Heaven, East Virginia
Judy Nordstrom-Bono, Contributing Writer
Moroccan natives savor the simple life
on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
For Francesca and Robert Giardina,
Bloxom is the next best thing to heaven.
After migrating to the United States
from Morocco and living for years in a borough of New York City, the pastry
chef and remodeling contractor decided they needed a simpler, less hectic
For years Robert had dabbled in
wine-making, buying California grapes at a market in Brooklyn.
“Because the grapes had come so far,
they would often be moldy,” says Robert, who speaks well-tuned English
with a French accent. “So I decided to look for a piece of land to grow
grapes to sell to wineries.”
When New York real estate proved too
costly and too cold for the endeavor, Robert remembered the Eastern Shore
from a road trip 30 years before. “I remember there
was nothing there,” says Robert. “And
that’s what we wanted — nothing,” adds Francesca.
The area also reminded them of the more
rural Moroccan haunts of their childhood, where people took their time, and
summers were dedicated to the beach and fishing.
After learning about several other
Eastern Shore vineyards, they bought a 35-acre soybean farm with a rundown
house just outside the Bloxom town limits. The couple figured they could ply
their trades in the rural hamlet and semi-retire.
They took out a second mortgage on their
home and for a year, Robert drove back and forth from New York to make the
farmhouse livable and began planting six acres in vines.
The final move was made in April 2000.
From there, the challenges began.
Within a year, half the vineyard became
diseased and had to be replanted. Francesca found herself in a difficult
first pregnancy. The Giardinas also found themselves in constant battle with
the birds, the weeds and the bugs.
But out of the hardships came blessings.
A healthy baby girl was born. An outdoor
sound system, shiny tape and, occasionally, a shotgun kept the birds at bay.
And with too few grapes to sell, Robert obtained a USDA loan to open a
winery. “Whatever grapes we had was enough to get
started,” says Robert. “The winery was never intentional; it was out of
necessity.” They decided the business would be named after the town they
now called home.
In 2004, the Giardinas opened the doors
to their new 2,500-square-foot winery and tasting room with 700 cases of
wine, and met with great success. This year, Bloxom Winery has produced 925
cases and four different varieties — Merlot, Chardonnay, Cabernet and a
house blend called “Bloxom Red Kiss.”
Homemade crackers, and occasionally
truffles and pastries, are sold. On Saturdays, guests can sip wine and dine
on pizza and foccacia cooked in an outdoor wood-burning oven shipped
directly from Italy.
For the Giardinas, if Bloxom is almost
heaven, its people have been nothing but a godsend.
Some have helped harvest. Others have
provided advice and support. A few have gone above and beyond the call of
duty. When the 800-pound wood-burning oven arrived from Italy, a neighbor
drove over with his backhoe and lifted it onto its masonry base.
there is a problem, you call them,” says Francesca. “Or they’ll call
you. I still can’t believe it. It’s like you’ve known people here for
a long time.”