Here We Come A-Wassailing

A designated driver can get you to Keswick Vineyards. But as for settling that debate with Mom, you're on your own.
A designated driver can get you to Keswick Vineyards. But as for settling that debate with Mom, you're on your own. (By Stephen Barnard)
By Scott Vogel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 16, 2007

Just a few minutes out of Charlottesville on the eastern leg of the Monticello Wine Trail, the roads are barren and twisty, the landscapes are pastoral and serene, and Mom is once more trying to cause trouble.

"Are we wassailing yet?"

She laughs a little at her own joke, but the rest of us sit blank-faced in the car hoping we won't have to go through this again. As it happens, tension has been mounting ever since a family spat over "Here We Come A-Wassailing" -- pivotal question: what's the stuff made from, wine or cider? -- had somehow metastasized into a larger discussion of aging parents and familial responsibilities. And so the period of quiet had been welcome. That period was now over.

"I've got a joke," Mom says to her young grandson. "Why did the little moron bring a ladder to school?"

Mom, I immediately interrupt, people don't tell jokes like that anymore. "Oh, people don't know how to have fun anymore," she responds. "What's a moron?" asks the grandson.

"He wanted to go to high school."

Not a moment too soon, we swerve off Route 20 and onto a lane leading to Burnley Vineyards. There atop a low hill sits an unassuming tasting room in a taupe-colored ranch house, where we are welcomed by an elderly woman who methodically begins setting out glasses at the bar for Mom and me. The rest of the crowd stares at us in silence. It's all very Gary Cooper in "High Noon."

"Do you have wassail?" asks Mom.



What she has, the woman explains gently, is something called Spicy Rivanna, a red wine served warm and suffused with the flavors of clove, orange peel, nutmeg and more. Mom shoots me an I-told-ya-so, having been a proponent of wine and not cider during the previous debate.

It's Spicy Rivanna we've come for, but Spicy Rivanna is No. 6 on the tasting list, which means that the two of us will already be buzzing by 11:30 a.m. We sample a stately cab, a fruity zin and others, our session climaxing with the S.R., an ambrosial dessert wine whose heat penetrated to our bones and made for an appropriate send-off into the cold.

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