Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lamb Chili and 2012 Whites

As many of you know, I enjoy visiting Bluemont Vineyards every few months or so. This month, my visit came about because I heard that Jennifer, a local farmer, had once again made her delicious lamb chili!

On weekends, Bluemont serves a small meal, as well as the customary meats, cheeses, and bread. I have had many a yummy meal there, but my favorite one is the lamb chili. My first taste of the chili was two years ago, and I have gone back every year when they serve it in January and February. I even bring an extra container so I can bring some home for lunch the next day. LOL

Since it had been a few months since our last visit, Dan and I decided to do a tasting before digging into our chili. I am very glad we did so, because I got to meet Jen (the assistant wine maker, not the local farmer). When Jen and I started talking about wine and wine blogging, she said she had to take us over to the barrel room to try some of the new 2012 whites that were almost ready to bottle. So, after our tasting, Dan, myself, and my friend Katie (who was with us that day) walked over to the barrel room with Jen.

Jen showing off the barrel room

Our first 2012 wine was their Viognier. It was so crisp and refreshing. I can still taste it today. Mmm… Next, we tried the 2012 Petit Manseng which was a little more subtle and lingering than the Viognier. Finally, we got to try a Rose made from Cab Franc grapes, which will be another great spring/summer picnic wine. All three of the 2012 wines were very good, and I am already counting down the days until their release this spring!

For anyone who would like to try the lamb chili, be sure to follow Bluemont on Facebook or Twitter, because they’ll announce when it is available again in February. They will also announce the release of their 2012 wines there, and I definitely recommend trying them. :)

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Grey Ghost Vineyards and Cache

When you visit Grey Ghost Vineyards, you get to experience a wonderful Southern hospitality atmosphere and some very delicious wines. Grey Ghost is family owned and run. Their first vines were planted in 1986, and their first wines were made public in 1994.

Dan and I were warmly greeted when we stopped in at Grey Ghost Vineyards this past Saturday. We had a great time talking to our server about all the wines and history of the vineyard. She knew every answer to our questions. It was quite impressive. :)

Like many vineyards, Grey Ghost offers a variety of red and white wines; however, they only use their own grapes when making the wine. I am not usually a fan of Chardonnay, but I really enjoyed Grey Ghosts use of the grape. They had three separate wines made from their Chardonnay grapes: Chardonnay, Reserve Chardonnay, and Victorian White. While all three were tasty, I was a big fan of the Victorian White.

As we worked our way through the reds, our taster kept raving about their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. It was not a part of the tasting that day, but Dan and I were able to persuade her to open a bottle for us to try. It had a very nice finish, and Dan said it was one of his favorites of the day.

After our tasting, Dan and I wandered the lounge area and grounds. There are lots of great historical displays, including a flag owned by the Grey Ghost. The lounge above the tasting room was beautiful, inviting, and filled to the brim with oversized chairs and couches.

If the inside seating is ever full, there is plenty of outdoor seats on the balcony, patio, or garden area. I was happy to see the vines covered in the previous night’s snow fall, but I also cannot wait to see how it looks in the spring!

After looking at many potential locations for a geocache, we spotted a likely spot out in the garden area. Because of the fantastic history associated with this vineyards’ name, I decided to make this cache a puzzle cache. The cache page has all the questions and a link to where you can read about the history of Grey Ghost.

Have fun visiting the vineyard and seeking the geocache!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Beautiful Creatures – Avoid if Possible

When watching previews at the movie theater, I saw a preview for a movie called Beautiful Creatures. The premise of the movie looked like another teen-magic movie, but there were a few points in the plot that caught my interest. At the end of the preview, I saw the words popup “based on the novel Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl”.

I am a firm believer that reading a book is always better than watching the movie-adaption of a book. So, the first thing that I did was pick up the book at the library. I had been in the mood for a good teen-fiction book, but I had not found a book to satisfy that craving in a while. It was with tenuous hope that I started reading Beautiful Creatures.

I am sad to say that I am still looking for a good teen-fiction read. My quick review of the book is this – If you loved the Twilight series, you will enjoy this book. If you could NOT stand the Twilight series, you will hate this book. Unfortunately, I fall into the latter category and only finished the book by sheer force. LOL

The first 250 pages of the book are the annoyingly-standard teen relationship drama:
  • Boy – I live in a small town where nothing happens.
  • Girl - I traveled so much, and now I just want a normal life.
  • Boy – You’re hot.
  • Girl – I can’t tell you anything. I hate you. Go away.
  • Boy – I don’t care. I’ll love you anyway.
  • Girl – No
  • Boy - *follows girl like a stalker*
  • Girl – OK. I’m a supernatural being that can’t control her powers.
  • Boy – OMG! I don’t know if I can be with you. But I really want be with you.

