365 Days of Travel

Every year, I tell myself that I am going to devote more time, energy, and attention into my personal website, and without fail, I fall short. Every. Single. Time. 2019 will be year, I swear….. Anyways, as the year comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to recap these past twelve months of travel, which have given me some of the most exhilarating, educational, and introspective moments of my life. Here’s a recap of what the world had to show me in 2018. 

JANUARY

Woke up in Braunschweig, Germany, on the morning of January 1st, which was a good foreshadowing of the travel-filled year to come. Hit Berlin and Prague with my best friend, the latter of which I found much more interesting than the former. Lots of Christmas markets, fried food, and more beer than I physically knew that I could fit into my body. Ended the two week voyage in Paris, where most of my European trips usually begin and end.

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Berlin Wall

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Prague

Came home for two days and made it to the West Coast– which, although they say ‘best coast,’ is entirely false– for the first time. Checked out the touristy sites of San Francisco, ate a lot of bread and tacos. Drove to Monterey, the Big Sur, and Carmel by the Sea, which were beautiful. There is truly no drive like the Pacific Coast Highway (no, of course I personally didn’t drive. I’m from New York. We don’t do that.)

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Big Sur

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FEBRUARY

Left at 5AM on February 1st and went back to California, though this time, hit Santa Monica and Venice Beach. I don’t actually feel like I saw much of Los Angeles, aside from a quick walk up Hollywood Boulevard, but Venice was the California of my dreams. Shopping, snacking, and sipping coffees on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, sunny beach days in February… I’ll take it. Also, Disneyland may have happened.

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Venice Beach

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Home for two weeks, then off to South America for the first time, which was incredible. First, to Chile: the graffitied streets of Valparaiso, Maipo Valley, and a slew of winery visits, followed by a flight over the Andes to Argentina. Met my (now) dear friend and inspiration, Dr. Laura Catena, who continually cheers me on and remains one of my biggest fans (and I, hers.) Best of all, I met my stepmother’s family, who embraced me as one of their own. The whole family came to see me and my tour group off at the airport. Yes, there were bucketloads of tears.

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Valparaiso, Chile

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Catena Zapata

MARCH

Checked back in on my home for a week (it was fine) and made it back to Paris. Stayed in the apartment that is made available to me on the border of the 10eme and 19eme, a neighborhood with which I’ve deeply fallen in love with. Finally made it to the Picasso Museum.

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View from the 10eme

Flew to Barcelona for the first time with my good friends Zach Groth and Matt Kaner. Ate tapas and drank cocktails by the sea, to the most incredibly blue-toned sky I’d ever seen. Explored the city, went for some good runs, then hit a press trip through Penedes and Rioja. FYI, executing a tapas crawl as a vegetarian isn’t as impossible as it may seem, though you definitely will drink more than you eat. Came home two days before a group of Georgian winemakers were in town and enjoyed an insanely unseasonable snowstorm together.

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Barcelona

 

APRIL

Flew to Paris on the 9th and stayed in the 11eme for the first time in a dreamy, fourth floor loft, perfectly situated within a quiet impasse. Found one of my new favorite coffee shops in the city. Flew to Georgia and road tripped to Vardzia. Planted my very own vine, in the vineyard of two rather reputable vignerons. Foraged wild asparagus and pressed my body into the arms of someone who has changed my life more than they probably realize. Ate the best food I’ve ever had in my life and saw scenery that quite literally stole the breath out of my lungs.

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Georgia

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Vardzia, Georgia

Came back to Paris and wrote a lot. Flew to Toulouse and visited the Languedoc for five days. Ate a lot of weird food and endured a lot of small talk, made better by sneaking away for beers (on multiple occasions) with Caroline Coral and Clive Pursehouse. Discovered the passion-fueled, tiny winemaking projects of Olivier Ramet and managed to convince him to give me a bottle of his Idiot Merlot. Discovered that the Montpellier airport has an outdoor patio and have never wanted to go to another airport since.

MAY

Went back to the West Coast two weeks after returning from France, this time to Washington and Oregon. Realized that Seattle is super fun, Portland is highly overrated, and the former definitely trumps the latter, no matter what artisanal coffee sipping hipsters will tell you. Met my dear friend Alana Tielmann on said trip and life has never been the same. Went on a wine-induced dune buggy ride that I still cannot believe I lived through. Rode in the back of a pickup truck with a beer and winery dog. Came home and went upstate to Tannersville for Memorial Day Weekend. Had an amazing meal and tons of delicious wine. Drove through the woods in a golf cart and witnessed chickens eating leftover French pastries for breakfast. Let them eat… pain au chocolat? Weird.

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Seattle

JUNE

Back to Paris, as per usual, just in time for my birthday, where I’ve spent the last five out of six of them. Played pétanque for the first time and went to a bunch of great bars. Headed to Bordeaux a few days later and ran around with my girl Erin Scala. Spent lots of time at Le Flacon, the city’s best wine bar, hands down. Watched fireworks, met some passionate, interesting winemakers, ran along the Garonne. Had one of the worst hangovers of my entire life, only to discover that the airport sold PEPSI and not COKE (in France????) I cried actual tears and somehow lived to tell the tale. 

