Cold Hands, Warm Heart-Texas Tuesday

The fine folks at Wine and Food Foundation of Texas (WFFT) aren’t going to let a silly thing like weather get in the way of a good time.  Despite the drizzle and cool temperatures, some of the top Texas winemakers and epicureans came out to enjoy the Inaugural Toast and Roast Event at Rancho Cuernavaca.

During the first hour, guests huddled under cover or warmed themselves by the fire while sampling Texas Monthly’s Best Texas Wines as chosen by Jessica Dupuy.   The second portion meant more wine provided by Pedernales Cellars and Fall Creek Winery, two of the winners, and a roast of goat, pork, and lamb by Chef John Bates of Noble Sandwiches.  Austin’s “Browngrass” band, Sour Bridges entertained.

A lot has happened in the Texas wine scene since my friend and former roommate moved out of state, so I was so excited to get to introduce her to these wines.  There were several favorites and several more that I had not yet had the opportunity to try.  As we weaved our way from whites to pinks, I was able to introduce her to the people and the wines that are making the Texas wine industry shine. Sample after sample, she was impressed, as I knew she would be.

As I have come to expect, but always appreciate, the WFFT were professional, organized, and friendly through out.  Having the limited time for sampling and drink coupons was wise.  The shuttle was a thoughtful touch.  The food was excellent and the music provided the perfect backdrop for conversations and was good enough to stop them.

My only regret? So enjoying the company of my friend and others that I didn’t make it around to taste some that I had been looking forward to trying. But that isn’t really a problem, is it? After every conversation, my friend commented on how friendly the people were.  It is one of the things she misses about Texas and one of the many reasons I love the Texas wine industry.  Our hands and toes may have felt the chill, but there was plenty of warmth.

Many thanks to Matt McGinnis and The Wine and Food Foundation of Texas for inviting me to the event and for making every one special.

{I received a media invitation to the event but no other compensation.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

Reflecting Vision- Coppola Winery

In film, the Director’s Cut refers to a version of the film that best reflects the vision of the Director.  It is the best representation of what he or she was trying to create.

The Coppola family was seen on the big screen long before it was found on the wine shelf.  That doesn’t mean they are new to wine.  Winemaking was part of the family culture for generations before Francis Ford Coppola chose to expand his vision and share it with the world.  To best reflect winemaker Corey Beck’s vision, they produced a line of wines aptly named “Director’s Cut.”

I recently received a sample of the 2012 Director’s Cut Zinfandel($27) sourced from the Dry Creek Valley.  In my eyes, you’d be hard pressed to find a region the better exemplifies Zinfandel’s potential than Dry Creek Valley.  The region consistently produces grapes that have a concentrated depth of flavor without being overly heavy.  With the addition of 20% Petite Sirah, Beck added structure and dimension.  Together, the create a beautiful scene.

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This year we took our Valentine’s dinner in a slightly different direction in more ways than one.  We decided that our children, at 5 and 7, were old enough to participate and were an integral part of our “love story.”  We all dressed the part, I had gifts for all of them, and the evening was less about romance and more about true love.

I planned their favorites: grass-fed steak, fingerling potatoes, a salad. I planned on opening one of our “special” bottles of Cab and bought a bottle of 07 Mumm DVX to begin the night.  But as I was prepping dinner, I made a change of plans that required a change of wines. Gorgonzola sauce.

Bubbles for Everyone

Bubbles for Everyone

Take 2: New sauce, new scene.  The Cab just wouldn’t be right.  The gorgonzola is big and tangy and needed a bolder counterpart.  I looked through the extras and decided on the Director’s Cut.  I’m glad I did.  Black and red fruit, spice and cocoa, it held up and shined.

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A change of scene often requires other adjustments.  To counter the sauce, I changed the salad to frisee, arugula, and pear with pecans and a fig dressing.  The sweetness of the fig and spice of the greens were great with the wine as well. I added some Balsamic vinegar to the potatoes to give them a glaze.

