New York

In Praise of Discomfort

I’m at my best uncomfortable. I blame my parents though it isn’t really their fault. They raised me commercial fishing for salmon from the age of 9, till I retired in my early 20s, and it’s shaped my life ever since. I’ve spent my adulthood retraining simple habits I picked up fishing like going without food, water, or the bathroom as some faulty testament of fortitude and strength. Even so, summers still I schedule myself for work past the point of fatigue and revel along the way in pulling it off semi-gracefully. Part of me still admires the capacity to work beyond apparent human limits, as if it isn’t really me that pulls it off. I just get to be part of it. This July, for example, I completed the first half day of a visit with a migraine and the producers never found out. The man that drove me that day graciously helped track questions during the interview, for which I am endlessly grateful. I could keep up with the conversation. I just needed help connecting a few of the dots. My notebook is still full with notes of their wines, the vineyard, and their story. It’s good fortune that gives me the opportunity to meet with so many producers and I want to give them that time when I travel. Had I cancelled  to recover I would have missed the chance for that meeting. It’s hard to explain how much joy I find in simply listening to other’s stories (though I don’t always just listen).

This summer I’ve posted little here because I’ve been so busy elsewhere. For those of you that don’t know, when I’m traveling I’ve taken to telling the story of the people and regions I visit via Instagram, where it also routes to Facebook. There you will find photos of some of the people I meet along the way along with insightful quotations from our visit, or a factual dig into their story. For example, Phillip Hart walked me through his Ambythe Vineyard in Paso Robles where we discussed his work as well as the effects of the drought. Ambythe began harvesting this week.

Phillip Hart in his Ambythe Vineyard, Paso Robles

from Instagram: Phillip Hart walking his Ambythe Vineyard, Paso Robles

Paso Robles is just one of the regions I was lucky enough to visit. May began in Long Island, and then Chicago; June took me to Walla Walla as well as the West Sonoma Coast (again); July dug into Paso and Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County as well as parts of Napa. This month I’m catching up on articles and illustrations.

I’ll be writing more from these travels here through the rest of the year, as well as at, and elsewhere. I’m excited about work I’m doing for World of Fine Wine especially, as there I get to bring together my training in philosophy with my work in wine. It’s nice to recombine my professional worlds. In the meantime, here are a couple favorite photos from my travels looking at subjects I’ll be writing about more here.

Long Island

Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughter in The Hamptons, Long Island

Christopher Tracy, winemaker of Channing Daughters on the South Fork of Long Island, has some of the greatest creative latitude of any winemaker I’ve met. The winery sells the range of wines to prove it. He works too with soil scientist and viticulturist, Larry Perrine. Larry now directs Channing Daughters, but he arrived in Long Island at the start of the 1980s as a viticultural and winemaking consultant helping to solve nutritional problems suffered by the region’s vineyards. Together they offer a range of wines from classic chardonnays to Friuli-inspired white blends, to field blends made from the vines of Cornell’s Extension and Research Vineyard on Long Island’s North Fork.

Walla Walla

Norm McKibbenNorm McKibben led vineyard plantings in Walla Walla (W2) helping to expand quality vineyards through the region as well as inspire and support the work of others. His dedication to the W2 industry has been pivotal in so quickly establishing it as a celebrated region in the world. He is the founder of Pepperbridge and Amavi Cellars in W2 and helped maintain and expand the Seven Hills Vineyard – Sevein planting into one of the most sought after in the state.

Paso Robles

Mark Adams, Ledge Vineyard

Ledge Vineyards founder Mark Adams returned to Paso Robles and wine growing after a life in music and sound effects editing for major producers in Los Angeles. Today he makes some of the most delicious and drinkable Rhone wines of Paso Robles while farming his home vineyard in one of the few sandy soil sites of the county. In the last few weeks he expanded his family’s Ledge Vineyard planting to grow more Rhone whites and reds. Mark also makes wine just across the street with one of his long time friends, Justin Smith at Saxum.