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Bordeaux

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Chateau Coutet

 

Went to San Francisco with Dustin on the 28th, three weeks after the opening of our West Coast (Verve) location. Ate a lot of tacos.

JULY

Woke up in SF, yet was Sonoma bound. Brunched with Laura Catena and saw her gorgeous home. Checked out the Scribe Hacienda and finally met Pax Mahle and Jaimee Motley. Ate more tacos.

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Pax and Jaimee

Home for four days, back to Paris on the 6th, then off to Lisbon on the 9th. Explored the city with Krisna Bharvani. Witnessed cork trees being harvested. Ran around Porto for a couple short days. Came home and went to Newport (Rhode Island) for the annual Denig family vacation. Came home and stayed home for a solid month. Summer in NYC is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be.

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Porto

AUGUST

Back to Paris for two short days on the 19th, then to Piedmont, for five debauchery filled days at the Railsback-James wedding festivities. Roomed with Morgan Perry and Pam Wiznitzer in Saluzzo and had the best time. Visited Barolo and Barbaresco. Witnessed the most gorgeous marriage of my life. Partied in a castle with a bunch of NYC wine industry folk. Had a blast. Departed for my winemaking adventure on the 26th.

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Piedmont

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Photo credit: Gary He

SEPTEMBER

Arrived in Heraklion Crete to live with the Stilianou family in Crete for three weeks during harvest. Learned so much about farming, Greek culture, and winemaking, all communicated with Giannis in Italian, our only common language. Ran along the Aegean, visited numerous breathtaking beaches. Ate the best home-cooked meals of my life, all adapted into vegetarian alternatives. Watched yia-yia twirl around barefoot to traditional Greek dance music. Finally learned how to slow down and savor the flavors of life. Experienced true humility, generosity, and love. Bawled my eyes out upon leaving.

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Stilianou Winery

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Balos Beach

Back to Paris for a few days, as one does, then off to Santiago de Compostela to see the sights of Galicia. Met my homegirl Julia Coney, who taught me all things skin care, the fabulous Cory Weaver, and the delightful Lane Nieset. And Brad Japhe, who I will probably write an entire entry on one of these days. Kneaded bread, harvested clams, got drunk on a boat. Was force fed chocolate desserts by the one and only Marta Burdiel Gutierrez and it was amazing.

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Santiago de Compostela

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Brad harvests clams

OCTOBER

Approximately ten days at home, then off to Santa Barbara to stay with the man himself, Raj Parr. Made lifelong friends, including Brenna Quigley, Christina Rasmussen, Abe Schoener, and more. Drank some of my favorite wines this year. Topped of barrels at Sandhi. Ate some of Raj’s homemade cooking, listened to a slew of podcasts, and took many a road trip to pick up fruit. Partied at Jim Clendenen’s ranch, checked out Los Alamos, and crushed grapes with my feet at Drake Whitcraft’s winery. Was truly depressed to leave.

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Raj Parr

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Clendenen Ranch

Came home to a big promotion and title change at Verve (not travel related, but very important nonetheless!) Celebrated the launch of Somm III, partied with friends. Headed to Virginia to celebrate Nick Hines birthday with the birthday boy himself. Took a little staycation back in Sunnyside and stayed with Grandma in Queens for a week.  

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Virginia

NOVEMBER

Took my most life-changing trip of the year to Israel from the 4th until the 12th. Had the most exquisite food of my life, including the best hummus, falafel, and street food I’ve ever had. Ran along Tel Aviv’s beaches, partied in its nightclubs, drank my way through cocktail bars. Saw the most mind-blowing historical sites of Jerusalem, rode through the Judean Desert on a 4X4. Floated in the Dead Sea. Met the most amazing group of people, who made the trip all the better.

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Jerusalem

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Dead Sea

Bought a last minute ticket (the day before, actually) to Bologna on the 26th. Attended the first ever global Amaro Montenegro cocktail competition. Met an amazing group of talented bartenders and traveled through Italy with them. Partied with all of the legends at NU Lounge. Ate too much pizza. Revisited Florence, the first place I ever traveled to in Europe, and felt all of the feelings. Strolled beneath the Christmas lights on via de’ Tornabuoni and kept my hands warm in someone else’s. Continued to eat too much in Rome. Had the time of my life.

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Amaro Montenegro After Party, Bologna

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Florence

DECEMBER

Left Italy for Paris and made it just in time to celebrate a friend’s birthday. Drank and ate my way through the weekend, then headed to Bremen to visit another friend. Strolled through the Christmas market, ate lots of potatoes and drank even more cocktails. Headed back to Paris. Wrote a lot, went for a few great runs, and threw a ‘Hanukkah Party’ for three. Ate crepes for lunch and flew home.