Seriously… just skip the first 250 pages.

After that, there are some slightly interesting twists to the plot, and the main characters finally start to develop personalities (if only very small ones). My favorite part is the caster library, because who does not like a giant, secret library. :D

The book offers two possible endings to the story, but of course, it takes the obvious third answer. There’s really no other option for it to take when you learn all the details of the original to options. I mean, they can’t kill everyone off, because then there would not be any potential for a horrible sequel or a please-spare-us trilogy.

As we get down to the dirty details of why I don’t like this book, let me first say that if it came down to someone reading this book or never reading a book, I would tell them to read it. It is better to read trash than not to read at all. However, that being said, I really wish that people would have higher standards in what they write and/or read.

What was bad about the book:
  • The two main characters (and most of the others) had no personality. There was no depth to them, and they presented little challenge to the reader.
  • The plot had a few interesting points, but those points did not make up for the glaringly obvious direction of the story as a whole.
  • I know I write and edit for a living, but still, let’s use grammar check before publishing. Seriously, even Microsoft Word knows you are not supposed to start a sentence with the word “And”.

What was good about the book:
  • I learned that I do have the will power to finish a book, even if it is awful. LOL

If you are looking for a good teen fiction book to read, please avoid reading Beautiful Creatures. Instead, pick up “A Great and Terrible Beauty”, “A Sea of Trolls”, “Terrier”, “Graceling”, or anything else by the authors of these books.

Remember, you do not have to settle for poorly written books! :)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gadino Cellars and My First Celebrity Spotting on the Wine Trail

After hiking Old Rag Mountain, Dan and I stopped at Gadino Cellars in Washington, Virginia for a tasting and some food. We weren’t the only hikers to stop too, because we recognized another couple whom we had seen on the mountain. :)

Gadino’s first vines were planted in 1989, and because they enjoy focusing on small, high-quality wine, the proprietors choose to keep production under 1500 cases a year. You can definitely sense the family atmosphere when step into the Gadino Cellars tasting room. The tasters are friendly and eager to share about what they love about the wine they serve.

During our tasting, Dan and I tried six different wines, ranging from refreshing whites and roses to nice rich reds. Among our favorites were the Sunset, Moonrise, and Petit Verdot. We’ve heard from fellow wine bloggers that the Pinot Grigio is also very good, but unfortunately, it is so good that they were sold out while we were there. LOL

After our tasting, we ordered two servings of yummy lasagna, which they have been offering on winter weekends. With our wine and pasta, we relaxed and watched the sun set behind the mountains.

Just as we were ordering our second glasses, some new patrons came into the tasting room. As we chatted with them, I learned that one of them was actually quite famous as a commercial actor and model! It was pretty cool to learn some of the things he had worked on, and Dan even let me get a picture with him! :)

Me and my new famous friend, Leroy

Heehee… What? Who’d you think I met? LOL

Leroy is famous though. He even has his own Facebook page and website! We had fun helping him celebrate his Birthday with his friends and their handlers.


Friday, January 18, 2013

Hiking Old Rag Mountain

If you grew up in Northern Virginia and are at least a little bit of an outdoor person, you know about Old Rag Mountain. In some groups, it is almost a rite of passage to climb Old Rag.

Old Rag is one of the most popular hikes in the Mid-Atlantic region of Shenandoah National Park. It is long and strenuous, and I do not advise anyone to try it who is scared of heights. Most of the hike is spent zigzagging up the mountain on a steep path, but the last mile or so before you reach the summit is an exciting, scenic rock scramble. The rock scramble is, of course, my favorite part of the hike. I always wish I could ride up to the rock scramble and just spend the whole day hoping from rock to rock along the cliffs. :)

I was about eight when I made my first trip up the mountain. This may be young for some people, but having an arborist for a father, I started climbing things almost the moment I could walk. My next trip was with my youth group in high school. I think this was my best climb, because I was at peak physical condition and could almost run up the mountain. The third time I visited the mountain was just after my 25th birthday. The climb up was still easy, but my knees started giving me trouble on the way down.

Last weekend, I did my fourth hike at Old Rag and took my fiancé with me for his first visit. This was definitely the hardest trip of all for me, because my knees cannot handle strenuous activity like they used to. However, even with all the swearing and pain, I made it up and down the mountain in 5 hours, including a nice long break for lunch.

