Women Making Wine Ft. Sauv Blanc Day and The Queen of Sauvy B

Today is #SauvignonBlancDay and I had the pleasure of celebrating this fabulous grape variety with winemaker extraordinaire, Jules Taylor of Jules Taylor Wines all the way from Marlborough, New Zealand.

Sauvignon Blanc should be celebrated today and everyday! It dates back to 18th century France, specifically Loire Valley where it’s the top dog to this day. I love the meaning of Sauvignon Blanc — it’s derived from two French words: Sauvage which means wild and vigne which is vine. This grape tends to grow a little wild on the vine so it’s aptly named to say the least. Sauv Blanc is special in the sense that it grows well under a wide range of climates and soil types. It thrives in cool climates like Marlborough where it can give more citrus and tropical flavors while also showing off in warmer regions like Napa. It’s siblings include Grüner, Chenin, and Silvaner. The coolest fact about Sauv Blanc though is that it’s the parent of Cabernet Sauvignon. Yep! This lovely lady mingled with Cabernet Franc to create a fabulously bold child.

Marlborough is the Mecca for New Zealand Sauvy B. Sauv from this region is incredibly distinctive with intense notes of citrus, green bell pepper, fresh cut grass, and rich tropical flavors. Jules Taylor Sauv Blanc is benchmark to no surprise. She’s incredibly talented at what she does, connected to the land, and very down to earth. Her perspective on the wine industry is a breath of fresh air just like her style of wines. She has an extensive background in winemaking with tenures in some of the world’s most respected regions. Now she’s back to her roots in Marlborough and producing some of New Zealand’s finest selection of wines. Jules Taylor Wines started in 2001 with about 200 cases. Over the next five years, the label really came to fruition as she and her husband went all in! After speaking with her it is obvious that Jules is passionate about wine and growing her wine business has been a labor of love. She was awarded the Winemaker of the Year Award in 2021 by an Australian publication, making her the first from Marlborough to receive this merit. She’s literally crushing the wine scene (wine pun intended).

If you didn’t have a chance to catch our Instagram live, here’s a recap! Feel free to catch the interview here.

Ashley: Can you describe Jules Taylor Wines without describing the wine, specifically Sauv Blanc?

Jules: Relaxed, not too serious, authentic, and vivacious.

Ashley: Can you tell us about your early days working in wine?

Jules: Got a job and I worked the vintage in 1994 and got sucked in to this whole wine thing. It changes how you see things… It changes the way we see food. It’s just a cool product. Years later here I am in the industry and I love it. It’s hard. It’s hard because you’re working with Mother Nature. It’s interesting. It’s fun.

In the beginning there weren’t a lot of women in the wine industry. In my first job I was the only women in the cellar. They tried to talk me out of it and there were some things they wouldn’t let me do like operate a forklift. Growing up my parents always encouraged me to go for it.

I loved this POV on harvest: “it’s the one chance you get to capture a moment in time. Game time decision is paramount.”

Ashley: how was the wine industry changed in the last 10 years?

Jules: It’s a lot bigger. Bigger players have swallowed up some of the smaller guys. Not as many of us little guys but we need those big guys. I think it adds to the interesting industry we work in. We got to start somewhere.

This is just a taste of the great, inspiring perspective Jules offered about the industry in New Zealand and her experience as a winemaker. I hope you take a moment to watch the full interview and grab a bottle of her Sauv Blanc and Pinot too for that matter. You won’t regret it! Shop via this link.

Once again, big thank you to Jules for sipping with us!

Cheers,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

Little Bunny Foo Foo

Easter Brunch just got even hoppier.

Hare’s a cocktail I’m hop-timistic you’ll enjoy 🐰 #momjokes Easter edition — ok I’ll stop now. This concoction was created by You & Yours Distillery here in America’s Finest City. This is my favorite watering hole and it’s female owned. I don’t know what it is, but this cocktail is a favorite of mine. I love these flavors, the color is fun, and it packs a bunny kick. Bonus: these ingredients are very healthy so I never feel bad afterwards. Follow me for more health tips! Just kidding once again.

Carrot juice is low in calories and carbs, high in nutrients, good for your vision and boosts immunity

Turmeric root juice is packed with anti-oxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and healing compounds for the entire body

Ginger root juice aids digestion, soothes nausea, and boosts sleep

♡ You & Yours Sunday Gin is the best gin I’ve tasted. If you’re unable to acquire, try this Botanical gin bright, citrusy and 100% proven to boost any mood

Click the key words above – they are linked! I made this via “hoption 2” by making the carrot, ginger & turmeric syrup myself, which is the Y&Y way. I purchased the ingredients at Target and Amazon — they’re really delicious. I’m going to make a non-boozy health elixir with the remaining root juice to sip on when I wake up or just before bed.

One thing to note if you make the syrup like I did, it will stay fresh in your fridge for 3 days. I noticed on day 4 the taste was a little flat and not as much kick from the ginger.

Enjoy! I’m sipping this all spring 🥕

See my Instagram Reels tab for a video tutorial

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine part 8: Sarah Citron, Mother & Co-Founder of Bricoleur Vineyards

Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.

We’re heading to one of my favorite Sonoma AVAs – Russian River Valley – to chat with Sarah Citron, Co-Founder of Bricoleur Vineyards

Russian River Valley, home to world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. I know we’re not supposed to have favorite children, but I mean… I love the wide range of wine styles coming out of this quaint AVA. From lush and rich to lean fruit-driven, you can find a wine for every palate here. Centered on the Russian River, RRV accounts for about one-sixth of the total planted vineyard acreage in Sonoma County. This is where you will find Bricoleur Vineyards, which has the most beautiful olive groves, rose gardens, and vineyard views. We visited back in 2019 and fell in love with the space, the land, and the wine. We were new parents at the time and felt a kinship to their “Flying By The Seat of Our Pants” label – as any new parent would! They have a really great portfolio that includes a refreshing unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, AV Zinfandel, Sauv Blanc, Cab Sauv, and 2 styles of rosé (Pinot and Grenache #myfavs) to name a few. Add to cart!

Sarah Citron is a Co-Founder and truly an inspiration for not only women in wine, but mothers in wine. This tribute to Isla Rose, her daughter, is really special. Isla Rose is going to be a force in the world of wine one day! This wine embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of strong female leadership and represents the countless empowered women in the wine industry. We need more of this type of encouragement for young women and it’s the purpose of this series. As a first time mom with one foot in the industry, I was incredibly nervous about trying to balance my passion for wine while being a mother. There are many who are quick to judge or offer unsolicited advice on the subject. When Amelia arrived I wasn’t ready to let go of the wine life I’ve worked so hard to build. It’s brought a ton of wonderful new people into my life and new role models, such as Sarah, who are finding ways to include family in their line of business.

Wine isn’t going anywhere. What was once an old boys club is evolving. It’s more inclusive, approachable, and down-to-earth than ever before. I love to see parents sharing their passion with their children. Our own LO enjoys the vineyards and learning about various types of soil, tasting grapes from the vine, and watching people work hard at what they love. Wine is about community and experience and Sarah values that for her guests. Her take on work/life balance hit really close to home and it’s a breath of fresh air! I strongly encourage you to add Bricoleur Vineyards to your list of wineries if you’re ever in Russian River Valley.

Without further ado, our virtual interview…

Ashley: What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to future generations of women pursuing a successful wine career?

Sarah: I truly believe, in order to be successful in any industry/job it is important to always be flexible and eager to learn as much as possible even if it is not part of your job. The more skills you learn and know the more valuable you are in the long run.

Ashley: What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome in establishing a winery?

Sarah: Some of the challenges of establishing a winery is overcoming all the obstacles that come your way. Navigating the opening of a business at the heart of a pandemic was not what anyone expected but we learned to Flying by the Seat of Our Pants and pivot to make the most of every opportunity.

Ashley: What’s your favorite thing about Bricoleur?

Sarah: My favorite thing about Bricoleur is building this community of people that can gather and connect with amazing wine and food. I love getting to know every single club member and creating memories together. It has been so wonderful seeing my daughter grow up on the vineyard and our community being a part of all of her major life moments.

Ashley: Can you share how you balance a career in wine while being a mother?

Sarah: Balancing a career and being a mother is all about being flexible. Every day is different depending on work and the needs of your child and family. In being honest, I could not do what I do without the help of my amazing mom and nanny. Having a solid support system has allowed me to better balance my career and my time at home. But also, making the most of my time I do have with my family by being fully present is really important to me. Once I get home from work my sole focus is my daughter until she goes to sleep.

Ashley: What goals are you still working towards in your career and for the brand?

Sarah: Some goals I am always working toward is to become a thought leader at Bricoleur Vineyards by inspiring and offering guidance to our staff. I am always working towards coming up with innovative ways to break the mold of traditional wine tasting and create amazing experiences for our guests. I would love to grow Bricoleur Vineyards to become a lifestyle brand.

Sarah, thank you so much for sharing this wine with us and offering some much appreciated wisdom from one mom to another. We look forward to following Bricoleur’s journey and visiting the winery again in the future!

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine part 7: Vitalie Taittinger, President and Christelle Rinville, Vineyard Director of Taittinger Champagne

Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.

