A Whirlwind Visit to Hartford and Worcester.

Hill-Stead.
Hill-Stead, Farmington, Connecticut.

We were taken up by a whirlwind this past weekend.  We made a truly quick trip to New England for a niece’s graduation from the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.  Departing early on Saturday, we arrived in Hartford, Connecticut around 10 am.  Not often in this part of the world, we resolved to do a little sightseeing that day.

Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine is in North Grafton, just east of Worcester, Massachusetts.  There are LOTS of colleges and universities in the vicinity, so getting a hotel room proved near impossible, so we elected to stay in Hartford and drive.  Not a bad drive; it was just one hour away.

Saturday: Hartford, Connecticut.

Hartford is what you would expect from a New England city — a little gritty, some parts charming, others clearly run-down, and still others just ancient.  Our first stop, however, was not in Hartford, but a town about 20 minutes west called Farmington.

Farmington is one of those painfully precious New England villages, with streets lined with quirky grand houses, some with parts dating from the late 1600s to the 1920s — lots of clapboard and shutters, impeccably maintained and too charming for words.  Greek Revival seemed to be the dominant theme, which was popular during the early Republic (c. 1820-1850).  We took a turn down Main Street assuming we’d find businesses there, only to find more grand houses and Miss Porter’s School, the world renown all female college preparatory school (Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis is one of its more fabled alumnae (class of 1947), as was Theodate Pope Riddle (class of 1888) (more on her below)).  So we doubled back to Farmington Avenue and had a perfectly prepared pizza and a wonderful salad at the first place we came across, Naples Pizza.

Hill-Stead Sign

We were in Farmington to see Hill-Stead, the country seat of Theodate Pope Riddle (1867-1946), the builder and founder of what is now the Hill-Stead Museum.  The house is one of the best preserved Colonial Revival houses in America, and one of the first to be called Colonial Revival, and possesses a notable art collection.

Theodate designed and built Hill-Stead for her parents, Alfred Pope and Ada Brooks Pope.  Alfred made a fortune in the iron business and accumulated a significant art collection that includes works by Degas, Monet, Manet, Cassatt and Whistler, among others, all displayed where the family hung them.  Theodate specified in her voluminous will (we were told it was 83 pages long) that nothing should ever leave the collection, nothing should be added to it, nor should any of the works ever travel, and the house is to remain exactly as she left it.  It’s a comfortable and commodious dwelling, designed to lay lightly on the land, as if it had always been there.  When the house was finished she inquired of local farmers and purchased mature trees to transplant around the house so it looked like it had always been there.

Jockeys (1886) by Edgar Degas.  Collection of Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, Connecticut.
Jockeys (1886) by Edgar Degas. Collection of Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, Connecticut.

She was among the earliest women architects in the United States.  She was licensed to practice in New York and Connecticut, and became a member of the American Institute of Architects in 1918.  All but one of her buildings still stand.

Theodate survived the sinking of the R.M.S. Lusitania in 1915, rather dramatically being brought to a morgue and presumed dead but for an attendant noticing the fluttering of an eyelash.  A year later she married (at the age of 49) diplomat John Wallace Riddle (1864-1941).  They traveled widely and adopted several children.  Hers was a full and happy life.

Hill-Stead Garden Gate
Garden Gate at Hill-Stead.

From there we made our way back to Hartford to visit The Mark Twain House & Museum. This is the house where Twain (Samuel Clemens (1835-1910)) moved in 1871 after his marriage to Olivia Langdon to a house built with his wife’s money.  He wrote his best known works there: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), The Prince and the Pauper (1881), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884).

Lego Mark Twain.
Lego Mark Twain.

The house (built with funds from his wife’s inheritance) was designed by New York architect Edward Tuckerman Potter in a dark, brooding, heavy style that defies categorization.  If you were to call it anything, it could be called Victorian Gothic Revival, though truthfully it calls to mind the later scenes of Gone With The Wind (1939); recall the dark, dark house Scarlett O’Hara had built in Atlanta where she took a tumble down the ruby red carpeted stairs during a fight with Rhett Butler.  Twain once wrote “How ugly, tasteless, repulsive are all the domestic interiors I have seen in Europe compared with the perfect taste of this ground floor.”  (this from the Mark Twain House website.)  Photography is prohibited, but we found images online — they don’t capture how brooding, dark and oppressive it is.  It’s a curious thing, and one comes away feeling you know less about Twain than you did before, not more.  The museum attached to the house may fill that gap, but we didn’t have the time (or patience) to spend time in it.

Mark Twain House
The Mark Twain House.
Entrance Hall.  Image courtesy of Rebloggy, a Tumblr architecture blog.
Entrance Hall of Mark Twain House. Image courtesy of Rebloggy, a Tumblr architecture blog.

That night we had dinner at Trumbull Kitchen, a restaurant just steps from Bushnell Park in dowtown Hartford.  Eclectic, fresh and lively — highly recommended.

***

Sunday: Worcester, Massachusetts.

Bancroft Tower, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Bancroft Tower, Worcester, Massachusetts.

The graduation ceremony was in the afternoon and we needed to be in Worcester by 11 am for brunch, so we headed over to Glastonbury to have a massive breakfast at Ken’s Corner Breakfast & Lunch.  This is one of those neighborhood places that excel in short-order goodness — on the specials list were things like Nutella stuffed French Toast.  We opted for eggs, bacon, sourdough toast, served with two pancakes as large as your head.  All perfect.