IMG_0266When I chose the wine, I did so only with the sauce in mind.  As I looked into the wine a little more, I realized how appropriate the change was.  When Francis Ford Coppola was building his winery, he did so with families in mind. In the vision statement he writes:

“I’ve often felt that modern life tends to separate all the ages too much. In the old days, the children lived with the parents and the grandparents, and the family unit each gave one another something very valuable. So when we began to develop the idea for this winery, we thought it should be like a resort, basically a wine wonderland, a park of pleasure where people of all ages can enjoy the best things in life – food, wine, music, dancing, games, swimming and performances of all types. A place to celebrate the love of life.”

Perhaps one day, my family and I can enjoy his wonderland, but our dinner with my loves of all ages was a good start.

Thank you to Erica at Nonni Marketing and 42West for sending the wine and this great short film about moviemaking and winemaking from the Coppola Family.  Cheers!

{This wine was received as a media sample.  I received no other compensation. Thoughts and opinions are my own.}

OTBN- A Gift from Gundlach Bundschu

SAHMmelier:

Since I’m not participating tonight for #OTBN, Open That Bottle Night, I thought I’d resurrect this post from three years ago in which I opened a very special Jeraboam from one of our sentimental favorites, Gundlach Bundschu. I’m looking forward to reading the upcoming posts from others. Salut!

Originally posted on SAHMmelier:

If you are on Twitter and a wine lover, you are probably aware that Saturday was Open That Bottle Night. One of many Twitter-born events that encourages readers to go ahead and open that bottle that you are saving for a special occasion. The bottle IS the special occasion so enjoy it now. Being awarded first place in Gundlach Bundschu’s Deed Day Poetry contest was in and of itself an amazing gift. The bottle they presented me with was enough to make me squeal and blush: A 1996 Cabernet Franc Jeroboam.

Now, let me preface all of this by saying that I have never had the privilege of enjoying a large bottle of fine wine. If I sound like a novice, it is because I am. Since receiving this bottle, I have envisioned the dinner party that I would build around the wine. I love Cabernet Franc but was not…

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Conversation Wines: What Message are You Sending?

I met my husband at the end of 2001.  We casually dated over the holidays; neither of us were looking for a relationship. So when February 14th was approaching, I decided to diffuse it rather than cause either of us unnecessary stress.

” I am not one to buy into the mass marketing commercialism of holidays.  Especially ones that try to force people to spend quadruple the price on flowers, etc.  However, I do think Valentine’s Day is a good excuse to spend time with someone you are kinda in to sooo… what do you think of making dinner together tomorrow night?   Just an excuse to drink a nice bottle of wine and hang out.”

Simple, non-committal, casual.  I made filets, potatoes, salad.  Easy, tasty, a little special but not crazy.  But I made a critical error in my “low-key” approach.  We opened this bottle of wine.

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I had brought it back from my trip to Italy in 2000.  A small producer, Francesco Mollaioli,  I found on the streets of Assisi.  Even though I didn’t know too much about wine at the time, this wine had a story. I’d saved it for the right occasion, I couldn’t easily replace the bottle. Cover blown.

Your approach to this holiday sends a message.  The wine you choose punctuates that message.  If the relationship is new, the wine should convey that.  If you are getting super serious about this person, you need to step it up. In a long-term relationship? Well, that’s up to both of you. There is the freedom to keep it low-key or the excuse to show your significant other what a treasure he or she is, and drink some dang good wine. I always opt for the dang good wine, even if we drink it in comfies on the couch.

I recently participated in the Boston Wine Expo Twitter Tasting featuring Hope Family Wines*.  Three wine samples were featured. The names of the wines naturally lend themselves to my Valentine’s wine choice theory. Allow me to demonstrate.

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Liberty School Merlot ($16)

You’ve spent some time together, but are focused on your freedom. You don’t want to send a message that conveys anything but so stay under $20.  Even if the evening is a total bust, you aren’t out too much. Black fruit, spice, a good Merlot for the price point.  this would be great with a pork dish.  I recently made a Chinese Five Spice Pork with horseradish sweet potatoes that would’ve paired really well. Or chocolate. Love Merlot with Chocolate. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of good wine.

