Winter is the time for home…

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire:  it is the time for home.  ~Edith Sitwell

Although Thanksgiving Day here in Hermann was a warm and sunny sixty-five degrees – in fact, by the time the turkey was done, the house was so warm we had all the windows open – we know that winter is on its way.  Our friends in Haines, Alaska, where my husband and I lived for over twenty years, have already had over eight feet of snow, with more on the way.  Needless to say, Mick and I agreed that this Thanksgiving we were thankful that we didn’t have to shovel snow!

Here in mid-Missouri, winter is coming slowly, and we are offered the luxury of easing into another season, rather than having it hit us in the face.  There are still a few leaves stubbornly clinging to the Bradford pear trees.  All the fallen oak and maple leaves have already turned brown and, for the most part, have blown or been raked away, but the pear tree leaves fall in shades of yellow and burgundy, and some still green, piling up in kaleidoscopic patterns of color – one last shot of autumn. 

Every few days we get a new party of Canadian geese landing on the lake in our back yard.  We call them “lay-overs” – a brief respite in their journey to a warmer clime.  We usually hear them coming in at night, honking their arrival, and I always wonder how they find us in the dark – I imagine an AAA-approved route for geese that points out designated safe zones for overnight stops.  Right now we have close to two dozen on the lake – possibly an extended family Thanksgiving break?  While we ate our holiday dinner in the sunroom overlooking the lake, the geese glided smugly on the water, almost as though they knew our main course was turkey, and that they were safe to relax and enjoy this beautiful day.

No mention of Black Friday here in Hermann – this weekend does usher in the holiday season, of course, but not with midnight shopping and marketing-induced buying frenzy.  The only line in which you’ll find yourself is to get into the popular Christmas music concert at St. Martin’s Church at Starkenburg.  Local musicians and singers, including a bell choir, provide this concert free of charge each year, and it has become a greatly anticipated family event over the Thanksgiving break.  Even with both afternoon and evening concerts, every seat gets filled, and you’ll see an overflow standing outside the church doors, listening in.

Father Christmas

For Hermann residents and visitors, this weekend is more about simple small-town traditions and spending time with family and friends.  The annual Lantern Parade takes place Saturday evening with Father Christmas (our friend, Terry) leading the way as families carrying lighted lanterns start the season, just as they did hundreds of years ago in Germany, culminating at the amphitheatre with hot chocolate and caroling.  This is how childhood memories are made.  And I guarantee that these moments last much longer than any pleasure derived from the latest X-box game.  

There’s no doubt that winter brings colder weather and shorter days, making us seek comfort close to home…winter is the time for home.

 The Christmas season is a great time to visit Hermann with the entire family, and you can finish off your holiday shopping with a few bottles of local wines!  For a full holiday schedule:  http://www.visithermann.com/special_events/christmas_schedule.htm.

 

 

 

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Perfect pairings…

This weekend the Hermann Wine Trail, an association of seven wineries along the Missouri River Valley, is holding its Holiday Fare Wine Trail.  As a start to the holiday season, visitors to Hermann can spend time at each of these wineries over a two-day period sampling holiday dishes paired with local wines.  You might try a slice of ham with an apricot and cranberry sauce, and wash it down with a glass of Vignoles.  Or maybe snack on some pumpkin spice cookies with a mug of mulled Hermannsberger

Next month, during the second weekend of December, the Just Say Cheese! Wine Trail takes place.  This time around each winery will feature a different cheese dish that goes together, tastefully, with one of their wines.  Reading the menu made my mouth water – I was especially happy to see a four-cheese smoked macaroni and cheese paired up with a hearty red wine.  It’s good to know my favorite comfort food has been elevated to gourmet standards!

Hermannhof Winery

Regardless of the theme of the wine trail or the selected offerings, the underlying idea is to get lovers of food and wine (and really, who of us doesn’t fall into that category??) to think about unusual pairings of both.  It’s a concerted effort by the Hermann vintners to move people away from the old rule that red goes with beef and white with fish – end of story.  I like to think of our wine trails as gastronomic therapy – assisting those who may be stuck in a ‘steak-with-Merlot’ rut to really see the world of possibilities available to them! 

 Naturally, when we consider pairing things up, we think of things that coordinate, that appear to be the perfect fit, that were designed to go together.  What comes to mind? Well, shoes that match your purse, complementary colors like red and green at Christmas, pizza and beer, Bogart and Bacall, Thanksgiving and roasted turkey.  Even online dating services, a multi-million dollar industry, have been built on the concept of finding the perfect match.  But, do we spend too much time assuming things should be a certain way?  Sometimes that which seems “perfect” remains elusive, and what is simply “right” for us may be in front of our eyes. 

Coming home to Hermann, my hometown, after years of living in Alaska seemed far from being the perfect location for me.  Granted, my time in the north was up.   After more than twenty years, the weather and the isolation had tarnished the perfect image I had of Alaska, but was returning to small town life in the Midwest the best choice?  I spent the last three years trying to determine the answer.  Returning home can be confusing at times – people don’t always understand where I’ve been, or what I’ve experienced, or how those years away have shaped the person I am now.  I’m not the same as when I left, and at times it seems overwhelmingly apparent to me.  But, you know what?  I’m the only one who seems to notice – I am still just another hometown girl to everyone else.  Hermann might not be the perfect match for me, but for now, it’s the right place for me. 

