At the risk of oversharing, I have a little story to tell about the bathroom in our home. For about the past week, I have been bothered by a not-so-fresh smell in the bathroom and have been trying to track down its source. While nobody else in the family shared my olfactory concern, Carl did try to help by cleaning out the sink drain. I washed the bath mat and did some general cleaning, but I still noticed the funk, especially when I was near the sink. While it wasn't a huge deal, it did keep nagging at me, every time I experienced the odor.
Well, last night I finally solved the mystery. Underneath the soap dish was an ex-millipede. I immediately identified this as the source of the problem and told my older son about it. He came in and shared that, while this little critter's essence had been bothering me, he couldn't smell it. At all.
Strangely, this phenomenon has a wine connection in our family story. In February of 2012, Carl even wrote an entry about it in his winemaker's blog: a little article helpfully entitled "My Wife Is a Freak." In it, he comments on the fact that there is an aroma in some Chambourcin wines which I don't like because it reminds me of the off-smell emitted by some millipedes, especially when they meet their demise. I remember the odor from my childhood basement, where the arthropods would show up in the cracks of the cement floor. When I told Carl I didn't like this smell, he was baffled: "What smell?"
While we haven't been able to find out very much about this, some internet detective work has helped us confirm that the hydrogen cyanide component emitted by the critters cannot be smelled by everyone, and that "HCN has a faint bitter almond-like odor that some people are unable to detect owing to a recessive genetic trait" (from Wikipedia). So, while my brother and I agree that millipedes have an unpleasant smell, the other members of the family remain unbothered.
This kind of "smell blindness" reminds me of two of my friends who have at times experienced anosmia: the inability to smell anything at all. One friend regained her sense of smell during and after pregnancy. It also reminded me of the condition called presbycusis, or loss of hearing (particularly at high frequencies) as we age. Because of this phenomenon, storeowners who don't want teens hanging out by their storefronts have been known to emit high-pitched annoying sounds to keep the young people away.
I have vivid recall of a movie I watched called Perfect Sense, from 2011 (and starring Ewan McGregor). In it, a strange epidemic causes people to lose their sensory abilities, beginning with smell, and proceeding through taste, hearing, and sight. The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 seemed to bring the gut-wrenching science fiction scenario to life, as we became aware that loss of smell and taste (ageusia) are some of the most prevalent symptoms of the virus. It seems to bring new life to the idea that a person can "lose their senses."
During the many months of the pandemic shutdown, our family remained particularly vigilant about our risk to the virus, agreeing to let Carl be the one deciding what kinds of risk he would take on, while the rest of us tried our best to keep our risk as close to zero as possible. The main reason for our caution was out of concern for Carl, on whose health our business and employees all depend. Basically, we all protected each other and protected him not because he was at high risk or in poor health, but because his strengths are so vitally important.
I remember the day that I realized how devastating the loss of smell and taste would be to a winemaker. Once it dawned on me, I did some research and realized that within our industry many were sharing the same concerns, particularly because the loss of these vital senses can last even after a person has "recovered" from the coronavirus. A July 2020 article in Wine Spectator and a more recent article in Barron's provide some first-reflection on how wine lovers and professionals in the wine industry have suffered from their damaged senses.
We kept the virus at bay. So, while Carl still may not be able to smell squished millipedes, his palate is still well calibrated for Petit Verdot and Sauvignon Blanc. I'm gratified that we've made it through these pandemic months safely, and that the vaccines now enable our family and employees to finally breathe a bit more easily.
One sense which has definitely blossomed in recent weeks around here: gratitude.
Wildlife watching and photography is one of my very favorite hobbies. Ever since my first photo tour to the Nevada desert six years ago, I have happily gone miles and miles out of my way for a chance of glimpsing birds, mammals, reptiles...I love it all. I feel so incredibly fortunate to be able to take these journeys, which give me joy in the moment and after I've returned home, when I get to edit and enjoy what I've seen.
I do have my favorite animals and birds to photograph. Wild mammals of all kinds, much rarer than birdlife, are always wonderful--the ponies of Assateague, jackrabbits out west, bugling elk in the fall, up in PA's Elk County. Young animals are always precious, also rare. Let's face it: There's basically no animal as cute as a young fox kit. So, for several years, the chance to see and photograph mature and young red foxes has sent me on many chases: three hours to Island Beach State Park in New Jersey, an hour to a friend's backyard in Harrisburg, two hours to Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware. Even with my efforts, I don't think I've had the good fortune to photograph red foxes in about two years.
Until this week.
