A TWC Update: 2017, wildfires, recognition, and Villa Maria

Here it is November already. I don’t know about you, but it has been a heck of a year for me. In January, I lost my mom unexpectedly. When I returned home from traveling home for the the funeral, I became so ill that my doctor thought I had pneumonia. When she sent me for X-rays, the radiologist thought he saw a mass. After another round of X-rays, they realized that the mass was bone. March then arrived with an unpleasant surprise: I discovered I owed a an unexpectedly high amount in federal and state taxes. A couple of months later, I had another health scare, an abnormal mammogram, which, after two ultrasounds and another mammogram, turned out to be a tissue density change.

Then last month, I witnessed the devastation of the Napa and Sonoma wildfires. I woke up around 1:00 a.m. on Monday morning, October 9, thanks to my cat and an explosion of Nixle text alerts on my phone. A friend who lives just a couple of miles from me had to evacuate her home that night, which threw me into a tailspin as well. At 2:00 a.m., my suitcase was packed by the door and couldn’t go back to sleep. After a couple of more uneasy days and sleepless nights, I realized there was nothing preventing me from evacuating voluntarily. I left on Wednesday, October 11, just prior to the announcement that my apartment complex was part of an advisory evacuation. My instinct has always served me well and this time was no exception.

On Sunday morning, October 15, I returned to Napa. As I was driving home, the Nixle alert announced that the advisory evacuation had been lifted for my area. Again, I knew in my heart it was time to return. I learned some hard life lessons during those five days when I didn’t know if I would have a home to which to return. In spite of what happened to me, I am thankful that I had a place to stay. I was fortunate not to have lost anything but a bit of my faith in humanity. Two of my co-workers lost everything in the Atlas Fire. A winery a mile and a half from where I live burned to the ground. Countless others suffered, too. I was blessed to escape tragic losses that cannot ever be replaced. My heart will heal in time and I will learn to trust again.

I would be remiss if I didn’t publicly thank CAL FIRE, first responders, local law enforcement, and other emergency personnel for their tireless hard work during the fires. I also want to thank my friend, Christine, of OMG I so need a glass of wine or I’m gonna sell my kids, who was and is there for me in so many ways.

If you want to help others who lost so much during the fires, please click this link to see where you can make a difference.

In the midst of the fear of the wildfires, I received some unexpected, happy news. I was shortlisted for my first writing award for a piece I wrote last year entitled, “Lodi: Beyond the Zinfandel” in the Born Digital Wine Awards, in the category of Best Tourism Content with a Focus on Wine. I cannot tell you how much this glimmer of positivity meant to me during this heartbreak. After six years of wine tourism and wine writing, someone finally took notice of my work.

It is only November 2, 2017, but life appears to be looking up this month I am excited to announce that I have been asked again to be the writing and social media lead for the upcoming First Sip of Fall – Villa Maria Twitter Tasting on Wednesday, November 15 at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time. If you follow this website, you know that I have written about and sipped Villa Maria wines no fewer than eight times since 2012. I am honored that the team at Villa Maria has entrusted me with getting the word out about their new releases. Stay tuned for more information about Villa Maria and this special tasting.

On that happier note, I will conclude this post with a quote I wrote to inspire myself for the rest of the year and beyond. I hope you, too, will take this and run with it, as I plan to do:

In every moment is the opportunity to start over, let go, begin something new, be happy, forgive, travel, live, and love. This is my moment.



#MWWC33: Once Upon A Time

#MWWC33: Once Upon A Time
*This post is an entry for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #33. You may vote through June 19 at this link.*

Once upon a time, I sat down at my computer to publish another post when I realized, “Oh crap, #MWWC33 (Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #33) is due! I have no idea about what to write!” I finished my original post and while doing so, I realized I have something weighing on my mind and it’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while now.

As some of you know, I have lost 75 pounds and eight clothing sizes, as of this post, since September 12, 2016, by working out five or six days per week at Fit Body Boot Camp Napa and by following a meal plan outline. Alcohol is not a part of the plan, of course. I also recently began a new website, Boot Camp Babe, to share my experience and to inspire others. There, I wrote a post entitled, About the wine…, which chronicles my history with wine, its integral part in my life, and its correlation to my weight gain these past eight or so years.

