Windswept clouds surf along the Blue Ridge Mountains soaring over the ridge lines only to dip into the hollows before exploding upwards in a burst of white and gray spray
Well I’m-a going back down maybe one more time
Deep down home, October Road
And I might like to see that little friend of mine
That I left behind once upon a time
“October Roads” by James Taylor
During my college years, and, except for the four years immediately afterwards when I was financially exiled to California, for many years after that I was fortunate to spend all or part of October in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
Most people are partisan about “their” part of the country—referring to it as God’s country. North Carolinians may have the strongest claim when they say that God must be a Tarheel because the sky is Carolina Blue. Since the Blue Ridge Mountains run through both Virginia and North Carolina, that is one bit of bragging I might agree with. Mr. Cohen, one of my high school English teachers, used to say “It’s not conceit, if it’s true.” So maybe those Tarheels are not bragging.
If there is any place that can draw me back when the air has the intoxicating smell of just uncorked champagne, orange leaves flame against a sapphire sky, and hawks soar effortlessly in endless circles, it is the Blue Ridge Mountains in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Four states call themselves Commonwealths—Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. According to Wikipedia “This designation, which has no legal meaning, emphasizes that they have a “government based on the common consent of the people” as opposed to one legitimized through their earlier royal colony status that was derived from the monarch of Great Britain.”
Virginia’s Blue Ridge is home to dozens of colleges, both great and small. Thomas Jefferson founded the University of Virginia in 1819. It was near his home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, VA. He was so proud of his accomplishment that he included in his tombstone. “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.” UVA is celebrating the centennial of laying the cornerstone on the first weekend in October.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, more popularly known as Virginia Tech, is a land grant college founded in 1872 in Blacksburg, VA. Unfortunately, it is probably more famous for the massacre that took place on April 16, 2007 when Seung-Hui Cho killed 72 people and wounded 17 others in two separate attacks before killing himself. Katie O., one of the students who survived the shootings, believes that this may have been one of the earliest uses of social media by college students to communicate among themselves about what was happening on campus and to find out if their friends were unharmed.
Virginia also has many small schools that began as teacher’s colleges. Originally called Normal Schools, these colleges were integrated in the 1960s and often single-sex until the 1960s/1970s. The last single-sex public post-secondary school in Virginia was Virginia Military Institute in Lexington. The Supreme Court rendered a decision that VMI must admit women in 1996 (20 years after the national military academies) with the first women matriculating in 1997.
Many people combine a visit to the Blue Ridge with their college homecoming. Interstate 81 is s two lane in each direction highway for most of its route along the western edge of the Blue Ridge. Around Blacksburg, the two lanes become six where the Hokie faithful return each fall to follow Virginia Tech football at Lane Stadium.
October is also Virginia Wine Month. Virginia is the 5th largest wine producing state. Many of those wineries are located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. One of my favorites is Glen Manor Winery, located on a century-old family farm on the western side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, about 70 miles west of Washington, DC and in the shadow of Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park. A glen is a small, secluded narrow valley. Glen Manor is surrounded by mountains ranging from 1400 – 3400 feet, with 3 different steep, well drained vineyards on the property.
You arrive at Glen Manor winery up a curving, stone and dirt covered driveway, just past the road that goes up to the farm house. A sign hints that this is a quiet place, where no limousines or buses are permitted, groups are limited to 6 people, and smoking is not allowed. At the top of the drive, the glen spreads out in front of you. You first see a verdant lawn dotted with green Adirondack chairs and small wooden tables. Immediately beyond that, the Wildlife Habitat Improvement Program (WHIP) of native warm weather plants provide habitat for quails, turkey, bear, deer, rabbit, and fox. Finally, vineyards and forest climb the steep hills up to the Skyline Drive.
On a fall afternoon, you can see hang gliders take off from a cleft above the Drive. One afternoon, a hang glider waited several minutes for the right time to jump off. As soon as he did, a sudden gust of wind blew him into the arms of a tall pine tree. He hung there for about 20 minutes waiting to be safely rescued.
Jeff White, the winemaker and owner, planted the first vineyards called Hodder Hill in 1995. Grapes include sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot. In 2006, a second vineyard was started on the site with petit manseng, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and merlot. The third vineyard was begun in 2013, with grapes planted in 2016. He planted cabernet sauvignon, merlot and petit verdot and nebbiolo.
Jeff is a ‘terroirist’, letting the land and the growing season determine what type of wine he makes each year. Glen Manor’s tag line is ‘Wines with a sense of place.’ Since his family has been growing things on this plot of land for over 100 years, the grapes may have picked some of that legacy up. His goal is to grow the best grapes possible. He meticulously cares for the grapes during each step from bud burst through the harvest—cutting back leaves, shoots, and clusters to give each grape the best chance to develop with sufficient air to deter rot and enough leaf canopy to preclude sunburn.
Jeff’s wife Kelly manages the tasting room. She talks vivaciously about the grapes, the farm, and how the wines are named. Hodder Hill, the top level Bordeaux style red wine that won the Governor’s Cup in 2012 for its 2009 vintage, is named after Raymond Hodder Rudacil who married Ruth Ardelia. They were Jeff’s grandparents and the second of four generations to farm Glen Manor.
Kelly maintains the beautiful flower and herb gardens that add visual and scented beauty to the grounds. To bask in the October sun while watching hang gliders and hawks soar over the orange, crimson, yellow and brown crazy quilted hillsides, savoring a rich burgundy Hodder Hill or a crisp refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, feeling the tease of a light breeze across your bare ankles, and smelling the rosemary and sage from Kelly’s garden is to immerse your senses in some of the things that make life worth living. One time when we were there, we saw a flock of wild turkeys in the adjacent woods. You could hear their clucks and chuckles.
Before taking over management of the tasting room, Kelly used to be the executive chef of the Inn at Valcluse Spring in Winchester, Va. Since Jeff wants to focus on the wine, the winery does not serve any food except Kelly’s delicious homemade focaccia bread. Guests are invited to bring a picnic lunch to enjoy with their wine and the spectacular view.