Isolation

isolation2020

If ever an image could illustrate how all of this sudden emphasis on social distancing feels to me.. and although I fall more on the introvert end of the spectrum, I much prefer hibernating on my own terms.

How quaint it seems now, looking back on the month of January when I took 4 weeks away from the rest of society- on purpose- in an effort to focus on writing the first draft of my first novel. How quaint it all seems, having a glass of wine at a crowded bar, accepting a hug from a friend, taking a flight or a train ride to a bustling city for a photo shoot, going to a live concert, a hair appointment, a diner, on a date.

I’ve been photographing this tree for nine and a half years now and even though it is Tree v2.0, the scene never fails me, either serving to uplift, inspire, mystify, or reflect the weather within.

EDIT: a dear friend just sent this raw John Lennon demo of “Isolation” to me in response to this post and I wanted to include it here: https://youtu.be/nGNgsptYdDs

Jerry Irwin, on to his next adventure 

A few weeks ago I visited a dear friend and photography colleague, Jerry Irwin, who was placed in hospice care. He tasked me with a great project, to gather his slides and do a few things for him with them. The return of cancer had recently paralyzed him from the waist down (“It’s a bitter pill, I tell ya,” he said) and I accepted the project because I felt maybe it would be something to help keep his sharp mind going. 

“I have a business proposition for you young lady,” said a very special man from his hospital bed- of course whatever came out of his mouth next would not be anything I would turn down. 

And so I went to the studio where I gathered some of the best of his life’s work that had been stored there in slide form, and brought them with me to my drawing desk for cataloging, archiving, plan-making.


Hopelessly optimistic me didn’t fathom that we wouldn’t have months to work on this together, that we wouldn’t have many more conversations peppered with his nuanced vernacular, many more milkshakes from the Charcoal Pit, many more laughs. I was able to visit him just two more times before he passed away yesterday morning, four months and some days shy of his 81st birthday. I came to see him on Valentine’s Day and the doctors already had him in an induced “twilight state”; I just squeezed his arm softly and left, in shock at how quickly it was all happening, stunned that I couldn’t come to him with my questions about our project anymore, that that was it. 

Jerry’s work is iconic. Quintessential. He lived amongst the Amish for years and gained their trust to the extent that they allowed him to take photos of their children. He traveled the world. He rode with the Pagans and he did thousands of sky dives, even lost an eye to one. And because his ashes will be spread during an “ash jump” by his best buddies in skydiving in lieu of a formal memorial service, I will share my favorite memories of knowing this plucky Irish guy the past five years here, in my space. (And please forgive my scattered thoughts; the experience is still moving through and changing me.) 

Four of us went to see Toots and the Maytals at the Tocadero in Philly a couple of summers ago. Two left Jerry and I in the balcony to go get a round of drinks for us all before the show started. 

Looking after them as they walked away, Jerry turned to me and asked, “Where are those two off to?” and I answered, “I think they’re going to the bar.” “Well, …why?” he said, reaching down to his ankle where he pulled two little airplane bottles of liquor out of his sock! Ha!! 

He was my absolute favorite rockabilly punk and his work will not only live on, it will also educate and inspire the next waves of photographers. It’s been an education sitting at my desk here with some of his greatest work in front of me the past three weeks and I’ve learned a lot from him at the studio (and on the birthday sushi dates he would take us on each fall.) 

His pragmatic views on life and passion and dedication to his subjects- the way he would live with a subject for years and really get inside of it- so much meat and marrow there the rest of us as documentarians, historians, social anthropologists, and general observers can learn from. Jerry to me was a national treasure and those who knew him know he was far too humble to ever hear me when I said it to him. Grounded, salt to the earth, decent, completely open and generous with whatever he had. He’d leave two pieces of the best carrot cake on earth in the fridge at Northbrook for us to find when we returned from travel as a thank you for letting him stay when actually he was the one doing US the favor keeping an eye on things while we were away. 

I don’t know why everything feels like it’s a Grand Canyon away and also like it’s right on the other side of my cheek sometimes, how my raw heart could feel like it’s made of wood at the moment with this small hollow place inside of it, but I know that Jerry’s next grand adventure involves much bluer skies than today’s, and that this profound body of work sitting in front of me that allows me to see this world through his eyes has even more gravity and beauty, is even more vivid and eternal, and blessed. 


