GETTYSBURG AND OUR SAVING GRACE: THE FIRST CAMPFIRE PAIRING

Immense battlefield. Immense challenge

As the sun was threatening to sink below the horizon we entered Gettysburg Maryland. The Chevy Cobalt was packed with all kinds of cool camping stuff that we thought were essential for the journey. We kind of over did it because…well, we had a car. This wasn’t some Appalachian Trail hiking survival adventure. But we were going to “rough” it a couple of times so we wanted to be prepared.

The iPhone GPS showed us the way to our first campsite and as we crept through the little colonial downtown I realized we had not yet bought wine for the evening.  We were having so much fun cruising down the highways and rocking out to Eclectic Six that I lost sight of one of the day’s most important goals. My wife began to furiously reload the GPS for a general search for wine shops in the area. We had to get wine, stop and grab a couple more supplies and get to the campsite, set up and start cooking all before the sun went down. Prep for my slightly ambitious meal idea just wouldn’t be fun in the dark, or at least not the first time out. Our second night camping was when the art of cooking in complete dark wilderness came to full realization.

Sometimes if you are lucky these little towns will that one passionate wine merchant doing the good work of offering quality boutique wine to the community, cultivating relationships and understanding their customers’ palates. They may have a strong wine selection or a medium to strong selection with the typical brand names and serious gems lingering among the mass production. These are nice shops because it means the health of the town’s wine culture is sound and this merchant is responsible maintaining it.

But unfortunately more often than not there is the big unattractive florescent-lit See what I mean?liquor store decorated with wine. I don’t even know what the name of this one was but it was right across the business highway from a Wal-Mart (see where this is going) where we needed those supplies so this was our only option. It was a just as I have explained above. The right side of the supermarket-size store was all wine and the left side liquor. The feel of the place was bare and uninviting with half-ass décor of Confederate paraphernalia on the liquor side and Union paraphernalia on the wine side plastered up on the immense wall space looking small and unneeded.
This store was void of all soul and I felt bad for any small town wine lover who had to navigate what I had to navigate through. All the brands were there. You know the names. The thing about these establishments is sometimes they make a happy mistake and put a sleeper on the shelf. Not so much here. As I passed the poor little branded “French” section and moved quickly through the boxed wine aisle (yes there was an entire aisle dedicated to box plonk) I saw what might have been our saving grace, the South American section. No such luck. Why? South America especially Chile has great deals for great wines you might say. I know…but I started to get nervous. I felt a deep sense of mistrust here and because I did not recognize any of the labels save for one or two big brand names I didn’t think I was willing to take such a chance. This was our first night camping. It would apocalyptic if the wine was atrocious. I looked up and saw my wife at the other end of the store taking photographs of the Civil War stuff for our collective history buff fathers and just staring in utter confusion as to what was going on here.

I turned around and saw the Cali section. Just find the Central Coast Keith and everything will be all right, I said to myself, there has to be something here. Why did I do this to myself? Why did I give myself such a challenge? This was a bad idea…and then I saw it. The safe bet; the saving grace of this experience.

Livermore Valley in the Central Coast of California at one time had as many if not more vines planted as Napa. When prohibition hit it hit Livermore hard. The Concannon Family arrived in the mid 1800’s from Ireland and set up shop there. James Concannon founded his vineyard in 1883. Like many winemakers through prohibition the family vinified sacramental wine to make ends meet and was one of a small percentage that survived the long haul. Today Concannon is still around and produces around 30,000 cases a year. That’s a big number but they do succeed in keeping it smooth. Smooth? Well, they have a great climate and wonderful soil compositions in the area allowing for the grapes to thrive in the sun while allowing the more finicky ones such as Pinot Noir to cool in the evening or morning fog.

And so it was the 2005 Concannon Pinot Noir that I grabbed and ran with. It was about $14 and a safe bet. I know their syrah and dig the easiness of the wine so I figured the pinot would be just as easy with it’s acidity be a bit brighter for the pasta with tomato sauce and sautéed vegetables I was planning.

We ran out of there, drove over to another big, weird store grabbed what we needed and proceeded to chase the sun.

Saving grace. Concannon Pinot NoirThe KOA was like, “Fischer-Price: My first campsite.” Which was perfect. We needed to ease into this camping thing. I hadn’t done it for years and have been enjoying City life for some time now. This place had showers, RV hook ups, a playground and a recreation center. Very cushy as far as camping is concerned. Nice.

While my wife set up the tent I unpacked and started setting up and cooking dinner. I was nervous at first getting the little stove set up and realizing what little space and tools I had to work with but as soon as I got to chopping and cutting and sautéing I was in my grove. Tent set up, Sauce cooking and veggies sizzling I popped open the Concannon poured us a couple half cup full’s of Central Coast Pinot and we sat and watched the fire I had started while the sauce was coming to a boil and chilled after a day of driving and navigating a curiously expansive wine store.

The Pinot was just what I had hoped for. The oak on it polymerized the flavors into a cohesive palate of mid bright fruit only available because of the natural acidity in the grape. The wine was nice and easy and went very nicely with food. Again the acidity helped. So there we were on our first night of camping eating a nice camp meal and drinking nice wine and watching the stars.

The capper? Our neighboring campers were blaring Barry White one minute and Bon Jovi the next with a dose of Seger in there as well as Poison for good measure. They eventually invited us over after we finished dinner. We brought what was left of the bottle and headed over to say hi and…. well…I will just end here. All I can say is after the bottle was done it was all Coors and Harbor Mist and a quick exit to our wilderness abode.

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