Brunch with Friends: Sparkling Wines and Healthy Food Choices for All Budgets

2018-09-29 11.30.29For many, brunch is the earliest meal of the day when alcoholic beverages are deemed socially acceptable. It often conjures up images of Mimosas and Bloody Marys and calorie-laden breakfast and lunch foods, because after all, brunch is two meals rolled into one. People who brunch usually have limitless finances to spend on this leisurely and lavish, decadent meal. However, what if brunch were both more, and less, than that? What would happen if we envisioned brunch as a warm, casual meal for everyone, an educational experience, even a healthy approach to eating and drinking? The latter is the approach that friend, chef, and photographer, Gary Monday, decided to pursue when we planned our intimate brunch with friends.

Both Gary and I have been through major lifestyle changes in our lives, which have resulted in great weight losses and improved health and fitness. We both have learned which foods are good for our bodies. We also both discovered a passion for sparkling wines as standalone or food wines. They are lighter in style, lower in alcohol, available for all budgets, and fit with our newfound lifestyles.

With this vision, I invited sparkling wine producers to contribute to our brunch. We received seven wines at all price points from Italy, California, Michigan, and Virginia. Suggested retail prices ranged from $17 per bottle to $55 per bottle and case production ran the gamut from 109 cases to 240,000 cases. The samples included wines made both in the traditional and charmat methods, the difference being secondary fermentation in the bottle or tank. The wines were made from a variety of grapes: chardonnay, chardonel, glera, muscat, and pinots – noir, gris, and meunier.

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Gary created a menu that he called Southern/Pacific Northwest infused food, a nod to both his North Carolina roots and current home in Seattle. His expenses were around $110 to feed six people, a brunch bargain. Food included bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers; grilled pork loin and salmon; a kale, citrus, and pomegranate salad; a fresh fruit bowl; and biscuits and gravy. Since Gary is dairy free, he made dairy-free sausage gravy and purchased vegan biscuits from Redwing Café in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, along with making traditional milk-based sausage gravy and buttermilk biscuits. While all the food was amazing, the attendees delightfully discovered that the standouts were perhaps the healthiest foods: the grilled salmon; the kale, citrus, and pomegranate salad; the Redwing Café vegan biscuits; and the dairy-free gravy.

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Gary learned the kale recipe in a dairy-free cooking class taught by Danielle Premo. Perfect for brunches and holidays, ingredients included kale from Full Circle – a community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery company – clementine oranges, pomegranate seeds, candied pecans, and Danielle’s dressing made from orange juice, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The kale is massaged with the dressing, left to sit for 15 minutes, then the clementine orange slices and pomegranate seeds added. The finished salad is garnished with the candied pecans. The beauty of this salad is that it can be prepared ahead of time without the kale becoming soggy. In fact, the flavors integrate the longer they are together.

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For the dairy-free sausage biscuit gravy, Gary used the drippings from cooking bacon, sausage, and pork loins. He added all-purpose flour and cooked on medium heat until he had a thick paste in the pan. He introduced unsweetened cashew milk slowly until the desired consistency was achieved. He reduced the stove to low heat for simmering and thickening, stirring continuously, while adding salt and pepper to taste.

Gary bought vegan biscuits from Redwing Café, which specializes in healthy food options. I contacted the owners to ask what makes these biscuits vegan and they explained that they use olive oil and hemp milk in place of butter and buttermilk. After tasting these, I may never have another traditional biscuit again.

2018-09-29 11.03.47One of our brunch guests was Rhonda Hamlin, biscotti maker and owner of The Art of Crunch. As the dessert finale, in honor of National Biscotti Day, she contributed samples of her handcrafted biscotti, including a special test flavor for all of us to try and contribute our input as to the final recipe. It is not often I veer off my strict eating path, but these biscotti were a delicious way to conclude our brunch. To learn more about The Art of Crunch, visit this link to read my interview with Rhonda.

The beverage stars of our brunch were the seven sparkling wine samples we received. As an educational tasting experiment, we gave our guests an index card for each wine and asked that they take notes on the wines they enjoyed the most and with which foods, then we discussed the results. Below are our collective thoughts.

