If I could describe my life in one word, it would be travel. My life is replete with literal and figurative journeys. Therefore, when I saw this month’s Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC25) topic, travel, I immediately thought, this is who I am.
(To vote for this entry or one of my peers through June 6, 2016, head over to this link!)
When I was in seventh grade, I applied to participate in the annual coastal crew trip with my science teacher and my favorite teacher at the time, Mr. Charlie Baker, and was selected. This was a big deal for me as it was the first time I traveled without my parents. We spent days exploring the North Carolina coast including the Outer Banks. I remember waking up after a night of camping and my first sight was the sunrise over Pamlico Sound. I swallowed too much salt water swimming in the Atlantic Ocean, waded in salt marshes, and saw Venus Fly Traps growing in their native environment. I attempted to climb Jockey’s Ridge where the Wright Brothers took their flight. The travel bug bit me hard and I didn’t want to go home.
Fast forward to ninth grade, my first flight to Montréal on a chartered plane with my high school band, my first international destination. We marched in the Lions Clubs International Parade, which culminated at a my first MLB baseball game between the Montréal Expos and the Cincinnati Reds. I saw Johnny Bench and Pete Rose play. At Place Jacques-Cartier in Vieux Montréal one evening after dinner, I was propositioned by a young Québécois for a kiss from an American girl, much to the dismay of my mother who was chaperoning the trip. Duh, mom. Of course, I said no. Two Canadian dollars was not enough for me to kiss a stranger. However, I fell in love with Montréal and the French language, which would eventually become my minor, then my major in college.
Once I decided to major in French, instead of political science or computer science, I had to scramble to find a way to graduate on time because my parents and a scholarship were paying for me to finish college in four years. During the summer between my third and fourth years of college, I traveled to France with Winthrop College (now Winthrop University) to study abroad. We began the trip in Paris, studied French for four weeks in Aix-en-Provence, and concluded the trip traveling by bus through the Loire Valley, to Burgundy, and back to Paris for a final night. I learned to use the métro in Paris, I took the TGV to Marseille, I learned my way around Aix-en-Provence – from my dormitory to class to cafés for dinner and wine every night – and I met a French pen pal to whom I had written for years. I had my first escargots in Dijon. I also had my first memorable wine moment in Beaune. I had no idea I was in one of the world’s most famous and fantastic wine regions. We stopped for the night at a hotel surrounded by vineyards. Our dinner that night seemed like it would never end. The red wine that night, pinot noir, was plentiful and delicious. Our glasses were never empty. During this trip, I developed a lifelong love of everything French: the language, the culture, the people, the food, and the wine. However, it would be many years until my life-changing wine moment.
A few jobs, a few boyfriends, a master’s degree, and a failed marriage later, during the good, old days of Internet dial-up and America Online (AOL), I met a guy online who lived in Yonkers, New York, while I was still teaching French and Spanish in Virginia. Because we both had established careers, instead of me moving there or him moving to Virginia, we traveled back and forth and around the country and world to spend time together – for 15 years. I learned the ins and outs of frequent travel and found myself participating in online travel forums with like-minded people. (This was the social media of that era, before Facebook.) I connected with a businessman who owned a wine marketing and sales business. We met in real life in July 2007 at a frequent flier get-together in Virginia. A year later, we met again and during that visit, he brought wine from one of the Napa Valley wineries he represented, the 2005 Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. When that wine touched my palate, I was forever changed. It was inky purple and opaque. Rich in color, aromas, and flavors, including black fruits and smoky French oak, it captured my soul. I didn’t realize that I was drinking a 96-point Robert Parker wine. I just knew it was like nothing I ever had. Is this what wine is supposed to taste like? I still have a bottle of this cabernet sauvignon purchased the following year, a part of a vertical from 2005-2012. According to CellarTracker, it’s still drinking great.
In July 2008, I became this businessman’s remote travel manager. The part-time role came with extra money and often shipments of wine for a job well done. By 2009, I was ready for my first trip to the Napa Valley, Sonoma, and San Francisco. My client, who by this time was a good friend, arranged for me VIP tasting appointments at three of the wineries he represented: Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards, Bell Wine Cellars, and Trentadue Winery. While driving around Northern California during that first trip, I said to myself, I could live here. During the next five years, I traveled to the Napa Valley and Sonoma 11 more times. I couldn’t get enough. The travel manager gig led to additional travel clients – a wine importer in New Jersey, plus Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards and Trentadue Winery – and more wine.
I began participating in virtual Twitter tastings and before I knew it, wineries were sending me free wine samples. I felt a little guilty, so on June 16, 2011, I began this website with some wine tasting during a trip to my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. I didn’t know what I was doing or why, except that I loved travel and wine. I decided to call the website Traveling Wine Chick. I re-branded myself on Twitter as @travelwinechick. I attended my first Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia. Before I knew it, I was immersed in more travel and wine than I ever expected. It began to take my focus away from my teaching job. I found myself waking up in the middle of the night thinking, is this all there is?
Then in 2012, it happened. The universe had decided enough was enough. My long-distance boyfriend dumped me out of the blue. A month later, I was notified that my teaching position was being eliminated. Instead of crying, I felt a sense of relief. A new journey awaited me. During my last four months of teaching, I took Wine & Spirit Education Trust Levels 1 and 2 under the guise of professional development for my website. I also used my severance to not only pay my bills, but also to travel. During the most difficult time in my life, travel as solace saved me. I also ran my first 5k and flew in my first seaplane to Victoria, British Columbia. In 2013, I continued to work for my friend as not only the company travel manager, but also the company’s executive assistant. I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina; Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Ohio; Pinehurst, North Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts to pour wines at trade shows. I accompanied the team to Napa Valley and Sonoma to meet with our clients. I learned about wine depletions and compliance since my friend also owned an import business. This role, along with my other travel client connections, catapulted me into my first full-time and part-time jobs in the wine business in the Napa Valley and Sonoma. Currently, I am in my second full-time job here as well as writing for various media outlets such as American Winery Guide and Snooth. I couldn’t be busier or happier. The only thing for which I yearn is more travel. I am looking forward to upcoming travel to Vermont and Lodi, California.
Travel has not only transported me to and from physical locations, but it has been my beacon through the various stages of my life. It has taught me acceptance of different people, places, and cultures. It has opened doors of opportunity. It has excited me like no other life experience. I will be forever grateful that I was accepted on that coastal crew trip to the coast of North Carolina, that being a band geek landed me in Montréal, that needing additional credit hours to graduate on time caused me to study abroad in France that summer, and that my frequent flier lifestyle and new-found love of wine would lead me to a second lease on life in the Napa Valley. During my life’s ebb and flow, the one constant has been travel. I can’t wait to see where my journey takes me next.