#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.

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

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.
Featured

Top 10 Dog Friendly Wineries in Napa Valley

Puppies, wine, and I’m fine!

We work hard so our dog can have a better life – I’m sure the same goes for you! This is why we put in the leg work to bring you the Ultimate Guide to Dog Friendly Napa Valley. When it comes to our four-legged besties, The Napa Valley knows how to roll out the red carpet. Sit back, relax, and know that you’re in for a fabulous wine country getaway with Fido!

Guide was last updated on 10/8/2019

Napa Cellars Winery

Napa Cellars is located in Oakville off Saint Helena Highway. Grab a seat in a lounge chair or pack a lunch and relax at a picnic table in the beautiful outside garden that overlooks rows upon rows of vineyards. Spend an afternoon tasting through limited release wines while your doggo gets the “Pampered Pooch Experience.” Yes, you heard me right! Sip & swirl your Pinot Noir Rosé while puppy gets to snack on biscuits, wear a Napa Cellars bandanna, and sip water from his/her own silver bowl!

Bonus: this winery is extremely kid friendly! There are yard games for days.

Napa Valley Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel

V Collection: Carneros Chardonnay, Carneros, Pinot Noir, St. Helena Cabernet Sauvignon

Winemaker’s Series: Pinot Noir Rosé, Coombsville Petit Verdot, Napa Valley Meritage, Coombsville Malbec, Carneros Syrah, Napa Valley Petite Sirah

Turnbull Wine Cellars

This winery is in the heart of Oakville! Sip inside the charming tasting room that looks like it was designed by thee Joanna Gaines or enjoy a pink sunset in the garden out back where vintage Ford trucks and tractors add a touch of rustic charm! Lucky for all of us, dogs are allowed both inside & out! Walter loves visiting his friends at Turnbull while mom & dad taste wine.

Wines: Bonne Vivante, Petit Verdot, Fortuna Merlot, Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville Cabernet Franc.

Fun Fact: My absolute favorite Sauv B is from this winery! Her name is Josephine and she is fantastic!

Bonus Tip: Rosé of Cabernet Franc is released once a year to wine club memebers.

Flora Springs Family Estate

Flora Springs Estate is located in St Helena and is one of Napa’s most historic wineries. Upon arrival you will be greeted with the most breathtaking of vineyard views that will make your doggo stop in his tracks! Be sure to make an appointment to tour the hillside caves with your fur baby followed by a seated tasting indoors or outside. Your dog will thank you for this!  

Wines: Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Single vineyard Cabs, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and late harvest Sauvignon Blanc

Pop into the tasting room anytime, book a reservation for a full tour at the estate ahead of time.

Paradigm Winery

Another Oakville staple! Paradigm has been family owned & operated since the first 1991 vintage. This winery is a true expression of Oakville terroir! They’re small in size and big in quality – every wine produced is handcrafted from vine to bottle. To top it all off, Heidi Barrett has been the winemaker here since the beginning. Sip outside and enjoy a very intimate tasting with one of the friendly team members while embracing the vineyard covered hills of Napa. Your dog with thank you for this!

Wines: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Paravines (Merlot + Petit Verdot blend), and my favorite effervescent Rosé of Merlot!

Tastings at Paradigm are by appointment only

Domaine Chandon

Let’s mozy on over to Yountville for some sparkling wine! While this is a larger winery, the grounds are fantastic and this is the ideal spot for outdoor wine tasting. The vibe is relaxed and casual – perfect for your fur baby! You can grab a glass and roam without a care in the world. Literally. Dogs are allowed in the tasting room, on the terrace, and even while you stock up on bottles in the shop. Remember, this is a dog’s world and we’re just living in it.

Still Wines: Rosé, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay

Sparkling Wine: So many. Sparkling Rosé, French cuvee, Reserve Pinot Noir. Sweetness ranges from Brut to Demi-Sec.

Hall Winery

Looking for a modern & artsy winery in St. Helena? @hallwines is it! Not only is the space incredibly unique, but they approach wine making with an artistic mindset. Your experience can be as casual or formal as you’d like it to be! Sip outside with your fluffer butt and basque in the ambiance! There’s a little something for everyone here as Hall has partnered with Baca to bring you Zinfandel and Walt Wines to deliver lovely Pinot Noir.

Wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon

Frog’s Leap Winery

Now let’s head on over to Rutherford and get our fix of the famous “Rutherford Dust.” This winery is surrounded by vineyards with the most laid back vibe around. Every tasting comes with a cheese pairing and you’re free to sip and relax to your hearts desire. Wanna take a break from all that wine and walk the puppy through the gardens out to vineyard? Sure, no problem! Walter has been here twice and each visit was more pleasant than the last!