Hermann vineyards

My husband, Mick, and I just returned from a walk in the bottoms, near our home, savoring what may be one of the last warm days of the year.  The bottoms are the acres of low farm land along the river.  Here the bottom land sits between the river and the railroad tracks, and overlooking both, perched on a bluff, is the Bias Winery, one of the seven stops along the Hermann Wine Trail.  We made a short pit stop at the winery, just to see if they were having a busy weekend, and indeed, they were.  Now, if your image of a winery is more along the lines of a grand Napa Valley estate, right out of Falcon Crest, complete with terraces and arched cellars, then the Bias Winery will shake that image.  This small family-owned operation is more about casual, laid-back charm – picnic tables, cats sunning themselves, hayrides, and annual barbeque cook-offs.  Oh, and their mascot is a gnome called Gruhlke – apparently he holds the secret formula for the microbrews which are also produced there.  This might not be the perfect winery envisioned, but for the visitors at Bias Winery, enjoying this warm November weather and relaxing in the homey atmosphere, it was the right place to be today.  Just like wine, it’s all a matter of taste.

 There are five wine trails held throughout the year, but by far the most popular is the Chocolate Wine Trail which takes place the third weekend of February.  Tickets sell out early for this one – for more information, visit http://hermannwinetrail.com/.

An unplanned detour…

Our community of Hermann lies 80 miles west of St. Louis and 180 miles east of Kansas City.  Amtrak also makes two daily stops in Hermann, in either direction.  So, for the most part, the majority of visitors coming to Hermann, as well as staying with us at our guest house, the Grapevine Guest Suite, are from these urban areas.  It’s an easy trek to make, especially for a weekend getaway, as the drive time commitment is fairly minimal.  And for those wanting to start their vacation earlier, boarding the train and heading to the lounge car for drinks can make the trip even shorter and sweeter! We’ll even be there to pick you up and drive you to the Grapevine when you disembark.

We do welcome the occasional guests who decide to take the “detour” off of I-70 and discover Hermann.  Maybe they saw the signs along the highway promoting all of the wineries in the area, or they read an article in Midwest magazine lauding Hermann’s German heritage.  Regardless, these visitors from Washington State, Georgia, Arizona, to name a few, are always happy they took the twenty minute drive from the highway, winding down into the Missouri River valley, crossing the bridge into this picturesque town.  Taking a self-imposed detour is usually far from a waste of time – whether it’s a few minutes or a day or two, the experiences gained can be so fulfilling. 

While my husband and I were visiting County Donegal in Ireland last month, I fell in love with some paintings I saw in a hotel lobby in the village of Ardara.  The artist was named Stephen Bennett, and the paintings were representations of everyday life in the Irish countryside – farmers putting up hay, old men sitting outside their thatched-roof cottages, musicians gathered around a table in a pub.  These are fairly common themes among Irish artists, but these paintings were so bold – strong strokes and vibrant colors that really set them apart. 

The next morning, as we’re driving out of Ardara, following the coastline, I saw a sign saying “Stephen Bennett Studio Gallery – Turn Here”, and so, we made our first detour of the day.  When we got to his studio there was a small note on the door asking visitors to knock at their home, and so I knocked.  No response, and so I knocked again.  Stephen’s wife, Bernie, came to the door, apologizing for not hearing us.  She was doing laundry, and apparently she needs a new washing machine – when it’s in the spin cycle, it’s so loud that she figures it will just lift off one day and go through the roof.  She unlocked the studio for us, and before long Stephen appeared, letting Bernie get back to her jet-fueled wash.

Stephen was not what I was expecting.  His artwork is so bold and energetic, almost loud in the use of colors and style.  Stephen is just the opposite – soft-spoken and with a gentle demeanor, he is warm and understated.  He told us that his father had been born in Ardara, but left for London where Stephen was born.  After college, Stephen spent 18 years living in London and working for ad agencies as an illustrator, but his dream was always to return to Ireland.  So, fearing for his sanity after working too many years in a highly-competitive and stressful job, he also took a detour.  His detour took him back to his father’s birthplace, and it turned out to be a permanent one.

In his studio, he and I found common ground in our admiration of Toulouse Lautrec, the French painter who so well captured the nightlife and seedy underworld of late-nineteenth century Paris.  He felt inspired by Lautrec when he moved back to Donegal, painting the ‘loyal patrons’ of the local pubs.  He and my husband, Mick discovered they both had a love for public radio – Mick was the consummate volunteer at our public station in Alaska, spinning a variety of different shows whenever he could.  Stephen does a regular Sunday afternoon program featuring country music and gospel. 

I finally settled on one of Stephen’s limited edition prints called “In the Hayfield”, a painting of a man striding through a field, hayfork in hand, with a small boy running from behind, trying to keep up.  The image spoke to me because while it was a scene from Ireland, it could have easily been a field here in Missouri, today, tomorrow, or a hundred years in the past.  It seemed timeless in its content. 

Source:  www.stephenbennett.net

Stephen invited us in to his spacious home while he ran my credit card.  While sitting in their living room with a beautiful view of the inlet, his young son, also Stephen (home from school with a sore throat), came in with his new puppy, Hero, to say hello.  With Hero crawling all over us, we got a tour of their personal gallery – a touching set of family portraits painted by Stephen, including one of his father shortly before he passed away.  Stephen even pulled out a set of blueprints, showing us the plans to expand his studio.   If we hadn’t left when we did, we might still be there – they truly welcomed complete strangers into their home with warmth you rarely find from people you’ve known for years.

That little detour certainly wasn’t on our agenda, and we didn’t get as far up the coast that day as originally planned, but our time with Stephen and his family turned out to be the most memorable part of the trip for me.  It just goes to show that sometimes a detour is anything but a waste of time.       

The view from Stephen's living room