I took this snapshot of Jerry taking a snapshot of me at his 80th birthday dinner late last June. Longtime friend Chris at the left and longtime love Janice at the right. 

So put on some Mott the Hoople, crack open a beer, and think of our friend Jerry for a bit this eve. 

Komorebi

  
The Brandywine River. Has nurtured, inspired, and been the backdrop for generations of fine artists in southern Chester County, PA. The house where i live backs up to it and a few inches out of frame is a fantastic and simple old wooden tree swing that invites you to kick your legs out over this river of great heritage.

Autumnal Mums

It’s that time of year again! I bought purple mums to greet our guests at a wonderful little soirée we threw at the studio a couple of weekends back. The stunning marmalade-colored mums were given to us that night by our favorite friends Chris+Albert as a host gift. 

We mixed and sipped and mingled and then all headed to Longwood Gardens to see my friend’s brilliant light and sound installation “Nightscape”. It’s gotten incredible press and is only up for a few more weeks- a Must See!  More info: http://longwoodgardens.org/nightscape
 

Up to 100 wishes an hour

  

This is a screenshot from the lovely Sky Guide™ app (download it if you don’t have it already- it’s magical).
 

We enjoyed a sweet 3:55AM shooting star date and saw more than 20 brilliant meteors in a half hour! We sat in lawn chairs near the big open field across from the house and, necks craning in the inky small hours, counted.

I’ve adored the Perseids shower since I was a little girl summering with family in the Catskills. Although in southeastern Pennsylvania we’re pretty much at sea level unlike in the mountains of upstate New York, the meteors and their long champagne trails were still very visible. 

As a girl in the Catskills, I have vivid memories of being so close to the shimmering firmament I felt as though I could reach a hand up and pluck wishes directly from it, or that the effervescent glitterings would come to land in my hair and on my eyelashes like pixie dust. We were so close to the sky on the mountainside and it was stunning, breathtaking, ethereal.

Being in PA was special and surreal for other reasons. The early sounds along the Brandywine River were riveting. We listened to barn owls in the trees call hauntingly to one another as bull frogs croaked in unison down on the banks of the river. The air was refreshing and brisk at the 4:00 hour and the field behind us smelled sweet and alive. 

The Earth has music for those who listen. 

                       George Santayana

At first we sat looking over the house, northeast toward West Chester and found many fiery meteors draping their trails over the rooftop, but soon realized facing south and west toward Kennett Square afforded an even livilier view. The meteors were almost countless, spectacular in their number and intensity.

If you missed seeing the Perseids this morning, do get up and do it tomorrow; a phenomenon like this is worth a bit of lost sleep. It’s the stuff of life 🎆
Here are a couple of informative links about it:

https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/planets/perseids.cfm
http://www.iflscience.com/space/dont-miss-annual-perseid-meteor-showers

The Piano

  
This is my piano, Anita. She is a circa early ’60s Mason & Hamlin with a remarkable Steinway-esque tone (the two brands were fashioned and manufactured in the same warehouse.)

We took her over from a writer a couple of frigid Januaries ago and I named her after a friend who left us far too soon the November prior to that. She was essential to my working through the grieving process and has become so wonderfully interwoven in my diverse day-to-day as I wear the hats of Photographer, Writer, Illustrator. She is the thread that brings together my facets, and she both gives me wings to invent and anchors me in my creativity, and being.

Her previous owner had her painted years ago and though I have considered taking her back to her original black laquer, the painting on her has become a part of her charm. 

Like another special love I have that I enjoy, I have longed for her for years before she showed up in my life. And like that other special love, she offers the rare dichotomy of setting me free and giving me great gravity. Through her I have articulated musically thoughts and feelings that go far, far beyond anything words (and even brush strokes) could as adequately express. The composer’s language is a profound and soul-stirring one.

