The Power of O.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth, at Home in Dupont Circle with her Salon Pillow.  Image courtesy of Viking/Joanna Sturm.

Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980), at Home in Dupont Circle in Washington, DC with her Salon Pillow c. 1970. Image courtesy of Viking Books/Joanna Sturm

If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.

– Alice Roosevelt Longworth (1884-1980)

Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s famous comment is a reminder of the danger businesses face with the advent of the “social sharing” on websites dedicated to the airing of opinions.  It seems a bit pernicious, this effort to make everything “social” and shared — online reviews and recommendations are rampant and looked to for validation, whether in the form of Facebook “likes,” Twitter “followers,” Tumblr and WordPress blog subscribers, or even Yelp reviews.  Restaurants have their own spin on it by including large communal tables, forcing “community” whether it is wanted or not.  Businesses have incubators that are essentially one large room so groups can collaborate.  Crowdsourcing sites are the vehicle of choice to fund all manner of projects.  In another time, all this collective action would have been called Communism, but today, it’s taken for granted and its just the way things are done.

For businesses, the current social bête noire is the online review.  A bad review may result in cause of action for libel.  But why do these reviews matter?  A scholarly piece on the subject that appeared earlier this year in the Harvard Business Review (“What marketers misunderstand about online reviews,” by Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen, HBR, Jan.-Feb. 2014), which noted that customer’s purchase decisions are affected by a combination of three things: (1) prior preferences, beliefs and experiences; (2) information from marketers; and (3) input from other people and from information services – i.e., “opinion,” (for simplicity’s sake, “O”).  They noted that the greater the reliance on one source, the lower the need for the others.  So in order to answer the question, “how much does “O” matter?” one needs to understand where a product falls on the “O” continuum.

We know intuitively that “O” matters, but can it be quantified?  Research by a Harvard Business School professor, Michael Luca, found that in cities where a large number of diners rely on Yelp reviews, independent restaurants tend to benefit, while franchises and chains suffer (“Optimal Aggregation of Consumer Ratings: An Application of Yelp.com” (Harvard Business School Working Paper 13-042, November 15, 2012); “Reviews, Reputation and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com” (Harvard Business School Working Paper 12-016, September 16, 2011)).  The type of person using Yelp (typically a younger, more adventurous “plugged in” demographic) appears to be drawn to the different and the unconventional; hence the preference of the independent restaurant over their better known competitors, particularly chains and franchises.

O-dependent markets can diversify more readily, because peer-to-peer information has greater influence on consumers who rely on such services more than other information sources, such as information derived from traditional marketing channels.  Since most Virginia wineries are not readily using expensive mainstream marketing (i.e., newspaper and magazine advertising), peer-to-peer messaging takes on greater importance, so most Virginia wine falls on the “O-dependent” end of the spectrum.

Review sites have mushroomed, and we have to face the fact that they confer legitimacy because of the power of “O.”  Yet customer reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Foursquare and Google+ Local are far more prevalent for wineries located close to urban centers, leaving those of us in the hinterlands at a disadvantage.  Not having recent reviews appears suspect — has the winery closed? Why isn’t anyone reviewing it?  What’s wrong?

Gaining (hopefully favorable) reviews is as frustrating as our efforts to use some other social sites like Instagram, which requires a robust cell signal for the photos to upload, which is something we don’t have in our corner of the world.  Of course those who don’t give a whit of others’ opinions and prefer to form their own are not affected by such things, because they don’t care enough to look, but for the majority of people who do, these things may matter.  With a smartphone, everyone is a reviewer, a witness, a critic — the power is yours, so please help us out!

If you’ve been to see us recently, please write a review on the site of your choice. There are links to many of these sites (and more) on the left hand side of our website placed there for people looking for reviews, but also providing an opportunity to interact with us, or to stay informed about what we’re up to.  Below you’ll find links to our pages on several business and travel review sites, with a summary culled directly from their pages.  We recognize that this request is fraught with peril and could invite negative reviews, since we cannot — and don’t want to — control what others write about us.  We just ask that they be balanced and fair, though we are reminded of Theodore Roosevelt’s famous comment on his headstrong daughter Alice, the source of the quote that opened this post: “I can be President of the United States, or I can control Alice. I cannot possibly do both.”