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Photo by Adami Vigneto Giardino

2017 Adami Vigneto Giardino Asciutto Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Rive di Colbertaldo, SRP $22, 3700 cases produced
Across the board, our brunch attendees chose this wine as one of their top wines of the day, two writing “#1” and “Favorite! <3” on their index cards. In fact, someone said, “I didn’t know Prosecco could taste like this!” This floral, fruity, and spicy sparkling wine made from 100% glera, charmat method, was mesmerizing. It was also one of the most versatile food wines, pairing well with nearly everything, especially the fruit salad, biscuits with raspberry jam, even Rhonda’s biscotti.

Enrico Serafino Rose' 3
Photo by Enrico Serafino

2015 Enrico Serafino Brut Rosé Alta Langa DOCG, SRP $26, 5000 cases produced
This Brut Rosé, made from 100% pinot nero (noir) in the traditional method, was light in color, but big on flavor, exhibiting clean, bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors cradled in yeastiness. A hint of sweetness was beautifully offset by mouthwatering acidity. This wine was a perfect match for our kale salad.

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Photo by Frank Family Vineyards

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, SRP $55, 500 cases produced
This is wine that our attendees said tasted “the most like Champagne.” Made in the traditional method and hand riddled, the Blanc de Blancs was the elegant, grande dame of our brunch. Fine mousse, brioche, and freshly cut, tart apples dominated the palate of this lovely 100% chardonnay sparkler, which was the preferred pairing with grilled salmon and pork loin.

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Photo by Frank Family Vineyards

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Brut Rosé, Carneros, 2014 SRP $55, 1000 cases produced
I admit, I jumped the gun when I tasted this wine, exclaiming that it was my favorite. I am Brut Rosé gal through and through, and this blend of Carneros-grown 88% pinot noir and 12% chardonnay did not disappoint, bursting with red berries and a pleasantly creamy mouthfeel. One of our guests wrote, “Love it! This is great all by itself!” Our favorite food pairings were strawberries, the kale salad, and biscuits with raspberry jam. Click here to read how this wine gives back during the month of October.

Mawby
Photo by L. Mawby/M. Lawrence

NV L. Mawby/M. Lawrence Sex, Michigan, SRP $17, 246 cases produced
With a name like Sex and a price point of $17, how could you not like this wine? This sparkler, a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and muscat, was dry and crisp, with an interesting juxtaposition of cotton candy and white grapefruit on the palate, making it a fantastic accompaniment to fresh fruit. Exclaiming, “Yes, yes, yes!”, we drank every drop of this wine. Of course, it left us wanting more.

Mumm
Photo by Mumm Napa Valley

NV Mumm Brut Prestige, Napa Valley, SRP $24, 240,000 cases produced
If you want a sparkling wine that consistently delivers palate-pleasing flavors and is and affordable enough to drink anytime you feel like bubbles, Mumm is the wine for you. A blend of 45% chardonnay, 45% pinot noir, and 10% pinot gris and meunier, Mumm’s signature wine is made in the traditional method. On the palate, think pears with a honeyed quality, coupled with soft effervescence. The Brut Prestige complemented rich foods like bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers, biscuits and gravy, and grilled salmon. With a quarter of a million cases produced, Mumm is most likely available right around the corner from you.

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Photo by Gary Monday

2016 Rosemont of Virginia Brut, Virginia, SRP $25, 109 cases produced
This wine was the most unique of all the wines we tasted. The only brut nature (no dosage) of the lineup and made from 100% chardonel (a cross between chardonnay and Seyval) using the charmat method, this wine showed zingy, citrus fruit flavors like white grapefruit, lemon, and lime. The bone dryness and racy acidity cut through the fattiest foods, like bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers, sausage gravy, and grilled salmon. This vintage is sold out, but next year’s vintage will be released in early 2019.

