Eastern Shore

Almost Heaven, East Virginia

 

by 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 life.

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.

 “If 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.”

Interested?

bullet

Phone: (757) 665-5670

bullet

Address:     26130 Mason Rd.

bullet

Bloxom, VA 23308

D

Hours: Memorial Day through December (or until wine is sold out). Wednesday through Sunday, 1 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Offerings: Free wine tasting. Homemade crackers and, occasionally, truffles and pastries are sold. On Saturdays, pizza, bread and foccacia baked in the outdoor wood-burning oven are sold at winery. Patrons can eat on trellised deck.

 

Home ] Up ] Cover Story ] Reader Recipes ] Down Home ] Food For Thought ] Editorial ] [ Eastern Shore ]