Beware the Concussion! Mitigating Hail Damage in Vineyards.

Hail Cannons c. 1901

International Congress on Hail Shooting, 1900. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Farming is difficult enough, but lately growers around the world – particularly in Europe – have been battered by hail storms. “Languedoc hit by hail catastrophe” (Gabriel Savage, Drinks Business, 9 July 2014).

Between 12,000 and 15,000 hectares of vineyard in the Aude [29,600 to in 37,000 acres] – about a quarter of the department’s total plantings – have been affected by the storm, which lasted for less than half an hour on Sunday afternoon. Among the worst hit areas were appellations around Carcassone, especially Minervois and Corbières, where early reports indicated that 80-100% of vines have been damaged.

“French winegrowers fear for harvest after hail batters prized vineyards” (Anne Penketh, The Guardian, 29 June 2014).

Some of France’s most prestigious vineyards are counting the costs of fierce hailstorms that have battered the Burgundy region for the third consecutive summer. Hail stones as big as golf balls, buffeted by 60 mph winds, swept across the Côte de Beaune region on Saturday afternoon, causing winegrowers to predict between 40% and 80% of the grape harvest would be lost.

The regions hardest hit include Volnay, Meursault and Beaune, home to 2,000 winegrowers.  Decanter reports that about 5,000 hectares had been hit, primarily in Pommard and Volnay, with damage estimated in the range of €75 million.

“Médoc properties devastated by hail storms” (Wine Searcher staff,, 10 June 2014).

Close to a thousand hectares of Bordeaux vineyards were hit by hailstorms on Sunday night, with the northernmost part of the Médoc, close to the Gironde estuary hardest hit. Vineyards in Cognac were also badly affected by hail and gale-force winds.  Parts of Cognac were hit badly in early August last year and an even greater area of Bordeaux was damaged by hailstorms, completely destroying nearly 7,000 hectares (17,300 acres) of the eastern Gironde, mostly in the Entre-deux-Mers district.

 Decanter reports that the storms that hit Bordeaux and Congac during the first half of June cost insurers as much as €900 million ($1.2 billion). Bloomberg News reports that in 2013, insurers paid more than $4 billion as a result of hailstorms.  And many growers, particularly in Burgundy, lack insurance.


Oh, the joy of farming in a continental climate.  So let’s have a look at hail.

How is hail formed?  According to the Texas A&M University Department of Atmospheric Sciences, hail forms when raindrops are lifted up into the atmosphere during a thunderstorm, then super-cooled by sub-freezing temperatures in the upper atmosphere, turning them into ice balls.   They can grow and become the size of baseballs or softballs, falling 90 miles per hour and cause immense devastation.

Can we blame climate change?  Of course we can, but scientists would urge caution, given that while Burgundy, for example, has been pummeled three years in a row, that is too short an interval to declare that this is a trend – just bad, bad luck.   But given a warming world with surface temperatures rising, the effect of more water vapor being carried skyward into the freezing troposphere suggests that more frequent, violent storms are the order of the day.  What to do?

“Solutions” in the vein of geo-engineering include cloud seeding with silver-iodide smoke generators and hail cannons.  Burgundy has 34 of these smoke generators, which were deployed in June.  It’s impossible to measure their success – how could you control for it?  Would the hail stones have been larger without it, or more far-reaching?  Faith seems to have a lot to do with it.

“Beware the Concussion!”

An older technology than the silver-iodide smoke generator is the hail cannon.  Generations ago, French farmers believed that the ringing of church bells would help mitigate damage from hail, so the bells would toll whenever a storm approached.  Later, military cannons were used, and in the late 19th century we have the development of the hail cannon.  Modern versions are powered with acetylene, and send up a shock wave at 200 miles per hour.

Space Gun

The Space Gun in Things to Come (1936)

The image of the hail cannon shooting skyward reminds this writer of technology envisioned by H.G. Wells and brought to the screen by producer Alexander Korda and that great stylist William Cameron Menzies as director in the 1936 British science fiction film, Things to Come.  The movie was written during a time when the horrors of the “Great War” were still vivid, and the prospect of another was on the horizon — and it shows.  The first two-thirds of the movie dealt with impending war and its aftermath.

The last third depicts a wondrous future, full of hope and promise.  Scientists and scientific reason provided leadership and salvation for humankind.  In the closing moments of the movie, it is the year 2036 and a sculptor foments a Luddite revolt among the people, seeking to stop the firing of a great cannon that is poised to propel the first explorers into space on their way to the moon.  Cabal, the leader of the people warns the crowd marching on the space gun intent to destroy it, “Beware the concussion!” Cabal believes nothing should stop scientific progress and he intends to fire it, damn those gathered there to destroy it, who were clearly killed by the immense cloud of smoke and fire produced by the gun on firing.  The dialogue in the closing scene as Cabal and Passworthy contemplate what had just happened goes to the root of the meaning of progress and ties it to the meaning of human existence:

Passworthy:  Oh, God, is there ever to be any age of happiness? Is there never to be any rest?