During these past nine months, I have cut my wine consumption tremendously. Prior to this, I was one of those people who came home from work and opened a bottle of wine a few nights per week to accompany my dinner and to relax. I also work at a winery in the Napa Valley as a wine club and social media manager, so wine is my career. I used to attend many wine and food events, accept lots of wine samples, and went wine tasting often. Now I only drink wine occasionally, such as when I am celebrating a special occasion, when I go out to a nice dinner (not always, but sometimes), or have a friend over. I maybe have wine a couple of times per month. I taste wine sparingly, spitting and dumping most of it, and I am being more selective regarding acceptance of wine samples. It’s not that I don’t enjoy wine, but frankly, I feel amazing without it. At my annual physical in April, my vitals and blood work results were outstanding. I love how I feel after a workout. Before, I was consuming hundreds and hundreds of calories in wine and now I prefer my calories to be solid, not liquid.

Interestingly, I think my palate is changing as well due to both my dietary changes and decreased wine intake. When I do indulge, my go-to wines are Champagne and sparkling wines. I also lean towards crisp, clean, preferably unoaked or neutral oak aged, higher-acid whites and rosés. Heavily oaked, higher-alcohol red wines feel and taste too heavy.

One final observation is that I feel somewhat disconnected from my wine writing and social media peers because I no longer participate frequently in virtual tastings, nor do I post lots of wine photos and reviews like I used to do. I’ve even had someone tell me that I am not as fun anymore. I have to admit, that hurt. I am still the same person inside, but with less weight and wine in my life. I am not denying myself anything, I am making dietary and workout choices that make me a better person in every way, inside and out. I have also broadened my connections and friendships to include fitness-minded people like me. I am healthy, happy, strong, and yes, fun.

As you can imagine, this poses a dilemma for me. Am I still qualified to write about wine if I don’t taste or drink it as often? Do I continue this website? I hope that you will help me answer some of these questions in the comments below.


Translation, Passion, and Transformation

Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #32

This is my entry for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #32 (#MWWC32), as described at this link. Voting begins Tuesday, April 25, 2017, and ends Monday, May 1, 2017, at the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge website.

I never used to be a procrastinator until I started participating in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. After a lifetime as a classic overachiever, perhaps I am starting to relax. Or, perhaps it’s because I see the challenge word and go blank until the very last minute. As I type this, I am still blank, but I am going to write something to keep my streak alive.

When I think of the word translation, I am immediately taken back to my college days. More specifically, I am transported back to Aix-en-Provence, France, and I am sitting in my summer abroad French Translation class at The University of Provence, now part of Aix-Marseille University. I was only 21 years old. The class was held in the afternoon after a grueling morning of other classes. Honestly, it was all I could do to get through this very intense class. It was extremely difficult and the evening homework was long, tedious, and hard as hell. However, the professor was fantastic. She, my classmates, and I often went out after class, as if we didn’t have hours of homework to do every night, and had drinks and bites at various local bars and cafés in Aix. It was during these tasting experiences that I really began to enjoy French wine, especially local wines. I didn’t know anything about wine, but I liked what I drank.

After our post-class outings, we returned to campus for dinner in the cafeteria. When I first arrived in Aix-en-Provence, I became very ill drinking from the pitchers of water in the cafeteria that were left for us daily. I will never forget that day. I had attended all of my classes through the late afternoon when it hit me about halfway back to our dormitory. I had to run, not walk, and it seemed like the longest run of my life. I made it, but I vowed from that point forward to only drink wine with lunch and dinner.

My wine experiences in Aix were turning points towards my enjoyment of wine, not just to avoid water, but as a true beverage choice. Shortly thereafter, as we traveled by bus from Aix-en-Provence back to Paris, I would have my first real wine experience in Beaune.

Although I no longer teach French, my previous career, the language has proved to be very helpful in my wine career, especially when it comes to the translation and understanding of wine labels, wine-related vocabulary, research, and publications. I often revisit this journey and of course, hindsight is 20/20. I truly believe that this study abroad experience in France was where my passion for all things French converged with a blossoming passion for wine. As life would have it, it would take many years for wine to move to the forefront and French to go into remission. Regretfully, I rarely have the opportunity to speak French or travel to France. I haven’t traveled there since 2005. I would love to visit France from a wine professional’s perspective.

Now I find myself in transition again as I follow my latest passion, health and fitness. I’ve lost 64 pounds in seven months through a high-intensity interval training workout and meal plan.  I believe that there is an ebb and flow when it comes to life’s passions, and that they co-exist, but either take center stage or persist in the background. It remains to be seen how my love of wine will translate into my current mind and body transformation.

