Category Archives: vineyard life

a summer dinner among the vines | thoughts on hospitality

I just finished writing a blog post for our winery project, The Storm Cellar, telling a few stories and showing off some of the gorgeous photographs that Irene Durante captured for our very first dinner in the vineyard back in the middle of June. The evening couldn’t have been more beautiful, and the food any more delicious.

This dinner was the first time that we formally released our freshly finished wines into the world. There was a moment, when Steve and I were walking behind the guests, as they were seating themselves at the long, communal table we set, right in the middle of our Riesling vines. We paused and watched the scene of smiling faces, full wine glasses, friends and family, and a prep station ready to plate. Tears filled our eyes, as we pulled each other close.

Our dream was being realized.

All of the hard work, late nights, early evenings, uncertainty, and excitement had lead up to this moment that we had been waiting for for nearly three years.

Steve and I recently dined at Tavernetta, Bobby Stuckey’s newest restaurant located in Denver’s Union Station. Stuckey is known for his iconic, Boulder restaurant, Frasca, which recently won the 2019 James Beard Award for Outstanding Service. Frasca was the only Colorado nominee finalist and winner at what is basically known as the “Oscars of the Culinary World.”

I bring up Stuckey, who is also a Master Sommelier, because of his vocal, and now internationally recognized, stance on the practice of hospitality. He mentions in a Denver Post interview that the concept of hospitality is “not about what we do to somebody; it is about how we make them feel.” Every night, at each of his restaurants, what his team figuratively does is “open the door and give every guest a bear hug.”

Steve and I couldn’t agree more with this philosophy of placing the guest experience above the tasks we execute. We could plate up the most beautiful food, serve the most exquisite glassware, source the most colorful flowers, and host a dinner in the most breathtaking setting, but without making our guests feel welcomed and special, the entire event would be flat, disappointing, and unmemorable. Continue reading

negroni d’pampe | on that extra slice of cake, making room for beauty + the war on bunnies

I woke up this cloudy morning to the loveliest of sounds, a sound I hadn’t heard here in nearly two months. Slow, steady, peaceful rain, falling outside my open window. And the SMELL!! Isn’t it wonderful? That moisture-filled aroma of damp earth is both calming and invigorating all at once. I snoozed my alarm another 30 minutes and closed my eyes just to lull myself back asleep to this beautiful scene.

As someone who works the land, I view every moment of daylight as an opportunity to get work done. I can’t prune vines or thin shoots in the dark, so each moment of sunshine counts. Whenever I’m forced indoors, which is a rare event, I seize that moment of fortuity to either relax or sleep in or get caught up on postponed computer demands. Today, I chose to catch a few extra minutes of rest, lounge over breakfast on the front porch, and get after a blog post. Writing – and sleeping in – are two things I’ve missed this season.

No guilt on taking this one day to indulge just a little.

I know I’ve referenced a lot about self-care this year, and it’s a concept you’ve probably heard a lot of buzz about in the media, as well. It’s something I’ve been working through and promising myself to integrate into my daily thoughts and routine. I find it so easy to just throw myself out of bed, slap on sunscreen, don my sunglasses, and get after the day’s chores, but that’s so unfulfilling. And it leaves me tired, feeling like a robot moving through the motions.

So, I’m slowing down, even when it’s hard. And I’m intentionally embracing beauty in the little things, like thrifted glassware {these cocktail glasses were $2 apiece at the Habitat for Humanity Restore!}, earlier mornings, and lazier Sundays. Another thing that I did this year, since we don’t have time for a serious garden, is sign up for a flower CSA. Each week, I already have to drive our recyclables to the recycling center, so I brightened up the chore by swinging by Zephyros Flower Farm and collecting a bouquet for the week. This past week’s assortment of blooms was a showstopper {isn’t that yellow and black lily INSANE!?}, and I knew I had to match it with a cocktail.

I’ve also tried being more conscious to get up earlier in the mornings, so that I can take time to stretch or write or read. Or make that second round of French press and just breathe before the day’s pulse starts to dictate my steps. It’s my moment of quiet, where I can call the shots and start my day with peace and intention. Are you the same way?

As the clouds gathered in the late afternoon yesterday, I gave our potted plants on the porch a little water and then gathered the essentials for a riff on one of my favorite classic cocktails, a summer-influenced Negroni — citrusy gin, gentian-forward Suze, and a favorite, new indulgence of mine, Vin d’Pampe Vermouth Rosé. It’s a brightened up, punchy-hued, citrus-floral version of the bitter, rich classic.

Continue reading

tasting through rosé + pinot grigio with ava grace | planting the summer garden

Happy National Wine Day!

Yes, it is an actual holiday. I pretty much revel in that day’s festivities every day of the year, but I’m celebrating with you by sharing a couple bottles of wine that Steve and I enjoyed this past week. We finally took the plunge and made some drastic changes in our yard, and I couldn’t be more happy about them!