We arrived in Worcester a bit early, so we drove around a bit to take in the sights.  We found Bancroft Tower, a quirky Romanesque structure built in 1900 in Salisbury Park by Stephen Salisbury, III as a memorial to Worcester native George Bancroft (1800-1891), who as Secretary of War was responsible for the land-grab that brought into the United States the land that became California, Texas and the Pacific Northwest.  Bancroft was Secretary of the Navy, the founder of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, and served as Ambassador to Great Britain and to Germany.  One used to be able to climb to the top to take in the view, but the thing is now shuttered.  Still, go see it in all its quirky majesty.

Salisbury Mansion.
Salisbury Mansion.

Stephen Salisbury, III (1835-1905) was (naturally) the grandson of the Stephen Salisbury I (1746-1829), whose Georgian-style house (constructed in 1772) stands on the grounds of the Worcester Historical Museum.  The house is closed on Sundays but we walked by and had a look.  We’re told that it’s the best document house museum in New England.

The decor and the wine list at Boynton Restaurant and Spirits are nothing to write home about, but the food is absolutely stellar, and a great value for the presentation.  It was a great surprise.  Seafood is a real standout.

And finally, on to the Commencement at Tufts, which was outdoors under a tent, and but for the occasional breeze, a bit stifling in the 80+ degree weather.  The speeches might not have seemed so long if the weather was more clement, but the overall tenor was one of self-congratulation by the faculty, not congratulation to the graduates.  When it finally came time to hand out the diplomas, we had to hit the road to make our flight back to Washington.  Still, it was a great trip — we learned something, saw new things, and had some really great meals.

Tufts Colors.
Tufts Colors.

***

Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, Connecticut.

Hill-Stead Museum, 35 Mountain Road, Farmington, CT 06032 (860) 677.4787

The Mark Twain House & Museum, 351 Farmington Avenue, Hartford, CT 06105 (860) 247.0998

Naples Pizza, 838 Farmington Avenue, Ste 7, Farmington, CT 06032-2351 (860) 674.8876

Trumbull Kitchen, 150 Trumbull Street, Hartford, CT 06103 (860) 493.7412

Ken’s Corner Breakfast & Lunch, 50 Hebron Road, Glastonbury, CT 06033 (860) 657.9811

The Boynton Restaurant & Spirits, 117 Highland Street, Worcester, MA 01609 (508) 756.8458

Boiled Lobster at The Boynton Restaurant, Worcester, Massachusetts.
Boiled Lobster at The Boynton Restaurant, Worcester, Massachusetts.

A New Release: Annefield Vineyards Vermentino 2014.

Vermentino

Think citrus freshness, limes, preserved lemon, a touch of green apple — racy acidity combined with a robust structure, and finished with a slightly salty tang. Lean and crisp, this wine cries out for seafood. 

At long last, we have released our first vintage of Vermentino.  We had just a small crop in 2013 and it ended up in that year’s White blend.  In 2014, we produced just enough to make a single varietal wine.

We learned of its potential in Virginia from Joyce Rigby, who we consulted some time ago when we contemplated turning our dairy barn into a winery  (bottom line: it’s too small).  Joyce’s husband is Stephen Rigby, who was once winemaker at Ingleside Vineyards, and when we were working with Joyce he was winemaker at Raffaldini Vineyards in North Carolina.  They removed to Pennsylvania a few years ago and Stephen is now winemaker at Hauser Estate Winery outside of Gettysburg.

Joyce gave us a sample of Raffaldini’s Vermentino; we were smitten and immediately resolved to grow it.  We had that opportunity when we expanded our Arrowhead vineyard in 2011.  Incidentally, we call it “Arrowhead” because of a Sapponi Indian arrowhead our vineyard consultant, Paul Mierzejewski, found there — and coincidentally, Paul once told us that Stephen Rigby was one of the finest winemakers he knows.

The lovely thing about this grape is that it produces large berries in loose clusters — perfect for our hot, humid Continental climate.  Which makes sense for a grape that thrives in Italy.  Two other Virginia wineries with an Italian flavor grow it: Barboursville Vineyards has done very well with it, and we’ve heard Villa Appalaccia grows it, but they don’t offer the wine on their website and we haven’t tried it.   Moss Vineyards near Charlottesville also grows it, but it appears they haven’t made a wine yet.

So for now, there’s just the two of us.  Barboursville’s success with it will no doubt encourage others to plant it.  We are concerned that the vine seems to have flagged with the last two cold winters.  We’re hopeful that it will be at home on these shores, the last two winters be damned.  The vines are still young and not fully established, which may have something to do with it.

We left a sample with one of our wholesale clients, who wrote in an email, “I have not enjoyed a white wine this much in quite some time!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for the kindness! Not too sweet, not too tart, a hint of effervescence, crisp with a little bit of zow…keep doing what you are doing on this one!!”

After fulfilling spring wine club shipments and sending samples to assorted wine competitions and the press, we are left with 55 cases, which we expect to move primarily in wholesale.  We aren’t pouring it in the tasting room just yet, so if you want to try it, you’ll need to ask for it or order it online.  With orders of six or more bottles of any wine, shipping is on us.

The Growing Season Thus Far.

Tractor and SprayerWe started our weekly spray regimen last week.  It isn’t really a “dirty secret,” but fungicides are a fact of life for eastern United States winegrowers.   Constant, relentless moisture and legendary humidity make for a perfect environment for the cultivation of not only grapes and many other delicious things, but for fungal bodies, too.  California’s arid climate is a plus in that regard (though lately with the water crisis, not so much), and the near absence of humidity allows growers there to grow organically and even biodynamically with ease; here, its a struggle, and growing biodynamically is impossible because only chemical means can control the dreaded Guignardia bidwellii — the source of the dreaded Black Rot.

