The 4,200-acre property run by Sam Beall (pronounced ‘bell’) has recently added several new cottages, but they’re tucked up into the wooded hillside, remaining unobtrusive when viewed from the rest of the property. Nancy and I arrived on Sunday afternoon and were met by a warm fire already going in our room, as well as a bottle of Alban Grenache Edna Valley 2000 that I pre-ordered off the encyclopedic wine list. It was the perfect way to ease into one of those weekends where you know you're going to kick yourself for stepping on the scale after it’s all over.
In addition to the new cottages, Blackberry Farm’s new ‘barn’ has also been finished. It’s not used for livestock though – rather, set under a 60-foot high exposed wood beam ceiling is the property’s cooking demonstration area and dining area that will eventually become the centerpiece of the property (the current dining room in the main house will soon close for some renovations). A wine cellar is located downstairs, complete with an area for holding tastings and small private dinners. Blackberry Farm is intent on raising the bar when it comes to wine and food, and the new facility is impressive.
New chef Peter Glander has taken over following the long and heralded tenure of John Fleer. Born on a farm in Indiana, Glander honed his skills working in New York City with Gabriel Kreuter first at Atelier and then at the Modern before returning to his more rural roots. Glander draws on items sourced both from the farm and from outside purveyors "who believe in the same philosophy of food" - sustainable practices and heirloom breeds of meat and vegetables. Glander already seems well settled in.
What really caught my attention during the weekend though was the opening event of Blackberry Farm’s 2008 series of wine and food seminars entitled "Naturally Dynamic." Sunday night featured an eight-course dinner menu prepared by Glander and accompanied by the wines of Michel Chapoutier. Normally wine and food dinners are excuses to mindlessly pull out big wines while a chef shows off a little – but with little thought to the actual pairings. That was not the case here, as Glander’s natural, clean preparations brought out simple but rich flavors that married perfectly with a range of Chapoutier wines from both the 2001 and 1999 vintages.
Highlights included a crayfish and corn stew in a delicate broth, every spoonful of which came alive with each ensuing sip of the M. Chapoutier Ermitage White de l'Orée 2001. A ragout of heirloom beans accompanied by a crisp, dried slice of local country ham was paired with the M. Chapoutier Châteauneuf-du-Pape Croix de Bois 2001 – the round, melt-in-your-mouth texture of the beans and the subtle smoke and saltiness of the ham all melded perfectly with the sweet kirsch and incense hints of the wine, and was among the crowd favorites of the evening. Black truffles, sourced from a farm in Tennessee were liberally shaved over a braised lamb ravioli, and were as good as the best black Perigord truffles I've had in France (and I've had a few).
The following morning, Glander led a nearly two-hour cooking demonstration, preparing scallops over truffled celery root as an appetizer course, followed by a sliced duck breast and wild grain salad. Glander easily fielded questions in between discourse on his lower temperature–longer time cooking method, which yields succulent textures and pure flavors. As if watching someone cook isn’t enough to make you hungry, the demonstration was followed by a horizontal of a half-dozen M. Chapoutier wines from the 1996 vintage, including the stunning Ermitage White de l'Orée 1996 and dark, supple and fully mature Côte-Rôtie La Mordorée 1996.
Chapoutier opened the tasting with a 30-minute long introduction on his farming methods and philosophies – and that’s the condensed version. Chapoutier is as energetic and passionate a winemaker as you’ll find, and he can throw a lot of information your way in a short time. No one in the group of attendees seemed to glaze over though, and several people fired off questions throughout the tasting. My favorite line from Chapoutier came in response to a question asking if he preferred young or old wines:
"If your grandmother runs a 100-yard dash, it might take her 45 seconds," said Chapoutier. "And you'd say 'not bad for her age.' But is 45 seconds for 100 yards really that good?" he asked, drawing a room full of laughs.
Though Nancy and I had to leave on Tuesday before the rest of the seminars had wrapped up (which included a cooking demonstration and meal prepared by Meadowood chef Vincent Nattress) we did get time to take in some of the sights and sounds of the stunning, bucolic property, including the newest members of the farm's sheep herd (just two days old), as well as two rocking chairs by a roaring fire and a bottle of A. Clape Cornas 1990.
Though our flight home was cancelled and we wound up being rerouted through Dallas to get back to New York (I am the human travel jinx apparently, so avoid flying with me at all costs), putting us back home at 1 a.m., exhausted and with two stiff backs, it couldn’t derail the overall impression of the weekend. I can happily report that the changes at Blackberry Farm are only serving to cement its reputation as one of the premier destinations for wine and food in the U.S.
Blackberry Farm’s combination of rural setting, casual elegance, world class wine cellar and emphasis on cooking with fresh, natural ingredients make it a unique and special place.
1471 West Millers Cove Road
Walland, TN 37886
Andrew J Walter — Sacramento,CA — January 23, 2008 4:01pm ET
James Molesworth — January 23, 2008 6:27pm ET
Adam Lee — Santa Rosa, CA — January 24, 2008 9:42am ET
James Molesworth — January 24, 2008 11:16am ET
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