The Delightful Story of Joe Juniper and Vermilion Valley Vineyards

Meeting and tasting with Joe Juniper at the 2018 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium

To be a wine farmer is to be a smile farmer. ~ Joe Juniper

The last weekend of March 2019, my chosen brothers, Gary and Ben, and I hosted one of our Seattle wine tastings, this time with a fantastic lineup of six wines provided by winemaker, vintner, and co-owner, Joe Juniper, of Vermilion Valley Vineyards. I met Joe at the 2018 Unified Wine and Grape Symposium and found myself immediately intrigued as to how this young man found his way into Ohio’s wine industry.

Ready to blind taste the wines

We had the best laid plans: choose the food pairings, blind taste the wines, take notes, discuss the wines, reveal the wines, discuss the wines further, and take lots of photos. I must confess, though, that nothing went as planned with regard to note and photo taking, and perhaps Joe might be disappointed that this article is not going to be as much about the wines individually, but more about them collectively, the camaraderie we shared at the dinner table, and most importantly, Joe’s story. Truth be told, nothing inspires me more than to discover a brilliant, spirited entrepreneur with a passion-filled story to share.

Our main course of pork, asparagus, and kale salad

Eight of us came together on a Sunday night to taste the wines blind as part of a multi-course dinner. As usual, my brothers Gary and Ben outdid themselves purchasing and preparing the food: spicy bacon-wrapped jalapeños, shrimp and grits, kale salad, grilled asparagus, grilled pork, and chocolate cake, all dairy free and healthy. We hid the wines in tissue paper, rather than paper bags, which added a festive touch.

The dinner lineup from Joe Juniper and Vermilion Valley Vineyards

What happened next is how wine is meant to be enjoyed. Instead of sticking to the plan, the dinner evolved into something much less structured and formal. We began the evening with the pétillant naturel in celebratory sparkling wine glasses, as a toast to my new career. This wine was by far the most unusual of our tasting, aptly described by Joe as a “kitchen sink” blend of grapes. Throughout the evening, we tasted (er, drank!) the Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin (the first for all attendees except me, I think!), and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Gewürztraminer was an ideal pairing with both the bacon-wrapped jalapeños and the shrimp and grits, while the four reds elevated our enjoyment of the pork. I do not think anyone at the dinner but me had tasted wines from Ohio. Because I live in Napa, California, a few guests assumed that the wines were from here, and remarked they had never tasted similarly balanced, elegant, lower alcohol, and food-friendly wines from California. Others commented that the wines were Old World in style, comparing them to wines from the Loire Valley, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Some tried to guess the grape varieties and were surprised to discover what they were during the reveal. A testament to the deliciousness of these wines was that not a single drop remained at the conclusion of dinner.

Ben’s wonderful shrimp and grits

Once I revealed the grape varieties and that the wines were from the Lake Erie AVA, located outside of Cleveland, Ohio, I was hammered with questions from the dinner guests. We had experienced an authentic and genuine wine moment and were eager to learn more. Everyone wanted to know more about the Joe, the guy behind these wonderful wines. I immediately jumped on my iPhone, messaged him, and relayed his answers to the dinner guests. Below is the conversation.

Me: Questions! Minds blown!

Firstly, I told everyone that you were young! How old are you?
I’m 27 years old.

TTB approved, pét-nat label

What grapes are in the pét-nat?
Pét-nat is mainly Pinot Noir dominant, with Muscat Ottonel being around 25% and other grapes like Lemberger and Müller-Thurgau at just a few percent each.

Kristi, Gordy, and Joe Juniper

What is your background in winemaking? Any family history?
I am 100% self taught (though perhaps it shows at times). I do not have family in the industry. I was raised as an inner-city kid from a lower-class household. I have always had a love of plants, and at age 13, was given the opportunity to work in a local vineyard, pruning, and harvesting. I started working in the cellar when I was 16 years old, helping make the wine, and by age 18, I began at the new startup winery, Vermilion Valley Vineyards. My role was to grow grapes and make wine. In 2013, when I was 22 years old, the partnership at Vermilion Valley Vineyards folded and allowed my wife, Kristi, and me to assume ownership. We acquired a partner two years ago that is allowing for our expansion.