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Bremen

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La Tour Eiffel

Gustave Nadaud said it best: rester, c’est exister; mais voyager, c’est vivre. To stay is to exist, but to travel is to live. To another year of adventures, self-discovery, and copious amounts of food and beverage. Cheers!

12 Things I Learned In Prague

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Prague has been on my ‘to-see’ list since I first set foot in Europe. In my mind, the city would be as romantically Eastern European as it gets; crisp beer, quaint side streets, and crimson colored roofs as far as the eye can see– and I wasn’t wrong. This past January, I was lucky enough to finally reach the capital of the Czech Republic with my best friend, a large suitcase, and the same stuffed shark (see last post…) that we’d just brought to Berlin in tow. Though many will tell you that January traveling isn’t ideal, I couldn’t disagree more. Light snow and crisp, chilly air add a dazzlingly beautiful effect to the already too-gorgeous backdrop, and the city’s many Christmas markets are still bustling with cheer. As with any travel, there are many life lessons to be learned; here are 12 that I discovered in Prague.

  1. Staying in the ‘Old Town’ sounds appealing due to its proximity to shops, restaurants, and bars– though if you plan on getting any sleep whatsoever, it’s probably best to stay a few streets over from the main area.

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    Smažený sýr

  2. Fried cheese, otherwise known as Smažený sýr, most definitely belongs on the table at every meal, no matter what time of day it is. IMG_7306IMG_7311
  3. Christmas markets never get old. Soak them in. Stop at every single one. Buy the overpriced ornament. Gawk at the farm animals. Doesn’t get more festive than that.

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    Christmas Market Friend

  4. Beer tastes better in Prague. Period.

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    ‘Samples’

  5. Entry to the Beer Museum includes four free beer samples, much larger than your average ‘sample’ size. Allot more than 25 minutes prior to closing for optimal enjoyment of your freebies– or be prepared to leave pretty tipsy.
  6. The best things in life usually lie on the other side of the river. Venture over.IMG_7395
  7. Money exchange stands advertising ‘No Commission’ absolutely charge commission. I know– rookie mistake. (I’m still pissed about this.)
  8. Explore the side streets. Get lost. Don’t stick to schedule. You never know what you might discover.

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    Explore the side streets

  9. It doesn’t matter if it’s January– you need the local trdelník dessert with ice cream. There’s officially nothing better in the world than warm, cinnamon-sugar coated dough, rolled into a cone and stuffed with soft serve ice cream. Nothing.
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    Trdelník is a must

     

  10. Any place advertising craft beer and cake together is a place that you want to be at. You might even meet a few furry dog buddies inside.IMG_7465
  11. Shaking a January chill in a café over cappuccinos and a game of chess with your best friend is the best way to warm up– both physically and emotionally. It will almost make up for the shame of missing two perfect checkmate opportunities and losing to her. Almost.

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    Our favorite spot

  12. Try all of the places you can; bars, restaurants, clubs– but don’t be afraid to go back to your favorite find for your last meal. For fried cheese, of course.

12 Things I Learned In Braunschweig, Germany

Braunschweig (Brunswick), Germany has never particularly been one of my ‘see before I die’ destinations. However, when one of your best friends is getting ready to marry her German boyfriend, you never know where the wedding will take you. As a jaded New Yorker, I honestly had pretty low expectations for this seemingly small Germany city. However, the six days I spent here were some of the best of 2017– and truthfully, the dreamiest way to step into the New Year. I was surrounded by my best friends, pleasant new acquaintances, and a magical Christmas-drenched backdrop, so that could have helped in my insanely positive outlook.

Anyways, here are 12 things I learned from my time in Braunschweig, Germany.

  1. Flying to meet your friends and roadtripping to the final destination will definitely take longer than a direct flight, but will absolutely be worth it; and if traveling with your best friends, factor in 2.5 hours longer than what Google Maps tells you for a realistic ETA. (This will account for bathroom breaks, cigarette stops, coffee runs, and all around random debauchery.)

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    A most unusual road trip companion. However, stuffed sharks make for great pillows.

  2. Have Euro coins readily available at rest stops. In Germany, one pays to pee.
  3. Those Air BnB photos? Probably a little nicer than the actual apartment. Though it might make you feel a little less bad about breaking the Nespresso machine (which of course, you’ll never admit to.)
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    At least the view was nice.

     

  4. PACK A CORKSCREW AT ALL TIMES. Alternative solution: Shove sharp objects into the cork and push it down into the bottle. (I personally don’t advocate for this, but desperate times [and even more desperate friends] call for desperate measures. Also, you must then consume the entire bottle… and it might taste a little… off.)
  5. If you’re in your mid-20s but can pass for 18-25, always ask for a Student ticket at the museum. Generally, they won’t ask for proof– and you’ll save a few Euros.IMG_7097
  6. Buy the damn souvenirs at the Christmas market, even though they seem like a waste of money at the time. Not doing so will result in extreme, painful regret. (Yes, I am currently working through this.)
  7. The words for Entrance & Exit (‘Einfahrt’ and ‘Ausfahrt’) will still be funny, even if you are past the age of 12 and claim to be a respectable adult.IMG_7101
  8. As if I didn’t already feel this way, I can officially confirm that City Hall (Rathaus) weddings are 100% the way to go.
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    The Bobeths

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  9. You never know who you’ll meet at a wedding. I’ll just leave it at that.IMG_7150 
  10. The best way to step into a New Year is sharing a hearty meal amongst old friends and new acquaintances, followed by running through an empty field, counting down the seconds until the clock strikes 12, surrounded by incessant fireworks. Yes, this really happened.

