When Allegro's first vines were planted, Carl was 3 years old and I was 2. When John and Tim Crouch put together their first commercial vintage here, Carl was 10 and I was 9. And here we are, 40 years later, finding ourselves in our own 20th vintage at this special place. Who could have imagined?
As Carl and Nelson and the vineyard crew gear up for Allegro's harvest, I am undertaking my own sort of harvest. As the steward of Allegro's archives, I'm starting the rewarding task of looking through the documents of these past 40 years and sharing Allegro's history. I have started posting some historical treasures under the "Allegro Story" page here.
I come by an interest in history honestly. My dad's dad read history voraciously, and my dad has worked on several historical projects, including his 2016 book about a nearby Quaker meetinghouse and cemetery, for which I provided the photography.
Allegro's history is an interesting one. While the winery was quite small when Carl and I joined it in 2001, it had already garnered attention for the quality of the dry wines grown from its vinifera grapes, particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon. Allegro was unusual from the beginning, since the property was originally chosen by Bill Radomsky specifically because of its suitability for growing European-style wines. John was also a pioneering winemaker.
Interestingly, Allegro's biggest claim to fame through the years has been the old story about its "Opus 1" wine. I recently put together some of the documentation of this story, which occurred in the fall of 1983.
In a nutshell, the "Opus 1" story involves the fact that John and Tim had a peach-and-white-grape formula wine (similar to our current-day Celeste) which they, as musicians, named "Opus 1." In 1983, Robert Mondavi and Baron Philippe de Rothschild were gearing up to begin their hugely expensive and prestigious collaborative wine and winery, named "Opus One." When John read James Laube's article in Wine Spectator with the announcement of the name, he wrote a letter to Laube, followed up by a phone call, in which he told him about the doubling of the name.
Laube got a kick out of the "David vs. Goliath" aspect of the story about the tiny PA winery and the huge California enterprise. He wrote another article for Wine Spectator documenting the story of the two names, entitled "A tale of two Opus Ones."
Things were eventually ironed out between the two wineries and Allegro, in return for giving up the name, received a small sum of money, which was enough for Allegro to buy a new corker and to put in a bridge in the driveway leading up to the winery, spanning our small creek. As Carl noted in his 2009 blog post about the Opus Ones, Mondavi was also supposed to come to Allegro and taste John's wines--not just the peach but his beloved Cabs--but never did.
Along with the winery and vineyards, Carl and I inherited the "Opus One" corker and the "Opus 1 Memorial Bridge," as well as all of the accompanying stories.
My part in the story comes from March of 2003. John Crouch, who had sold Allegro to us after his brother's death at the end of 2000, passed away quite suddenly at the age of 55. He had remained living in his house here on the winery property, and his friendship with Carl and me was a very special part of our lives for that brief overlapping time that we spent here together.
Just a couple days after John died, I got a call at the winery from "Jim Laube, from Wine Spectator magazine." I couldn't believe it--the same renowned journalist who had written the Opus 1/One tale 20 years earlier was calling because he had heard about John's passing and wanted to send along his condolences. Here I was, here with my toddlers in my living room in our house near the vineyards, talking with the famous California wine writer. We talked about John and Allegro, and his interest was really wonderful. He ended up writing one more article for Wine Spectator, noting John's death and his place in the wine world: "The Spirit of Allegro Vineyards."
In another very sweet gesture, Laube also sent me the original of John's letter from 1983.
I took a look at that original letter this morning and thought a lot about John, Allegro, and the importance of harvesting history. It's humbling to hold the task, but I'm so happy to have the opportunity.
Cheers to you,
My camera gives me a lot of joy and a wonderful way of seeing. In the Age of Travel I got to go many places and photograph landscapes and wildlife. In these days of COVID, while the travel plans are on hold, I have actually found that I'm taking far more photos than I ever have before. Spending time looking at what's around us here in the vineyards of southern PA makes me even more appreciative of our stewardship of Allegro.
Over the course of a day, depending on what's going on, I tend to shift among four different lenses for my camera. Taking one day as an example, I'll show you what I mean. Early on Monday, I had on my regular lens, which lets me zoom in a bit, back away a bit, and generally get a pretty accurate view of what I regularly see. Using this lens, I photoed a cool moth on my window.