Foursquare

Foursquare

Foursquare helps you find the perfect places to go with friends.  Discover the best food, nightlife and entertainment in your area.

 

images-1Google+ Local

On Google+ Local, see reviews of places you’ll love, from people you trust. Recommendations from people you know and trust show up when you search for restaurants and other businesses. Knowing who wrote a review and their tastes helps you pick the right places.  Reviews from real people like you are tallied to create scores on a precise and easy to read 5-star scale. People’s reviews also factor into concise summaries that help you quickly get an overall sense of a place.  

TripadvisorTripAdvisor

Plan and have your perfect trip with TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site. Browse over 150 million candid reviews, opinions, and photos of hotels, restaurants, attractions, and more – all by travelers like you. You’ll also find low airfares, free travel guides, worldwide vacation rental listings, popular forums with advice about virtually every destination, and more. No wonder so many travelers make TripAdvisor their first stop before every trip.

YelpYelp

Yelp is the best way to find local businesses.  People use Yelp to search for everything from the city’s tastiest burger to the most renowned cardiologist. What will you uncover in your neighborhood?

 

You’re Invited to Our Harvest Party: Carnaval in Havana!

Carnaval
Get Ready for Music, Mojitos and Mambo!
 
Annefield Vineyards
invites you to
 
CARNAVAL IN HAVANA
Saturday, October 4, 2014  – 11 am to 6 pm
 
Music by The Key West Band
 
Come to the tropics with us!  Enjoy a taste of Old Havana accompanied by our award-winning fall releases, with Caribbean cocktails, Cuban food, hand-rolled cigars, dancing, a lounge and entertainment.  Cash bar.
 
$49./person
 
Wine Club Members receive free admission for themselves and one to three guests, depending on their membership level.  There are three membership levels (3, 6 or 12 bottles per allocation, which are distributed in the spring and fall), with a choice of all red wines, all white wines or a mixed selection.  For additional information and to join, see this page.
 
Do you need overnight accommodations?  Here are our recommendations.
We have reserved a block of rooms at The Berry Hill Resort, October 3 & 4 — special rate: $169/night for a Queen Room – Ask for the “Annefield Winery Rate
 
Reservations are essential!  Please reserve by Saturday, September 27.

>> RESERVE NOW <<

The City of Bath.

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In Bath we had use of a delightful Georgian townhouse, dubbed Founders House by the owner and located on a quiet lane just steps from everything.  The location was splendid, with all of the sights and numerous restaurants just steps from our door.  The house was perfectly appointed, and even had an Aga cooker, though there was no opportunity to use it.

Our first stop was the famous Roman baths, which gave the city its name.  The museum built around the site was opened just months ago, and did a wonderful job of explaining the site and its artifacts and bringing the ancient site to life, and showing its evolution as Bath grew.

Our visit to Bath Abbey had to take place after Bath University’s graduation.  The vicar spotted us as Americans and took us over to the memorial for William Bingham (1752-1804), an American statesman who was born in Philadelphia but died in Bath at the home of his daughter, Ann Louisa Bingham, who had married Alexander Baring, the 1st Baron Ashburton.  Bingham was a privateer during the American Revolution and was one of the richest men in America, with vast land holdings in the northeast.  At one point he owned 2 million acres in Maine (according to one news report, his estate was not settled until 1964).

With his son-in-law Alexander Baring, helped broker the Louisiana Purchase.  He represented Pennsylvania in the Congress as Senator (1795-1801), was also president pro tempore of the United States Senate in 1797.  He held several other offices of note, representing Pennsylvania as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1786 to 1788, and was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and served as its first speaker in 1791.

His wife Ann (Willing) Bingham (1764-1801) was reputably the most beautiful woman of her age, and was the model for multiple portraits by Gilbert Stuart.  According to legend she was the model for Lady Liberty on the earliest American coinage.

Bath at the time of Bingham’s occupation was experiencing its “Golden Age,” when the city took on its present form, dominated by rational, ordered Georgian buildings.

