Archive for November, 2010


Howlin’ at the Moon

Posted on Nov 22 2010 | By

Warrenton Hikers Assault Old Rag Mountain at Night

For several days the weather forecast called for cloudy skies.  Even the afternoon of the event it was ominously predicted that clouds with patches of fog would envelop the trampers.  Not a bright idea to climb Old Rag Mountain in pitch darkness.

As the Sun Sets the Troops Assemble

But, as the cars unloaded at the trailhead parking lot and the hikers noisily assembled in anticipation of a brisk walk up the slopes, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Head’em up…move’em out.

Old Rag Mountain is located in Madison County, not far from Sperryville, Virginia. It is one of the most popular hikes in the Mid-Atlantic Region, with spectacular views in all directions from its regal crown of boulders.  It’s also a strenuous hike, especially if a frontal assault up the Ridge Trail is taken rather than the easier ascent up the Weakley Hollow Fire Road.  Think jungle gym on steroids.

Take a quick guess which route we chose.

Our intrepid little band of fourteen hikers had been assembled by Jim Carson, an outdoor enthusiast, who over the last few years has built a loyal following of like-minded guys who love the mountains.  Sorry ladies, you’re going to have to form your own chapter; this crew is all testosterone wrapped in moisture wicking undergear.  Opening an incoming email from Trapper Carson is an anticipated moment.  Where is the dude taking us now?

As we began to climb the trail, the moon glowed like a huge orange ball on the eastern horizon, slowly fading to milky white as it climbed higher in the sky.  Flashlights were in sporadic use but not mandatory. “By the light of the silvery moon…” began to take on real meaning.

Jake & Jim Carson

Then it hit us.  The Wall.  Ascending Old Rag via the Ridge Trail for the first ninety minutes is typical of any Shenandoah National Park hike; a well traveled and easy walkup.  Then things begin to get interesting.  It starts innocently enough with a sharp angled boulder, twenty yards in length, which reminds you of scampering up your roof to inspect a flapping shingle.  Abruptly, the roof becomes two roofs jutting side-by-side vertically and you are trying to squeeze between them.  Hmmm…maybe I should take off my pack and throw it head of me.  This is tight territory.

The speedy pace of the early hike now slows to a grind.  Certain sections need to be taken by sitting on your posterior and scooting up the sheer rock face backwards.  Shouldn’t the park install handles here?  Not a chance, pal.  You are now in Old Rag country.  Buck it up.

My progress was slow but decent until the cramps kicked in.  Using all my strength to advance up and through narrow slits in the rocks my hamstrings started slowly murmuring, “What do you think you’re doing?”  Fortunately, my secret weapons kicked in: Jim and Andreas.  They alternately extended much needed hands to pull me up the steepest rocks.  Memo to file: stick these guys in my pack if I ever do this again.

Finally, after more grunting than is heard at a county fair hog chase, all fourteen hikers were topside and congratulating themselves.  Then a new phenomenon kicked in.  This place is cold!  With moisture dripping from every pore in our bodies and a stiff breeze blowing the frigid air around, damp clothing takes on a decidedly nasty feeling.  Lets’ get moving.

And so we did.  At a fast pace.  The backside saddle trail connects to the easy fire road descent and the last hour of the hike was a constant chatter of conversation. As the last hiker walked into the parking lot, smiles and photo flashes where popping up all over the place.  And clouds began to obscure our silver beacon in the sky.  Perfect timing.

The jaunt covered almost ten miles in about five hours.  Not bad in dim light over a rocky footpath.

Now for our reward. Where are we headed for the post hike libation?  Uh, this is Sunday night at 10pm deep in rural country.  Ain’t a place open that has a cold Corona for sale.

Oh well, next time we’ll do old Rag during the day.  Hurtin’ never felt so good.  We’ll be back.