Heading outside later in the morning, I switched to my basic zoom lens, one I bought almost ten years ago when my son and I were heading to experience a safari in South Africa. With this lens, I caught my tallest blooming sunflower and the arrival of one of my favorite butterflies in the garden: the common buckeye. I also caught a goldfinch in the act of dismantling a zinnia blossom.
Mid-afternoon, when our dog started crawling under the bed, I knew that a thunderstorm must be on its way. Looking outside and seeing the dark clouds approaching, I immediately grabbed my camera and switched to the wide angle lens. I was going to have a lot to take in.
Finally, as the sun was setting, I realized I needed to shift back to my basic lens again, to catch the vineyard and the amazing clouds in the late-day light.
So there it was: my Monday, as seen through four different lenses. I saw things clearly, then closely, then in a much bigger picture, then with real insight, and--finally--clearly again.
I know that this kind of vision-switching is the same kind of thing that Carl does when thinking about Allegro's vines or wines or way ahead. Sometimes it's the leaf on the vine in front of us which needs immediate attention; sometimes we have to pan back and get a much bigger perspective on where we're headed. I'm really grateful for the tools we have that let us envision the way.
The one TV show I watch each week in real time is CBS Sunday Morning. I like the mix of in-depth news and art, music, biography, and nature. This morning they did a segment on groups of people--from the entire NBA in Disney World, to families in the suburbs--who are living in intentional "bubbles," staying safe during the COVID era by only exposing themselves to a limited number of people. I know that a lot of us are doing this these days, expanding our families just a bit so we can stay social and human while staying safe.
I was reminded of this segment tonight when I got to watch my favorite vineyard white-tailed deer family meet up with another family to form a special little deer "bubble" of their own. My favorite doe has three fawns this year, including a special one with extra white markings ("Betty White"). Tonight, as happens many evenings, her family of four had met up with a doe with two little ones, bringing the total to seven. I watched them emerge from the woods and take a saunter across the field toward the apple trees as the sun began to set.
I was, of course, projecting human qualities onto the deer, but it was pretty beautiful to see them all together, after I had spent time thinking today about how important it is that we deliberately seek out the villages that it takes for us to raise our children. This seems to stay vitally important, even under (and maybe especially during) extreme circumstances. I grew up in a neighborhood of free-roaming kids, and the parents and grandparents on the street all kept an eye out for us. These days we can tend to carve out our own spaces, complete with video screen windows into the rest of the world, so it is pretty great to gather round the table (or safely outside, when our bubble expands for an evening or two). Seeing the two does peeking out watchfully from the woods together, I couldn't help but wonder what they might be communicating as they watched their five little ones munching and prancing all together.
Back in the Age of Travel, I got to see and photograph herds of elk, pods of dolphins, prides of lions. Around here these days, that doesn't seem to happen so much. But three cheers for the flocks and pods and extended family and every other kind of connection which we are working deliberately to maintain and appreciate. We're not supposed to be living in isolation--together we learn, bump up against each other, and learn some more.
I couldn't have felt more fortunate than to see--by chance--all of these beautiful animals together here tonight. I've sometimes spent hours just sitting outside and waiting, hoping that the deer will appear before it's too dark to see and photo them. This was a lucky moment, to see this band of sisters and brothers and mothers, and to feel the natural affinity among us, as we walk along together for a little while.
Last night Carl and I celebrated our 27th wedding anniversary. We don't usually do a lot to commemorate the day, but (being us) we did take the time to really enjoy some nice wines and a good meal at home, topped off by the most amazing cake I have ever eaten.
First, the wines:
-Carl had received the lovely gift of a bottle of Maison Mumm RSRV Cuvée 4.5, a special Brut Champagne bottled in 2011. It was lemony and bright, fruit-focused. We enjoyed it very much before and during our light pasta supper.
-Next, we shared a bottle of Allegro's 2013 Reserve Chardonnay, a mature honeyed white with a flavor note neither of us remember tasting in it before: strawberries.
