Leaf Peeping at Waller Mill Park

 Since moving to Williamsburg in September, I have spent a bit of time exploring the trail system around the city.  It has become a way to occupy my time; without a large garden to tend to I have the opportunity to wander trails.  On a recent Sunday, I took my husband out to Waller Mill Park to hike the Lookout Tower Trail.  To learn more about the trail system in the park, the City of Williamsburg has a page on their website that offers a pdf file that I recommend downloading.  It is called Great City Walks and the trails in Waller Mill Park are included.

Waller Mill Park is home to the reservoir system that provides water to the City of Williamsburg and James City County and with that in mind, it is not a free park.  However, the $2 entry fee is well worth the money.  The park has limited hours and it closes by 5pm each day but if you have an hour or two, you can get a lot of exploring in.  For those of you not interested in hiking, you can play disc golf, rent a paddle boat or canoe or bring your own non-gasoline powered boat, fish, picnic or bring the dog to the dog park.  To learn all of the rules and restrictions, visit the homepage for the park.

We arrived at about 2pm and figured we would be finished with the nearly 3 mile hike in about an hour and 15 minutes.  However, there was so much to see on the trail it took us two hours!  The close up photo of the moss and lichen growth on the rock in the photo above is just one example of the distractions we encountered.  To see more of our discoveries, you will have to explore the cellphone photos I posted on my Instagram feed, I did not take photos of every mushroom we found using my camera because we may not have made it out of the park before closing time!

 The views of the foliage were beautiful.  The day was overcast and that was a good thing.  We took our time and just enjoyed the surroundings.  This area is just beginning to put on a display of color, the cold snap we are expecting should change that.

 On this afternoon, there were a few boaters paddling around and hikers with dogs but for the most part, we were on our own.  It was truly a peaceful place to be and I plan to make this a regular destination.

 The boat launch near the parking area had one of the best views of foliage in the park!  It was hard not to pull camera out and I could easily have spent an hour or more on the dock.

 The reflections were every bit as enchanting as the view itself.  To my husbands surprise, and possibly his dismay, I actually laid down on my stomach to take these shots.

 The ripples in the water distorted the reflection and the random leaves floating on the surface of the water caught my attention.

 There was a pair of ducks swimming near by but I never even thought to get them in the photo

The clouds in the sky look even angrier due to the distortion of the reflection.  
Go on out to Waller Mill and hike the trails, you will not regret it.  Keep in mind that this is one of the rootiest trail systems I have been on.  Watch your footing, something tough to do on a leaf covered pathway.  If you have bad knees or ankles, this may not be the place for you since it is guaranteed that you will trip over at least a couple roots along the way.  For those with limited mobility, you may want to stick to the Paved Bike Path, a two mile walkway, look for it on the map.

beer vs. wine; visiting a brewery and a winery in one afternoon

When my daughter came for a visit recently, we decided to taste some of local wares.  Our first stop was at the Williamsburg Winery.  For those of you who are not familiar with wine production, Virginia wines are gaining ground and winning awards.  Hard to believe but it is true, Virginia is the fifth largest grape producer in the nation.  Still don’t believe me, read this article from Forbes magazine about the wine industry in Virginia.

While it is no secret that I prefer to sip a glass of wine (or three…) to just about any other alcoholic beverage, I am by no means a connoisseur.  My preferences run to dry whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Fume Blanc and Pinot Grigio, my only requirement besides dry and white is that it is not Chardonnay.

Even so, I always enjoy a trip to a winery and a chance to see how they produce their wines.  When it includes a chance to taste the wines, even better.  The tour of the Williamsburg Winery will take you about an hour, including the tasting.  While some wineries do this for free, it will cost you $10 to take this tasting tour.  If you ask me, that is a pretty cheap way to sample the wines and see the facility.  Forgive the lousy cellphone photo, it was so dark in the cellar and I was traveling without a tripod.

This is a small winery in comparison to some of the ones I have visited on the west coast.  This room is where they store all of the red wines.  Again, I apologize for that cellphone photo.

Each Barrel is marked with a stamp from the cooper.  Coopers practice the art of making wine barrels, and this cooperage from France.  The other stamped letters and numbers also convey information relevant to the barrel.  While I do not know what the A or the H mean, I do know that the M and T refer to a Medium Toast of the barrel which will impart characteristics to the wine aging in the barrel.  The white, handwritten letters are unique to the winery and I am not sure what they mean but I am guessing that the indicate the type of wine and the year it was produced.

The winery offers different types of tours, we went on a basic tour but they also offer a reserve tour.  The reserve tour includes a tasting in the actual cellar.   We could only admire the setting from behind a gate and I am thinking this looks like a great place to learn about the wines.

In the bottling room, Riesling was being pumped into the bottles.

