A Little Bit of Italy in Virginia

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We went south to head north; to stop by a few wineries on a rainy Sunday, on our way back to the Washington, DC, area.  J and I had been hiking in Shenandoah National Park and “camping” in a tiny house trailer at getaway.  After a morning stop for cappuccino at the Mudhouse in Crozet, we turned left at the winery sign – hanging off a piece of construction equipment at the side of the road – and pulled in to Gabriele Rausse (just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia).  Gabriele Rausse is the namesake winery of Gabriele Rausse who moved from Italy to Virginia in the late 1970s to help start Barboursville Vineyards.

The modern glass and wood framed tasting room was tucked into the trees at the end of a short gravel lane – windows facing out on at least two sides of the small open space.  At mid-day, a couple was sitting in the back booth and several were standing at the tasting bar.  The Beatles were playing; a wilted hardcover book about Italy’s big Barolo wines on the shelf.  The winery’s lumberingly sweet yellow lab mix greeted everyone and then plopped down to rest against the window.

Gabriele Rausse’s son was pouring the wine, family was around, and fresh pasta was being rolled through a pasta maker.  We tasted whites to reds accompanied by small bites of speck with arugula, soft and crunchy sourdough baguettes with pungent olive oil for dipping, fresh linguine with pesto, and a bite of warm baklava at the end.

Hiking to Eat…At a Tiny House Trailer in the Woods

I don’t do it often enough, but it’s not hard to get out of the city in the Washington, DC, area.  Farmland, horse country, the Blue Ridge Mountains, are only an hour or so away.  Take Stanardsville, Virginia, just outside Shenandoah National Park.  It took me and J about the two hours advertised by getaway, to drive there late Friday afternoon for some Saturday hiking.  Getaway is a revamped campground (once, Heavenly Acres Campground) dotted with carefully placed tiny house trailers – all wood-sided and painted black.  Ours came with a New York license plate.  Each trailer is named for a grandparent of staff or guests (says the web site) the name engraved onto a metal plate by the front door.  Discreet black and white signs lead you into the wooded grounds.  Our tiny house trailer, Carroll, was light and spare and punctuated by a glossy red under-counter refrigerator and a black-and-red checked blanket.

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Two people and a small dog take up the entire floor space.  And don’t plan on cooking meals with a lot of ingredients or steps – there’s a two-burner electric cook top and counter space is a scarcity. Which doesn’t mean we didn’t eat well.

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J and I started our day waking up to a forest staring back at us through the picture window wall that was the back of our trailer.  We ended it in Adirondack chairs in front of our own fire pit – eating sautéed shishito peppers and re-heated smoked sirloin tip with the other night’s potato salad on the side.  Later we (truthfully, just I) gorged on s’mores complete with marshmallows toasted over the fire pit on twigs stripped clean and to sharp points by J.  Sitting by our flickering fire, the night otherwise dark, you could hear people laughing a few camp sites away.  When walking the dog, we passed cars tucked into alcoves next to their own tiny house trailers and saw the occasional dog and person.  But our campsite, encircled by trees, was definitely our own.

 

 

 

Hiking to Eat…Trattoria dai Bercau, Verduno

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Trattoria dai Bercau

I hiked to the home of the pelaverga grape, Verduno, in the Piedmont region of Italy, to have lunch at a trattoria with a sense of fun (just catch their wall mural of two dancing dudes – a server and chef – with oversized heads).  And try the wine from this uncommon grape.  J and I had left our mid-morning stop, Cantina Stroppianaand had wound our way to Verduno through vineyards heavy with grapes ready for harvest.  Off a quiet side road, we walked into the small gravel courtyard of Trattoria dai Bercau, and were waved over to seats, on a covered patio, with wooden tables and white tablecloths.

J and I joined a few others making the most of the sun and series of courses on the set menu.  Four were enjoying what looked like the last of their lucky work day lunch in button down shirts and pants, blazers hanging off the backs of chairs.  A longer table behind us was crowded with the plates and glasses and wine bottles of a visiting family (and their small dog) leisurely enjoying their meal.

Once the pelaverga wine was ordered, plates started arriving at our table with carne cruda (ground raw beef with (as I remember it) lemon, olive oil, and garlic) then vitello tonnato (thin slices of veal with tuna sauce).  Having veal wasn’t surprising, but the tuna sauce was an unexpected Piedmontese specialty, to me, in these hills below the Alps.  By the time thin, flat ribbons of tajarin pasta showed up – black truffles shaved tableside – we had comfortably settled in to the warm sun and the ease of the afternoon.  A reward and necessity before finishing the hilly loop that was the hike back to our home base in La Morra.

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Tajarin pasta with shaved black truffles, Pelaverga in the glass.

Get This Wine…Verduno Pelaverga

Complementing Trattoria dai Bercau’s meal was the pelavarga.  The grape produced a bright red wine that’s slightly fruity but surprisingly, definitely peppery at the finish.  Plagued, yet again, by the reality that we-only-packed-carry-ons-so-can’t-take-wine-back, we sought it out online once back in the US.  I’m coveting a few bottles from Comm.G.B. Burlotto– Verduno Pelaverga 2015, and the 2016 Fratelli Alessandria– Verduno Pelaverga.  I found them here and here.