Ballard Canyon in Santa Barbara County

At the top of Tierra Alta with Sonja Magdevski, John Belfy and Greg BrewerJohn Belfy (shown here center) has helped lead vineyard development and farming in Santa Barbara County‘s distinctive Ballard Canyon from its inception. His work established Jonata Vineyard and he planted and continues to farm Tierra Alta Vineyards as well, among others. Winemaker Sonja Magdevski of Casa Dumetz (shown here left) is just one of the winemakers that sources fruit from his Ballard Canyon site and counts him as an inspiration. Greg Brewer of Brewer Clifton and Melville (shown here right) makes wine from Sta Rita Hills but credits John for support and encouragement received earlier in Greg’s career.

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A Guide to Long Island (and tasting notes)

Larry Perrine, Channing Daughters

A two-hour drive east from Manhattan sits Long Island wine country. While winegrowing in the region began in the mid 1970s, it didn’t develop a concentration of vines for another 20 years. …

For those of you that follow along on Instagram, you already know I spent an intensive 8 days digging further into the wines of Long Island. I’ll be writing more on the movers and shakers of Long Island wine here over the next few months. But I’ve already published an overview of the conditions and challenges, as well as a dig into some of the stand out wines over on

Here’s a link to the overview article:

And to the tasting notes:

The articles are pay-to-read but subscriptions at are pretty straightforward and affordable. The site offers excellent articles every day about wine all over the world, as well as news events as they happen.

Subscription is £6.99 a month or £69 per year ($11/mo or $109 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

Sommelier Scavenger Hunt Somms15 Sommeliers for Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt

To open their Top-100 festivities this year, Wine & Spirits hosted their inaugural Sommelier Scavenger Hunt on Monday of this week. The event was designed to seek out, and celebrate the new classics of domestic wine.

As Wine & Spirits editor, Joshua Greene, explained, the last six months have been spent preparing for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt event. Towards that end, five teams of three sommeliers each from around the country were selected. Each team was then assigned to visit a different domestic wine region tracking a particular varietal expression for that region. In traveling the region, they were meant to study the region’s specific viticultural conditions, and then select six wines to represent a coherent picture of the breadth and typicity of their region’s unique terroir. Along with each region’s flight, the sommeliers offered a ten minute informational presentation.

Joshua Greene introduced the event. Following are notes from his introduction, followed by a brief look at each of the flights.

Introducing the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

“Sommeliers like competition. They often test themselves, whether in sommelier exams, going to Tex-Somm, or otherwise. We wanted them to do something collaborative. Rather than battle on their own, we decided we would have them work together, and then compete in groups. To win, they would have to work together.

“[In this context,] what does winning even mean? Rather than finding a wine that would be hardest to guess in a blind tasting, [for the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] it is about finding a wine that would be the easiest to guess [as from its region] in a blind tasting. We asked them to go out and find the future classics, that really describe the place the wine is from.

“[The Sommelier Scavenger Hunt] is also about travel, and getting to know the place. I got into [wine] because I like to travel. A lot of wine travel you see is more about lifestyle, and expensive. We decided we wanted them to do something more like The Amazing Race.

“While there they would select six wines meant together to be broad, and precise, [expressive of its region]. We’re asking them to show you a really specific connection between the place and the wine. We want them to show you that connection so that when you taste the wine you really feel that connection. We asked them to really think, what is terroir? and what is a great wine?

“Our staff got together and chose five sommeliers we really enjoy working with, and asked them to choose a team of two more, and then choose a specific region and varietal focus.

“We’d like you to think about these wines as you taste, as to where it is from, not do I like this wine?, but where is it from? how it communicates to you as a drinker, as a taster.”

Joshua Greene then introduced the first group from the Finger Lakes. Following are brief notes on the five group presentations.

Tasting the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt 2014

The quality of wines throughout was impressive. It was a pleasure to be able to taste these, to see the selections chosen to represent each region, and to be included in seeing the work each group had done together.

Sommelier Scavenger HuntJoshua Greene and 15 sommeliers from around the country fielding questions about domestic wines at the end of their Wine & Spirits Sommelier Scavenger Hunt presentations


Matthew Kaner of Covell in Los Angeles, Pascaline Lepeltier MS of Rouge Tomate in NYC, Steven Morgan of Squire Wine Co in Chicago

While viticulture in the Finger Lakes has historically focused on hybrid varieties made into quaffing sweet wines, more recently winegrowing through the area has turned towards crafting serious quality wines in a range of styles. With the oldest bonded winery in the United States, newer producers have the benefit of a wealth of already established geological and viticultural knowledge to draw on in exploring quality wine production. Riesling has risen to prominence as the signature grape for serious wine with a range of possibilities for the region.