Lets travel by glass to Champagne, France to meet with Vitalie Taittinger, President of Taittinger Champagne

When it comes to wine, France is in a league of it’s own. It would take a lifetime to learn all there is to learn about French wine, and that’s not a bad journey to embark on. There is no other country as diverse in terms of quality or wine styles, which is why some of the world’s most coveted bottles are from France… particularly Champagne. Champagne was the first region in the world to make sparkling wine and it’s home to the traditional method – this is where the bar has been set for decades. Wines here are blended with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The most treasured wines age for a minimum of 3 years. If sparkling wine has a role model, it’s Champagne. This region is comprised of five wine-growing regions and three towns: Epernay, Ay, and Reims where Taittinger Champagne is located. This historic estate has deep roots that can be traced back to Champagne as early as 1734! Taittinger is one of only five Champagne houses to cellar wine in the famous Crayères of Reims which are chalk caves originally dug out by the Romans. Today, the Champagne House remains family owned and operated with Vitalie as President of the company. She’s done an exceptional job at honoring the family’s tradition and dedication to excellence in Champagne. She’s a breath of fresh air who believes in living life to the fullest each and every day.

Without further ado, here is our virtual interview with Vitalie Taittinger…

Ashley: Can you describe Champagne Taittinger for us without describing the wine?

Vitalie: A family adventure for generations, focused on excellency of producing champagne.

Vitalie: What’s the most important piece of advice you’ve been given?

“Decide with your heart”. My grandfather told that to my father. When you are at the head of a company, you are always challenged on your brain ability… to be able to consider that heart is part of the decision is a unique way to stay human and humble. This is also very linked to reality : what makes your real place on Earth? Maybe we should consider that pleasure is a very good instrument of measure!

Ashley: How can women support other women in the wine industry?

Vitalie: Easily…being there when needed without being in competition, more in a kind of building spirit. This is great to be part of a business which totally includes the women talents and it would be a shame not to be able to be conscient of that. Since a few years now I am part of a woman’s association called la Transmission and this is probably the greatest adventure I could have experienced in Champagne. 9 Women decision-makers and owners, all having chosen to embody and reflect the Champagne diversity and ecosystem. Our Houses and Estates are established from North to South of the appellation, are of various sizes and structures. The unique way to defend a common vision of Champagne for tomorrow.

Ashley: As President, what do you see as the most important part of running your business?

Vitalie: I am probably the one who carries the challenge to reinforce and give a certain harmony to the human adventure of the company. Each one has to be at the right place, developing himself within the company. This is a real question of how to build the talent capital of our House in the happiest way! We are building on long-term perspective, and are even more engaged to make choices that are less financially driven and are coming from the heart. It also means restraining one’s ego in the interests of building something based on a set of values that can be transmitted to the next generation.

Ashley: What goals are you still working towards in your career and for the brand?

Vitalie: I am not considering my own career at all… I am following my way, my ideal and really would like our Team to take pleasure and develop itself working towards the ambition and vision of the company…the second thing is to inspire enough to the next generation,  to be able to transmit in complete harmony this piece of art that Champagne can be…

Vitalie, thank you so much for taking the time to share your passion and business expertise with us. We admire everything you are doing for the brand and respect the dedication to tradition while incorporating a sense of modernism into the brand.

This post is overflowing with great insight. Next up we had the pleasure of virtually interviewing Christelle Rinville, Vineyard Director of Taittinger Champagne

Christelle joined Taittinger in 2015 and brought with her about 10 years of consulting experience with various Champagne Houses in technical services. As Vineyard Director, she leverages technology for maximum output in producing the highest quality wine grapes. Technology isn’t scary to her and she’s passionate about people and agriculture. It’s inspiring to see you an experienced female in this position for such a prominent, well-established Champagne House. Without further ado, our virtual interview…

Ashley: How did you get started in wine?

Christelle: My father was a steelmaker. I did not come from a family of viticulturists but he pushed me to study, my sensibility brought me naturally to an ecologic subject. I wanted to do a job linked with environment . I had an opportunity at the Comité Champagne in Epernay and discovered the vineyards and the Champagne area, that’ s when I knew my career would be linked with the vines!

My first job consisted in managing all subjects in relation with vineyards (experimental phase, research, pest and disease management, soil and subsoil), in local and national communication, to create and implement a Magister network (close observation of vines and sustainable wine growing education).

I have learnt a lot about the spirit of growers. I have met different points of view, different technical levels and different ecologist’s sensitivity. I needed to be creative and innovative with dynamic and visionary leaders.

Ashley: What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give to a woman thinking of starting a career in vineyard operations?

Christelle: Be yourself, have a good sense of humane welfare is also a key because managing a vineyard means also being in touch with the workers who are in the vineyards (work organization, safety and hardship), having strong environmental convictions to answer societal challenges, knowing how to observe, listen.

But perhaps above all: have a lot of humility and strength to adapt because you work with nature and it is nature that is the strongest, nothing is ever acquired!

Ashley: What is one of the hardest things about producing a successful crop every year?

Christelle: Sustainable objectives are a combination of science, economic and human parameters. With global warming there are harder weather conditions since a few years like storms with hail, heavy rain and specially more spring frosts. It is threatened for our yield! Vines need to be well protected from diseases under our climate even if you would like to do without it. Downy mildew, powdery mildew, botrytis.

Ashley: What’s a day in the life of a Vineyard Director?

Christelle: There is not a single day that looks like the other: a lot of human and managing issues (technical and organizational policies, exchanges and support for managers, meetings with teams in the field, social dialogue, Management Committee), a large administrative component (budget monitoring, needs assessments and orders , environmental policy, traceability/certifications, regulations) and the priority of being close to the field through visits to the vineyards (observations, technical evaluation, monitoring of practices, evaluation of areas for improvement). Not to mention the involvement in professional and inter-professional bodies (Champagne Committee, Corporation of Champagne Winegrowers, Magister, etc.).

Christelle, thank you for walking us through the details and responsibility of your role! You are incredibly adaptable and doing an exceptional job. Truly an inspiration a great source of knowledge for women in wine.

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 6: Katie Madigan, Winemaker St Francis Winery & Vineyards

Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.

Let’s head on over to Sonoma to chat with Katie Madigan, Winemaker at St Francis

St Francis Winery has incredibly deep roots in Sonoma County dating back to 1971 when the first acres were planted to Chardonnay and Merlot. The founding team at St Francis established themselves early on as producers of premium, single varietal Merlot. Since then, they’ve expanded vineyard sites and grown their portfolio of wines to include Old Vine Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Reserve Zinfandel. Katie Madigan joined the team as an intern in 2002, and today she carries on the legacy of producing show-stopping, terroir-driven wines. You can enjoy a lovely outdoor tasting at the winery that focuses seasonal food pairings or you can pedal your way through the vineyards with a Tour de St. Francis. This winery is high on my list of “must visit” Sonoma wineries for a few reasons… These unique, tasteful experiences sound incredible, but also I love to celebrate wineries that are dedicated to organic, sustainable farming practices and St Francis is committed to this. Lastly, it’s always a pleasure to see females making wine at such a well established winery.

Katie began her career as an intern and worked her way to winemaker in 2011. In 2015 she was awarded the “Best Woman Winemaker” by the International Women’s Wine Competition #YEAHGIRL! She has merits for days including Zinfandel Producer of the Year in 2014 and 2015. We love her hands-on philosophy and passion for detail when it comes to harvest. Her energy is fierce and I’m excited to support her career through sipping and celebrating her wines.

Without further ado, our virtual interview…

Ashley: Why did you choose to become a winemaker? 

Katie: After studying Chemistry in college, I took a harvest internship in the summer of 2002 at St. Francis. I wanted to explore fermentation science more, and learn the agriculture aspect to it. I’m celebrating my 20th harvest this year, and I’m still excited, challenged & motivated by the wines we’re creating.

Ashley: What are some of the challenges you face in winemaking and how do you overcome them? What’s your favorite part of the process?

Katie: It feels like more & more of the challenges winemakers face are environmentally based. No two vintages are alike, and we can’t predict what kinds of outside factors are going to impact the vintage. All we can do is prepare, and learn. I have multiple journals full of scribbled notes going back to the beginning of my career, where I would jot down ideas & techniques from what has/has not worked and what improvements could be done if faced with a similar scenario. Because of this, my favorite part of the process is still Harvest! It’s so dynamic and exciting. Even in the difficult vintages, there is something to feel accomplished about.

Ashley: What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about a future in winemaking?

Katie: Take your time, enjoy the process, and hone in on your craft & style! Having the title of Winemaker is fantastic, but I wouldn’t have the confidence or the skills that I do without all my previous experiences as an intern, in the cellar, and the other various positions I’ve held. Lectures and reading about winemaking is instrumental, but seeing/smelling/tasting it firsthand is invaluable.

Ashley: How has your job changed over the last 10 years? 

Katie: Gosh, the winemaking industry is ever-changing and that’s one thing about it I still enjoy about it. There’s not just one way to do things. The door is always open for new ideas, innovations and styles to shine through. It’s incredibly motivating to know I don’t ever have to stop learning & growing!

Katie, thank you so much for sharing your insight with us! I’m a diligent notetaker so your attention to detail with harvest notes is truly amazing! Looking forward to sipping your wines all summer long – ps the Chardonnay with a grilled cheeseburger is a spring staple at our home.

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 5: Stephanie Jacobs, Winemaker Cakebread Cellars

Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.

