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July 21, 2005

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Wine is in at the inn

No hot tubs or casinos but a selection of drinkable rarities

by Tim Protzman 

When I was 10, I thought Marlo Thomas was the most beautiful woman in the world. If I got into my jammies, I could watch her in That Girl on Friday nights. I especially remember the episode when Marlo and her boyfriend Don got engaged, where Don says, “I’ve never heard the word baguette before in my life, but I’ve heard it like 30 times today!”

He was referring to the little diamonds that surround the main diamond in an engagement ring.

Since then, I’ve had a lot of “Don” moments. I was doing editing work for a friend and he used the word “labile,” pronounced lay-bill. I looked it up and it means adaptable to change. Two days later I’m reading V. S. Naipaul and there’s the word again. Then I get a call from an old friend who moved to New Hampshire from Alaska. She says both states are about the same except in New Hampshire the bears are smaller, the people less strange and the nights are quieter. Apparently, the drowsy Alaskan twilight is sometimes punctuated by the sound of exploding crystal meth labs. Anyway, she said she’d e-mail me her new address.

The next day I’m checking my email and there’s a message from a reader who runs The Inn at Danbury. I get lots of reader e-mails. They’re usually stuff like: “Where can I find that wine…,” “Have you ever tried…” and “You’re an idiot because ...” (Hey, it beats spam.) The Don moment is my Alaskan friend moved just a few towns away from my new Innkeeper friend.

Running a country inn is tough. Some guests are very demanding and most of the profit goes back into the business. But in spite of that the Grafs, owners of The Inn at Danbury, won’t trade it for anything in the world.

Bob Graf is a third-generation Austrian American whose father ran an ice cream shop. He was a ski instructor in Park City, Utah, when he met Alexandra, a pretty flight attendant from the Netherlands. Three years ago they sold their exterior siding business and bought the Inn. The town embraced them and their four children immediately. Their biggest challenge, aside from keeping the 14 rooms occupied, are finicky guests who don’t understand that the inn is a family business and home. One guest was miffed there was no hot tub in her room.

“We think staying at the Inn is like visiting a very hospitable relative,” said Alexandra Graf. “While you’re here, you’re one of the family.”

“We have an indoor pool and we offer massages. But there’s no mini bar, casino or valet parking.”

One complaint they heard early on was that there was no on-premises restaurant. Soon they added the Alphorn Bistro, a full-service restaurant serving Austrian cuisine. Bob’s the chef, preparing dishes he learned in his grandmother’s kitchen.

Alexandra is the sommelier and her superb wine list is what first intrigued me. Small, but full of rarely seen Austrian treasures, it’s priced to move. Only two wines are more than $50, a Hopler Austrian Trockenbeerenauslese for $95 or $10 a glass and a Hopler Austrian Eiswein for $112 or $12 a glass. The ice wine is made from grapes picked after the first good frost. The juice is concentrated and sweet. The Trockenbeerenauslese refers to ultra-ripe grapes that’ve been left to botrytize or shrivel and develop a slight mold called Noble Rot. The Grafs recently added a St. Laurent Trockenbeerenauslese Noble Reserve, that they tasted in Austria, for $125.

These big, sweet wines taste of honey and apricots and go very well with foie gras. But I’d try them with the inn’s signature Wiener Schnitzel, the apple strudel or the traditional Austrian Christmas cake called Baumkuchen. Bob’s promised to make this elaborate jelly roll-shaped cake with thin layers of apricot and marzipan this Christmas. They almost tried it last New Year’s Eve, but were too busy leading a town-wide relief effort for the Asian tsunami disaster. A portion of each dinner check was contributed, the Graf children organized their fellow students and the wait staff donated several days’ worth of tips. The Grafs also contribute heavily to the March of Dimes each year and Bob’s chef services have been auctioned off many times. He happily prepares a fine meal in the winning bidder’s home.

But it’s not all work for the Grafs. Last year they toured the vineyards of Burgenland in eastern Austria. At the Sepp Moser and Hoepler wineries they tasted 75 wines in five days. They dined and tasted in the 700-year-old Kellerstrasse cellar in the Donau region that seemed “like something out of the Pirates of the Caribbean.” Dark, musty and absolutely off the beaten wine path. They arrived back home in time to host actress Amy Irving (Tuck Everlasting, Carrie), who spent a week at the inn.

“She was absolutely charming, humble and, most importantly, she kept the shower curtain inside the tub, where it belongs.” Alexandra said.

The day before Irving left they shared a great bottle of Australian wine on the inn’s spacious porch. Alex couldn’t remember the name but there was a boot on the label.

The Inn at Danbury, 67 Route 104, is having their Oktober Fest on Sept. 24 & 25.

Their Beer List is just as impressive as the Wine List and there are activities for everyone.

Stop by and enjoy the hospitality of relatives you’ve never met. Find out more at innatdanbury.com.