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The Lows and Highs of the Wine Business.

A bird's nest in the Pinot Gris.

A bird’s nest in the Pinot Gris.

With harvest, two things are weighing on our minds.  One is our excitement from our first relatively mature harvest of Vermentino, the other the distressing state of our Pinot Gris.  One a high, the other definitely a low, and an increasingly difficult issue for winegrowers in the mid-Atlantic states.

First, the low point.  This year we are contending with a relatively new pest for Eastern growers, the Spotted Wing Drosophila (SWD).  We wrote about this pest last year (“I Love The Smell of Malathion in the Morning!“) so won’t repeat here — only what’s new this year is we definitely now have it in Charlotte County.

SWD enjoys cherries early in the season, then turns its attention to grapes as they ripen late in the season.  No fruit is immune — it will attack stone fruits like peaches, nectarines and plums, and other fruits like raspberries and blueberries.  It seems to be attracted to darker fruits, so in the vineyard it will concentrate on red grapes and seemingly avoid the white varieties.

The insidious thing about them is their life cycle — adults can live up to nine weeks, and you can have 14 generations in a single season.  Being an invasive species, they have no natural predator.  The female lays eggs under the surface of berries, where they hatch in one to three days, and feed on the berries before emerging as adult flies.  With the short life cycle, repeated insecticide applications become necessary.

There are three organic compounds that you can use — two insecticides, PyGanic, which is pyrethrin-based (and unfortunately resistance is being reported from the West Coast), Entrust, which has spinosad as an active ingredient (a naturally derived toxin), and a kaolin-clay product called Surround, which supposedly dessicates the insects.

Regardless of the mode of action, the insecticide does not penetrate the fruit so the larvae remain unharmed and will emerge on schedule.  The more potent (non-organic) insecticides we have been using, like Delegate and Malathion, have greater residual activity.

Another that supposedly works well is Imidan, but the re-entry interval on that one (the re-entry interval is the time specified when it is safe to re-enter the area sprayed) is 14 days, so there is no point in using that one.  Perhaps after harvest in a vain effort to reduce their numbers for next year, though at this point it just seems spiteful.

And this new foe comes with additional cost, because these pesticides are not cheap.  PyGanic, for example, costs $250/gallon, and Entrust is over $400/quart.  One treatment of our older vineyard would require 22 ounces of Entrust, and we’re allowed a maximum of five applications, which comes to $1,600 for the season.  Given the short life cycle, resistance to these substances will develop relatively quickly, and at that point, there is no stopping them.  When that happens, we may need to think about producing only white wines.

The fruit, while under fire, is intact — but because of the SWD we picked this past weekend — much earlier than we would like.  And so it goes in the glamorous wine business.

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And Now Comes the Vermentino.

Vermentino.

Vermentino.

That’s all very depressing, so on to more positive development.  Last year we had our first Vermentino harvest.  The vines were planted in 2011, yielding a relatively small crop so all of the wine was used in a blend, but this year we expect to have enough fruit to present our first single-variety Vermentino.

For those unfamiliar with it, Vermentino is best known for its Italian examples, being widely planted in Sardinia.  It goes by other names: Pigato in Liguira and Corsica, and Favorita in the Piedmont.  In France its believed to be the same grape as one called Rolle.  In Virginia its grown by those wineries with close ties to Italy, Barboursville Vineyards and Villa Appalachia Winery. The first East coast example we tried came from Raffaldini Vineyards in the Yadkin Valley of North Carolina.  There are a number of West coast examples, but none that we’ve enjoyed.

Italian bottlings almost always come from close to the sea, producing wines that are bright and zesty with high acid and generous aromas; these are championed as a perfect pairing for seafood.  Examples from the higher, landlocked vineyards in Piemonte are a bit more floral, often rich and with considerable minerality.  The more unctuous Piemonte examples bring to mind Riesling or Viognier.  With this grape you can obtain complex aroma and flavor with modest sugar levels, which makes it well suited for early harvest on warm sites — a valuable characteristic that makes it well suited for Virginia.