When I was very young, my grandparents kept an aunt’s light brown upright Werlitzer for her in their humble living room. I spent weekdays there for a summer both noodling on the piano and playing along with my grandpop’s AM radio. I was and still am extremely adept at picking the notes right from songs- at playing by ear. 

Unfortunately, the aunt disliked the piano being kept active by my tiny fingers and she had it transferred to a storage unit (where, tragically, it rots to this day, as a matter of fact.) 

We didn’t have extra money for music lessons for me and I would sit next to friends on their piano benches as their parents forced them to practice their lessons, watching eagerly and hungrily. As a teen, a gifted and busy friend of mine would teach me different things as she was able. I would skip lunch each day to sneak into my school’s auditorium and practice on the baby grand stored in a corner back stage.

I longed for a lifetime to have a piano of my very own, and that longing has finally been slaked. This is Anita! It is astounding how much warmth and soul a piano lends to its home. 

MAWFF debrief

Two weeks ago 60+ chefs and 23 winemakers from around the world convened in seven counties in four states in the Midatlantic region on the U.S.’s east coast for the fourth annual MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival. I have had the privilege and honor of being one of a handful of photographers enlisted to help cover this marathon 4-day long festival since it began.

Here are a few humble snapshots from this photographer’s point of view:

(more images can be found on Instagram by following @Alessandra_Official)

a Night in Shangri-La in Nectar Restaurant, Berwyn PA

Von Buhl brut sparkling Riesling (Germany) started off the Night in Shangri-La dinner held as part of the 4th Annual MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival

MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival 2015 “A Night in Shangri-La” ::Third Course by Chef Laurent Leveque:: Seared New York strip and octopus carpaccio, Barolo star anise reduction, confit potato, poached shallots, morels. Paired with: 2014 Sula Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 Chateau Lagrezette Purple The Original Malbec

MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival 2015 “A Night in Shangri-La” ::Fourth Course by Chef Patrick Feury:: Tea-smoked squab, parsley and garlic sausage, rainbow Swiss chard, red beet dumplings. Paired with: 2006 Domaine Kikones Limnio, 2008 The Old Faithful Shiraz

MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival 2015 “A Night in Shangri-La” ::Fifth Course by Chef Douglas Hernandez:: Tiramisu, espresso-soaked biscuit, marscapone mousse, caramelized white chocolate, espresso sauce. Paired with: 2012 Savage White, 2013 Rioja Vega Red Tempranillo-Garnacha

        

Duncan Savage, Head Winemaker (CPV), Owner / Winemaker (SW) for Cape Point Vineyards and Savage Wines – South Africa

Eduardo Sáinz of Príncipe de Viana in Rioja, Spain and winemaker Duncan Savage of Cape Point Vineyards in Noordhoek, South Africa pose for me at The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

::Second Course by Chef Gyanendra Gupta:: Fresh mozzarella and tomato salad with pine nut pesto. Paired with: 2013 Cape Point Isliedh, 2013 Hook & Ladder Chardonnay. The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

::Second Course by Chef Gyanendra Gupta:: Fresh mozzarella and tomato salad with pine nut pesto. Paired with: 2013 Cape Point Isliedh, 2013 Hook & Ladder Chardonnay. The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

::Third Course by Chef JD Morton:: English pea soup, lardo, charred ramp oil, shad roe bottarga. Paired with: 2013 Rioja Vega Red Tempranillo Garnacha, 2008 Kikones Ippeas. The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

South African winemaker Duncan Savage talks wine with the guests at The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

Chefs enjoying a rosé break at The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

Chef JD Morton plates the third course at The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

A beautiful, wise old tree that deserved to be photographed 💕 The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

Chef Fabio Raiola of Italy at The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

Chef Fabio Raiola of Italy at The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

::Fourth Course by Chef Fabio Raiola:: Veal fillet with crust of beans and brown sauce with dried tomato pesto. Paired with: 2013 Chateau Lagrezette Purple The Original Malbec, 2013 [Ee’Z] Zinfandel. The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

Chef Fabio Raiola of Italy at The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

Chef Gérard Ménétrier of France treating the guests to the Fifth Course: Butter biscuit with caramel mousse, flambéed apples. It was paired with: 2006 Old Faithful Shiraz, 2013 Lagarde Malbec. The MidAtlantic Wine + Food Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner at a private residence in southern Chester County, PA

Zuppa Toscana, a recipe for staying warm

While spring is struggling to maintain altitude in the northeast and midatlantic, we are keeping hearty soups on the menu. It was below freezing last night, will be again tonight, and again this coming weekend! Philadelphia forecasters warn that we won’t be able to put our snow shovels away for good until after April 15th! 

