Filling My Soul With That Which Was Missing

IMG_7449It’s been over two weeks since I was on VACATION!!!!

It really feels like only yesterday. I miss it so much. The first week back was extremely difficult to even get into the swing of life here in New York City. Post vacation depression. Does that happen to you too? Sometimes I even have it when I leave my friends after spending a weekend together in DC or something similar.

IMG_4512In any case, the details of my trip are missing from this blog. I began my adventure in Burgundy (my home away from home) for about five days.  I snuggled with the kids, ate and drank on the terrace for hours, drove through the quaint wine town of Beaune and the surrounding vineyards and even stopped for coffee at my favorite café in Dijon. It was a brilliant mix of activities that filled my heart with what I was missing for the past  four years since living there.

I even had the opportunity to visit the vineyards of one of the wine makers that I now represent in New York City. Emmanuel Giboulot makes very distinct natural wine and it was exciting for me to see each specific parcel. Emmanuel was just getting back from vacation when we met in his cellar on the outskirts of Beaune. After tasting some new vintages and seeing the new label design (which I am so excited about), we took his truck up into the vineyards. This perspective, actually seeing each parcel, is helpful as I share his wines with sommeliers domestically. I can now see where the wine I am selling has come from and the actual terroir and agricultural characteristics. As much as I love drinking wine, being within the rows of hanging grapes is what I love even more. It invigorates me, especially in France while speaking French 🙂

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After the Côte d’Or I took the train north to Paris. I’ll recap next.

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wacky wine on wednesday

We went from below freezing temperatures last week to a rainy, humid 50 degree Monday. What gives?

Wacky weather is getting me thinking about wacky wines.

{wacky} slightly odd and peculiar.

lacrima

Velenosi Lacrima di Morro d’Alba. This is possibly one of my favorite wines as of late. It, to me, is the definition of a peculiar wine. For one, if you were to smell it blind-folded you might think you were presented with a Gewürztraminer. Gewürztraminer is a white wine; Lacrima, a red wine. Can you get where I am coming from with the wacky part now?

Velenosi’s Lacrima has been described as a bouquet of violet flowers (this floral aromatic is the reason for the confusion with Gewürztraminer). If this scares you away from the wine I understand. Personally, I love the florals of this wine paired with soft tannins (meaning the wine does not “grip” onto the sides of your mouth). So I urge you to be daring and try Lacrima if you can get your hands on a bottle (use www.wine-searcher.com for a retail location near you).

The wine’s peculiarity doesn’t end with it’s characteristics. The wackiest part is that not many people know about this wine. I even presented it to one of my very knowledgeable wine buyers and they did not believe me that Lacrima was the varietal (the grape). This is mostly because Lacrima is exclusively produced in an area of Italy called Morro d’Alba and not all producers export their wine. There is not much marketing or promotion of this wine and you will not see it on most shelves. Morro d’Alba is located in Le Marche, a region on Italy’s central eastern coast. So this is one of Le Marche’s hidden gems and Velenosi Vini is a producer dedicated to sharing the region’s treasures with us in the States.  I am lucky enough to work with this wine as a sales professional in the U.S. and I hope that you all can have a sip of it in the near future. You won’t be let down.

Exploring Wine Country

A quick drive from San Francisco and my partner in crime and I were lounging on Adirondack chairs over-looking the golden vineyards in Sonoma County. Our first stop on the winery trail was Copain Wines and from there we stopped at Arista Winery. It was late in the afternoon so most other places were just about closing as we passed by.  While enjoying a glass of wine and the setting sun from the unique Japanese garden on the Arista property, we began to get hungry and made our way to Healdsburg.  Healdsburg is a quaint town that is home to many of the winery workers in Napa area.  There are many small shops and restaurants to choose from. That night the temperatures were quite cold. It seems that this was the trend of Northern California: warm days and cold nights. It is definitely important to wear layers.

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The next morning we continued our drive down from the hills to Napa Valley. The landscape of rolling hills and farmland was a bit surprising and in the distance we could see the high hills of Mount Helena. Once we arrived in Napa County itself, I was reminded of France’s Cote d’Or the way Highway 29 is bordered by vineyards and wineries with a large hill on the western side.

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We started the day with an amazingly educational tour of the Long Meadow Ranch estate, which consists of acres of vegetables, chicken, herbs, and orchards as well as vineyards on the hilltop. My favorite part of our nearly 2 hour excursion (perks of being in the business I guess) was when we entered the winery itself. It was perched on top of the hill with a breathtaking view of Rutherford below. But more than the view and the peaceful quietness that accompanied the location, I was soaking in  the smell of fermenting wine. I associate this smell with my time living in France. It is like home to me in a strange way. In fact, this smell, and the equipment inside the winery feel comforting to me. Like home in a strange way.