Fog over the easter hills

We've reached the top

As always, the best part of the hike for me was the rock scramble. As soon as we reached that stretch of the trail, I forgot all pain and started climbing on anything I could. My favorite memory was catching up with the group of 19-21 year old girls who had jogged up the mountain past us. While they were squeaking and squealing about climbing through crevices, I climbed up around them, hopped over a few boulders, and slid back down to the part of the trail ahead of them. :D It was great!

Yes, I am that strong

The rock was blocking the path, so Dan was moving it.

If you are thinking of hiking Old Rag, I would recommend that you pack lots of water, some energizing snacks, and light lunch. Make sure you are physically able to walk uphill for a long time, and be prepared to slip off your backpack a few times so you can squeeze through a crevice in the rocks. Also, because Old Rag is so popular, the paths can get rather crowded during peak season, and sometimes you have to wait for a while for a group to go by.

Waiting for another group

Other than that, I would recommend that everyone have a goal to hike Old Rag at least once in their life. It is a fantastic climb, and the views are quite spectacular (as you can see from some of Dan and I’s pictures). Also, there are plenty of good vineyards nearby that are a fantastic way to end your visit. :)

Dan and I looking out from the summit

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

DuCard Vineyards and Sharp Rock Vineyards

The 12th and 13th geocaches on the VA Wine Trail are hidden at DuCard Vineyards and Sharp Rocks Vineyards. These vineyards are quite close to each other and are located at the base of the Shenandoah Mountains.

DuCard Vineyards:
The tasting room and patio at DuCard Vineyards afford one of the most picture perfect views I have seen at a vineyard. During one of our visits, Dan and I found the Virginia LOVE sign at the vineyard and got to take some fun pictures with it.

DuCard offers a variety of red and white wines. Among our favorites here are the 2nd Corps and Cab Franc. On our last two visits, the 2nd Corps had sold out, so if you visit and find some available, we recommend buying it quickly before it is gone!

On our most recent visit, Marty (the tasting manager) showed us around the vineyard and helped locate a fantastic hiding spot for our geocache. One of the fun things about this cache is that we were able to hide a larger container full of cool swag, so bring along something neat to trade when you visit! You can find the coordinates on the cache page.

Sharp Rock Vineyards:
Sharp Rock is located just before the parking lot for Old Rag Mountain, one of the most popular hikes in Virginia. This small, cozy vineyard has lots of fun spots for picnics with views of the mountains and the grape vines. Something unique about Sharp Rock is that it also serves as a bed and breakfast!

During our visit, we got to talk with Jimm (the owner) while we did our tasting. He told us how the vineyard got its start, and Dan and he had a great time chatting about restoring old cars. Sharp Rocks has both red and white wines. I liked how Jimm had named one of the reds after Old Rag Mountain, and I also enjoyed their deep red Rose Noir, which is perfect for summer picnics.

The coordinates for the Sharp Rock geocache can be found on its geocache page. Do to the popularity of this vineyard for picnickers, you may have to watch out for muggles.

A few final details:
As Dan and I are big dog people, we always enjoy finding vineyards that allow dogs, and both DuCard and Sharp Rock Vineyards allow dogs. :)

Have fun checking out these new locations on the VA Wine Trail of geocaches!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Breaux Vineyards

Resting on over 100 acres of Virginia’s rolling hills, Breaux Vineyards is a beautiful location to visit on the Virginia Wine Trail. My fiancĂ© and I recently had the privilege to be shown around the grounds by Reagan (Events Manager) and Jennifer (Director of Sales and Hospitality).

Our tour started in the barrel rooms, where we learned about Breaux’s upcoming wines. We also learned how they make their facility available to small vineyards who do not have enough room to store barrels and tanks.

Next, Reagan walked us through the large, new facility being completed on the grounds. This facility will contain extra storage and barrel rooms, special tasting rooms for Cellar Club members, and a magnificent entertainment hall, The Acadia, that is exquisite for weddings and events. As Dan and I are currently planning our own wedding, we were really able to appreciate the size, flooring, and open lighting in the event hall!

The new Cellar Club room

The entry way to the Acadia

The Acadia

The Acadia

Breaux also has other expansion plans in the near future that will create more tasting room space and event space. With the increasing flow of visitors to Breaux, I think the vineyard’s plans are really good and will help maintain the quality each visitor’s experience!

After our tour, we headed back to the tasting room for a wine tasting with Silvia, who has been a part of Breaux since its beginning. She was very personable and shared a wealth of knowledge with us as she guided us through each wine.

