2017: My Year of Challenge, Transformation, and Love

(Source: https://www.askideas.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/Happy-New-Year-Jumping-From-2017-To-2018.jpg)

When asked to describe my 2017 in one word, my immediate response has been challenging. The first things that come to mind are the sudden death of my mother in January (Obscurity Thwarted), an unexpected tax bill in March, my health scares in January and May-June, then the Napa and Sonoma wildfires in October (A TWC Update: 2017, wildfires, recognition, and Villa Maria).

I decided to reread my website articles from the past year and categorize them. I realized that despite the challenges, I live a simple, charming life here in the Napa Valley. It is not easy living solo in a place far away from my real home, which in my heart will always be the East Coast.

I have enjoyed and shared with you some amazing wine and winery experiences this year, such as:

Villa Maria Estate: The Beth’s Smart Sip Trifecta!
4th of July Cookout Wine of the Moment: 2014 Antigal Uno Cabernet Sauvignon
2011 Lieb Cellars Reserve Blanc de Blancs: My Lake Tahoe Wine of the Moment
2016 Bridge Lane Chardonnay: My Wine of the Moment and Beth’s Smart Sip
The Comstock Experience
Webster Cellars Reserve: My Wine of the Moment
She Said, He Said: 2017 ZAP Zinfandel Experience
You had me at aphrodisiac!

Most importantly, I transformed myself by losing 87 pounds in 10 months and have maintained this healthy, fit lifestyle for five months and counting. I finally loved myself enough to take care of me, so that I may give to you my best self. This transformation is my second lease on life. Many of you have contacted me with your encouragement and stories inspired by my success, so I created a separate website which focuses on this journey, Napa Fit Girl. I share my thoughts about wine and health here, too, though:

#MWWC33: Once Upon A Time
Translation, Passion, and Transformation

I am truly honored to be recognized by wine writing mentors, winning a Born Digital Wine Award in the category of Best Tourism Content with a Focus on Wine for my piece, Lodi: Beyond the Zinfandel. I still cannot believe I won. Thank you to all of you who read and support my writing.

My website was also recognized by 10greatest.com as a top wine blog.

In 2017, I contributed to five other outlets: basil & salt magazine, Drizly, Snooth, American Winery Guide, and Cellar Angels. I did not realize I had published so much. In fact, all year I have been feeling guilty for not doing more. I accepted fewer wine samples due to my lifestyle change, and instead, opted for more wine destination experiences, which I prefer. Through my words, you and I visited East Coast destinations such as Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York. You accompanied me on my travels to Amador, El Dorado, Napa, Placer, San Joaquin, Santa Barbara, and Sonoma Counties in California. By way of my palate, I took you to Argentina, Chile, France, Italy, New York, and New Zealand. I wrote about my favorite wine movie, my philosophy about tasting notes, and craft beer. Below are my articles for these other outlets, in case you missed them. I was much more prolific than I imagined.

basil & salt magazine
Wines for All Seasons
GoatHouse Brewing
Taste Maryland!
A Moment with Viticulturist, Vintner, and Winemaker David Parrish

2017 Top Shelf Blogger Holiday Gift Guide

Hudson-Chatham Winery Chelois
Maryland Wine: It’s Time!
Much Ado About Tasting Notes
Beth’s Smart Sip: 2016 Crowded House Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, New Zealand
My Wine Movie Moment: French Kiss
Wine Destination: Chester County, Pennsylvania
Gender, no. Vermentino, yes.
Hudson-Chatham Baco Noir
Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaïque NV

American Winery Guide
Hudson-Chatham Winery in Troy, New York
Ackerman Family Vineyards
The Red Hook Winery
Bella Grace Vineyards, Sutter Creek
Comstock Wines
Boeger Winery
Robert Biale Vineyards
Lightning Wines
Hudson-Chatham Tannersville
Hendry Ranch Wines
DaVero Farms and Winery
William Harrison Vineyards and Winery
Crocker & Starr
Dutton-Goldfield Winery

Cellar Angels
2014 Zoetic Wines Grazioso Sauvignon Blanc

In light of all that I have accomplished and enjoyed throughout the year, I have changed my one word to describe 2017. The new word is love: self-love, love of the written word, love of wine experiences, love of travel, and love for you, my readers.

I wish for you in 2018 the kinds of love I have discovered this year in the face of great challenges. May 2018 be our best year yet.

Happy New Year!

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.

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!”

#MWWC18: Crisis

#MWWC18 Winner!
#MWWC18 Winner!

It was one week into the start of classes, fall semester 2012, when human resources contacted me to set up a meeting. As soon as the meeting was requested, my gut told me it wasn’t good. I told my teaching colleagues about the meeting and said, “I’m going to be let go.” They all flatly denied it. I mean, after all, I had taught there my entire career, with stellar annual evaluations. I taught two languages, I was Faculty Senate President, and I was well known across Virginia as an innovator and leader, being one of the first faculty members to teach nontraditional courses via compressed video, then later, online.

Although three years have passed, I still remember sitting in the office with the Director of Human Resources, the Vice President of Instruction, and the President. He handed me the letter saying my position was being eliminated due to a budgetary reduction in force effective December 15, 2012, while mumbling something like, “You are a great instructor, let us know if you need any help finding another job, blah, blah, blah.” The Vice President started crying, which caused me to tear up a bit. Then the President said, “I hope you don’t think I’m the Grim Reaper,” and I thought, “Of course, I think you’re the Grim Reaper!” I left the meeting in a daze and called one of my colleagues and said, “I was right.” Oddly enough, though, I felt a sense of relief, although I had just lost my “forever job.”