Cabal:  Rest enough for the individual man — too much, and too soon — and we call it death.  But for Man, no rest and no ending.  He must go on, conquest beyond conquest.  First this little planet with its winds and ways, and then all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him.  Then the planets about him and at last out across immensity to the stars.  And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time, still he will be beginning.

Passworthy:  But… we’re such little creatures.  Poor humanity’s so fragile, so weak.  Little… little animals.

Cabal:  Little animals.  If we’re no more than animals, we must snatch each little scrap of happiness and live and suffer and pass, mattering no more than all the other animals do or have done.  Is it this?  Or that?  All the universe?  Or nothingness?  Which shall it be, Passworthy?  Which shall it be?

It’s a bit ironic that the version of “progress” embodied in the hail cannon is, in its way, a step back in time, echoing those church bells — and unfortunately probably as effective.  When deployed, the cannons are fired repeatedly, emitting a blast every six seconds to a minute during the course of a storm, sending a sonic boom skyward (imagine, for a moment, the neighbor’s displeasure). Proponents believe that the shock wave generated by the cannons disrupts hail formation, and a single cannon is said to protect 190 acres.  We’re picturing a reaction from the neighbors comparable to that of the mob in the Things to Come intent on destroying the thing — or attempting to destroy the owner with lawsuits over the noise.

Modern Hail Cannon

Photograph of Hail Cannon by Eggers, Ltd.

Unfortunately, no one has been able to prove that the technology works, because results are impossible to quantify. The cannons are available in the United States; One supplier is Newton Systems International; another is Eggers, Ltd in New Zealand.  We are not aware of anyone using them in Virginia.

Andrew Jefford writing for reported on a visit to Chateau d’Issan in Margaux.  When the vineyard manager Clarisse Branche reported that the property had lost half of its crop to hail in 2008 and 2009, fruit valued at €2 million; the cannon cost them €150,000 (in the United States the cost is in the range of $50,000).  Since using it — and they’ve used it 10 times each year since acquiring it — they report having no significant losses.

Another “solution” is a physical one – netting.  But to work, they must have a fine mesh, and that blocks sunlight, which is fine in a an arid climate like Mendoza in Argentina (where these nets are commonly used), but in a cooler region like Burgundy would pose a problem.  In a recent story on the practice noted (“Burgundy vineyards experiment with anti-hail nets” (Bill Nanson & Wine Searcher staff,, 18 July 2014)):

The response of the Burgundy marketing board (BIVB) in Beaune has a certain labyrinthine ring to it, yet is unequivocal: “As their use is not specified in the AOC texts, it is forbidden — in France, for viticulture, if it is not expressly permitted, it is forbidden.”

Here in Virginia we are not immune from hail storms, though mercifully we are not subject to the same forces that create hail events in the plains states of the central United States.  We may have an advantage with our humid sub-tropical climate, because the atmosphere may be warm enough that if hail should form, in most cases it will melt before reaching the ground (that said, we found a report of two-inch hail falling in Southampton county on 11 July 2014, and one-inch hail falling in Prince William county the day before that).  We have had small incidents of hail damage in years past — torn leaves, a few bruised berries — but nothing on the scale of poor Burgundy, or any of those other French wine growing regions.

There Will Always Be An England.


Our annual respite from the rigors of daily life – otherwise known as a vacation – this year took us to the British Isles, specifically to England and Ireland. It felt like a homecoming, because so much of it is familiar. The language, of course, and the place names that were brought to the New World by those brave colonists so many years ago. The pubs felt very much like bars in the United States, the cooking so familiar – what was listed on so many menus as an “English Breakfast” and an “Irish Breakfast” was pretty much what we serve at our own table, except for the beans and black pudding.

Tradition courses through the veins of its people. We’ve wondered why, for example, they drive on the opposite side of the road, and learned from guidebooks that it is a holdover from Feudal times, when one needed to have the right hand free to engage in combat when astride a horse in battle. Then there’s that relentless affection for their monarchy.

One sees everywhere the trappings of Empire and privilege, a bit faded, but still much in evidence. A plaque at the entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum reminds visitors that the building was dedicated by “Her Majesty Queen Victoria, Empress of India.” There was a time when, for example, you could travel the length of Africa, from Capetown to Cairo, without leaving British Territory. That legacy is apparent on a stroll through the British Museum, which is an odd name for an institution that houses objects from just about everywhere but Britain, most notoriously the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon. And where else can you see a giant head from Easter Island?  The riches to be found in London are mind-boggling.

Yet while being so mindful of its past, London in particular is firmly rooted in the present: witness the infamous Shard, the London Eye, and all of the other modern additions to the city’s skyline, its fashion scene.  It’s a vital place, full of wonders.


Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.

— Samuel Johnson

First Night in London: Launceston Place.

