The Final Harvest Host and Homeward Bound

Today was the beginning of the two-day drive home, and our destination was a Harvest Host winery in southern Pennsylvania. The Hauser Estates winery is situated at the top of a hill, not far from Gettysburg. The drive to the location was uneventful, and we enjoyed meeting our hosts. The evening featured entertainment on the patio from a female singer/guitarist. What a nice way to end this lovely vacation trip to the Appalachians.

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A Harvest Host, a Woodworking Exhibition, and an Old Time Jam at Virginia Tech

We learned of two events taking place in Blacksburg, VA today, and we had made arrangements to spend the night at a winery associated with Harvest Hosts. So, after a leisurely morning, we packed our camper and headed to the Whitebarrel Winery in Christiansburg, VA. As members of Harvest Hosts we agree to make a purchase at participating wineries, farms and museums, and in return we are welcome to spend the night parked in our camper without a fee. The people that run Whitebarrel winery were generous to us and let us do our business in the afternoon and then return well after dark to sleep. We didn’t ask for this, but Maria offered to let us unhitch the camper and just take the truck into Blacksburg. That made things much easier than they might otherwise have been. Maria was a wonderful host, explaining about each of the wines, and guiding us to a special charcouterie board and pizza that they had available. We enjoyed a quiet and sophisticated “lunch” on their patio before heading for Blacksburg.

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Whitebarrel Winery – A Harvest Host
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Maria

In Blacksburg, our first interest was an artistic exhibit called “From These Woods.” It featured a number of different wood products, artistically constructed, representing everything from tables, to sculptures, to paddles, to instruments. I was very surprised to find the name Mac Traynham again after having seen him first at the Feastival on Sunday. A banjo made by Mac was featured in the exhibit. Nearby were these words about Mac: “Mac Traynham is a giant in the world of Appalachian music, a towering figure who has been plying his trade as a musician, teacher, and artisan for over 30 years. Recognized as a master banjo maker by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities in 2009, Traynham’s open-backed, custom-made banjos combine expert craftsmanship with impeccable aesthetics, with each piece resulting in a sonic whirlwind of beauty.”

 

Wow. Those are words of high praise. I had no idea who we were dealing with on Sunday! His banjo on display had incredibly beautiful inlays in the fretboard:

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After the exhibit closed we had a couple hours to kill, so we chilled out in the student center at Virginia Tech. I was reflecting how unique college campuses are in that you can just go and hang out in them if you know the right places to go.

 

The second thing we had come into town for was to be an old-time music jam in a downtown park starting at 8:00. (We grabbed a super Cajun dinner at a place called Boudreaux’s. The seafood gumbo was to die for.) We were a bit late for the jam, but we joined in anyway. It was a genuine, fiddle-and-banjo old-time jam, and the pace was blistering. I had a great time, and I am finding that I recognize more and more of the tunes. This jam was the sort of thing I love joining in on. It was not the relaxed, laid-back style that made me feel comfortable, but it was the “real deal,” and I feel that I learned a lot by participating in it. We stayed until the bitter end at 10:00, which means I was playing my guitar for a solid hour and a half at breakneck speed. Wonderful!

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Then it was back down the crooked roads to our home on wheels at the Whitebarrel winery.

 

A Step Toward The Blue Ridge Music Trail

Our 2017 mountain music quest began today. Our aim is to uncover the music of the mountains of North Carolina by sampling the Blue Ridge Music Trail. We are going to take our time getting to North Carolina, as we want to enjoy our Harvest Hosts membership and some quiet time in the mountains before we place ourselves in the presence of the musical masters. Our destination for today was a (Harvest Host) winery in southern Pennsylvania, not far from Gettysburg: the Adams County Winery.

 

We began the 275-mile journey at 9:30 AM, which should have given us plenty of time to arrive at the winery long before they closed at 6:00PM. Using our “normal” rate of travel, we should have been able to arrive by 3:00. However, today is Memorial Day, and I knew that there would be inevitable delays.

 

We managed to get out of Canandaigua shortly before the 10:00 parade was to start. We ran into a closed street, but we were easily able to work our way around the block and get quickly back on track. We were not so happy in Naples, however. We were diverted from Main Street at about 10:00, but the person diverting us did not tell us that the detour route was unmarked. I guess everyone just figures anyone in Naples at 10:00 on the morning of Memorial Day would automatically know how to avoid using Main Street. Well, I didn’t know. We got to a place where I had to make a choice: the straight-ahead choice, which looked smaller and more worn than the street we were on, or the slight right – up the hill – which looked like a more promising, more “normal” street. I chose the slight right. The only problem was, as I rounded that curve, I found the road rising up a longer hill and curving more and more to the right – exactly opposite the direction I needed to go. I realized I had made the wrong choice. This was clearly not the detour around Main Street.