Walking back into the cave of the winery, we were able to see some of the oldest bottles of wine that the winery has kept in their cellar. After this, we continued the journey up the mountain and found the some horses, bulls and old olive groves. I learned (by way of experimental tasting) that olives taken off of a tree are hard and the oils released are toxic tasting and bitter. To make edible, delicious olives these little guys need to be soaked in salt water for months on end. Lots of work!

When we finally returned to civilization off of the secluded hillside, we enjoyed a delicious farm to table lunch at the wineries restaurant. It was so neat to have seen where the kale, beef and tomatoes we ate had come from. The meal was absolutely delicious and a recommendation even if you don’t take a long tour beforehand.

With our full bellies, we made our way to a few more wineries along Highway 29 before switching over to Silverado Trail and going off the beaten path to White Rock, one of the wineries that I represent in New York . This was the only winery where we got to see the actual harvest taking place (most of the grapes had already been picked the week prior to our arrival). When we pulled up to the cellar the team was dumping the grapes from  large crates into the sorter which pulled off the stems. It was a cool experience to see the machinery we had seen “off duty” on other tours actually being used for it’s purpose.

Visiting the wineries in California was a treat for me and a learning experience for my PIC. We had seen a lot, drank a lot and learned a lot about wine during those two days.

Next stop: the coast road!

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Study break turns into more learning about WINE

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I have been busy as a bee frantically studying for my WSET advanced exam in a week. The test, which covers all things from wine making techniques and laws, to grape varieties, regional designations (some in foreign languages mind you) and proper tasting notes, will be challenging but I am excited to have a noteworthy certificate to show off and the knowledge to back it up. Some, if not all, of you might be wondering what the WSET even is. For starters, the acronym stands for Wine & Spirits Education Trust, a British organization offering courses in wine and spirits for both business and pleasure. You have all probably heard of the Sommeliers Degree (does the Court of Master Sommeliers ring a bell?). This is another British organization in support of furthering the beverage industry, yet the focus is a bit different than the WSET whose highest title is Master of Wine. In my opinion, we know more and hear more about he Master Sommelier title because these are the folks helping you choose a wine at a restaurant or hotel. The Master of Wine might also be doing that, but it is more than likely on the behind the scenes business side of the industry. Let me quickly state that this is not the case over all, and that I am making very generalized statements. In fact, let me leave Doug Frost to explain these two distinguished sides of the industry. Doug Frost is one of three individuals world-wide holding BOTH titles…needless to say, he knows what he is talking about:

“MW’s vs MS’s?
Some nice person has made me aware of wikipedia’s entry for “Master of Wine.” In it, the author of the entry has noted that “the Master of Wine qualification is recognized as being vastly more difficult.” Of course, the entry is merely re-stating something that Ronn Weigand (also a dual MS/MW and the first person to achieve that status) was quoted as saying in a Janet Fletcher-penned San Francisco Chronicle article. Ronn is welcome to his opinion. But so am I.

I think it’s rather subjective (if not reductive) to state that one title is more difficult than the other; it really depends upon the test taker. If someone is skilled in restaurant floor service and are willing to commit themselves to the memorization required of a Master Sommelier, well, then they will likely find it fairly easy. But if you’ve never worked on a restaurant floor, there is no way (imho) that you are ever going to pass the Master Sommelier exam. You might be able to dash off three Master of Wine essays in your sleep, but for you, the MS exam would be overwhelmingly difficult. You see, it depends upon the test taker, because each of these two tests is different.

The Master Sommelier exam tests people’s ability, experience, understanding and skills in a variety of service settings. The successful candidate is likely to know a great deal about a great many things, but as is typical of a hospitality setting, that sommelier isn’t going to need to write an essay about any of those issues. Conversely, the Master of Wine exam is extremely detailed about matters of grape-growing, winemaking and maturation and, perhaps most importantly, the business of wine. The successful MW candidate probably has no idea which grapes are important in Moldova or any other obscure wine region, but I guarantee you that the MS will. It doesn’t make one exam better or harder than the other, but it does make the exams very different.”http://www.dougfrost.com

While I’ve been spending lunch breaks and nights studying the all powerful green textbook, I have also been attacking my favorite websites and blogs for deeper industry information. One website in particular has been both extremely entertaining and impressively informative.

I was directed to A Drink With Friends while at work scanning my company’s Twitter feed. I briefly jumped over to the website and was immediately attracted to the clean lines and straight forward web design (I am a creative mind at the end of the day).  I was also intrigued by the site’s emphasis on wine education through stories showcasing people outside of the wine industry. And when I say “outside of the industry” I mean beekeepers, tattoo artists and stay at home dads.  These out of the box mini documentaries combined with the witty “lessons” from Stevie really drew me in and I ended up watching each clip. I even shared them with my mom and friends who I feel could benefit from the straight forward approach to wine knowledge.