Here is a photo from a lighting test for an upcoming cooking shoot on an icy day in southern Chester County, PA recently. This is Chez Dejardins’ Zuppa Toscana, a similar recipe below.

    

 Zuppa Toscana 

  • 1 pound(s) Italian Sausage (spicy)
  • WE RECOMMEND Esposito’s sausage, located in the heart of Philly’s Italian Market mmm
  • 4-6 Russet Potatoes :bite sized cubes
  • Onion :minced
  • 1/4 cup(s) REAL bacon pieces
  • 2 tablespoon(s) Garlic :minced
  • 32 ounce(s) Chicken Broth
  • 1/2 bunch(es) Kale (or Swiss Chard) :destem & cut/torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 cup(s) Heavy Whipping Cream
  • 2 tablespoon(s) Flour

Prep Time: 20 Minutes 
Cook Time: 5 Hours, 30 Minutes 

  1. 1. Brown sausage links in a sauté pan.
  2. 2. Cut links in half lengthwise, then cut slices.
  3. 3. Place sausage, chicken broth, garlic, potatoes and onion in slow cooker.
  4. Add just enough water to cover the vegetables and meat.
  5. 4. Cook on high 3-4 hours (low 5-6 hours) until potatoes are soft.

  6. 30 minutes before serving:
  7. 5. Mix flour into cream removing lumps.
  8. 6. Add cream and kale to the crock pot, stir.
  9. 7. Cook on high 30 minutes or until broth thickens slightly.
  10. 8. Add salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.
  11. 9*. Serve with Alsace, stoke the fire in the fire place, and nosh leisurely while gazing out over the hilly serenity of quintessential horse country in southern Chester County, PA
  12.   
  13. *substitute for enjoying the best of your unique surroundings 🙂

unexpected Snow!

I am cozy, hot coffee in-hand, in my creative nook today editing last night’s event shoot while listening to Neil Finn as the snow falls softly outside- this late in March! I can’t believe I’m hearing snow plows scraping along the curvy bend outside the house. It was 65° just three days ago! Some craggy old seasons truly don’t know when to let go, move on, stop it’s petty vanity and let the new season settle in- WE ARE ALL READY for it. Your grace has withered away and you have Long overstayed. Winter, you are OVER! As Neil Finn sings in his song Recluse, you are like a “dog pissing on a statue,” trying to mark your territory and get your last shots in before delving back down below the equator. Go bully another continent! Give us fresh flourishing sun-kissed Spring! Freedom and light and colour and life-giving inhales and exhales! 

A morning glance from my personal Instagram account:  My day lily looks forlornly out at the snowy vista. She was looking forward to being planted outside this weekend but we’ll likely wait another week. 

I have seen the world turning
in time you’ll find that some things
travel faster than light
In time you’ll recognise that love is larger than life 
-Neil Mullane Finn, Faster Than Light

We got to see Neil Finn perform last year on Apr 11th at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, PA, front and center, and were sent home swooning on a moonbeam of love. Such a great show! 

March Force

It is March 4th and this week in southeastern Pennsylvania we have been experiencing the strangest winter weather yet. 

A 3-day storm is moving through and has brought us water in every form! Yesterday, everything was quickly encased in an inch of solid ice. Today brought temps in the 40s so the lingering snow from last week began to melt which caused a magical fog. Tonight it has been raining torrentially and after midnight the rain is forecast to turn to snow that will bring upwards of 6″ in accumulation. 







View these images on Alessandra’s Instagram: Alessandra_Official

Sunlight, held together by water

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Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery has become one of the leading boutique wineries in the region, marrying old world methods with modern technology to make wine. Recently, one local oenophile spent a day among the grapes and the vines at Galer, learning the art of what makes its wines so unique

Sunlight, held together by water

By Alessandra Nicole

I spent one day this past September in a beautiful, golden daze, up to my elbows in freshly harvested Chardonnay grapes.