 

I saw a place where I could pull off the road, and I thought I could attempt a turn-around before we got too far off track. The road was wider here, and there was a person’s driveway on the opposite side of the street. I noted that there was absolutely no traffic. I asked E to get out and watch the back of the trailer so I wouldn’t back into something, and I proceeded to start a turn-around attempt. Within moments, there were cars attempting to get through from both directions. But I was completely blocking the entire street. Within a few more moments it became obvious to me that I wasn’t going to be able to complete this turn-around attempt. I called to E to get back in the truck, and I quickly worked to get us out of the way and back on the road. The only problem was, now we were headed in exactly the wrong direction.

 

I was able to find my way back to town on back roads, and within about 20 minutes we were back where we had wanted to be all along.

 

The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. The only excitement was when we heard (through text messages) that our daughter and son-in-law were on the same route through Pennsylvania on their way back home to Raleigh, NC. Soon after, they passed us, and we waved as they went by.

 

As we neared the Adams County Winery the countryside became more and more beautiful. This part of Pennsylvania has rolling hills, farmland, and nicely-kept homes. The last few miles were especially appealing. When we pulled in to the winery we were happy to find that we’d be parking on a concrete pad that was nearly level and easy to get into and out of.

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Our hosts, the owners of the winery were not present, but we were greeted warmly by several friendly employees. Andrea answered our questions about the farm’s and the winery’s history. When I asked if there were any stories to tell about the winery or any of the wines or labels, she showed us several of the labels and told a story about the picture on the “Tears of Gettysburg” wine. It was a sad story about two dear friends who had found themselves fighting on opposing sides of the Battle of Gettysburg. One of the friends lost his life, and as he lay dying he learned that his friend was also at the battle. He requested that the friend be located and that his possessions be given to him. Tears indeed.

 

The winery grounds were beautiful, with gardens and flowers everywhere.

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Our trailer was parked right next to a small pond, and the sound of birds and frogs filled the air.

 

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Just Right

Having an RV opens up a whole new realm in terms of travel possibilities. We’ve never been able to start our camping season in mid-April before. Today we launched the 2017 camping and traveling season in style by heading south. One of our destination-goals is to spend some time in Assateague Island National Seashore. But first, our plan was to spend a night at one of the Harvest Host locations: Wycombe Vineyards in Furlong, PA. We left home at about 10:30 AM and arrived at Wycombe at about 4:30.

 

Rich (“my name, not my bank account”) and Deb Fraser were wonderful hosts as we visited their winery. They are not open on Mondays, but Rich gave us the opportunity to try his wines, and he told us about the vineyard. The farm has been in Deb’s family since 1925, and Rich and Deb started the vineyards in 2000. They are producing about 16,000 bottles a year from their own grapes. One of the coolest things about their product is that each bottle’s label features a photograph from the family photo album. Photos depict the history of this family farm, from the present day (9-year old granddaughter picking dandelions on the label for their dandelion wine) to Deb’s grandfather shown in a photo on another of the bottles.

 

E and I were surprised to learn that Rich has been approached by Wegmans with a request to carry one of his wines in their stores. Rich politely declined, because he knows that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demand. He is one of those rare individuals who is satisfied with the size of his business and who is mindful of avoiding outgrowing his comfort level.

 

They invited us to park in a grassy area near the barn, house, and winery. We enjoyed an easy dinner and then relaxed as we watched a colorful sunset. Tomorrow we will cross through or around Philadelphia on our way to Assateague. For now, we just will reflect on a man whose business is just right for him.

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Rich Fraser
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Deb Fraser

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Wycombe Vineyards Winery

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Vermont Foliage Journey – Day #1

For months we’ve been looking forward to, and planning, a fall foliage trip to Vermont. After we joined Harvest Hosts, we noted that there were several Harvest Host locations throughout the state of Vermont. We decided, for sure, on visiting Fresh Tracks Farm: Vineyard and Winery, and the Vermont Wildflower Farm. We also knew that we would visit either the Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks OR the Cold Hollow Cider Mill OR the Bragg Farm Sugarhouse. Today our goal was to reach the Fresh Tracks Farm, just south of Montpelier. To reach this goal we would have to cover almost 350 miles, which, at the pace we usually manage, would be nearly 8 hours of travel time. This would be our longest travel day with the trailer so far. A good test of our ability to travel this way.

