Viticulture is certainly farming, even though we tend not to call ourselves farmers. (I have heard Carl only occasionally talk about being a "grape farmer," which for some reason sounds strange...) Owning two vineyard properties, growing grapes, and turning those grapes into a consumable product does link us to our farming neighbors in many ways. In the spring of 2019 we were honored and surprised to be named York County's Outstanding Farm Family for that year.
My father's extended family in Iowa was a farming family; all four of his dad's brothers owned and worked farms there. I grew up with a deep appreciation for land and for farming. When Carl and I lived in State College and I was studying for my graduate degree, I began working at Tait Farm nearby. I did everything from picking basil, apples, and asparagus to helping bottle fruit vinegars and shrubs. When Tait's didn't have enough work for me one month, I became connected to Mount Nittany Winery, where I began working in the tasting room. Eventually Carl came on board there, became their winemaker, and the rest is our history.
Many of my fondest memories of working at Tait's were of working with my friend Sabine Carey. (I'll never forget the day I became the one and only person to ever flip the Tait Farm asparagus buggy--Sabine laughed so hard!) Sabine now runs Full Circle Farms in Penns Valley and is active in local, regional, and national organizations including Centre Markets (which could use our help currently, as they fundraise to buy a new delivery van) and Farm Aid.
Farm Aid is an amazing national organization which this year is celebrating 35 years of supporting family farms and farmers. Their annual music festival is certainly their highest-profile fundraising event, and for eight years Sabine has been one of their official photographers. I have really enjoyed seen her annual photography of Farm Aid legends such as Willie Nelson and Neil Young.
This year's Farm Aid concert will be held tomorrow evening (Saturday, September 26th) as a virtual event. The list of artists performing looks amazing.
This morning on ABC's Good Morning America, they did a nice segment about Farm Aid and a focus on small family farms. They produced some nice storytelling and a performance of the song "Colors" by Eric Burton and Jack Johnson.
Thanks to Sabine, who rounded up photos from family farmers whom she knows, Carl and I got to play a tiny part in the photo montage which played during the song. If you watch the song (which I recommend, because it's very cool), right near the end you'll see a split-second shot showing our photo on the screen outside the Times Square Studios.
So...we're not exactly famous, but we are happy to do whatever we can to support Farm Aid and the other wonderful family farmers who provide food--and wine--to their communities.
Social media reminded me today of what I was doing exactly four years ago. Turns out I was cataloguing photos from our trip to South Africa and Zimbabwe. On this particular day in 2016, I was curating photos of one of the most amazing birds I've ever seen, and one I'm sure I had never before know existed: the lilac-breasted roller. It is an incredibly vibrant, colorful, and unreal creature.
Seeing pix of this amazing bird today filled me with nostalgia. It doesn't even seem real, that we ever got the chance to travel to such amazing places to see such awe-inspiring things. It made me feel both grateful for those opportunities and anxious to know if and when we'll get to go so far again.
I have loved birds my entire conscious life. I remember sitting in my closet (?!) for hours as a kid, poring over my Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds. I would draw some of the birds and just wonder over others, earmarking some for particular consideration: the scarlet tanager, the cedar waxwing, the painted bunting, the snowy owl.
A lot of my interest in the subject came from, and was much later reawakened by, my mom's younger brother: Uncle Dale. He's a bit of a myth in and of himself. When we'd visit him in Canada when I was a kid, I was entranced by the fact that chickadees in his yard would come right up and land in his hand in order to receive sunflower seeds. Decades later, I've had the pleasure of accompanying him on two successful quests to see the last of my top four childhood wish birds: the snowy owl.
I have had many many opportunities to photograph incredible birds in the past five or so years. I go to Conowingo Dam--just 45 minutes away--to see bald eagles quite often, and photographing them has given me the training to catch wonder in the air and just above the water. I've also traveled as far and as widely as I can manage, getting the chance to see a lovely variety of warblers and raptors, chickadees and cranes, from many corners of our country and others.
So...back to today. There I was, feeling all nostalgic about the past and the birds which I have gotten to opportunities to see. To combat the blahs, I decided to head out toward the vineyards in The Brogue, to see what I would see within the space of just one hour. Then magic happened.