-With dessert, we sipped the 2017 Cadenza, which is primarily a blend of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Carl's notes on the wine remind me that he recommends cellaring this vintage for a few more years. He calls it a "baby," sharing in the pedigree of Allegro's older great Cabs. (I have to say that it's pretty enjoyable now, too.)
-Speaking of great older Cabs, after dinner came the true winner: the 1998 Cadenza. This was a wine which was grown and made before our time at Allegro, but which Carl helped bottle when he first showed up in July of 2001. It was made by John Crouch as a tribute wine to his winegrower brother Tim, who passed away in 2000. (The front label has a photo of a pink geranium, taken by Tim.) The wine has so much body and flavor, color and tannins--despite its age. One sip also took us right back to our first days at Allegro--and this will be our 20th harvest here!
Then, about that cake.... Our 18-year-old has added to his new list of skills-in-the-time-of-COVID: He now can apparently formulate and bake the most amazing cakes. For this particular cake, he listened carefully to what his parents dreamed of in a dessert: dark chocolate, not too sweet, no gratuitous frosting, maybe raspberries. Then he spent quite a while yesterday afternoon making it happen. Dutch process cocoa, three layers of cake and two of raspberry jam, raspberries adhered to the top with chocolate, a light chocolate syrup glaze and just a dusting of powdered sugar. It was jaw-dropping to look at and pretty perfect to taste. Happy sigh. We're really lucky people.
Last night we spent time doing something which I haven't done in years: looking at the night sky through my telescope. I was originally going out to see meteors, though the Perseid meteor shower would have been more stunning closer to dawn. Instead, I ended up training the telescope on two planets shining really brightly, not far from each other, just above a tree to the southeast of our picnic table: Jupiter and Saturn.
Several times I have spotted Jupiter's four Galilean moons through the telescope, but I can't remember ever before seeing them this clearly. This morning I looked up an amazing website which let me determine which order the moons were in: Turns out, from left to right at that particular hour, we were seeing Ganymede, then Callisto, Io, and Europa, all named for mythical lovers of Jove.
I set up my tripod and camera and got a couple decently clear shots of the planet and its moons, though I know very little about astrophotography and found it really hard not to shake the camera, with all of my excitement. Here is my best effort:
Even more exciting to me (but not successfully photographed) was seeing incredibly clearly Saturn and its rings. I think that this was only the second time that I have seen those rings, and for whatever reason it really chokes me up. How amazing is it--that from this vineyard property in this outpost of southern Pennsylvania, we can see glimpses of other worlds?
When Carl turned 50 back in early March, I was super-proud of myself, because for once I'd thought of the perfect gift. (He is notoriously difficult to buy presents for, because he doesn't ask for much.) I decided to gift him with 50 dates to eat at 50 restaurants, with the promise that we could try to get to all of them together. I spent hours online, picking 50 well-reviewed restaurants within an hour of The Brogue, nearly all of which neither of us has ever visited. Many are fine-dining restaurants, with promises of gobs of charcuterie platters and scallops and duck and boeuf. Many represent ethnic foods which we love: Thai, Indian, Italian, authentic Mexican. I copied part of the online menu of each restaurant into a document to print. I printed 50 "menus," put each in a menu sleeve, and wrapped up the stack of 50 promises. I also randomly chose one of the restaurants and made a dinner reservation for the following week.
Carl loved the gift. COVID-19 hit. We haven't yet gotten to a single one of these restaurants.
During earlier phases of Pennsylvania's response to COVID-19, the restaurants were shuttered, other than for curbside take-out. With the exception of 4 restaurants which still remain closed at this time, the restaurants on our list have re-opened to in-person dining, though in many instances hours and seating are limited for the time being.
Since March, all of our lives have changed. We are beyond grateful that our wineries and vineyards weren't forced to close; we were deemed an "essential" business by the state of Pennsylvania and have stayed open, though our indoor spaces are still closed to customers. We are committed to everyone's safety--including Carl's, whose health is essential to the business, which employs dozens of people.
Here in our home, each of us has developed new skills during the pandemic. Our sons learned the ins and outs of home renovation, as they redid the downstairs, complete with a new wall, carpeting, and home theater. Our younger son has been fixing our cars and just built a working computer from the parts of broken-down trash computers. And I? I spend hours many days turning our kitchen into a home restaurant.