Troublemaker ($20)

Ok, maybe you weren’t looking, but this person is taking up way too much of your brain space.  You find yourself thinking about them. Involuntary smiles at the sound of their voice. A blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, and Zinfandel, I described this wine on twitter as Boysenberry cobbler with a smoked crème anglaise. A little sweet, a little sassy. Your favorite kind of trouble.

Treana Red ($45)

Hope Family calls this their benchmark blend: the wine by which all others are measured. If you have one of these in your life, you do what you can to hold on.  It’s beautiful on the outside, multi-faceted on the inside. A blend of Cab and Syrah, this wine meets its match with something equally complex. Filets with bleu cheese, braised short ribs, think big and rich. A memorable wine for a memorable evening.

 

We would both say that, even though we don’t donate to Hallmark, Valentine’s will always be special for us. Over the years we’ve had swoons and laughter, tears and silence. We’ve had dinners in which I put on a new dress and one when held a four-day-old bundle in sweats. But one constant is recounting our first special bottle together while enjoying another.

So, maybe the wine choice blew my cover. But, maybe the risk was just what we needed because we were rarely apart after. Whether you are opening something special to treat yourself, a new interest, or your benchmark in life, think about the message your wine could be sending. Cheers!

 *{I received these wines to participate in a #BWETaste Twitter conversation. I received no other compensation. thoughts and opinions are my own.}

 

Scandalous Thoughts

I’d heard the buzz about Scandal and the ensuing buzz from wine-drinking Scandal watchers but I’d never watched.  Until last October when I was hit with the proverbial blessing in disguise.  Yes, if you are a mom, you can’t call in sick, but you can spend the day in bed if it gets that bad.  And it got that bad. But that meant that I was able to get acquainted with Ms. Olivia Pope and her gladiators. Yes, I watched 2 seasons in 3 days.  Shameful, I know, but if you have to be in bed, might as well be “productive.”

Ok, so it wasn’t productive, but it was really addicting and now that I have caught up, I’m ready for tonight’s winter premiere.  And I have a few thoughts on Ms. Pope and her wine habits.  Inspired by a post earlier this week by Doug Trapasso, I decided to look at other wine folks’ ideas on the show.  It wasn’t surprising to me that some fellow Women Wine Writers were all over it. Here are a few “hiccups” that only we wine-snobs…I mean, aficionados.. I mean, lovers might get annoyed by…I mean, roll our eyes at… I mean, notice.

1) Where is the ritual?

She dumps expensive Bordeaux in a Burgundy glass and glugs it. What?!? This is a woman who was supposedly reared by a wine expert father. Said wine expert is an extremely controlling, extremely powerful man who drinks extremely expensive wine AND HE NEVER TAUGHT HER HOW TO EVALUATE IT? Or fully appreciate it? Or is she just so spoiled by “good wine” that she blows it off the way she blows off murderous affairs? Possible.

2) ’94 doo bah-lay

New York Times calls it ” du Bellay.” Bon Appetit calls is “Duvillet.” Jet Mag calls is “Doublé.” Whatever you call it, it ain’t real.  She says the wine will change your life, but how much change do you need when your life is on a beautiful island with a beautiful man and plenty of everything you need?  Do you NEED five bottles of this crazy rare wine? Your whole life was tracking people down, finding evidence. You changed your name but not your habits and you got busted.  Cheers!

3) So why not choose a real wine?

Mary Cressler of Vindulge was recommending wines for Shondaland return but had to guess…”we can assume it’s really ‘fine’ wine, similar to the wine her evil dad introduced her to years ago. My guess is really good Bordeaux, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or expensive California Cabernet Sauvignons.” No, California Oak doesn’t exist either, and even if it did, I’d skip on name alone.

Doug Trapasso wondered, “…does it surprise you that no wineries have jumped on he connection and advertised on the program?” He’s heard the idea of cost but wonders if it is a matter of tradition.  I would say both.  If they are big enough to pay for the spot, they probably don’t need the advertising and aren’t exclusive enough for Ms. Pope.  If they are exclusive and wealthy, they probably don’t have the supply to reach potential demand.  Or maybe they just don’t think the show is wine-savvy enough to create the link?