We were enjoying a lovely s'more campfire here on the property the other night: Carl and I, my dad, and the boys. It was a lovely evening, replete with bats careening overhead and stars beginning to become visible as the light from the sunset faded. And suddenly, we spotted her: a small red fox, snuffling through the grass at the edge of the woods. I couldn't believe it, getting the chance to see such a beautiful creature right here on the property, when I was camera-less and least expecting such a special encounter. (I snuck away to retrieve the camera, to see if I could catch our friend in the fading light.)
The pandemic has curtailed travel for all of us, but I've had no reason to complain about having all of this time here on the home property. Throughout the past fourteen months, I have spent many many hours watching the wildlife right around us here, photoing the songbirds at our feeders and deer munching on fallen apples and snapping turtles laying eggs in the garden. I felt incredibly fortunate last summer, when another of my favorite creatures--a pair of great horned owls--became reliable twilight visitors above the vineyards. I spent tons of happy evenings sipping cocktails out of my travel mug and watching the owls watch for prey. I was also grateful for the hummingbirds and butterflies who found our zinnia garden. While we could not go out into the world, it seemed more than happy to come to us.
Looking out our windows here, I've learned many lessons about gratitude and about making hay (or picking grapes) while the sun shines. We've been fortunate to stay safe and to continue to live and thrive in a place of both wild and cultivated beauty.
But still--it was extra-special to meet this red fox (Latin name Vulpes vulpes). As it snuffled around, not minding our banter or campfire smoke, we got to watch it for at least twenty minutes. I happily clicked away, not minding the smeared melted marshmallow on my zoom lens casing.
Seriously, there's nothing cuter.
I feel the gratitude on many levels: If my dad hadn't been visiting, for instance, and if our boys hadn't been home, we likely wouldn't have had a campfire that night. We would have missed those bats and Venus and the first fireflies of the year. Somehow our return to togetherness seems to have manifested a magical night, which in turn welcomed a magical creature. For life here at Allegro, it doesn't get much better than that.
For about half of the year here, snakes are fairly common visitors. When the boys were little, we used to go outside after supper for our evening "snake hunt," pausing at each decorative wine barrel lining the drive to tip it up and look to see who might be residing underneath. Garter snakes were always the most common ones found there, although there was one memorable catch of the world's grumpiest milk snake, whom we named "Milky Way." We rescued him from the cat and kept him in an aquarium for a little while, from where he would lunge at anyone walking by.
Our younger son is a particular snake aficionado; he was always the one who would catch whatever we found under those barrels. Several times over the years he's been called down to the winery, where a black snake guarding the front door might be keeping customers out and tasting room staff trapped inside.
Carl, too, is quite fond of snakes, particularly the black rat snakes which do such a great job of keeping down our rodent population around the winery. So when this morning--Easter morning--a black snake was seen peeping out from behind one of our sheds, the adventure was on.
It's a little hard to capture the excitement of watching a 6'4" winemaker swinging around a huge black snake while our yard leopard Artemis was performing surprised aerial acrobatics and I juggled camera lenses. Bonnet was no shy retiring garter snake--he was none to happy about being moved from shed to woods, and he retaliated by sliming Carl quite impressively.
But ahh, Easter in The Brogue. Gotta love country living. Sometimes the best hunts are when nature finds us, just to get a glimpse of our surprised faces.
Happy Easter from Allegro, every bunny!
Sometimes all it takes is a shift in timing to bring new intrigue to an otherwise very familiar face or place. This is what was evident last evening, when Carl and I indulged ourselves in a golf cart ride around the property after sundown. I was noticing the eerie light fog which had settled in our stand of oaks, so I grabbed my camera and off we sped into the impending night.
Past the stand of trees, we rode up into the vineyard to see the rows of still-sleeping vines disappear into the mist.
As it got darker and we zoomed back down the hill toward the winery buildings, the pole lights were glowing in the night, giving an effect reminiscent of some sort of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" spaceship.
Around the winery itself, the lights were even more striking, illuminating the buildings, early-budding trees, and a nocturnal visitor.
But the coolest effect of the evening ride came once we scurried back behind the winery, to the crush pad. Because of the lights on the front of the winery, it looked as if the sun was actually starting to rise over the tanks and fermentation airlocks at their tops, like chimneys.
The shift in perspective was spooky fun. We see these scenes every day, but seldom at night, especially at this time of the year. What "dawned on me," besides the artificial sun over the winery roof, is how lucky we are to be stewards of such an interesting place, where the times of the day and year afford us different way of seeing and reward us with unexpected beauty.
