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Thursday, November 30, 2006


Every winery seeks to satisfy its visitors in a way that leads to wine sales. Visit a dozen wineries, and you’ll be treated to a dozen different touring experiences. More often than not you’ll be satisfied, but visit the Williamsburg Winery in Williamsburg, Virginia and you’ll be thrilled, leaving far more educated about wine. Our tour of the Williamsburg Winery was one of the most interesting and comprehensive winery tours we’ve taken.

We began at the winery’s beautiful website where several tours are proffered. We chose the Tour and Tasting with Lunch which combines the $7.00 wine tasting tour with lunch at the winery’s Gabriel Archer Tavern overlooking the vineyards. That $22.00 tour is offered only online. We made the right choice!

The tour begins with a nicely produced 10-minute video replete with quotations about wine: the Roman philosopher Horace (65 BC – 8 BC), Thomas Jefferson, and The Bible with words of wisdom about the benefits, enjoyment or unwanted consequences of becoming too familiar with wine. The video also includes a history of wine in Virginia as well as the history of these vineyards.

I get a kick out of Virginia. In 1609, the House of Burgesses passed a law requiring the planting of ten vines for every cultivated acre. After all, Virginia was settled to make money for the Virginia Company. But it was tough to buck that lucrative money crop, tobacco.

Again in 1769 the Encouragement for Making Wine Act was passed. Still trying to buck tobacco? It didn’t work. Wine didn’t make inroads in Virginia until the 1970s, and boy, has it exploded since then!

Following the video, our very knowledgeable guide takes us down into the cellars, explaining the differences between American and French oak casks, the cask preparation, timing of cask aging, number of bottles yielded per cask, and any number of other pertinent facts. All this interesting information helps us understand the differences between oak casks and the towering, shiny, stainless steel tanks in which some wines, but not all, spend time.

We move through the wine cellars and are introduced to the room of reserve wines, learning what the term means. There is also a tour and tasting of the reserve cellar but reservations are a must.

Then to the tasting room. We receive brochures describing the wines presented. Each wine offered is accompanied by our guide’s explanation of what to look for in the taste. If she uses a term someone does not understand, as I do not when she mentions a wine quality as “buttery,” she immediately and completely explains. I actually recognize the buttery quality in the John Adlum Chardonnay I taste.

We try seven wines in five categories: Winemaker’s Blends, Varietals, Premium Varietals, and Reserve Wines. No rush. All questions answered.

Other tourists depart, but Rob and I stayed to chat with our excellent guide, discussing several wine topics as well as Rob’s own winemaking. We end up tasting a syrah that had not been part of the tour’s selections, and it is quite wonderful. When we leave, we carry with us several bottles of wine and a set of Steady Sticks, two holders for our wine glasses that stick right in the ground. They’ll work wonders when we go on our picnics to hear the Sunday night concerts at West Point.

This is one of the nicest wine tours we’ve taken, and if you’re visiting the Williamsburg area, think about taking it too.


What a lovely building is the Gabriel Archer Tavern. It’s small with a patio under the crepe myrtle in the front. There’s a main room with wooden tables, and a back, glass-enclosed seating area overlooking the flourishing grapes, their vines entwined on supports and lined up neatly in rows. This is the venue for the Lunch included in our wine tasting tour. Great choice.

We each had another, more leisurely glass of wine. I tried and was mightily pleased by the Andrewes Merlot while Rob and Michael tried and enjoyed the Cabernet Sauvignon. You can imagine our contented smiles.

Lunch was lovely and leisurely. There was a specific menu included in the tour, but none of us felt deprived. Presentation was excellent, and the feeling of familiar surroundings was enhanced when our waiter’s wife and almost brand new baby sat next to us. I have to include the menu so you can get an idea of how nicely lunch complemented the tour.


All platters served with Gabriel Archer Salad of Mixed Baby Greens with House-made vinaigrette.

Ham, Turkey, Granny Smith Apples Havarti & Cheddar Roast Turkey and Smoked Gouda with Cranberry
ChutneyRoast Beef and Brie with Horseradish Sauce
Prosciutto, Provolone and Cappicola HamVine Ripened Tomato & Mozzarella with Basil Pesto MayonnaiseGrilled Chicken Wrap with Feta, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Arugula & Pesto Mayonnaise

~ Lunch includes one glass of wine from the following selections ~
Governor’s WhitePlantation BlushJames River WhiteTwo Shilling RedJohn Adlum ChardonnayJ. Andrewes MerlotArundell Cabernet Sauvignon

Also included Cookies

Coffee, Tea and Water served upon request

Price and Menu Subject to Change without notice. Additional Charge for selecting items off our Expanded Menu.