When the pandemic hit, I took really seriously the role of food provider for the four of us. I spent a lot of time planning how we'd get food, and part of me turned "prepper" as I stayed up late with insomnia, ordering things like powdered eggs and whey protein. (I still don't know what that is, but I have a big canister of it.) Planning for how we'd get food was my way of trying to control at least one small part of our lives.
I also realized that my cooking was the only cooking we were likely to taste for a while. The guys are all capable cooks, and in the past we have shared cooking duties. (Carl, in fact, did all of the home cooking during the years when I taught at a Waldorf school.) But I chose to step into the full-time role willingly, grateful for the task and challenge and opportunity to plan all of our foods, all of our daily family suppers. Many days, when my brain gets foggy, I've just headed to the kitchen, pulled out the flour, and started to bake something. Bread. Muffins. Naan. Flatbread. Soft pretzels. Homemade goldfish crackers (my older son's favorite snack).
I keep records of my expanding food repertoire and spend my extra time watching cooking competitions online. Food is big in my life, in all of our lives. I keep a never-ending candy bowl supplied with an array of candy surprises for our younger son, who loves to snack and graze. That's how he would be eating if he were out in the world again and going to WaWa with his friends. I'm happy to provide it for him here.
One of the most enjoyable cooking challenges I have given myself through these months is to imagine, "What if we all went out to a restaurant? What would each of us order?" Then I find a way to try and replicate that restaurant experience for us here. It takes advance grocery planning and the kitchen usually ends up looking like a tornado whisked through, but my buffet lines of food here on our kitchen island make me so incredibly happy. One day, it was a German restaurant , a throwback to the years Carl spent living in Germany: Bratwurst, Spätzle, Rotkohl, Kartoffelpuffer (not super-successful, but popular nonetheless), Himbeer-Kuchen. Other days, I go full-on Indian, making all of my vegetarian favorites for the buffet: Saag Paneer, Dal Tadka, Garlic Naan, Raita, Chickpea Vindaloo. (OK--now I'm hungry.) I turned Dylan's 18th birthday supper into a full-on Seafood Boil. One night was Fondue Nite. Lots of nights are Pizza Shop Nites.
Last night for supper, I worked to recreate a specific restaurant dish which my older son and I had when we were in Biloxi, Mississippi (back in the Age of Travel). While neither of us eat much seafood, he ordered Voodoo Shrimp at the Half Shell Oyster House. It was the best shrimp either of us had ever had. I remember thinking how much the rest of the family would enjoy tasting it, so I did my best to bring it to life here in The Brogue. On the menu: cheesy polenta, a tomato creole sauce, my own cajun seasoning blend, spicy cheesy mini muffins, and my best approximation of Voodoo Shrimp. While we weren't actually transported to the Gulf Coast, I have to say I did feel good about bringing that specific food memory back to life and sharing it with everyone.
Someday we'll get to 50 great restaurants, and we're happy to support regional food providers. But no matter what lies ahead, I think I'll keep the home restaurant going, too, getting deep joy and comfort by sharing good tastes with the people that I love.
It's been mostly a dry summer for us here in southern Pennsylvania, but over the past few weeks we have had some pretty impressive storms. Because of our situation relative to the regional geography, we often see storms passing without actually getting rained or lightninged on ourselves. I've actually seen this phenomenon happen on radar, as our outpost south of The Brogue is represented by a hole or parting of the stormclouds passing visibly to our north or south.
This afternoon we've got the darkness and the rumbles which send our dog scurrying to wedge herself under the bed, but so far hardly any drops. It's hard not to just sit and watch the clouds roll in and over and away. Sure, they can cause vineyard and trellis damage. But still...storms are so compelling.
I was reminiscing recently about how, when I was growing up in State College, my brother and best friends and I would sit out on the front porch and dare ourselves to watch summer thunderstorms from that perch, no matter how furious the conditions would get. When my friend Gretchen, after moving away to LA many years later, came here to winery to visit, we sat out on the screened-in porch and had supper with my family during a particularly raucous storm. She commented about how much she had missed thunderstorms--apparently they are an extremely rare phenomenon in that part of California. For some reason, having only lived in Pennsylvania and Indiana, I was surprised to hear that. I guess I assumed that everybody gets thunder sometimes.