On multiple occasions, Silvia brought out two bottles of the same type of wine but from different years. Then, she would describe the difference between the bottles (age of the vines, changes in weather from one year to the next, or how much time it had been allowed to age) and had us taste the difference in the wine. It was extremely fascinating!

For myself, I learned that I enjoyed the certain varieties of grape from younger vines than from older vines. I also preferred grapes from hot, humid summers over grapes from hot, dry summers. Of course, not everyone liked the same things I did, and the fact that Virginia wines offer so much variety is one of my favorite characteristics about it.

Before leaving Breaux, Dan and I talked to Jennifer about geocaching, and she happily agreed to let us add Breaux Vineyards to the VA Wine Trail! We found a fun spot for the cache, and you can find the coordinates on the geocache page.

Our visit to Breaux was wonderful. Everyone in our group learned so much about the wines we were drinking and left with more knowledge and a big smile. :) A special thanks goes to Jen, Reagan, and Silvia for their outstanding hospitality!!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Corcoran Vineyards and Brewery

Corcoran Vineyards and Brewery is nestled off a cute country road just north of route 9. It is the first combined winery and brewery in Virginia and is definitely worth a visit – or multiple visits. :) This delightful, family-owned business is run by Lori and Jim Corcoran, and Dan and I had the wonderful opportunity to take a tour with Lori on one of our most recent visits.

Since we have visited the tasting room before, Lori started off the tour at the wine cellar, which was filled with tanks, barrels, and scattered boards covered with wine notes. She eagerly told us about the various wines she was making and what she was looking forward to creating in the future.

Lori opening a barrel to taste

To our great excitement, Lori even let us try a special barrel of white port wine that she was creating just for friends and family. Needless to say, it was delicious, and the time it had spent in an old whiskey barrel gave it an added warm that instantly spread through your whole body. We’re hoping she makes more for the general public! lol

Dan and I getting to smell a barrel of the white port wine:

After touring the wine cellar, we walked over to the brewery. At the time, the brewery had 16 different beers available! There were lots of different favorite beers in the group. Dan loved Slainte Stout, Onceyougo Black Ale, Wheatland, and Catoctin Ale, and I enjoyed Wheatland and Hops the Bunny Ale.

Taps at the Corcoran Brewery

The tasting room at Corcoran offers a variety of red and white wines. Some of the ones we have really enjoyed are the Apple Wine, Riesling, Petit Verdot, and Tannat. I also like the Cello that Lori makes with Petit Manseng grapes, spirits, and lemon zest. It makes a great gift for Christmas or birthdays – just ask my dad. :)

Before leaving Corcoran, Dan and I took some time to walk around the grounds and find a good location for our latest VA Wine Trail geocache. We are quite proud of the hiding spot we found! You can find the new cache coordinates on the geocache page.

We also found some herbs growing that Lori had cunningly labeled for visitors, pointing out which wines would go well with that herb.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Berry Hill Vineyard

One vineyard that I have not written about yet is Berry Hill Vineyard, and this little place is definitely worth writing about!

Berry Hill is a small, family owned vineyard resting on the rolling hills of Flint Hill, Virginia. Because the tasting room is really the owner’s garage, tastings are by appointment only. Do not let this minor inconvenience dissuade you from visiting though!

Owner David Hilty puts countless hours of love and attention into his Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot grapes, and it is instantly noticeable the moment you see the grounds and hear him speak about the vines. Most of his grapes are sold to local wineries, but David enjoys keeping enough grapes to make about 80 cases of wine a year.

David Hilty describing his wine-making process

Dan and I loved our visit to Berry Hill with the VA Wine Mafia members (here is one of the other member’s review). David taught us all about the difference between a hand-bottled wine and a machine bottled wine – it was really fascinating! I also fell in love with the big wooden doors that led to and from the tasting room. When I asked about the doors, I found out that one had been salvaged from a local historical building and the other had been made from Epe wood.

Corking a bottle by hand

One of the beautiful wooden doors

The three wines in the Berry Hill tasting were: 2010 Cabernet Franc, 2011 Cabernet Franc, and 2011 Petit Verdot. All of them were truly fantastic! I loved how complex the Cabernet Francs were and how earthy the Petit Verdot was. Dan and I left with multiple bottles of the 2010 Cabernet Franc and 2011 Petit Verdot.

Some of the VA Wine Mafia folks at Berry Hill:

While we are hording away a couple bottles for the future, the others are disappearing rather quickly. Guess this means we will have to make another Berry Hill stop in the near future! :)