Blackberry Farm


We recently returned from Blackberry Farm in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. If you love food and wine you probably already know that it's one of the world's great destinations. This was our second trip. The first had been in springtime...mornings on the porch watching the sun rise over the Smokies and afternoon walks (and golf cart cruises) around the farm. Lovely. But there's something special about every season at Blackberry Farm. This trip in December saw crisp days, beautiful Christmas decorations and warm fires in the fireplaces.

Originally, we had planned to attend a food and wine event there this winter. But that event was postponed until next winter. About the time I got the postponement notice, I saw that the country vocal group Little Big Town was going to do a Christmas concert at the Farm. I like their music and enjoy Christmas celebrations--so decided to try for tickets. "Try" is the appropriate word--concerts at Blackberry Farm are so intimate that only about 100 tickets are offered to the public. They went on sale on a Thursday at 10:00 and even at a fairly steep price were gone about 15 minutes later. But I was ready at 10:00 and was successful.

And the concert was wonderful! The ~100 BF guests who were attending the concert all had dinner together before the show. And in the lovely little just-opened concert hall, we were joined by perhaps 50 family and close friends of Little Big Town (including their children). It felt more like a Christmas party than a concert. Sipping wine during the show (and munching on goodies if you weren't already full) contributed to that feel. Little Big Town seemed relaxed as well--carrying on conversations with the audience, including some humorous exchanges with their children. And, as I expected, the harmonies they display in hits such as Girl Crush, Pontoon and Better Man translated well to Christmas music. Just a wonderful night.

The following night was equally wonderful. We were joined for dinner by a couple we like so much who have settled in the Knoxville area (in order to dine at BF, you must be staying there--but those who are staying there can have guests). We had a great time catching up and enjoying everything about the evening.

Blackberry Farm has won James Beard awards for both food and wine. And that excellence was on full display. As I think back on the greatest dishes I've ever tasted (or at least the ones I've enjoyed the most) two were served on this trip--coincidentally, the second course at dinner each night. The first night, there was a set menu for the concert-goers (to ensure we all made it on time). I was pleased to see a light, refreshing winter salad as a starter and honey-glazed chicken as a main, but was a tad skeptical of the second course. The description included things such as toasted grits, mushrooms, a farm fresh egg and chili oil. But when I tasted it, my eyes got as big as saucers. It was fabulous! Rich, complex, savory flavors. Just delicious! And it went brilliantly with the wine that the sommelier had chosen to pair with it (a Peay Pommarium Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast). The next night, I chose Nantucket Bay scallops in parsnip purée as my second course. I was more optimistic about this combination than I had been the night before, but unsure about how the delicate flavors might play together. As the kids would write: OMG!!! It was wonderful--synergy defined. I'll spare you the blow-by-blow of the rest of our dishes and the rest of our meals, but they were excellent (including the pasta with shaved white truffles!).

I think the wines were equally good. The first night, we enjoyed a sparkling chenin blanc from the Loire Valley, which was a thoughtful gift from a friend, plus a few of the sommelier's pairings. The second night, I ordered a 2007 Dauvissat La Forest Chablis and a 2006 Peay Scallop Shelf Pinot Noir. I was pleased to get a pat on the head from the wine director for my choices. I was even more pleased with how well they went with the food. Graceful, balanced, harmonious. Just great. But not exactly a surprise. I knew both wines, having had each once or twice before. What was a pleasant surprise was the beer I had at lunch and again at afternoon "tea time." I knew Blackberry Farm had its own brewery, but hadn't tried their beers. Hands down, the best beer I've ever tasted--and I've drunk a fair amount of beer in Belgium and Germany. I brought a case (of 12) home. Of course, it's priced more like wine per bottle than beer--but you get what you pay for.

And that "get what you pay for" applies more broadly to Blackberry Farm. It's expensive. And taking advantage of the fabulous activities they have available can make it more expensive. There are things that you can do there that don't result in a charge--for example, taking a walk, cruising the farm in a golf cart or paddling a canoe on the little lake. But the horseback riding, wellness center activities, fly-fishing, farmstead tours, trap shooting and guided hikes--to name just a few of the many available--come with the kind of price tag you'd expect from being pampered by top experts and from use of the very best equipment. To fully enjoy Blackberry Farm, you have to turn off your "it costs how much?" instinct and just enjoy the experience. You're paying for more than just a meal or a hike. You're paying for a memory that'll last a lifetime.

Blackberry Farm. A special place. And yes, we have reservations for that wine and food event next winter! Can't wait!


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