In 2013, Zoetic Wines‘ owner and winemaker Kim Vance guest posted here about following her passion of winemaking. Now, four years later, I taste one of Kim’s wines, the 2014 Zoetic Wines Grazioso Sauvignon Blanc, for my first tasting note contribution to Cellar Angels, where wine and charitable giving come together as one.
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.
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?
Yesterday, I participated in a Facebook dialogue about the relevance of wine blog awards. Someone commented, Wine blogging is still a thing? I replied yes with a quick why. But, more about that reply later.
Wine blogging, or as I like to call it, wine writing, is one of the top three game changers of my life. When I began this website on June 16, 2011, my goal was to satisfy wine producers who were sending me samples for Twitter tastings. I felt like I owed them something. Come to find out, I didn’t owe them a thing, but it’s taken me five years to discover that I owed it to myself to explore my newfound passion for wine and wine-themed travel.
My first post was a basic summary piece entitled Wining About Asheville, North Carolina. How apropos that my first attempt at wine writing would include a weekend visit to my hometown, a beer town, and my exploration of a few of its wine venues. It would take me until September 28, 2011 before I was brave enough to write about wine itself, a pairing of Gewürztraminer and Kung Pao Chicken. I mean, who was I to be writing about wine? I now understand that being passionate about wine is reason enough to share my thoughts about wines and winery experiences. I hope that across these five years, you have tried a wine or experienced something similar that I shared with you.
However, there’s a personal aspect to putting myself and my writing out here, which brings me back to my reply to the question, “Wine blogging is still a thing?”
My website has been a stepping stone to where I am now, working in the wine business, as well as to paid writing opportunities and fantastic media travel like the Finger Lakes, Mendoza, and TasteCamp. I’ve also gotten to taste wines I’d never gotten to try.
That was the short version of what I was thinking. In 2011, the idea of this website found me teetering on the high wire of life, a college professor looking for something more gratifying than a classroom to satisfy my growing thirst for creativity, adventure, and a change of scenery, both literally and figuratively. Wine and travel writing connected me with like-minded people near and far who would support my relentless cravings for more and give life to my dreams of a different career and life. It offered to me travel opportunities to destinations around the world. I would not know you: the readers, the fellow writers, and the producers who have invited me to visit and sent me diverse and delicious wines to taste. The fact of the matter is that I would not be the person I am today if were not for travelingwinechick.com. On this fifth anniversary, I am damn sure that in this moment, what I write matters.
I had the opportunity to preview American Wine Story the weekend of October 10-12, 2014, and after viewing it, I saw bits and pieces of myself in the movie. I moved to Napa, California nine months ago, my own leap of faith after a divine storm that shook me awake from my comfortable, yet unsatisfying life, and led me to a career in the wine industry after an initial wine epiphany in 2008.
In my mind, I also envisioned some of my wine friends in this movie: Cindy Cosco of Passaggio Wines, Mike Anderson of MTGA Wines, Michael Westerberg of Hardball Cellars, Kim and David Vance of Zoetic Wines, William Allen of Three Shepherds, Carlo Razzi of Penns Woods Winery, Brad and Lele Galer of Galer Estate, and Anthony Vietri of Va La Vineyards, just to name a few.
The primary focus of the movie is Oregon winemaker, Jimi Brooks, and the pursuit of his American dream. When Jimi suddenly dies in 2004 at the age of 38, the impact of his legacy is felt as a community of winemakers come together to work his harvest. Subsequently his sister, Janie Brooks Heuck, and winemaker Chris Williams save and grow Brooks Wines into the business it is today. The winery is now owned by Jimi’s son, Pascal, who at age 18, plans to join the business after college and traveling.
The supporting cast of passion-following winemakers, owners, wineries, and distillers includes other Oregonians such as Sam Tannahill of Rex Hill/A to Z, Jim Day of Panache Cellars, Dick Erath of Erath, Scott Wright of Scott Paul Wines, Stewart Boedecker and Athena Pappas of Boedecker Cellars, Airlie Winery, Chehalem Wines, Bull Run Distilling, Ransom Spirits, as well as those from other states, such as Alan Baker and Serena Lourie of Cartograph Wines (CA), Mike Officer and Kendall Carlisle of Carlisle Winery & Vineyards (CA), Drew Bledsoe of Doubleback (WA), Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards (VA), Cindy and Al Schornberg of Keswick Vineyards (VA), Michael Amigoni’s Amigoni Wines (MO), and Todd and Kelly Bostock of Dos Cabezas WineWorks (AZ).