As the late afternoon sunshine glowed on the vines, I dove into the two-ton tub of bright green grape clusters. Big, brazen bees buzzed unabashedly all around me, attracted to the delicious sticky juice on my hands. I was feeling a fulfilling fatigue from having worked a very honest day in the fresh air.

On assignment from this magazine, I was a winemaker for a day at Galer Estate Winery and Vineyard.

Few things paint a more romantic picture in my mind than winemaking, and my own romance began the year before I was of legal drinking age. I studied to be a wine sommelier while attending art school in Savannah, Georgia, which gave me a realistic insight into the culture, science, art, and profession of winemaking.

Though a career in photography eventually won out, my personal love affair with the end results of each bottle of wine I uncork is very much ongoing. With each inky elixir I tip to my lips, I acknowledge the hard work that goes into what eventually ends up in my glass, on my dinner table, and enjoyed with my friends. Wine has stayed quite interwoven in the great and continuing tapestry of my life.

My teacher at Galer was the exceptionally talented and personable Virginia Smith Mitchell, Galer’s new winemaker. Soon after I met her, I realized that this assignment had given me the opportunity to spend a day with someone who aspires to keep the bar raised very high for this very special winemaking region. Learning from her was like looking into the window of my missed calling, and knowing that it’s all being handled by an extraordinary visionary who is attending very much to hers.

A native of Erie, Pennsylvania, Mitchell, along with her new husband, Chase, both graduated from Penn State with food science degrees. Mitchell worked a couple of internships with large commercial wineries in eastern Pennsylvania and abroad in South Australia at Two Hands during college. She returned to Erie after graduation and worked her way up to assistant winemaker at Mazza Vineyards, one of the first wineries in Pennsylvania and the largest in the state.

Mitchell utilized her time there to work on new products and hone in on what she really wanted from her career and trained under a really great winemaker and oenologist. She was able to make her first vintage in 2011.
At Mazza, as many as 50,000 cases – about 1,000 tons — of wine are produced annually, compared to 25 tons of grapes processed each year at Galer. Part of the reason why Mitchell left the large winery was to become more involved with the grapes and be more hands-on in all aspects of the process.

“I felt I was missing out on some things at the larger winery,” Mitchell said. “Mazza gave me a lot of opportunities to make products, but then those products became owned by the winery. Working at a boutique winery like Galer gives me an opportunity to work directly with the grapes and the winemaking, put my name on the product and share some ownership of it.”

For vineyard owners Brad and Lele Galer, bringing Mitchell on board was a very easy decision. Galer opened in 2011 and with it began a new standard of winemaking in Chester County, that marries “Old World” style winemaking with advances in “New World” technology. “Old World” winemaking is an intelligent combination of respect of the history and wine producing abilities of a particular region, melded with reliance on terrain, soil and climate. It is an elegant art form of embracing “what is,” in terms of seeing what the process yields as the grapes are harvested and fermented. The Galers worked closely with a team of experts to build the highest level of wine-making facility, allowing them to control all aspects of winemaking, from production to bottling.

I arrived for my day as a cellar hand mid morning, wearing the recommended long pants, waterproof shoes, and t-shirt, and walked through the signature towering rust-colored iron gates. Mitchell took me on a brief tour that included the Barrel Room, which she had recently pressure-washed the floor of herself, and with the assistance of her husband, arranged the pretty oak wine barrels into neat rows. I was able see her well-lit white laboratory where we would later test grapes for acidity to determine when they would be ready for harvesting.

Mitchell then took me past the bottling machine. “Next to fermentation, bottling is the most important aspect of winemaking,” she said. “The bottling line is the end point, and if something gets messed up in the bottling line, that’s your end product, the end result. Brad wanted to buy a new car, but they decided to buy a bottling machine instead.”

The machine can both cap and cork the bottles, and labels them. It takes up to three people to run — one person to feed the bottles into the machine, another to take the bottles off at the end to put them into cases, and someone in the middle to make sure everything is going properly.

