Celebrating #VAWineChat 50 and Founder Frank Morgan

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Photo courtesy of Frank Morgan and #VAWineChat

Those of you who have been following my writing for the past seven years know that I am relatively new to the wine industry and wine writing world. My first “wine moment” was in 2008. A couple of years later, I visited my first Virginia winery, and in 2011, I attended my first Wine Bloggers Conference held in Charlotteville, Virginia. It was at that conference that I truly discovered Virginia wine. In late 2013, #VAWineChat founder, Frank Morgan, invited me to participate in my first #VAWineChat. Here we are, five years and 50 episodes later. For this momentous occasion, Frank inteviewed Kirsty Harmon, winemaker at Blenheim Vineyards, Ampelographer Lucie Morton, winemaker Katie DeSouza of Casanel Vineyards and Winery, and Maya Hood White, Viticulturist and Assistant Winemaker at Early Mountain Vineyards. Those of us who participated tasted the following wines.

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2016 Chatham Vineyards Steel Fermented Chardonnay, Church Creek, Eastern Shore, SRP $20 (sample)
Although I lived in Virginia for over two decades, regretfully, I never had the chance to visit the Eastern Shore. This steel-fermented chardonnay was an ideal choice for my inaugural wine from this area. The boldness and ripeness of the fruit was surprising. I did not expect the palate to have what I call warm climate characteristics. What a clean, crisp, tropical delight.

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2017 Veritas Rosé, Monticello, SRP, $20 (sample)
A blend of cabernet franc, merlot, and touriga nacionale, this is a bone-dry rosé, a little weightier than some due to some neutral oak fermentation and aging. It is replete with red fruit flavors like strawberry and watermelon, but especially juicy, raspberry deliciousness, which popped on the nose and palate. This should be your go-to Virginia rosé this summer.

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2016 Blenheim Vineyards Cabernet Franc, Virginia, SRP $22 (sample)

Cabernet franc is one of my favorite varietal wines and especially when it hails from Virginia. I love the tart cherry, earthiness, and lower alcohol. What a delicate, lovely, and elegant wine. I am also a big fan of the screw cap closure. Only $22? Holy moly. I’ll take a case or three. Thank you, Blenheim, for the overdue, Virginia cabernet franc fix I was craving.

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2015 Casanel Vineyards and Winery Petit Verdot, Middlesburg, SRP $42 (sample)
Petit verdot is my other varietal wine sweetheart. I love it much more than cabernet sauvignon. (Don’t tell anyone here in Napa.) Flavors like blackberries, blueberries, and bitter chocolate dominate the palate. It is dark and delicious, but lower in alcohol than the West Coast versions, a veritable balance of depth and restraint. This is how petit verdot should be. Be still, my heart.

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Photo courtesy of Frank Morgan and #VAWineChat

Shortly after the event, I virtually sat down with Frank via email, who has become a great friend and supporter, to learn why he began #VAWineChat and what it really takes to pull off these tastings. Details about all 50 chats can be found at this link.

1. Congratulations on 50 episodes of #VAWineChat! Share with us the “#VAWineChat” history and story: when and how it began and why you created it.

Thank you!  I very much appreciate you (and everyone) who has participated and helped make Virginia Wine Chat successful. Although the first official Virginia Wine Chat episode was in early 2013, the idea for a monthly virtual tasting series focused on the wines and winemakers of Virginia came a couple years prior.  In 2011, I helped the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office organize several Twitter tastings to help raise awareness of local wines leading up to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville in July of that year. Those three or four Twitter tastings in early 2011 were more popular than I expected. I received a lot of positive feedback about the wines and requests for similar tastings focusing on Virginian wines. I started Virginia Wine Chat in early 2013 as a way to connect notable Virginia winemakers with online wine influencers (a group many local winemakers would not have connected with otherwise).

2. What has inspired you to continue producing episodes?

Good question. I continue with Virginia Wine Chat because I appreciate the time these tastings provide with local winemakers, learning more about their backgrounds, philosophies, and of course their wines. And, I like connecting them with wine folks who are curious and enthusiastic about Virginian wine. This is a labor of love for sure; I do not charge for organizing and hosting the ‘chats. With the cost of camera and mic and the time spent traveling to the wineries plus hotel if I stay over, my wine income statement is always in the red. 🙂 At some point, I would love to find a way to at least cover the cost of Virginia Wine Chat.  Perhaps one day…

3. Take us behind the scenes of #VAWineChat from start to finish, to give us an idea of the logistics involved in bringing together the producers, the wines, and the participants.

