Tag Archives: Travel

My MW Scholarship Trip to France!!! Part 1

  WAAAAYYYY Back in November I went on one of the most exciting trips of my life to France based on the generosity of AXA Millesimes.  I promised then that I would blog about it and now after several months I am going to fulfill that promise!  The next few weeks will be short excerpts recalling this fantastic opportunity complete with tasting notes and way too much geeky wine information.  Here is the first of many…

 It took 31 hours of travel time for me from my house to the back door of Chateau Pichon-Longueville.  The time consisted of Flights from SFO to Philadelphia,PA then to Munich, Germany.  After that a quick flight to Toulouse there was a bus trip from Toulouse airport to the train station down town then a two hour train trip to Bordeaux.  Once I had arrived at the Bordeaux train station it was another hour by taxi before I arrived at the Chateau.  The taxi driver spoke little English and I apparently speak better French when exhausted so we had a pleasant chat about the area and when he learned I was here for wine he was happy to tell me that he and his family had worked in the vineyards their whole life.  I asked what he was doing driving a taxi then and he replied it allowed more time for fishing. By the time we arrived at the Chateau I was exhausted beyond measure and it was 11pm in Bordeaux.  As grueling as the travel was it was fantastic to get rid of any semblance of jet lag.  I was greeted by the housekeeper who was kind enough to leave out a small endive salad, a slice of ham, and several slices of baguette for dinner.  She also left a bottle of wine.  Since it was already opened I felt it would be rude not to sample it however I thought that one entire bottle for a single tired guest was a bit optimistic on her part and a bit of a waste for the bottle.  The room in the Chateau was like a fairy tale complete with the small meal laid out in a turret just off the room.  It was the most relaxing shade of moss green with a fireplace, chandelier, and numerous antiques to match the period in which the Chateau was built.  The bathroom was a periwinkle blue with claw foot tub complete with a large draping shower curtain.  It truly was the bed room that you dream about as a little girl.  After a quick shower I fell into a deep restorative sleep.

            As I was the only one who had arrived that night, I had the Chateau to myself the next morning.  While there were people working there they insisted that I eat breakfast in the formal dining room by myself.  I’m not one to enjoy dining alone so I ate a quick traditionally French breakfast of a croissant, baguette slices, and yougert then went for a walk around the grounds.   The back gardens of the Chateau were partially forested with a small pond which I could easily imagine must have been once used for small boats carrying ladies with parasols.  I crossed over this pond by way of a small stone bridge to the back of the gardens.  They were manicured just enough to make you believe you were in some fantastic forest but not so much that you realized you were in a formal gardens.  The gardens were separated from the vineyards by a small split rail fence which I followed to find a route to the vineyards.  I wandered through the vineyards for a while marveling at the small vines, some no more than a foot off the ground and so tightly spaced that it was difficult to walk down the rows.  Turning back to the Chateau it seemed that Pichon-Longueville was a green island in the midst of a sea of brown dormant vines.  On the eastern facing edge of the gardens there was a large Sycamore tree which I took advantage of to sit beneath, soak up the sun, and marvel at my good fortune.  The breeze was soft and light, the sun warm, and the vineyards were spread out around the Chateau in undulating waves.  There was a church steeple in the distance and the cross of Pichon-Loungueville closer to my right.  It was a very relaxing moment.  Soon though it was time to return to the Chateau to meet my fellow scholarship winners and begin the formal trip. 

            We gathered in the Study of the Chateau, surrounded by books, dark wood, and stuffed songbirds in glass boxes.  There were four other students on the trip; Anne Krebiehl (Freelance Wine Writer), Ray O’Connor (Commercial Manager for the International Wine Challenge), Patrick Schmitt (Editor at the Drinks Business), and Nigel Sneyd (Winemaker for E&J Gallo).  It was an eclectic and fascinating group and we all were able to meld our diverse backgrounds for an educational and exciting experience.