Formally learning to taste wine
Formally learning to taste wine

The next four months were the most difficult. I was going through the motions, trying to keep my students from finding out. I needed distractions and I’d thought about taking some wine certification courses to validate my wine writing on this blog. I did some research and found out a way to take both the Foundation and Intermediate levels of Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s (WSET) wine courses during that final semester of teaching. I took the Level 1 Foundation as a day course at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, North Carolina, then the Level 2 Intermediate course online through WSET London, as facilitated by phillywine.com.

Wine Tasting in Mendoza, Argentina
Wine Tasting in Mendoza, Argentina

I poured myself into wine writing, tasting, and traveling, landing a gig as a wine and travel contributor to Plum Deluxe. I continued as a home-based travel agent, providing travel management services to a handful of wine businesses. I also hosted wine tastings at my local wine shop on weekends. I traveled and wine tasted around the world: Napa and Sonoma (California), the Finger Lakes (New York), the Boston Wine Expo, Northern Virginia, Lake Chelan (Washington), Okanagan (British Columbia), Mendoza (Argentina), and Portland (Oregon). Little did I know that this crisis would also propel me into a part-time job as an executive assistant for Preston-Layne & Partners, Inc. (wine sales) and Magnum Wines International, LLC (wine importer). At the end of 2013, one of my wine business travel clients texted me, “Have you ever thought of moving to Napa?” My immediate response was yes, and in January 2014, I moved to start my new career in the wine business. I also took and passed with merit WSET’s Level 3 Advanced course via home study, which in retrospect, was crazy to do my first 16 weeks after a cross-country move and a new career.

Who’d a thunk it? Wine saved my life. Literally. Crisis averted.

This post was the winning entry for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #18 (#MWWC18), as described here. To read other entries, click here. Thank you for your support of writers!

Horseback Riding as a Metaphor for Life

The horseback riding group
The horseback riding group

If you wish to be expressed, if you wish to live in your purpose, if you wish to Love and be Loved to the fullest – then become friends with uncertainty. See your life as an experiment in uncertainty. See your life as a giant dare to The Divine – you weren’t made to fall. You weren’t made to fail. You were made to learn. To Love and to pick yourself back up. Erase failure from your vocabulary. It was a lesson. Erase self-doubt from your mind. You have no idea how amazing and powerful you are when you are connected to your Source. Step into uncertainty today and a little bit every day. This is how an epic life is lived. ~ Mastin Kipp, The Daily Love

The past year and a half has been one of great loss and change. With moving forward comes an increased awareness of who you are and who you want to become.

Chocolate and me
Chocolate and me

I give beyond means and love endlessly. I share more of myself with others than I receive in return. I am also very cautious and controlled. I thrive on excellence to the extent that I am an overachiever and a perfectionist. However, in my recent personal journey, I have been letting go more: throwing caution to the wind, being more spontaneous, and learning that perfectionism is a hindrance to success, not a help.

View of the Andes on the way to the ranch
View of the Andes on the way to the ranch

Therefore, when I had the opportunity for a horseback riding adventure at La Quebrada del Cóndor in the Potrerillos area of the Andes, Villa Tupungato, on my recent trip to Mendoza, Argentina with Uncorking Argentina, I had mixed emotions. The former me and the new me were battling for control. Should I say no or should I let go? Then I thought, “When will I ever have this opportunity again? DO IT!” My heart won over my head, but it was not without doubt and hesitation.

The ranch
The ranch

You see, I’ve only ridden horses twice in my life: once when I was a fearless kid and once when I was an adult. The adult experience was traumatic because out of the blue, the horse backed me into some thorny bushes and tried to throw me off its back. The guide didn’t help, so my boyfriend struggled to get me off the horse in time. That was 16 years ago.

My horse, Chocolate
My horse, Chocolate

As we drove to the ranch, I became more and more nervous and uncomfortable. In this moment, I thought about my favorite website, The Daily Love, and how readers are taught that success comes when you are most uncomfortable. I forged ahead with my decision. “Uncomfortable is good,” I repeated to myself. I was almost numb as one of the guides put chaps on my legs. The time came for me to get on my horse, Chocolate (pronounced choh-koh-lah-teh in Spanish), and again, I needed the assistance of Eduardo, one of the guides. Finally we were off on a three-hour journey through the Cordón del Plata. The ride was unparalleled and will remain one of the top five experiences of my life, a combination of exhilaration, fear, trust, adrenaline, natural beauty, and the human and animal connection.

Cori, me, and one of our amazing guides
Horseback riding in the Andes, Mendoza, Argentina

At one point, we decided to head up to one of the highest peaks. The horses balked as it was the path least taken, just like we humans often do when confronted with change. The route was treacherous because of snow melt and mud. The horses stopped dead in their tracks with a few colliding into each other. A few of us were stuck on the side of the slippery slope. I closed my eyes and conceded my fate to faith and trust. At this moment, Eduardo appeared and led each of us and our horses to safer ground. Like life at its lowest point, there’s nowhere to go but up if you just let go, breathe, trust, and allow faith lead you back to light and joy.

The view from 3000 meters (approx 10,000 feet)
The view from 3000 meters (approx 10,000 feet)

We continued our journey without further incident. We made it to an elevation of about 3000 meters (approximately 10,000 feet) and we all felt like we were on top of the world, both literally and figuratively. The ride back to the ranch was downhill and easy in every sense of the word. I felt blissful and calm as I let go even more and gave my complete trust to Chocolate, Juan Martín, and Eduardo.

The asado
The asado

Upon our return, we had a grand celebration with a scrumptious asado (Argentine barbecue) prepared by Cato, one of the owners, and his team. I had no idea that my emotional, mental, and physical journey would make me so hungry and thirsty for food, drink, and adventure.