OUr run-of-the-mill diseases include downy mildew and powdery mildew; there so many others, some affect the leaves, others the fruit (anthracnose) or the canes (phomopsis), still others the woody parts (like crown gall, which, unlike the others is caused by a bacterium and is not a fungus).

Even organic growers use certain fungicides, mainly sulfur and copper; there are other things are approved for organic production, like neem oil.  These have the added advantage of being relatively inexpensive; some of our fungicides cost over $1,000 per quart or pound.  Mercifully these are applied ounces per acre, but still, it adds up.

Some are so toxic that to use them one must have a commercial applicator’s license.  Our own rule is if a substance is that toxic, we won’t use and will find an alternative, and there always seems to be one.

Early in the season before our subtropical climate manifests itself, the days and nights are truly glorious.  The dogwoods are in flower, tulips are fading (their prime was a couple of weeks ago), the azaleas are out in full force, foliage on trees looks fresh (because it is fresh) and the grapes really show their promise.  Now you can see how fruitful the vines are going to be this season, barring disaster — a late-season frost or a hailstorm being the possible culprits.  We aren’t out of the woods on possible frost events until about May 15, so until then, fingers crossed!

How do things look so far?  The Viognier is stellar — its never looked so fruitful.  So too the Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  The Pinot Gris is looking great, as is the Vidal Blanc.  Our poor Vermentino, though, appears to have suffered this winter.  There are buds, but they are not as plentiful as any of the other varieties.  Is cold-hardiness an issue?  Coming from Italy, a couple of Polar Vortexes might be too much for it.  But then many in a row succumbed simultaneously, which suggests that those in a bundle were of similar quality which suggests there was an issue with whoever did the grafting.  Was it over-cropped last season?  For such a young planting (2011), it did produce a fair amount of fruit in 2014.  Many vines did not make it through the winter, and we’ve placed an order for replacements, but they won’t be here until 2017.  This business definitely calls for patience.Tractor View

Cooper Pondside

Fortuny, Proust, Huysmans and a Recipe: Marinated Beet and Blackberry Salad.

These Fortuny gowns, faithfully antique but markedly original…

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1913).

Three Adopted Daughters of Isadora Duncan in Fortuny Delphos Gowns, c. 1920.
Three adopted daughters of Isadora Duncan in Fortuny Delphos Gowns, c. 1920.

While planning a dinner at Annefield this past weekend, our thoughts turned to an unlikely inspiration for one of the dishes on the menu, Joris-Karl Huysmans’ À rebours (1884) an eccentric and decadent work of fiction.  That coupled with news that a friend successfully completed her PhD thesis about the work of Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871-1949), the Spanish-Venetian artist, and the French author Marcel Proust (1871-1922) inspired this exploration of the work of these three artists.

It’s an interesting coincidence that both Fortuny and Proust were born in 1871, the conventional starting date for the Belle Époque — that time between the end of the Franco-Prussian War and the first World War that became known in retrospect (after the horror of two World Wars) as “the Beautiful Age.”  In most of Europe it was a time of peace, stability, prosperity, and rapid technological advancement.  Stateside, the equivalent was called “The Gilded Age.”

Our friends’ thesis, Historical Fantasies: Fortuny and the Fine Arts explores the interrelationship of the work of Fortuny, the clothing, lighting and stage designer (who was also an accomplished photographer, painter and inventor) with the work of his contemporary, Marcel Proust.  The thesis is more complex and wide reaching than that and brings in contributions and observations by many other artists and philosophers, such as Georges MélièsIsadora DuncanRoland Barthes and Walter Benjamin.  We will focus on this curious and intriguing relationship of color and texture, light and shadow, time and history — and how these two artists used them.

Both Fortuny and Proust had a genius for layering — Fortuny for layering light, shadow and color in just about everything he did while finding inspiration in history and bringing it to life (in both fashion and in the theater); and Proust, for intricately layering past upon the present in his masterwork, In Search of Lost Time (1913).  The study of the relationship of these two artists and the themes in their work lets us look at the fluidity of time in modern life.

Fortuny is the only “character” in Proust’s novel with a real-life name and identity, though actually its the dresses that are the characters, depicted as signs of ostentatious wealth in one passage, as a sign of erotic display in another; the Fortuny dress in Proust’s work becomes a link between eroticism and art, recalling the Venetian Republic of Veronese and Tiepolo — a Venice suffused with light, vibrant color and desire.

Fortuny and Proust shared a close connection, for in 1899 Fortuny’s uncle Raymundo de Madrazo married Maria Hahn, the sister of Proust’s friend (and reported lover) Reynaldo Hahn, the Venezuelan composer.  We know that in 1916 Proust wrote to Maria from the Boulevard Haussman with a series of questions.  he particularly wanted to know whether or not Fortuny had ever used as motifs “for his dressing gowns … those coupled birds, drinking for example from a vase, which are so recurrent on the Byzantine capitals in St. Mark’s.”  And if so, did she know  whether there are pictures in Venice (I should like a few titles) showing cloaks or dresses from which Fortuny drew (or might have drawn) inspiration.”  This she confirmed, and Proust penned the passage about Albertine’s gold and blue Fortuny gown, “the tempting phantom of that invisible Venice . . . like the columns from which the oriental birds that symbolized alternately life and death were repeated in the shimmering fabric . . . .”

