With the Dave Matthews Band celebrating their 25th anniversary over the next few weeks in the town where it all began right here in Charlottesville, we kicked off the festivities by enjoyingBlenheim Vineyards first ever Library Series Dinner. Blenheim is the dream project of owner and renowned musician Dave Matthews himself, who is famously committed to healthy food communities, from implementing sustainable vineyard practices to actively serving on the board of Farm Aid. Teaming up in the kitchen for the evening were popular chefs, Matt Greene of JM Stock Provisions and Tristan Wraight of Oakhart Social. The inaugural affair was all coordinated splendidly by local favorite, Hill and Holler, a roving farm dinner event company that brings together the farm-to-table community around Charlottesville, and we were delighted to join them.
Upon arriving to the vineyard, we were greeted in the library by the cheerful Tracey Love, a member of Blenheim’s team and co-founder of Hill and Holler. Heading back outside, we ventured to a vintage wine trailer, a mobile serving station of The Cozy Caravan Club, where Blenheim’s amazing winemaker, Kirsty Harmon (above), was pouring. We especially enjoyed the perfectly balanced chardonnay, Kirsty’s first wine with the vineyard. She mingled with guests throughout the evening, sharing that while her primary goal is to make wines to enjoy in the “here and now,” it is also satisfying to make wines that age splendidly and can be enjoyed for years to come. We overheard her describing the exceptional wines available throughout the evening to guest Kath Younger (as seen below), local Charlottesville food blogger. Born in the Netherlands, Kirsty’s winemaking career began after studying with famed winemaker Gabriele Rausse, owner of Gabriele Rausse Winery and director of gardens and grounds at Jefferson’s Monticello and earning an M.S. in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis, all before apprenticing at wineries in France and New Zealand.
Guests meandered around the property enjoying the beautiful vineyard and mountain views, and munched away on the creamy goat’s cheese and cucumber canapés, served by the terrific catering team in their charming pinafores. The perfect Virginia spring evening was complete with a local bluegrass quartet playing softly in the background. Dating back to the 1700s, the Blenheim property was used as farmland before being acquired by the Matthews, who turned it into the vineyard and winery it is today. Now inextricably linked to the musician, the business is a family affair, with members of the Matthews family managing the day-to-day responsibilities. Matthews himself enjoys and contributes regularly to the operations on the property, from co-designing the architecture of the eco-friendly tasting room to hand-drawing the Painted label series.
The five-course family-style dinner began with a delicate seafood amuse-bouche, followed by a richly flavored grilled bluefish salad with tarragon dressing. The course was paired with Blenheim’s 2014 Painted White, named so because it is part of the exclusive reserve series sporting one of Dave Matthews hand “painted” labels that he creates art for each year. The refreshing elements of the wine perfectly complemented the curried almonds and citrus notes on the salad, each flavor becoming cleaner when juxtaposed. Our next course was individually grilled escarole salads, offset with salty capers and olives and paired with a crisp 2015 Rose—winemaker Kirsty’s newest addition to Blenheim’s line of wines and our senior editor Sarah’s top choice of vino for the evening!
The main course—lamb served two ways over a bed of savory barley—was a crowd-pleaser, especially to our editor-in-chief and barley enthusiast Jen. Sides of char-grilled naan bread were accompanied by colorful, pickled vegetables that packed a surprising spicy punch, and a trio of dipping sauces. Paired with a rich 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon—a newfound favorite for our red wine-loving online editor Mandy—the course had something for everyone.
As the sun descended, the strands of bulbs adorning the inside of the tent and candles scattered amongst the tables added a wonderful warm glow to the magical evening. We helped ourselves to coffee in the library, perfect in the cool spring air, as they served the final and sweetest course of the evening—the season’s first fresh strawberries drizzled in finger-licking, flavorful honey atop a bed of whipped ricotta. Our staff loved this dish a little too much some might say that we were caught on camera licking our plates by our delightful dinner companion and local blogger Kath of Kath Eats Real Food.
As the evening wound down, we snuck into the kitchen to personally thank chefs Matt and Tristan (above). Matt is the co-owner of JM Stock Provisions, Charlottesville’s only whole-animal butcher shop and provider of the night’s delicious sustainable Virginian meats. Tristan is the founding chef of Oakhart Social and self-admittedly thrives on big, unique flavors and stunning presentations. We could not have asked for a more perfect culinary pairing or more remarkable evening.
Blenheim Vineyards is gearing up this week for the 25th Anniversary festivities of our local band-gone-huge, the Dave Matthews Band (of course!). Many locals can still remember Dave bar-tending downtown or the band playing at Trax. Some locals even have connections to the band member’s kids at school or have personally run into Dave around town. The band is kicking off their celebratory tour here in their hometown, with a benefit concert at the John Paul Jones Arena on May 7th. Proceeds from the concert will benefit the Charlottesville community through the band’s generous Bama Works Fund.