Launceston Place

It used to be that the journey was the point, the experience of getting from point “A” to point “B” was as much a part of the joy of travel as the place.  Not so with modern air travel, which has sadly devolved into one insult after another, well known to any traveler.  The start was strangely swift, with TSA being not busy at all, but that happy event quickly turned sour with a two-hour departure delay.  Fortunately we had a four-hour layover in Dublin, giving sufficient time to be herded and re-processed before flying on to London.  Its a shame that modern travel has turned into one insult after another.  What is the alternative?  Small planes have fatal crashes with distressing frequency, so we joked about winning the lottery and buying our own Boeing 757 so as not to have to endure the experience ever again.

That insult notwithstanding, we arrived on time and braved London traffic to our flat in Kensington, and even had a moment to clean up before heading out to dinner at Launceston Place, a fabulous restaurant just a 10-minute walk from our flat.  This leisurely paced and oh so civilized meal was the perfect antidote to the prior 24 hours.  We opted for the tasting menu with wine pairings.  Each pairing inspired and perfect.  The sommelier’s descriptions were as delicious as the food; he had a talent for relating each wine to the place, and to the food so we had insight into how the disparate parts were brought together into a perfectly integrated meal, each course a wonder.

Taste of Launceston Place

22 June 2014

Amuse bouche

Organic Asparagus cooked on the barbecue, hens egg, mores and wild garlic

2013 Sauvignon Blanc, Dog Point, Marlborough, New Zealand

Hand Dived Scallop with truffle cassonade, confit chicken wing, compressed apple and grated truffle

2011 Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker, Agapé, Vincent Sipp, Alsace, France

Sole with Patron pepper and brandade, piquillo, squid, brown shrimp and fennel

2006 Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir, Olivier Leflaive, Burgundy, France

Wagyu Beef Rump with Cévennes onion stuffed with Bourguignon garnish and red wine sauce

2006 Bussia Riserva, Giacomo Fenocchio, Barolo, Italy

Selection of Cheeses

Graham’s 20-year Tawny Port

Cucumber Buttermilk with Lime and Mint

Raspberry Delice with white chocolate and caramelized white chocolate

2011 Riesling, Tamar Ridge, Tasmania, Australia

Organic Asparagus

Hand Dived Scallop


Wagyu Beef Rump

Raspberry Delice


Mike had a birthday a few days before, so they brought a little something at the end.  It’s no wonder the place has earned a Michelin star and has been awarded four AA Rosettes in 2013, one of only seven restaurants to receive the accolade in the United Kingdom that year, as well as being awarded AA ‘Notable Wine List’ and ‘Best Wine List’ at the Tatler Restaurant Awards.

Launceston Place, 1a Launceston Place, London, W8 5RL Telephone 44 020 7937 6912

Windsor Castle and A Night at the Races.

Windsor Palace

The rest of our group arrive Monday morning.  After they got settled, we made our way to a pub for lunch, made our way to Paddington Station to meet the last member of our party, then made our way to Windsor to see Windsor Castle.  The history of that ancient fortress is too rich to recount here, but suffice to say it is, in a word, impressive.   Majestic is probably a better description, with the Gothic tracery of Saint George’s Chapel, and the Georgian opulence of the State Apartments.  As we toured the State Apartments one room was being set up for a dinner for one of Prince Charles’ charities.






From there we made our way to the Royal Windsor Racecourse for Monday night racing.  That was a bustling place, and very smart.  We had dinner in the Castle Restaurant with a sumptuous three-course meal.  Scanning the program one sees some notable name: The Prince of Wales had a horse in a race, as did the Niarchos family, Lord and Lady Rothschild, the Earl of Carnarvon, etc.  The food was equally impressive.










A Visit to Kensington Palace.


In the morning we stopped by Kensington Palace, that ancient pile that is another home of the royals.  The public areas give glimpses of the ruling families from widely divergent viewpoints: the 17th century on view in the Queen’s State Apartments, the 18th century represented by the majesty of the King’s State Apartments, and the 19th century with an exhibit called “Victoria Revealed.”  An unusual view of the 20th century royals is presented by a review of exquisitely tailored royal fashion from the 1950s to the 1980s.











The Churchill War Rooms.

From there we made our way east and stopped at Memorial Albert Hall for lunch, for no particularly good reason other than being famished and it was the first place we came to that was open at that late hour.  Next up was a stop at the Churchill War Rooms for a look at Winston Churchill’s underground bunker where the British action for that terrible war was conducted underground.  Fascinating to learn that after six years underground, at the conclusion of the war the soldiers who worked there tidied their desks and went home.  The rooms were sealed up just as they were when the lights were cut off on 16 August 1945 and not disturbed until   Adjacent is the interactive Churchill Museum, which tells the story of the incredible story of the great man.

After a stroll through Saint James Park to see the exterior of Buckingham Palace, we traveled to Regent Street to dine at Veeraswamy, the venerable Indian restaurant that is the oldest in London.

Veeraswamy, Mezzanine Floor, Victory House, 99 Regent Street, London W1B 4RS 44 20 7734 1401











Iconic sights spanning the centuries: The Tower of London with parts dating to the 11th century at one extreme, and the 20th century London Eye on the other.   The Tower is a bit much, with a Disney-ish air, entertaining nonetheless.















“Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.”


Our original plan was to take a train out to Canterbury to see Canterbury Cathedral, but on checking the price of train tickets discovered that the price had tripled since we last looked, so we opted to stay in London.  Its not as if we had seen everything already; far from it.  Like all great cities, London is burdened with a near deafening roar of traffic, and a break from it would certainly be welcome.  We’ll be on our way to Cambridge soon enough.

So instead we took the tube to see Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, Saint Paul’s Cathedral.  Its heartening to know that the thing was completed in his lifetime.  His tomb bears an inscription in Latin composed by his son:

Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city, Christopher Wren, who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument – look around you. Died 25 Feb. 1723, age 91

The crypt in particular is filled with melancholy monuments to many of the great men who contributed to the nation, military figures like the Arthur, the Duke of Wellington (who defeated Napoleon) and Horatio Nelson, who perished in the Battle of Trafalgar.   Interestingly, many poets, scientists and artists, too.




From there after lunch at The Punch Tavern on Fleet Street in The City (and had a fabulous Chicken, Wild Mushroom and White Wine Pie), it was on to another sort of monument, only this one a monument to a single man, Sir John Soane, an early 19th century architect whose quirky museum were given to the nation on his death in 1837.  The objects are arranged as he left them, all in their Enlightenment exuberance in spaces lit on many odd levels with the walls and ceilings punctured in the most unusual places.  From there a stroll to Covent Garden to see the old market, then back to the flat to recuperate a bit.

Sir John Soane’s Museum, 13 Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London WC2A 3BP +44 20 7405 2107

Punch Tavern, 99 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1 DE +44 20 7353 6658

 A Day and Night at the Museums.


One of the benefits of empire is the collection of “stuff.”  Through Britain’s long history, the combination of military might and an acute awareness of status led to the acquisition and building of the most amazing houses and collections.  The British Museum and the National Gallery are but two repositories containing objects that are preserved not just for Britain, but for the world.

Take, for example, the remains of the Parthenon now housed in The British Museum.  The name of the institution is itself a bit of a misnomer, given that most of the objects have come from outside of Britain.   Sadly due to a late start we did not have much time, so we visited a few highlights: a Moai from Easter Island; the Portland Vase; and of course, the Elgin Marbles, those remnants of the Parthenon that the Greek government attempts to reclaim every few years, without success.






We started the day with a sufficiently large English breakfast at a tea room called Richoux in Knightsbridge across from Harrod’s (followed by a stroll through Harrod’s), and that afternoon we had high tea at another timeless institution, that venerable department store Fortnum & Mason, which has been at the same location on Picadilly for over 300 years.  The list of teas was mind-boggling, and we don’t take caffeine in the afternoon and settled on a bottle of wine while the rest of the group had tea.  After an assortment of finger sandwiches stuffed with chopped egg, smoke salmon, and cucumber (of course), towers of sweets and scones were brought to the table.  All very civilized, but far too much sugar for this chronicler.







Suitably fortified, it was off to The National Gallery to view the nation’s premier picture collection in a suitably impressive 19th century building facing Trafalgar Square and the Nelson Column.  Strolling the galleries was like paging through an art history text: one gallery held an unfinished Michelangelo, a favorite Bronzino (Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time), and works by Titianm Giorgione and Pontormo.  Elsewhere one finds the iconic Leonardo da Vinci Cartoon of the Virgin with Saint Anne and John the Baptist, works by Botticelli and Vermeer; name a world artist from the last 500 years and they have not just an example of their work, but some of the best.




The museums are open late on Fridays, so that evening we stopped at the Victoria and Albert Museum, which is dedicated to the decorative arts and design.  We arrived quite late so there was not much time for it, but it took on the quality of a disco with a disc jockey, drinks and a very young crowd milling about (museums wishing to broaden their demographic, take note).

And with that, the next day, on to Cambridge.

Richoux Restaurant, 86 Brompton Road, London SW3 1ER +44 020 7584 8300

Fortnum & Mason Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, 181 Piccadilly, London W1A 1ER +44 020 7734 8040

England is not the jewelled isle of Shakespeare’s much-quoted message, nor is it the inferno depicted by Dr Goebbels. More than either it resembles a family, a rather stuffy Victorian family, with not many black sheep in it but with all its cupboards bursting with skeletons. It has rich relations who have to be kow-towed to and poor relations who are horribly sat upon, and there is a deep conspiracy of silence about the source of the family income. It is a family in which the young are generally thwarted and most of the power is in the hands of irresponsible uncles and bedridden aunts. Still, it is a family. It has its private language and its common memories, and at the approach of an enemy it closes its ranks. A family with the wrong members in control — that, perhaps is as near as one can come to describing England in a phrase.

― George Orwell, Why I Write



It’s Only Been Nine Years, But the Exterior is Nearly Done.

Annefield in the 1950s.  Photograph courtesy of Catherine W. Bishir.

“Annefield,” Charlotte County, Virginia c. 1955. Photograph courtesy of Catherine W. Bishir.