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    The three German food groups: meat, cheese, and potatoes.

  11. On that note, fireworks are legal in Germany; however, when setting them off, one should probably avoid pointing them at a nearby stable. A few horses may or may not have been traumatized, and angry farmers aren’t exactly fun to deal with when under the influence of alcohol.
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    Enter said field armed and ready; two bottles are always better than one.

     

  12. Be present. Act ridiculous. Take that late night train back to the city six hours before your flight to see the girl you met 48 hours ago for a short 90 minutes. Kiss her at midnight. Live in the moment. You won’t regret it.

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    Braunschweig, Germany.

‘Black Friday’ Wine Regions

With one hour to kill until my 4PM happy hour meeting yesterday, (yes, it’s early; no, don’t judge me) I walked into a Starbucks on 54th and Broadway, opened my laptop, and began typing away. While sipping on my non-pumpkin spice flavored coffee, I realized that the sounds of Michael Buble’s Christmas album were serenading me in the background. Though I wasn’t entirely dismayed by the jingling sounds of holiday cheer as background noise, I did think to myself that it seemed a little early for such a soundtrack– and then I looked at my calendar, and the jaw-dropping realization came upon me. 15 days until Black Friday. Oh. Shit. Cue panic-inducing stress about gift-buying, card-writing, and most of all, the copious amounts of money to be spent on God knows what.

In addition, it got me thinking about how consumers, more than ever, are on the prowl for deals at this time of year. Whether it’s Christmas presents for the family, holiday cookie ingredients, or even wine, shoppers seek to find the best bang for their buck in November and December– which is why the idea for this blog post came to mind. In a world where we’re constantly looking for the next best deal, wine included, quality should never, ever be sacrificed. I got to thinking, which are the best ‘Black Friday’ wine regions in the world?– AKA– which appellations are going to give you the best quality to price ratio, especially during the time of year where wine is purchased and consumed the most. Behold, my solution to five ‘Black Friday’ regions of wine, below. Your wallet (and palate) will thank you. Happy sipping!

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Loire Valley, France

Loire Valley, France

Anyone who knows me knows that I will sing the praises of the Loire Valley all the day long. I personally find the Loire Valley to be the best quality to price ratio for wine in the entire world. (Yes, I said it.) Like any region, of course, there are going to be some big name producers who’ll cost you a pretty penny, but for the most part, $15 – $20 goes a long, long way in your Loire Valley wine section. From crisp, clean Chenin Blanc to spicy, peppery Cab Franc, as well as mineral-driven SBs and earthy Pinot Noirs, there’s really something for everybody in this versatile region. (And don’t forget the Muscadet with your holiday seafood towers.) For natural wine lovers, this region is your mecca.

Galicia, Spain

Rioja and Ribera tend to get all the love when it comes to Spanish reds, but I’d *generally* choose an earthy, floral-driven Mencia any day of the week– especially around this time of year. Mencias tend to be way less in-your-face than there Tempranillo-dominant counterparts and pair gorgeously with an array of Thanksgiving Day dishes. For high-acid white lovers (Sauvignon Blanc drinkers, I’m looking at you…) grab an Albarino from Rias Baixas for a nice game-changer.

Beaujolais, France

I know, I know, I know, I know– literally every single industry person is rolling their eyes at me right now, but COME ON. There’s a reason why nearly every reputable wine list, retail store, and cellar have a slew of cru Beaujolais in them. These Gamay-based wines are insanely easy to drink; bright, red fruit, earth-driven soil notes, and zippy acidity keep these wines light on their feet, whether food is served alongside them or not. Versatile with meat (like turkey…) and vegetables, yet light enough to drink on their own. And to reiterate, we’re talking cru Beaujolais (from one of the region’s ten appellations), NOT Beaujolais Nouveau. Slap a slight chill on the bottle for ultimate sipping pleasure.

South Australia, Australia

For New World wine lovers, South Australia is one of your best bets. From Barossa’s powerful Shiraz and GSM blends, to McLaren Vale’s array of international varieties, to Clare Valley’s crisp, high-acid Rieslings, some of the wine world’s best kept secrets are tucked away down under, specifically in South Australia’s insane array of microclimates and terroirs.

