Columnist, Food

Winemaker Nathan Vrooman finishes the last of the winter pruning at Ankida Ridge Vineyards in Amherst, Va. (Christine Wells Vrooman)

Daffodils are my wake-up call. It’s spring!

Those bright yellow flowers, trumpeting cheer and optimism, perk up my spirit and my palate. I’m no longer craving stews and slow-cooked braises, leaning toward sunnier flavors of renewal and rejuvenation instead. This time of year, after escaping my government-issue pod of an office, when there are no more meetings cluttering my day’s calendar, I enjoy spending a few minutes surveying our patio garden, a glass of rosé in hand. My wife does all the gardening, along with our cocker spaniel, who insists on watering our thyme plant. (We have three, for insurance.) I anticipate summer’s tomatoes, squash and basil, my favorite warm-weather flavors.

For the city’s restaurants, tourists are harbingers of spring, as reliable as red-breasted robins. Clad in T-shirts and shorts, they were in abundance during my recent dinner at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in the District. Their arrival prompts sommelier Ross Meyer to freshen up his wine list.

“Here in D.C., tourists and locals alike enjoy checking out the cherry blossoms. So after walking around the Tidal Basin seeing and smelling the flowers, a nice light-bodied refreshing wine is in order,” Meyer says. He cites rosé from France, vinho verde from Portugal and lighter garnacha reds from Spain as his favorite warm-weather wines to add to his list.

And my mind always goes to the vineyards, where the vines’ early tendrils stretch toward producing the fruit of this year’s vintage. Of course, my patio perspective can never rival that view.

“Spring is staring with hope at the bare vineyard emerging from its sleep, exhaling the chill of winter,” Christine Vrooman, co-owner with her husband, Dennis, of Ankida Ridge Vineyards near Amherst, Va., tells me in an email. “It’s the start of hard work, but for me it’s just time in the vineyard, which I love. I enjoy walking the vine rows with our farm animals at my feet. The chickens eat insects, the cats deter birds and rodents, the dogs smile at the sun.”

Sheep are especially significant for Vrooman. “They graze on the grasses until the buds break on the vine, then out they go,” she says. The sheep are not allowed back into the vineyards until after harvest, because they will eat the buds and the grapes.

In spring, Vrooman hopes to witness the birth of one of her lambs.

“Last year, a ewe rejected one of her twins, and our guard dog, Bella, adopted it,” Vrooman says. The dog kept the lamb warm and protected it. “We bottle-fed it, and she survived, not knowing if she was a dog or a sheep.” The lamb eventually connected with the flock and now helps tend the vineyards that will produce the Ankida Ridge pinot noir and chardonnay of 2016.

I don’t walk along vine rows, farm animals at my feet. I hug the third lane on the Beltway, hoping it gets me home a few minutes faster so I can pour myself a glass of wine — cold, crisp and refreshing — and sit on my patio, enjoying the daffodils.