Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Unhitched Romance

If you're looking for romance, snow-covered mountain scenery makes a fine backdrop.

But when you're looking for the secret to romantic longevity, you have to go to someone who knows.

The plan was to head to the ranch, the Marriott Ranch that is, a place that offered an historic inn and horseback riding on 4200 acres bought up for the past six decades by the founder of the Marriott chain.

Along the way up scenic Route 522, there were exquisite vistas of pristine snow-covered fields broken up only by the red of rooves and barns, the browns of trees and endless fences.

It smelled a lot like serious money.

After lunch in Culpeper at a place notable for its languid piano player and synchronized water glass filling and plate delivery, we set out for researching purposes.

Given the foot-plus of snow on the ground, we anticipated empty wineries for an afternoon of low-key tasting, but our first stop at Chester Gap was like walking into a party, the tasting room full of escapees from D.C. and beyond.

After trying everything, we got a bottle of the 2012 Viognier, its aromas of honeysuckle and peach a reminder that warmer days will come, and took it to the deck to enjoy a glass and escape the mob scene.

But my cute tights could only stand the frigid air for one glass before we made our winding way to Linden Vineyards to taste through the efforts of the man whose Virginia wines made even skeptics sit up and notice.

As a language geek, I immediately fell for his word choices on the tasting list - "stern and bone dry," "a pithy finish," and my favorite, "dances around on your tongue."

All true, by the way.

The cherry on top of the afternoon's wine hopping turned out to be Desert Rose Ranch and Winery, a place that not only raises grapes but also Arabian horses.

The knowledgeable woman who tasted us through their wines shared story after story about the owners, Bob and Linda, including that they'd been married for 50 years.

They got points for their wines names, everything from "Sparky Rose" (my dear departed beagle was named Sparky) to "Hitch Hollow" oaked chardonnay, named after a community that used to be on the land they own.

But my favorite name hands down was "Unhitched," another Chardonnay but with less oak and dedicated to the owners' long marriage because apparently that word had been thrown around a time or ten and yet still they stayed together.

With some Sparky Rose in hand, we found a table and in short order, were introduced to Bob, whom we invited to join us.

Okay, not just join, I admit I wanted to ask him about such a long and successful partnership as the one he clearly had with his wife Linda.

He insisted that part of their success was all his years working for the C.I.A., meaning long periods away from each other.

But when I pressed him for the secret to their success as a couple, he drilled it down to one reason.

"She can stand me," he self-deprecatingly insisted.

Insufficient data. So what is it about her that kept you interested for half  a century? "She's smart and she's funny," he said sincerely.

Personally speaking, I'd say those would be my top two requirements, too.

When we met Linda a bit later, I made sure to tell her what he'd said and her reaction was very sweet, as if she could still be touched by him telling strangers how lucky he was.

Now, that's romantic.

After dinner at the Flint Hill Public House, a place inexplicably decorated like a 1985 townhouse with a mirrored wall and white pleather chairs but serving fried pickles, we returned to the ranch to check out the 1814 Marshall manor house and because we were the only guests (and despite staying in one of the guest cottages), we had full access to the house and spent part of the evening exploring it.

It was a nice consolation for not being able to ride horses given the amount of snow on the ground.

I plunked on the keys of the grand piano, warmed myself on radiators as wide as my arm span, looked at family pictures of all the Marriott children and grandchildren hanging on the walls and nosily peeked in all three of the upstairs bedrooms.

In the morning, we returned to the house where a chef had shown up in advance to serve us, the one and onlies, breakfast in the sunny yellow room overlooking fields of snow.

We hit the road after filling up on blueberry scones, fruit, and eggs with pig two ways, hoping to visit the Patsy Cline museum in Winchester.

Alas, it was not to be (closed for the season) but walking through downtown, I was bowled over by the unlikeliest of sights, the 1907 Beaux Arts Handley Library looking more like a Russian cathedral with its enormous stained glass done than a library.

Inside was just as spectacular and unlikely with original chandeliers, a metal spiral staircase to the children's room, huge fireplaces with wooden mantles, a catwalk just below the dome overlooking the circulation area and, in the basement, a theater and a photographic history of the building from the original shots of workers digging out for the foundation to using hoists in the pre-crane era to put the dome in place.

It was like no library I'd ever seen, much less imagined.

The best part of the story was that it had been paid for by a Pennsylvania judge who'd fallen in love with the people of Winchester and wanted them to have a library after his death.

And did I mention that the design of the building was meant to look like a book with its pages open? It was the easiest way to spend an hour and a half I ever stumbled on to.

The afternoon brought more wine-tasting, although at a huge facility rather than individual wineries, and with scads of people doing the same.

I ran into a favorite wine geek and his lovely wife, eager to share that I'd just seen one of his favorite bands, Miss Tess and the Talkbacks a few nights before. There was also a knowledgeable wine purveyor I'd expected to see and there she was.

Of course I would be on the other side of the state and run into people I knew.

Tanya and Henry from Belmont Butchery were there cooking meat for the masses, as were untold other grill masters and we sampled through wild boar sausage, duck, goose, venison and more types of oysters than you could shake an oyster rake at.

There were so many wines to taste that you had to have a plan and mine went something like this: start bubbly and move on to a few choice whites and conclude with every Rose offered.

Done, game over.

Dinner was at Union Jack's, a pub in an old Union Bank building and overseen by the most efficient and personable barkeep imaginable. No glass ever saw its bottom unfilled, his patter was spot on and no one wanted for anything at his bar. It was truly impressive.

Not impressive like staying together with a smart and funny woman for half a century, but then few things are.

A smart man like Bob undoubtedly knew the romance of a well-spent weekend away. The good ones always do.

1 comment:

  1. That's an interesting story! I'm glad the guide gave you a little romantic history of the Desert Wine Ranch. Sounds like the owners are a loving couple. That story got me into high spirits about visiting that ranch. Maybe one day? Hahaha! Anyway, thanks for sharing that, Karen! All the best to you! :)

    Darren Lanphere @ Mirr Ranch Group