We ended the facility’s tour up in the fermentation room, where we began the day sanitizing large long plastic hoses so that we could “rack the Chardonnay,” a process that moves the juice from one temperature-controlled vat through an air tight hose via a pump into another tank where fermentation is added and monitored daily until it is ready to be aged in oak barrels in the Barrel Room below.

Mitchell clamped the end of a hose to the spout at the bottom of the tank of grape juice harvested a few days prior, and asked me to press the big button on the pump. The juice began flowing through the hose.

While the Chardonnay was racking, Mitchell showed me how to document the ferment of a nearby tank of Pinot Gris. Documentation is very important to Mitchell so that she will be able to look back year to year and track information and progress. From the documentation, she is able to create graphs for her processes. This information will become her Winemaker’s Diary. She wrote down all of the ferments daily which consists of temperature and a Brix reading – or sugar concentration.

“20 brix will give an alcohol of 11.5 percent,” she said.

While the Chardonnay we just racked had a brix of 21 ― which will make an alcohol equivalent of about 12 percent — We used a thermometer and a hydrometer to check the sugar reading of the Pinot Gris. Mitchell observed the color and aroma of the Pinot Gris. She took a taste of it through the hydrometer, and offered me a sip. The juice had a thickish salmon color and a slight yeasty taste that reminded me of beer.

With the Chardonnay racked and all the daily ferments checked and documented, we set out in the early afternoon sunshine to walk Galer’s lower vineyard to take grape samples from different areas for a diverse test sample to represent the entire vineyard. When the grapes are tested at around 20 brix, she decides along with the vineyard manager when to harvest.

We hiked down through the upper vineyard where the fourth-year vines twist and curl their lovely little grip around the stakes and wire in natural elegant filigree until we reached the lower vineyard. These vines were planted in 1994. We plucked a few grapes from various areas and different places of the cluster and I popped a grape into my mouth, enjoying the sweet meat of it and worked the seed out, politely discarding this as I kept up with Mitchell’s stride. The rows hadn’t been mowed in a few weeks, and tall husks of grass met the edges of the brown soil at the base of the vines.

I turned to admire Galer’s property from the bottom of it’s lower vineyard. Set just behind Longwood Gardens, Galer is a quiet, peaceful place away from most traffic where the songs of bird and insect are able to dominate a charming and rustic landscape. I had seen this beauty before, only much bigger.

Last September, I was gifted a trip to the Napa and Sonoma wine regions of Northern California. Each breath of air I took seemed to take on the enormity of a personal revival. We drove through miles of grapes and uncorked some of California’s best 2010 vintages. We fell in love with many remarkable bottles, scribbling down names and notes. We spoke with other travelers, with many sommeliers, chefs, winemakers, and especially with each other. It had been a long time since I had sipped wine so very consciously. All of my antennae were up. All of my senses were engaged and my palette rejoiced.

With lower vineyard samples in sealed zip-lock bags, we headed back up to Galer and into Mitchell’s laboratory, where we popped the grapes in the bags, mashing them until they were nice and juicy.

Mitchell poured the juice into a little bowl and calibrated a pH reader for three tests to be done on the juices from our sample. Testing is not Mitchell’s favorite part of the winemaking process.

“I would rather just be making the wine instead of doing all the tests myself,” admitted Mitchell, though she’s really good at the data and lab part of this process and it’s really important to her. She continued to show me how she tests the acidity of the juice to determine if the grapes are ready for harvest.

When we emerged from the lab, it was time to climb into Mitchell and her husband’s pickup and drive ribbons of roads through the southern Chester County countryside, past Embreeville, to an enormous, gorgeous vineyard in Coatesville, one of two in the area. I had no idea it existed. The vines seemed to stretch endlessly. We took a drive around it’s perimeter so that I was able to take it all in before circling back to meet the vineyard manager for our Chardonnay pickup.

“It varies year to year but this year the only grapes we have at the winery is the Chardonnay, which is about 7 or 8 tons,” Mitchell said. “We don’t really ever have to supplement the Chardonnay. Sixty-five percent of the wine that we make is grown by the Galer’s property. At Galer Winery and Estate, we keep Chardonnay and then there’s the home winery [where Brad and Lele Galer reside], which has five varietals.”