You had me at aphrodisiac!

Aphrodisiac Food and Wine Pairing

Working in the wine business, I attend many events. After a while, many start to feel the same. However, at Dutton-Goldfield Winery in the Russian River Valley, which I reviewed previously, the event planners are clearly thinking outside of the box. One such event was their recent Aphrodisiac Food & Wine Pairing Class taught by Master of Gastronomy and author/fourth-generation publisher, Amy Reiley. I was excited, literally and figuratively, when Dutton-Goldfield allowed me to attend the class as a representative of the media.

You may not be as familiar as you should be with Reiley’s name, but I bet you’ve heard of some of her cookbooks such as Fork Me, Spoon Me: The Sensual Cookbook and Romancing the Stove, both of which attendees received as part of the class. She is also the founder of Life of Reiley, a boutique publishing company for culinary professionals, and the creator of EatSomethingSexy.

Amy Reiley teaching us about aphrodisiac foods

Attendees of the class were couples except me. Such is the life of a single girl. Regardless, I had a fantastic time and met a lovely couple with whom I shared a table. The wife was from my hometown of Asheville. Small world.

The class consisted of four food and wine pairings, with the recipes being from Reiley’s cookbooks and the wines from Dutton-Goldfield, of course. Chef and Innkeeper Larry Willis of the The Gables Wine Country Inn prepared the food.

As we proceeded through the pairings, Reiley explained to us what makes a food or drink an aphrodisiac. It is typically a food or drink that offers long-term health benefits, such as nutrients our bodies require and/or something that is good for cardiovascular health and blood flow. A few examples include honey (the nutricious nectar of Aphrodite), crabmeat (high protein, low fat), avocado (healthy fat, vitamin E), and oysters (zinc). Aphrodisiacs also often impart immediate physiological effects, as do wine, chile peppers, and ginger, for example. Now about those delectable pairings…

Honey Carrot Soup and 2015 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling

Pairing #1: Honey Carrot Soup and 2015 Chileno Valley Vineyard Riesling, Marin County
One of the reason’s I love Dutton-Goldfield is because of the beautiful Alsatian-style wines they produce. The riesling’s lively acidity and citrus and stone fruit flavors tamed the sweetness of the soup ever so gently, as well as cleansed my palate for every sumptuous spoonful.

Afternoon Delight Crab Salad and 2014 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Chardonnay

Pairing #2: Afternoon Delight Crab Salad and 2014 Dutton Ranch Rued Vineyard Chardonnay, Green Valley of Russian River Valley
As as some of you may know, I am not typically a fan of California chardonnay, but this pairing left me wanting more in every way. This cool-climate chardonnay was luscious, yet also bright. Combined with the salinity of the crab and capers, the creaminess of the avocado, and the textured crunchiness of the apples, this was my aphrodisiac moment of the class. I took tiny bites and sips to prolong the deliciousness. I brought home two bottles of the chardonnay and I’m ready to make this crab salad for someone special. Oh, yes.

White Truffle Scented Wild Mushroom Risotto and 2014 McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir

Pairing #3: White Truffle Scented Wild Mushroom Risotto and 2014 McDougall Vineyard Pinot Noir, Fort Ross-Seaview
This was the first rice recipe I’ve eaten in over five months. Oh, my. The velvety risotto coated my mouth, while the intensity and earthiness of this pinot noir gave way to sensual euphoria. This, my second favorite pairing, felt like comfort food, like home, and I imagined curling up beside someone and sharing this exquisite pairing together in front of a warm, crackling fire.

Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pork Albondigas and 2014 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir

Pairing #4: Devil’s Gulch Ranch Pork Albondigas and 2014 Devil’s Gulch Vineyard Pinot Noir, Marin County
You had me at pork and pinot noir from the same farm, no less, right out of the gate! I mean, how could one go wrong? The acidity of the wine and sauce was a match made in heaven. And this pinot noir, for goodness sake, showed layers and layers of vibrant berry fruit and complex spices for days. I didn’t want this pairing to end.