The Vermentino is performing so well, we are contemplating removing the Pinot Gris and planting more Vermentino.  Given the wine’s popularity (and the investment), we’ll give it another year, but those tight, tight clusters just turn to mush as the fruit ripens (and the SWD doesn’t help, either), so in the long run it is better to plant what grows really well in our climate.  That said, we also need to see how the market accepts Vermentino (though Barboursville Vineyards has done quite well with it), and if there is market resistance, we might plant the grape that everyone loves to hate, and for which there always seems to be a market, that ubiquitous Chardonnay, in spite of the fact that it grows best on the East Coast in cooler sites at higher elevations.

Hidcote Manor Garden and a Vineyard Visit.

Hidcote Manor Garden and the Town of Chipping Campden.

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And now back to our European adventure.

A stunning expression of the arts and craft garden is maintained by the National Trust in this remote corner of Gloucestershire, at Hidcote Manor on the outskirts of the town of Hidcote Bartrim, near Mickelton and Chipping Campden.  Its’ creator was Major Lawrence Johnston (1871-1958), an American who naturalized in England (Major Johnston obtained the rank of Major from his service in the Great War).  He was a bit of a cypher — a very private man who obsessively collected plants (several are named for Hidcote and Johnston, such as Hidcote Lavender and the Lawrence Johnston Rose), and and created a masterpiece in what was once a simple field adjoining a manor house purchased by his mother in 1907.  In 1948 it was the first property accepted by the National Trust on the strength of the garden alone.  An excellent summary of his life (of which little is really known) appears here.

The genius of the place is now the commonplace “garden room” with a strong backbone of carefully tailored shrubbery and in some instances exuberant plantings so typical of the English cottage garden style, while in others the restraint one expects of Italian and French gardens.  The dramatic axes cutting through the garden are breathtaking, the intimacy of the smaller spaces, with their unexpected color combinations and structure are startling.  Johnston was a “gardener’s gardener” — you see echoes of his work in the designs of masters like Russell Page (1906-1985) and Penelope Hobhouse (born 1929).

Russell Page was particularly struck by the garden, and wrote of it in his book Education of a Gardener:

At one point we come through a yew arch into a tiny square hedged-in garden filled with so large a circular pool that there is barely room for the narrowest of paths between it and the hedge. The raised pool, perhaps twenty feet across, looks all the larger for being so compressed and the unusual proportion of the whole breaks down, for a moment, the mechanism of one’s habitual criticisms and judgments. One is free to accept and feel this little scene as intensely real; the pool becomes like a sea which reflects the sky and a floating leaf. A passing bumble bee and each chance-grown plant in crevices of the stone border seem to shine with a special clarity – time and space exchange their scale.

After Mr Johnston donated the property to the National Trust, while he was welcome to use it and visit, he thought the experience spoiled by the presence of so many visitors.  So he never returned,and devoted his energies to his garden in the south of France, Serre de la Madone, which he started work on in 1924 an remained there until his death in 1958.  He devised that property to Nancy Lindsay, the daughter of his good friend Norah Lindsay.  It passed through the hands of a succession of owners, but in 1999 it was acquired by the Conservatoire du Littoral, with contributions from the town of Menton, the Conseil Général des Alpes-Maritimes, the Conseil Régional (Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur) and the foundation Electricité de France.

Perhaps there’s a trip to the Côte d’Azur in our future …

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We spent a little time exploring Chipping Campden and had lunch there, then drove on to see one of England’s wineries, Three Choirs Vineyards near Newent, Gloucestershire.  Given the northern climate and lacking the requisite number of growing degree days, most vinifera don’t grow very well, so the wines were made using a variety of hybrids, many unfamiliar to us — Madeline Angevine, Phoenix, Reichensteiner, Solaris, Rondo, Regent, Triomphe, Orion, Schonburger, Siegerrebe.  The trellising system was novel, with but two wires supporting the massive cordons.

With that it was back to the car an on to the city of Bath, a World Heritage site.  Bath is known for its Georgian architecture and the ancient Roman baths at its heart.

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Can The California Drought Get Any Worse? Sadly, Yes.