Let’s head over to Rutherford to meet with Stephanie Jacobs, Winemkaer at Cakebread Cellars

Cakebread Cellars is located in the AVA of Rutherford which is south of St Helena and north of Oakville in the heart of Napa Valley. Rutherford is known for it’s moderate -warm temps, morning fog, and ample sunlight. Vines here spend more time in the sun than any other AVA in Napa which leads to a soft, elegant style of wine. Due to it’s unique terrain and proximity to the Mayacamas and Vaca mountains, it’s famous for the “Rutherford Dust” quality in most Cabernet Sauvignons. Cakebread Cellars has deep roots in Rutherford dating back to the 70s – it’s very first release was a 1973 Chardonnay. Since then, the winery has grown to include several vineyards across Napa and even Sonoma. The property is amazing – think modern rustic elegance.

Cakebread has something for every palate: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Rosé, and Pinot Noir. Through sustainable and organic farming, they were only the second winery in California to earn a Napa Green Certification, and they’re also certified as Fish Friendly! It’s inspiring to see these initiatives prioritized. You can truly taste the commitment to terroir and all things sustainable in every sip. I’ve enjoyed my fair share of wines from Cakebread and there are some common attributes: precision, purity, and balance. Investing in a nice bottle of wine can be risky, but with Cakebread you are guaranteed the very best. In addition to exceptional wine, I love the winery’s dedication to promote diversity and inclusion. We are beyond thrilled to celebrate the strong female energy that Stephanie Jacobs brings to the table as winemaker – she is passionate, empowered, and a true leader in wine.

Without further ado, our virtual interview…

Ashley: Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female winemakers?
Stephanie: I truly believe that if you are passionate at what you do, there is no limit to your success. At Cakebread, I’ve been especially fortunate to grow with a family-owned company that places its core value on the individuals across our team, knowing a strong work/life balance will give us all a chance to reach our full potential. From our co-founder Dolores Cakebread to my Winemaker predecessor Julianne Laks, I’ve had examples that showed I had just as much opportunity as anyone else to make great wine here at Cakebread Cellars.

Ashley: What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?
Stephanie: Mother Nature. Wine is a natural, agricultural product, subject to Mother Nature’s challenges. We must be nimble, flexible, and ready to adapt to the changes of each season. In the vineyard, we rely on past experiences and vintages to “predict” how the seasons will develop, but we must be prepared to pivot as challenges and weather events occur. Even my winemaking techniques can change season to season to craft the highest quality wine from each vintage.

The winery is also working hard to better adapt to these shifts due to climate change. From becoming more efficient in our use of water and energy both at the winery and in the vineyards to creating carbon farm plans and composting, sustainability has always been a core tenet of Cakebread Cellars. We were the second winery to become Napa Green certified and last year, became an applicant with the IWCA (International Wineries for Climate Action).

Ashley: How does your typical day evolve with the seasons? Do you have a favorite season?

Stephanie: Winter: Assessing wine quality from the previous harvest, checking on the wines going through malolactic, tasting through the lots and creating the blends, and starting to bottle (Rosé and Sauvignon Blanc)
Spring: Watching for budbreak in the vineyards, finalizing red blends, visiting the vineyards
Summer: Monitoring sugar levels in the grapes, sampling, continuing to bottle wines (Chardonnay & Reds), more frequent visits to the vineyards, starting harvest of our white varietals
Fall: Harvest is in full swing, early mornings at the winery, vineyard visits, continual grape sampling in the vineyards, pressing fruit, pump overs, close monitoring of fermentation, determining barrel program for white and red wines
I love the harvest season! It is so inspiring to see the fruit evolve throughout the growing season and be able to begin to envision the wines we will make. The winery is full of activity and anticipation, no matter how many harvests I have been part of, each year is new and exciting.

Ashley: Were you inspired by other female winemakers when you began your career in making wine?
Stephanie: Definitely. I’ve been fortunate in my career to have strong female winemakers as role models and mentors, who set the expectation that achieving success in the wine industry was something anyone could accomplish if they worked hard and had passion for it. Over the last 10-15 years, I’ve seen more women in the industry, not just as winemakers but also in executive leadership roles. At Cakebread alone, we have had women across our executive team from CFO, VP of Hospitality & DTC to VP of Sales and Marketing.

Ashley: In winemaking, is one thing more important than the other in terms of tradition vs innovation?
Stephanie: I think both are equally important. As a family-owned company, Cakebread prides itself on its long-standing tradition and commitment to consistent, high-quality wines and warm hospitality that the winery was founded on by Jack and Dolores Cakebread in 1973. At the same time, innovation is key and allows us to adapt. Our team continues to evolve its winemaking practices and leverage new technology to further quality and sustainability, from vineyard to cellar.

Stephanie, thank you for taking the time to share your insight with us and walking us through the seasons. We enjoyed learning that Cakebread has so many amazing women in leadership roles! The Social Grapes appreciates the inspired initiatives going on at Cakebread and we look forward to continuing our support for you and the team.

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 4: Remi Cohen, CEO of Domaine Carneros

Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.

Follow me to Napa Valley to chat with Remi Cohen, CEO of Domaine Carneros

To know me is to know this: I love sparkling wine and I love Napa Valley. Our next feature is absolutely a perfect fit for this series because we’re heading to Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley to chat with Remi Cohen, CEO. Carneros is located at the intersection of Napa and Sonoma Valley around the southern foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. It’s close in proximity to San Pablo bay, so these two attributes give Carneros a much cooler and wetter climate than other AVAs around Napa Valley. As many of you know Pinot and Chardonnay thrive in cool climates, making this a mecca for traditional method sparkling wine. The family behind Champagne Taittinger established Domaine Carneros back in 1987. You can expect elegant, balanced sparkling wine and Pinot Noir with grower quality that can age beautifully and drink exceptionally today.

Domaine Carneros is one of the first wineries I visited when my love for wine really started taking off. The estate will take your breath away as will the wines and hospitality. I strongly believe that every enthusiast should subscribe to a sparkling wine club, and this is an excellent option! The Social Grapes invests in more than just wine… we fall for the stories behind the bottles, sense of community, and positive impact. It was a pleasure to learn that Remi is cultivating an inclusive culture at Domaine Carneros while encouraging women to excel in their wine careers and delivering some of the coolest guest experiences. Read below about an opportunity to saber at the winery aka the best way to open a bottle. I hope this inspires you to choose Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé or just about anything from this portfolio of wines, honestly you can’t go wrong here.

Without further ado…

Ashley: Can you describe Domaine Carneros for us without describing the wine?

Remi: Domaine Carneros is an idyllic landmark chateau with breathtakingly beautiful views nestled among the rolling vineyards of the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Founded by the Taittinger family behind Champagne Taittinger, Domaine Carneros evokes the elegance and tradition of Champagne with the spirit of California and prides itself on estate vineyards, progressive sustainability initiatives, and a history of women in leadership.

Ashley: Were you inspired by other successful women in the wine industry when you began?

Remi: Coincidentally, I met Eileen Crane, Domaine Carneros’s former CEO and founding winemaker, in 2001 at the beginning of my career and found her to be very inspirational. Eileen is a pioneer for women in the wine industry. There were very few women winemakers in California when she was appointed to the role of founding winemaker for Domaine Carneros. At the time, Eileen already had a decade of experience working with sparkling wines, first as assistant winemaker at Domaine Chandon and then establishing Gloria Ferrer. She was perfectly suited for the position at Domaine Carneros and having been inspired by champagne to pursue a career in sparkling wine, it was a dream for her to be able to work with the family behind the prestigious Champagne Taittinger and progressive of the family to choose her.

I have admired the work of many women in the industry and in fact felt that the generation before me, Eileen’s generation, had largely done the work to prove that women can be among the best winemakers, vineyard managers, and industry executives. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized that there is still a significant disparity in the quantity and compensation of women in senior winemaking and executive roles and that more progress is needed. 

Ashley: How can women support other women in the wine industry?

Remi: I think the most impactful way to support other women in the industry is to mentor women who are looking to advance in their careers. In general, creating a network of successful women in your life is an excellent foundation.

Ashley: How has the industry evolved over the last 10 years?

Remi: A lot of progress has been made in recent years bringing awareness to the lack of diversity in leadership positions in the industry, but more work needs to be done. As an example, it is interesting that there has been an approximately equal number of men and women enrolled in the viticulture and enology program since I was at UC Davis twenty years ago. Now, some enology programs have even more women enrolled than men so it demonstrates that women are interested and getting involved in the wine industry more than ever before.

However, a significant disparity still occurs in senior winemaking and senior management positions. In fact, a survey in October 2020 by Wine Business Monthly showed that 49% of assistant winemakers were women, whereas only 29% of winemaking directors are women. Even worse, only about 20% of winery general managers and CEO’s are women. Other studies have shown this to be even less.

It will require effort from the industry to encourage more women to advance to more senior positions within their companies and to be considered for top positions during the hiring process. This will involve companies institutionalizing diversity and inclusion along with mentorship opportunities. The industry’s work needs to extend beyond gender parity and work towards overall diversity and inclusion.

Ashley: As CEO, what do you see as the most important part of running your business?