It’s hard to believe, but the exterior restoration of the house at Annefield is nearly done.  But first, some background.

We’re really grateful to have this old photograph of the house at Annefield, which we assume dates from about 1955, based on the style and appearance of the cars parked outside.  This photograph was printed from a kodachrome slide, and given to us by Catherine W. Bishir, Curator in Architectural Special Collections at North Carolina State University and an authority on Jacob W. Holt (1811-1880), to whom the building of Annefield is attributed.  Ms. Bishir obtained the photograph from her friend Edgar Thorne, whose ancestors had built the house at Cherry Hill, another Holt-school building (Holt was the contractor, the actual builder was his associate John A. Waddell) that still stands in Inez, North Carolina.

Cherry Hill is now home to the Cherry Hill Historical Foundation, which runs a concert series giving performances at the house.  The concerts bring life to the place and community.  the house is largely unchanged since it was built.  Incredibly, the original drapes from the 1850s still hang in the parlor, and many original furnishings remain.  Cherry Hill is just outside of the town of Warrenton, about one hour’s drive from Raleigh.

Clearly from this photograph the house was in need of attention, with the bare minimum done to keep the thing from falling down.  By the time we saw it in 2005, it looked pretty much the same as the photograph above, but with a different porch.

This relic is particularly important because it gave us stylistic direction for the creation of the porch that runs across the front of the house today.  Houses are living things, not trapped in amber, so we chose to honor the spirit of the builder and construct a porch similar to those he built on extant houses in North Carolina.  We arranged a tour and took photographs and measurements of the porch on the house at Cherry Hill, while copying the detail of the posts in this photograph.

Engleside, Warren County, North Carolina

“Engleside, Warrenton, Warren County, North Carolina,” State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO), North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO)

Another extant house at a plantation called Engleside, also in Warren County, has a porch of similar proportions, though we don’t know if the fanciful second floor banister shown in this old photograph still exists.

Oh, but those shutters.

The first time visitor probably wouldn’t notice, but the house has been without shutters for a very long time.  When we began this adventure nine years ago, the first thing to come off was the shutters.  The shutters were original features, and were put away in the milk house of the dairy barn for safe keeping while the house was restored.  We didn’t finish the addition and restoration until 2008.  Our first builder burned out on the project, so we found a second builder who did most of the finish carpentry in 2009 and 2010.  he took the shutters to his shop in 2011, and there they sat while he worked on other things, because he didn’t really want to get into the intricacy of it, so he found more profitable things to do.

Annefield in March 2005.

“Annefield,” Charlotte County, Virginia, March 2005.

At first glance the shutters appear unusually narrow, but they are of a unique bi-fold design, which unfortunately doubled the expense for hardware.  With some cajoling and begging, our builder finally agreed to come back this spring and finish them.  It was time to paint the house, too, so all this was done just in time for a wedding reception held on the front lawn the first week in June.  He found lots of rot, so it turned out to be a much larger job than we anticipated.

Our builder had to completely rebuild most of them, and built new ones where they were too deteriorated to use.  Each of the pieces was hand-cut — it was really building furniture, very time consuming and painful.  The lift-off parliament hinges came from Martell Hardware in Pennsylvania.  They are the same design as the originals, but slightly larger.  The owner, Matt Martell, was very helpful in guiding us to the right hinges, which were more affordable than the hinges we first picked out.  Thank you, Matt!

Now that hurricane season is upon us, we’re especially thrilled to have them.  Not only do they add an extra dimension to the house, they offer protection to the ancient windows.  They add another dimension to the house, making it complete.  But still to do — we put the shutters on the original two story block; the one story section behind it just had shutters on the south side of the house; those on the north side were long gone.  What we need to do is fabricate shutters for the remaining windows.  Hopefully this can be done before another nine years pass us by.

“Annefield,” Charlotte County, Virginia, June 2014.

Wineries at Historic Houses in Virginia.

Chatham Farm, Eastern Shore of Virginia.  Photograph copyright Anna Marie Jehorick, all rights reserved.

Chatham Farm, Eastern Shore of Virginia. Photograph copyright Anna Marie Jehorick & All rights reserved.

For years we’ve half-joked about planning a European tour that would take in only those littlest of countries.  These are those obscure principalities that are holdovers that survived the demise of the Holy Roman Empire — those staunchly independent nations that saw no need join a much larger country, or by virtue of geography, had no need.  The list includes Monaco, Lichtenstein, Andorra, Malta, and San Marino; perhaps Cyprus; and of course Luxembourg.  Vatican City qualifies, being a sovereign city-state, and it seems merged with Rome and not in the same spirit as the rest.  We’ve been there already, anyway.

In that spirit we can plan something similar but with a slightly different spin.  Why not make a point to visit those wineries that do not have large tasting rooms, but operate out of a house, and this being Virginia, perhaps a “historic” house?