Vermilion Valley Vineyards Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon

Do you grow all your grapes? How many cases do you produce annually and how many cases of each of the wines we tasted? We are 100% estate grown and are trending to 160 acres over the next few years. Our current production is around 3,000 cases. We are building out our new production facility to 55,000 cases. As to the wines you tasted, Pét-Nat – 245 cases, Gewürz – 185 cases, Pinot Noir – 125 cases, Cabernet Franc – 285 cases, Chambourcin – 190 cases, Cabernet Sauvignon – 65 cases.

Joe and Kristi enjoying some rare time away from the winery

What wines inspire you?
I love whites with structure. Typically lees aged and perhaps a bit of skin contact. We drink California Chardonnay more than anything. With reds I like rich, powerful wines, but with finesse and complexity. High-alcohol fruit bomb doesn’t cut it. We drink primarily Italian reds like Super Tuscans.

Everyone enjoyed the wines! You might get some friend requests and Instagram follows. One suggested you should be making wine in the Loire.
I am glad to hear it. The feedback is greatly appreciated and thank you for taking the time to show them off. The Loire is a dream trip.

How many grape varieties do you grow? Which ones?
Above is the full list. Some are to be planted this season, so not all in production yet. Thirty varieties in total. It a lot but we have an extremely variable climate here so it helps us spread out our risk to allow us to have a number of exceptional wines in every single year. That, and for blending purposes.

Joe and Gordy Juniper

Any events you would like to share with my readers?
GORDY’S 4th BIRTHDAY PARTY (6/9/19)
Gordy, our vineyard pup will be turning four and will be having a huge birthday bash on Sunday, June 9th, from 1 to 4 in celebration. 
This is a pet friendly event so bring your dog to help celebrate Gordy’s birthday. There will be music, people food trucks, a puppy food truck, 50/50 raffle, and basket raffles. This is a benefit to raise money for Partners With Paws Of Lorain County, Inc., an organization that distributes funds to many Lorain County animal rescues. There will be a $10 entry fee and all raffles and T-shirt proceeds will be donated to the cause. 
Radio Stations WOBL & WDLW will also be there broadcasting live.
Mark your calendar and save the date now: SUNDAY, JUNE 9TH, 1:00 TO 4:00 PM AT VERMILION VALLEY VINEYARDS.
(All dogs must remain on a leash)
Please share with all of your animal loving friends!

Who doesn’t love another photo of Gordy?

More about Joe Juniper
In addition to his ownership and duties at Vermilion Valley Vineyards, Joe serves on the board of directors for the Ohio Wine Producers Association. He holds degrees in viticulture and agriculture business from Missouri State University and The Ohio State University. Follow Joe on Instagram at @myvinesmywines.

Vermilion Valley Vineyards
11005 Gore Orphanage Road
Wakeman OH 44889
Main Number: 440-965-5202
Sales: 419-239-1259
General Inquiries and Weddings, Parties & Meetings (Kristi Juniper): vermilionvalleyvineyards@gmail.com
Sales (Joe Juniper): myvinesmywines@gmail.com
Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/VermilionValleyVineyards/

Photos Credits: Elizabeth Smith and Joe Juniper/Vermilion Valley Vineyards

Dina Opici: 2019 Wine’s Most Inspiring People

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Dina Opici, President of Opici Family Distributing (photo credit: Opici Group)

I am honored to share my recent article for Wine Industry Network (WIN) Advisor, my contribution to their 2019 Wine’s Most Inspiring People series. Meet Dina Opici, fourth-generation President of Opici Family Distributing, and role model for women in the wine industry.
*CLICK HERE TO READ*