As we progressed through the class, which I was sad to see end so quickly, I thought often about my Fit Body Boot Camp meal plan, which isn’t just good for me and has helped me lose lots of weight in just over five months (52 pounds as I type this!), but also contains many aphrodisiac foods. Now that’s a slam dunk: great health, improved body shape and image, AND increased libido. Now if only I could find someone with whom to try some of these recipes and wines…



Obscurity Thwarted

#MWWC29, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 24
#MWWC30, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #30

*This post is my entry for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #30, #MWWC30, whose theme is obscure, as described at this link. Voting at this link begins Tuesday, January 24, 2017 and goes through Monday, January 30, 2017.*

Life is a brief, small, and transitory phenomenon in an obscure corner, not at all the sort of thing that one would make a fuss about if one were not personally concerned. ~ Bertrand Russell

As I write this, my the death of my mother on January 9, 2017 is obscuring my ability to do much of anything without thinking of her. Memories of her pop into my head at the most inopportune times, bringing me to either laughter or tears, in front of coworkers, friends, strangers, and while alone. Thus, this entry for #MWWC30 (Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #30) is about her. I don’t have an outline or a plan of what I am going to write, so this is going to be stream-of-consciousness, cathartic writing.

My dad was a teetotaler and my mom wasn’t much of a drinker, either. She was raised in a neighborhood and a household where the wine of choice was Mogen David, the certified kosher producer whose wines are made primarily from Concord grapes and other fruits. My only experience with Mogen David was MD 20/20 in college, you know, Mad Dog 20/20, but I have always recalled that this brand was the wine that my mom would talk about having when she was a young adult, for holidays and special occasions.

However, as I grew into an adult, there was the side of her she shared with me a couple of times, where she let go and enjoyed wine or a wine-like beverage.

The first time I remember her drinking wine was a trip to Paris that she, my sister, and I took during the holidays as part of an organized travel group. I was 21 years old, in my final year of college. I had just completed my summer exchange program in France and was dying to return. I begged my family to go with me. My dad said no, but gave the three of us our blessing to go without him, so we did. Of course, wine was served with every lunch and dinner. One night, our travel group had dinner in a restaurant where they seated us upstairs away from the rest of the restaurant. The bottles seemed bottomless. As soon as one was emptied, another full one appeared. More wine than water and food was consumed. We drank and laughed until the wee hours of the night. As we started to leave, my mom stood up and hesitated, saying she was dizzy. This was the first time I had ever seen my mother tipsy. I also had never seen her so happy and carefree. My sister and I helped her down the stairs and continued to stumble and laugh all the way to our hotel.

Me, my mom, and my sister in December 2010

A couple of years later, after a year at home trying to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, I left to attend graduate school at The University of Tennessee in Knoxville. My parents helped me move, but otherwise, I only saw them if I went home. However, one weekend my mom came to visit without my dad or my sister. In retrospect, I think she wanted to get away, to feel young and single again. I had this tiny, portable Sunbeam grill, so we bought food and cooked it on the grill while sitting outside of my apartment in cheap folding chairs, sipping wine coolers. This was my first adult moment with my mother. The more she drank, the more she shared, until finally she said, “Oh, I know you’ve tasted alcohol since you were in high school. I remember every time you came home after drinking.” I stopped mid drink. I insisted there was no way she knew every time. But, she did. Obscurity thwarted. She reeled off every, single time, and I mean EVERY time, with her uncanny attention to detail. I asked her why she didn’t say anything before and she said, “I knew your dad would have killed you if he ever found out.” In that one sentence, I realized how cool, cunning, and amazing my mom was. Mother and daughter became friends.

After graduate school, I moved to Virginia to teach French and Spanish at a community college. As I’ve described on my blog previously, I was not much of a wine drinker myself between my summer in France and 2008, the year of my pivotal wine moment, which eventually led me to the Napa Valley. By September of that same year, my mom was admitted to a nursing home, so there would be no more traveling, no more imbibing together. She had dementia, so while I had visited her in late 2013 and told her I was moving to California to work at a winery, I don’t think she remembered unless my sister told her. However, she often recalled our girls’ trip to Paris and our weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Now that she is gone, I am trying to focus on positive thoughts, rather than the eight years she lived in the nursing home. Heartbreak and humor continue to intermingle and intertwine in my head. She passed in her sleep and I didn’t have the opportunity to speak to her again, but I’m determined to think that she loved me and was proud of me. I will keep alive these memories of us as adult women and best friends, so that they never fade into obscurity.