Wine Bloggers Conference 2011; A Winemaker’s Perspective…

Last Friday I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011.  This was one of those events that really brought out why the wine industry is so amazing! So many people in one room that were all excited to learn about and discuss topics pertaining to wine.  Unfortunately I was only able to attend the Friday sessions but they were really amazing.  I always enjoy hearing Jancis Robinson speak as she’s played such a HUGE role in my own wine education through her books and website.  Her call for bloggers to see themselves as wine writers was thought provoking and reaffirmed my commitment to be a winemaker who blogs, not solely a blogger! 


The marketing to Millennials session was fun and informal with lots of good information.  As a Millennial myself, I wholeheartedly agreed with some of the generalizations but others I think can be applied to any generation.  I do agree that Millennials are more likely to use the internet and social media to find out what their friends are drinking and what might be new and interesting.  However, I don’t agree that only Millennials have a highly tuned BS radar.  I think that as a society we have become so over run with advertisements on TV, radio, in print, and now on the web that we have become desensitized to it.  I largely ignore and actively avoid advertisements in most traditional media and the internet and from a producer standpoint I understand how frustrating it must be for marketers to know that.  One point that was raised is that Millennials care about companies that care about them.  This is another thought that can probably transcend generations.  Most people care about other people or companies that care about them.  That’s why the bar in “Cheers” was so popular.  We all want to give our business to someone who “knows our names” or in other words…cares about us and our needs. 


For the speed blogging session I had the unique opportunity to blog from the winery prospective rather than the blogger’s prospective.  As the second breakout sessions were starting my husband, Brian, our Emma Pearl PR representative, Jenna, and I were checking bottles of wine for the tasting and making sure they were at the best possible temperature to be served.  The 09 Emma Pearl is best served between 48-55 degrees F where the floral aromas can really explode.  Served too cold and that element is severely diminished, too warm and well it’s just too warm on as hot and humid a day as last Friday was in Virginia.  The speed tasting was exciting and a bit of an adrenaline rush as we had 5 minutes to explain the wine, who I was, and answer any questions that anyone may have had.  I was a bit nervous at first because our table was completely empty up until the last few minutes before the tasting started.  After that it was a bit like being on a horse jumping out of the starting gate.  By the 4th or 5th table I was starting to forget what points I had covered with which table and probably ended up repeating my self more than one time but no one seemed to mind. The truly enjoying part of it for me was visiting 12 tables of between 3 and 8 bloggers, all of which seemed to genuinely like the wine.  It was a truly gratifying day as a winemaker. 


Finally the dinner at Monticello was amazing.  Just being at the home of the Father of American viticulture was very inspiring and it was very educational to taste more of Virginia’s wines.  This was one part of the trip that I was really looking forward to because, being from the East Coast, I really want to see the eastern wine regions come into their own.  Overall, I think Virginia still has a long way to go.  I tasted quite a few wines with elementary winemaking mistakes and others where I couldn’t tell if it was the winemaking to blame or the vineyard.  There was one bright spot in the Virginia wine tasting for me and it was an Italian gentleman named Gabriele Rausse.  We sampled two wines from him; Vin Gris de Pinot Noir and a Nebbiolo.  The Vin Gris (Zesty and Fruity) was a very pale salmon leaning towards orange with delicate aromas of red plum, wet stone, grapefruit, and violets.  It was balanced and crisp with a moderately complex finish.  However it was the Nebbiolo (Spicy and Smoky) that really got me excited.  This was the best new world Nebbiolo that I have tasted thus far and it was exciting that it was fromVirginia.  It had pale color and the traditional flavors of licorice and rose petals that you would find in a Piedmont Nebbiolo however with lower acid and softer tannins with a finish with hints of dark roasted coffee.  I asked about his cap management techniques (how he extracted the color and tannins) knowing that Nebbiolo can represent challenges in the winery to balance the tannin extraction with flavor and color.  He responded that he punches down the skins and tastes every day.  “It’s all tasting!” was his answer. The soft tannins and balanced body were quite nice and with a limited production of 136 cases I imagine that he has no trouble selling it each year. 