Join us over the next couple of weeks as we show some love to DMB, still local in our hearts and minds, and head to Blenheim Vineyards over the concert weekend to celebrate. You can find details to plan your experience on Blenheim’s website. A HUGE thank you to Tracey Love of Hill and Holler for creating such a beautiful evening for us all and her always gracious hospitality. We can’t wait to see what Hill and Holler will do next, but one thing is for sure, we’ll be right there supporting it!
This March, we were swept to lands far, far away as Forage took us to an Arabian Night. The brainchild of Feast’s Megan Kiernan and local foodie Justin Stone, Forage is an immersive dinner series that incorporates a chosen theme into an entire dining experience. Themes are chosen based on whatever inspires the dynamic duo; and for this dinner, it was the infamous tale of love, suspense, fantasy and redemption.
Upon entering, guests were greeted with canopés and an original cocktail, mixed by Stone. Following the mantra of Forage, one of the drink’s components was a shrub grown in Stone’s own backyard. As the names suggest, all of the dining series aim to incorporate as much home grown, locally sourced and, yes, foraged food and decorative items.
The dining room was a welcoming sight with its beautiful tablescape of colorful fabrics and glasses, themed pottery and tin trinkets—all warmly lit by candles. Each of the menu’s three courses was named as though it was a story from the Arabian Nights tale. Before the first course of lamb over lemon-infused hummus with watercress grown in Kiernan’s garden, “The Story of the Hummus Wars,” diners were regaled with a brief reading from the dinner’s inspiration.
The second course, “The Story of the Sphere Who Went for a Swim,” included a delicious pomegranate infused Khoresh on a bed of saffron rice. Kiernan, who was also the chef for this particular series, introduced this course, explaining how the broad “Arabian” theme allowed her to experiment with Middle Eastern foods from different geographic areas.
For the final, and sweetest, course, diners were presented with two options. “The Story of the Apricot who Drowned in the Rice” was a creamy coconut rice pudding with honeyed apricots, and “The Story of the Snake” was a pastry made in a coil that spiraled out from the center of the plate. As the coil bakes and cools, the coil rings take on different consistencies, and guests were invited to try pieces from both the center and the outside of the pastry to compare. As the candle light dwindled over the last course, guests were content with mingling into the evening, enjoying the shared experience of good food, good company and good fun.
With a history of dinner series including a Periodic Table Dinner exploring molecular gastronomy, a formal Black and White Masquerade, an outdoor Picnic Party and others, we are excited to see what the creative pair comes up with next!
What were the bright green buds of this Chardonnay just days ago are now brown and brittle ones—damaged from a bad frost that hit the region this past Friday and Saturday nights.
Jeff Sanders of Glass House Winery says he estimates a 10-20% loss of the Chardonnay and, to a lesser degree, some of the other budding varieties of Pinot Gris, Merlot and Barbera. Overall, he estimates a 5% loss for his 2016 harvest based on the late spring frost. “Losing the early buds to frost damage will not kill the vines,” says Sanders, “but the first buds to emerge are the ones that yield most of the fruit. The secondary buds still to come will yield just maybe 20% of the amount the primary buds.” This will make many 2016 Chardonnay harvests in limited supply. “I feel pretty lucky actually,” states Sanders. “Most of us (winemakers) spent the weekend together for the festival (Taste of Monticello Wine Trail Festival), and I heard of others with much more damage, maybe as high as 40%, of their Chardonnay. Temperatures at Glass House Winery vineyards were as low as 23°F on Tuesday night and 28°F on Saturday night, and other vineyards reported similar temperatures. It just depends at what stage your buds were at and how hard the freeze hit your vines.”
As Sanders notes, other area vineyards and wineries suffered damage from the late spring frost, but most we spoke to expressed relief in it being only minimal. Chloe Watkins, Veritas Vineyard & Winery’s project manager, said, “We haven’t had a freeze as bad as we did in 2007, when our Merlot and Cabernet Franc were hit the hardest. Yet, that year also yielded our best in terms of wine quality.”
Vineyards located on slopes, just as some of the vines at Veritas, are said to have better chances of missing the brunt of the frost, as cold air flows downhill, leaving mid-slope locations warmer. For many though, such as Keswick Vineyards, extra efforts were taken to lessen the hit on their vines. Neighbors, friends, wine club members and more joined forces at Keswick for a night in the vineyards. Hay bails were lit on fire, wind machines were set up and a helicopter was on standby. Wind machines, fans and even a helicopter are popular techniques vineyards use during frost to invert the air temperature around the vines, pulling down warmer air pockets to where the vines are.