The Finger Lakes flight showed good consistency of quality over the broadest range of styles of any of the flights. Due to the vast range of winemaking goals or style choices occurring in the region, this group had the greatest challenge in striking the balance between expressing regional typicity and coherence with breadth. Producers of the Finger Lakes are still exploring the region’s unique signature. That said, the wines all offered distinctive personality, and very good quality at mind blowing value.

* Tierce 2012 Finger Lakes Dry Riesling
all stainless steel, no malolactic fermentation. a wine with nice clarity, lots of length and “extraordinary personality.” very small production.

* Bellwether 2013 Finger Lakes A&D Vineyard Dry Riesling
ultra small production. captures a nice balance of weight to acid without residual sugar. great mouth watering length.

* Kemmeter 2012 Finger Lakes Sheldrake Point Vineyard Riesling
nice precision, juiciness, and length. clarity, focus, and balancing breadth.

Ravines 2011 Finger Lakes Argetsinger Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the stand out wineries of the region — available, affordable, bring out its personality with food

Hermann J Wiemer 2012 Finger Lakes HJW Vineyard Dry Riesling
one of the founders of quality in the region. nice overall balance, with a changeable finish. place along side food for additional balance.

Bloomer Creek 2012 Finger Lakes Auten Tanzen Dame Second Harvest
the wild card of the tasting, a very slow fermentation for additional richness and complexity, with an oxidative style, and a bit of residual sugar. pair with clam chowder to match the fleshiness of the wine, and give the acid something to cut into.


Ian Becker of Absinthe and Arlequin, Haley Guild Moore of Stock & Bones Group, and Gianpaolo Paterlini of 1760 and Acquerello all in San Francisco

Chardonnay proves to be one of the greatest quality varieties in the incredibly diverse growing region of Santa Barbara County. Though Pinot Noir from the region receives more consistent attention, the potential for quality on its white cousin is very high. The wines selected offered a very linear focus with lots of flavorful fruit expression and mouthwatering acidity.

The team for this flight chose to focus on a very specific style of chardonnay for the region. Within the competition, the Santa Barbara County flight was most expressive of the team’s preferred style, when considering the breadth of styles in the region as a whole. That said, the region’s signature clearly showed through the wines selected, and the quality was very good. This was also the most pleasing, tasty flight of the tasting.

Qupé 2011 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Block Eleven Chardonnay
the outlier of the tasting, the Qupé was the only Santa Maria Valley chardonnay selected, and was chosen out of regard for the heritage it expresses of the region. giving nice citrus curd mixed with olive, this wine offers a oceanic creamy waxy quality familiar of the Santa Maria Valley with tons of mouthwatering length.

Au Bon Climat 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
flinty mixed citrus, with a creamy palate. this wine strikes the balance of restraint, focus, and rich flavor, with tons of juicy length.

Chanin 2012 Sta Rita Hills Sanford & Benedict Vineyard Chardonnay
clean, crisp mixed citrus fruit, with a moderately creamy palate and a focus on length

* Tyler 2012 Sta Rita Hills Zotovich Family Vineyard Chardonnay
pleasing reductive tension brings a taut focus to the mouthwatering mixed citrus flavors. nice mineral length

Sandhi 2012 Sta Rita Hills Rita’s Crown Chardonnay
the most linear, and taut of the chardonnay’s shown. all about structure. mouth watering and lightly drying both.

Pence 2013 Santa Barbara County Chardonnay
delicate citrus blossom coupled with expressive citrus fruit layered with clay accents on a nervy taut mouthwatering line


Vanessa Trevino Boyd of 60 Degrees Mastercrafted, Steven McDonald of Pappas Bros. Steakhouse, Christian Varas of River Oaks Country Club all in Houston

Ranging from a genuinely zone 1 cool climate close to the ocean just into a zone 2 climate a bit inland, Anderson Valley carries the most definitive signature of the region’s tasted. Pinot Noir has risen to prominence as the area’s trademark variety.