We agreed that we’d return to Gabriel Archer Tavern if we had the opportunity. Michael, in fact, said he’d probably drive over from Newport News to purchase wine, and if he had a guest, the winery would be an excellent stop.


I just finished the seventh book in Alexander McCall Smith’s magnificent series, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Its title—In the Company of Cheerful Ladies. Absolutely delightful, and another book to recommend as travel companion. The final book of the series, Blue Shoes and Happiness, is still on the NYTimes bestseller list, and the Quality Paperback Bookclub is offering it as well. As for me, I dread, once again, that I am coming to the end of the series, and I hope Smith decides to continue the saga of Precious Ramotswe, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and Grace Makutsi.

It’s not giving too much away to say I enjoy the continuing company of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s two young apprentices, and in this episode, Charlie, the elder of the two, gets a little more attention. But I won’t tell you why or how. Mma Makutsi continues to grow in depth, and she is becoming a very proficient assistant detective. But I won’t tell you how she proves herself. Two new characters who, I believe, can feature prominently in future books (please, Mr. Smith!) are also introduced, but I CAN’T tell you who they are or how they intertwine with my fictional friends.

The problems in In the Company of Cheerful Ladies are a bit more personal than in previous books. Precious, herself, faces a moral dilemma that makes her very unhappy and dredges up incidents she rather forget. A personal problem with potentially dire consequences raises its ugly head, and we take a peek at the Precious’ inner being, the one that exists beneath her usually composed and controlled exterior. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, a man normally involved with problems of auto engines rather than human beings, suddenly gets a rude awakening that he must deal with immediately, and he is at a loss. These are intriguing twists, and they highlight how well the reader gets to know the characters. Smith has imbued them with realistic qualities.

The friendship between Precious and Grace continues to grow. Through the narrator, they are warmly and humorously critical of some of each other’s endearing but nonetheless, faults. Additionally, and humorously to the series’ readers, Grace has finally come to enjoy bush tea. There’s a satisfaction in seeing Grace come into her own, first with the Kalahari Typing School for Men, the new apartment, and some special additions in this book. She is a young woman, with her 97%, who seeks to improve her life and goes about it with intelligence and determination. I like the honesty she reveals when she returns to Bobonong and comments about her new recognition of its poverty and shabbiness, a result, she admits, of living in the city. You can’t go home again.

There are always poignant and perceptive comments comparing the New Botswana to the old Botswana, and in this book there are more examples of prejudices that exist. These comments, often coming at reflective moments, add to the integrity of the book and build its universality. They could be made about any society at any time.

Here’s an example of that universal quality as the narrator comments on the friendship between Mma Ramotswe and Mma Potokwane, the matron of the orphan farm.

“The two women had known one another for many years, and had moved into that most comfortable of territories, that of an old friendship that could be picked up and put down at will without damage. Sometimes several months would go by without the two seeing one another, and this would make no difference. A conversation left unfinished at the beginning of the hot season could be resumed after the rains; a question asked in January might be answered in June, or even later, or indeed not at all. There was no need for formality or caution, and the faults of each were known to the other.”

This is a lovely description of friendship, and I think it’s wonderful that the author, a man, has this kind of insight into women’s relationships.

There’s also, in this novel, a bit of “six degrees of separation.” Again, I can’t say how, but you will see it, and you will smile. The ending of the book simply makes you want more. I will wait a bit before reading Blue Shoes and Happiness. I just don’t want the series to end.


Let me begin by saying each Time Share Resort is different. They’re built, owned and managed by different companies, and each offers an assortment of amenities and schedules. Everything I say here refers only to A Place at the Beach—Windy Hill. Online there are user reviews of each resort, and it’s a good idea to check them out. We went to Myrtle Beach on a Time Share exchange. I try to keep you informed about these time share trips because I think that for people with flexibility in traveling, this is an excellent way and comfortable way to vacation.

We are in a two bedroom unit in A Place at the Beach, Windy Hill. That’s actually in North Myrtle Beach. North Myrtle Beach has plenty to do, but it’s not as frenetic as Myrtle Beach. In October there’s not too much difference, but the difference must be huge during the summer. Reviews online for A Place at the Beach (henceforth APB) noted the unit was relatively small, and it is, but it’s fine for us. The suite, two bedrooms, two baths, a full and fully stocked kitchen, dinette, and living room with a convertible sofa and easy chair, balcony with table and chairs overlooking the ocean, and televisions in the master bedroom and living room. The balcony of every unit in APB is oceanview. With the convertible sofa, it is possible to have six people, but I think four adults is the maximum.