I think what Stevie and Josiah have done is a great thing. They have taken their extremely distinguished wine prowess (both studied under the Court of Master Sommeliers; Stevie at level ii & Josiah at level iii) and transformed it into an every man’s video series. A perfectly fitting name, Drink with Friends is definitely a website to check out.

Now for me…it’s back to studying so that I can one day use my wine skills for something just as cool 🙂

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La Paulée New York

Last week I had the opportunity to experience Burgundy in New York City. No, not this fall’s fashionable color; I’m talking about Burgundy, France – the heart of Pinot Noir and my home away from home. La Paulée is a traditional celebration for the end-of-harvest in Burgundy. It has a long history in Meursault specifically, but I can tell you from experience, that many towns and villages still have “paulée” parties when the grape picking is finished.  The two Paulées I have been to in France featured friends gathered around long tables filled with food and many bottles of wine. Everyone laughed, drank and sang songs (like this one of course) until the wee hours of the morning.

Daniel Johnnes, wine Director for Daniel Boulud’s Dinex Group, author, and importer has done so much to further the understanding and appreciation of Burgundy (wine and culture) in the United States. In particular, he founded La Paulée in 2000, an annual event that alternates between NYC and San Francisco every year. The biggest names in Burgundy winemaking, along with some rising stars, come to the States to celebrate the new vintages and, as is true in Burgundy, bring people together in a casual, fun atmosphere of food and wine. This year, I got to experience what I love about France in my new home of NYC.

My ticket into the rather prestigious event was actually thanks to my stint as an Au Pair, and not my current job in the wine industry – oddly enough. The winemaker who hired me as a nanny for his children in 2010, is one of the selected wine makers involved in the event each year. I was so excited to see him and his friends whom I had spent so much time with during my year in France. After catching up with them in between actual tasting sessions, I made sure to do my own share of wine tasting; how could I pass up drinking some of the best Pinot Noirs? The best part of my short time at the event was a casual run-in with Aubert de Villaine, winemaker from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, one of the most famous and sought-after wine producers in Burgundy. As I stood next to this man who I knew “looked so familiar,” I just couldn’t put my finger on who he was. I was mid-conversation with Erwan Faiveley from Domaine Faiveley, when Aubert came up next to me. Nonchalantly, Erwan said hello to him, poured him some wine and continued talking to me. I looked up (Mr. Villaine is tall) and remember thinking that I recognized this man for his dark, very particular, eyebrows. I knew I should have know who he was, and I didn’t want to stupidly introduce myself, so I just smiled and moved along my way. It was only when I returned to work and “googled” him (my answer to any and everything) that I realized who I had been standing next to.

Even if I didn’t get a chance to attend the gala dinner, and even if I didn’t know who Aubert de Villaine was, it was such a great experience to spend time in the same room as these great wine producers of Burgundy. Even more important for me, it was special to visit with my French family! As I continue my career in this amazing industry of wine, I know that my relationships with these people will continue to grow, and my world will continue to shrink – in a good way.

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oh la la

It’s official, life is moving way too fast. How has it been 2 months (or more) since I have written here? Without further ado, here I am 🙂

In my absence I have been exploring my new Hoboken home, I have joined a gym for the first time in my life, I finally visited the Guggenheim Museum, I made my way back to French school, I discovered a unique bar in Jersey, I made some awesome fashion purchases, I adopted a fabulous bike (which I carried from Brooklyn to Hoboken at midnight on a Friday…), I weathered another storm (this time snow-related) and I have been honing my wine tasting skills (officially). As you can see, so much to talk about and I promise to share it all.

For starters, the most recent thing I am doing is going to wine school–FINALLY! If you remember, this was the plan when I was leaving France and also when I returned to France this summer for a visit. I went so far as to fill out paperwork for the school in Beaune, but timing wasn’t right and I missed the deadline. So now, settled in NYC with a real job and apartment (remember when I was roughing it?!), I am finally able to get the ball rolling on this goal of expanding my wine knowledge. Working in the industry on a daily basis has been a growing experience thus far; I have had the privilege to taste some amazing one of a kind wines and learn a lot from my colleagues though raw on the job experiences. But I want to be deeply rooted in this business, so going to the International Wine Center in NYC seemed like a great opportunity. I plan to share some of what I learn here, on this blog, so get your glasses ready.

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St Vincent Tournant

I just want to preface this post by saying that I am about to go against journalistic protocall and write about an event that is no longer newsworthy.  I went to school to study journalism, so I realize my mistake and I apologize (I guess mostly to myself because most of you wont even care).