Remi: I’ve worked in many different roles in the wine industry, starting as a viticulturist in the vineyard and then working in nearly every department before moving into general management. When I started as CEO at Domaine Carneros, I dived into human resources and talent management, emphasizing the importance of the people and the culture at the winery. About a decade ago, the winery embraced Zingerman’s style of management which entails open book management where all employees have visibility into the company’s finances and encourages a culture of employee engagement and advancement. To build upon these tenets, we have launched a mentorship program where employees have an opportunity to be mentored by members of our management team. We provide opportunities and programs for career advancement, learning skills in and outside of core responsibilities, and internal promotions. We have recently launched the Le Rêve Scholarship program with both the University of California at Davis and the Culinary Institute of America, providing support for diverse students focusing their trajectory on promoting diversity and sustainability while attending the wine graduate programs at these partner institutions. 

Ashley: What goals are you still working towards in your career and for the brand?

Remi: At Domaine Carneros, we strive to provide the most memorable sparkling wine experience. We are always looking at ways to create more meaningful and memorable experiences for our hospitality offerings. Some recent examples include that our Bubbles & Bites tasting menu now changes seasonally, highlighting flavors of cuisines from around the globe to illustrate just how versatile sparkling wine can be. We’ve also introduced an exciting experiential tasting called The Art of Sabrage.  It includes a tasting of four wines, an abundance of local cheeses & charcuterie, and is topped off with a sabering demonstration!  Everyone is in celebration mode, so we’ve also developed a concierge-style custom tasting called Your Ultimate Carneros to help plan the perfect wedding proposal, birthday, anniversary, or anything that needs a special touch. You can see we are always creatively updating our guest experience which is something I have enjoyed working on with our team. For me personally, it is rewarding to be at a time in my career where I can give back to the community by mentoring others and developing scholarship and philanthropy programs with the team at Domaine Carneros.

Remi, thank you so much for taking the time share your insight and story with us. I think we can all agree, across any industry, it’s incredibly motivating to see a woman as CEO. Here’s to those who have come before us and those who are sending the ladder down from the top, here’s to you!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022, part 3: Gretchen Voelcker, winemkaer at Luna Hart and Piazza Family Wines

Vineyards at Piazza Family Wines, Ballard Canyon

Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.

Next up, traveling to my happy place: Santa Ynez Valley to chat with Gretchen Voelcker, Winemaker at Piazza Family Wines and Luna Hart

Piazza Family Wines is located in the heart of Santa Barbara wine country in the rural AVA of Ballard Canyon, which is just a few minutes away from downtown Solvang in Santa Ynez Valley. The Ballard Canyon side is planted to more Rhone varietals and Syrah while Sta Rita Hills to the west is widely planted to Pinot and Chardonnay. What more could a wine lover need? We visited Piazza Family Wines this past fall and were introduced to the female winemaking team, vineyard views, and portfolio of wines. Our daughter was about 16 months old and she was thrilled to see women working hard outdoors and operating harvest machinery… I think she caught the wine bug.

This is the strong female energy that we love to celebrate in wine, and the inspiration for this #WomenMakingWine annual project. Winemaker Gretchen Voelcker is talented and innovative with the resume to back it up. Who here has tasted a skin contact Sauvignon Blanc or Graciano that undergoes carbonic fermentation? Gretchen has elevated the taste profile of these wines by taking a really cool approach. Fun fact: Graciano is a red wine grape from Northern Spain. If you enjoy Dolcetto, Beaujolais, or Garnacha give this one a try. Think violets, mulberry, pepper and cherry cola with savory undertones, medium tannin, medium body and high acidity. What I love most about Piazza and Luna Hart (Gretchen’s line of wines) is the focus on sustainable, organic, and/or biodynamic farming. I mentioned this a couple days ago and I’ll say it again, this approach really celebrates terroir and captures a true sense of place. I cannot wait to taste more from both labels – we enjoyed Gretchen’s wines so much that we joined the wine club which offers allocations from both Piazza and Luna Hart. Piazza Family Wines include Pinot Noir, Syrah, Chardonnay, and my beloved Graciano. Luna Hart offers Syrah, Syrah rosé, Sauv Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, and an amazing Cab Franc. We enjoyed this virtual interview with Gretchen and know you will too! I cannot rave enough about the wines she’s making – honestly, some of the best bottles we own.

Ashley: How did you get started in your winemaking career?

Originally from outside of Philadelphia, growing up, wine was not on my radar what so ever, but we moved to Brussels when I was in high school for my mother’s job. While there, my parents started getting into wine tasting and started to share that experience with me. In the beginning, it wasn’t wine itself that intrigued me, but the idea of creative science. Being a very left-brained, math and science type of girl, I have always searched for creativity within myself. I did not study winemaking in school but instead studied business and then plant sciences. After graduating, however, I remembered the intrigue of the industry and decided to give it a go. I have really built my career from apprenticing throughout the years and being fortunate enough to always work with small brands with a high degree of transparency.

Gretchen: What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve?

Again, being that creative scientist, I am constantly seeking to experiment (of course nothing is new in wine, but new to me) with new ideas or play with new varietal. But at the heart of my style, I am working to make minimally manipulated wines that showcase balance, vintage and varietal typicity. Although I am lucky enough to work with all sustainable, organic and biodynamic vineyards, I also am constantly aiming to bring more sustainability into my wines and business.

Ashley: Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female winemakers?

Gretchen: Not particularly. Having built my career in Santa Barbara after the women pioneers before me have laid the foundation, I have been so fortunate to not have a history of gender hardship. Santa Barbara is such a wonderful winemaking community and I have been lifted up by both men and women in my career and have never felt as though there is a particular stereotype.

Ashley: What is one of the hardest things about winemaking year in and year out?

Gretchen: The biggest challenge for me which I predict will only become more of a challenge, is to be able to make minimally manipulated wines as climate change continues to develop. As it is, working with Mother Nature keeps you on your toes. Every year I am dealt a completely new deck of cards and it is imperative that I can stay adaptable to that.

A lot of wines have a long list of hidden ingredients used in making the wines and most wines have at least a few undisclosed ingredients; my wines have only had a small amount of sulfur added to keep the wines healthy and tasty. By using less modern tools, I am aiming to give a more natural and timeless expression of the vineyards that I work with. The grapes are all hand harvested and when I choose to harvest, I seek find a balance of good acidity and flavor. In vintages like 2020, where we were faced with a lot of heat spikes in Santa Barbara, which I am presume will begin to become more common, it it a lot more difficult to find that balance in the fruit.

Ashley: Were you inspired by other female winemakers when you began your career in making wine?

Gretchen: From early on I was lucky to be surrounded by women in the industry. My very first harvest was at Rideau, founded by a woman of color, Iris Rideau, working under a young female winemaker, Amanda Baird, who showed me that it was possible to become a head winemaker in her late 20s. At that time, we also shared our facility with the all-star Kita Wines team, Tara Gomez and Tymari Lore, working around the clock to build their new brand. Of course, Tymari, my bff, continues to inspire me every day with her wine knowledge but also leadership. After that, I worked with Rideau’s next female winemaker, Adrienne St. John, who was my direct mentor. She taught me the importance of chemistry and sound fundamentals in maintaining a healthy winery. Needless to say, I was off to an empowering start! 💪

Ashley: In winemaking, is one more important than the other in terms of tradition vs innovation?

Gretchen: As I mentioned before, I think that winemaking has been around for so long that aside from new technological innovation, we are never re-inventing the wheel. A lot of the trendy new wines are made in the most archaic ways. I suppose then I put more value in tradition although for me it is often a personal experience of innovation, if that makes any sense.

Ashley: What is an favorite/unexpected yet incredible food pairing for any of your wines?

Gretchen: So many great ones to choose from! I love the Grüner with Sushi, spicy food and my favorite farmers’ market creation, chorizo and saffron mussels. The partially-skin fermented Sauvignon Blanc is absolutely a match made with salmon dishes. 

Gretchen, thank you so much for taking the time to share your expertise and passion for wine with us! We look forward to visiting the winery and following your career. We’re already big fans and love supporting your work.

Thanks for sipping with us!
The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 2: Amandine Brillanceau, Cellar Master at Louis Jadot

Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.

Next up, featuring Amandine Brillanceau, Cellar Master at Louis Jadot

Amandine is from Deux Sevres which is just south of the Loire Valley in France, so it’s no surprise that she has *cultivated* an impressive wine resume. She studied at the Agronomic School in Bordeaux and earned degrees in both Agronomy and Oenology. Her passion for wine grew through travel and interning alongside inspired French winemakers. Amandine’s experience in winemaking spans across several renowned regions including New Zealand, Australia, Oregon, and South Africa. She’s combined her passion and experience to grow into the role of Cellar Master in two prominent French regions: Rhone Valley from 2014 to 2017 and Burgundy where she now works at Louis Jadot.

Located in Beaune, Louis Jadot has incredibly deep roots in Bourgogne dating back to 1859. I like to refer to Louis Jadot as “America’s Sweetheart” because the wines are well-known here in the US and loved by so many for its tradition and quality. Louis Jadot is one of the most celebrated exporters of French wine and marketed as America’s #1 French wine for good reason. These red and white Burgundies are not only accessible, they are approachable and affordable. Louis Jadot’s portfolio includes everything:  inexpensive Burgundy and Beaujolais, wines from Chablis and Côte de Beaune, as well as grand cru wines from France’s top vineyards.

