Monday, April 2, 2012

Chateau Morrisette Winery

It has been around since 1978 bottling wines that are made with at least eighty percent Virginia grown grapes, which by law rates the product as true Virginia wine.

The founder, William Morrisette, started the winery with a few acres of vines and bottled the product for fun and friends who started pestering him to make some to sell.

Then David Morrisette, his son took the first viticulture class at Mississippi State and started down the path that has led the winery to become Virginia's oldest and largest, producing 60,000 cases a year, of 19 different wines.

After 20 years in California, with all the wine snobbery inherent in West Coast wine making, I was fascinated to see this massive and very successful winery tucked off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mile 172. I had never previously seen a crushing operation integrated into the main building and operated as a public spectacle:

I love that idea of having a wine based picnic while watching actual winery operations. I want to go back in September.

Mike was our animated and cheerful guide on the brief tour, showing us the vast fermentation vats cooling the bubbling wines, and rows of oak barrels awaiting their next load.

The winery, all 32,000 square feet of it, is built from salvaged timber found in Washington State. We tasted a dozen of the wines on offer, and though they do produce a couple of gruesomely sweet Mogen David type wines the bulk of the production we found to be sophisticated and very drinkable.

I am rather tired of heavy dark reds and though there was a very dry earthy Merlot the other blends offered a lighter touch and interesting fruity taste. There was an astonishing variety and I could see a red or a white or the crisp rosé on my table for any occasion. I was quite surprised.

Chateau Morrisette Web Page

The winery is located in rural Floyd County to the west of Roanoke.

It is classic mountain terrain, deep clefts, woods and homes scattered alongside the roads.

I found the people we met to be charming and cheerful as usual, in defiance of all the movie stereotypes of surly inbred country folk fearful of outsiders.

Land is abundant and cheap, winters on the high plateau are harsh I am told, though a one bedroom cabin on three acres with a deck and all modern conveniences a few miles outside Floyd itself, was offered at $78,000. Hmm...

The scenery is pastoral in the extreme though 20 miles away there is a movie theater showing Art films not yet seen in Key West.

The roads wind and twist through forests and fields in some most delightful driving.

Who knew Virginia made wine or looked like this?

This isn't high priced California or Key West and all the better for it!

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Old Roanoke

Well, Sandra said, if you want to know Roanoke there are a few old places you need to visit. Aesy's is one such.

The woman who owned it originally Josephine Aesy, had a reputation for being rather strange, even for bar owners back in the day. The headline from a 1978 opinion piece in the Roanoke Times explains all:

A Remembrance of Aesy's That Was. Nowadays there is certainly a fountain machine on the back counter and the menu includes all the usual sorts of greasy spoon delicacies and beer is no longer sold. But fried bologna is!

Sandra the vegetarian opted to opt out but I indulged my alien sensibilities in this most southern of Dixie dishes. It was served like a hamburger, fries optional, and was as delicious as I expected. How do locals eat it? I asked the cheerful waitress sporting a pink Aesy's t-shirt (I want one!). On a bun all the way was the answer. Me too!

The cost of lunch for two was somewhere near ten bucks, an experience I would have been sorry to miss. Then there was the oldest whorehouse in town. I mean strip club, located in this innocuous building soon to be demolished.

Papa Joe's story is too long to be told here but is related in exquisite detail by columnist Dan Casey at the Roanoke Daily News. Check the link for a superb telling of a tale worth reading. A Potted History of Papa Joe's In Roanoke

The Texas Tavern is a strange name fora bizarre hole-in-the-wall eatery in downtown Roanoke.

On approach it's clear this is not your friendly new age kind of
welcoming place. Once inside you will understand that three dollars goes a long way in this place and it is far better spent on nourishing food than parking.

The Texas Tavern is a no frills place, a real old fashioned diner.

Sandra was careful to point out that since 1930 the foot bar has been well worn. She wasn't kidding.

I was surprised to see a security camera's unblinking eye, but also check out the ads. "Affordable Septic" was my favorite as I ordered a delicious greasy spoon lunch.

The prices in 2012 are extraordinary, and you will be surprised to learn the beef is locally raised and lean and the food is of excellent quality.

I had a bowl of chili to start, which was meaty and delicious and thus off Sandra's vegetarian menu.

She had a Denver which is egg and relish and cheese and pickles on a bun.

I had a cheesy Western which adds a delicious slice of hamburger. There are no fries and no options and nothing to substitute. The cook cooks and makes no small talk, nor does he smile. He doesn't give a shit how you're doing today. Lovely!

Fountain drinks can be refilled for thirty cents and dessert comes in a plastic wrapper.

The Texas Tavern is full of signs and warnings and as much silliness to compensate for the the staff being businesslike and stiff.

Here's a t-shirt a burly hairy mountain man might like to complement his pink Crocs.

And -Heavens to Betsy!- here's a cigarette machine.

No smoking inside though.

I'll be back next time I'm in Roanoke!

I needed to resupply my dog food bag so Jeff said we would go visit the "mickenmac" in the neighborhood. Huh? It is the last survivor of a regional supermarket chain that all Roanoke Conchs remember fondly from their childhood.

For the frugal among us, popular and less well known "soda pop" brands are for sale cheap at the machines outside the Mick-Or-Mack.

Why it is called that I have no idea. What looks like a slightly eccentric supermarket to a stranger is a happy memory for the locals. I remember Pantry Pride in Key West. I guess that was when "mickenmac" was in it's heyday. Who knew?

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