Thursday, April 19, 2012

Following the First Lady

It was a field trip, but not like the ones of youth.

There was no permission slip to get signed. We didn't have to pack a lunch. And none of what we saw and learned today will show up on a quiz.

That said, we did have to be at the bus at 8 a.m., which is awfully early for people who go to bed late.

But the payoff was completely worth it; today's field trip was to three wineries in the Monticello wine region.

Accompanying us in a separate vehicle was the First Lady of Virginia.

It was better that way; we didn't have to be on our best behavior.

Our charming chauffeur, who referred to himself as Sir Richard (having been dubbed so by the Queen of England when she visited and he drove her around for Jamestown's 400th), was the best kind of designated driver.

Funny, careful and sober. He even told us what the Queen carries in her purse.

Arriving at King Family Winery to fog hanging over the mountaintops, I watched horses trotting around the polo field while the First Lady unveiled the new wine trail markers that will be put up around the state.

"Welcome to the Monticello American Viticulture Area," the large brown sign proclaimed.

Welcome indeed. Glad to be here.

Moving from the damp and cool outside air to the tasting room, I immediately sought the warmth of the enormous fireplace.

Once my bones had been warmed, I joined the rest of my group to taste through King Family's wines.

The most interesting part of what I learned from the French-born winemaker, Mattieu Finot, was that Petit Verdot is considered more masculine a grape and Merlot more feminine.

I found it not the least surprising that sex entered into winemaking.

Back on the bus, our next stop was Trump Winery, where none other than Patricia Kluge met our bus and shook our hands in greeting as we disembarked.

Hers is surely the richest (or at least formerly richest) hand I've ever shaken.

We were each handed a glass of Blanc de Blanc to refresh us after the brief trip from King Family.

She directed us to the nearby front garden where a long table for 26 had been set.

Taking her place in the center of the table across from the First Lady, Kluge stood and talked about the changes since Trump bought the winery at auction.

"Trump is big on patios," she laughed, explaining the concrete slab that the table rested on surrounded by grass. "So we now have patios everywhere."

It was actually a lovely little patio set among very tall trees and surrounded by the kind of velvety grass that mere mortals can rarely grow in their own yards.

She shared how she and Trump had met for barely three seconds when he announced, "I'll take it!"

In her opinion, she said, "We will eventually be known as a champagne house."

Soon plates of curried chicken salad were delivered to each of us and half glasses of Albemarle Sauvignon Blanc poured to accompany it..

That was followed by the classic-style Albemarle Rose, although I saw more than a couple of glasses of the gorgeous pink colored wine still sitting there at the end of the meal.

It seemed a shame to waste such a lovely Rose on a sunny day in the mountains, but then my glass held no pink.

By the time we'd tasted the Albemarle Simply Red, a medium-bodied Bordeaux-style blend, dessert was arriving.

Plates of mini-cupcakes benefited from glasses of Cru, the fortified wine that Kluge sees as their next star.

Because the cupcakes were small, some of us took that as a sign that we should taste as many as possible.

With choices of pistachio, yellow with dark chocolate icing, carrot with cream cheese icing, chocolate with coffee icing and red velvet, I opted for three of the five.

I might have even had two each of my two favorite flavors, figuring that there's no telling when next I'll be in the front garden of a winery having dessert and Cru.

Kluge offered one final toast to the First Lady, saying, "You are the first First Lady who really gives a damn about Virginia wine."

And on that note, we returned to the bus for the two-minute ride to Blenheim Winery, owned by a different kind of rich person, Dave Matthews.

There the winemaker, Kirsty Harmon, introduced herself, her Tasting Room manager  Andrew ("He's our Tweeting Manager. He was keeping tabs on you at Trump. We knew when you were having cupcakes") and her Vineyard Manager, Jonas.

Once the first wine was poured, we were told to "choose your own adventure."

That meant we could stay and taste and digest our lunch. We could follow Kirsty for a winery tour or tramp behind Jonas in the vineyards.

Friend and I opted for the German-accented Jonas and a chance to see the vines up close.

He showed us Petit Verdot rows and Chardonnay rows and his passion for planting, trimming, training and in general growing grapes was evident.

Smiling broadly, he admitted, "It's a great place to work. I'm amazed every day."

I would be, too, except that I could never stand to live so far outside the city. Still, there's no denying it's a great place to visit.

We headed back out of the fields to finish the tasting and, as is traditional on field trips, Friend made a few purchases with which to remember our trip.

Bottles of wine, a Blenheim t-shirt and chocolates (four of which we devoured the moment we got back on the bus) ensured that she'd have souvenirs of our adventure.

I couldn't afford such an expenditure, but I had plenty of satisfying memories bouncing around in my head.

Foggy mountains in the morning. A roaring fire on the back of my cold legs. A sunny luncheon in the grass. Endless rows of the tiniest grape clusters imaginable.

After napping on the bus on the way home, I could practically write a paper: "How I Spent My Field Trip."

What won't be included will be the picture my friend took of me sound asleep against the bus window.

No doubt drooling.

Some visuals would only detract from the memories of a very fine field trip.

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