Thankfully there’s no shortage of local winemakers interested in connecting with curious and engaged wine folks online via Virginia Wine Chat. Logistics of scheduling a monthly Virginia Wine Chat — oy! Selecting a date that fits in to the winemaker’s schedule and my work travel schedule may be the biggest challenge.  Once a date is set, I reach out to a few regulars and a few new folks that have asked to participate. Confirming 10 — 12 online participants (and then re-re-reconfirming) on the given evening is time consuming. If the ‘chat includes a live winemaker interview (streamed live via the Va Wine Chat Ustream channel or via Twitch), I have to drive to the winery.  Since most wineries are located about 2 ½ hours from my home, I usually have to arrange a place to stay if I don’t drive back that late evening. Staying in the Charlottesville area, or points west, on Sunday evening means a 4am wake up call on Monday morning to drive home and to work by 8am.

4. What makes #VAWineChat different from other virtual tastings?

Virginia Wine Chat is the only virtual tasting series (that I know of) focused on the wines and winemakers of Virginia.  It’s one of the few online virtual tastings that is focused on a small, emerging region. With 50 monthly episodes complete, I believe Virginia Wine Chat is one of the the longest continually running virtual tastings in the wine world.

5. Any idea how many Virginia wineries have participated since the inception?

In total, we’ve had about 65 Virginia wineries and five cideries participate since 2013.  Some months we feature three to five different wineries or cideries.

6. Do you measure the success or impact of the chats? If so, how? Quantitatively and/or qualitatively?

Success is measured in several ways.  The first measure is logistics success: did all participants receive the wines on time; did I make it to the winery on time; did the winemaker I’m interviewing show up on time; is the internet connection at the winery strong enough for video feed? Positive comments from participants about the wines and engagement from the winemaker following the chats are a measure of success, though hard to quantify.  Articles written about the wines are another measure of success. Though the total number of tweets is not a measure of success, it is cool to see the #VaWineChat hashtag trending #1 or #2 on Twitter ahead of big events like football games or the latest political scandal.

7. Which chat(s) have been the most popular?

In terms of overall number of tweets, online engagement, and in-person attendees, the 50th episode featuring the Women of Virginia Wine was by far the most popular. A close second was the November 2017 ‘chat featuring Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Cider (where she announced Foggy Ridge would no longer produce cider under the Foggy Ridge Label).  The January 2017 ‘chat featuring Virginia cider was very popular as well.

8. Have any of the chats been controversial?

Not really.  Because the #VaWineChat hashtag usually trends on Twitter, we do get some interesting spam during the chats. Occasionally there is an attention-seeker in need of a fix but otherwise, no controversy.

9. Are the chats saved for later viewing?

I have recorded most of the 50 Virginia Wine Chat episodes.  I have posted a few for viewing but am saving them to use as part of a larger project that’s been a few years in the making.  Stay tuned…

10. What is the future of #VAWineChat?

As Virginia Wine Chat has grown in popularity, I’ve received interest from wineries in other regions especially those in the eastern U.S.  Beginning last month, I expanded Virginia Wine Chat to include other notable eastern regions — like Maryland, New York, Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania.  I’ve named this series East Coast Wine Chat (#ECWineChat). The eastern U.S. as a ‘region’ is exciting and overlooked by most wine media.  I believe East Coast Wine Chat will bring (at least a little) much-needed attention to the many deserving winemakers growing world class wines the eastern U.S.  I have some really cool East Coast Wine Chats planned — like a focused discussion of east coast Cabernet Franc, Pet-Nats, and ciders — that I hope will foster some collaboration between winemakers in the the eastern U.S.

 

Greenwood Ridge Vineyards

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On the drive to the kickoff event at Greenwood Ridge Vineyards for my inaugural Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association Aromatic White Wine Festival, I was nervous. It was billed as a winemakers’ media dinner and was not sure what the dress code was. I finally decided to dress neatly, but also casually and warmly, because it was a cold, February night. Dressed in my comfort zone to mentally combat my first-time attendee jitters, I was ready to experience my first Anderson Valley winery.

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Founded in 1980 by Allan Green, Greenwood Ridge Vineyards is one of the original Anderson Valley wineries. Today, under the ownership of Wilson Artisan Wines, it still produces only around 1500 cases of premium wines, including riesling, late-harvest riesling, sauvignon blanc, merlot, pinot noir, and zinfandel.

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I parked my car and walked confidently to the famed, octagonal-shaped tasting room, designed by Allan’s father and associate of Frank Lloyd Wright, Aaron G. Green, and constructed from one, 400-year-old redwood tree. Someone outside immediately welcomed me and gave me a glass.