Yeah, we're mostly wine people. But that doesn't exclude us from also being beer people! (And tequila people...and bourbon people...) Carl first got into fermentation as a homebrewer. It was a hobby he came by honestly, having watched his dad brew beer and soda while he was growing up in Kansas and Illinois. Early in our married days Carl and I would enjoy "Brew and Bake Nights" in our tiny kitchen in Oakland City, Indiana, where I would bake homemade cookies or bread while he brewed his latest batch of beer, mead, or cyser (apple cider mead).
Even after Carl graduated from fermenting things as as avocation to doing it as a vocation, beer still holds a special place in his heart. One of his favorite sayings during harvest is, "It takes a lot of beer to make good wine!" This refers to the practice of grabbing a cold one or two or three while slogging through the work of the harvest and grape processing.
We enjoy beer on other occasions and at other times of the year, too. This year, for St. Patrick's Day, we broke out the Guiness (of course!). In the summer, sometimes, nothing seems to hit the spot like a chilled IPA or German Pilsner or Köln-style Kölsch , something which immediately transports us to another place and time.
So...cheers to all the beverages of the changing seasons!
It's a 1996 Ford F-250 with a V plow. It's also a memento of history from this rural corner of York County, and a reminder of a local legend with a sweet connection to Allegro Winery here in The Brogue.
This blue-striped heavy-duty white pickup used to belong to our neighbor here on Sechrist Road, Gary Wolford. Gary was well known in this region, partly for his excavation/septic business and partly for his storied career as a dirt-track auto racer. We knew him as a good neighbor and guardian of the road, always in the know about local comings and goings, always willing to lend a hand when one was needed, especially when heavy machinery could be involved.
Carl and Gary forged a good relationship, one which even had a playful side, as I found out one day as I was driving home. On this particular day, I happened to be driving Allegro's black Dodge pickup truck, which was unusual. I hardly ever drive it, and it is as synonymous with Carl as Gary's Ford was with him. I drove down the hill toward the winery and saw Gary's pickup coming my way...directly at me, on my side of the road. I was rather alarmed, but Gary's truck swerved out of the way just in time. I saw Gary's surprised and apologetic wave has we passed each other, and then it dawned on me: He'd thought I was Carl, and had engaged in a friendly neighborhood game of "chicken" with him/me. Most excellent.
Gary passed away in the summer of 2016, and the road sure hasn't been the same without him. We still enjoy friendly waves with all our other neighbors, but certainly haven't had any Sechrist Road driving games since he passed away.
When Gary's wife Pat contacted Carl to ask if he would like to buy Gary's truck, Carl's answer was an enthusiastic yes. It's nice to have a heavier-duty truck around, and both Carl and Dwayne look much more forward to heavy snows, knowing that the driveways can now be plowed in a forward direction, with the front plow, rather than backwards for hours on end, as one has to do with our tractors.
Watching Carl plow us out of the drifts today, I can't help but think of Gary. Frankly, I think of him every time I see the truck here on our property. It will always be his. And we will always be grateful for the friendship and safety we felt, knowing the warmth which comes from good machines and good neighbors.
One of the highlights of my current life, hunkered down here in The Brogue during the pandemic, is the amount of time I get to spend in my kitchen and thinking about homemade foods. Whereas getting groceries used to be a chore squeezed in among other chores, now it's a highlight of my quarantine life. I spend an inordinate amount of time reading recipes, learning about new foods, and preparing food for my family. I've also happily extended that task to include weekly baking for the family of good people who make Allegro what it is.
Just about every week during of these many months, I've baked a little something--cookies, muffins, brownies--for Carl to distribute to the Allegro staff working that day. As my courier, he takes the treats to our vineyards, tractors, cellars, and tasting rooms. It's a good feeling to have a way to thank those who have worked with such diligence and goodwill, especially during these strange times.
This weekly bake shop enhances the house, too, keeping the kitchen bright and warmly scented with chocolate, cinnamon, and gratitude. What better way could there be to say "Thank you," than with sprinkles on top?
Well, it's official! Allegro has put out the word that we'll be buying the Pennsylvania wine brand developed by Carl's friend Brad Knapp: Pinnacle Ridge. Carl and Brad have known each other for many years, meeting together with Joanne Levengood of Manatawny Creek to taste wines together and collaborate on our Trio wines. It's been a unique partnership, really valuable to Carl as a member of the regional wine community.
We've certainly enjoyed our share of Pinnacle Ridge wines here, especially Brad's sparkling wines. And I have fond memories of stops at the big red barn winery in Kutztown, where our boys scampered up the hill to the vineyards many years ago.
Carl's looking forward to the opportunities of carrying the Pinnacle Ridge brand and wines forward. A nice PennLive article outlines some of those plans, and we'll be out scouting for tasting room locations nearer to Philly.
Cheers to friendship, retirement, and new possibilities for Allegro and Pinnacle Ridge!