The storage tanks in the winery, just another interesting part of the winery.  The art of wine making has been around for centuries and while old world techniques are still in use, modern technology has crept in.

Of course, just about everyone goes on a winery tour to taste the wines and I am no exception to that rule!  We tasted eight wines and this was one of the reds, a 2012 Lord Botetourt Red which is a blend of red Bordeaux varietals.

We also had the chance to taste the 2013 Dry Rose(a wine made from estate grown grapes), 2012 James River White Sauvignon Blanc, 2013 Midsummer Night’s White (a wine made from estate grown grapes), 2010 J. Andrewes Merlot, 2012 Hening’s Statute Cabernet Franc, 2012 Virginia Trianon (a Cabernet Franc)  and the Jamestown Cellars Settler’s Spiced Wine which is a spice infused red wine that can be served warm or chilled.

While we enjoyed the winery and the chance to taste the wines, we had a schedule to keep and beer to taste; off we went to the local brewery Alewerks.

Disclaimer; I am not a beer drinker, do not expect a detailed explanation of anything here…We arrived at the brewery which is located in a small business park, not what we expected, at all.  Once again, this was not a free tour, and that is fine, they need to pay for the expense of educating visitors.  We were lucky to have a tour guide that not only knew his ales, but was engaging and entertaining.  For the first time, I actually understand a little about the different types of beers and what makes each one unique.

Our guide, Corbin, was quick to explain something important to us, traditionally, beer is made from 4 ingredients:  water, barley, hops and yeast.  What I also learned was that there are two basic types of beer, lager and ale, and what separates them is the type of yeast used and the temperatures that they are brewed is the biggest difference.  Alewerks only produces ale and that is a cold yeast process.

What makes the many brews different are the ingredients used.  While barley is the traditional grain used to make ale, it is not the only choice.  How the grains are toasted affects flavor and so does the amount of hops in the brew.  The other thing I learned, I do not care for a brew that is heavy in hops.

We tasted 5 different brews which included the Chesapeake Pale Ale, Washington’s Porter, Wheat Ale and Old Stitch-forgive me, I cannot remember the fifth one.  The light ales and the less “hoppy” brews were the ones I preferred.   Believe it or not, I actually like the Porter and probably could drink a glass.

After the tasting, we went to the actual brewery.  It is surprisingly small.  The entire brewery is in one room; the grain storage, brewing and bottling all takes place in the same space.

The bricks look blackened because it is actually soot from the flames that toast the grains.

Even more surprising, there is only one machine to bottle the brew.  This machine has the ability to bottle one case of beer per minute.  The cases are folded and glued by hand too.  Yes folks, this beer is truly hand crafted.

Still thinking of the Porter, and thinking that maybe I need to go back and take this tour again.  Join me and help support the local producers of Williamsburg.

Early Fall at the Williamsburg Farmers Market

Visiting the Williamsburg Farmers Market has become a favorite thing of mine.  Every Saturday morning I head to the Historic District to walk the market held in Merchants Square and it is such a beautiful setting.  It truly feels like a community event, almost like a neighborhood block party held in the middle of the colonial village.  The farmers and producers selling at the market each week are usually the same but sometimes, they skip a week so be sure to check the website as it is updated weekly.

There is nothing worse than going to a market and discovering that the venders are simply reselling produce they bought.  This market is a producers only market and all venders are subject to management approval before they can sell at the market.  Honestly, this is the perfect way to know your food.  Want to know about the vegetables or seafood, ask the person selling it; they work for the farm and can tell you just about anything you might need to know.

Fresh beans waiting to be shelled
 Beautiful eggplants

 It wouldn’t be fall without hard squash; Cushaw and Blue Hubbards as well as Butternut and Acorn.

 Not only do you get the vegetables freshly picked, you get the name of the variety.

 Amazing sheep milk cheeses from Everona Dairy.

The folks at Bacon’s Castle Supply love to talk about their peanut farm.  We asked about the bouquet hanging and got a lesson on how the plants produce peanuts.

 And of course, heirloom pumpkins
 Peppers love the hot, dry weather of late summer and early fall and are plentiful at the market.
 Sweet potatoes are a fall favorite too

 Being so close to the Chesapeake Bay means oysters are plentiful too and these are Crassostrea virginica the native species.  King Corrotoman Oysters brings them in fresh but be sure to check the schedule, they do not come every week.

 Everywhere you go, signs of fall.  Love the use of persimmons in this bouquet.

 Radishes are a quick crop to produce and it is easy to see why farmers would offer them for sale; they are so colorful.  Did you know that radishes are just as good roasted as they are raw and the greens are pretty tasty when cooked too!  Click here for my recipe for roasted radishes and wilted greens.

Mountains of Tuscan kale just waiting to be sauteed or added to salads and it has me dreaming about my new garden next spring…

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