Bella Grace Vineyards, Sutter Creek

Bella Grace Sutter Creek

During the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference in Lodi, California, I had the great pleasure of meeting Stephen Havill of Bella Grace Vineyards. During one of the conference lunches, he led me over to his table where he was pouring some of their wines. After tasting a few, I was immediately smitten and knew I had to plan a visit to Bella Grace in Amador County’s Sierra Foothills.

*CLICK HERE TO READ*

Boeger Winery 2014 Pinot Grande Pinot Noir

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2014 Boeger Pinot Grande Pinot Noir (photo by Boeger Winery)

A couple of months ago, I had the chance to visit Boeger Winery in El Dorado County, California, and taste with vintner Greg Boeger himself. I fell in love the winery and the wines. Thus, when asked to recommend a holiday meal wine under $30 for a recent Snooth article, the 2014 Pinot Grande Pinot Noir Reserve, El Dorado ($25) was the obvious choice.

*CLICK HERE TO READ*

Lodi: Beyond the Zinfandel

Beyond the Zinfandel
Beyond the Zinfandel

The Opportunity
When I was invited by Visit Lodi to spend a weekend there, I jumped at the chance. I love to travel. I also love dispelling stereotypes and delving into a new place. When Lodi is mentioned, often people think zinfandel. Lodi is more than that. It offers a plethora of wines, food, and activities for everyone. Join me while I take you behind the wine and beyond the zinfandel.

Highway 12 Diner
Hwy 12 Diner

The Trip
Travel to Lodi from Napa is nearly a direct route by way of California Highway 12, with a few miles overlapping with Interstate 80. Once outside of Fairfield and Suisun City, Highway 12 is quite barren except for what I would call fields of wind turbines, the Shiloh Wind Power Plant. For miles, all you see are turbines. At the closest point, they appear ominous, yet also hypnotic. About halfway between Fairfield and Lodi is Rio Vista, suitably named due to its location on the Sacramento River and gateway to the Sacramento–San Joaquin River (California) Delta. It was home to my food stop that day at the also fittingly named Hwy 12 Diner, where I enjoyed an inexpensive breakfast for lunch. The next 25 miles were a bit more interesting with occasional bridges crossing the delta’s waterways. Upon my arrival to Lodi, I was surprised to discover that it is larger than I thought, with a population of around 60,000 people, not too much smaller than Napa or my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. After checking into my hotel, I decided to see if Lodi had Uber as a transportation option. It did. My driver originated in nearby Stockton to take me only a few miles, where my adventure began at the Downtown Visitor Center.

Welcome to Lodi!
Welcome to Lodi!

The Downtown
Downtown Lodi is on the cusp of change, with one foot in history and the other stepping forward into the future. The city’s reawakening began in the 1990s and continues today, yet it still retains a very charming feel. As my group walked around our first evening, the birthplace of A&W Root Beer captivated us with its blend of past and present. My advice to the city of Lodi is to not lose this balance of quaintness and progress because at this moment, it feels like home.

Tyler, the captain of our boat!
Tyler, the captain of our boat!

The Outdoors
I was not a very good Girl Scout when I was a young girl. I never went to summer camp and only spent one required overnight in a tent for a badge of some sort, which was enough for me. I also sunburn very easily. My idea of the outdoors is relaxing on a patio sipping wine. Visit Lodi gave us the choice to go kayaking or tour on a covered boat, so of course, I opted for the latter. We accompanied the kayaking part of the group for an hour and a half tour of Lodi Lake and the Mokelumne River while we sipped sparkling wine from local producers under the helm of our outstanding captain, Tyler.

Yes, there's a Sip Shuttle selfie stick!
Yes, there’s a Sip Shuttle selfie stick!

The Ride
Driving in Lodi is easy, but if you plan to visit a few of Lodi’s wineries, look no further than Sip Shuttle, the brain child of Lodi native, Taylor Kininmonth. With Sip Shuttle, you “sip back and enjoy the ride,” without having to figure out directions or worrying about driving if you have tasted too many wines. During our afternoon with Taylor, we were nothing short of impressed with her service, her hospitality, and her kindness. However, I did warn Taylor that her business is going to blow up, which brought a wide smile to her face as she said, “I hope so.”

