Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Taste of Wine Country.

So a few weeks ago Alice, The Human Male, and I went on a trip to Wine Country, VA (otherwise known as near Culpeper, VA—about 80 miles from DC and 30ish from Charlottesville). This is the first time that we’ve taken a trip that didn’t involve holiday travel—meaning it was the first time where we weren’t visiting dogs or family Alice knows. In fact, it was the first time that The Human Male and I had taken a trip that didn’t involve holidays or moving. And I have to say, it was a great and memorable choice.

As I mentioned briefly a couple weeks back, we stayed at The Inn at Meander Plantation, which I’ve since started calling “My Happy Place”. Why, you ask? Because this was the view from the front of the house:

And this was the view from the back:

Gorgeous, peaceful, calm, lovely. I LOVED it.

I actually just stumbled across the place while searching for dog-friendly B&Bs online. I found them through a website that compiles B&Bs and has little pages for each. I loved it from the description and couple of pictures that I saw. There were two things that really pushed me over the edge with it: one, they have cottages on the property; two, they mentioned on this little website that they had a rescue dog with a past and two rescue cats. While it’s much less frequent (or maybe we just don’t notice it anymore), we still occasionally get looks because of Alice’s scars, and the idea of being able to take her somewhere where people wouldn’t give it a second thought seemed… nice; and three, the food sounded awesome.

After I made our reservations, I realized that I wasn’t going to the real website. And “Ooooohhhhhh!!!!” was all I could say. Totally lucked out. Not only did it look even better than it sounded, I found out that the women who run it are both former writers from my neck of the woods in Chicago—and one was a former food writer/chef. While my time in New York was full of absolutely fabulous food, nothing compares to eating in Chicago.

One of the things that they request is that you do dinner there one night. It’s $65 a person, pre-wine, which is a little steep, but it was five courses from Chicagoan chefs—we could go for the splurge.

So I anxiously count the days until we leave. I think I actually started packing two weeks before we left. Or perhaps it was repacking—Alice kept on getting into her bag and taking out her toys.

After making it through DC holiday weekend traffic, the trip was great. Before I moved

here, I never knew how geographically diverse Virginia is: definite metropolises, college towns, old Civil War-type areas, and beautiful rolling mountains. Everything around us was farmland, mountains, and so green. It was just gorgeous.

We got to the Inn and they told us that we were the only ones with dinner reservations that night, and asked if we’d like to either change our reservation to another night or have a three-course picnic basket dinner instead. Asking if I want a picnic is like asking a raccoon if he wants something shiny—I absolutely cannot resist a picnic. We had what has now become one of my favorite dinners ever, with Alice.

That night we walked Alice around the grounds and spent the first night in our darling little cabin. It was perfect.

So let me tell you how much of dog people the owners are. In our room, we had not only a brown towel to wipe off dewy, dirty dog feet and a sheet to go over the furniture so that they could jump on the antiques without damaging them, but here’s the pillow in our room:

Alice had a lot of fun chasing her tennis ball around the room and shoving it under new furniture, but she seemed a little on edge. I got the impression she didn’t understand where we were, why we weren’t home, or why there weren’t people and dogs she knew around. We tried to explain that we were all on a vacation. I’m not sure it registered.

The next day we woke up and had an absolutely divine breakfast. All the breakfasts we had there were three courses, and it’s totally ruined normal breakfasts for me. They should all come with a muffin course, a fruit course, and main meal. That morning, we had absolutely incredible lemon poppyseed muffins, sorbet on grilled pineapple, and omelettes with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and goat cheese. It was incredible.

We got back to the room, and Alice was sitting in her cage, absolutely frantic. We took her out, and discovered that while we were gone, the cleaning crew came through. So not only were we someplace different, strangers were coming into her house! She was a basket case pretty much the rest of the day.

Fortunately, we spent a lot of it outside, visiting vineyards. In total, we went to four. The first one we went to was Rappahannock. I had high hopes for this place—their website seemed great and they expressly stated that they allowed dogs. We drove for what seemed like forever to get out there, and when we finally arrived, we were sorely disappointed. This was the pet area:

We ran inside to see if we could quick grab a bottle, but not only were there no bottles out to grab, they had mainly golf-related wine items for sale. I have no idea why. The real kicker is that the tasting, which was listed as $3.50 on the Inn’s Website, was actually $7.50—and they had no interest in even acknowledging that we’d walked into the tasting area. I’m hoping that we caught them on a really, really off day, and that normally it’s not this lousy. One good thing, though: I got a great picture of Alice near their vineyard.

We felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, and it was a super long drive not to pick up a bottle, so we followed signs to another vineyard about a mile away called Oasis. We pulled up to it, and noticed that the front vines looked a little weary, but it was clear that not only did they have a lot of land, they had a gorgeous view and beautiful decks to sit and watch it.

It ends up that the withery vines were because the vineyard went out of business. What a shame! I could see this being the most perfect place to spend a Friday night, listening to music. Fortunately, it does appear from their website that they might be reopening in the spring. I hope so!

Feeling dejected, we started to head home and to hit a vineyard that was on our list called the Grey Ghost. The Inn offered a lot of their wines and its name is awesome, so we figured they were good. But the website was quite eh and they didn’t say they allowed dogs, so we kind of blew it off at first. Note to self: the wine list at a good B&B is a better indicator than a low-tech website.

We decided we’d do a quick run in, taste, and head out. We ended up spending maybe an hour there, in their beautiful yard next to part of their vineyard, eating great cheese and crackers—with Alice. They had zero problem with her being there.

Besides coming home with two great bottles of wine, it’s made me want to really start compiling a list of places in each state where dogs are welcome (so start compiling your own lists, I’ll be asking for them soon).

On our way back to the B&B, we saw signs for Unicorn Winery—the place with the store puggle I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. I won’t rehash the story, but I will reiterate that we think Alice picked a fight with Sammy because she was stressed out. I will also say that they were wonderful, their vineyard was wonderful, their Viognier and Traminette are fabulous, we’re saving a bottle of their Meritage for a special occasion, $5 gets you a taste of all 11 of their wines, and I can’t wait to go back there. Oh, and we also came back with awesome wine glasses.

Since it was Friday, and no Friday would be complete without pizza and wine, we stopped at a place called Luigi’s in Culpeper for take-out. If you find yourself in the area, do stop in—they were lovely people and the pizza rocked.

On Saturday, breakfast began with perfect, hot, gooey blueberry muffins, smoothies, and sweet potato pancakes for me (I can’t remember what The Human Male got—some super-looking omelette, I think). Since we were so close and I’ve been dying to go down there for years, we spent the day in Charlottesville.

What a freaking great town. Most of our time was spent on the Downtown Mall (a great pedestrian area full of restaurants and shops), as well as trying to find the Charlottesville Running Company, a running store that Google Maps told me was everywhere from 3.6 miles away in one direction to 364ft in front of us a few seconds later—both of which ended up being in the middle of the same street. We never found it, but I’m determined to go back to Charlottesville and track it down.

We had lunch at a place called Rapture on in the Downtown Mall. Not only was the food awesome, they asked us if Alice wanted a dish of water—then brought out a huge metal dog bowl for her. We were shocked—not only are we used to having to ask for water, we’re used to the little Styrofoam cups!

Along the mall, they also have this HUGE chalkboard wall/sculpture, and an ample supply of chalk for drawing upon it.

Alice’s mood progressed substantially during the day. She started off on our drive down pouty.

But by the time we were eating, she’d been told enough times she was adorable and was back to her old cheery self.

Really cute: after seeing Alice do a high-five, our waitress came over and asked how we got her to do that—she was working with her dog on “shake”. That really touched me—not only did they make concessions for her with the dog dish, they actually showed an interest in her. All in all, Rapture was great.

On our way home, we stopped by Barnes and Noble for magazines. The only reason I mention this is that I’ve discussed taking Alice to B&N before, and that their policy varies by location. At the Charlottesville location (there’s just one), they don’t allow dogs.

On Sunday, we went back home. But not without one last divine breakfast. It started with cranberry walnut muffins, fruit (unfortunately, I can’t remember what was fancy about it), and baked eggs with gruyere. Oohhhhhhh, I’m still dreaming of that breakfast. It was unbelievable.

It was a bummer to leave, but I have to say, it was absolutely the best vacation. We arrived back in DC very mellow, with five bottles of wine and hundreds of gorgeous pictures. I quickly put one up as my work computer wallpaper, and I now reference it whenever work/life get a little stressful. Amazingly, it works.


Mr. Puggle said...

so glad you had a great time! i feel like i got to go on vacation too. my hips agree "nothing compares to eating in Chicago!" glad you found your happy place. :) i wonder what alice's is? i wonder what she is barking about to her friends at the dog park. "So, then i had the most delightful dog treat at the cute B&B"

Mr. Puggle said...

and oh, just loved the pic of the dog on the pillow. that was a good one.

mamala said...

Great pillow-Izzy says she loves a man in uniform!

Mr. Puggle said...

okay, i checked and there has been only one visit from berwyn. it was on July 8th. they didn't stay long or click on anything. i guess berwyn doesn't like puggles?