Well, we made it! 2020 is in the books and can return to being a figure of speech, something about hindsight. There's no way we could have predicted this past crazy year, but we couldn't feel more grateful to have survived it, and to have Allegro survive it as well.
I turned off a radio program the other day because they were running a "2020 News in Review" segment. I remember what happened in 2020. I didn't particularly want to hear about it all again. So much of the year was bitter, heart-wrenching, sad, anxiety-producing. To deal with that load, we've all gotten more tools in our tool-boxes, strategies of flexibility, priority-gazing, and appreciation to help us get through. I am particularly grateful for Carl's particular socket set.
One of Carl's favorite podcasts is Pivot, hosted by Scott Galloway and Kara Swisher. And I must say that Carl certainly put his own personal pivoting skills to good use in 2020. As the pandemic threat loomed and businesses all around the world were being shuttered, we went through many days of uncertainty, not knowing if we would be allowed to stay open, if we and our employees were "essential." From one hour to the next on some days, we'd get updates and mandates and Carl would have to quickly navigate through the information, heading into strategy sessions seeking ways that we'd be able to keep making and selling wine. When retail stores and restaurants closed, our curbs remained open. Customers found our wines in grocery stores and we delivered the wine straight to their doors.
There are many reasons why we survived 2020 as a business, and Carl stands behind all of them. Two decades of his work to grow and diversify the ways we make and sell wine mean that when one door closes, he's already framed out three nearby windows.
We purchased our second winery and vineyard in Stewartstown just before the pandemic changed everything. Well...back on September 11th, 2001, we had also just gone "all-in" with coming to Allegro in the first place. We've had practice with navigation through troubled waters, and this guy's got quite a rudder.
Priorities these days seem as clear as the winter night sky. Family, employees, customers. Some days, they all seem like family to Carl. That's a special thing.
Despite last year's rough times, loss, and uncertainty, the energy heading into this particular new year feels really good. We feel smarter, leaner, pragmatic, focused. We've really enjoyed the bonus days with our boys and the meaningful connections with all people Allegro. Life is good.
2021: Bring it!
I saw a headline recently that announced the death of "Snow Days" for schoolchildren. The main point of the article was that virtual learning protocols have put into place mechanisms which mean that, going forward, nothing--including severe weather which keeps school buses off the roads--will keep kids from still putting in a day of schoolwork, remotely.
I can't help but feel that this is a bit of a bummer.
I followed the rhythms of the academic calendar for nearly every year of my life, including the twelve which got me through the grades, the twelve more during which I did college and grad school coursework, and the many years when I taught college and elementary/middle school. Those rhythms--the ebbs and flows of the marking periods and semesters--are certainly engrained in me, even when I am not actively in an academic setting. As much as those rhythms felt good to me, I was still one of those--both as a learner and as an educator--who really appreciated a break in the routine, a good ol' SNOW DAY.
As kids, my brother and I would sit by the TV, watching the scroll of school closure announcements during snowy mornings in central PA, hoping that our school would be on the list. Like mad bingo contestants, we'd watch the names with intense anticipation. As an adult who is not a huge fan of winter driving, I would obsessively check snow and closing reports for hours before I would have usually gotten up to get ready for an actual school day. That moment that my particular institution would pop up on the TV or phone screen, I always felt the same exuberance of sweet release.
I enjoy responsibility and routine, but there is still something so compelling to me about being told, in essence: "Not today. Today, nothing will be asked of you, because the world is taking a big snowy break for a few hours, while we get plowed out." Living here in The Brogue, it's often literally true that we can't safely leave the property after big weather events, until we plow our own driveways or scrape off our own ice. A Snow Day is like permission to let go of the reins for just a little while, and let those horses drink in the stream. Listen to the snowy woods.
It's not easy to switch to virtual learning, and I am in awe of the learners and educators who have navigated these strange times of "hybrid" learning with such flexibility, going back and forth between formats and still getting everything done. And yes--Snow Days can wreak havoc and cause all kinds of scheduling headaches, particularly when big weather events pile up the cancellations like, well, huge drifts of "the white stuff." But still--what a shame (I've been thinking) not to have any chance of any future Snow Days, days unexpectedly and blessedly "off."
In a way, many of us have, in essence, been experiencing nine months of Snow Days, with our normal routines hampered by situations beyond our control. While cabin fever is real and "normal" is really hard to grab hold of, I do know that I've appreciated some aspects of this time in the home, time with our boys, time around the table with nowhere else to go.
So when the snow fell in earnest yesterday, I still felt a definite thrill. And waking up this morning to a world transformed was actually energizing. A good time to take another breath, put on some boots, and listen to a newly quiet winter world.