The Food
Visit Lodi introduced me to two notable food experiences, Smack Pie Pizza and a winemaker dinner at Oak Farm Vineyards.

Smack Pie Pizza deliciousness!
Smack Pie Pizza deliciousness!

Local favorite Smack Pie Pizza was a great way to kick off the weekend, with its casual, relaxed atmosphere. Guests create customized pizzas or choose from a few house favorites. The pizzas are made from scratch in front of you while you watch and wait. The beers on tap serve as the ideal beverage pairings.

The third course of our winemaker dinner
The third course of our winemaker dinner

The winemaker dinner at Oak Farm Vineyards exceeded my expectations. It began with a pairing of exquisite cheeses from Cheese Central and award-winning wines from Oak Farm Vineyards, led by their respective owners, Cindy Della Monica and Dan Panella. The delectable food and wine pairings continued with a four-course catered meal by Chef Warren K. Ito. From chilled scallops ceviche, to smoked quail, to braised prime beef and prime rib, to limoncello-soaked pound cake, Chef Ito and Dan Panella left no stone unturned with this best of Lodi food and wine extravaganza.

Talking with Kathy Mettler at Harney Lane
Talking with Kathy Mettler at Harney Lane

The Wine
In Lodi, grape growing and winemaking are king. Lodi produces more wine than any other appellation in California with around 116,000 acres planted to vine. The Mediterranean climate, cooled by the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta breezes, coupled with mineral-rich, diverse soil types, makes Lodi ideal for grape growing. Its 85+ wineries, some under the leadership of fourth- and fifth-generation winegrowers, craft wines under 450 brands. It’s true that Lodi is home to 40% of California’s old-vine zinfandel, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. During my visit, I had the good fortune to taste wines from four wineries – Mettler Family Vineyards, Harney Lane Winery, Bokisch Vineyards, and Oak Farm Vineyards – all of whom showcased the breadth and depth that is today’s Lodi wine. We sampled a few zinfandels, but also albariño, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, garnacha, garnacha blanca, graciano, merlot, monastrell, petite sirah, sauvignon blanc, Tievoli (Oak Farm Vineyards’ proprietary blend of zinfandel, barbera and petite sirah), verdejo, and verdelho. I was dazzled by the variety and quality of Lodi wines. Most wineries here are still family owned and operated. Many also began as farms, selling their grapes to other producers in California including Napa and Sonoma. For some, crafting their own wine is relatively new, like Harney Lane, who’s only been making wines under their own label since 2006. In fact, Harney Lane still sells 94% of their grapes, while retaining only 6% for their own brand. As Kathleen (Kathy) Mettler, the matriarch of Harney Lane, told us during our visit, “First and foremost, we are farmers.” It’s this farming tradition and entrepreneurial spirit, now captured in every bottle of wine, that makes Lodi a must-visit wine destination.

The view at Bokisch Vineyards
The view at Bokisch Vineyards

The Experience
From the moment I arrived at the Downtown Visitor Center until I checked out of my hotel two days later, I felt welcomed by the people of Lodi. At every venue we visited, everyone was genuinely nice and very proud of what Lodi has to offer. By the end of the weekend, I realized I had made new friends as well as found a new weekend getaway spot. From my perspective, Lodi is one of the most underrated areas in California. It has small-town allure, a beautiful California delta locale, scrumptious food, and first-class wines at a fraction of the cost of some of California’s other wine appellations. If you’re looking for a destination that has it all, visit Lodi and be prepared to fall in love beyond the zinfandel.