My eyes were quickly drawn to some of the endposts in the vineyards, where interesting birds were landing. I crept closer to investigate, and realized that, in a certain corner of the vineyard, we had a coming-together of incredible birds species: multiple American kestrels, northern flickers, red-bellied woodpeckers, and blue jays. I have no idea why these four strong species were co-existing in this particular corner for this particular time, but it made for some incredible bird-watching. I saw kestrels and flickers squabble; I saw them make amends.
Later, as I've got the chance to look through the photos that I took during this hour, I've realized how incredible each of these local bird species actually is.
American kestrels: These are on my current top-five list of super-cool birds. These tiny and colorful falcons can hover, perch, and claw their way into my heart every time. Thanks to our friend Scott, who built kestrel boxes into the vineyard years ago, I get to see these beauties every year.
Northern flickers: These woodpeckers, when you really take the time to look at them, look like a species formulated by a committee whose members have imbibed some odd drug. From their blue eyeshadow and red crowns to their polka-dot coats to their yellow-backed tailfeathers, they certainly seem like anomalies. Whatever. They make themselves right at home.
Red-Bellied Woodpeckers: These gregarious birds show up often in our trees and at our feeders. The red on their heads would seem to be a better marker for nomenclature, but occasionally we do also get a glimpse of their namesaked belly color.
Blue Jays: These are busy birds. They are social, loud, opinionated, and gorgeous. I aspire to achieve their level of we've-got-this-ness.
So...well, lucky me. The thing that I most crave--an ongoing connection to nature and its creatures--is to be found right here at home. I feel these blessings. I see this beauty, and I honor it.
John Crouch, the winemaker from whom Carl and I bought Allegro Winery back in 2002, was quite an amazing person. In addition to his winemaking, he was an accomplished music composer and food and wine aficionado.
John kept his house here on the winery property by subdividing the property at the time of sale. So he was very much a part of our lives and the continuing work of the winery until his too-soon death in the spring of 2003, at the age of only 55.
John, Carl, and I shared many a happy hour together down at the winery deck here in The Brogue. John would also invite us to his house to listen to his music compositions (through an electronic MIDI) or to have supper. We'd talk about poetry and writings, food, wine, and his beloved Westie, Dudley.
On one memorable occasion, John showed me how to make gnocchi here in his kitchen. While I really enjoyed cooking, I'd never tried my hand at fresh pasta. I saw how fun and easy it was to make, and how the texture made the pasta such a perfect cradle for the simple marinara. Perfectly delicious.
My big culinary project yesterday was to create an Olive Garden-style supper, just for fun. I used every pot, pan, and measuring cup in my kitchen. John's kitchen! Yes--Carl and I now live in the house that used to be John's. After he passed away, our friends Margaret and Scott purchased his house, since Carl and I had already built our own up near the vineyard. After Margaret and Scott moved away, my parents bought the house and we spent several glorious years living here in a three-generation estate, in houses across the field from each other. When my folks moved back to State College (my hometown) two years ago, we swapped houses, turning our "old" house into a rental property and moving into John's old house, which had been dramatically renovated during my folks' tenure here.
All of that background is here just to show the path leading up to yesterday, when I found myself making gnocchi in this kitchen for the second time. It took me right back to that wonderful supper with John and Carl.
In addition to the gnocchi with a spicy tomato cream sauce, I made a whole feast of other recipes culled from Olive Garden copycats found on the web: air-fryer mushroom ravioli with marinara, chicken parmesan with penne and cream sauce, well-dressed iceberg lettuce salad, and -- of course -- breadsticks brushed with butter, garlic, and Italian seasoning. We paired the feast with Allegro's 2019 Dry Rosé.
I enjoy reflecting back on all of the wonderful meals which have come out of this very same kitchen: John's homemade pasta, Margaret's homemade pizza, my mom's incredible mac 'n cheese. My family and I have been so fortunate to share the table with all of them, right here at home.
Friends of Allegro Winery, especially those who buy wine by the case, have surely seen our tagline, which appears on those cases: "Drink Like You Live Here." Maybe people instinctively know what this means, and it certainly can have different connotations for different people. This will be my first post giving some perspective on the phrase, with more to follow.
This week's perspective comes from a classic movie, and from butterflies.
Who can forget Robin Williams' voice, playing the character of John Keating in Dead Poets Society, admonishing his teen students to "Carpe Diem": "Seize the day, boys." And, quoting poet Robert Herrick:
Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying:
And this same flower that smiles to day,
To morrow will be dying.