When I think about the rich history of Louis Jadot an instant sense of tradition comes to mind. The thing that really impresses me as a consumer/wine student/creator is how the Louis Jadot brand and Domaine has not only grown and evolved with the times, but how they’ve done so while upholding the region’s deep tradition and values. To me, that is just really cool. The wines are a benchmark for Burgundy and they’re delivering a product that appeals to novice and expert level enthusiasts. I personally loved learning that Louis Jadot has a female Cellar Master and one with such an exciting background and fresh perspective. It all makes sense now!

Without further ado, our virtual interview:

Ashley: Can you provide some insight into your day-to-day operations as Cellar Master?

Amandine: Cellar team management (7 people). Planning work and adjustment, tasks follow-up. Daily tastings enabling to organize the cellar work, traceability, various projects monitoring etc …

Ashley: You have experience in both new and old-world wine regions, how has this contributed to your success in Burgundy?

Amandine: Adaptation ability due to the fact that I worked in very different winery profiles (different material/tools, different company and organization profiles).

Openness and curiosity allowing me each time to tackle different challenges.

Ashley: What do you find to be the most interesting part of your job? What are some challenges you’ve overcome?

Amandine: Never bored! The wine world has no limit, it is always moving ! My biggest challenge was to enter Louis Jadot. Burgundy was a dream and every work experience was slowly helping me to get closer to Burgundy. Leading a team was also a new challenge I had to take up, because it was a first experience to me. Showing my skills and my competence to my team enabled me with time to get closer to them.

Ashley: Of the wines in your portfolio, can you share a favorite (and unexpected) food pairing?

Pernand-Vergelesses Les Combottes paired with a wok full of Asian flavours: the Combottes vineyard produces a very aromatic Chardonnay wine, with intense flavours. It is the best companion to sweat-and-sour notes, it’s nice tension enhances such dishes.

Ashley: In winemaking, is one more important than the other in terms of tradition vs innovation?

Amandine: Tradition is a key value in Burgundy – it represents a bridge between Burgundy history and today’s winemaking science. It is crucial to me in order to build a harmonious whole. Therefore, it is a never ending process swinging between past acquired experiences and today’s knowledge. Always innovating and constantly searching for perfection.

Amandine, thank you for taking the time to share your experience and insight with us. Cellar Masters wear a bunch of different hats. From managing inventory to knowing the ins and outs of harvest and more. It’s inspiring to see you manage a wide range of responsibilities for such a prominent French producer. 

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

#WomenMakingWine 2022 part 1: Leah Jorgensen, winemaker and owner of Leah Jorgensen Cellars

Welcome back to my second annual series featuring women in wine who are at the top of their game. This year we have the privilege of hearing from women in various roles – from business operations to vineyard management, cellar masters to winemakers, and even CEOs/Presidents. The accomplishments of women in a male dominated industry is worth celebrating not only on International Women’s Day, but all month and all year for that matter. These amazing women are paving the way for future generations of female leaders and powerhouses in wine. I hope you enjoy learning about their journey and winemaking philosophy and feel as inspired as I do to go after your dreams. Check back here for updates as I continue to roll out these interviews daily on Instagram.

First up, Leah Jorgensen of Leah Jorgensen Cellars

Maker of Oregon’s Premier Cabernet Franc

Oregon is not only cool in climate, but just straight up cool. The state is leading the US in terms of organic vineyards, biodynamics, and sustainable practices. These are some of wine’s biggest buzz words and that’s not changing anytime soon because it’s cool to care about nature. Personally, there is no better sense of the word “terroir” than a wine that is made with minimal intervention and/or biodynamically. Combine this approach with with cool, rainy climate along with pristine soil types and *viola* – world class wine from vine to glass. Leah is a prominent member of the winemaking community in Oregon with deep family roots. Oregon is known for Pinot and Chardonnay that align with Burgundian palates, but what I love most about Leah’s wine is how she is leaning into grapes and styles of the Loire Valley (think Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc). While her Cabernet Franc is hands down show-stopping, I have to give a shoutout to “Tour Rain” which is not only a clever play on words, but truly one of a kind in taste. It’s made with 40% Gamay Noir and 60% Cabernet Franc, which is actually a classic Loire blend. Imagine fresh blooms mingling with bright red fruit and undertones of pepper – it’s enticing. Be sure to check out her wines!

Without further ado, here’s our interview:

Ashley: Why did you choose to become a winemaker? 

Leah: Honestly, I grew tired (and bored) with working in winery sales and marketing – which I had been doing for about a decade before shifting gears to work in the cellar.  I was always interested in wine production, but having worked my way up the ranks in a steady upper management position (and salary), I was afraid to take the plunge into cellar work.  For one, it would be a major pay cut.  I was also concerned with the instability of part-time seasonal work that comes with harvest internships – a necessary step in the winemaking journey.  When I finally decided to “go for it”, I just trusted the process and turned my attention to learning and studying.  I enrolled in a local winemaking program while working local harvests.  I managed to pay the bills with part-time evening work at a Portland wine bar while doing some winery marketing consulting on the side.  After my first crush, I knew I was headed in the right direction and I made it my purpose to learn everything I possibly could about winemaking.  While cellar internships are essential, I found the classroom to be critically important in taking serious steps to become a professional winemaker.  So, I guess I would say my obsessive “curiosity” drove me to study winemaking because I really wanted to understand and learn everything I could possibly learn about how wine is made, what can happen during the winemaking process, and most importantly, how to be competent about what is happening during the winemaking process.  I tend to believe if you are truly passionate about something, you don’t want to learn a little bit about it.  You should become voracious about learning everything about your passions, right?  Cutting corners or skipping the classroom experience wasn’t an option for me.  By the time I completed the 2year program, it was clear to me that I was right where I wanted to be – and I had the tools I needed to have confidence in my ability to make wine professionally.  To this day, I read research assays on winemaking all the time – published via UC Davis, the AWRI, etc.  I’m not in winemaking for any other reason but to continue to learn and understand the nuances of a subject that is really exciting, complex, and interesting to me – and then putting that knowledge and expertise into practice.

Ashley: Do you think there’s a stereotype attached to female winemakers?

Leah: Not really.  But, I do think it depends on who you’re asking.  There are certain consumers out there who would prefer it if my husband was the winemaker in my family.

What do you find to be the most interesting part of your job?

Most interesting: the fact that no two vintages are the same, so my work is never the same.  My work as a winemaker is to look closely at what each vineyard site and what each vintage is giving me.  I make all decisions based on those two things. It’s never predictable and once the fruit comes in the doors, after deciding when to pick, I get the joy of putting that knowledge about site and the vintage to work to create something that will forever reflect a specific time, place and moment in history.  I mean, how many people are lucky to experience something like that?  I’m grateful for the opportunity to have a life’s work, a study, if you will, on my chosen discipline.

Ashley: What goals in winemaking are you still working to achieve? 

Leah: It is my intention to see that Oregon is included among the most important places/regions in the world for growing exceptional Cabernet Franc.  I am passionate about the vineyards I work with – I’m committed to them, even during challenging times like right now with two years of dangerous drought impacting Southern Oregon.  Climate change is affecting the whole west coast – we can’t be complacent and think it’s only a problem in some regions.  We all need to consider this impact on American agriculture.  

It is also my intention to help reshape the narrative on American Cabernet Franc.  California has long held the standard to which American Cabernet Franc style has been expressed.  I think it’s time to change the standard.  Cabernet Franc is one of the most elegant, ethereal, complex varietals in the world of Vinifera – and I’m definitely challenging the status quo style by not using new oak, picking earlier, using irrigation methods and canopy management systems to influence plant chemistries (especially in reducing the production of methoxypyrazines), etc.  

It’s my goal to get credit for pioneering American Cabernet Franc Blanc.  As a woman winemaker I have already watched other winemakers take the credit.  I’m not interested in being the center of attention; I’m interested in fairness, gender equity, and making sure credit is given where credit is due.  This is not just for me but for any marginalized winemaker today and in years to come.   If I don’t claim it, someone else will.  One way to help put an end to unfairness and challenges for women and other minorities in winemaking is to make sure we amplify their good work, that we probably credit them for the contributions they make.

Last, it’s my goal to create a distinguishable, classic Oregon Cabernet Franc.  My hope is that one day when somms and professionals taste Oregon Cabernet Franc they are able to identify it as Oregon Cabernet Franc.  Our region is unique.  Just as the Willamette Valley isn’t Burgundy, the Rogue Valley isn’t the Loire Valley or Bordeaux’s Right Bank.  It’s a special place that happens to have soils and climate and elevations that are home to world class Cabernet Franc vines.

Leah, thank you for sharing your insight and wines with us. The Social Grapes appreciates all that you do to encourage women to meet their full potential, which includes donating a portion of the sales from this rosé to women’s academic scholarships – especially in STEM studies.

#ProstEveryMoment with Wines of Germany

This time of year in Germany is incredibly special because Christmas is a really big deal for the entire country. The temps have dropped, crowds are merry, and snow is falling. Big and small towns everywhere are covered with decorations and beautiful lights, while Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets) take over the streets. The concept of Christmas Markets originated in Germany but are now setup around the world, including here in the US. December
is the perfect time to go out with a bang and explore something new, something you may be unfamiliar with as a wine novice…. and that something is German wine. Why Germany? For the Christmas vibes and rich history, of course! Travel may not be in the cards for everyone this year, including us, so the next best thing is to escape by glass. This past weekend we imbibed in all things German – from the amazing varieties and comfort food to German Christmas
songs. I’m officially in the holiday spirit thanks to German Wines USA! I don’t know if you know this about me, but I love German culture. I studied the language in High School all four years including AP classes and had the best teacher who would get carried away with tradition – it was contagious. German class influenced my perspective and had a positive impact on the person I’ve grown to be. That’s why this German Wines feature is very exciting for me! The
best way to learn is through taste, so let’s dive into some well-known varieties, but first let’s raise a glass and “Prost” which is the German word for cheers. Ready? Eins, zwei, drei…. Prost!