Jerez, Spain

Last weekend, a few friends and I went to a big Sherry tasting at the Astor Center and I was instantly reminded of my love for Spanish fortified wines. From bone-dry, saline tinged Manzanillas, all the way to thickly sweet Olorosos, there’s a place for Sherry during every portion of a meal. My newly re-discovered love for Amontillado Sherry hasn’t left my thoughts over the last two weeks, either. For those new to Sherry, Amontillado is the perfect balance between the other two types listed above; nutty, oxidized, and just all around warming– will make you want to curl up next to a fire more than any PSL possibly could. Skip the pricey Sauternes and explore the vast world of Sherry during your dessert courses this holiday season.

Georgia On My Mind

For many wine lovers, Georgia is the ultimate bucket-list destination. Known as the ‘Cradle of Wine,’ the country’s rich history (over 8,000 vintages produced) has deemed it as the birthplace of fermented grape juice. Last month, I found myself seated at a café in Paris, when I unexpectedly received an invitation that I couldn’t refuse. The planned voyage was five days in eastern Europe’s winemaking mecca with three other wine professionals, travelling across the country to taste, see, and experience. Although I knew I’d be exhausted post-harvesting in Burgundy, this was an offer I couldn’t pass up. I last-minute accepted, and two weeks ago from yesterday, found myself on a flight to Tbilisi, the country’s bustling capital city.

Due to other prior engagements, I reluctantly had to cut my trip a day short, but the memories made within a short 96 hour period were some of the best in my life. Friends and family have been incessantly curious as to what the wines, food, and lifestyle were like over there; here’s a quick roundup of some of my personal highlights from four days in viticultural paradise.

QUEVRIS EVERYWHERE

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Quevris 

As Americans, we’re accustomed to drinking wines that are predominantly fermented and aged in either stainless steel or oak. Georgia’s ancient winemaking techniques call for the use of quevris, which are clay terra-cotta vessels stored underground to ferment and/or age wine. These porous vessels allow for an exchange of oxygen, as is the benefit from aging in oak, without the imparted flavors of oak on the wine. Quevri wines are unique– and sometimes hard to understand at first, if not accustomed to the taste– but once you taste through a few, you’ll never want to go back.

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Me with a 1,500 year old quevri

COMMUNICATING WITHOUT WORDS

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New friends

For those who know me, I’m lucky enough to have four solid languages under my belt. However, Georgian is not one of them– though in western Europe, this didn’t pose a problem at all. At dinner one night, I sat across the table from an older gentleman (seen above in the red and white plaid shirt) who didn’t speak any English. However, between gestures, facial expressions, and lots of wine, many laughs and beautiful moments were shared. By the end of the night, he hugged me tightly and kissed the top of my head, disappointed to see me go. I was reminded that with wine, it’s all about the emotions– words aren’t always necessary.

WHO RUN THE WORLD

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Baia in her vineyard

In the entire country of Georgia, the number of women making wine can be counted on less than two hands. I had the extreme pleasure of meeting Baia, a beautiful woman in her early 20s, shaking things up in western Georgia. Her small vineyard covers just 1.5 hectares, but boy is she doing something fierce with it. Last year, she won the national prize for ‘Best Farmer,’ followed by receiving funding from the Obamas to further educate women on the practices of organic farming. Badass is an understatement.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

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Meeting Zaza and Keto was an epic experience as well. Both husband and wife create funky natural wines that are oozing with life– though not together. Each spouse has their own winemaking project, though remain completely and utterly devoted to the ambitions of the other. Keto’s Naked Ojaleshi promotes a strong message, depicting a beautiful, naked woman in touch with nature and her natural being, alongside an image of the same naked woman ashamed and trapped in a cage. The text above reads ‘terroir vs. terror,’ a statement made to express the continuous suppression of women in Georgian society. Message aside, this wine may have been my favorite bottle from the entire trip.

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Naked Ojaleshi

CHA CHA

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Is there such a thing as too much chacha?

Chacha, the infamous spirit distilled from leftover grape pomace, has been known as the backbone for insane nights and unforgettable stories since the beginning of production. Let’s just say I had my fair share, too…

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THE FOOD

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As a vegetarian and certified picky eater, meal time on press trips can be the bane of my existence. Not in Georgia, though. Soft, pillowy breads, endless varieties of creamy, salty cheese, grilled vegetables, earthy mushrooms… the list goes on.

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THE HISTORY

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John Wunderman

When a tasting at Pheasant’s Tears alongside celebrated winemaker John Wurdeman is scheduled, you know it’s going to be good. When said tasting is followed by dinner at one of his restaurants, even better. One of his restaurants included a little decorated room, full of traditional Georgian relics and garb. When I (half-jokingly) asked if I could take the garb off the wall and wear it to dinner, his response was ‘why not?’ This may or may not have been a wine (ahem, cha cha) induced request. And it was granted. The look on the elderly Georgians’ faces as I strolled through the restaurant wearing said piece was absolutely priceless.

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Dressed for dinner

THE FRIENDSHIPS

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Every winemaker, business owner, museum curator, food preparer, had a heart of gold, full of hospitality and the desire to make our experience unforgettable. I arrived to Georgia with zero knowledge of the culture, language, or way of life, and left with countless stories, a few pounds gained, and a handful of new friends. Will I be back anytime soon? Definitely.