 

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the show.  Obviously, or I would not have binged on it.  As Jo Diaz of Wine-Blog says, “No wine consultant is on the set is the most logical conclusion… Someone making set decisions and loving the large globe, but never having experienced wine glasses 101.”  It is a recurring theme in the series so you might as well do it well. I nominate Jo.

On the other hand, there is also the push to make wine more accessible, enjoyable, less formal. So if she wants to drink it straight out of the bottle at the end of the day, (and who wouldn’t at the end of those crazy days) have at it. If she has the means to buy new white cashmere and couches if a spill occurs (which is likely when you hold the glass like a toddler), good for you. If she has enough good wine to drink it like it is like it Kool-aid, enjoy.  But don’t think that we wine-lovers won’t roll our eyes(a little) or feel a slight punch in the gut when you do.  Respect the vine. And next time you want to hide out, order something a little less obscure.

Will you be watching tonight? With popcorn or without? Do you have your Camille glasses ready? I won’t judge no matter what you put in it. Post a pic of what you open as we cheer on our favorite fixer! And follow Grapefriend for weekly wine recaps. Cheers!

 *Photos found under “free to use and share” license on Bing.  If there is any discrepancy, please notify me and I will change immediately.

 

The Magic of Bubbles

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What is it about bubbles?  Is it the anticipation? The way they reflect the light with swirling colors?  Perhaps it is the challenge of blowing the biggest bubble or the chase as they float out of reach. Children of all ages can easily become absorbed in the magic on a sunny afternoon.  That doesn’t change in adulthood.

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Any afternoon becomes an occasion when you accept the invitation to play. Here are a few bottles of Monday wines for any occasion.

Codorniu Clasico is cava made from  Macabeo, Xarel.lo and Parellada.  I bought it for mimosas but it was fun by itself.  Stone and tropical fruit, dry, bright, tasty.  A great bottle for the price point of around $8. An even better bottle when shared with friends.

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Anna de Codorniu Brut NV* is from the same family but this bottle is composed of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Parellada. The bubbles, delicate, the color, straw yellow.  Tropical and citrus notes combine to create a balanced bottle of bubbles that is impressive, especially at $15. It was just the right bottle to celebrate my friend’s end of a grueling semester.

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Ruffino Prosecco** was sent to me to create a holiday cocktail they suggested.  I had every intention of doing just that, but when I got home on NYE to discover I was missing the cranberry juice, I improvised.  (The cider was for the littles). The original cocktail was:

Sweet and Spiced Holiday Sparkler

3 oz. Ruffino Prosecco DOC

3/4 oz. apple cider

3/4 oz. cranberry juice

1 tsp. maple syrup

squeeze of 1 lemon wedge

Instead I made:

Five Spice Sparkler

4 oz. Ruffino Prosecco

1/2 tsp of Five spice Syrup***

Squeeze of Meyer Lemon

While the first cocktail looked yummy, I generally prefer less juice, more booze and bubbles.  The one I came up with was delicious if I do say so myself.  On its own, I find the Ruffino a little bitter in the finish but the syrup and lemon worked well with it.  I’ll be making that again.  Holidays or not.

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*This wine was provided by Gregory White PR as a media sample.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.

**This wine was provided by Nike Communications as a media sample.  Thoughts and opinions are my own.

***Five Spice Syrup (approximate recipe)

1/4 c sugar

TBSP Five Spice Powder

1/8 c water

Combine and heat, stirring until syrup consistency.

A Trifecta of Taste-Somms Under Fire

I made it!  I have been trying for three years to make it to Somms Under Fire but January always seems to conspire against me with sick children and cedar misery.  Not this year.  They say “third times the charm” and three was the theme for the evening.  Three Sommeliers from around the country paired wines for three courses for three judges.  The sommeliers were judged on three levels: pairing, service, and education.

Competing were:

Advanced Sommelier Luke Boland

Advanced Sommelier Eric Crane

Advanced Sommelier James Watkins

The judges were:

Winery Owner and Sommelier, Rajat Parr

Author and Wine Writer, Jordan Mackay

Master Sommelier Jay James, Chappellet Wines

There were 9 wines available for pairing.  The sommeliers sampled and took turns pairing.  Once a wine was chosen, it was no longer available.  The somms then served and explained their choices as the audience sampled the fare and the wines. In the end, James Watkins walked away with the title of Champion.