The Anderson Valley flight had the tightest, most recognizable expression of regional typicity giving a wash of red fruit, and buckets of mouthwatering acidity throughout. It was the flight in which the region offered the most apparent expression before cellar technique. It was also clear that this is largely due to the area, rather than simply from the group selection, for example.

Drew 2011 Anderson Valley Morning Dew Vineyard Pinot Noir
light carbonic elements on nose, a wash of red fruit through the palate, long mouthwatering finish. wants air to open

LIOCO 2011 Anderson Valley Klindt Pinot Noir
high tone, lifted aromatics, spiced palate. red fruit throughout. lots of length.

Copain 2011 Anderson Valley Kiser ‘En Haut’ Pinot Noir
lots of clarity, tight focus with lots of precise structure but soft red berry and open midpalate

Lichen Estate Anderson Valley Solera Volume 2 Pinot Noir
unique of the flight yet still expressive of the region. red berry fruit with layers and folds of concentration, vintages 2011, 12, 13 blended in solera-type method

Elke 2011 Anderson Valley Donnelly Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir
bright, crisp red fruit both nose and palate, accents of forest and herb, lots of mouthwatering length

Phillips Hill 2011 Anderson Valley Two Terroirs C&R Pinot Noir
nice cut of red fruit with structural strength, and spiced oak accents throughout


Lindsey Whipple of Charlie Palmer Group in New York City, Will Costello of the Mandarin Oriental in Las Vegas, Mark Hefter of Crush Wine Bar MGM in Las Vegas

The Washington wines selected carried dusty mineral and saline crunch throughout. Five of the six wines grew from Red Mountain, and one originated from Walla Walla. We were also able to taste an older vintage on the final wine. Unfortunately, one of the wines was unavailable for tasting due to unexpected distribution issues.

This was the most challenging flight for me as several of the wines were intensely concentrated, inky dark on the palate. Still, the quality was good throughout.

Avennia 2011 Columbia Valley Sestina Red Wine
funky unusual nose, dusty mineral crunch through palate, bell pepper throughout

* Delille Cellars 2011 Chaleur Estate
nice acidity, opens and lengthens significantly with air, elegant finished, balanced concentration

àMaurice 2011 Walla Walla Estate Red Night Owl
intense concentrated palate, good tension, lots of length, inky dark

Upchurch 2011 Upchurch Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
highly concentrated, inky dark, challenging intensity

Fidélitas 2011 Red Mountain Optu Red Wine
unfortunately, do to a mix-up with distribution we were unable to taste this wine.

* Cadence 2001 Red Mountain Ciel du Cheval Vineyard
nicely balanced, aged wine with the dancy feet to balance the fruit concentration and dusty tannin. pleasant, beautiful.


Michael Madrigale of Boulud Sud in New York City, Josiah Baldivino of Bay Grape in Oakland, Michelle Biscieglia of Blue Hill in New York City

Team Napa Valley balanced their presentation of Napa Valley Cabernet with both valley floor, and differing mountain expressions of the fruit. The wines selected also paid tribute to a range of historic houses well respected for their quality contributions to the development, and sophistication of the region’s wine.

This flight was most successful in hitting the balance of the three elements requested of the sommelier team in choosing their wines — coherence, breadth, and typicity of the region.

Robert Sinskey 2009 Stag’s Leap District Napa Valley SLD Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
concentration, intensity, dark polish

Robert Mondavi 2011 Oakville Napa Valley To Kalon Vineyard Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
considered the 1st growth of Napa Valley, Mondavi owns the largest portion of the historic To Kalon Vineyard. this is a wine of concentration, polish

* Corison 2010 Napa Valley Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
offering characteristic floral aromatics, and nicely balanced, mouthwatering palate

* Mayacamas Vineyards 2008 Mt Veeder Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
still ultra nervy youthful wine, pleasing mouth watering length and nice palate tension

* Smith Madrone 2011 Spring Mountain District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
the most distinctive of the cabernets selected, the Smith-Madrone shows refreshing bell pepper aromatics, and ultra mouthwatering length

* Diamond Creek 2008 Diamond Mountain District Napa Valley Volcanic Hill Cabernet Sauvignon
pleasing mountain tannin and dustiness, nice acidity, want to revisit


The winning team of the Sommelier Scavenger Hunt will be announced at the Wine & Spirits Tuesday evening Top-100 tasting.