My mom, she has passed.
Broken, yet my life awaits.
She’d say, “Seize it, go!”

My ‘Winestory’

#MWWC29, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 29
#MWWC29, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge 29

Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ reminded me that it was three years ago, December 3, 2013 that I accepted my first full-time job in the wine business at a winery in the Napa Valley. At the time, I was not-so-gainfully unemployed after eleven months of severance and part-time work. I had been offered the job before Thanksgiving and had said yes, but there were some final details to work out before it became official. When I knew on December 3, I was still unable to speak about it due to confidentiality.

I never imagined myself loving wine or even working with wine. I was a longtime college professor of French and Spanish who planned to retire from that position, even though the work had become increasingly frustrating as my responsibilities shifted from traditional classroom to more online teaching and committee work. Faculty had not had a raise in at least five years when I was let go in 2012.

During those last five years, 2008-2012, I began exploring other sources of income. Because of extensive frequent flyer experience, I became a home-based travel agent in 2008, landing a wine marketing company as my first client. It was with the owner of this company that I had my ‘wine moment.’ One of his clients was a winery in the Napa Valley, so together we tasted a 2005 estate Cabernet Sauvignon from this winery. For years, I had been trying to enjoy wine without success, but in that moment, I fell IN LOVE with wine.

While I continued teaching, I took on more side work as a travel manager. Over the course of the next couple of years, my original client above connected me with a wine importer in New Jersey and two wineries, one in Sonoma, and the other the producer of that life-changing Cabernet Sauvignon. They paid me for my work in both money and wine.

In the meantime, wine also became a hobby. I began using Twitter in 2008, mainly for my travel business, but found myself connecting with a growing wine community. During 2009-2011, I participated in a number of online tastings, where wineries would send me wine to share with my followers. By June 2011, I realized that I should be doing more to share these wines, so I created this website. I had no formal wine education and had no idea what I was doing.

Me in the Napa Valley
Me in the Napa Valley

I traveled to the Napa Valley my first time in March 2009. My immediate reaction after that first trip was, “I could live here.” Throughout 2009-2013, I visited Napa, Sonoma, and the San Francisco Bay Area another eleven times. People I met along the way kept telling me I would end up living here, but I still could not visualize it for myself.

When my teaching position was eliminated due to a budgetary reduction in force in August 2012, I threw myself into my favorite pastimes, travel and wine, usually both together, to alleviate the challenges of having to teach another four months while knowing my ‘lifetime career’ was ending. I also decided to take Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s Foundation and Intermediate courses over the course of that final semester.

When December 12, 2012 (12/12/12), the final day of my teaching career, arrived, I didn’t have any career plans. I used my nine months of severance to figure out what was next. I taught part-time, I poured wine and beer at a local wine shop, I wrote for a lifestyle website, and I continued to manage travel. My original travel client promoted me to executive assistant within the company. I learned a little about the back end of wine marketing and sales: compliance, depletion, social media, trade shows, etc. It was enough to make me realize I didn’t want to teach full time again.

However, that job came to an end in November 2013 due to company downsizing. Coincidentally (or not), the part-time teaching gig also ended in November. I emailed my connections in the travel and wine businesses letting them know I needed full-time employment. Oddly enough, I wasn’t afraid, even though I didn’t know what the future held and I was completely unemployed for the first time in my adult life.

Before Thanksgiving, I received a text message from the producer of THAT CABERNET. It said, “Have you ever thought of moving to Napa?” I didn’t hesitate. I replied, “YES!” On December 3, 2013, the winery formally made me an offer and I moved to the Napa Valley on January 11, 2014.

January 11, 2017 marks my three-year anniversary of living and working in the Napa Valley. That decision has been the most rewarding and most challenging of my life. The cost of living almost crushed me in 2015, until I took a new job, a promotion, at my current winery. Many days, as I drive Silverado Trail to and from work, I still feel like I am on an extended trip. I often can’t believe I really live here, and that I am surviving some of the hardest financial trials of my life.

Following one’s dream, one’s ‘winestory’, is not for the faint of heart, but it is for those who are OK with what I call ‘good fear’, taking calculated risks, and working and playing harder than you’ve ever have in your life. What’s stopping you from creating your ‘winestory?’ Will 2017 be the year you decide to go for it?

*This post is my entry for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #29, #MWWC29, as described at this link. You may vote at this link through Monday, December 12, 2016.