As a kid, I spent many summers at sleep away camp, first at Pocono Highlands Camp in Marshall’s Creek PA in the heart of the Pocono mountains, then at Camp Tel Yehudah in Barryville NY, a camp affiliated with a Jewish Youth Movement. Both camp experiences were filled with adolescent romance interrupted by sports, swimming and spirited singing and dancing.
Sleep away camp for grownups
Fast forward 50 years and imagine a camping experience with a different kind of spirit, the wine kind. That’s how we spent this past weekend, at Domaine Meriwether (soon to be Valhalla Winery) with 21 like minded wine folks. Set up began Friday evening. We arrived with tent in tow only to find everything from a 35′ motor coach to fifth wheels to a large, “glamped out” tent. We weren’t deterred, we were still going to enjoy the event, no matter how primitive our accommodations. Neither of us has camped in nearly 30 years so it was sure to be an interesting experience, to say the least. We were set up with a queen size platform for our brand new air mattress and felt confident that this would be an unforgettable experience…and it was. Before bed, we joined in the Domaine Meriwether “Sparkling Friday Night” event with a bottle of their 2009 Pinot Noir and delicious barbecue platters from a local food truck. There was live music, twinkling lights and merriment in every direction. The wine helped set the tone for the weekend.
We retired to our suite around 9:30 and settled in for a star lit night of cozy slumber. About one hour in, we began to feel some discomfort below us. Lo and behold, our air mattress was no longer filled with the air it started with. I began to recall the physics lessons I never learned very well about air displacement and we agreed that if neither of us moved AT ALL we should be just fine through the night. Not so much. Instead we got more and more uncomfortable and ended up finally falling asleep around 3 AM only to wake at 6 AM with what felt like whale bones pushing up into our backs. Rise and shine!
We had already planned to make the short trip home for a shower and breakfast, and this confirmed that plan. We got in the car and headed for the exit, only to find a padlocked gate. Seriously, at that point I was ready to plow through the gate and ask forgiveness later. Neal was not so inclined so we head toward the tasting room, found Eric Normann, the winery owner, and discovered that there is a back entrance that is never gated. So ended that saga. All this before camp even started!
We headed home for a camping respite that included a shower and a nap, followed by a gluttonous breakfast at Our Daily Bread, a lovely local restaurant housed in an old church.
Dining in the vineyard
Wine camp began with lunch in the vineyard accompanied by a variety of wines, depending on your preference. Domaine Meriwether has long been know for its sparkling wines and there was no shortage of them, both brut and rose’ were flowing. Our lunch reminded me an afternoon in a Tuscany vineyard, pasta salad, fresh fruit, and of course the wine.
Following lunch, Eric Normann gave us a lesson in vineyard management, showing us pruning techniques as well as describing the challenges facing this particular vineyard and their dreams for the future. It was interesting and informative, particularly when accompanied by a lovely 2009 Pinot Noir.
After we learned everything we need to know to become vineyard managers, we participated in a technical tasting of five Sauvignon Blancs from different parts of the world and different price ranges. Most of us in the group selected the same wine as our favorite, a $7.99 New Zealand Sav Blanc from Trader Joe’s! That’s also the only one I was able to identify from the descriptions of each wine. My palate has a long way to go.
Next, what would camp be without a hay ride, and what would a hayride be without wine? We climbed aboard and took a tour of the property and learned about some of Lorrie and Eric’s dreams for the gorgeous 56 acre spread, from a vineyard leasing program to a tiny house community. Both sound so appealing. We stopped every few minutes for a wine sip and then went on to complete the trip, what fun!
Nap time was followed by a glorious dinner in the vineyard with 25 people around a table festooned with flowers and china. With the sun breathing its last warm breath of the the day, we enjoyed appetizers and, you guessed it, wine with our fellow campers. When the sun settled behind the trees we all gather around the table for a sumptuous dinner prepared by Lorrie, Eric and their family and friends. It was a glorious moment!
S’mores round the campfire, what would summer camp be without S’mores?
As we all wandered slowly and carefully back to our campsite, we shared in the gorgeous, star studded night, the warm memories of an amazing day and the anticipation of the cool night and the beautiful morning to follow. It was an unforgettable day.
Daybreak at Camp
Sunday morning found us with lots of air in our air mattress, lots of rest for our bodies and lots of wine for our spirits. We were able to more than make up for the night before and felt incredibly rested and refreshed. Together we all made our way to the tasting room where Eric and Lorrie had already begun preparing mimosas and breakfast. Imagine pancakes on the outdoor griddle, served to a group of happily rested campers, accompanied by fresh fruit and mimosas. Would you ever want to leave? We certainly didn’t! We all agreed that every child should be required to send his or her parent to wine camp at least once! I’m all in for that!
None of this amazing weekend would have been possible without Lorrie, Eric and their amazing staff. Melissa is charming, warm and a perfect adjunct to Lorrie, we are so happy to know her. The new staff that is part of the team are just as great, with awesome knowledge, skills and personality to match. Thanks to all of you for making this one of the most unforgettable weekends we have ever spent.