Old Rag Mountain Vanquished

Categories : HAGARTY TALES

Virginia Wines Impress DC Aficionados

Posted on Nov 08 2010 | By

Private Tasting at Exclusive Club Earns High Marks

On November 3, my wife Jean and I were fortunate to join three of Virginia’s acclaimed winemakers as they traveled to one of the bastions of wine connoisseurs, an exclusive club in downtown Washington, DC with a history dating to the mid-1800s.

And get this.  They invited the vintners, not the other way around.

The Wine Guy in Paradise

The opportunity for the tasting serendipitously occurred several months earlier as I poured wine at a local festival.  During the afternoon, a gentleman and his wife stopped by our booth and tasted and commented favorably on the wines.  About an hour later, he returned and posed a question.  Would I be willing to facilitate a tasting at his club—where he was the food and beverage manager—that would involve our winemaker and two other legends in the industry?  After a five-second pause to consider the offer, I heartily agreed.

The club had been following the rising quality of Virginia wines and the commensurate media reviews it was garnering.  Fortuitously, the morning of the event Washington Post wine writer Dave McIntyre had written an article on the value of the state’s wines when compared with other producers worldwide, stating, “Why am I jazzed about local wines? Because the best of them are thrilling…” Indeed.

Within a few weeks, I had secured commitments from Jim Law, owner and winemaker at Linden Vineyards, Luca Paschina, winemaker at Barboursville Vineyards, and our own winemaker Jason Burrus at Rappahannock Cellars, to participate in the tasting.  On a rainy Wednesday evening, this elite trio gathered in the quiet dining room of the private club an hour prior to the event.  We were given a brief history of the establishment by one of the club’s senior members and extended an offer to tour their wine cellar.  Smiles of delight broke out on the faces of the Virginians.  But of course, we’d love to visit the sanctum sanctorum.

Jason Burrus with wife Natalia and son Maximilian

As expected, the cellar was cramped and a bit difficult to maneuver in, but with cause.  The wine repository held 13,000 bottles of nectar valued at over three quarters of a million dollars.

The club’s passion was Burgundy and Bordeaux but high-end wines from around the world were sleeping quietly in wooden cases and wine racks.  The urge to ask for a private tasting prior to our own event had to be stifled.  I was pleased our escort did not perform body searches as the group left the cellar.  If he had, we’d have understood.

By 6:45pm, some sixty members and guests were sipping their first wines of the evening, aperitifs from each winery.   Following the ice breaker, the winemakers addressed the group individually before adjourning to their respective tables to begin the evening tasting.  The wine list reflected quality across the board, including Linden’s ’06 and ’07 Hardscrabble Red, Barboursville’s ’06 Octagon and Rappahannock Cellars’ ’08 Cabernet Franc, among others.  A total of twelve different wines were poured.

Following the tasting, a sumptuous full buffet featuring filet mignon roast and Hake from the North Atlantic was served.  The manager later stated the members thought the tasting went great and that some superb wines had been poured.  The club is currently evaluating a selection of the offerings for its wine-by-the-glass program.

Once again, Virginia advanced its cause by having the opportunity to pour its wines for a group of influential and discerning wine lovers.

From left, Jason Burrus, Luca Paschina and Jim Law

Categories : WINE ARTICLES

John’s November Pick of the Month

Posted on Nov 04 2010 | By

Philip Carter Winery of Virginia
2008 Cabernet Franc

Philip Carter Winery

Cabernet Franc has established itself as Virginia’s best red wine grape, expressing the character of the fruit consistently from vintage to vintage.  The Philip Carter ‘08 offering is a medium weight red displaying cherry and raspberry notes with a touch of pepper on the finish, all classic markers of Virginian grown fruit.  Serve with Italian meatballs and spaghetti on an upcoming chilly fall evening.  Drink now through 2013.

The Philip Carter Winery of Virginia is located at 4366 Stillhouse Road in Hume.  The picturesque winery sits on expansive, rolling country side outside the village of Hume surround by vineyards.  The tasting room is opened daily, April through November, from 11am to 6pm and from December through March Thursday through Monday, 11am to 6pm.  (540) 364-1203.

Categories : WINE ARTICLES