Post Edit: It was announced tonight that Team Napa Valley won the Wine & Spirits 2014 Sommelier Scavenger Hunt. Congratulations Team Napa Valley!

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Visiting NYC with Jr

NYC with Jr

our last day in NYC, riding the A line towards midtown

Jr has five places she wants to see–NYC, Sydney, Paris, London, and Japan. She gets to see me head off on trips often, while she stays in our home and schools.

On her birthday this year she turned 14. It’s an age that seems to me old enough for us both to easily enjoy a trip together, not having to plan only for the sake of one or the other’s interests. So, to celebrate we came to NYC for U.S. Thanksgiving and stayed with close friends I went to graduate school with.

It’s been a wonderful, easy going visit. I kept it focused on the two of us going slow, walking neighborhoods in Manhattan, and catching up with our grad school friends we hadn’t seen in several years. It turned out we also spent a lot of time sleeping.

Today we fly back home.

Love to all of you. I hope December has greeted you with warm hearts.


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Riesling from Red Tail Ridge, Finger Lakes

Red Tail Ridge Rieslingclick on image to enlarge

In the Finger Lakes Region of New York, Red Tail Ridge Winery has been growing in quality since 2004 offering unusual red varieties with a focus on Riesling.

The Finger Lakes Region of New York is known for its challenging climate that can bring serious growing difficulties in the vineyard including excess rain or moisture, and a genuinely cool climate. The area, however, has a long history of grape growing focusing on Concord grapes, and hybrids. More recently, some smaller growers have reached to International varieties with a strength for the cooler climate. In the last decade, these growers have successfully proven the region’s worth for quality Riesling.

Red Tail Ridge appears as an interesting winery for its focus on bringing together value-quality wines with both environmental and social commitment. Theirs is the first LEED gold certified green winery in New York State. Their Good Karma wine (labeled with the winery name on the back, it’s name, Good Karma, on the front) generates 10% of its profits for the region’s food bank, Foodlink.

The Wines

The Finger Lakes region produces Riesling presentation unique to the area. It succeeds at bringing together a cross section of fruits reaching out of citrus linearity into stone fruits and even light tropical freshness while maintaining acidity.

Red Tail Ridge offers Rieslings across a range of styles from dry to sticky. The three tasted here include the lighter side of their arc with a dry and to semi-drys. Each of the wines offers a strong focus on value with quality coming in well below the $20 mark. I am impressed by how much they are able to offer for their price.

The Dry Riesling is my favorite of the three giving clean fruit and flower across the full range of fruit characteristics showing a nice balance of citrus, stone, and tropical elements all with light feet and good focus. There are nice accents of mineral crunch and white rock here moving through a long finish. This wine retails for $18.95.

Good Karma brings together off-dry Riesling with unoaked Chardonnay for an accessible palate. The mineral elements on this wine range from crushed quartz to rock salt and bring another layer of interest to the nutty, lime blossom, and lychee combination. This wine retails for $13.95.

The Red Tail Ridge RTR Estate gives an off-dry presentation moving into more floral elements with its tropical notes giving jasmine and white tea alongside citrus and lychee, also retaining the mineral crunch. The light touch of sweetness here puts it alongside spicy food beautifully. The RTR Estate retails for $15.95.

Red Tail Ridge has also just released a new band of Rieslings, including their first dessert wine, and a late harvest presentation.


To read more on Finger Lakes Wines check out this article from Eric Asimov:

These wines were received as samples.