A Home Away From Home

It’s been just six days since I exited the train at Macon-Loché in the heart of Southern Burgundy and my world has been completely turned upside down. What started as a face full of makeup and perfectly blown out hair has turned into a hot mess of muddy sneakers, oversized sweatshirts, and a permanent line of dirt crusted beneath my fingernails. Mornings are early, evenings are late, and I’m consistently bloated from all of the cheap beer and delicious wine being flooded into my system. Oh, and I can’t stop eating cookies for the life of me. Send help.

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The perk of an early morning

But the truth is, I’ve never been happier. I remain constantly surprised at just how far my body can be pushed, how much my mind can take in, and the amount that I am learning in all aspects of wine, Patois dialect, and life in general. To start, things are different here. In this town, everyone knows one other. Cars pass and you wave. You call the the cashier at the grocery store by name. And if you have to buy something particularly embarrassing at the pharmacy… you do not remain anonymous.

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To be frank, this annoyed me at first. Everything takes five times as long because you can’t go anywhere without having a full blown conversation with the person next to you. You can’t walk down the street without saying bonjour to the person you pass, even if they happen to be an out-of-towner– that would just be inhospitable. You can’t simply keep to yourself, even if something is bothering you. Friendliness is imperative and smiles are not optional; as a New Yorker, you can imagine how I felt about this.

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My home

But with that comes a distinct sense of community, one that I’ve never felt in a city of eight million people. As I write this in a rare moment I have to myself on my terrace, enveloped by a landscape of rolling green vines, I feel a sense of comfort in knowing I’m not actually alone. As far as I might be from my actual home, this place has quickly come to feel like one.

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En terrasse

The other day, I came home after a long morning and plopped down on the one sun-drenched corner of my porch. Shoes kicked off, hair matted against my face, I stretched my body against the stony floor, letting the sun radiate its heat upon my sweaty forehead and dirt streaked shins. I closed my eyes and inhaled the clean, country air, with only the sounds of distant tractors and wind-rustled leaves around me. To my surprise, I woke up 20 minutes later from a nap I hadn’t planned on taking. In New York, I would’ve felt some extreme sense of guilt for wasting precious ‘work time’; but here, I felt relaxed and revitalized, even somewhat satisfied, for finally listening to my body and letting it rest when it was needed.

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I woke up just in time to head back down to the winery and watch the grapes roll in, destined for the pressoir, ready to be made into precious, Chardonnay-based wine– cookie in hand, of course.

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Bourgogne, France

Discovering True ‘Joie de Vivre’

I’m a pretty happy person. At least I’ve always considered myself to be. In fact, it takes much less to make me happy than it does for many others. I’ve never been one for fancy clothes or extravagant jewelry, luxury hotels, or anything beyond economy class seating on long-haul flights. When it comes to food and wine, basic blocks of cheese and inexpensive Loire Valley reds tend to call my name. Point blank, I’m simple. And I’m happy with all of it. Even as I get older, happiness still tends to come pretty easy for me; though it wasn’t until the other day that I truly experienced a whole new level of this so-called French joie de vivre.

I’m lucky enough to come to France as often as I do. And every time I’m here, it seems to somehow get better. I leave, thinking it’s impossible that anything could possibly top the trip I’ve just made, return shortly after, and continue to have my mind blown time and time again. So what is it about this place that relentlessly pulls us Americans back in for more?

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Paris, 10th Arrondissement

Simple. It’s the joie de vivre. No, not the stereotypical image of a millennial woman with her hands in the air, baguette in one hand, passport in the other, all with a flawless Eiffel Tower backdrop to match her totally unplanned striped shirt and high-waisted pant get-up. No, the real joie de vivre goes so much deeper than this, past the immaculate Hausmannian style architecture and hashtag nofilter Instagram photos of flawlessly placed food.

Joie de vivre is defined as the joy of living, the delight in being alive, an exuberant enjoyment of life, the sense of being weightless, carefree. In a technology-fueled, social-media addicted, workaholic culture like the one we have in the States, this simple state of happiness actually becomes much harder to reach. We never power off, we never shut down, and we certainly never stop comparing ourselves against the people to our left and right– or even worse, on the other side of the screen. I’m not saying this state of happiness is impossible in America, and I’m definitely not saying that it doesn’t exist. It’s just rare– and much harder to achieve.

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Parc Montsouris. August 2017.

We can read about it all we want, look up photos, or even take those ‘really long’ ten day vacations across the pond to witness it ourselves, but until you actually come and live it, joie de vivre simply remains a patchworked phrase sewn onto a pillow at Home Goods. In France, simple pleasures are almost harder to avoid than find. There’s a certain happiness that comes from plucking a ripe tomato the size of a golf ball directly off the vine and biting into it, letting its juicy red flesh dribble down the front of your chin. Or the basic act of walking into a boulangerie on a random weekday morning, the smell of baking bread and flaky butter wafting through the air, causing your eyes to flutter shut and soak it all in, simply out of reflex. And there’s something irreplaceable about going to a market and buying a bottle of wine directly from the winemaker himself, handing him a 5 euro bill and still receiving change, the rough calluses of his hands scratching up against your own as he places the bottle that he quite literally made himself into your palms. Joie de vivre, simple pleasures.