Like the theatrical designs of Sert, Bakst and Benois, who at that moment were re-creating in the Russian Ballet the most cherished periods of art with the aids of works of art impregnated with their spirit and yet original, these Fortuny gowns, faithfully antique but markedly original, brought before the eye like a stage décor, and an even greater evocative power since the décor was left to the imagination, that Venice saturated with oriental splendor where they would have been worn and of which they constituted, even more than a relic in the shrine of St. Mark, evocative as they were of the sunlight and the surrounding turbans, the fragmented, mysterious and complementary colour.

He explained to Maria that the leitmotif was “not very extensive,” but “crucial” and “partly sensual, poetic and sorrowful.”  His intention was for the Narrator to equate the Fortuny gowns with his love for Albertine; and after Albertine’s death when he is finally able to go to Venice, he chances upon a painting that contains one of the very dresses he had given her.  “In the past this dress evoked Venice and made me want to leave Albertine; now … it evokes Albertine and makes Venice painful to me.”  See William C. Carter, Marcel Proust: A Life (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013, pp. 615-616).

Paolo Veronese, "The Marriage at Cana" (1563) Musee du Louvre, Paris.
Paolo Veronese, “The Marriage at Cana” (1563) Musee du Louvre, Paris.

Albertine, Marcel’s lover, not only reserves a place for Fortuny gowns in her wardrobe but in her imagination.  When gazing at Albertine wearing a gold and blue Fortuny gown, it seems to Marcel “the tempting phantom of that invisible Venice. It was overrun by Arab ornamentation, like Venice, like the Venetian palaces hidden like sultan’s wives behind a screen of perforated stone, like the bindings in the Ambrosian Library, like the columns from which the oriental birds that symbolized alternately life and death were repeated in the shimmering fabric, of an intense blue which, as my eyes drew nearer, turned into a malleable gold by those same mutations which, before an advancing gondola, change into gleaming metal the azure of the Grand Canal.  And the sleeves were lined with a cherry pink which is so peculiarly Venetian that it is called Tiepolo pink.

— Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1913).

Giambattista Tiepolo, “Apollo in his Sun Chariot driving Beatrice I (1145-84) to Frederick I Barbarossa (1122-90)” (c.1751-52), detail from the ceiling of the Imperial Room (fresco), Wurzburg Residenz, Germany.

Gianbattista Tiepolo, "Giovane con pappagallo" (1760) Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Tiepolo, “Giovane con Pappagallo” (1760) Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.


According to biographies in the Encyclopedia Brittanica and elsewhere, Fortuny sought to control all aspects of his designs.  For the theater he created innovative lighting techniques, and when working in textiles he invented his own fabric dyes and printing processes.

In 1892 he developed a revolutionary indirect lighting system that transformed bulky stage scenery and obsolete gas lamps, dramatically changing stagecraft.  He invented, among many other influential devices, the dimmer switch (imagine, if you will, life without them).

His knowledge of chemistry and painting led to experiments with color, resulting in the creation of one-of-a-kind silks and velvets inspired by the rich and heady artistic heritage of Venice. Between 1901 and 1933 he registered twenty-two patents, all related to garments and printing methods.

Paolo Veronese, "The Marriage at Cana" (1563) Detail.  Note the fabric draped over the table behind the hounds, and compare it to the pillows below.
Veronese, “The Marriage at Cana” (1563) detail. Note the fabric draped over the table behind the hounds, and compare it to the fabric on the pillows below.
Vintage Fortuny Pillows.  Image courtesy of RSP Design Services, Addison, Texas.
Vintage Fortuny Pillows, c. 1960. Image courtesy of RSP Design Services, Addison, Texas.

We have some insight into Fortuny’s thoughts about his theater work from an entry in the diary of Count Harry Kessler (1868-1937), that patron of the arts who seemed to have known just about every creative person in Europe during the Belle Époque.

On 22 January 1909, Kessler dined with Fortuny in Paris and recorded highlights of their conversation in his diary.  Parts of his extensive diaries have been published in English in Journey to the Abyss: The Diaries of Count Harry Kessler, 1880-1918, edited and translated by Laird M. Easton (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011, p. 479).  For those unfamiliar with the “impossibly sophisticated” Kessler, a review of the book appears here.

22 January 1909, Paris.  Invited Fortuny to dinner.  He spoke of his investigations into theater lighting.  For example, he’s convinced that the lighting effects achieved with candles under Louis XIV had been much more splendid than those of today, although the real brightness had been only one hundredth as much.  The candle lighter had been a true artist who, with agility and his feeling for light had played on the candles like a virtuoso on a Stradivarius.  Then about theater design.  The core of a theater is the dividing line between the public and the stage.  The first theater was created the first time a storyteller stretched a cord between himself and his public as a barrier.  On one side gradually the audience piled up more and more seats, on the other the stage rose up. Wagner’s mystical abyss is the glorified cord of the storyteller. Each theater design that does not proceed from this starting point is flawed from the beginning.  He asked me to see if Hofmannsthal would write the preface for the German edition of his book.  I promised as well to make inquiries with Insel Verlag.

He spoke then of his difficulties in Berlin.  Stage lighting in Germany is in the hands of engineers instead of artists.  When he saw his apparatus handled by Brandt, it always seemed to him as if Stradivarius had given his violins to his wood chopper, who delivered his wood, for him to play.  He asked me to come with him early tomorrow morning to Madame de Béarn in order to see his “heaven” and promised to show me as well a Greek dress that was made exactly after the model of the chiton of the Delphic wagon guide.