Ten Questions for Sam Etheridge of Ambrozia Bar & Bistro in Asheville, North Carolina

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Ambrozia’s signature deviled eggs paired with NV Gruet Winery Blanc de Noir, New Mexico

Another restaurant stop on my recent visit to my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina, was Ambrozia Bar & Bistro in North Asheville, in the neighborhood where my mother grew up and where my uncle, aunt and cousins lived. I had not been to this part of the city in a long time, so imagine how delighted I was to learn of Ambrozia, tucked away in an unassuming shopping center. While interviewing owner and chef Sam Etheridge, I discovered someone that truly inspires me, a person who is committed to family and life-work balance, both of which are difficult to achieve being in the restaurant business. Below is the fantastic story of Ambrozia in Sam’s own words.

What inspired you to get into the restaurant business?
I have always been in the restaurant business. I began as a busboy as a teenager and worked at various restaurants throughout high school and college. After college, I attended culinary school in South Florida and the rest is history.

Why did you select your location?
We decided to move to Asheville from New Mexico in order to be closer to family. I grew up in Tennessee and my wife in Florida. We loved the food scene and lifestyle here and the city itself as a place to raise kids.

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Smoked salmon platter paired with 2017 Garzón Albariño, Uco Valley, Mendoza

How did you choose the name of your restaurant?
This is the second restaurant I have had named Ambrozia. The first was in New Mexico. I chose the name because it means “food of the gods” and had a Southern tie-in with the sweet salad you see at church picnics. After moving to Asheville and deciding to open a restaurant here, I kept the name because I just identified with it and loved the name.

Will you share with us details about your restaurant’s design and décor and how the theme complements your menu?
I had a friend of mine come in who is a contractor and help with design and décor. Being in a strip mall, our idea was to make you forget that you were in a strip mall once inside. We wanted an understated wine theme that was upscale and modern, but also comfortable enough to be an everyday hangout.

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Bison Reuben paired with 2015 Tacho Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza

What is your restaurant’s style of cooking?
We are modern Southern cuisine with a twist and a focus on farm-fresh, local ingredients.

What are your and/or your staff’s favorite dishes?
Our deviled eggs and fried chicken have long been our signature dishes. We change the menu constantly, so we have lots of favorites seasonally like tomato pie or chile relleno.

How does your restaurant’s beverage program enhance the cuisine?
We are very focused on wine that enhances the food. We don’t want anything too overpowering. We like high acid and well-balanced fruit. We also create seasonal cocktails that are focused on culinary ingredients and seasonality and local beers, for which Asheville is very well known.

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Bourbon butterscotch pudding paired with Notorious Coffee, Marshall, North Carolina

Do you have a philosophy as it relates to food, beverage, and hospitality?
My philosophy is to have fun, whether it be me, the staff, customers, everyone. It’s not always an easy thing in the high-stress business, but I think everyone is better off if they are enjoying themselves and it shows.

Do you have plans to open additional locations or restaurants? Why or why not?
No, I do not have plans. I have kids and a family, so that is my focus. I had tried to have multiple restaurants before, and it was not good for my family life.

Do you have any additional information you would like to share with the readers, such as forthcoming menu items, events, etc.?
We feel like we are a hidden gem in Asheville. Everyone is so focused on downtown, and it is great, but Asheville offers great restaurants all around the city and everyone should get out and explore the neighborhoods as well.

Editor’s Note: I recommend Ambrozia and its prix fixe menu during 2019 Asheville Restaurant Week January 21-27, 2019.

Ten questions for Sean Piper, Owner of Jargon Restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina

 

Earlier this month, I enjoyed an amazing opportunity to be hosted by four of Asheville, North Carolina’s off-the-beaten path, perhaps lesser known restaurants, in West, North, East, and South Asheville. As part of my Ten Questions for series, I interviewed the proprietors of each restaurant. Nothing excites me more than someone who turns their life upside down and does a complete 360-degree turn to follow their dream. Therefore, I am thrilled to share the story of Sean Piper and his new restaurant in West Asheville, Jargon, which opened about a year and a half ago, in Sean’s own words.