The region: Baden

(pronounced like Baa – den)

Baden is located in southwestern Germany, making it the warmest wine producing area and most
southernly anbaugebiete aka wine region. It’s the third largest winegrowing region in Germany and a great travel destination if you’re interested in adding Alsace, France or Northern Switzerland to your itinerary. Vineyards grow between the Black Forest and Rhine River, so it looks like a narrow strip that meanders down about 250 miles to the Swiss border. The best vineyards are planted on south-facing slopes atop Kaiserstuhl which is an extinct volcano with soils that give off a little extra heat. The volcanic soils, south-facing slopes (important because it receives more direct sunlight) and southern location of the region means that the wines here are full-bodied and concentrated with some of the highest alcohol levels for German wines. Baden wine producers are making some fantastic Spätburgunder aka Pinot Noir as well as Riesling and Grauburgunder aka Pinot Gris.

Wine producing countries in the European Union (EU) are categorized into zones according to climatic conditions. All of Germany falls under zone A with the exception of Baden. Baden belongs to wine-growing zone B which is the same as Loire, Savoy, and Alsace in France. If you’re a fan of wines from those three French regions, and to be honest it’s hard not to be, you really should consider exploring Baden as well! Fun fact: in German, Baden means baths. The name refers to warm mineral springs and the history dating back to Roman times – this was thee hub for Roman bath culture. Royals and nobles would travel near and far to embrace these magical “healing” baths and their positive effects.

Since we’re on the subject of translation… let’s break down a couple interesting translational tidbits about Baden’s wine, starting with Spätburgunder. In German, spät means late and burgunder means Burgundy which makes sense because Spätburgunder is German for Pinot Noir (Pinot Noir is thought to originate in Burgundy). The “late” part could literally mean that the fruit is left to hang on the vines a little longer, giving the grapes more ripeness and the wine a more concentrated flavor. However, the warmer and more arid climate of Baden compared to Burgundy may play a role as well. This could be a more romanticized translation and less factual, but I think it’s a fun anecdote to consider. Next up we have Grauburgunder (sometimes spelled Grauer Burgunder), or Pinot Gris. In German, grau means
grey. The color of the grape skin is greyish-blue, even though it’s a white wine.

Die Weine

Let’s start with a 2015 Grauburgunder, but not any Grauburgunder… Schloss Ortenberg GrauererBurgunder made with fruit from Alte Reben (old vines). This estate has deep roots dating back to WWII. It was once a hospice for the people of Offenburg, but was impacted by the events of the war and became property of the city, which it is still owned by today. This is a small production wine, so if you love it like we do, stock up! This rare beauty is smoky and nuanced with spice, ripe apple, and pear. It’s lean with bright acidity, so we paired this with homemade Bavarian pretzels and fancy mustard. Wowza, I think I have a new favorite wine + snack pairing!

Next up we have a 2019 Riesling Trocken from Weingut Burg Ravensburg located at the northern end of Baden. Riesling is really an exciting variety – it’s versatile and intriguing. It can age beautifully and drinks well young! It’s delicious dry or sweet, still or sparkling. If you’re all about dry wines, make sure to look for “Trocken” on the label. This means it’s dry while “Halbtrocken” is off-dry. Makes sense since halb means half in German so it’s halfway between sweet and dry. Burg (German word for Castle) Ravensburg is one of the oldest estates and towers high above the hills in Kraichgau where wine has been produced since the 13th century. All that to say it’s no surprise this wine is an absolute showstopper. It’s mineral driven, precise, and well balanced. The nose is perfumed and enticing as well while green fruit (apple and pear) mingle on the palate with fresh citrus and minerals. This wine goes down easily on its own, but I highly suggest pairing it alongside German Potato Salad. Shop this incredible bottle – I highly encourage you to stock up! We paired this with German Potato Salad and du meine Güte… this flavor combination made our spirits bright.

Our final wine of Baden is a 2015 Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from Freiherr von Gleichenstein Hofgarten. Hofgarten translates to “noble house,” so this really is some elegant juice! This estate has been in the family for about 400 years in Oberrotweil which is the largest of the seven wine-growing communities near the town of Vogtsburg in Kaiserstuhl. This wine is earthy with mushroom flavors, juicy red apple, cranberry, pomegranate, cherry, subtle minerality and rose petal. This 2015 is drinking like a dream right now! We paired this with homemade spaetzle which is actually easy to make! Here’s a tip and probably my best idea of 2021: sprinkle in truffle zest AND sub your olive oil with truffle oil for the spaetzle. You can thank me later!

There you have it!

The perfect ending to 2021 starts and ends with German wines! I hope you feel inspired to treat yourself with some of these exceptional bottles from Baden, Germany. I hope we can make the pilgrimage in the new year, but until then I feel lucky for what we have.

Thanks for sipping with us!

Ashley | @smashleythegrape

National Pinot Grigio Day with Mezzacorona Wine

I’m here to remind you that National Pinot Grigio Day is today, May 17th! I never met a wine holiday I didn’t like and this one is no exception. Few things are as refreshing as a chilled, crisp glass of Pinot Grigio and I’m honoring this grape with Mezzacorona Wine. Lets travel by glass to Trentino – one of Italy’s northernmost regions where you will find Mezzacorona Winery, established in 1904. This producer has over a century of winegrowing experience in this unique climate which is cooled by breezes from Lake Garda, the Adige River, and glaciers from surrounding alpines. Many associate red wine with Italy, but Italian whites are just as noteworthy.

Pinot Grigio is one of the most planted white grapes in Italy and thrives in the Adige Valley region aka alpine territory. This style of wine is zesty, crisp, and refreshing – if you want to experience saline minerality in wine, this is the one for you! Mezzacorona cultivates their Pinot Grigio vines on hillsides where they are trellised in a traditional pergola style. This variety is characterized by delicate honeysuckle, green apple, lime, lemon, and stone fruits such as nectarine or white peach. This wine’s hue is typically straw yellow with hints of green. It’s medium+ to high in acidity, light to medium bodied, and hangs in the low to medium abv range. Mezzacorona is consistently making a delightful, classic example of Italian alpine Pinot Grigio and this 2019 vintage tastes like spring in a bottle – plus, it’s an exciting value for around $15. 

Here are some fun facts about Pinot Grigio:

  1. It’s birthplace is Burgundy, France
  2. Pinot Grigio is a mutation of Pinot Noir – that’s why the grape color is grayish-blue
  3. Pinot Gris (French) and Pinot Grigio Italian) are the same grape
  4. It ripens quickly and is usually harvested first to retain brilliant acidity
  5. The ideal time to open up your bottle of Mezzacorona Pinot Grigio is within 5 years
  6. Pinot Grigio grows in tight clusters that resemble pine cones and that’s the translation; Grigio means grey so this is a very literal translation/description
  7. This grape is incredibly versatile and grows well in warm climates and cool; each climate expresses a different style

Pairing Pinot Grigio

The pastabilities (see what I did there) are endless when it comes to great wine pairings, but my favorite this spring is linguine with clams + Mezzacoronawine Pinot Grigio. Linguine with clams is elegant and surprisingly simple to make. Pair this dish alongside Pinot Grigio and you will be transported to Trentino aka the heart of the Italian Alps. This single varietal wine captures the essence of the Adige Valley – it’s incredibly vivid, crisp, and mineral driven. Here is our go-to recipe for this iconic dish!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 bag of linguine (about 1/2 lb or so)
  • 3 tbsp of butter
  • 2 tbsp of minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 2 cans of chopped clams (16 oz total)
  • 1 cup of dry white wine (Pinot Grigio is great for this recipe)
  • black pepper (start with about 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped (dry parsley works too)
  • 1/2 lemon

STEPS:

  • As pasta boils in water with a few pinches of salt, melt butter in a skillet and add in the garlic
  • Let the garlic cook for a few minutes and then add in the clams and cook over medium heat
  • Pour wine into the skillet and let clams simmer for about 5 minutes
  • Add linguine, about 1/2 of the parsley, and lemon zest into the skillet and toss all ingredients over low heat for a few
  • Serve and garnish with remaining parsley

*CHEF’S KISS*

Bonus pairing tip because charcuterie is basically an adult lunchable. Pinot Grigio is characterized by its high acidity so it pairs very well with soft, creamy cheese such as mozzarella, Brie, or midnight moon. This is literally my favorite combination of flavor components! Let’s go ahead and coin the phrase “Mezza and Mozza” for this heavenly pairing. When it comes to creating a cheeseboard, it’s all about the aesthetic. For me, a charcuterwreath makes any occasion special! It’s an incredibly simple, versatile concept that works for Christmas and spring time! Here we have a caprese inspired board with cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil, grapes, and rosemary for an enticing aromatic delight. Top with a pinch of salt + pepper and balsamic and enjoy!

