Sunday, May 31, 2015

A vineyard-girded town that's about horses, not wine

Piedmont Virginia has land use problems of its own ( Fyi, the magazine has little to do with gardens or guns that aren't double-barreled and cost $30,000:

Robb Scharetg (center); Alan Goldstein Photography (left and right)
A well-heeled haven for horse lovers in the Northern Virginia hills Population: 751
Drive Time: Sixty-five minutes west of Washington, D.C.
So appealing is an address in Middleburg, Virginia, the ne plus ultra of American equestrianism, that the town has 2,000 post office boxes and only 751 residents. Founded in 1787, three years before Washington, D.C., in the lush rolling country an hour west of the capital, it has retained both its natural beauty and its devotion to three things: horses, riders, and the animals they chase, foxes. In the six short storybook-like blocks of the main drag, Washington Street—composed of a lovely array of Federalist homes and tidy storefronts on shaded brick sidewalks with views of the distant Blue Ridge—there’s the Red Fox Inn, the Fox’s Den Tavern, and Foxfire Gallery & Antiques, with paintings of riders in red coats, called “pinks.” Foxcroft girls’ school outside of town allows students to bring their horses, just as the railway magnate Edward Harriman did a century ago when he came down from New York to found one of the oldest fox-hunting clubs in America; Orange County Hunt still rules Middleburg’s social roost.
The 24-Hour Agenda: Fortunately you don’t need to know a whelp from a whipper-in (the huntsman in charge of the pack) to appreciate Middleburg. Start at the handsome stone facade of Home Farm Store, a specialty food emporium, butcher shop, and purveyor of excellent breakfast pastries. If you feel the need to blend in, shop for a vintage “ratcatcher” (tweed jacket) at the Middleburg Tack Exchange over on Federal Street. Duck into the tasteful Sporting Gallery for moody oils depicting countryside much like that on the edge of town.

Whet the palate with the smooth applejack at the Mt. Defiance Cidery and Distillery, and impressive Bordeaux-style reds at nearby Boxwood Winery. Lunch on crab cakes at the Market Salamander and “cow puddle” cookies (butterscotch and molasses) from Upper Crust Bakery. Finish with a cappuccino at Cuppa Giddy Up.
Now you’re ready for the National Sporting Library and Museum, a unique collection of sculpture, paintings, etchings, and 26,000 books, including a beautiful volume containing Teddy Roosevelt’s defense of fox hunting. You can peruse paintings that beautifully represent the history of fly fishing and wing shooting, all housed in a lovely campus of restored brick and fieldstone buildings. They’re right next door to the offices of the weekly equestrian magazine The Chronicle of the Horse, naturally.
For an authentic Middleburg pub experience, visit the Red Horse. Regulars have the burger and fries; there’s beer on tap and good rail bourbon. The French Hound on Madison has a solid wine list and a menu heavy with Gallic fare—steak frites and profiteroles.
And nod off in the downy blissful embrace of the excellent Middleburg Country Inn.
Meet the Locals: “Calvin Klein bought his chaps here,” says Punkin Lee, the owner of Journeymen Saddlers, the revered custom leatherworking shop that outfits most everybody interested in anything related to riding hereabouts. Punkin was born in Middleburg but won’t say when, or what her first name is. “My father was ‘Peaches,’ the postmaster for twenty-six years, and nobody knew what his real name was, either.” She helped Jackie O. as well as Calvin, but generally keeps the town and environs up-stirrup. “It’s all about horses. The ripple effect keeps the community together.”
“A lot of things have happened here I can’t tell you about,” says Turner Reuter, referring to the very private Red Fox Inn, which he owns along with Red Fox Fine Art. (He also breeds hunting dogs and gives shooting lessons on the side.) Originally a coaching inn—lodging situated at a midway point along a prominent travel route—it was purportedly built in 1728. Today the Red Fox serves good American food, and the Night Fox Pub on the second floor is a nice place for a late nightcap. And considering that Tom Cruise, Paul Newman, Liz Taylor, and plenty of others have stayed here, you never know whom you’ll run into in the hallways.                                                                           

Friday, May 8, 2015

The origins of Nose, both the novel title and the blogsite

The real blog you're reading now grew out of a fictional one in my novel of the same name. It was a plot device and the author in Nose is Les Breeden, an out-of-work journalist. Here's Les's first, liberating (and quite fictional) effort:                          

         Could that be the collective stench of a thousand wine opinion mongers and publicists and wannabe sommeliers pouring with sweat as they turn out a collective magnum opus of bull so prodigious that it threatens to destabilize the globe and send it off-orbit?
    It could. And while, dear reader, you’re searching for what’s left of your emasculated skepticism, the load has gotten heavier. Seismologists are warning – LISTEN! - of a reactivation of the San Andreas fault and the tipping of millions of gallons of vitis vinifera into the bowels of the earth.
You might as well watch, having nothing to lose but your subscription to that brothel serviette, The Wine Taster, and its lame imitators. You don’t need them. You’re tired of being bloviated about which wine to buy, but not who’s doing what to whom in which cellar, of lifestyle vintneramuses and celebrity auction addicts buying matched sets of jeroboams of old Dripping Ridge cabernet.
All passé. Forget numerical ratings and the latest Two-Buck Suck, forget medals. What you need is an un-sanitized, morning-after whiff of the infinitely varied, often tight-assed infiniti di vini on America’s western edge, where they’re staging the last agrarian act in that amazing, transformative, longest-running, now sputtering musical, “Manifest Destiny.”
So just log on, kick back, and sniff... sniff...
My version of blogging serves as a series of personal journalistic forays into subjects I'm interested in, not just people intimately involved in wine, and wines in their own right, but also travel, culture in the broader sense, and the on-going struggle to preserve the natural - and parts of the built - world.
Nose also serves as a compendium of my past work, going way back. If you scroll down through the months and years to the right you can read what I've written about many things, from wine and environmental concerns in the Napa Valley to the logging of the Tongass National Forest to AIDS in Nepal to pinot noir in New Zealand to magical realism in Sicily.
All my books listed below are available immediately at Napa Bookmine in the city of Napa, so if you want to thumb through a real book, just go down to Pearl Street.
 To order Nose click on:
For newly released earlier titles go to:, and for my book of travel essays go to:
To see my bio, click on:

Friday, May 1, 2015

The pot simmers...

           An impassioned vintner sent me a list of things that need more attention. To wit:
      1. Winery proliferation at the expense of quality 
      2. Hillside plantings ("Enough is enough.") 
      3. Bogus alcohol content claims on labels
      4. Declining distinction among appellations
      5. Refusing to admit that all over-ripe fruit tastes more or less the same

      Sniff sniff...