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As I opened the door and heard the friendly laughter and chatter, I felt a huge sigh of relief. Allan Green himself was pouring (and sipping) a vertical of aged rieslings from 1985, 1988, and 1996 (prices unknown), which were mind-blowingly delicious. More guests arrived, more wine appeared, and the noise level grew with lively conversation and music. Dinner was a fantastic barbecue buffet, not a fancy, sit-down dinner, and in that moment, I realized that the staff of Greenwood Ridge and the Anderson Valley producers in attendance were my kind of people.

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As the evening progressed, I found myself among friends, new and old. At some point, dinner turned into a party, and the crowd trickled outside into the cold, where we huddled near heaters and fire pits, sipping beautiful Anderson Valley wines and getting to know each other.

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When the cold air won, chilling me to the bone, I made my way back inside. My friend, Sommelier Christopher Sawyer, introduced me to Stacie Lynch, the winery’s manager, who warmed us up with a taste of the Jaxon Keys Winery & Distillery Jepson Signature Reserve Alambic Brandy ($395), simply exquisite.

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Next, she poured the exceptional 1999 Greenwood Ridge Mendocino Merlot (around $24 at release), another showstopper. I was smitten with both Greenwood Ridge and Stacie. She was a consummate host. And, as I was leaving, she gave me a couple of wines to take home, a 1995 Late Harvest Riesling (price unknown) and the 2016 Mendocino Ridge Riesling ($20). The former is awaiting a special occasion. My thoughts about the latter are below.

Rieslings

The Greenwood Ridge Vineyards 2016 Mendocino Ridge Riesling showcases how the cool, maritime influence of the nearby Pacific Ocean benefits grape growing. With only 1.6% residual sugar, this wine is a lovely, mouthwatering play of zippy acidity and delicate, ever-so-slight sweetness. Fruit flavors run the gamut from tropical to stone to tree to citrus, surprising and delighting the palate in every sip. Pair this riesling with nearly anything, but especially spicy Asian cuisine. I would also put a few bottles in the cellar for later, because if the 1985, 1988, and 1996 are any indication, this will be fantastic to try with age.

I have kept in touch with Stacie and she sent me a few more wines to taste. I am sure they will find their way into my heart, too, and be delectable reminders of my first visit to Greenwood Ridge Vineyards and Anderson Valley, a place that feels like a home away from home.

Top 90 Wine Blog List

Top 90 Wine Blogs 2018
I am excited to share that my website made Amsterdam Diary’s Top 90 Wine Blog List. This is the first list I have made since I re-branded, so this wonderful news. The author writes, “If you are looking for the perspective of a professional who specializes in wine, check out elizabethsmithconsulting.com. This website will open doors for you to a world you could never have imagined, and this is why it’s worth checking out.”
*CLICK HERE FOR THE LIST*

A Tale of Two Elizabeths and Bee Hunter Wine

Reception
Photo by Sommelier Christpher Sawyer (http://sawyersomm.com/)

As luck would have it, it was a very cold night for the kickoff reception and dinner at the 13th Annual Anderson Valley Aromatic White Wine Festival hosted by the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association. However, it was under the warmth of a heater, accompanied by delicious wine and food, where the two Elizabeths, one from Philo and one from Napa, would first meet and discuss the magic of their name, which comes from the Hebrew word, elīsheba`, meaning God is my oath.

Philo Elizabeth
The next day, Napa Elizabeth entered the festival’s grand tasting, and before her very eyes stood Philo Elizabeth (also known as Alisa or Ali Nemo) and her partner, winemaker André DuVigneaud (Andy), who beckoned her to taste two of the rieslings from Bee Hunter Wine, their winemaking project featuring a range of whites, a rosé, and reds from the hidden gem vineyards of Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. Like a bee is always hunting for the perfect garden, Bee Hunter, a word from Boonville’s own language dialect, Boontling, is always searching for lesser-known, sustainable, organic, and biodynamic vineyards from which to source their grapes.

Boont Berry
Napa Elizabeth’s mission: to find the festival’s perfect pairing for their 2015 Wiley Vineyard Riesling ($24), whose slight effervescence gave it a unique Pét-Nat or cider quality. She buzzed around the room (pun intended), stumbling up on the small plates prepared and served by Boont Berry Farm Store, which featured locally sourced foods like smoked salmon, turkey, avocado, mushroom, sweet onion, and cranberry. The winner: the plate that Andy fondly called “deconstructed Thanksgiving”, featuring the turkey, onions, mushroom, and cranberry cream cheese spread. Better grab this wine for your Thanksgiving table before it is gone.