The suite is decorated in yellows, greens and blues with a seaside motif. It’s cheerful, colorful, and immaculately clean. I get a kick over the fabric on the couch and chair; it’s seaside pattern does highlight management’s attention to detail.

This is not one of the newer resorts here where everyday brings new construction, so APB is up against some stiff competition. RCI gives APB a “hospitality” rating, meaning that vacationers here rate the resort highly and that the management does a good job maintaining it and servicing the guests. We agree.

When we checked in, we received a warm greeting and lots of info and hints on how to get the most enjoyment from our stay. There was a discount card for local attractions. We also received an activities sheet for the week. Rob and I tend to skip planned activities. In addition to onsite activities, there are golf outings, and evening trips to shows and dinner theaters. So far, each time share we’ve visited has plans for its guests—if they wish.

As this is not a hotel and at this level in the RCI hierarchy, there is no daily maid service, but once during the week there is a linen/towel exchange. A “starter” kit is provided with soaps, toilet paper, paper towels, coffee filters, dish washer detergent, a scrubby, and garbage bags. There is plenty of anything we need to make the week comfortable, and more can be purchased at the front desk. As we are only two, what we are given suffices. We bought aluminum foil and use it for everything, and our quick trip to Food Lion sets us up for the week.

It takes no time to settle in and make APB our cozy home. In the suite there is a binder filled with pertinent information: entertainment opportunities, houses of worship, restaurants, etc. We’ve always found these books helpful.

We also have ID bracelets to use by the pool and Jacuzzi. The beach is practically at the back door, just over the bordering sand dune. No, it’s not luxurious. Nor is it on the RCI level of our own time shares. By the time we began searching for accommodations, the selections were limited, and there are people who would object to that. Our absolute requirement is a balcony overlooking the ocean where we can sit, watch the sun rise, listen to the surf, and cozily, comfortably, sip something liquid—coffee in the AM and then…. We would not hesitate to return, and we were very comfortable and “at home” at A Place at the Beach—Windy Hill.


I must admit to a fascination with Margaret Truman’s mystery novels. If you’ve read David McCullough’s biography of President Truman, Truman, you know Margaret as a beloved, pampered first daughter whose talents were nurtured, often publicly. Makes me wary. Her mystery novels, however, all called Murder at (location), acknowledge that there is talent!

Each book revolves around a Washington DC locale, and for those familiar with DC, the ping of recognition brings added delight.

Additionally, Margaret’s experience and insight into the machinations of DC politicos gives her license to sling a bit of sarcasm-laced mud, often jibing the sanctimonious and absurd “inside the beltway” thinking. She loves to lampoon the over-inflated self-proclaimed important. Watching her deflate adds fun to the books.

Murder at Union Station brings us right into the location, describing its marble grandeur. Prior to air travel, this is the place from which presidents and other important personages boarded trains for their travel. The presidential waiting room is now BSmith’s restaurant, and it is deliciously described in the novel. Description is Truman’s strength, not only in setting but also in character.

Meet Geoff Lowe, powerful senator staff member who believes in trickle-down importance. What he will do to achieve political objectives may be heinous but not necessarily surprising. There’s Chet Fletcher, political advisor to the President. Here’s a man on the opposite side of the aisle but no less a potential villain. He’s almost out there to dispassionately field test his academic theories on politics.

Toss in a lonely, alcoholic DC cop, Bret Mullin, looking for a connection and involved with solving crimes almost despite himself; Tim Stripling, a former CIA agent “consulting” on a secret per diem basis, Louis Russo, a reputed Mafioso living in Israel under the Witness Protection Program, and Richard Marienthal, a young, frustrated writer dying to show his successful lawyer father that he has the right stuff, and you’re well into a plot that twists, turns, and drops hints not only about the crime but also about the dirty underside of Washington politics.

The title is the only hint I will give you to the plot. Reading as the solution materializes will keep you guessing. Suspense is another Margaret Truman strength.

This is a quick, enjoyable read that will probably lead you to explore Truman’s list of murders a bit more thoroughly. If you do, I recommend Murder at the Kennedy Center.


Lock the deadbolt on your room—when you’re inside or when you’re leaving. Even someone relatively unpracticed (as was Rob at Myrtle Beach) can use a credit card to gain entry. In your hotel room, use that bar that crossed over the door.

Always have a Plan B and probably a Plan C. Look what happened to our planned “beach” vacation when the weather became unseasonably cold. Google your destination and see what else there is to do. Make sure to include some indoor places too. It saves a lot of frustration and disappointment if your plans include some flexibility.