I love visiting the parts of the Midwest and West where thunderstorms are particularly dramatic. I can remember nearly blowing off the road near Omaha, hearing the tornado warning sirens as the sky turned black. I remember watching a huge storm approach the Grand Canyon. (Ahh--those wonderful adventures back in the Age of Travel...) While we definitely don't live in Big Sky Country here,the vineyards and wide fields near them do afford us a pretty big view of the sky, for this part of the world.
The air is still. The dog is wedged. Thunder's growling and cracking. I can see the rain rolling in, and I feel that familiar thrill. Heading to the front porch...bring it on.
Wow, they're good parents: That has been my thinking over and over this late spring and summer, watching the two house wren couples and one Eastern bluebird couple who have built nests and raised little birdlings in the birdhouses we have on some of our sheds. In all the families, both parents have been incredibly industrious, attentive, and protective. It's been inspiring.
As a mom of two sons aged 18 and 20, I can't help but identify with the others around me--whether they have feathers or fur or family minivans--who are also trying to do their parental best. In mid-June, we watched a fierce snapping turtle mama lay her eggs in the newly-turned soil of our garden. In mid-July, I laughed out loud, watching the three goofy white-tailed deer youngsters frolicking in the rain in the field by the vineyard. I also watched their strong and beautiful doe mom watching them protectively. Particularly in this mad time around the COVID-19 pandemic, I connect with others who are trying to protect those they love, especially to protect those who are most vulnerable.
This year, I know I am paying more attention to the outside world than I ever have before. While I have always been a nature-watcher, ever since I was a little kid, and while I have gone to great lengths as an adult to put myself in places in the world where I might be able to observe all kinds of wildlife, I have never before spent so much time looking out the windows of my own house, or looking around when I am out in the yard or the garden or the vineyards. I know that part of it is because it can be hard for me to focus on tasks at hand when the world is going through so much turmoil. I find myself looking out the windows when I'm not able to read or write a full sentence without getting distracted. And the life beyond those windows is certainly distracting enough, with all of the squirrel antics and bird dramas and groundhog sibling rivalries.
Something which I have never before watched and never even expected to see has been the family life of bluebirds once the little ones leave the nest/house. Wonderfully, this year has given me the gift of this experience.
The second week of July, I knew that the bluebirds had abandoned their wooden house. When I started seeing dots of blue on the wires of the deer fence around the vineyard, I knew they were bluebirds, but at first I didn't make the connection. One day, as I walked by the vineyard, I got to see them a bit more closely, and I realized that I was seeing bluebird fledglings for the first time ever. They definitely were adorned with blue, but also with spangled chests and wings. Once I had identified them, I started seeing the family of five (two parents, three little ones) just about any time I went to walk outside.
I noticed how much the young ones still asked of their parents. Any time their mom or dad were in the area, the fledglings would hang out on nearby branches. When the parent would successfully get an insect, the three would bustle over and line up noisily, each begging for attention.
I guess I can relate, though it seems like a lifetime ago that my boys were little. In my experience, it is certainly true that grown-up kids still ask things of their parents, and that as a parent I am still doing my best to meet their needs, even as they become ever more self-sufficient, but it's not anything like it was back in the day. While I don't miss that neediness, maybe sometimes I do miss knowing that I could pretty much provide them with everything.
These days, we all seem to have new vulnerabilities which need care. It's good that we stay attuned to that.
Today our older son headed out to begin his junior year of college. We packed his car full of masks, hand sanitizer, and a semester's worth of snacks. It's hard to balance the letting go with all of the unknowns.
I am so grateful that we had our full "nest" here again for these past four and a half months, as strange as the circumstances may be. I trust him to make decisions on his own behalf, and it certainly is time for him to be leading his life.
My dad reminded me today of the saying that it's good to give kids "roots and wings." It made me remember the time many years ago when my son and I drove past a church sign that said exactly that: "Give your children roots and wings." I was surprised when he burst into laughter. I asked him what was funny, and he said that a kid with roots and wings would be in kind of an absurd situation. I could picture it. He was right. Rooted to the ground, how could they fly?