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The drive was uneventful, thankfully, and we arrived at Fresh Tracks at about 3:30 PM. We met Courtney, one of the harvesters, and Sarah, one of the counter servers. Sarah directed us to park our RV along the side of the parking lot, near the covered bridge (walking trail bridge). Sarah was very friendly and informative as she talked with us about the farm and the various wines they produced. I was interested to learn that the name, “Fresh Tracks” referred to ski tracks rather than tracks from wildlife as I had at first thought.

 

In the evening, Fresh Tracks hosted a musician and a bonfire. The event was very well attended, and it felt fun to be a part of a “happening” here in central VT. The woman who was the singer/songwriter/keyboardist was accompanied by a guitarist. The music was OK, but not much to my liking. Still, it was nice to be a part of this event.

 

This was our second Harvest Hosts visit. In the first, back in the summer, it was a treat to meet the owners and talk with them at length about their enterprise. Here, we did not have the opportunity to meet the owners, so that was slightly disappointing. It was nice to be able to stay overnight for “free,” and after the bonfire/live music event ended, it was pretty quiet. Our RV parking spot was right next to VT Route 12, so it wasn’t totally quiet.

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“Minerality”

Meet Scott and Mary Ann Bubb, owners of Seven Mountains Wine Cellars in Spring Mills, PA. Scott and Mary Ann are participants in Harvest Hosts, which means they are one of the farms, wineries, or “attractions” around the country who have agreed to offer Harvest Hosts members free overnight RV parking. Well, it isn’t quite free, because there is an understanding among members that in exchange for the overnight parking privilege, members will make a purchase at the host location. Elaine and I joined Harvest Hosts last month to check it out. We will be including many (we hope) Harvest Host locations in our itineraries.

Scott and Mary Ann are a fascinating couple. Both of them grew up in the central PA area, and both will tell you that this is not an ideal location for growing grapes. As we were driving in their access road I was remarking to Elaine that it was difficult to see how this forested, hilly area could support vineyards. I was almost expecting to round a corner or crest a hill and find a surprising wide-open valley full of vineyards. That was not the case. We approached the wine cellars and discovered that they were set right in the forest itself.

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One of the first things Scott explained is that they “import” juice for all their wines. He said that it would be possible to grow grapes here, but not high-quality grapes needed for great wines. He had made a decision early on to use only imported juice, because he was aiming to make the best quality wine. This notion of high quality was found throughout their operation.

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When we told Scott (and later, separately Mary Ann) that we were from the Finger Lakes area of New York, they both, independently told the same story. This story says a lot about the sort of person Scott is, and it sheds light on why their winery has been such a success. Here’s the story: Not long ago Scott had been visiting some Finger Lakes wineries with a number of traveling companions of his. He had been marveling at the “minerality” that he was tasting in some of the Riesling wines that the Finger Lakes are famous for. His companions were having a difficult time figuring out what he was talking about. What is this “minerality?” Whatever it was, it seemed to be exciting to Scott, but they confessed that they just weren’t getting it. So Scott marched them outside, took them to one of the vineyards, knelt down and picked up a small handful of the shale that comprises a lot of the soil in the region. “Here,” he said, “take this and taste it!” What???!! Taste the rocks? They did, and Scott said, “That’s minerality.” That’s the thing that gives certain Finger Lakes wines a special, distinctive flavor.

Now what kind of person does this? What kind of friend asks you to taste rocks? What kind of friend would you actually do that for? (In all honesty, some of these traveling companions were Scott’s employees, so they really didn’t have much choice, did they?) What kind of a person can actually taste and appreciate the rocks in a finished wine? It is this attention to detail and this quest for the subtle dimensions of high quality wine that make Scott do what he does.

What he does is to live the American Dream. In their fifties, both Scott and Mary Ann found themselves unemployed after many years of successful careers. It was at that point that they combined the ingredients of vision, courage, optimism, and hard work and used them to create Seven Mountains Wine Cellars. Scott had been a successful amateur wine-maker; now they wanted to try to take that to a commercial level. Step-by-step they located property, obtained financing, purchased the equipment, and built a beautiful facility. Heavily in debt, they began by producing 4000 gallons of wine in that first year. They sold it all before they began year number two. Before too long their wines were winning awards. Currently they are proud to display four Governor’s Cups, which they’ve won. Mary Ann tells us that they’ve told their carpenter to leave room for at least three more display shelves, because they need seven of them – in keeping with the number “seven” in the name of their winery.

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We greatly appreciated their hospitality. We enjoyed tastes of a few of their wines, and we can testify that the quality that Scott strives for, he captures in his products. Minerality, indeed!