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 Parkand “camping” in a tiny house trailer at getaway. After a morning stop for cappuccino at the Mudhousein 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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.