The vineyard manager used a tractor to push the tubs of grapes onto a large scale pad that weighed the grapes. He sent us back to Galer with two and a half tons of absolutely delicious-looking Chardonnay on a trailer on the back of the truck. We returned to the ribbons of road, winding through the country side with the windows down and air blowing our hair around. I watched the grapes through the back window of the truck’s cab, strapped in and following us in four very large plastic lugs on a trailer. I couldn’t imagine a more rustic and romantic sight than being on horseback on one of the green hilly farms and watching three people in the cab of a pickup hauling Chardonnay grapes.

Soon we were back at Galer and Mitchell’s husband used a tractor to lift one of the huge bins of grapes onto the deck where we would manually scoop them into buckets. For me, this was probably the most pleasing part of the day from a tactile standpoint. It was later in the afternoon at this point and the shadows in the upper vineyard were drawing out slowly. The glorious shining sun was losing altitude. Working so closely with the grapes all day and getting that amount of fresh still-summery air had been especially gratifying.

Wine is sunlight, held together by water.

I held these green weighty clumps of grapes in my hands, with Galileo’s quote on my mind and admired the wholesomeness of them. These exact grapes will be juiced in the machine, the marrow of them flowing through the long hoses into the fermentation room, into a holding tank, and carefully attended to by Mitchell through her fermentation process. Afterward, they will be casked in the oak barrels stored downstairs where they will rest for many moons, and bottled, saving their very unique poem until someone is incited to open one, pour it into some stemware, and finally tilt the glass to their lips. That moment will be a couple of years or more from this very moment.

By then, Mitchell will have spent a couple of years flourishing with Galer and will have blossomed into an award-winning household name amongst foodies and oenophiles alike. Yet at this moment, as I admired the grapes, Mitchell was standing next to me. She was nursing a fresh bee sting, her second sting of her first harvest season at Galer Estate and Winery. She shrugged off the sting, as if to say that such mishaps are part of the bargain for choosing to follow one’s passions – the necessary evil of one’s artistic imprint.

The bees bounced off of my arms and my smiling, sun-kissed cheeks as I continued to help fill the buckets.

————

Alessandra’s story and photos: http://www.kennettsquaretoday.com/magazines/kennetttodaywinter14/index.html

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ahctober

couple snapshots from early this morning outside of the studio…

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sunrise! 645 am Octobertime

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if I had to awaken on a bed of yellow mums, I’d be in the shape of a smile too. : )

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We really got doused last night!

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funny things one sees outside of the studio (DD!)

Such Great Heights

Today, for a magazine piece, I climbed into the cockpit of a restored 1946 Fairchild 24. Google it. It’s special.

What most don’t know is that some 13 years ago, I was quietly studying for my pilot’s license at a small airport outside of Annapolis, MD on rt 50. I had a career in Washington, DC at the time. Very soon into my flight training, 9/11 happened and my school was shut down for a federal audit, and my job in DC got pretty busy (overwhelming, actually) so I didn’t have time to continue training anyway.

I flew out to the Chesapeake Bay today from PA.. We landed a little over 3 hours ago and I’m STILL trying to come down!

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a slice of Sonoma in Southern Chester Co. PA

A journalist colleague of mine and I visited local winery Galer Estate Vineyard and Winery a couple of weeks ago for research on an exciting story we’re planning to do in the future. Galer is located right behind Longwood Gardens and is our favorite winery in the region for a handful of reasons. Here is a smattering of snapshots from our tour. It was a perfect little slice of Sonoma that afternoon!

Captions for many of these were posted to my Instagram @alessandra_official, please follow me there!

Later on my beau joined me for the sunset so his handsome smiling face is on here, too. 🙂

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20140620-111052-40252177.jpgwhere the magic happens

20140620-111054-40254802.jpgRichard speaking with Winemaker’s Assistant Nick

20140620-111054-40254025.jpgJournalist and playwright Richard L. Gaw

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20140620-111058-40258709.jpgmy favorite guy