Approximate location of maximum subsidence in the U.S., identified by research efforts of Dr. Joseph F. Poland (pictured). Signs on pole show approximate altitude of land surface in 1925, 1955, and 1977. The site is in the San Joaquin Valley southwest of Mendota, CA.

Approximate location of maximum subsidence in the U.S., identified by research efforts of Dr. Joseph F. Poland (pictured). Signs on pole show approximate altitude of land surface in 1925, 1955, and 1977. The site is in the San Joaquin Valley southwest of Mendota, CA.  Image and caption courtesy of the California Water Science Center.

Can the news from California about the drought really get any worst?  Short answer: “yes.”

Two recent items caught our attention.  One from the Paso Robles Daily News: “Seawater threatens Central Coast’s Water Supply,” by Scott Brennan, 4 August 2014).  This story describes how groundwater supplies in the Central Coast (from Monterey down to Oxnard — this includes the Paso Robles and Santa Barbara wine regions) are experiencing saltwater intrusion from overdrafting of the aquifers there.  The farmers in that part of California rely more on well water than surface water because it is not readily available to them, since most of the available surface water primarily goes to the Central Valley and the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco.  More than 80 percent of the region relies exclusively on groundwater.

Seawater intrusion into freshwater aquifers is a growing problem in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, the Eastern Shores of Virginia and Maryland and many other coastal areas resulting from an increase in sea level due to climate or land subsidence.

Anyone with more than a passing interest in the subject of California’s drought is by now familiar with the U.S. Drought Monitor’s ever more dire map showing drought conditions in the state.  An update is published each Thursday, and repeated by the media in the days that follow.  This week’s report shows that nearly 60 percent of the state is in exceptional drought.

What the Drought Monitor doesn’t measure is groundwater.  The second eye-opener was a study recently published in Geophysical Research Letters,Groundwater Depletion During Drought Threatens Future Water Security of the Colorado River Basin” used satellite data to measure groundwater loss in the Colorado River Basin, the river system that supplies water to much of the Southwest, including Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas among others — some 40 million people and 4 million acres of farmland.  The NASA-managed satellite program analyzed data from December 2004 to November 2013 and found that the region had lost nearly 53 million acre-feet of water.  Seventy-seven percent of that loss was groundwater (as noted in one story on the matter, this is enough water to supply the entire country for eight years).  The study measured change in mass over time to reach this terrible conclusion.  What they are unable to determine is how much water remains.

Unsustainable groundwater draws result in what we see pictured here: land subsidence, which is a problem all over the United States, but especially in parts of California.  Draws on groundwater in the Central Valley of California, for example, is causing extreme subsidence such as that pictured here.  The collapsing ground is creating all sorts of infrastructure problems.  Some commentators seem to think that groundwater recharges like a sponge — it rains and the aquifer soaks it up, but in some cases the water is ancient — in some cases, called “fossil water,” as is the case of the Ogallala Aquifer under much of the Central United States.  The recharge rate of that aquifer is believed to be one half an inch per year.  This is so low, it is essentially non-rechargeable.  Meanwhile farmers and others in the Plains states (and in California) are drilling deeper and deeper wells to reach water.

With the land subsiding, surely storage capacity is compromised as the formerly water-filled soil collapses unto itself. .See, for example, “In California, Demand for Groundwater Causing Huge Swaths of Land to Sink,” by Julie Schmit (National Geographic Daily News, 25 March 2014).

Other commentators are now raising what some may consider unthinkable: mass-migration of people out of California, because the Nation needs to appreciate that the state simply does not have the water resources to sustain the number of people living there now.  Another sobering statistic: one-third of produce consumed in the United States is grown in California’s Central Valley.  That food production will need to go somewhere, and it appears to this writer that fertile farmland in the East is an increasingly more valuable commodity.  The wine business, of course, will wither like everything else.

We may be experiencing another Dust Bowl, and its been said before, but California is, after all, a desert, and we easily lose sight of that because of the bounty produced there by water from other places.  A recent editorial in The Los Angeles Times mentioned that 80 percent of the water consumed in Los Angeles comes from elsewhere, and more must be done to conserve and use what they have intelligently, such as using greywater systems to capture water used for washing, for example.  There are some hard choices to be made here, and the sooner the better.