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Pickled Beet Salad

What inspired you to get into the restaurant business?
Before my movie production career, I had worked many years in the restaurant industry doing various jobs.  I was a dishwasher, prep cook, broiler assistant, bar back, bus boy, server, bartender, and eventually a dining room manager.  I absolutely loved it.  All of it.  There’s something special about having guests in your house and making them feel special and welcome.  Ironically, it’s very similar to movie production: a group of hardworking folks each with a specific job to do, working as a team, and providing that “escapism” for our guests.

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The lovely and unique 2017 Cuvelier Los Andes Rosé of Malbec, Uco Valley, Mendoza

Why did you select your location?
My parents have lived in Asheville for over 28 years, and consequently I’ve spent a lot of time here.  I fell in love with the entire area.  The eclectic vibe, the creative energies, the waterfalls are intoxicating!  An old mentor of mine told me that if I was truly serious about owning a restaurant, I must own the building.  After many years of searching for the right space (that I could afford), I found a small condemned building for sale at 715 Haywood Road.  It took four years to negotiate the purchase, and I later discovered that it’s a nationally registered historical building.  I worked with the Historical Preservation Office, saved the building, and was awarded the Griffin Award for historical rehabilitation in June.

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Yes, that’s me in front of the Scrabble tiles in Jargon’s amazing restroom!

How did you choose the name of your restaurant?
Honestly, it came to me one afternoon after some “midday inspiration” (drinking wine).  A friend suggested “Slang” which was too edgy in my opinion.  I immediately said, “Ooh, how about Jargon”?  I looked up the definition which says that “Jargon is a language that is understood within certain groups”.  I loved the juxtaposition of exclusivity and inclusivity, and the play on words that Jargon inherently presented.

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Scallops and Pork Belly

Will you share with us details about your restaurant’s design and décor and how the theme complements your menu?
Jargon has also been described to me as “repurposed language”.  This was a key to our branding, as we try to look at new ways to use ingredients and décor. We acquired 1952-era bowling lanes from Indiana that we used as my table tops and bar top, we also made glasses from recycled wine bottles, made a 1938 Philco radio as our host stand, used 1940’s Hamilton Printer trays for my bar facade, used antique game boards for our menu backs, and utilized 20,000 scrabble tiles as accent walls in our bathroom.

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Rabbit Agnolotti

What is your restaurant’s style of cooking?
Chef Marcus Day is from Louisiana and he has an Italian cuisine background.  You can find those incredible Cajun flavor profiles in his cooking, and his house made pasta is simply outstanding.  Our Sous Chef Jeff Crowder was born and raised in Western North Carolina, so there is also a Southern flare in many of our dishes.

What are your and/or your staff’s favorite dishes?
My staff’s favorite dishes at the moment are our oven roasted octopus, the scallops and pork belly, and the bacon and Brussels salad. Simply outstanding!

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Scallops and Pork Belly paired with a signature cocktail named True Story…and Deliciously Evil

How does your restaurant’s beverage program enhance the cuisine?
Chris Keane, my head bartender has a wealth of knowledge that he brings to our guest’s experience.  His craft cocktails are a fantastic way to start your evening.  My current favorite is his “Granddad’s Lunch Box” that uses a peanut butter washed bourbon and house made strawberry syrup. Think of it as a PB&J Old Fashioned! Also, I’m very proud of our wine program here at Jargon.  We store all wines at proper temperature, serve in appropriate elegant glassware, and decant medium to full bodied wines without asking to open them up as much as possible.

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Ice Breaker Cocktail

Do you have a philosophy as it relates to food, beverage, and hospitality?
Our philosophy is to treat every single person who comes through our door as a guest in our house. Forget about the outside world and be treated special.  My entire staff genuinely cares deeply about everything they do, and it shows.