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape on Insta

Make Your Holidays Sparkle

Sure, champagne is always a good choice and I can’t get enough of it. But, today I’m advocating for sparkling wine outside of the Champagne region. Although these bubbles hail from other regions they are just as delicious, budget friendly, and unique in their own right.

1. Crémant… ever heard of it? It’s a group of sparkling wines made in 8 appellations throughout France. It’s a great alternative to champagne and won’t break the bank! Crémant is made like champagne using the traditional method with secondary fermentation happening in the bottle. The cool thing is that a wider range of grapes are used in crémant winemaking and I’m here for it. You can expect varieties like Gamay, Cab Franc and even Chenin to name a few. Here are some of my go-to choices!

2. Let’s talk about Sekt, baby. Let’s talk about you & me… had to throw in at least one #momjoke! Did you know that Sekt is a German word for sparkling wine? Ja, darling. Grapes used to make Sekt range from Riesling to Spätburgunder, Pinot Gris to Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer to Pinot Meunier and many others. Similar to champagne, Sekt can be made in a range of sweetness levels from Naturherb (0-3 g/l RS) to halbtrocken (32-50 g/l RS) and even mild which is >50 g/l RS. The thing to know when shopping for a bottle of Sekt are the quality levels. Starting from the bottom we have Sekt. Wines labeled as Sekt are basic & made with grapes from literally anywhere bc imported grapes can be used. One level up is German Sekt – this means the grape juice comes from just about anywhere in Germany. Now onto the good stuff… Sekt BA indicates that a minimum of 85% of the grapes are sourced from one of Germany’s 13 wine regions. The best of Sekt is Winzersekt, made with 100% estate-grown fruit in the traditional method & spends at least 9 months on the lees. Winzersekt labels must include the varietal and vintage, so you know you’re getting the good stuff! Ich liebe Sekt, especially the one below!

3. Cava aka the champagne’s Spanish sister. It’s made in the Traditional Method, the same way Champagne is made, with secondary fermentation happening in the bottle. Cava is made with some of Spain’s native grapes including Macabeu (Viura), Xarel-lo, and Parellada. Expect flavors of pear, citrus, green or yellow apples, chamomile, and almonds. Checkout some of my favorites below!

4. Prosecc-ho-ho-ho… ok I lied, one more #momjoke for the holidays! Prosecco is highly underrated but nevertheless beloved in this house. Probably bc the hubs and I have an affinity for all things Italian wine. This is Italy’s no. 1 sparkler and hails from Northeastern Italy. This one is made using the tank method. That means there are 2 fermentations, no oak aging, or extended time on the lees. The first fermentation happens in stainless steel tanks to preserve fruity and floral flavors. Fermentation #2 happens in a sealed tank capable of withstanding the pressure of CO2 as it dissolves into the wine. Fun fact: Prosecco is a region in Italy and the grape used in winemaking is Glera. To be labeled Prosecco, the wine must contain a minimum of 85% Glera, the other 15% can be made of other Italian indigenous grapes. Expect flavors of green apple, honeydew, pear, and cream.

5. California Sparkling Wine – I’m a Cali girl through and through so I obviously love bubbles from my home state. There are so many fantastic producers making bubbly on trend with champagne… same grapes (Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay) and same winemaking method which is the Méthode Traditionnelle we chatted about above. I could go on and on with recommendations, and I plan to, but for now here are my favorites!

There you have it! 5 of our favorite sparkling wines. These bottles will dazzle your guests this holiday season. I could on and on about bubbles, but it’s time for this mama bear to hit the hay. Don’t forget to follow along on Insta for daily wine inspo and more wine edu. As per usual, feel free to reach out with any questions. Tag me if you purchase any of these – I love hearing your thoughts!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

@smashleythegrape on Instagram

VinGarde Your Wine with VinGardeValise

https://vingardevalise.com

If you’re reading this, there’s a chance you’ve done it. We all do it, everyone’s doing it. We travel for wine. It’s how we experience other cultures and the perfect way to relax. If you’ve traveled into wine territory there’s a very good chance you’ve purchased your favorite bottles to bring home. There’s no judgement here, Greg and I are notorious for finding insane, crazy ways of getting our bottles home. Most of the time we’ve been successful, but there is one major loss we’ve suffered. Last May we went on the trip of a lifetime to Piemonte in Northern Italy and wine tasted our way through Barolo and Barbaresco. We visited some amazing wineries, one in particular was literally on top of a mountain. We drove vertical up a hill to a small, biodynamic farm with fantastic wine. We bought a few bottles to enjoy on the train and take home, but we were going to Switzerland from Italy.

Swiss wine country was basically the entire itinerary and we visited some remote, under the radar, unknown wine regions. I don’t know if you know this, but Switzerland does not distribute Swiss wine outside of the country. To get the wine, you have to go there. Long story short, we were tired of lugging around a half case of wine so we left our gems with our hotel in Zurich – the staff said they could ship the wine home for us, but as soon as we caught our train to our next destination they called to let us know this was impossible. We ended up selling our wine from across the pond bc we just couldn’t get it home. I still think about those lost bottles every single day. If we had known about VinGardeValise, I wouldn’t be living with the pain and regret of leaving those bottles behind without a secure plan.

Now we know and I hope this horror story helps the future you. VinGardeValise is absolutely necessary for wine travelers. In addition to making life so much easier, VinGardeValise is a wonderful way to get your bottles home in great condition. Allow me to explain…

In order to get the best out of wine, storage and temperature are key! If bottles are incorrectly stored, exposed to too much heat or light, or even moved around too vigorously for too long, the wine will become faulty. Wine should be stored in a cool, dark place. Exposure to too much heat will cause a wine to lose it’s freshness and flavors will become muddled or even resinous, and not in a good way in my opinion. This is why VinGardeValise is my new favorite toy and the ultimate travel solution. Each suitcase has sturdy foam inserts that protect your treasures from breakage. Additionally, you can add chiller sheets to preserve freshness and travel with ease knowing that your babies are safe from harm’s way. In a perfect world wine should not exceed 18°C / 64°F. VinGardeValise suitcases coupled with their sleek, flat chiller sheets protect your bottles from irretrievable damage caused by heat. We have two of these suitcases and two chiller sheets because we take this very seriously.

Let’s talk about the VinGardeValise® Piccolo. This is the perfect size for weekend getaways. It’s got a hard shell, is FAA and TSA compliant, has a crazy good lock system, and it’s a smooth ride. You can store clothes and books on one side while 5 of your bottles rest in their cozy foam homes on the other side. I’ll be reaching for this luggage every time I need to travel. It’s as essential as a passport or drivers license.

VinGardeValise® Grande 05 is the stuff dreams are made of. This suitcase holds 12 bottles securely, it’s got a hard shell to enhance the integrity of the product, this one glides like a dream and it comfortably fits bottles with longer necks. Again, this is a travel essential for us. We usually pack one large suitcase and one travel size, so I’m very excited that we have the proper equipment to lug wine around safely. It’s providing some much needed peace of mind!

I wouldn’t trust my wine with anything other than VinGardeValise® — even Condé Nast agrees! To sum up why we love it, here are my top 5 reasons you need to invest in this product:

1. Your wine is protected from breakage. I literally shook and scooted the suitcase across the floor and my bottles didn’t budge.

2. It’s secure. This is my first piece of luggage with a lock. The lock is easy to use and adds a layer of protection from theft.

3. This is covered by a 10 year warranty. I’ve broken a handful of suitcases over the years. We even had to buy a replacement in Prague. Although we’re only traveling locally right now and using this for holiday travel to see family and share wine with them, once covid is gone we are on the first place out of here. And we won’t stop traveling! It’s nice to know we’re protected from wear and tear.

4. Temperature matters. There are some amazing accessories available, like chiller sheets. These sheets are reusable and help moderate the temp of the wine to keep it fresh.

5. It will save you money in the long run. Shipping wine is expensive and somewhat of a hassle. Keep your wine with you at all times and simply check your bags.

6. BONUS REASON: VinGardeValise® is running amazing promotions for the next few weeks — like rebates and free magnum inserts. Now is the time, people!

Thanks for sipping with us! Don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @smashleythegrape 🍾

The Social Grapes

Featured

Amelia Belle Lewis

Welcome to the world, little one.
Holding Amelia in my arms for the first time on 5/16

Amelia Belle Lewis made her debut at 2:13 pm on 5/16 weighing 6.5 lbs and measuring 19 in long. It was quite the journey for both of us, but she’s here! It feels appropriate to share a little context about her name before I dive into the complicated details of labor. Her name is inspired by Amelia Earhart, a strong female icon who was an aviation pioneer. Fitting since her dad is a pilot & mom is a firm advocate of strong females doing badass things! We also love the meaning: work & industrious. Amelia has already impressed us with her strong will and determination to fight through the challenges presented to her since she was born. Belle means beautiful in Italian/French. She’s not only a gorgeous little girl, but we hope she has a beautiful heart full of love grace. Her middle name is also special bc it’s one of our favorite wineries! Together we have a diligent, hard-working, beautiful, strong baby girl who exceeds these meanings and inspires us!

It’s taken some time to get the words right for this post. The first 48 hrs of parenthood have been the most devastating and challenging days of my life, but for the first time since her birth I’m feeling some hope!