Fortuny was, without question, an artistic genius.  His ceaseless curiosity led him to excel in numerous interests, all connected to the arts. His training in Germany in physics and chemistry put him in good stead when he turned his attention to painting, which in turn led to etching, sculpture, photography, lighting design, theater direction, set design, architecture, and costume design, and ultimately his role as the creator of extraordinary textiles and clothing.

Fortuny textiles are still fabricated in Venice, where his methods are jealously guarded by the company.  We visited the factory on a trip to Venice a couple of years ago, and while touring the garden behind the factory, we spied workers in an upstairs room quickly and conspicuously closing the drapes, lest we discover some of their secrets.

Rooftop view of the Fortuny Factory, Venice.
Rooftop view of the Fortuny Factory, Venice (in foreground).

There is, however slender, a connection between Joris-Karl Huysmans, Proust and Fortuny.  Des Esseintes is said to be based partly on Huysmans himself, and partly on the notorious aristocratic aesthete  Robert de Montesquiou, who was also the inspiration for Baron de Charlus in Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.

We thought of Fortuny and his Fin de siècle contemporaries while planning a dinner party this past weekend.  This may seem a strange leap to some, but the fantasmagoric and at times breathless and theatrical imagery found in Huysmans’ novel, À rebours (1884), reminds us of the great designer and his tête-à-tête with Proust.  Huysmans’ description of a funeral feast staged by his character Jean des Esseintes during which dark-hued food is served on black-bordered plates by “naked negresses wearing shoes and stockings of cloth of silver besprinkled with tears” is just too, too much (and for your pleasure, excerpted below).  Inspiration for our Spring Bacchanalia, perhaps?  Join us and see!

If we were to have such a decadent and theatrical dinner, here’s an exotic and dark dish to include. The inspiration was a lunch we enjoyed at Trump Winery last summer, where a smoked beet salad with blackberries accompanied the main; here’s our interpretation of it.  We chose to roast the beets in the oven, but if you want smoked beets, wrap them in foil and cook them with a charcoal grill, nestling the beets among the coals.

Marinated Beet and Berry Salad.

Marinated Beet and Blackberry Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds red beets, trimmed and scrubbed
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 3 black peppercorns
  • 6 ounces blackberries
  • 6 ounces raspberries

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F
  2. Rub beets with 1 tablespoon olive oil and place in a baking dish.  Cover and steam until beets are tender, 40 to 50 minutes (or if not using a baking dish, simply wrap loosely in foil).
  3. Allow beets to cool.  Rub off the skins with paper towels; cut beets into 1/2″ wedges.
  4. Make a vinaigrette with 1/4 cup vinegar, remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, sugar, cloves, and peppercorns in a large bowl; toss with the beets and diced onion and season with salt.  Let marinate at least two hours, or cover and refrigerate for up to two days.
  5. If chilled, remove from the refrigerator one hour before serving.  Toss with washed berries, and serve.

Serves six.  We paired this with a Kellerei Kaltern Schiava 2013 from Alto Adige, Trentino, Italy, a fruity light red that perfectly complemented this salad..

He won a great reputation as an eccentric,–a reputation he crowned by adopting a costume of black velvet worn with a gold-fringed waistcoat and sticking by way of cravat a bunch of Parma violets in the opening of a very low-necked shirt. Then he would invite parties of literary friends to dinners that set all the world talking. In one instance in particular, modelling the entertainment on a banquet of the eighteenth century, he had organized a funeral feast in celebration of the most unmentionable of minor personal calamities. The dining-room was hung with black and looked out on a strangely metamorphosed garden, the walks being strewn with charcoal, the little basin in the middle of the lawn bordered with a rim of black basalt and filled with ink; and the ordinary shrubs superseded by cypresses and pines. The dinner itself was served on a black cloth, decorated with baskets of violets and scabiosae and illuminated by candelabra in which tall tapers flared.

While a concealed orchestra played funeral marches, the guests were waited on by naked negresses wearing shoes and stockings of cloth of silver besprinkled with tears.

The viands were served on black-bordered plates,–turtle soup, Russian black bread, ripe olives from Turkey, caviar, mule steaks, Frankfurt smoked sausages, game dished up in sauces coloured to resemble liquorice water and boot-blacking, truffles in jelly, chocolate-tinted creams, puddings, nectarines, fruit preserves, mulberries and cherries. The wines were drunk from dark-tinted glasses,–wines of the Limagne and Roussillon vintages, wines of Tenedos, the Val de Penas and Oporto. After the coffee and walnuts came other unusual beverages, kwas, porter and stout.

The invitations, which purported to be for a dinner in pious memory of the host’s (temporarily) lost virility, were couched in the regulation phraseology of letters summoning relatives to attend the obsequies of a defunct kinsman.

But these extravagances, that had once been his boast, had died a natural death; nowadays his only feeling was one of self-contempt to remember these puerile and out-of-date displays of eccentricity,–the extraordinary clothes he had donned and the grotesque decorations he had lavished on his house. His only thought henceforth was to arrange, for his personal gratification only and no longer in order to startle other people, a home that should be comfortable, yet at the same time rich and rare in its appointments, to contrive himself a peaceful and exquisitely organized abode, specially adapted to meet the exigencies of the solitary life he proposed to lead.

 Joris-Karl Huysmans, À rebours (1884).