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Pickled Beet Salad

Do you have plans to open additional locations or restaurants? Why or why not?
We’ve only been open a year and six months, so I’m focused on making this “little gem on the Westside” stand on a firm foundation. That said, I’m having some discussions with some folks who would love to put a Jargon in Chicago!

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Chocolate Hazelnut Chess Pie

Do you have any additional information you would like to share with the readers, such as forthcoming menu items, events, etc. We have some great things planned!  Starting with a special Valentine’s Day event!  We are also discussing a Godfather Dinner Theatre, a Prohibition dinner (where we lock the front door, and folks must enter through the back with a password), another New Orleans Jazz Dinner, a wine maker dinner, and much more!  Make sure folks sign up for our newsletter because those folks have first dibs!

Exclusive Interview with Crocodile Wine in Asheville, North Carolina

This young family just moved to the area from New York City, they just had a baby who is only a week old, and they just opened their dream wine shop on Friday, December 21, in downtown Asheville. G Social Media and I were so fortunate to stumble upon Crocodile Wine the day after the shop opened. Here is our exclusive, inaugural interview with owner John Hale, who brings an amazing selection of natural wines to Asheville, North Carolina. 

Asheville Wine Tour: Yes, please!

Have you ever been on a wine tour in Asheville, North Carolina? When I was there last month, I visited three incredible wine and food venues in the area with creator, producer, and maker of video magic, Gary of G Social Media. The first stop was wine and dinner at Rezaz – Pan Mediterranean Cuisine. Next, we walked up the hill to sample a few wines at the tasting bar at Appalachian Vintner. Last, but not least, we took Uber to plēb urban winery to celebrate their Beaujolais Day release of the inaugural 2018 wine, a lovely rosé of Maréchal Foch from North Carolina. What an amazing time I had. I cannot wait for my next visit and tour.

Ten Questions for Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly Magnum Edition

 

madeline-decanting-wine

When I recently received my review copy of Wine Folly Magnum Edition, I was taken aback by the sheer beauty of the book’s cover design. I know that you should not judge a book by its cover (or a wine by its label), but dang, this is a beautiful book. The good news is that it only gets better inside. This book is a plethora of outstanding content, a fantastic resource for the wine novice to expert. With the assumption that one does not know anything about wine, this book starts at the beginning, then breaks this wealth of information into manageable chunks, presenting it to the reader in an aesthetically pleasing, colorful, and easy-to-follow design. While I am thankful for my more formal wine certification program, I must confess that if the content had been presented the Wine Folly way, learning would have been much more fun.

This sample copy of the book left me wanting to know more about Wine Folly – the brand, the books, and the website – so I contacted Avery Books, a division of Penguin Random House, to schedule an interview with author and designer, Madeline Puckette. When you read Madeline’s answers, you will understand why Wine Folly is such a delight in every way, and why you need Wine Folly Magnum Edition in your book collection.

When did you fall in love with wine? Was there a wine moment and/or a special wine?

Wine found its way into my life in stages.  That said, I did have an “aha” wine.  It was a $13 bottle of Côtes du Rhône from the 2005 vintage. Not at all fancy. My boyfriend and I sat there sniffing it, trying to pick out fruit flavors and nothing fit.  Suddenly, he blurted out “olives!” and my mind was blown. Who knew wine could be savory?

I tried to buy more but the vintage sold out and the next vintage tasted gnarly. (and not in a good way.) That experience taught me about vintage variation, French “terroir,” and active wine tasting all in one fell swoop!

What other wine industry roles have you held prior to Wine Folly?

Prior to starting Wine Folly, I worked in restaurants including several steakhouses, a French restaurant, a wine bar with 50 wines by the glass, a cool chef-driven spot (Poppy in Seattle), and even at a large casino hotel. (You’ve never seen a hotel until you’ve seen their laundry!)