On a West coast note I’ve been running around vineyards this week and Veraison has started on the Central Coast Pinot Noir.  We’re about 4 weeks out down there and looking like a little more than 6 weeks on theNorthCoast.  Harvest is well on its way!

What NOT to do When Traveling in the Wine Country: An Open Letter to Wine Tourists

As the weather warms and the vineyards grow green something else happens in Napa County; tourists appear in flocks. As in all wine growing regions, wine tourism, is a huge source of revenue and we’re happy to see the visitors come, however there are some common sense rules that need to be adhered to if you or someone you know are visiting a wine region. 


If you are the designated driver on a wine tasting trip it should be very high in your mind that while your group of fun-loving folks is enjoying the spoils of harvest, YOU need to be able to navigate the roads in a legal and courteous manner.  Please, Please, Please either spit during the tastings or refrain from tasting at all. We want everyone to have a great time so maybe switch off days with other members of your party but don’t think that you can get behind the wheel of a car just because you haven’t been drinking full glasses all day.  Just because you don’t see a patrol car doesn’t let you off the hook either.  If you are obviously drunk and driving, we, as the residents of said region, WILL call your license plate into the Hwy patrol. We just want every one to be safe.

2)      Please pay attention to the drivers behind you.

Going 20 miles per hour in a 55 mile per hour zone is NOT acceptable; I don’t care how beautiful the scenery is.  Some of the people you’re sharing the road with are not on vacation and do have somewhere to be at a set time.  If you notice that you have a line of cars (say 3+) behind you and you still want to go slow, do the responsible thing and pull off to the side to let everyone else by.  This will keep everyone’s day going on track.  If you have 10+ cars behind you, follow the above procedure then keep an eye out for the next speed limit sign and adjust accordingly.  If you don’t pull over and we’re forced to pass when allowed, don’t give us the stink eye just because we passed you.  You know who you are!!

3)      Don’t bash the last place you stopped.

There’s a reason the saying “Heard it through the Grapevine” came about.  While we all love to hear how much you enjoyed our wines but if you’re upset about the last place you went it’s probably not a great idea to complain about it to the next tasting room.  This is a small industry and word gets around quickly.  There are many wineries owned by the same companies or individuals and you may be bashing a sister winery unknowingly.  Also by saying how fabulous your last place was it does sometime motivate the tasting staff to top your last experience with their own.  Stay positive and rave about the great tasting rooms.  Just leave the bad ones where they are.

4)  Don’t get mad at the farm equipment on the road.


You’re visiting an agricultural region which does need agricultural equipment such as tractors and big rigs hauling fruit around.  If you’re in the wine region and you’re behind a tractor don’t get upset.  They are very good at following Rule #2 and will generally pull off when safe to do so.  Be sure to wave and smile as a sign of “Thanks” on the way by.  It will make you and the driver of the tractor feel better.  As for the grape trucks during harvest, just think about all the lovely wine those grapes will make once they reach their destination winery.  It’s part of the wine lifestyle so enjoy it if you’re in this situation.

4)      Don’t assume you can wander through the vineyards on the side of the road.


While vineyard lined roads are fantastic to drive down please don’t think this is an open invitation to wander on in.  This can, at minimum cause minor harm to the vines and at worst can expose you to whatever chemical was just sprayed that morning. We don’t go wandering through your flower garden at home so please stay to the allowed areas. Keep your vineyard wandering confined to wineries that invite you to get a closer look and enjoy the views of the vines from the side of the road elsewhere. 

5)      Watch for Bicycles!


I personally know a number of people, including myself, who love to get on a bike and ride out the stress of the day in a winery (yes even at wineries there is stress!) after work or on the weekends. Getting on a bike is also a very nice way to explore the areas around Napa sans auto!  While you’re driving please be careful of bicyclists, especially on sharp corners.  Slowing down and widely passing when safe is greatly appreciated.  We’ll try to give you as much room as possible.

By following these guidelines your trip to the wine country can be enjoyable for both you and the people who live there.  Be safe. Be smart. Don’t be an obnoxious tourist.