So, like every other thing in family life, it's a balance. Roots and wings: They grow at different times, in different measure. We've had bonus months of family suppers and movie nights. Now: Bring your mask, don't forget to text, and test those wings. We'll be here.
While I was growing up, my mom was the cook of the house, and her most-used cookbook was one which might be familiar to others of you from back in the day: the red-and-white checkered Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book containing recipes ranging from the everyday to the elevated. Over the years she made our family many recipes from this book; I remember the most often-used ones were on pages splattered with batter and sauce, threatening to slip from the metal rings after being turned so many times.
One recipe which got a lot of use and became quite faded over the years was one we knew well: "Chocolate Chippers." It was a chocolate chip cookie recipe which could be made either into bars (which was the way my mom usually made it) or into individual cookies. We loved those cookies—they were a real favorite.
My dad bought me an updated copy of the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook for Christmas during my last year of college. The following year, when Carl and I got our first apartment, I made a promise to myself that I would choose some of my favorite foods—starting with chocolate chip cookies and pizza—and deliberately work through recipes until I could make each one exactly to my taste, from scratch. In our new and tiny kitchen, I cracked open the cookbook and looked up certain favorites. I was surprised to see that “Chocolate Chippers” had been replaced by a more typical “Chocolate Chip Cookies” recipe. The ratios and some of the ingredients were different than I was used to, and when I tried the new recipe it just didn’t seem right. I was now on a mission.
While it seems quite a simple now, this was the first recipe I ever modified by myself, a bold step on the way toward culinary development and freedom. I made and we ate a lot of cookies on the way to to-me-perfection—no complaints from Carl along the way!
Once I found my favorite ingredient combination, I wrote it on a recipe card and put it in our metal box of “Happy Recipes.” Now preserved in a plastic sheet protector, this card, like my mom’s cookbook page, is faded and stained and hard to read. You’d think I would have the recipe memorized by now, but I still need the card on the counter when I break out the mixer. My boys love the cookies, and because my son Carl prefers butterscotch chips to chocolate ones, I divide the batter in half when I make it for them, so each can have his stash. (I tend to double the recipe first.)
My chocolate chunk cookies have found their way to many gatherings of friends and family and students and employees over the years, and I always love sharing them.
When the COVID-19 pandemic effects hit in March of this year, Allegro was thrust into uncertainty along with the rest of the industry, along with the rest of the world. From day to day, we didn’t know whether our production and sales would be allowed to proceed or if we would be shut down. So much hung on the proclamation of whether or not we would be deemed an “essential business” in Pennsylvania. Our family’s livelihood hung in the balance, as did the jobs of our business, vineyard, winery, and sales employees. Adrenaline would course through my system each time Carl would come up to the house from the winery with the latest update. It was a scary time.
After weeks of twists and turns, we came to find a bit more peace and balance. Our business was deemed essential. We scaled back on our employees but kept our wonderful core full-time team employed. Like everyone, we hunkered down and tried to make the best of a “new normal” which still never quite felt settled.
Like many others, I have found it hard to sleep and hard to keep my brain from turning to mush through these strange months. When I’m too tired or unfocused to work, I’ve learned to take myself to the kitchen and to just start cooking or baking. The task of feeding myself and others is tangible, doable. After our son’s college turned to online learning, he returned home to the tribe and I expanded my repertoire for the family of once-again four. Those four coming together at the end of the day to eat supper together is the hub of our spinning wheel.
As I started baking more, it occurred to us to share these efforts more with the Allegro family as well. We’ve been so grateful to our employees for their dedication and care, a big part of what has sustained the business through unpredictable days. From week to week, I’ll bake muffins or brownies or cookies and send little surprise packages to those working in the wineries and vineyards. It seems like a simple thing, but these days—especially these days—connection and kindness are essential, too.
The first days of our little distribution of sweets to our employees, there was no question of what would be in the bags: chocolate chunk cookies. They are big and beloved, and to me they taste of everything from childhood to adulthood to motherhood to community. And brown sugar. And chocolate. Yum.