While not the devastation it could have been if the vines had been further along in budding or the freeze had hit harder, many vineyards are mourning the loss none the less. The local climate is just one of the many challenges vineyards will always face in our beautiful Virginia. But wine lovers need not have any worries, because from past experience, the late spring freeze does not affect all crops, nor all the varietals of grape, and could also yield some of the best tasting wines of the year.
From dim to dazzling, lighting transforms any space. Beyond illumination, it can instantly change the look and style of a room from traditional to contemporary and everything in between. When choosing lighting for your home, fixtures incorporating LED are a good option, as they are energy-efficient, occupy minimal space and allow for a variety of designs. Lighting experts at Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery recommend using the “TADA” method when developing your home’s lighting plan, which stands for: Task, Accent, Decorative and Ambient lighting.
Ambient LED sets a room’s tone and provides general illumination, such as with ceiling fixtures like recessed lighting and chandeliers. Positioning recessed lighting around the perimeter of the room or a chandelier in the center of a room can help the space look bigger and will provide an overall comfortable level of light. For more control over the brightness and mood, try dimmers. As the day progresses, you will be able to vary your illumination levels.
Task LED lighting can add concentrated lighting and style to any room, whether you are writing, reading or cooking. Table lamps provide great task lighting for a living room and home office. For a brighter bathroom, task lighting can light up the vanity area with a fixture above the mirror or with sconces on either side. When thinking of your kitchen, consider the surfaces where most of the work happens, and light accordingly. For example, under-cabinet lighting will brighten up a countertop workspace.
Decorative LED lighting is available in a wide range of sophisticated choices to match any design concept. Advancements in this eco-friendly technology create innovative forms that not only mask the LED bulb but also allow for more decorative and stylistic lighting designs. Consider placing these fixtures in the living room to emphasize artwork, sculptures or a large plant.
In rooms with high ceilings, accent LED, such as pendant fixtures, add great light and visual interest. Pendants, ideal over islands and dining areas, offer a decorative accent and soft illumination.
Lighting is an important part of the overall design plan and should not be overlooked. When planning your next upgrade, consider incorporating layers of LED lighting to illuminate your home—helping you achieve a practical yet ambient environment for all of your needs.
The Underground Kitchen is bringing communities closer together through food—curating dinners that include authentic cuisine, distinct locations and a group of guests who share an appreciation for the culinary experience. We were fortunate to be guests at the first ever UGK Dine event which offers a less formal experience than the typical Underground Kitchen and is meant to give chefs a chance to experiment for guests from their home restaurant kitchens.
Last week at Tempo Restaurant & Bar on the Downtown Mall, we joined with 20 other diners for an amazing meal prepared by a favorite local chef, Brice Cunningham. Cunningham grew up in France and Tahiti and began his professional career in Paris under Alain Ducasse, currently recognized as one of the top chefs in the world. Tempo is his third restaurant, after Fleurie and Petit Pois.
Wel were welcomed to the exclusive meal with a French 75, a classic cocktail that incorporates Champagne or other sparkling wine (in this case Cava, Champagne’s Spanish cousin), lemon juice, gin and a dash of simple syrup. While enjoying the cocktail and mingling, guests were treated to some hors d’oeuvres, a delicious smoked salmon crostini.
Shortly thereafter, the first course came out—a rich lobster carpaccio on top of a sous-vide watermelon. The sous-vide technique made the watermelon a bit more condensed, both in terms of consistency and flavor. This was our editor-in-chief Jen’s favorite dish of the evening.
The evening’s theme was “Bubbles,” and the chef wanted to share the different ways in which liquid-cooking techniques can manipulate food to bring out different textures and flavors. Additionally, some of the wine pairings for the evening were sparkling to display the versatility of vintages. The leisurely paced meal gave diners a chance to get to know each other and to discuss the food at the communal table. Giving us all a truly unique dining experience, the dishes were off-menu.
Course two was a coq au vin (sous vide) with homemade sage gnocchi. Many of the guests commented that the gnocchi was the lightest they had ever tasted. Responding to guests wanting to know how he made them so light, the chef shared a technical secret that delighted the cooking enthusiasts, “you need to handle the potato mash and dumpling while it is still very hot—as it cools the batter becomes dense.”
Finally, the meal ended with a red wine poached pear and passion fruit sorbet, a dish that engaged all the senses. The treat had the feel of ice cream and the taste of a refreshing fruit sorbet with a perfect amount of acidity.
The social dining experience was a grand success, and we all enjoyed the sumptuous meal together at a long communal table with candles and fresh flowers. Introductions flowed as easily as the many wines; birthdays were toasted, and new friendships made.
Upcoming events for this nomadic Mid-Atlantic foodie adventure include dinner themes: Buds & Blossoms; Saffron; and Under Pressure. Check out theundergroundkitchen.org to find out about the next event. You’ll want to jump on tickets when they’re announced, as there is limited seating at each pop-up experience—all part of the fun.