Praying for rain does not qualify as action, but really, what are the options?  One option is building desalinization plants; one to the tune of $1 billion is under construction in Carlsbad and will provide 50 million gallons of water per day in San Diego County (there are 14 more plants proposed between San Diego and San Francisco).  This sounds like a lot of water, but it will provide only seven percent of water needs for the county.  And there is a recurring problem with them — primarily cost, but there are objections for environmental reasons.  Plants are taken off-line when cheaper water sources become available, and its happened time and again in California (in Santa Barbara one was built in the early 1990s and never used because the rains returned; in Sand City on the Monterey peninsula, there is a plant that produces 300 acre feet of water per year), and more recently in Australia, where six new plants were built but four closed in 2009 when their drought ended.

It may seem extreme, but drought has caused other civilizations to collapse — recall the history of the Maya in Mesoamerica, the Anasazi in the southwest,  among others.  Jared Diamond examined these and other examples in his book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (New York: Viking Penguin, 2005).  There’s much to learn from these cautionary tales.  For those not wanting to read the book in its entirety, an excellent review appears here.  From this vantage point, long-term sustainability as far as water is concerned in California appears to be a pipe dream, and it is time to wake up.  If this is the start of a mega-drought as some scientists fear, there isn’t much choice in the matter.

 

A Stop by Blenheim Palace, then on to the Cotswolds.

Blenheim

We needed to get from Cambridge to the Cotswolds, and among In the gorgeous rolling countryside between them lie innumerable interesting sights.  We needed a stopping point, and really having seen Cambridge there was no reason to see Oxford (with apologies to graduates of that esteemed institution, but to us it would be more of the same).  But outside of Oxford is a town called Woodstock, and close to Woodstock is the extraordinary estate called Blenheim Palace.

Blenheim is the only English country house that is not royal or ecclesiastical to be called a “palace”, and it was deemed so important to the nation that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.  It was built as a gift to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough by a grateful nation for his triumph in the Battle of Blenheim during the War of the Spanish Succession, which put an end to aspirations of European dominance by Louis XIV of France.  The house is also notable for being the ancestral home of Sir Winston Churchill.  Reportedly Adolph Hitler gave orders that it not be bombed, because he intended to occupy it himself should Germany prevail in World War II.

Built in the curious, grandious English Baroque style, the palace was designed by Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor.  Vanbrugh had been selected by the Duke, but his wife Sarah Jennings wanted Sir Christopher Wren, the architect of Saint Paul’s in London; the two were often at loggerheads, and in the end the building was completed by Hawksmoor and Vanbrugh was not allowed on the property.  This Baroque style quickly fell out of favor and was replaced with the Palladianism that is so recognizable and remains popular on both sides of the pond.

The Gardens.

Henry Wise designed the original garden in an Anglo-Dutch Baroque manner with a decided military cast, with mock fortifications and regimented parterres.  After the first Duke died in 1722, his widow Sarah impounded the River Glyme and built a triumphal bridge over it.  In 1764, the 4th Duke commissioned Lancelot “Capability” Brown, then at the height of his fame, who transformed the park by making the canal into a serpentine lake.  He also naturalized the woods, designed a cascade and placed clumps of trees in strategic positions to enhance the landscape.  During the 1930s, the 9th Duke replanted a ‘military’ avenue of trees east of the palace and commissioned Achille Duchêne to design a water parterre west of the palace.

Built more as a monument, the architecture is, in a word, overwhelming in its pomp and power.  With its 2,000 acres and 187 rooms, its a bit much to manage and pay for.  For a “peek behind the curtain,” and a history of the personalities that have loved the place, have a look at this article that appeared in Vanity Fair (June 2011), “Magnificent Obsession: Blenheim Palace.”

From Blenheim Palace, we were on our way to the Three Ways House Hotel in the village of Micklton near Chipping Campden in the Cotswolds, home of the illustrious Pudding Club, where we had a table booked for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant.  Very traditional (but fresh) British food was the order of the day, of course.  The Cotswolds is a garden spot, as we’ll see on a visit the next day to one of the most famous gardens in the world, Hidcote.

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