Wednesday, February 4, 2015

It Takes a Woman

It takes a certain kind of woman to spend her days at a winery.

Oh, I'm not talking about someone like me who can easily (and just did) spend three days touring Virginia wine country. Going through a tasting, spending time by a fireplace hearth, admiring views of mountains and vineyards, that's a cinch. Actually, quite fun.

But working at a winery and spending your days catering to any strangers who walk in the door? Repeating the same information about your wines all day long? Refraining from drinking when you're dealing with obnoxious people?

That, I think, takes a particular skill set.

At Mediterranean Cellars in Warrenton, it looked effortless done by the wife of the winemaker. A charming woman who grew up in Greece before moving here with her husband in the early '60s, she didn't hesitate when I got nosy. In her distinctive accent, she shared that she'd been married for 54 years, sounding both proud and matter-of-fact.

Of course I had to know the secret of her success after a half century of marriage. "You have to hold hands and work things out together. Don't give up," she said with a twinkle in her eyes. Keep on keeping on, in other words.

It probably doesn't hurt that her husband's also a jeweler who works at a shop when he's not making wine, leaving the tasting room to her capable hands. I can't imagine such longevity in a relationship without a bit of space and probably a lot of wine.

If she was the winery pro, at Chrysalis Vineyard in Middleburg we met the complete novice. It was the first day of work for the young woman, a transplant from Puerto Rico, manning the counter and we were only her second customers.

We promised to make it as painless as possible for her.

Turns out her husband is in the Air Force and she'd taken the job despite knowing virtually nothing about wine. What she lacked in knowledge (she was reading the tasting notes to us straight out of a notebook), she made up for in eagerness to please and meaningless doublespeak. It was adorable.

She admitted in her lilting accent to not having tasted all of the wines and seemed convinced that certain aromas - cocoa, pepper - had been added to the grapes. "This one has a lot of grapes," she said in her most knowledgeable voice. Given that wineries are a business, one habit that's sure to be corrected very quickly was the generosity of her pours. But her smile never dimmed.

One of the biggest wineries (partially due to a massive gift shop full of merchandise that seemed to be geared toward women) of the past three days was Prince Michele Vineyard in Leon.

While a guy greeted us, we were soon handed off to a friendly woman to take us through the wines. She knew her stuff and was pleasantly easy-going, even sharing her wine drinking preferences, so it didn't take long for me to start getting to know her.

An army brat, she said she'd lived all over the world growing up, even being moved just before her senior year of high school (something she still seemed to resent, but who wouldn't?).

When I inquired where she lived now, she surprised me. "On a boat," she said, on the Northern Neck, but only during nice weather after experiencing how cold a boat's lower deck gets in winter. "By the time you get your cup of coffee upstairs to drink it, it's cold," she explained.

Turns out she also pours at General's Ridge Vineyard in Hague as well as works at a restaurant at the marina where they keep their boat. That's a busy woman.

Eventually I got out of her that her first concert was Ted Nugent at the Capital Center in 1980. Since I went to dozens of shows there back then, I asked her if she remembered how the air was always thick with pot smoke during a show. She remembered, she said, because she'd been one of the people smoking it.

Her best story involved being on the way to the hospital to have a baby and hearing "Catch Scratch Fever" on the radio and feeling like it was proof that Ted Nugent was the man and that she was his biggest fan. Why else would it have come on at that moment?

So big a fan apparently that she'd once tried to go backstage to say hello to Ted before a show and been promptly escorted outside, causing her to miss the show.

"I learned if you're going to try to sneak backstage, do it after you see the show not before," she said, summing up a life lesson well-learned.

Meanwhile, I learned that if you're going to stop by half a dozen wineries over three days, you'd better make plenty of stops to eat.

For sheer charm, I liked the Red Truck Bakery in Warrenton, a former Esso station with nothing but women behind the counter, all friendly and open to selling you breads, quiche, pies or breakfast and lunch which you could then eat at the communal table (we did).

After a chicken salad sandwich on divine hearty wheat bread with golden raisins, craisins and nuts, Route 11 potato chips and a root beer, I headed back to the bakery counter for dessert.

Two women were making their selections from the counter, trying to narrow their decision down and neither blinked an eye when the order total was $49. At a bakery. Toto, I don't think we're in Richmond anymore.

When I explained to the woman behind the counter that I was back for chocolate, she got a serious look on her face, peering into the case. She mentioned the Better than Kentucky Derby pie because of its chocolate chips, but they only came as whole pies.

Then reaching into the case, she said, "It's going to have to be a brownie" and handed one to me. You have to appreciate a woman who assesses the situation and just does what's needed.

Not that I expect to ever work in a bakery. Back in college, I mentioned to my then-boyfriend that I might want to open a  bakery after I graduated. He unkindly pointed out that I'd get in there, start baking and eating and not be able to get out of the door. That youthful dream died a chauvinistic death.

But maybe the winery thing has possibilities. I might get a kick out o being the person encouraging visitors to love the wine they're with.  Plus I'd be surrounded by wine. Could I pour for and chat with strangers all day long? Instead of going out to find conversational partners, they'd come to me. Oh, but wait. I couldn't just walk away when things got dull.

Scratch that fever.

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