“Historic” to some just means old, but it can also mean, as in the case of Annefield, something historically significant either for events that took place there, the builder, or the architectural style.  Annefield is listed for being a rare example of an antebellum Italianate villa that is attributed to a master builder, Jacob W. Holt (1811-1880).  To our knowledge, ours is the only house used for wine tastings that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Virginia Landmarks Register.  If we’re not too busy, we’re happy to give a tour.

Another winery features a house that is also a listed property, but they provide tastings on the terrace, not inside the house.  Hamlet Vineyards is located at Eltham Manor in Henry county, a Georgian-revival manor house built in 1936 by William  McKinley Bassett of Bassett Furniture fame.

Some wineries with historic houses do not use the house as part of the business, per se.  For example, Chatham Vineyards on the Eastern Shore has as its centerpiece a brick dwelling dating from 1818.  The house is their home and is not open for tours, though we had the opportunity to see it many years ago when it was open during Historic Garden Week.  That house is not listed on the National Register, but the c. 1834 house at Ingleside Vineyards in Westmoreland county on the Northern Neck is listed, and resided in by the owner.  You can’t see it when you visit, unfortunately.  Images of both Chatham and Ingleside figure prominently on their wine labels.

There are several wineries we know of that use old houses for their tasting rooms.  There may be others, but with over 250 wineries in Virginia, its difficult to complete a comprehensive survey (we long for the days when we had time to visit wineries other than our own).  Valerie Hill Vineyard in Frederick county; that house dates from 1807; Zephaniah Farm Vineyard in Loudoun county, with its 1830 manor house, and of course venerable Old House Vineyards, with its 1890 farmhouse.  The closest winery to us, Hunting Creek Vineyards in neighboring Halifax county operates their tasting room out of their house as well, which is constructed from several old log cabins of unknown vintage.   Miracle Valley Vineyard in Fauquier county uses an old house that is also of unknown vintage.The Winery at LaGrange in Prince William county uses the farm’s circa 1790 manor house as its’ tasting room.

We know of at least two that uses a modern house for tastings, and that’s Altillo Vineyards in Pittsylvania county.  Afton Mountain Vineyards in Nelson county once housed their tasting room in the previous owner’s house; we haven’t been for a visit in years, and they may have moved to a new building by now. Woodland Vineyard in Chesterfield county in the Richmond suburbs produces just 200 cases each year and has the distinction of being Virginia’s smallest farm winery; there, you step into the living room to sample.

Another unique experience is to be had at Oak Hill, which was acquired in 2012 by the owners of Barrel Oak Winery in Fauquier county and marketed as the Oak Hill Estate.  The oldest part of Oak Hill dates from 1773, and it has a Federal-style addition that dates from 1819.  It was the summer home of Chief Justice John Marshall (1755-1835).  The house is the centerpiece of special tastings held there on weekends from spring through fall.

So like those European principalities, these intimate tasting rooms each offer a unique and memorable experience.  Do plan a visit.

Some Thoughts on “Table Wines.”

Red & White

Here’s a story.

Several years ago we were shopping in our local Food Lion and took a moment to browse the relatively pathetic wine selection available there.  Imagine your typical mass-market grocery store fare that leaves the wine lover a tiny bit sad.  In the middle of the aisle was a woman studying a wine bottle, looking very perplexed.  She turned to us and said, “Excuse me sir, but do you know anything about wine?” And she pronounced “wine” with a delicious long vowel, sort of like “whine.”

Happy to oblige, we looked over the limited selection, as she continued.  “I’m trying this recipe that calls for red wine.  Ah don’t see any wines called “Red.”  Is this a red wine?” (she was holding a bottle of Merlot).

We’ve played a variation of this scene on more than one occasion.

Hence the genesis of our Red, an homage to the novice wine drinker in grocery stores everywhere, with the thought of giving guidance to the hapless wine buyer in those instance when they are absolutely clueless but willing to learn and explore.  And of course we needed a corollary to complete the notion, hence the birth of our White.

The latest vintages of both have been very well received, both by our wine club members who sampled them at our Spring Bacchanalia, and our new distributor, Kysela Pere et Fils, Ltd.  Kysela picked up a pallet a couple of weeks ago that included our 2012 Annefield Vineyards Red, our 2012 Annefield Vineyards Chardonnay, the 2013 Annefield Vineyards White, and our fabulous 2013 Annefield Vineyards Viognier.

Originally intended for the local palate, the White has always been an off-dry blend.  In the past it was made with fruit purchased from all over Virignia, but in 2013 for the first time all of the fruit is estate grown.  The 2013 has been very well received.  It is a blend of Vidal Blanc, Vermentino and Viognier, with 2.3% residual sugar.  This unconventional combination really is confounding, and a good customer suggested using a fanciful name and suggested calling it Enigma.  We toyed with the idea for a moment, but decided against it because the simplicity of “White” befits the appeal of this wine.