Wines: Merlot, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Petite Sirah

Mumm Napa

A few minutes down the road in Rutherford is our favorite stop for bubbly! Mumm Napa is simply beautiful and we cannot get enough of their sparkling wine made in the traditional method. This was among the first wine clubs we joined back in 2016 and we re-visit with Walter every time we’re in the valley. Come for the bubbles, stay for the laid back vibe on the patio where all the dogs are chilling.

Sparkling Wines: Rosé, Blanc de Blanc, Sparkling Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Blanc de Noirs, Brut Cuvee, Blanc de Blanc Oak Reserve. Sweetness ranges from Brut to Demi-Sec.

Still Wines: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir Blanc.

Reverie II Wines

Located in the quaint and picturesque town of St. Helena is one of our favorites! We love the team at Reverie and have been returning for tastings since 2016 back when the winery was located in Calistoga! The new property in St. Helena overlooks the vast valley of vines and is decorated to the nines! Take an ATV ride up the steep hills to the most remote tasting deck out there. If you’re lucky, Carmelita the winery dog will be on site! She’s incredibly playful and kept our boy occupied while we sipped our way through silky smooth wines!

Wines: Mountain Cuvee, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Roussanne Marsanne, Barbera, and Tempranillo

Tastings at Reverie are my appointment only

Aonair Winery

This is a sister winery of Reverie II located in St. Helena just off the beaten path. Grant – head wine maker at both Aonair & Reverie – is basically a Napa Valley genius! Aonair is cozy, classy, and rustic yet perfectly modern with the most outstanding views. We loved the hospitality and Walter loved the resident vineyard pup. They played all. morning. long. We also took an ATV ride around the property and saw Cab Franc vines that are 150 years old! I cannot wait to return to this gem!

Wines: Proprietary Blend, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache Blend, White Wine Blend

Tastings at Aonair are my appointment only

Featured

Seasons of Napa

When is the best time to visit Napa Valley? For us the answer is year round! We’ve visited wine country in January, May, June, July, August, September, and December. February is pending – stay tuned! Consider a decent amount of the legwork done. Now you can sit back, pour some vino, read along, and plan your visit!

May – June

Photo taken at Round Pond Estate

Lets start with May/June. We took an extra day off work for a total of 4 days/3 nights (Fri – Mon) and visited over the long holiday weekend in honor of Memorial Day. Originally our plan was to hit BottleRock – a music festival with gourmet food & wine. I got us plane tickets and waited to book a hotel until all of the ideal spots were flashing no vacancy signs (womp womp). This weekend is probably one of the biggest for Napa Valley. We couldn’t find a reasonably priced hotel within county lines, so we decided to forgo the show, sell our festival tickets, and book a swanky hotel on a vineyard. Thankful that we did! Festivals are always a good time, but we knew the wine country FOMO would’ve kicked in. On Friday we experienced a little bit of “May Gray” and some sprinkles. It was definitely sweater weather on day 1, but that was the only day we tasted indoors. The sun was out for the rest of the weekend and skies alternated between slightly cloudy and bright. Definitely not pool party weather yet, but perfect for the “jacuzz.” If you decide to come up this weekend, be sure to make a few reservations ahead of time. I would say book 60% and leave 40% open in regards to winery visits. As for restaurants, make a resi every night!

Wondering what type of clothes to pack? I wore a slouchy sweater and leggings + booties on Friday, a long sleeve romper + mules on Saturday, and a midi length off the shoulder dress + mules on Sunday. My hubs wore a light sweater and chinos on Fri, a button up with shorts on Sat, and a button up (sleeves rolled up) with pants on Sun.

What’s happening with the vines? Spring Flowering! Buds are beginning to blossom and grow.

July

Photo taken at Far Niente Winery’s
2018 Chardonnay Celebration

Next up is July. We spent Fourth of July weekend 2017 in Napa and loved it! It’s always sunny, no chance of showers, it’s moderately crowded (aka more people to chat with) and everyone is happy. It’s also warm. Very warm. You can expect AC in every tasting room and chilled bottles which really helps with the heat! It’s a bit crowded this time of year, so our recommendation is to book 80% and leave 20% open for tastings. Also, follow suit with May/June and book your dinner reservations! Last year we re-visited Napa in mid-July for an event at Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel. Talk about a perfect weekend. Sunny skies and warm breezes call for flowy dresses and chardonnay! After a day of wine tasting, we’d return to the hotel and swim a few laps in the pool before getting ready for a night out. Highly recommend a July trip if you love tasting wine in the sun!