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Croissant aux Amandes et Chocolat

This past week, I went down to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to visit a winemaker I’ve known for some time. Rather than walk through the vines and relentlessly sip, spit, and take notes, we prepared a lunch from the family garden and sat on the terrace, sharing a simple meal over effortless conversation. We plucked basil from the garden, snipped the leaves with scissors over the tops of our sliced tomatoes drenched in olive oil– that yes, the family also made in addition to our afternoon labelless bottle of rosé, and sopped it all up with fluffy, seven-grain baguette. With stomachs full and summer sun beating down on us, our eyes wandered to the garage; two short minutes later, I was jumping on the back of the motorcycle in front of us, helmets strapped to our heads, engine hissing loudly as we pulled out of the gravelly driveway.

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Déjeuner

The wind whipped against my cheeks as the bike hit 120 km/h, my knuckles turning white from the relentless grip around my pilot’s waist. Endless rows of vines flew by as we mounted our way through all of the surrounding Provencal villages, stopping every so often for a beer or an iced tea. Lavender intoxicated my senses, an unavoidable yet quite pleasurable side effect of a motorcycle journey through the region. By the end of the day, we’d scaled the entire slope of Mont Ventoux, chilly mountain air replenishing my lungs from the numerous times my breath had been taken away throughout the journey. On the descent back down, I closed my eyes and breathed it all in, releasing one of my arms from the tightness of my own grip, letting the breeze find its way into the sleeves of my denim jacket, a sense of pure freedom and weightlessness that I’d never experienced up until that moment.

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A view from Mont Ventoux

To go to Châteauneuf-du-Pape as a wine journalist and not taste through even one lineup of wines could almost be considered a sin, and I’m sure many of my industry colleagues will have their own opinions on what a ‘waste of a trip’ I made. But I lived. And I regret none of it.

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Joie de vivre

The Liquid Gem I Found at a Sunday Market in Paris

Of all the places I’ve had the chance to visit, there is nowhere quite like Paris– and within Paris, there is nowhere quite like the market. Fortunately, for desperate market goers, there’s pretty much a marché open every day of the week, though it might not be the one closest to you. For succulent fruits and veggies, ‘Parisian’ (Made in China) trinkets, and fresh, creamy cheeses, learning the Parisian market schedule is crucial; Marché Bastille Thursdays and Sundays, Belleville Tuesdays and Fridays, Marché Monge Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays… you get it. This past Sunday, I did like the Parisians do and headed over to Bastille, coins clinking in my pockets and empty sac in hand, ready to scour out the good deals from the great ones. To my surprise, I got more than I bargained for.

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Marché Bastille ; 06 September 2017

Quite literally, in fact. Three avocados, a box of juicy strawberries, a brick of chevre studded with tangy cranberries, and a bottle of wine, all for less than ten euros. However, it’s the latter that is really the vein of this petite histoire. I didn’t go to the market with intentions of buying wine; in fact, I was actually looking forward to checking out my local neighborhood wine shop the following morning, completely set on drinking Aperol spritzes in the parc Buttes Chaumonts for Sunday night apéro; though when I read Val de Loire printed across the top of the small white tent, my curiosity couldn’t contain itself.

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Market Finds

An older gentleman stood behind the small array of bottles; judging by his demeanor and engagement with the man beside me, I assumed he had something to do with the juice placed carefully between us. He greeted me with a hearty bonjour, proceeding to explain basic details about the wines in front of me; cépages, different cuvées, the usual. Upon revealing my career in writing about wine, his face lit up, immediately disclosing that he indeed makes said wine, and that the winery is his family business. Grabbing a bottle, he showed me the more ‘traditional’ label, depicting a small house made of stones: ‘This was where my father began making wine,’ he said, proceeding to ask more questions about just what I do. The conversation ended with an invitation to his winery in the Loire, an e-mail address scribbled in my notebook, and of course, a bottle of wine placed between my hands.

From the cuvées set in front of me, I chose the Romorantin Vieilles Vignes; at a mere 4,50, the wine seemed like a steal. In reality, I’d payed more at Monoprix a basic bottle of Chenin just the night before. Romorantin is sadly somewhat of a lost grape. Once extremely popular in France, the variety currently only finds itself in the Cour-Cheverny AOC of the Loire. It’s genetically related to Chardonnay and Aligoté, producing full, mineral-driven wines. As much as I intended to save the wine for a few days, I knew it probably wouldn’t happen. Spoiler alert, it didn’t.

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My Sunday prize!