Early & active labor went off so smoothly considering I was induced. I was naturally dilated to 4 cm and with the help of some Pitocin, my body was ready for Amelia to come out. By end of Friday night I was about 4 cm dilated and ready to push by 10 am the next morning. I was motivated and ready to take on the final step in delivering a healthy baby. The first hour of pushing was actually pretty great and I enjoyed it, but 3 hours later we had made no progress. The hospital doesn’t allow pushing past a certain time and our time was up. This is where things started to slip.

Saturday 5/16 saying our goodbyes before Amelia was transferred to another hospital in prep of her surgery.

It was at hour 3 that I got an infection, temp spiked, become physically ill and was taken to OR for an emergency c section. I have only a few memories of what happened between hour 3 of pushing and her arrival. I remember briefly coming to and seeing her beautiful face but she wasn’t crying. I heard one doctor say to another that the baby was in shock and they immediately took her away. After about 10 min I finally heard her first cry! It was the best sound in the world. Next thing I know I’m being wheeled off in one direction while Amelia was taken to NICU for further evaluation. I was feeling relieved bc the hardest part was behind us. We did it! It was a challenge but we made it over the hill.

I was swollen everywhere and hardly coherent in recovery when the NICU dr stopped by to provide an update with tears in her eyes. My heart sank. Was I about to get the worst news a mother could receive? Did she not pull through? The dr started with good news… Amelia was stable and breathing. Then she followed with the bad news. She was diagnosed with vacterl – a rare syndrome that 1 in 10,000 infants are born with. It’s not something that can be diagnosed or detected during pregnancy. Ultrasounds can’t find this so it was a complete surprise. The underlying issue is that Amelia’s esophagus was disconnected from her stomach, so she had no way of receiving food and needed surgery ASAP. She was transferred over to Rady Children’s Hospital that night. I was wheeled down to NICU and spent about 30 min cuddling and praying over Amelia. She was so sweet and perfect, it was heartbreaking to let her go.

Day 2 of Amelia Belle post surgery on 5/17

I don’t remember much else from the night of her birth. I had some complications of my own to recover from. Blood in my urine, fluid in my lungs, low oxygen, an infection, low blood pressure and inflammation in the cardiovascular area along with a surprise diagnosis of the uterus that prevents me from delivering naturally – my OB hasn’t seen anything like this and it wasn’t picked up on any of my screenings before trying to conceive or even while I was pregnant. None of this compares to the pain of being separated from our newborn and recovering at two different hospitals.

On Sunday Amelia was scheduled for her big procedure. It’s a high risk surgery with a couple different ways of going in. Luckily, Greg’s boss and his wife have been so supportive and were able to get me in contact with Greg so we could weigh out the options and risks of each method together as parents. After a few hours, I got a call from Amelia’s dr and the surgery was a success. The process of attaching the esophagus to the stomach was a challenge but they successfully managed to fix it. There was one complication with her trachea during the procedure but the surgical team handled it well and prevented any further damage while fixing it. Amelia also received a blood transfusion during the operation. She came out of this beautifully with healthy vitals and in a stable condition. She’s been resting peacefully, connected to tubes, and being looked over 24/7 by her nurse. Amelia is such a fighter and stronger than anyone I know. I wish I could take on her pain but for now all I can do is pray, stay positive, and stay healthy so I can be by her side as she recovers in the hospital for another 5 weeks.

Day 3 of Amelia Belle – breathing tube was removed today on 5/19!

This experience has been challenging and I’ve cried more times than I’ve laughed over the last few days, but the pain is only temporary. I’m so blessed to have my parents here helping with everything. I’m beyond grateful that both hospitals allowed my mother to go in and out so she could be there for both Amelia and myself. We weren’t sure how things were going to play out with the pandemic still in effect. It hasn’t been easy and I wish we could see more family, but for now I’m blessed and thankful for what we have to work with. I was discharged late afternoon yesterday and spent time with our baby before my body needed a break. I’m full of hope and motivation to get better so I can be there for Amelia every day until she’s home.

Thank you for all the prayers, messages, and texts. Your love and support means more than you know! It’s beyond difficult going through this without Greg while trying to recover from surgery, but it’s been possible bc of our amazing and uplifting support system.

I’ll do my best to update here but for now my focus is on baby and my own recovery. Please continue to keep Amelia in your prayers as we inch towards being home together as a family 🙏🏼💕

Mom holding baby’s hand for the first time in 3 days! So much love.

Jackson Estate Wine Pairing 2019 at the historic Westgate Room

Fine California Wine Meets Fine California Cuisine

A wise man once said that drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures. This combination of words perfectly captures the experience we recently had while dining at The Westgate Hotel, an iconic San Diego landmark located in the heart of downtown. Visiting The Westgate is like traveling back in time – think glitz & glam of the roaring 20s meets rich & romantic French charm. Add a touch of San Diego’s laid back vibe and voila! You have the fixings for a one-of-a-kind experience. When we first arrived, I loved the ambiance but must admit that I was concerned we were about to revel in the spirit of snobbery and pretension. I have never been more wrong! The staff, company, Executive Chef Fabrice Hardel, and Sommelier were incredibly kind, down to earth, and personable. This building’s architecture is incredibly meticulous and grand – two things that will definitely make you stand out in an otherwise laid back city. Adding friendly service on top of such grandeur puts dining at The Westgate Room in a league of its own.

The Westgate is doing a fantastic job of producing high quality food & wine pairing dinners. What exactly does this mean? Basically, the Executive Chef prepares a menu and the Sommelier curates the perfect glass to accompany each course. This dinner is planned in advance, so make sure to check the event schedule and book a spot! At this event there were a total of 8 guests. Each group or couple had their own table and we were served not one, not two, but three courses.

This particular event highlighted the versatility of Kendall Jackson’s Estate Collection. If you think you know Kendall Jackson’s portfolio, think again. It’s so much more than an accessible wine sold at grocery stores for a reasonable price. There’s a whole other side to this winery – a side I’m excited to write about! We kicked off the night with Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley. Please note that Kendall Jackson is located in Sonoma, but this particular wine is made with grapes grown in Santa Maria Valley AVA which is located in Santa Barbara County. Because of it’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara’s cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are considered world class – and this glass was the perfect example of that. It was full of delicious notes of zesty lemon, stone fruits such as Asian pear and nectarines, minerals, and lively acidity. As we swirled, sniffed, and sipped, our very knowledgeable Somm guided us through the vineyards and cellar. If you’re a wine nerd like me, you will love this! She made wine tasting user friendly. As she guided us through our first wine, the servers brought out an Amuse Bouche – Ahi Tuna on lime supreme rice cracker. It was incredibly refreshing and paired excellently with the Chard.

We got topped off – because that wine went down way too easy – and moved onto our first course of the night. My favorite… drum roll please… Day Boat Sea Scallops with Maui pineapple, shiso, and peach vanilla gastrique. To say this was prepared to perfection is an understatement. I’ve dined at my fare share of upscale, fine cuisine restaurants and these scallops blew me away. Perhaps it was the wine pairing that elevated my dining experience. Regardless, the team knocked it out of the park with this one.

Our second course was Grim Beef Tenderloin. Now I’m no meat connoisseur, but this cut was perfectly juicy and flavorful. Accompanying the beef was smoked potato puree, roasted parsnip, and and truffle jus. All the savory and herbal goodness was perfectly curated to pair with Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley. Anderson Valley AVA is located North of Sonoma in Mendocino County. Mendocino has a reputation as being coastal, cool, elegant, and organic. Anderson Valley is producing some incredibly exciting expressions of Pinot Noir. The fruit is bright, acid is high, and alcohol is medium. Wild strawberries take the lead as well as minerals, plum, and cedar. The higher acid on this wine perfectly cut through the savoriness of the dish – so much balance and harmony here.

Cheese lovers, this third course is for you! After a savory second course, it was refreshing to enjoy Warm Goat Cheese Crottin plus herb salad with aged balsamic vinegar. We sipped Petaluma Gap Pinot with this baby. Fun fact: this is the first vintage of Jackson Estate Petaluma Gap Pinot! This AVA benefits from marine breezes, fog, and gusty winds making this a cool climate pocket. The result? Small berries with thicker skins. This Pinot was full of red and blue fruit – it was just savory enough with high acid. The savory notes and high acid went incredibly well with the saltiness and high acid in the food. Pro tip: two components in food that make wine taster softer are salt & acid. These components make wine taste less dry and bitter while highlighting fruitiness.

Think Cabernet and dessert pairings are off limits? Think again! I’ve actually done cake and wine pairings before, and let me tell you… it works. It works really well. I was pleasantly surprised to wrap up the evening with Alexander Valley Cabernet paired alongside Cocoa Crumble Vanilla Gelato. If Napa Valley Cab is king, Sonoma Cab is queen. This is why the pairing worked so well! Sonoma Cab has all the complexity, depth, and balance without the austerity that is often found in Napa Valley Cab. It feels lighter on the palate and overall very approachable. This wine was full of rich blackberry, red fruit, and finished with high acid and supple tannin. It was a treat in and of itself!

We’ve said this a few times and I’ll say it again, experience and hospitality can make or break a wine tasting. This applies to the culinary world as well. The friendly staff, knowledgeable / personable Somm, and talented Chef made this evening exceptional!

Dining at The Westgate Room is worth the time and money, but it’s not your average restaurant. This place is special which makes it the perfect destination for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or couples who are looking to step up their date night game! This is officially on The Social Grapes approved and must-visit list.

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape