One of the things my parents have always been exceptionally good at is choosing their friends. Friends with benefits. (No, not that kind.) The kind with swimming pools, cabins in the woods, 2nd homes in the mountains, and now, they tell me, even chalets in Switzerland. But my favorite friends of my parents (FOPs) have got to be the Beaches. The Beaches, you see, have a farm.
Oh sure, Campicello, as it’s called, may not be a full-scale “working” farm. But it is a nice old (and very nicely renovated and remodeled) farmhouse that sleeps eight in beds, with a swimmable pond, a tractor, lots of rolling land, herb and vegetable gardens. Oh, and a small organic vineyard complete with a home winery under the barn.
Yep, my parents have finally outdone themselves with this pair. I’ve ingratiated myself to them as a houseguest with and without friends in tow many times over ever since I returned stateside two years ago. But managed to miss the grape harvest both years. This year, I was committed. And committed my husband along with me. (That’s what happens when middle-aged folk start pursuing their dream of farming. It’s akin to craziness.)
And so, inspired by the movie “A Walk in the Clouds,” I donned my frilly grape harvest dress, Amir tucked under a baseball cap, and we put our hearts into picking grapes in the vineyard with a view.
Now, these weren’t just any old run-of-the-mill grapes we were picking. These were genuine norton grapes. What’s that? Never heard of norton? Well, rather than pseudo-plagerize, I’ll just let you read a good summary from Northern Virginia Magazine:
“The Norton grape is truly Virginia’s grape. It was first introduced in 1820 by Dr. Daniel Norborne Norton in Richmond, Virginia. Around 1830, the Norton grape was introduced commercially and soon started to dominate wine production. This deep blue-purple grape was well known before prohibition and was even hailed as producing “the best red wine of all nations” at a worldwide competition in Vienna around 1873.
During prohibition, many vineyards were torn up and concord grapes were planted and used to make grapes for jellies and jams. Rebuilding vineyards on the east coast after prohibition was a slow process and many plants were lost.
Health-wise, the Norton grape is at the top. It has a high content of anthocyanins which gives it more significant antioxidant and antimicrobial properties than other grapes. Between the taste, the history, and the health factor, Norton wines have increasingly become highly valued.”
What they don’t mention is that norton is, well, controversial among wine aficionados. For one, it’s a hybrid, and apparently, self-respecting wine snobs must snub all hybrids, even one with a rich local history, whose resilience and hardiness lends itself to being grown organically. One would think the “Buy Local” ethos would extend to wine if it were sincerely embraced. I’m just saying. For two, norton wine has a distinctive flavor. Using the word distinctive in a wine is like using the word “cozy” in real estate. It’s code for something that doesn’t normally appeal to the masses. Norton has been described as “chewy,” and even “gooey,” in character. Its flavor hearkens to that of a concord grape, only with more tannin. It’s earthy. Sometimes even dirty. To me, it tastes ancient. Like the wine the guests at the wedding in Cana may have drank.
The sun blazed as we clipped bunch after glorious hanging bunch from the vines. As a seasoned (okay, one season) farmhand, I had high hopes of single-handedly stripping half of the rows in the acre before sunset. I got halfway down one row. There were a lot of grapes. And the vines are all tangly-like, this being a homegrown operation and all.
After another morning of picking, we had to abandon our hosts, with grapes still hanging on 4 rows. But not before we had yet another hearty homemade lunch, accompanied by some sturdy Campicello 2008 norton wine. We left the man of the house, happily harvesting away in his vineyard.
No, really. He was happy!