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As some of you know, I have an ongoing series that has rested dormant for several months drawing Winemaker Superheroes. Abe Schoener opened the genre as Thor. Jason Lett stepped in as Dr Who (Matt Smith’s rendition, to be specific). Angela Osborne appeared as the 8th Major Arcana from Tarot, Justice. Steve Clifton was clearly Superman. In the midst of the series I also drew one Superhero Wine Writer, Jeremy Parzen, of Do Bianchi. Only a few have been drawn in the Winemaker Superhero Series (one because it takes a lot of work but also) because not just anyone can be a superhero. There must be something iconic in the person, a character that exemplifies archetypal traits and symbolism. Recently I had an epiphany for a Superhero Sommelier, and finally have had the time to draw her.

Carla Rzeszewski as the First of the Tarot Major Arcana: 0 – Faith

Carla Rzeszewski as Faithclick on comic to enlarge

Quickly Explaining Symbolism of the Tarot: The Major Arcana

In Tarot, the Major Arcana represent large themes and lessons through a person’s life. There are 21 Major Arcana, each symbolizing a crucial turning point in an individual’s life path. The Minor Arcana (which resemble the cards of a traditional card deck with four suits, numbers 1-10, and royal suites), by contrast, represent decisions that must be made, but of a more everyday nature. Major Arcana are life changing. However, prior to the start of the count of these major lesson cards there is a card marked 0, which represents the pure soul setting out guided only by intuition and good intention to journey forth on the right path whatever it may offer. The card for this journeyer is traditionally called “The Fool,” with the idea of the fool here understood to mean the pure soul, the one that is not muddied by preconceived ideas, or strict knowledge. Instead, the fool travels forth in faith not knowing what the path will bring, instead knowing only that they will face the lessons with open heart and determined foot. The fool is the person guided by synchronicity, assisted by their own commitment to follow what is right for them. With such a figure in mind, the card is occasionally called instead “Faith.”

The deepest lessons from Faith are these. The path is only ever your own–you have been hand chosen to walk it and so it belongs to you. Though you are the only one that can take the particular journey, and you will gain in doing so, it is when you walk it in dedication to something bigger than yourself you receive the greatest gain.

The card also always shows an animal of some sort that brings warning and instinct to the traveler when needed. In most decks the animal appears as a small dog.

Carla Rzeszewski as Faith

In recognizing an interest in wine, Carla Rzeszewski dove into wine study while working as a bartender, finding herself with a sort of special attention for sherry and champagne. Soon after finding her love for the beverage, she was offered the opportunity to become wine director for several new restaurants in New York City. As I understand the story, the reality of stepping directly from bartender into director of a wine program intimidated her mightily. However, one of Rzeszewski’s beliefs is that if you decide you want something, you had better be prepared to embrace it and act for it when it presents itself to you. She accepted the position. Since, Rzeszewski has not only sculpted the direction of multiple wine programs in New York, but also continued her studies in wine by traveling directly to focal point regions, tasting widely, and working with other committed individuals in wine. She has served as a member of tasting panels for the New York Times, been profiled in the Wall Street Journal, and spoken at the Inaugural Women in Wine Leadership Conference held last year in New York. She has also consistently offered encouragement to others to hunt and follow their beloved goals.

Rzeszewski represents the figure of Faith from the Tarot in her hunt-the-path patience-determination combo, her open to the life-that-comes passion, her heart that flows in love and exuberance. She is guided here by a bird of creative vision, the symbol of timelessness. In flying highest, with widest wing, this bird offers insight into the full arc of life’s path from the start of flight, all the way into its transformation at times end. It is this broad vision that allows Faith to face any adventure without having to know in advance what will be. In such flight comes clarity and calm. Through her openness, the path she walks is vibrant and rich, represented by the colors shown here throughout.

In her work with wine, Rzeszewski’s choices reflect this same creativity and exploration, a playfulness grounded in dedication to her work. Her love for her work, and the people around her is infectious. It is her friendship that most readily showcases her enthusiasm.

Thank you to Carla Rzeszewski for your good heart. With much love.


To read more about, and hear more from Carla Rzeszewski:

In a recent episode of In the Drink with Joe Campanale:

Sporting her own damn trading card on Eater NY with Levi Dalton:

Getting into Why Sherry? in the Village Voice with Lauren Mowry:

An interview with Maggie Hoffman on which wines age well:

A interview on I’ll Drink to That with Levi Dalton:

Super fun Lady Somm Style with Whitney Adams:

Super star in the Wall Street Journal with Jay McInernery:

There is so much more great stuff online with Carla. These are just a few of my favorites.