I cracked the wine that same night, just before my best friend arrived at my apartment. I couldn’t believe the liquid gold that was inside. The wine was mouth-coating and full, with a creamy viscosity that overtook my entire palate. Baked yellow apples and honeyed golden fruit dominated the palate, with a tingling acidity to balance it all out. How could this gem possibly cost less than five euros? I sipped and savored, staring out my window, knowing that in that moment, life couldn’t possibly get any better than this.

Just a few short minutes later, a light knock came from my front door. My best friend showed up, baguette in hand, and we shared a glass of that same wine together at my kitchen table. To my surprise, the impossible did indeed occur: life, along with said wine, did continue to get better.

A Diamond in the Rough on Long Island’s North Fork

The North Fork of Long Island leaves a lot to be desired. There, I said it. Yes, it’s beautiful and yes, you can eat some really damn good corn, but when it comes to wine, the place has got a long way to go. And this isn’t entirely the region’s fault. Compared with the rest of the world, the North Fork is relatively young and still trying to find its footing in the wine world. Couple that with the fact that the region turns into a rich people’s playground come Saturday and Sunday and you’ve got yourself a certified shit show. Now I can deal with a shit show to a certain extent, and I can deal with bad wine if the situation is dire– but I definitely can NOT deal with a shit show and bad wine simultaneously. Thankfully, there’s a light at the end of New York’s mansion-studded, vineyard covered tunnel.

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Photo via Paumanok

Founded in the early 1980s, Paumanok Vineyards has remained in the Massoud family hands for over three decades. Ursula and Charles Massoud, original proprietors of the estate, come from Kuwait; despite the fact that alcohol was technically illegal, underground consumption was huge. Though as the North Forker reports, most underground consumption consisted of hard spirits, making wine a relatively rare commodity to be found. Charles always had a dream in his heart to pursue his love of wine; one day, after the family’s big move to Connecticut, he saw an ad for the up and coming winemaking scene out on Long Island. He knew this was an opportunity not to be missed.

Fast forward thirty years later, and the entire family plays a role in Paumanok’s 100+ acre estate; the three sons, Kareem (winemaker), Salim (logistics manager), and Nabeel (vineyard manager), always wanted to take part in the project. The winery uses only estate fruit, consisting of Chardonnay, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Verdot.

I ventured out to Paumanok a couple weeks back with a few of my cousins for a birthday celebration (yes, we were that group celebrating a 21st birthday, and no, there were no limos, crowns, or tiaras involved.) Upon my first sip of our tasting flight, I was immediately reminded of why I loved the family’s wines so much. Their current release Dry Rosé is crisp and thirst-quenching, and I’m sure the fact that it’s a Cabernet Franc dominant assemblage made my heart skip the extra beat that it did. Oh, and it’s also available in kegs, so on premise accounts and environmentally friendly consumers, this one’s for you.

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Our birthday group on the terrace, Festival Chardonnay in hand

The Unoaked Chardonnay was probably the biggest surprise of the day. Fermented and aged in stainless steel, the wine remains extremely clean and mineral driven, with notes of green apple and zesty salinity. This was a favorite amongst our group; in fact, this was the first bottle that we agreed to drink on the outdoor patio, leisurely sipping beneath the hot sun.

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Dry Rosé

As always, the winner of the day remained the Chenin Blanc. Juicy, mouthwatering, and full of bright stone fruit flavors, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the wine all over again. Slow, cold fermentation in steel tanks preserves the fresh, thirst-quenching flavors we all crave on those hot, summer afternoons. For me, this bottle alone holds the standard to which other wineries in the region should seek to be at.

For serious wine drinkers headed out east, make sure Paumanok is the first stop on your list. And when you do, make sure to bring me back a bottle of Chenin upon your return.

New Beginnings (Part Deux)

Well, nine months has gone by since my last “new beginning,” and I’ve clearly failed to maintain updates on a regular basis. With “New Beginnings Part Deux” I vow to do things differently this time!

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Nymfaio, Greece

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Greek breakfast

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Nymfaio, Greece

This last month has been a whirlwind. June started off on a rather epic note, with eight blissful days in Greece. From the sloping hills of Macedonia to the black sand beaches of Santorini, my breath was constantly taken away (and my glass consistently filled with something delicious.) Upon returning to NYC, after a life-changing, ten month run as a staff writer at VinePair, I’ve ditched my comfort zone to pursue the freelance life. A scary step indeed, but minimal fear generally brings loads of excitement and adventure. In fact, this post is being written from Sicily!

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Sciacca, Sicily

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Stemmari Winery

It’s 10:41 AM and already over 90 degrees outside. We just had a small breakfast of biscotti and Nutella and fresh peaches. Our group is gearing up for a homemade pasta making class with the three Sicilian women that cook on site here at Stemmari wines, then we’ll head to the Mediterranean for a plunge into the sea. If the days ahead look as good as today does, I’m sure the minimal fear this leap has incited in me will dissipate quicker than imagined.

Looking forward to having you all join me on this new chapter!

Vicki