Although AVA Grace Vineyards kindly sponsored this post, all words, opinions, tasting notes, and photos are mine. I am happy to align myself specifically with brands that I trust and with whom I actually ENJOY, so I thank you for supporting the brands and companies that support holly & flora and allow me to keep the recipes, stories, and reviews coming your way!

I can officially say, after waiting well over a year, that we have a garden again! That might seem like a short amount of time, but for someone who has tended a garden and made countless meals and cocktails from its herbs, vegetables, flowers, and fruits for nearly 12 years, it felt like a lifetime. It’s hard to contain my excitement.

Nature surely has a way, however, of forcing you to change your direction or slow down, no matter what your plans are. Take this past Sunday. Steve and I couldn’t have chosen a windier day to plant our summer garden and paint the exterior of our house. Dirt in our faces, debris in the paintbrush, flies in our wine. Then try taking photographs in these conditions.

You get the picture. A slightly blurry one, perhaps.

So, maybe we didn’t accomplish the lines on our to-do list as fast as we would have liked, but we got all of the plants snugly settled into the soil, and we ended the day with laughter, a mandatory hot bath, and a sleepy viewing of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Gardening always makes me think of the lush landscapes the hobbits tend and the lifestyle of simplicity they embrace.

We are super excited to actually have the beginnings of a garden this month. When we moved out here to Paonia over a year ago, we didn’t have the time to plant or maintain even a simple herb garden. We inherited a mess of a vineyard and a “dirt bomb” of a yard, when we purchased this property. We went from gardening a small, lush, corner lot in suburban Denver to full-on farming 16 acres of grapevines out here on the dusty slopes of western Colorado wine country.

This year, we made an effort, despite the pressing needs of the vineyard, to dedicate a day to pause and plant a garden for ourselves. We picked up a few flats of herbs and veggies at High Country Gardens, filled up our playlist {which included DJ Frane’s aptly titled, “In the Garden”}, donned our grubbiest clothes, and chilled down the wine.

And what started out with one gifted clipping of lemon balm became an entire herb garden, once the plants hit the dirt. Dill, oregano, rosemary, basil, chervil, parsley, and thyme, along with a few varieties of mint. I’ve been waking up early and going to bed late, making sure that they’re all watered and sturdy and safe.

Continue reading

apple cider buck spritz | scenes from the grape harvest

Seasonal fruits yield seasonal cocktails, of course, but I don’t see why the season has to dictate cocktail styles so much. I’m still enjoying white wine with dinner, crisp rosés that I happen to score, and frozen cocktails and sorbets, filled with pears or apples. Things you’d mostly associate with warmer weather. I gave one of my favorite summer staples, the spritz, a fall twist. It’s versatile enough to enjoy on its own or in a punch bowl with a fruit-studded ice mold.

Herbal, spicy, bitter notes balanced with a finish of crisp and dry, bubbly apple cider.

How could anyone say no to this?

I know it’s been a few months, but I do have an excuse for my absence in the form of a beautiful story I’d love to share with you: our very first grape harvest. The bird netting is almost put away, the temperatures have dropped, the days are growing shorter, and fall projects have commenced here on the vineyard. Mirroring nature’s slower, autumnal dance, we’ve all lessened our pace, thankfully, and taken our first, albeit abbreviated, breaths of relief.

Most importantly, the last of the grapes have been picked, sold, and sent away. We made sure to save a few hundred pounds, however, so that we could give a go at making our own wine this inaugural harvest season. It’s been quite the learning curve, and no matter how many times you’ve interned or volunteered at a winery, it’s a completely different experience when the grapes and resulting wine are your own.

There are some days, in the middle of summer’s hectic, frenetic season and even now, that we just don’t leave the property. It can be a good or bad thing. Solitude is refreshing and rejuvenating for me, as an extroverted introvert, but it can also be downright isolating. Our team of four regularly escapes to our favorite watering hole, the tasting room at Big B’s Delicious Orchards, just a couple of miles down the road. The farm store and café both boast fare organically grown and raised on their property. There’s even a u-pick garden and a space to camp with a spectacular view of Mount Lamborn in the near distance.

Their ciders are some of the best I’ve ever tried. Head cider-maker, Shawn Larson, orchestrates a perfect balance with his various ciders: sweet and savory, crisp and visceral, fruity and just-enough bitter. My favorite has always been his Orchard Original, a dry, almost sparkling wine-like hard cider. The other one to try right now is his limited edition Ciaison Grand Cru Hard Cider, crafted with Winesap apples from here in the West Elks, tart orange peel, and coriander seeds, fermented in French oak Chardonnay barrels.

It would actually go perfectly here in this cocktail, too. Continue reading