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The following is a guest post written by Abe Schoener, winemaker of The Scholium Project, and one of the founders and winemakers of Red Hook Winery, Red Hook, Brooklyn, New York. The text of this post has also been shared with his Scholium Project mailing list.


A Report on Tragedy and Comedy, by Abe Schoener

Dear Correspondents–

I am writing you from Red Hook, Brooklyn, on a beautiful warm sunny day. I wish that I could send a hundred photos. There is so much tell you and words are not enough. I am writing from a pier with water on both sides– the south side looks across the Red Hook Channel of the Upper Bay of New York Harbor to Staten Island and Bayonne, New Jersey; the north side looks across the Buttermilk Channel to Governor’s Island and the Statue of Liberty. Wild ducks live near the breakwater shore; ferries, tugboats and their charges ply the water constantly. These days, we see a lot of police boats and Coast Guard cutters racing across the water. This is because we are at the center of a zone of water-born devastation.

I work at a winery here on this pier. I helped to found a winery in Red Hook in 2008, and I have spent many wonderful days here, making wine from New York grapes. I have learned so much from and with my friends and colleagues and have treasured both the experience and our accomplishments. It is not enough to say that there is a world of difference between making wine in Brooklyn and in Napa. I will leave it to your imagination. But what you must know is this: we have found some amazing vineyards sites in the warm, fertile soils of Long Island, and we have made some wines as good or better than anything I have made in California. I will save details for another message. When the storm hit New York, Red Hook was like a breakwater. No zones in the storm’s path in NY suffered worse damage from the raging waters. On the morning that the waters receded, my colleagues reported to me that the winery had been destroyed and that all was lost. Within another day, I got a somewhat more studied (and optimistic) report. We had no power, no doors to close, no working equipment. But very few of the wines, fermenting or in barrel, had been been flooded by water or swept away. It was a miracle. We are still not sure how much might have been contaminated indirectly (through the barrels staves, by swirling vapors), but we knew that we had a new task: no matter what the final result, we must work to save everything that we could.

I flew out as soon as I could. Meanwhile, Mark and Christopher and Darren and Ben and 20 volunteers cleared the tumult of barrels and swept away the fruit spilled everywhere onto the floor. On the fourth day, we began working on the wines again, in the dark, using headlamps and flashlights. We tasted everything and made a triage chart. Some wines still needed pumping over; most were at the end of their fermentations and needed to be drained away from the skins and seeds. We began work draining the tanks of red wine by gravity, into large open vessels that we would then bucket out of to fill barrels. Over the next couple of days, we drained the puncheons of white wine by gravity, bucket, and eventually by a tiny generator-powered pump. Yesterday, we finished draining the puncheons of red. Except for one still active Cabernet fermentation, every wine is now safely down to barrel. We don’t know how much wine is spoiled, how much contaminated– but in a certain sense we do not care. We had work to do.

Why am I telling you this? I learned an important lesson, reflecting on my colleagues and friends working tirelessly in the cold, dark stone warehouse that is our winery. Among us for three days was a winemaker from Piemonte who had originally come here to promote his wines to the important New York market. Instead, he showed up one morning at the winery and could not stay away. For three days, he held hoses, swept the floor, filled barrels. He could not stay away and nor could we– even though none of us had any assurance that we could finally save anything. Our work was in a certain sense an end in itself.

Winemaking is an act of devotion: devotion to the wine in front of you, still young and needing your husbandry to reach its best completion; devotion to the grapes, the grapes harvested to make wine at your hands; but most of all: devotion to the vineyards and the people who own and farm them. None of us had any doubt: we had a natural and irrevocable responsibility to make sure that the grapes grown by Ron Gerler and Joe Macari, by the Matabellas and by Sam McCulloch, that the fruit of their vines, harvested at length, after months of tilling, pruning, thinning, mowing– that these did not go to waste. Storm, hurricane, flood, absence of power, a forklift that would never lift again– no excuse, no impediment: we had a responsibility to make the very best wine and make sure that a whole year’s life in the vineyard was not in vain.