The winning pairings were:

First Course:  2012 Prager Grüner Veltliner Federspiel Hinter der Burg,
paired with Charred Broccoli with White Bean, Mushroom Confit, Preserved Lemon, Poached Egg, & Gulf Bottarga, created by Chef Jason Stude, Boiler Nine Bar + Grill
Second Course:  2012 A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs, Red Blend paired with Roasted Pork Loin, Sunchoke, Endive, Tangerine, Curry Mustard created by Chef David Bull, Congress Austin
Third Course:  2013 Patrick Puize Chablis “Terroir Découverte”, paired with Coomersdale, Bonnieview Farm, Vermont;  Goat Gouda, Central Coast Creamery, California and Everton Reserve, Jacobs & Brichford, Indiana, hand selected by Antonelli’s Cheese Shop

According to sponsor Keeper Collection’s newsletter, James Watkins will also receive” a scholarship to attend “Wine Internship in Burgundy, France under the tutelage of Burgundy Author and Expert,  Allen Meadows, of Burghound, focusing on the Village of Chambolle Musigny. provided by Peter Wasserman of Becky Wasserman & Co., and a $1,000 travel grant presented by the Wine & Food Foundation of Texas, as well as a Laguiole Champagne Saber, presented by Keeper Collection, LLC.”

It was a great evening of food, wine, and fellowship that I was able to share with my sister as guests of Diane Dixon and an event that I will make every effort to attend in the future. The food was top-notch and all of the wines were delicious but after the pairings, I found myself reaching for more of the 2012 Lioco “Indica” Carignan from Mendocino County.  Great acid, bright fruit, complex and easy to drink.

Many thanks to Diane, Keeper Collection, and to the family of Sommelier Nathan Prater who shared their table and company with us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resolution 1: Drink More Tempranillo

It was nearly two years ago when I first delved into the wines of Ribera del Duero at the Drink Ribera campaign here in Austin.  I was completely impressed with the diversity and quality for the price point.  That remains.  The more I try, the more I want. So when the people of Gregory White PR asked if I was interested in sampling some, I jumped all over it.

To share the love, I chose to open them on New Year’s Eve with two other couples from the neighborhood.  We decided on a Spanish potluck to pair with the wines.  Here’s what we made:

Cheese Plate

Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus

Kale Salad with Meyer Lemon and Candied Ginger (recipe at end)

Berbere Lamb Meatballs (recipe at end)

Papas Bravas with Smoked Paprika Aioli

Pincho Ribs with Sherry Glaze

DSC_0569Is your mouth watering yet?  Mine is just thinking about it.  My dear friend Laura made the last two items.  Laura is the friend that always knocks my socks off with her effortless, amazing cooking.  The papas were baked instead of friend, the aioli was with a mayonnaise base instead of from scratch but you’d never know. Keep that in mind for quick prep. I don’t generally care for ribs.  It could be a Pavlovian reaction to “fat” from growing up during the fat-free craze, but they just aren’t generally my thing.  I ate four of these and couldn’t stop picking at the crispy edges.  They were divine. The meatballs were a hit with everyone, juicy and full of flavor.  The kale, a great foil for the rich dishes and, well, anything wrapped in prosciutto is awesome.

We opened two wines with the meal. I’ve learned from experience that if I am opening multiple samples, I open them before guests arrive to evaluate with a clean palate and sharp mind.  That way I can relax and enjoy the evening and let the wine flow, as it usually does.

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2011 Tinto Ribon Crianza

This wine is 100% Tempranillo, aged 12 months in American and French oak. Brilliant color, ruby with a hint of violet. Warm berries on the nose.  Medium body, red fruit, tight tannins, spices and herbaceous with rich nuances.  Fresh, long finish.

2012 Erial Tradicion Familia ($22)

16 months in French and American Oak. A deep saturated color with intense nose of black plums and baking spices.  Tight tannins and leather, well integrated blue and black fruit, powerful mouth feel.  Of the four wines, this felt like the “grandfather”, and rightly so. The grapes are sourced from 80-year-old vines.