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On the road to Verduno, there was Stroppiana

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Verduno, Italy

Hiking the hills of the Piedmont began with a stop at the tourist office in La Morra.  Opening hours were reliably sporadic.  It was, after all, early September – in Italy – just after a sleepy summer break and just before white truffle hunting season.  A few impromptu reconnaissance trips got J and I to the office as it opened one morning, and we were rewarded with a well laid out hiking map and helpful guidance from the woman behind the counter.  Tiny historic La Morra is the highest point in this commune in the Piedmont region of Italy, and hikes from here spread throughout the vineyard clad hills to other villages and towns in the Province of Cuneo.  The map encouragingly displayed the names and phone numbers of hundreds of wineries dotted along the hiking trails that run through vineyards and down narrow roads.  Map in hand, J and I started down a route that would lead us into the town of Verduno, just to the north of La Morra.

Along the way we took advantage of that helpful list of wineries and phone numbers and called Cantina Stroppiana, a small winery in the hamlet of Rivalta, to ask if they had time for us to tour and taste.  The family in this family-owned business was busy pressing grapes.  Extreme cold and severe heat over the last year meant that grapes were being harvested early, in September, not October.  But despite the amount of work going on, Stefania graciously welcomed us in our hiking gear and Leonardo, her son, showed us around an open area of stainless steel tanks where his father Dario was in the process of turning the harvested dolcetto grape into its wine (sort of the red table wine of this region).

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We sat down in the simple tasting room for a Piedmont wine education from Stefania and leisurely tasted about 10 of Stroppiana’s wines from rich red barolos, to light, white and new (to us) nascetta.  There was a barolo and barbera named Leonardo and Altea, respectively, after her son and daughter, and one called San Giacomo, for the saint of the namesake 18thcentury church where the winery now stands.  Dario joined us at the table and we lamented the high cost of shipping to the US.  Which, in the end, didn’t dissuade us from ordering a case.  Several hours later, their time and hospitality left us energized for the next leg of our hike and a late lunch further up the road in Verduno.

 

Feeling Grounded at Galena Lodge

 

That March morning when those of us in the US “sprung forward” to daylight savings time was a grey one in Ketchum, Idaho.  Clouds covered the mountain ridge line.  And after two blue sky days of downhill skiing, J and I took the colorless day as a sign to expand beyond the ski runs on Bald Mountain and experience the snowshoeing trails further along the Wood River Valley.

I had read about Galena Lodge and its snowshoeing and cross-country skiing trails – an easy 25-minute drive north of Ketchum – and was intrigued that one half of the couple (Don, of Don and Erin) running the lodge (who met at school in Virginia just a few hours from where I live outside of Washington, DC) is not only an outdoorsman, but went to culinary school.  And then there was the photo of two of Galena’s dogs, peering through a window opening above a sign proclaiming, “Loaner Dogs.”  Loaner dogs?  Yes, just ask, and one of Galena’s resident dogs will happily join you for a snowshoe outing, poop pick-up duty included.

J and I snowshoed a trail with Bandit, our friendly and eager loaner mutt, who led (pulled?) us up and over quiet hills dense with trees along the well-marked Rip and Tear Trail, and past a few yurts for overnight stays.  Splitting up our snowshoeing runs with lunch back at the community-owned day lodge, I gravitated toward the “grown up grilled cheese,” which was surprisingly (and nicely so) not overly cheesy with a little crunch from apple and salty bacon.  J opted for one of the three soups – chicken with healthy chunks of cauliflower and other vegetables.  Galena also serves up a range of coffee and espresso drinks and wines and beers.  And there were tall slices of red velvet cake on the counter that day.  A fireplace set-off a small lounge area near the espresso machine, while the rest of the space was solid wood tables and chairs for lunchtime eating with a view to the kitchen through the pick-up window.  One of Bandit’s buddies was peeking out of the Loaner Dogs window just up above.

Unhurried, Galena was pleasantly busy with individuals and families deciding on the next trail to ski or snowshoe on a wide-open Sunday.  Our next round of snowshoeing (without Bandit this time) was along the Valley View Trail leading up to, appropriately, a view to the valley, where we felt glimpses of the sun’s rays trying to burn through the clouds.  Next, we hooked up with the Cowboy Cabin Trail, which deposited us into a meadow before we crossed the street back over to the lodge, our outpost.

J and I leisurely returned our snowshoes and left Galena with a local treat – “Don Bars” – accompanied by a friendly warning.  Just half of one of these dense peanut butter and chocolate chip studded bars will keep you hunger free from noon through the rest of the day.  I held myself to a sliver of the layered bar after shoveling some snow off the front walkway back home, but I’m saving the bulk for a worthier work out.  Created by Don the chef, Don Bars, we heard, is funding his retirement.  It should be a good one.

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