I absolutely love working the floor. It’s exhausting and exhilarating all at once. The people who work in hospitality are some of the coolest people to work alongside.

What made you decide to share your knowledge of wine with the world? Was there a void you wanted to fill regarding wine education?

When I became certified in 2010 I was at odds with my level of wine smarts versus other people. It’s like knowing how to speak another language but not having anyone to talk to. And, at certified level, you’re still trying to practice. So, I started Wine Folly to bridge my knowledge to others. To practice communicating. As a communicator, I’m not particularly adept with words, but if you ask me to draw something… This is where I shine.

 What is the history/story and philosophical approach behind Wine Folly both the website and books?

The philosophy behind Wine Folly is intricate, even the word “folly” is multi-layered.  Still, the modus operandi of Wine Folly easy to put words to:  To communicate wine as simply as humanly possible. And, to explore the human condition through the lens of wine.

Side Note: The funny thing about wine is that it deals with a lot of root human behaviors, from our desire to connect with others to our ability to recognize patterns (as a species.)

Why did you choose the name Wine Folly?

Oh, you ask!  Hahaha. This is my folly!  I should have read ahead…

So, the word “folly” has multiple meanings if you look it up. It’s a foolhardy mistake as well as an architectural element that has little purpose (other than just looking good from a distance.)  So, why “folly?”

For those just getting into wine, being interested in wine seems like pure folly because it’s just an alcoholic beverage. Why should anyone care? That said, once you’re inside, you come to realize that wine is an edifice with deep scientific and cultural implications. In short, wine is deep.  It will go as deep as you’re willing to dive.

So, we named it “folly” for that moment when you decide to take the plunge and see what’s out there.

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Pairing Wine Folly Magnum Edition with Domaine Carneros Le Rêve

Who is Wine Folly’s audience? 

At this moment, I love teaching wine beginners. That said, we will continue to develop our content past this level. It’s surprising how quickly people are absorbing and using the information with the visual approach!

Wine Folly Magnum Edition is the follow-up edition of your hugely successful first book, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine? Why did you decide to create this new edition?

The Essential Guide was an MVP (minimum viable product) to use entrepreneurial jargon. I did it to test the model against the market. Sure enough, the model worked!  Hot cakes!

Of course, as soon as the book came out, I felt a burning desire to iterate on the model. Magnum Edition is the iteration.  I’m not sure where the burning desire comes from, but it’s there and it’s unavoidable.

What makes this edition different than the first? Why should purchasers of the first book buy this new edition?

Besides the fact that it has over two times the content and a stunningly beautiful cover, it does a better job of communicating the topic of wine. There is some repetition in the format (and I did save a couple of excellent infographics in book 2), but the added value well exceeds the cover price. It was also redesigned from the ground up so there’s lots of new stuff.

If anything, you can now pass down your last book to a well-deserving wine beginner!

Do you think anything has changed in the wine world, from the consumer and professional perspectives, during three years since the release of your first book? How do you address those changes in this edition?

I’ve observed enormous change since the first book launch.

These days, consumers care more about where wines come from, how they’re made, and what they contain versus the love story and hedonism that defined the past. Of course, the wine world has been very slow to adapt to this new mindset.

So, in this new book, we tried very hard to be information rich and answer the fundamental questions of wine that are often left out of the marketing story. In this way, the book helps consumers take a more pragmatic approach to exploring wine on their own. It’s more about how to think about wine and where to hunt for it than what to think and buy.

What is next for Wine Folly?

I was supposed to write out my five-year plan out today, but I thought answering your questions seemed way less intimidating.

Seriously though, we have the lighthouse vision built and it’s audacious.  We just need to figure out how to paddle there without killing the team or losing the passion. I promise it will be big, or the other option: you’ll find me washed out living by a vineyard in Oregon with a VW Vanagon and a Blue Heeler at my rear. One of the two.