2009 Pata Negra Reserva ($16)

24 months in barrel, 12 in bottle before release. Deep maroon and plum in color.  Black fruit, plums, spicy vanilla.  Strong chewy tannins, structured like a thick cedar post.

2010 Emina Prestigio ($32)

I had this on another night with a play on Yankee Pot Roast. If the Erial was the grandfather, this is the family Patriarch. 16 months in French Oak. A deep, brooding color.  Vibrant black plum weighted by spicy tannins. Bossy acid, bold and mature tobacco leaf and vanilla.  This wine means business.

Part of the wonder of wine is how one grape can be so diverse.  Soil, conditions, season, age of the vine effect the grape.  These four from the same AVA but from four different years.  Add in the choices of the winemaker and you never know what you are going to get with Tempranillo.  That’s why I love it so and why I am resolved to try more Tempranillo in 2015.

Here is your challenge. Sometime this year, have a Tempranillo party.  Every guest brings one. Young or old, Spanish or domestic. High Plains in Texas or Sonoma County. Take notes and compare. No matter what your taste in wines, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find one (or ten) that you like.  It is a great exercise in developing palate and a great lesson.  Just because you had one (fill in the blank) that you didn’t care for doesn’t mean that you don’t like that grape.  That lesson could be applied in all are of our lives, don’t you think?  With that, I’ll wish you happy tasting. ¡Salud!

Kale Salad with Meyer Lemon and Candied Ginger

Massage Kale with Olive Oil (lemon or regular)

Add finely chopped candied ginger

Salt to taste

Lemon Zest

Lemon juice

optional:Chopped nuts or seeds (almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds)

 

Berbere Meatballs

2 lbs Ground Lamb

1 Onion diced, sautéed

2 eggs

2 TBSP Berbere seasoning

Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients.  Make 1-2 inch meatballs.  Brown them in pan, finish in the oven at around 300 for about 20 minutes or until fully cooked.

{These wines were provided as media samples by Gregory White PR. No other compensation was received and thoughts and opinions are my own} 

 

Curious About Texas Wine? Time for a Twitter Date

Tonight on Twitter, I will be joining fellow Texas Wine lovers for the year’s first #TXWine Twitter Tasting.  We will be chatting about the 2014 Best Texas Wines and a new opportunity for you to taste some of these wines, no matter where you live.

Here are the details:

Tonight January 13th, 7-8pm CST

Sign in to your Twitter account and search for #TXwine

Our hosts are Denise Clarke, Jeff Cope,Jessica Dupuy, and Russ Kane.  They can be found at the following Twitter handles:@DeniseClarkeTX, @TXWineLover, @JDewps, @VintageTexas respectively.

If you are local, grab a bottle (or more) of the top wines of the year and join us.  If you aren’t but are #TXwine curious, come hang out.  There will be plenty of info and laughs.

Even if you can’t join us tonight, check out Texas Monthly’s new wine club.  Four shipments a year,six bottles per shipment of Texas wine. Partnering with Vinovium Partners, TM is offering the chance to taste the wines I love.  Interested in a one-time shipment?  That can be arranged.

Look forward to “seeing” you and tweeting with you tonight!

Reflections on 2014-Part 2

“Let us be grateful to the people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom.”
Marcel Proust

2014 was a year in which my soul blossomed.  A seed, or should I say cutting, was planted years ago, one of fascination, intrigue.  A love, not just for wine, but for the people behind the wine, began to grow. Through the cultivation of connectedness and encouragement that vine began to produce fruit. I am grateful.

Each year, WordPress provides a year-end summary of the site’s performance.  Included is a list of the most popular posts of the year. Each of the five most popular posts could be tied back to the idea of gratitude. Three out of five of them were connected to the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, my first highlight of 2014.

1) Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #6, January

I had enjoyed reading the entries in previous months, but when the theme “Mystery” was introduced, I couldn’t resist entering. It was an opportunity to share one of my favorite stories from our time in Italy, a story the voters enjoyed enough to honor. When writers you admire give a thumbs up, it is especially encouraging.