James McNeill Whistler, Portrait of Marie Joseph Robert Anatole, Comte de Montesquiou-Fezensac, "Arrangement in Black and Gold" (1892) Frick Collection, New York City.
James McNeill Whistler, Portrait of Marie Joseph Robert Anatole, Comte de Montesquiou-Fezensac, “Arrangement in Black and Gold” (1892) Frick Collection, New York City.

High Anxiety About Low Groundwater.

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of attending Sans Soucy Vineyards‘ annual Spring Lamb Feast and had a chance to chat with one of the owners, Paul Anctil (the other owner being his wife, Jackie).  Paul writes the Regional Report column about Southern Virginia for the Virginia Vineyards Association’s quarterly newsletter, Grape Press.

Paul mentioned his concern for a water deficit he’s noticed, which he wrote about in his column:

During the months of November, December, January and February, my part of Virginia has historically received 3.66, 3.3, 3.28 and 3.01 inches [of rain] respectively.  What was recorded in 2014-2015 was 2.86, 1.94, 1.94 and 2.55 inches.  That translates into a 9.29 inches instead of the normal 13.25.  Starting the growing season with a water deficit is in the category of “anxiety.”

A glance at the U.S. Drought Monitor for 7 April 2015 does show that the eastern half of Southern Virginia is currently “abnormally dry.”  This is not a cause for panic yet, and most vineyards in Virginia are “dry farmed,” which promotes deep-rooted vines that can (and do) go down over 20 feet to reach water.  Still, more water over the winter is better — let’s hope it isn’t foreshadowing of something to come.

Drought Monitor Virginia 4-7-2015


anx·i·e·ty 

[aNGˈzīədē/]  noun — a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.


But that had us thinking about ground water reserves, especially as it relates to California’s perilous state in during this relentless drought.  Sorry for revisiting this so soon, but our obsession with the subject is personal — California is home, but the bigger picture calls for remembering that California produces nearly half of the nation’s produce and nearly all of such things as almonds and walnuts.

Without surface water to draw on, many farmers in California’s Central Valley are relying on ground water, which even before this crisis began was being seriously depleted.  The press, while noting the severity of the situation, does not get into the nitty-gritty details of what it actually means to recharge an aquifer.  At times those interviewed make it sound like its just a matter of the water percolating into the ground (which on one level is correct), but they fails to note or don’t appreciate that it takes generations for the water to form that reservoir.  Some aquifers are so old that they are referred to as “fossil water,” because those reserves are tens of thousands of years old.  That’s the case of much of the Ogallala Aquifer underlying much of the midwest.  One source (Wikipedia) notes that it would take about 6,000 years for that aquifer to be replenished through rainfall.

It’s complicated science, but let’s give it a go.  No need to repeat the findings verbatim; we’ll summarize what we view as the more important observations or conclusions.

We start with an early study on ground water in the Central Valley of California, “Ground Water in the Central Valley, California — A Summary Report,” by Gilbert L. Bertoldi, Richand H. Johnston and K.D. Evernson (U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1401-A, 1991).  The report notes that

In the San Joaquin Valley from the 1940’s to the late 1960’s, substantial withdrawals of ground water were accompanied by hundreds of feet of head decline.  This head decline caused inelastic compaction of fine-grained beds, resulting in land subsidence that is unequaled anywhere in the world.  More than one-half of the San Joaquin Valley (or about 5,200 square miles) underwent subsidence of more than 1 foot.  In one location, subsidence exceeded 29 feet.

That particular report provided an overview of the hydrogeology of the Valley, described the mechanics of the ground water flow system, gave a history of ground water development, and described the chemical composition of the water (this to explain its quality).

A later paper edited by Claudia C. Faunt, “Groundwater Availability of the Central Valley Aquifer, California (U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1766, 2009) describes the big-picture “water budget” of the Central Valley aquifer, and concluded that on average there is a net deficit (water in/water out) of 1.4 million acre feet/year.  An acre foot is defined as the volume of one acre of surface area to a depth of one foot.  One-acre foot is commonly referred to in the water management business as a quantity of water sufficient to supply four families for one year, each family consisting of five people; so in terms of urban use, that 1.4 million acre feet would have met the needs of 28 million people.  That’s more than the population of the New York Metropolitan Area, which was 23,632,722 in 2013, according to an entry in Wikipedia.

To put it in a local perspective: the city of Los Angeles uses 587,000 acre feet per year, according to an opinion piece by Jacques Leslie, appearing in The New York Times on 6 December 2014, “Los Angeles, City of Water.”  This overdrafting of the aquifers has gone on for quite a long time, and there is no way on earth that such a deficit is sustainable.

What the earlier study did not do was attempt to quantify the recharge rate of the Central Valley aquifers, and the latter presented only the “big picture.” We found an answer in a study published in Hydrogeology Journal (2011) 19:779-800, “A comparison of recharge rates in aquifers of the United States based on groundwater-age data,” by P.B. McMahon, L.N. Plummer, J.K. Böhkle, S.D. Shapiro and S. R. Hinkle.  This overview looked at ground water age data collected by various means — clorofluorocarbon, sulfur hexafluoride, tritium/helium 3, and radiocarbon measurements from 565 wells in 45 networks.  Many other factors figure, of course — evaporation, whether the land is irrigated (or not), climate, glacial ice cover, whether agriculture is precipitation-based or irrigation-based, etc.  It’s a lot to take in, and to comprehend.

