not. Farmers like them as they scare off the coyotes. That was a new one on me.
Geeta was fascinated.
Bob too.
Cheyenne had never seen grapes before,and they held more fascination than llamas.
We left Bob to contemplate the mean of life, llamas and everything.
From llamas to prize winning cows. I was burning out on wine tasting and RagApple Lassie I left to the sturdier members of the party. I took my ease outside wile my wife took my picture.
RagApple Lassie was the owner's prize winning, State Champion cow, his last 4-H project before he grew up and went to war in Viet Nam. He came home to find his father had sold all the dairy cows and in an effort to stay on the farm he planted grapes and started off in a new direction, North Carolina's pioneer grape grower.
Cheyenne got tired of sitting so we went for a walk and she had her first encounter with the dreaded southern invasive vine called kudzu. Kudzu one, Cheyenne zero. She retreated defeated by the clinging creepers.
RagApple Lassie's tasting room is part of the vast cool complex where the wine is made.
Here she is, the cow that started it all with owner Frank Hobson Junior who I missed talking to because I was outside with the dog. He is a good deal older today judging by some more recent pictures I saw on display:
RagApple Lassie II portrayed in Art:
Clutching a bottle and a glass:
It was 5pm, the day was drawing to a close and it was time, at last to call it quits. With one more wooded stop:
We took a pre-dinner stroll in the woods. This is what i came to North Carolina for, dappled trails, trees and cool breezes.
Herself was delighted to be out of the car, though the day had taken it's toll and Cheyenne promptly sat down as we adults contemplated the beauty of the lake in the woods.
This family keeps North Carolina farming traditions alive by turning from tobacco, that has lost all government subsidies by turning to wine making and turning out family style dinners with local products in their dining room build with logs harvested from their own lands.
Bob,in a fit of madness ordered a sweet white wine for dinner, but somehow it went okay with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and broccoli, with a heaping plateful of banana pudding for dessert.
I staggered out of the dining room stuffed to the gills and ready to lie down. Cheyenne had one more plate of dry dog food from the trunk, which seemed to suit her and we were ready to head home.Geeta took the wheel and started us down the gravel road back to the freeway. The wife the dog and I were in the back listening to pebbles ding the bottom of our new-to-us car and we were raising a dust cloud the size of Iowa in our wake. The sun was still burning hot in the car, the outside temperature at 7:35pm was 89 degrees and Cheyenne was heavy and hot and furry in my lap.
"I'm going to keep the window rolled down a bit," Bob the Ecologist announced from the front passenger seat.
"SHUT THE FUCKING WINDOW AND TURN THE FUCKING AIR CONDITIONING UP! NOW!!" I announced in no uncertain terms from the Black Hole of Calcutta in the back seat.
Silence ensued for a while as the air conditioning hissed loudly, announcing the sudden and terminal increase of our fucking carbon footprint. Bob looked out the window and whistled to himself as he pulled his symbolic sweatshirt round his shoulders in silent protest at this destructive use of artificial fresh air. I sat back listening to my dog pant and my very full stomach rumble. Families are a gigantic pain in the ass. Even and especially ones you marry into.

An excellent day overall, with a trunk full of first rate wine.Bob and I were talking again nineteen to the dozen about the imminent end of industrial civilization before we were back on the freeway. Sometimes you just have to put your foot down.