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What I’ve learned in Wine Country

It has been roughly nine months since I graduated from the best university on the planet, UNC Chapel Hill. Since then I have moved to Sonoma County, California and began working at two amazing wineries in Napa Valley. I have had the chance to learn from my coworkers, take an online course on wine, as well as taste at countless wineries. I’m going to share some of the basics of what I’ve learned and tips on how you can learn all about wine without having to move to California.

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How I got my start

Let’s start at the beginning. I’ve had the amazing opportunity to experience Northern California’s beautiful landscape, adventures, and weather since I was a child. Having grandparents on the opposite side of the country wasn’t always easy, but boy was it fun coming out here each summer to visit with them. This is where my love for Northern California began, but it wouldn’t be until my senior year of college when I discovered the wine side of it.

In my senior year I had the opportunity to come out to California once again, but this time to celebrate the marriage of my beautiful sister and brother in law. During my visit we went wine tasting and through my conversations with those at the winery it sparked the idea that I too could be a wine educator.

Upon graduating college, I began applying to countless wine industry jobs through winejobs.com. This website is an industry secret, where just about every winery in the region lists any and all positions that are open. Through this website I discovered the first winery I would ever work at, Tank Garage Winery.

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Where my learning began

My wine knowledge was close to zero when I got hired as a wine educator and saleswoman. This quickly had to change, because I would be thrown into the mix and be expected to talk about wine, the process of wine making, and the history of the winery I was now working at. I did my preliminary research but the real learning did not start until I started drinking.

To learn about wine you must drink it. It’s honestly as simple as that. When you drink wine include all your senses. Examine the color, swirl the wine around and smell it, try to see what it reminds you of. If you smell strawberries, cherries, plum or other fruit it’s not because that fruit or fruit flavors were put into the wine, but rather those characteristics are being exemplified through the grapes.

Wine is not produced from table grapes but an entirely different category of grapes. Wine grapes are typically smaller with thicker skins and if you ate one it would taste nothing like the wine it produces. Within this category of grapes called vitis vinifera, there are hundreds of thousands of varietals (and this is why there are so many wines to choose from at Trader Joe’s).

Pinot Noir is one type of grape varietal that is very common in Northern California. Depending on where it is grown it can cause a Pinot Noir wine to taste completely different. Some Pinot Noir wine can be light and fruit forward, some a bit heavier with a more earthy funk to it. This comes from the soil it’s grown in, the amount of light or water it gets and many other variables.

I was able to learn all of this and more about wine through asking questions, going out and tasting and reading about wine grape varietals. However, if you don’t want to know all the intricate details of wine all you have to do is taste.

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Wine tips

Start at your favorite grocery store. Pick out some different wines whether blended, meaning different varietals within one wine or single varietals meaning the wine will most likely be called that one varietal (like Pinot Noir or Chardonnay).

If you like sweeter drinks go for the German wine section and choose a Riesling, Gewurztraminer, or the Italian, Moscato. Everyone starts their wine pallet there, for the most part, so do not feel bad about it.

Then try to explore into some different drier white varietals like Chardonnay or Pinot Gris. Before purchasing look up reviews and see what others describe the wine as and if their description resonates with you.

When you want to venture into reds I highly suggest starting with red blends. Most wine in stores wont necessarily tell you what is in the blend, it may just say red table wine but this indicates it’s a blend though. If you find one you like and that’s all it says, do a little research on the brand and you’ll most likely be able to find those details on their website.

Once you find a blend you like try the specific wine varietals that blend is made up of. I love a red wine blend with Petite Syrah, Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot and others. This led me to believe I would like each of these varietals. However, that wasn’t always true. I love Petite Syrah for it’s chocolate qualities, while I don’t love Syrah because often times it can have more of a licorice quality to it.

In the end wine is only another form of alcohol. It will have the same effect on you so please drink responsibly and don’t let the stereotypes of people who drink wine affect you. If you love your PBR or sweet white Zinfandel that is just fine, you’re the one who has to like it.

If you’re looking for some good sites to learn more about wine, I suggest starting with Wine Folly, or Wine Spectator.

Also if you’re ever in the area, here are my top five wineries to visit. Iron Horse Vineyards, A. Rafanelli, Raymond Vineyards, Tank Garage Winery, and T Vine Winery.

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Thanks for reading, I really hope this was at least a little bit helpful. If you have any questions feel free to reach out or comment below! I may do more of these or not, so let me know if you would like to know more about my California wine journey.

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