What’s happening with the vines? Summer Veraison! All varietals are born green. The veraison process is when color takes form – changing from green to yellow, purple, red, etc. Also growers will walk the vineyards and chop off extra bunches that don’t look promising. This leaves elbow room for the MVPs!

August – September

Photo taken at SENZA Hotel located next to Ashes & Diamonds Vineyard

Do it. No questions asked. This time of the year is magical! Fall Harvest has begun in some parts and the fruit is ripe for picking! This means green bushy vines are all around and it truly is a wine lovers paradise. If there’s ever a time to book a full vineyard tour + wine tasting, this is it. Napa gets pretty crowded in September because of harvest season, but early in the month is a great option. We visited over Labor Day weekend and caught nothing but sunny skies and warm temps. Hotels are at peak price, however if you’re planning well enough in advance we suggest looking into an Airbnb somewhere close to vineyards in Saint Helena. Plan and book 90% of your winery visits and leave 10% open for recommendations & pop-ins. This might be on the conservative side, but like I mentioned it’s a popular season and we don’t want anyone to miss out on visiting their faves due to unpreparedness! Definitely make your dinner reservations ahead of time as well.

What’s happening with the vines? Fall Harvest! Grapes are fully ripened and sugar levels rise. Growers select crème de la crème!

December – January

Photo Taken at Frog’s Leap Winery

We love Napa in the wintertime for several reasons. Hotel pricing is great, we stock up on wine for the holidays, crowds are small, we love the weather, and walk-ins are feasible. Being from sunny San Diego, we don’t experience a whole lot of cold. Napa in winter is very chilly/brisk, but can still be sunny and cozy. Be prepared to bundle up by a fire and/or under a blanket for relaxation with vino in hand. Small to no crowds provide opportunities for more conversation with your host and we love this! The folks pouring your wine are subject matter experts and vino enthusiasts – so if you get the chance make sure to converse and ask questions! Our last few visits have all extended past the allotted time because we were carried away by extra pours and great company! We recently rang in the New Year in Napa and plan to spend as many NYEs as we can here. It was perfection. Quaint, festive, and full of quality wine + champagne. Wineries are open on NYE, but close early. A vast majority will be closed on NYD as well with the exception of a few bigger guys (list of open wineries coming soon). We slept in on New Years Day, enjoyed brunch at Farmstead, and took Walter on a short hike to an off-leash dog park at Alston Park which is surrounded by rolling hills and vines (a great recommendation from the staff at Farmstead). It was perfect hiking weather! Sunny and clear skies with a cool breeze.

What’s happening with the vines? Winter pruning! This part of maintaining a vineyard is very important. Growers will determine which vines are most viable for harvesting in the upcoming year and care for them accordingly. Also there’s something to be said for seeing vines in the winter. It represents hard-working people and seasons changing, while reminding us to let go of the old and make room for new growth.

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

Featured

The Grape Journey Begins

Thanks for joining us! I’m beyond excited to dive in and continue the never-ending wine journey alongside my husband and Walter (our mini Goldendoodle). wedding

Who are we? A newlywed couple born & raised in Southern California now living the sunny San Diego lifestyle. Yours truly has a career in finance and works for a digital marketing company and my hubby is a BAMF Navy helicopter pilot. I graduated from Whittier College (go Poets!) with a degree in Philosophy and Political Science. My love of wine stemmed from countless girls’ nights at home with my sister whilst binge watching Pretty Little Liars on Netflix. The hubs is a US Naval Academy grad and studied Astronautical Engineering (he’s crazy smart, it’s v attractive). His enthusiasm for wine runs in the family – shout out to my in-laws for this – loving wine was a pre-requisite for marrying me! We’re truly a match made in wino heaven. 

We love to travel & taste varietals from all over the world and will combine the two any chance we get. We’ve sipped our way through Tuscany, pilgrimaged to the Wachau Valley, tasted with Eduardo on the beachfront in Mexico, and frequently visit the greatest of them all… Napa Valley! Our aspiration is to continue to travel to historic wine destinations & discover lesser known regions as well!

While we love the thrill of traveling abroad, Napa has drawn our interest and captured our heart. Maybe it’s because we’re CA natives and feel a kinship. Maybe it’s because that’s where we first realized how fascinating the science behind wine-making can be. Perhaps it’s the hospitality, passion, history, and accessibility that draws us in – or all of the above! With over 400 vineyards, Napa is our happy place. From drinking Kathryn Hall on our wedding day to toasting with Mumm’s DVX bubbles when we closed escrow, Napa vineyards produce more than just great wine. They produce memories that will last a lifetime, long after the bottle is empty. mumm beach

We hope you enjoy our stories, opinions, and experiences. We love connection and making new friends, so please feel encouraged to reach out anytime!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG:  @smashleythegrape