Table Wine

The lack of a “fanciful” name goes to the root of an issue that bedevils the industry, and that’s the notion that is based on the romance of place.  Fruit grown here will be different than fruit grown anyplace else, because it will be influenced by the unique geology and climate of that place.  If wine does “speak” of where its grown, then simply calling the the red wine Red is really affirming that “this is a red wine from Annefield” the same way that, say, a wine from one of the great estates of Burgundy like  Romanee Conti from Domaine de la Romanee Conti has no need to elaborate.  It is simply a red wine from that place, but of course bringing with it the baggage of centuries and the expectations and aspirations and traditions that go with it.

The downside of this simplicity (not being a famous estate) is the public’s perception that a wine that does not disclose its contents is somehow inferior.  We often hear, almost dismissively, “Oh, this is your table wine.”  It’s an odd thing to say, because  isn’t all wine “table wine”?   Where else are you drinking it, but seated with friends at table?  Is a different wine proffered for standing around at cocktail parties?

The distinction has some merit, however.  The American system defines table wine as wine from grapes having an alcoholic strength between 7 and 14 percent alcohol by volume; anything higher is classified as dessert wine.  The European classification systems regardless of country each have two levels of classification: (1) their table wine, and (2) a superior (in European Union speak) “Quality Wines Produced in Specified Regions.” Within the table wine category, the producers may distinguish “plain” table wines, which are only allowed to display the country of origin, and “table wines with geographical indication,”which may indicate a region of origin and are a form of “Protected Geographical Indication.” The distinction comes down to usage — table wines are your everyday tipple, the one you open for a mid-day meal or casual dinner without much thought or concern about price.

The rules governing the American system allow a wine that does not disclose what goes into the bottle simply as “red table wine” and “white table wine”; if the contents are disclosed, they must be disclosed with specificity, and that label registered, yet one can remove the content description with impunity.  For example, in the first vintage of our Red we used just Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc; in another, Merlot was added to the blend, and in a third Merlot was omitted but Petit Verdot used instead.

The latest 2012 Annefield Vineyards Red is a blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  If we were to provide the varietals, each blend would require a different label registration; but if you omit them, the rules allow you to use an existing registration.  Registering a label is not an easy process, and can take weeks, even months.  The danger, however, is that by calling a wine “table wine” the consumer may perceive it as less worthy, or expect a lower price.  In this case, an expediency may prove disadvantageous.

This distinction in the United States reinforces the varietal focus in a kind of feedback loop. It is how we are trained, but results in reinforcing expectations at the price of discovery.  You know Cabernet Sauvignon and perhaps have a dislike for Syrah, which means every time you come across it you pass it by,  The unknowable profile of a “table wine?”  Don’t even go there.  Walk into many wine shops and you see groupings by varietal, but imports are grouped by country of origin.  This varietal focus may be a disadvantage.

A columnist in Wine Spectator magazine, Matt Kramer, recently published a piece called “Is ‘Varietal’ a Dead End?” (Wine Spectator, 20 May 2014), in which he describes the consternation visited on him by this assertion during an address to a gathering of wine industry types:

A great Pinot Noir vineyard . . . is one where there are 30 or 40 clones interplanted like wildflowers in such a way as to preclude picking each clone separately at “optimum ripeness,” as is regularly done when clones are “rationally” planted in separate blocks.

Many old world producers recognize this; to them, it isn’t a plan — its heritage.  Mr Kramer related a story from a visit to Portugal:

All this came back to me forcibly as I looked down upon a small vineyard parcel in Portugal’s Douro Valley. I was standing there surveying the stunning landscape with Tomás Roquette, who, along with his brother, Miguel, owns and runs one of the Douro’s greatest estates, Quinta do Crasto.

“That vineyard down there is our greatest single plot, called Vinha Maria Teresa,” said Mr. Roquette. “And we are very concerned here in the Douro that what that vineyard has—and others like it elsewhere—must be preserved for the future. The biggest mistake we can make here in Portugal is to be ‘varietal,’” he added, making quote marks with his hands to emphasize “varietal.” . . .

“So far, we have identified 47 different grape varieties in this 4.7-hectare [11.7 acre] plot,” he continued. “There are 36 different red varieties, nine different whites and even two rosés [Alicante Espanhol and Ferral Roxo]. We have to preserve it at all costs, at least if we want to create what we, anyway, think is greatness.”

It is fascinating — and a little sad — that with all that tradition, that wondrous product of 47 different grape varieties must in the states be labeled “table wine.”

A Special Event: Reenactment of the Battle of the Staunton River Bridge.


Civil War Reenactors. Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

It’s mid-June in Virginia, where bright clear days give way to balmy humid ones, and our thoughts turn to … war.

This weekend is the 150th anniversary of the Battle of the Staunton River Bridge, a conflict that resulted in a Confederate victory during the War Between the States.  Each year around this time there is a re-enactment at the Staunton River Battlefield State Park.

We’ve written about the conflict before and won’t recount it here, but we do want to take the opportunity to point out that the battlefield is but one of many sites on the Wilson-Kautz Raid Driving Trail that meanders through Charlotte county and Southside Virginia.  The trail starts at Petersburg and loops west with stops at a number of Charlotte county sites, including Keysville, Charlotte Court House, Drakes Branch, Saxe, Roanoke Station (where you can enter the park and cross the Staunton River Bridge into Halifax County and see the Confederate earthworks there) and Wylliesburg.  From Wylliesburg the trail proceeds east through Mecklenburg, Lunenburg, Brunswick, Sussex, Dinwiddie and Prince George counties and back to Petersburg.

Driving the trail, like crossing the bridge, is a linear experience, in the sense that the action unfolds as you travel along the route.  You have the feeling of stepping back in time, if you leave aside the fact that you are probably seated in an air conditioned automobile and not in the saddle of a horse, but you get the idea.  Many of the stops are relatively unassuming; so use your imagination: the action unfolds in your mind and heart, not before you.  But traveling these by-ways that are relatively unchanged in 150 years, it can be an experience you won’t soon forget.

This reenactment business may seem a bit strange, but each conflict seems to have its devotees (some prefer the term “living history,” for they bring the social and military history to life).  There are more of these things than you realize.  For example, one would think it too recent, but even 20th century wars have their reenactment groups.  The Vietnam War and the Korean War have them, as does World War II, and “The Great War” (World War I) has them as well.

The Civil War Reenactors are the most visible; but those who wish to again fight the American Revolution can join either side — the English Loyalists have their brigade, and another group re-takes the Northwest Territories. If your tastes gravitate to the Early Republic, you can also re-live the War of 1812.

This isn’t a peculiar American institution, either.  You can suffer the depredations of the English Civil War of the 1640s, the triumph and disappointment of Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 (next year is the commemoration of its 200th anniversary), and if you truly want to go Medieval on someone, there is a reenactment of the Battle of Agincourt of 1415, the pivotal engagement of the Hundred Years War between England and France.  We just love this warning on the English version of the Azincourt Alliance website, which features information for reenactors and spectators:

Our event time period is 1380 – 1415, not before and
not after, if you are not sure contact us before you travel.

Do not try to attend with “out of period” Wars of the Roses or Norman
style costumes, equipment or armour, your visit will be wasted
as you will not allowed to use/wear them.

All weapons must be blunted, clean deburred and fit for purpose, axes,
maces and flails are not permitted on the battlefield during combat.

No sharps of any kind regardless of reason are permitted
on the battlefield during combat.

With the 600th anniversary of the battle coming up in 2015, it should be quite a show, in spite of the prohibition of axes, maces and flails on the battlefield.  It really is a fascinating way to appreciate history.


But we digress.

A descendant of James Scott told us that many years ago one of the children discovered a Civil War cannonball in the attic of the house, along with evidence of damage, as if it came through a wall with the damage repaired but the cannonball left in situ.  No one knows what became of it.

In the upstairs hall we keep a map that shows Union troop movements long the south bank of Horsepen Creek, which would have put soldiers within striking distance of the house.  The war was — and is — much closer than we realize.

We are just down the road from the Staunton River Battlefield State Park, so if you find yourself planning a visit to Annefield this weekend, consider stopping by the Battlefield to watch the re-enactment, which takes place over several days, beginning Friday, June 20 through Sunday, June 22.  Go both days to watch the battle unfold in real time.  On Saturday you’ll have an opportunity to tour the house at the Carrington ancestral seat, Mulberry Hill.  Check the event schedule here.

Cattle Raid

Scenes from a Wedding.


The match
Were rich and honourable; besides, the gentleman
Is full of virtue, bounty, worth and qualities
Beseeming such a wife as your fair daughter

– William Shakespeare, The Two Gentlemen of Verona (3.1.64-7)


Last Saturday we had the honor of hosting at Annefield the wedding celebration of Ashley Elizabeth Ailsworth and John Anthony Sterling. This is a first for us, and we relented because of the familial connection, because Annefield was once owned by Ashley’s great-grandparents, James and Julia Scott, who purchased it in the early 1940s.  They devised it to their son David Scott, and it was David’s children who sold it out of the family in the 1990s.

The first guest to arrive was one of Julia’s daughters, who took us on a tour (usually its the other way around). “This (referring to the room we use as a library, to the left of the front hall) was my parent’s room, but after my father died, my mother moved into this room and my sisters and I moved upstairs. .  .  Daddy was laid out in this room (the parlor).  And every grandchild slid down this staircase!”  It was gratifying that all of the Scott descendants we spoke with were so pleased that we “saved the place,” and a little jealous that it was no longer in the family.

After the tour, game on! We were so pleased the wedding party’s colors harmonized with the house.  Even the band took the color scheme to heart.  Once it got going, the party took on a life of its own, with guests moving effortlessly in and out of the house and into the garden and back again. We could be calm about it since it wasn’t really our party, one apart from some distress with popped overloaded electrical circuits, everything was very smooth.

For many of the guests this was their first sojourn in this the deepest part of Virginia; many feared the police and the locals, expecting speed traps and scenes from the movie “Deliverance” at every turn. Happily they were disappointed, with no visits to the pokey — we haven’t heard of any, anyway.  We wish the happy couple all the best on their new adventure.