This sentiment of seizing days is relevant to what it means to "drink like you live" at Allegro.
Carl's sentiment about drinking great bottles of wine is one I've heard him express whenever someone says that they are holding on to a nice wine "for a special occasion." He tends to turn the sentiment around, asking, "Why not make a special occasion by opening that bottle today?"
There are certainly notable wines, including several of Carl's, which do develop and improve with age, but for the most part wines are best consumed earlier rather than later, today rather than tomorrow.
Seize the cork! Share special wines every day! Drink like you live here.
And...about the butterflies?
How do butterflies drink? Well, they sip, but they really also seem to sip everything, tasting so many vibrant colors and nectars. I like learning from them.
And, on Tuesday I felt a kind of "Gather ye butterflies while ye may" moment.
Thanks to this summer's zinnias, we have had an incredible summer of butterfly-watching, right here near the vineyards in The Brogue. I've seen more butterflies, and a greater variety of butterflies, than in any other year, and I've made a point of spending time in appreciation of their beauty.
Tuesday I had a kind of melancholic thought. I often celebrate firsts and first visits--the first indigo bunting of the spring, the first monarch sighting of the year--but can never really know which days will bring lasts. Hindsight is 20/20 (and what a 2020 we are having!)--often, only later do we recognize that what we once had has now flown. Who could know which butterfly visit will be the last of the summer? When will the monarch migration begin? Somehow I knew that day was close.
I spent a couple hours photographing as many butterflies as I could--there were still so many! Monarchs and swallowtails, cabbage whites and buckeyes. Those wonderful zinnias made for many very colorful vignettes. I tried to take in as much as I could.
And then--I shared them. On Wednesday I sent butterfly photos to dozens of friends, some people who I still see quite often, some whom I haven't seen in years. I sent them along, just to share the wonder and to give a bit of unexpected brightness to people's weighed-down lives.
And here's the crazy thing: On our rather dreary Thursday, I looked out to the zinnias, and the butterflies were gone. With the exception of the cute little skippers, there were no butterflies to be seen. Not one monarch, not one swallowtail, not one fritillary. Their time had come and gone, just like that. I'm so glad that this time I made a record of it happening.
So: Cheers to gathering rose-buds, popping corks, sipping as many experiences as possible, recognizing beauty where it lives, and sharing wonder with others today.
Drink like you live here.
What a summer we have had! Rather than traveling to distant places, we've spent the whole summer together here at home. Being home, I've appreciated all of the nature and wildlife which surround us here next to the vineyards in The Brogue. I have been much more deliberately aware of all of these treasures than ever before.
One very special kind of visitor to our place every summer are ruby-throated hummingbirds. We put the feeders out for them every year and keep the sweet food in those feeders (a ratio of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar) well supplied.
This year our first hummingbird visitor was a female who showed up in mid-May. She had a preference for sitting on the fence right outside my office window, so I had many great opportunities to observe and photo her up close.
Midsummer, the hummingbird sightings continued, both at our feeders and among the garden flowers, particularly the zinnias. It was always females or juveniles that I spotted. Any day that I took the time to record a certain bird hovering over a bright bloom was a good day.
At this point in the year, turning the page into the next season, I start wondering when our hummingbird friends will take leave and head south again. Knowing that their sojourn will be finite makes me appreciate the times when I do still see them.
Today was quite remarkable, actually, in terms of my time with these birds. I spent a while this morning watching one bird with a single jewel in its gorget. Even though there wasn't much sunlight, every once in a while, while this one darted around the honeysuckle blossoms, there would be a little sparkle of gold.
And finally, this drizzly afternoon, I had a moment which I've been hoping for, for years: a chance to watch a fully-throated male sipping at the feeder. I'm not sure exactly why the males always have seemed to elude me, at least until now.
This boy actually came right up to our living room picture window and stared me right in the face while hovering. "Come on out," he seemed to be saying. "Here I am. I'll stick around for a bit." Sure enough, because I took the time to go and watch, I was rewarded with a lovely couple of visits.
I always think that we must seem so ponderously slow to hummingbirds, who move and sip and have heartbeats so much faster than our own. They aren't engineered to be able to do something as slow as walk; we aren't engineered to see them as anything other than tiny darting wonders.
Thank you, summer, for bringing our two worlds together, if only for a while.