2)Wine Blogger’s Conference 2014

I applied on a whim, what could it hurt?  I’d always wanted to go, but didn’t know how I could afford to.  I had taken the year off from any freelance writing so how could I  justify spending the money when my venture was not producing any? It turns out that thanks to the wonderful people and companies behind the WBC Scholarships, I didn’t have to.

Mary Cressler took me under her wing and kept me laughing.  Rachel Voorhees charmed all of us at the Rodney Strong dinner. Thea Dwell’s enthusiasm in unmatched.  Anatoli Levine and Cyrus Limon provided familiar touch points.  Anatoli and I had met in Austin and bonded over Texas wine. Cyrus and I swapped stories since we had a mutual friend and he’d even been to my hometown. I felt a little like a groupie meeting the big publication writers and as if we were at a reunion with all of the Women Wine Writers I had never met.   The whole weekend was like summer camp meets college course at a candy store, only it was wine…and free.

The opportunity was one that I will never forget.  The idea that the people providing the scholarships saw potential in me was an incredible honor.  Finally getting to meet so many I’d admired, the friendships formed, were food for my soul.  Being able to learn from and be challenged by talented, driven writers was a boost I couldn’t have received in any other way.  It was truly a gift on every level.

3)Rodney Strong 25th Anniversary Dinners

Yes, dinners, plural. The first was in Solvang, the second in Austin…and NYC, Healdsburg, and Miami.  The food and wine were crazy good.  The first was a great way to kick off #WBC14 and an honor to be invited.  The company and shuttle ride were enough to make the evening one I won’t soon forget.  The second was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of evening with the collaboration of crazy-talented chefs.  I’m sure I wasn’t the best date since I was focused on trying to capture the event through social media, but it was a wonderful evening. I could not have attended were it not for the faith Carin Oliver at Angelsmith PR put in me.

4) G.H. Mumm’s VIP Formula 1 Amber Lounge Party

Are you kidding?  This was one fabulous party. Incredible music, sound system, lighting.  Beautiful people everywhere, a VIP section for the guests of Mumm, Champagne for days. I even wore sequins.  I kept asking my husband, “Did you ever imagine that my little hobby would lead to this?” Neither did I.

I was so impressed by the production required to totally transform La Zona Rosa into this crazy, swanky, nightclub.  But the people of Mumm not only did it, they did it with a smile. Warm, gracious, accommodating…even at 1am.  Which was when this lady turned into a pumpkin. Had we not scheduled a dinner party the next day, I may have stayed long enough to see the celebs and what happens at 4am, but this old lady just can’t do it anymore and still be smiling.

5) A Few of Her Favorite Things

Elizabeth Smith was one of the first bloggers I began reading.  I enjoyed watching her transition from a teacher to the wine world.  I learn from her honest introspection and get to live vicariously through her move, tackling her dreams in the Wine Country.  At the end of 2014, she put out a list of her favorite things: winery experiences, wines, wine firsts, and blogs.  I was moved, literally to tears, that my blog made her list. In my last post I mentioned “genuine encouragement in quiet ways” with Elizabeth in mind.  We were finally able to meet at the Wine bloggers conference.  In her writing and her manner, Elizabeth is both quiet and genuine.  She is subtle and wise and encouragement from her is truly an honor.

I could go on.  There were dinners with Sequoia Grove and Dry Creek Winegrowers, paella with Mia and lunch with Wines of Provence.  There were events like Tour de Vin and Big Reds and Bubbles.  Equally special, however, were the less glamorous dinner parties at home.  I am so fortunate to be able to buy quality ingredients to serve my family and friends.  I am grateful for the example my mother provided and the love of cooking she passed along.  Celebrating birthdays or creating occasions, being able to commune with those I love always feeds my soul.

Thank you for sharing in this journey with me.  Thank you for reading and for the encouragement.  Thank you for sharing your ideas and inspiration.  Most especially, thank you to all the “charming gardeners” that share yourselves over a glass of wine or with a click of a keyboard.  Cheers to a wonderful new year.