Trousseau Gris: New To Me

#MWWC, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge
#MWWC, Monthly Wine Writing Challenge

A few years ago, I became a member of the Wine Century Club, which requires that one taste wines made from 100 different grape varieties. I was new to wine and became fanatical about buying and tasting atypical varietal wines. One variety that did not make my first 100 list was trousseau gris, a relatively unknown grape variety that thrives in cool climates. A mutation of trousseau noir, trousseau gris is believed to have originated in the Alsace-Lorraine area of eastern France. Today, along with trousseau noir, it is one of a few varieties produced in the Jura wine region of France located between Burgundy and Switzerland, along with chardonnay, pinot noir, poulsard, and savagnin. In the past, trousseau gris, known as grey riesling, was more widely found in California until it waned in popularity. Today in California, it is only available from a 40-year-old, 10-acre vineyard block, the organically-farmed Fanucchi Wood Road Vineyard in the Russian River Valley appellation of Sonoma County.

The Century Club Seal (http://www.winecentury.com/)
The Century Club Seal (http://www.winecentury.com/)

A few producers in California, such as Jolie-Laide, Two Shepherds, Wind Gap, and Zeitgeist, have rediscovered this rare grape and sourced it from Fanucchi. My friend, winemaker and owner Cynthia (Cindy) Cosco of Passaggio Wines, whose wines I have reviewed previously, told me that trousseau gris had been on her radar for a while, but she was unable to acquire any of the fruit. Finally in 2015, she had the opportunity to purchase a ton of this trousseau gris and she seized it. For those who are not familiar with Cindy’s wines, she is primarily known for her whites and rosés produced in stainless steel, along with a few reds produced in neutral oak, so trousseau gris was an ideal addition to her portfolio.

First Draft of the Tasting List
First Draft of the Tasting List

I had the opportunity to taste the 2015 Passaggio Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley ($31, Stelvin closure), Sunday, February 28, before its release next month. I tasted it along with Cindy’s upcoming and current releases to assist her in ordering the wines by aroma and flavor for the new tasting menu. The spring lineup of wines is fantastic, but I was particularly intrigued by the trousseau gris, as this would a new grape for me. It would be my first taste. The grapes were harvested August 24, 2015 at 24.5 brix, another early harvest in Sonoma County due to a warm, dry growing season. As soon as the grapes arrived at the winery, they were gently pressed, with no prolonged skin contact. The juice settled overnight and later was racked off gross lees. The juice was cold fermented and the wine aged in stainless steel for approximately five months, with bottling taking place February 20, 2016. Only 48 cases were produced.

2015 Passaggio Wines Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley
2015 Passaggio Wines Trousseau Gris, Russian River Valley

The 2015 vintage in Sonoma County produced less fruit, but offered tiny, concentrated berries, which makes this trousseau gris pop with perfumed aromatics and intense flavors. Pale yellow in the glass, this wine is fragrant, textured, and spicy, reminiscent of gewürztraminer. Complex fruit flavors run the gamut from citrus to stone to tropical fruits, including a mélange of apricot, grapefruit, melon, white peach, and tangerine. This wine also showcases the minerality of Fanucchi’s unique terroir and exhibits cool-climate acidity. I immediately imagined this pairing well with spicy Asian cuisine.

Tasting the Passaggio Wines Spring 2016 Wine Lineup
Tasting the Passaggio Wines Spring 2016 Wine Lineup

I tasted many wines that day, including the new rosés, merlot and tempranillo, as well as Passaggio’s first chenin blanc and familiar favorites, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc. The trousseau gris found its place near the end of the new tasting menu of spring wines due to its sheer power on nose and palate and its uncommon and noteworthy expression. Sunday, February 28, 2016 will remain in my memory as the day I finally tasted trousseau gris, a new grape for me and maybe for many of you, too. I am excited for the official release on Saturday, April 2, 2016.

*This post is my entry for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #23, #MWWC23, as described by wine writer Jeff Kralik of The Drunken Cyclist at this link. Voting begins Tuesday, March 8 and ends Monday, March 14. You may vote at this link. Thank you for reading and for your support of wine writers.*

Cheers!
Beth

 

In My Glass: East Coast and West Coast in the House

Playing in Napa Valley's February mustard!
Playing in Napa Valley’s February mustard!

My life as I know it is about to change for one month. I am preparing to process the largest wine club I have ever managed. It means long hours and long work weeks. I am putting my personal life on hold for at least two to four weeks to see this through successfully, so if I am unable to post next month that is why. Wish me luck!