After explaining the methodology, they cut to the chase and explained what the data show for the numerous aquifers they studied across the United States.  They found that the recharge rate for the northern part of the Central Valley of California is 420 millimeters(mm)/year (1.37 feet/year), and the southern part is 580 mm/year (1.90 feet/year).  It’s an astonishingly low number, and its typical of rates observed across the nation.  At that rate, with water tables dropping hundreds of feet in this current California drought, is there any hope of replenishment?

Here in Virginia (in an aquifer near the Tidewater) they found a recharge-rate of 270 mm/year (.88 feet/year).  Since agriculture in our sub-tropical climate is precipitation-based, we don’t draw on groundwater the way farmers do in the midwest and west coast; groundwater in rural areas here is mostly limited to household human consumption.

The figures from these last two studies are mirrored in a 2003 study by Bridget R. Scanlon, Alan Dutton, and Marios Sopocleous of the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin, “Groundwater Recharge in Texas.”  That study found recharge rates of various Texas aquifers ranging from .1 inches to 5.8 inches/year.

Overseas is a fairly frightening example of aquifer abuse.  Saudi Arabia once had an aquifer that held a quantity of water equal to the volume of Lake Erie.  The Saudi government permitted rampant, unimpeded use since the 1970s, with some 5 trillion gallons per year being pumped.  This aquifer contained fossil water tens of thousands of years old — there is no groundwater recharge in that desert.  Riyadh, Saudi Arabia receives rainfall comparable to California’s Central Valley, about 4 to 5 inches per year.  With no water available, the Saudi government announced that no more wheat will be planted in the Kingdom beginning in 2016.  Using desalinated water is not the answer, because it is too expensive to use in agriculture.  See “What California can learn from Saudi Arabia’s water mystery,” by Nathan Halverson (Reveal, 22 April 2015) and “Saudi Arabia stakes a claim on the Nile,” by Fred Pierce (National Geographic, 19 December 2012).

No matter how you look at it and where you look, ground water recharge is a very slow proposition.  This is anxiety inducing, indeed.

Clarksville on the Lake with Two Names.

Clarksville on the Lake

We spent last Saturday at the Clarksville Lake Country Wine Festival, an annual event sponsored by the Clarksville Lake Country Chamber of Commerce.  This is the only wine festival we are doing this year, and for good reason — its a sophisticated crowd, composed mostly of wealthy people from nearby urban centers, and some more remote — Richmond, Charlottesville, Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Greensboro, Winston-Salem; even Charleston, West Virginia — who own lake front vacation houses.  We chatted with a couple of regulars at this event (and Annefield Wine Club members) who were frustrated that other wineries don’t send their “good” wine.

It is a commonplace notion among winery owners that they use festivals to move product they aren’t entirely happy with, or wine they make especially for festivals, which are perceived to be rookies with a sweet palate.  We see that approach as a marketing mistake, because you have a captive audience that is there because they enjoy Virginia wine — why not promote your best products?  Sure, there are events that are just drunk fests, and we don’t do those.  We were pouring for one couple who walked up and said repeatedly, “No sweet wines!”  By the time they sampled the third wine, their tune had changed: “Where can we buy your wine in Richmond?”

The town of Clarksville is in Mecklenburg County, Virginia’s only lakeside town, and as such it has evolved into a resort community, being the hub for the residents of the numerous lake-front vacation houses that surround the lake.

Curiously, the lake, which is the largest in Virginia, has two names, as does the river that flows into it (more on that later).  The name of the lake from the outset was contentious; Virginians insist on calling it Buggs Island Lake, for a family that owned land surrounding the impoundment dam, which was completed in 1952.  The people of North Carolina, meanwhile, call it Kerr Reservoir, in recognition of the work of Congressman John H. Kerr of North Carolina, who was instrumental in having it built.  Most official signs and most references in North Carolina call it Kerr Lake or Kerr Reservoir (pronounced “Car”).

Angered by the perceived over-reach by Congress, in 1952, Virginia State Senator and future Governor Albertis S. Sarrison, Jr of Lawrenceville introduced a joint resolution in the Virginia Senate proclaiming that the body of water created by the dam shall “forever more” be known as Buggs Island Lake. The resolution passed unanimously through both houses.  The posted signs on the Virginia side are for Buggs Island Lake.

The resulting lake is the largest reservoir in Virginia by surface area. Upstream, Smith Mountain Lake is Virginia’s largest by water volume. At its maximum capacity, Buggs Island Lake is one of the largest reservoirs in the Southeastern United States. The lake has over 850 miles of shoreline and covers approximately 50,000 acres. It touches Vance, Granville, and Warren counties in North Carolina, and Mecklenburg, Charlotte, and Halifax counties in Virginia.

In 2015, Virginia State Senator Frank Ruff, at the request of tourism officials, introduced a bill that would allow them to use the Kerr Reservoir name when marketing the region.  The bill won unanimous approval in committee in January, and is likely to pass.  Just to be clear — the bill does not seek to re-name the lake; it is only to grant explicit permission to Mecklenburg County officials to use both names in their marketing of the region.  Maybe you can have it both ways.

Festival Scene

The River with Two Names.

Stubbornly sticking to tradition and resisting any sort of change appears to be a trait in these parts — witness the Charlotte Courthouse Kerfuffle we wrote of last week.  Its likely that if the name of the lake is changed to Kerr, but the locals will forever call it Buggs Island.  So too a stretch of the Roanoke River that feeds into Buggs Island Lake that has always been known as the Staunton River.

The section of the river is in south-central Virginia and forms the boundaries of Campbell, Pittsyvania, Halifax and Charlotte counties. This 81-mile segment of the Roanoke River begins at Leesville Dam and continues to the confluence with the Dan River where it feeds into Buggs Island Lake.  It is again called the Roanoke at that point.