I was happy to see some wineries from nontraditional wine states included. However, I kept thinking, “What about the Finger Lakes and other areas of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, North Carolina, etc.? ” There are so many American wine stories to be told.
While on the surface, the movie is about the irresistible, career-changing call to make wine, it is ultimately a movie about living life in the moment, listening to your heart, and following your passion without hesitation, regardless of your career choice. As Pascal Brooks says near the end of the movie, “I’m not afraid to die, but I’m really afraid not to live.”
The movie will be available for purchase on October 14, 2014.
During my second and final day of Livermore Valley’s Taste Our Terroir, sponsored by Visit Tri-Valley, I had the great honor of visiting McGrail Vineyards and experiencing From Vine to Glass: Through the Winemaker’s Eyes with winemaker Mark Clarin.
What made this visit so special is that Mark is passionate about Livermore Valley and winemaking. He is also a wine educator, whether he realizes it or not. However, since we received an academic-like handout to take with us, I think that seals the deal. I’ve visited many vineyards during the eight years I’ve enjoyed wine at a serious level, but this time, after having taken three Wine & Spirit Education Trust certification courses, everything clicked.
We started out in the vineyard where Mark discussed vineyard management – the impact of site choice, elevation, the Mediterranean climate, the rain shadow, and Livermore Valley’s East-West orientation – as well as the clones planted, soil type, vertical shoot position trellises, drip irrigation, and North-South row orientation. He made my inner wine geek come alive.
Although McGrail produces a variety of wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon – we primarily focused on the estate-grown and produced Cabernet Sauvignon during our tasting experience in the barrel room of the winery. The best part of the visit was that we had the opportunity to taste Cabernet Sauvignon aged in Hungarian, American, and French oak to show the effect that various oak choices have on the wine. McGrail typically ages their Cabernet Sauvignons 30 months in oak.
Our first Cabernet Sauvignon was the 2010 A Jo Elet, which means The Good Life in Hungarian. This wine was big and bold, with lots of blackberry, plum, baking spices, and tannins. The second was the 2011 The Patriot, aged in American oak. It exhibited aromas and flavors of plum on the front of the palate, black cherry and vanilla mid-palate, and firm (but softer than the A Jo Elet) tannins on the finish. Next, we tasted the 2007 James Vincent, which Mark fondly called the shizzle. This wine was aged in French oak. It was smooth and supple, with great structure and tannins, and aromas and flavors of blackberry and plum. As Mark noted, wine is a living thing, and continues to develop in the bottle. Our final wine of the tasting was the 2011 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, aged in a blend of barrel types. I tasted red berries on the front of my palate, rich black fruit mid-palate, then substantial tannins on the finish.
This visit was by far the best vineyard tour and tasting I’ve experienced to date. Mark Clarin is a gifted winemaker and teacher. His passion for winemaking and his love of Livermore Valley make a tour and tasting at McGrail Vineyards an unforgettable experience.
Lastly, but certainly not least, I want to thank Visit Tri-Valley again for the opportunity to visit and the Livermore Valley Winegrowers Association for an outstanding slate of activities for this year’s Taste Our Terroir.
P.S. Mark, if you read this, that’s my water cup in your hand! This is the reason I was taking all the photos!
I hope that you will listen and remember that you can have anything you want, as long as you have the passion to move forward, you’re willing to work hard, and you’re willing to risk it all to live the life you desire.
Interview Link: The Move To Napa: Chatting with Elizabeth Smith
(Just a heads-up: It’s true that you can take the girl out of the South, but not take the South out of the girl!)
Love and wine for all!
No, it’s not a just a trip, but it’s a brand new life for me! Taking off the end of 2013 really allowed me to relax and open my heart and mind. When my part-time wine business employment ended, I didn’t panic, but just decided to breathe. I reached out to my wine and travel contacts to let them know I was seeking employment opportunities. Two responded. One was in the form of a text message: “Have you ever thought of moving to Napa?” Without hesitation, my intuition replied yes. Thus, my journey to Napa began.
I’ll be living in Napa and working full-time at a winery in St. Helena. I still have to pinch myself sometimes. However, when I look back at my recent past, from 2008 to the present, I can now see my path: wine business travel manager, my first wine moment, participation in virtual Twitter tastings, the start of my wine and travel blog, WSET courses, my first wine business job, and now this. I believe we all have a path of which we may not aware. To find it, just allow yourself be open to following your passion and trust your heart, your core, your gut, your intuition.