With that being said, last weekend was the Saint Vincent Tournant. This event started in the 30’s and is a celebration of winemakers.  Saint Vincent is the patron saint of winemakers.  The word tournant means turning and is significant because the venue”turns” or changes villages each year.  This year I was lucky because it was held in Corgoloin (5 minutes from Nuits St. George).  During this festival the village is decorated with tissue paper flowers made by the people in the village (takes about a year’s work to make them all).  Of course the main attraction is the dégustation of the regions wine.  Each year the selection changes (one red, one white) but it always features wine from Bourgogne.

Normally you enter the village, pay a fee and receive a wine glass and about 8 tickets to enter the various tastings.  I went on Sunday morning with David and Louis-Auguste and due to the freezing temperatures we just walked around a while and then headed home to sit in front of the fire!  But during our walk I did get to see the making of a wine barrel which was neat.  Nowadays there are machines to cut the wood (during the demonstrations it was done by hand) but the barrel itself is still handmade!  I was told that the test to become a craftsman of this sort is to make a barrel in 8 hours.  Seems like quite a feat after watching the slow progress of heating, bending, banging, repeating…

All in all a very nice wine festival.  If I ever do it again I would like to see the traditional “ceremony” that takes place on the first day (the event lasts Saturday and Sunday).

Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune

This weekend was jam-packed with activities (love when that happens).

Friday I went into Dijon with friends for dinner and drinks. We ate at the Imprimerie which is decorated from top to bottom as a newspaper.  The menu, the walls, the things hanging from the ceiling. It’s a very cozy and homey atmosphere.  Great for a quick chocolate chaud or a nice sit-down dinner.

Saturday I ate dinner at Libbi & Ben Leroux’s home again (Bonfire night).  It was such a nice evening of conversation between people from France, England, Italy, Spain and America (that’s me!).  So neat to have so many people at one table, sharing a meal and sharing stories.  That night–after Skyping Liz (my friend who was the Au Pair for the Leroux family) I went to bed at their house so that we could get up in the morning to go into Beaune.

This weekend in Beaune was the Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune.  Here is the lowdown (if you read French click this): When old wine makers died and they had no children to take over their vineyards the hospital in Beaune, which was constructed to help the sick poor people, bought the vineyards.  The hospices now has 25 hectares of vineyards with which they make their high-quality wine.  So during this weekend, this festival, this auction, all the big shots in the wine community come to Beaune and bid on barrels (these barrels must be bottled in Burgundy).  This year a record was set: 400,000 € for one barrel!!!!

Although the auction is a closed event, people watch from the surrounding courtyards.  The streets are filled all weekend with people celebrating Beaune’s traditions, buying (and drinking) wine and just enjoying the atmosphere which surrounds this fun event.  There are many vendors, parades, marching bands, people dressed in medieval costumes, kid fair rides, dégustations (tastings) of food & wine and of course vin chaud (mulled wine).

Most everything goes on all weekend long but specifically on Saturday there was a 1/2 marathon through the vineyards and the grand event: the auction is on Sunday afternoon.

When we got into town Sunday we wandered the streets a bit before chowing down on escargot (my first time and so delicious with a pesto garlic sauce on top) and then des crêpes and du vin. The crêperie was specially set up for the weekend in an old chapel and was run by many generations of one family.  Libbi, Ben, the kids (Zack and Lexi), Libbi’s parents, brother Johnny and his girlfriend all sat and chowed down on crêpe after crêpe.  We started with meat and cheese filled ones and finished with chocolate ones.  After, I met up with two Au Pair’s from Nuits St. George.  We had been trying to get together for some time and this was the perfect opportunity.  We sipped on mulled wine as we got to know each other.  After some shopping and a stop at the kiddie fair to win a goldfish, they were off and I wandered the streets once more.

By this time it was getting dark and cold (winter is officially on its way here in Bourgogne).  But people still filled the streets and the action didnt die down.  On many corners and through the streets people would perform a traditional dance or song while everyone circled around to watch.  Christmas lights lined the cobble-stone streets, everyone was bundled up and steam poured out of the cups of vin chaud that everyone clutched for warmth.  For a moment I felt like I was in some 1800s European Christmas card.  It was an atmosphere which I loved but also made me miss having friends and family around to share it with–especially when I saw the couples and the families walking hand-in-hand through the streets.

But not to worry, I had my new cozy oversized scarf, a mug of hot wine and I was on my way to end my night on the bumper cars with Libbi and her family.  After a few rides I called it a night (even though a lot of Beaune was still moving–the bars didn’t close until 4am for this night) and grabbed a “hamburger royal” (fries inside the burger) from La Caravane.  I headed home and jumped into a hot shower….perfection!

Cette weekend était top!