The Staunton River is named for Captain Henry Staunton, who before the American Revolution commanded a company of soldiers organized to patrol the river valley from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the mouth of the Dan River. Their job was to protect early settlers from attacks by Native Americans.  This section of the river became known as “Captain Staunton’s River” and, later, the Staunton River.   In 1984, the 51 miles of the river between State Route 360 and State Route 761 (at the Long Island Bridge) were designated the “Staunton State Scenic River,” a component of the Virginia Scenic Rivers System.

We are seriously using this historic anomaly to our advantage.  Over the years we’ve worked (off and on) on an application for an American Viticultural Area for our region.  The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — and the industry — likes to have them clearly defined and focused, and the Staunton River watershed can be a starting point for defining that region.  Much study is needed of the different soils, the climate, and the many other factors that are considered when creating such a thing.  The “Staunton River Valley AVA” has a nice ring to it, and ties this emerging wine growing region to its earliest history, which is something this history-conscious community would appreciate.

The Charlotte Courthouse Kerfuffle.

Charlotte Court House SquareOur courthouse here in Charlotte County is a gem.  Its simplicity is deceiving. The courthouse was built in 1821-1823 from plans provided by none other than Thomas Jefferson.

Roman Revival designs were a favorite of the early Republic, given the ideals embodied in its Classical Revival temple-front form.  The National Register application for the courthouse notes:

Interestingly, the Charlotte building was not initiated by Jefferson.  In 1821, a special committee was appointed by the county court to plan and carry out the building of the courthouse.  The committee consisted of Clement Carrington, Isaac Read, William M. Watkins, John Morton, Jr., Joseph Wyatt, Henry A. Watkins, and Henry Carrington.  According to tradition a delegation was appointed by the committee to visit Monticello and obtain a set of plans from the former president.  Jefferson dutifully supplied designs for a Tuscan porticoed edifice.

The courthouse interior has been altered, but preserves its early character by retaining a Classical Revival style, and it is one of the few courthouses of the period that retains its original two-story space.   These alterations appear to have been made in the early 20th century in a Classical Revival style.  But what is essentially a 19th-century building is woefully inadequate for the needs of a 21st century court in light of modern security concerns.

Frustrated with the lack of action by the county, the Circuit Court Judge Joel C. Cunningham filed a lawsuit (of course) to force the hand of the County Board of Supervisors to do something about it, and a panel was appointed, with retired Circuit Court Judge Robert P. Doherty, Jr appointed to preside in the case against Charlotte County.  The panel was rejected by the court for bias with the county failing to follow statutory guidelines as to its composition, and a new panel appointed.  After a lot of tiresome wrangling over the last six months, some progress appears to have been made.

The initial plans called for building an addition to the existing courthouse, and that raised the ire of every historic property minded person on the Eastern Seaboard — letters of protest poured in from historians, officials from Colonial Williamsburg and many other places.  It’s inconceivable in Virginia to alter something Thomas Jefferson had something to do with, and fortunately that plan was quickly set aside, but the new design is just as controversial.

The courthouse plans have progressed to the point of public meetings presenting alternative plans for a new building, which mercifully leave the old courthouse untouched.  The reaction to the new plan was equally contentious,  with several outspoken citizens not wanting anything that would affect the existing courthouse square.  On one side is the courthouse, and to south one of those traditional Confederate Memorials that are ubiquitous in these parts (it seems every courthouse has one) and a cannon, with the clerk’s office in what was once a tavern forming the southern boundary.

Curious about how the square looked in years past, we did some poking about and found photographs of the Confederate Monument taken in 1943 by Philip Bonn for the Farm Security Administration that show it was once located in the middle of the intersection of Patrick Henry Highway and LeGrande Avenue (State Routes 40 and 47).  The Monument was dedicated in 1901, according to the Charlotte Court House Historic District National Register application.  Presumably modern traffic called for relocating the memorial from that very busy intersection.  Clearly, changes to the Court House Square are not unprecedented.

Charlotte Court House, Virginia in 1943 (2). Charlotte Court House, Virginia in 1943.

The latest version of the plan, presented by Andrew Moore of Glavé & Holmes Architecture of Richmond, called for erecting the new courthouse behind the clerk’s office to complete the square on a space that is now used for surface parking.  The plan makes a lot of sense, and out of respect for the old courthouse the new building would not have columns and was designed to complement the clerk’s office, which is housed in an old tavern dating from 1823.  The plan makes sense, but a small number of very vocal citizens would have none of it, and made their displeasure known at a public meeting a few weeks ago.

The next week the Charlotte Court House Town Council sided with them, urging the County Board of Supervisors to move the building to the south, away from the courthouse square, and to put columns on the building that mirror the existing courthouse, yet at the same time asking that the building not detract from it.  We’re inclined to agree with the architects and not have columns so the building does not distract from the old courthouse.  Plus, the building would be placed on what is now a parking lot — what is wrong with that?

Nothing is settled, and we’re hopeful that the Board of Supervisors doesn’t cave to the opinions of the few.   Its a lovely old space, and the the massing of the new building and its placement behind the Old Tavern makes sense to us.  But come see for yourself — this walking tour of the Historic District is a helpful guide, and if you require more information, have a look at the District’s National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.

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The Court House
The Court House
Courthouse Site
Proposed Location of New Court House
Courthouse Square
Confederate Memorial in Courthouse Square