Chef Craig Hartman stands in front of a row of large double doors that are opened to the outside and through which rows of grapevines are visible, their black bunches hanging like angry wasp’s nests. Even from a distance the weight of the grapes is apparent, filled as they are with sugar and water, and ready to be picked.
“Tonight is a harvest dinner,” the chef says of this meal at Barboursville Vineyards with food prepared by Hartman himself, who normally presides at Keswick Hall’s swanky restaurant, Fossett’s. Thirty or so of us sit together while accordionist Matty Metcalfe serenades us, torches dance in the waning light, and the chef demonstrates his art right there at the head of the long, weathered wood table.
Twice is nice: Chef Craig Hartman set out to re-create one of the most wonderful nights in his life with this harvest dinner at Barboursville Vineyards.
Explaining his inspiration for this dinner, Chef Craig, as he refers to himself, tells a story. He was, he says, the first guest chef to cook a dinner at Barboursville. It was around ’93, he thinks, and after the formal meal, winemaker Luca Paschina asked him if he would help with a different dinner, this one less formal for the workers to celebrate another harvest come and gone. They ate at a big table out in the vineyard with torches and music and laughter and it was, Chef Craig says, one of the most wonderful nights of his life. Tonight he wants to re-create that for us. Pretend that you are all part of the winery’s extended family. Get up, walk around, talk, laugh. Tonight is a harvest dinner.
Consequently, tonight’s is no ordinary wine dinner. We aren’t told how to properly pair the wine with the food; rather, we’re given three types of wine and told to help ourselves. We have the 2007 Pinot Grigio, the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and a special treat, bottles of the 2008 Pinot Grigio, unfinished, straight out of the tank. Each of the five courses is carried out on big heaping dishes, and we pass the plates of food around as though it was a Fourth of July picnic—pasta and mozzarella prepared before our eyes, lamb roasted at our backs, its smoke rising above the wasp-nest vines. The wines are simple but good—what a harvest feast is all about.
Across from me sits Judy, owl-like and vivacious. She repeats in her Southern accent that she is Italian and as such knows all about meals like this. Her father moved here from Italy many years ago speaking little English. Gabriele Rausse was still the winemaker at Barboursville then, and Judy brought her father over to meet him. Soon, the old man and the winemaker were spending afternoons under a tree drinking wine and speaking Italian. With glasses of Barboursville’s future, she and I toast its past.
It is loud and boisterous in the hall, the low light candle-flame orange. Strangers reach across the table to pour more wine into my empty glass.
Sitting next to me in a brown tweed jacket, gray head bowed, Charlie leans in close to overcome his difficulty hearing. He once went to a similar meal in Italy, where the wine was served from massive bottles, and whenever it came time for the head of the family to pour, everybody would chant, “Lower the bridge! Lower the bridge!” as the mighty bottles tipped over.
My shoes slide on the tiles. With a little Fred Astaire move, I give my regards to Chef Craig and sit down for dessert. Poached pear—delicious, but hard to cut. I spear it and eat it off my fork, Old World style.