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

#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 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

#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

Sauv Blanc, hold the alcohol.

Introducing the world’s first alcohol-removed Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zeland: Geisen 0%!

The Why:

YOU GUYS! I am so excited about this for several reasons. First of all, I’m a lady who plans on growing a family and I’m also an avid wine drinker. Having gone through one pregnancy, let me tell you… alcohol removed wine is a real treat! Surprisingly, I loved taking a break from alcohol for 9 months and instead sipped on delicious mocktails and alc-removed wine; that’s not to say I didn’t think about wine from time to time. The one I missed most during my pregnancy was Sauvignon Blanc – probably because I had intense cravings for all things citrus throughout the second and third trimesters. Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough is known for being deliciously tart with flavors of lemon juice, lemongrass, lime, grapefruit, pear, and passionfruit – basically all the things this mama bear craved! Also, if you’re nursing and on the fence about whether or not to consume wine, because lets be honest there are arguments on both sides, this is a really great option! Secondly, dry January is becoming a very real trend and I actually love this concept. Greg and I decided to partake in a modified version we’re calling *damp* January. We’ve cut out alcohol Mon – Wed, allowing ourselves to open bottles Thurs – Sun. I’m not gonna lie, some days are harder than others which is why this option of alcohol-free wine excites me! For us, wine isn’t just about getting a nice little buzz. We enjoy the social aspect and how it reminds us to slow down and take time to relax. We also enjoy food and wine pairings – a great way to treat yo’ self for surviving parenting + work during a pandemic day in and day out. Giesen 0% allows us to do all of this while sticking with our goal of cutting out the buzz part-time. Lastly, the Giesen brothers have a great reputation for making fantastic wine from the top Sauvignon Blanc regions of Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand for almost four decades. Marlborough is at the top of my list for wine travel once the pandemic ends!

The How:

Giesen uses premium, full-strength Sauv Blanc in their process and combines tradition with modern technology known as an advanced spinning cone. Spin cone technology contains upside cones – half of which spin while the other half are fixed. In an environment that feels like it’s in a vacuum, cones start to spin until wine transforms into thin liquid films. A cool vapor-like element rises from the wine, carrying the yeasts and volatiles away from the liquid film. Using this advanced tech, first the aromas are removed followed by the alcohol. Aromas are collected reintroduced into the wine so you don’t miss out on the enticing nose. The final blend of Sauvy B grape juice + natural yeasts adds texture and body. This results in a dry, refreshing, aromatic, and delightful wine sans alcohol.

The Where:

More on Marlborough because if you love Sauvignon Blanc, you need to explore this region since Sauvy B makes up a majority of the plantings here. Most vineyards are planted to either Awatere Valley and Wairau Valley which is the larger of the two. In Wairau, the days are long and sunny, resulting in tropical flavors in the wine. It’s an interesting spot though… there are many sub-valleys that have different altitudes and aspects, so producers have various elements to work with. On the other side, we have Awatere Valley which is drier, cooler, and windier than it’s big sister. This makes a style of wine with pronounced herbaceous flavors and higher acidity. Giesen uses Sauvignon Blanc grapes from both regions, so you get the best of both worlds: passionfruit, pineapple, lime zest, lemongrass, grapefruit, and green bell pepper. It’s high in acidity, crisp, and light – medium bodied. I would pair this with a salad or chips and guacamole. Of all the alcohol removed wines I’ve tried, and I have tasted my fair share, this is the best!

This wine glass was specifically made for sipping Sauv Blanc – highly recommend trying this!

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes

Follow me on Insta for daily wine inspo @smashleythegrape

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