Below are some wines – both East Coast and West Coast – that have been in my glass these past few weeks (and months) that merit a mention before February ends. As always, your palate may vary.

2013 Williamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir
2013 Williamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir

I tasted the 2013 Williamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir ($30) a couple of months ago and shared my review on Delectable, but forgot to share it here. Light ruby-garnet in color and medium bodied, this wine is fruit forward, exhibiting aromas and flavors of cherry, cranberry, and plum. The finish is cinnamon spicy with tangy acidity. Drink now and for the next four or five years. (sample)

2012 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc
2012 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc

Here’s another wine that I reviewed on Delectable, but failed to post on my blog. The 2012 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Franc ($60), hand crafted from 100% organic, 100% estate fruit, is OMG amazing right now: super drinkable with blackberry, black cherry, black currant fruit, spice, and it’s oh-so-mouthwateringly juicy on the palate. The 2013 vintage will be released next week. There might still be some 2012 left, but not much. This was a tasting room sample that I brought home with me one day after work.

2011 Coquerel Wines Tempranillo
2011 Coquerel Wines Tempranillo

Tempranillo in Calistoga? Who’d a thunk it? The 2011 Coquerel Wines Tempranillo ($42) is like a taste of old school Napa Valley before it became the Cabernet Sauvignon darling of the world. If I were to pair this with a song, it would be Play that Funky Music by Wild Cherry, because that’s what you’ll get: a floral, funky nose with earthy, spicy, wild cherry and brambly raspberry on the palate. Its playful acid makes it delightfully easy to drink. Lay down the boogie and play that funky music till you die. (sample)

2013 Hudson-Chatham Field Stone Baco Noir Old Stones & Old Vines
2013 Hudson-Chatham Field Stone Baco Noir Old Stones & Old Vines

I was in a New York state of mind one evening and decided to open one of my favorite low-alcohol wines (12% ABV) crafted by Hudson-Chatham Winery, the 2013 Field Stone Baco Noir Old Stones & Old Vines, Masson Place Vineyards, Pulteney Farm. I also reviewed this one back in August 2015. It remains outstanding, an exceptional example of Baco Noir which expresses its Hudson-Berkshire Beverage Trail area roots, literally, with aromas and flavors of tart cherry and plum accompanied by crushed rock and earthy minerality, lingering spice, and juicy, mouthwatering acidity. Pair this with nearly any food and music, such as Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind or Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind. I purchased this bottle from the winery for $29.95.

2014 Horton Vineyards Viognier
2014 Horton Vineyards Viognier

I participated in #VAWineChat with Horton Vineyards and Frank Morgan of Drink What YOU Like recently. I rarely cook, but that night, I made spicy stir fry chicken accompanied by wasabi green peas. The pairing: 2014 Horton Vineyards Viognier, which is 5% petit mansang, a match with its floral aromatics and mouth-coating melon and tropical fruits. This wine was more voluptuous the second day, with intense fruit flavors running the gamut from citrus to stone to tropical and fantastic honeysuckle aromatics. That bit of petit mansang also goes a long way. This is great example of Virginia viognier, a top-notch wine for $20. (sample)

2014 Horton Vineyards Cabernet Franc
2014 Horton Vineyards Cabernet Franc

Another intriguing wine from Horton Vineyards, the 2014 Horton Vineyards Cabernet Franc is crafted from 79% cabernet franc, 14% tannat, and 7% merlot, giving it multiple personalities, if you will, that are still integrating. This wine is young and vibrant, showcasing a mélange of red and black fruit, firm tannins, spice, and pretty floral aromatics, all at a quaffable 13% alcohol. What a nice, everyday wine for only $15. This will improve with age and air, which will soften the youthful edges. If drinking now, please decant. (sample)

While March is going to be a challenging month, I am looking forward to some exciting spring and summer destinations: Seattle, Santa Ynez Valley (California), Vermont, and Lodi (California) twice. I will also continue to contribute to americanwineryguide.com and Snooth, whose links I will also share on this website.

Cheers!
Beth