Yorkville Highlands
The two Elizabeths would reunite that evening at Bee Hunter’s pop-up tasting at Aquarelle Catering & Events in Boonville. Napa Elizabeth tasted through their available portfolio and could not get enough, so returned once again the next day to discover that not only is Andy a winemaker, but he is a chef, making his own brisket sliders and BBQ tacos, surprising those who ventured in to taste. He made a special-order plate for Napa Elizabeth that fit her wellness lifestyle. The wine pairing: Bee Hunter’s take on Bordeaux, the Yorkville Highlands blend of 50% cabernet sauvignon and 50% merlot ($48), which showed off its higher-terrain terroir in unison with the rich, fatty brisket.

Pinot Noirs Together
Napa Elizabeth was sad to depart Boonville, but Philo Elizabeth said that she and Andy would be in Napa soon, the following Thursday, in fact, and the two reunited for a wine club pickup at Mumm Napa. As they said goodbye, Philo Elizabeth handed Napa Elizabeth two open samples, the 2014 Bee Hunter Mendocino Pinot Noir ($48) and the 2014 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir ($60). She returned home to taste with her cat, Einstein, by her side, and spoke to Philo Elizabeth and Andy via telephone the next day to get the rest of the story.

As always, your palate may vary.

Mendocino
2014 Bee Hunter Mendocino Pinot Noir
With grapes sourced from three vineyards in Mendocino County – Wiley, Docker, and Oppenlander – this wine is aged 20 months in a mix of 20-25% new, tighter grain, French oak barrels, and the remainder used one to four vintages. This oak regime, longer extraction time, and a blend of vineyard sources renders this wine very fruit forward and aromatic, a delight for even the most sensitive wine drinkers. A light garnet color in the glass, this wine shows juicy, sweet berry fruit like black cherry on the front of the palate, finishing with a tart berry mélange of redcurrant and cranberry with a backdrop of black tea.

Oppenlander

2014 Oppenlander Vineyard Pinot Noir
Made the same as the previous wine, but sourced from one vineyard, Oppenlander Vineyard, located just north of Anderson Valley and east of the coast, but close enough to enjoy the cool, foggy coastal influence, this pinot noir is the dark and brooding sibling to the Mendocino. A medium garnet in the glass, this wine is creamier, more weighty on the palate, and reveals an intense, brambly fruit profile of blackberry, blackcurrant, and black raspberry. The zingy acidity and spice are notable, the latter of which reminded me of my favorite cinnamon tea. If you spend any time with Philo Elizabeth and Andy, you may hear this wine referred to as “Guns & Kittens”, a throwback to their first vintage meeting with the growers in their 1860-era farmhouse and its plethora of vineyard kittens and 30 long guns, which precariously found themselves together in a closet during this fateful visit. The following year, one of the vineyard kittens, Baxter, found a home with Philo Elizabeth and Andy, joining family members Cleo and Puff.

Thankfully for us, this is only the beautiful beginning of the tale of two Elizabeths and Bee Hunter Wine. Visit their website, where you can purchase wine, learn about their Bee Hunter Brand Ambassadorship program, book a tasting event, or become a Bee Hunter club member yourself. Stay tuned and always bee huntin’.

Cheers!
Napa Elizabeth

 

 

2017: My Year of Challenge, Transformation, and Love

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(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

Drizly
2017 Top Shelf Blogger Holiday Gift Guide

Snooth
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!
Beth

Wines for All Seasons

As the weather and seasons change, consumers seize the opportunity to enjoy what wine experts call seasonal wines. However, I am of the belief that wines do not have to be seasonal in nature. I enjoy food-friendly, versatile wines that fit all seasons. From classic varieties like Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Riesling to less familiar varieties like Malagouzia, Pinot Blanc, and Xinomavro, there’s something for everyone: both still and sparkling wines at varying price points, all highly rated by some of the world’s renowned wine critics.
*CLICK HERE TO READ*

My First Writing Award!

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Today something incredible happened. I still cannot believe it, but I won my first writing award.

I have always loved writing. I am a much better writer than a public speaker. It is my communication method of choice. As a child, I kept a diary, under lock and key, of course, and as a young adult, I kept a journal for many years. When I was in sixth grade, I wrote my first book in a spiral notebook. Sadly, I do not know what happened to my book. I still have dreams of writing a book about my life of reinvention and transformation.

My experience in professional writing originated during my years as a graduate student and community college professor. I wrote many papers, in French, as a master’s degree student. As a doctoral student, I wrote class papers and my dissertation. As a college professor, I wrote articles for academic journals.

I began this blog June 16, 2011, not having any formal wine knowledge. However, what I lacked in experience, I made up for in my passion to write and my thirst for learning.

Today, I was both honored and surprised to be the winner of 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 could not be any happier than I am in this moment. Thank you, readers, and all of the media outlets who have given me the opportunity to write. It is in practice that I become a better writer.

Love,
Beth