Our devotion flows from the fact that the essence of winemaking is not something silly like blending or ordering the right barrels: the essence of winemaking is preservation and transformation. Both of these can take place with the least of our intervention or supervision; this in turn emphasizes that we are not creators but shepherds.

We were in that cold, dark building for four days– Luciano, from Monforte d’Alba, with other responsibilities in an important market; Talia, a writer with deadlines; Allison and Matt with restaurants to run- we were all there for the same reason. No shepherd would abandon a flock on a stormy hillside. Not his flock, not his neighbor’s. When you take on certain tasks, you accept certain charges and responsibilities and they take residence in your bones. It is wonderful to feel that charge, so deep and so viscerally; and wonderful to respond to it.

This is a report on the close of harvest. Normally, I would not report on Brooklyn– it is another venture, not Scholium. But I rushed from California to come here, leaving my noble and precociously wise interns in charge of the Scholium winery. And my mind has been forced to reflect on two places at once, but one truth. The harvest in California has been my best ever, in every respect. The quality of the fruit, the quality of the wines, the youthful interest of the wines (some of them are already fascinating!), the happiness and efficiency of our work– never have I had a year like this. And my friends and colleagues who grow grapes and make wines– all of them are celebrating. This year, there was no suffering in Napa or Sonoma or Lodi or Suisun– only gratitude and elation.

And then a winery in Brooklyn is demolished and a whole year’s harvest threatened. It made me think right away of the two sides of a coin, inseparable. And made me think of the emblem of the Theater: two masks together, Tragedy and Comedy, inseparable. And this in turn made me think of a very important line in Plato’s Symposium, a beautiful dialogue about love, but also about drinking. The story ends with Socrates compelling his two remaining drinking companions (they had drunk the others under their couches) to agree that “it is in the power of one and the same man to know how to write both comedy and tragedy.” This line has always mystified me and spurred me to thinking, but I never felt that I understood it fully, or knew why this question brought the dialogue to a close. I still do not; but I feel somewhat closer, brought closer by my recent experiences in agriculture, in winemaking, in working in a harbor: in other words, by having my hands and my feet, and my heart and my head, in the physical, unbending world of Nature– not in the filmy, pliable world of books. I learn every year how close the wedding-celebration of comedy is to the funeral march of tragedy. Winemaking– like farming– is shepherding, but it is always no more than a breath away from spoilage.

Thank you for reading such a long message. Just let me know when you want to hear less from me.

With very best wishes


Red Hook Winery is offering “Survival Packs” — collections of their wine, still intact, available for sale. To find out more visit their site here:

To read more on the history of Red Hook, and the impact of Sandy on the area plus the winery, check out this thoughtful post by Allon Schoener:

To hear more from Abe on the state of things at Red Hook Winery, check out this podcast with Levi Dalton on _I’ll Drink to That_. Episode 42:



Thank you to Eric Asimov for including this write-up on Melissa in the New York Times “Diner’s Journal: What We’re Reading” July 10, 2012.


Melissa Sutherland: Wine as Food, The Aesthetics of Entertaining

At the center of a simple act, like entertaining in one’s home, rests an understanding of the incredible power of straightforward choices to shape the pace and balance of an evenings’ chatter, joy, and excitement. In his Third Critique, Kant considers the dynamics of a social dinner. According to his account, each aspect of the meal from how courses are designed, and moved one to the next, to the size of the party, and, most importantly, who is invited, are relevant to generating the Aesthetic balance that makes the dinner a success. What is implicit in Kant’s analysis is the understanding that a successful event, like a dinner well-planned, has the capacity to relax, to enliven, and to help create something new between the people within its influence. What becomes interesting here, is in considering how the choices necessary to such an occasion fundamentally rest in the meal itself, including the types of food and wine served. It is perhaps, first, with whom the evening is shared, that is most important for setting a mood of possibility for an event. But that mood is very closely next found in what food and wine is served.

Raised in Texas with parents that enjoyed having people over, Melissa Sutherland grew up well-versed in the experience of cultivating Aesthetic balance for an evening of entertaining. In their practice, wine operated as an integral feature of any meal, another ingredient in the dinner served. It wasn’t necessary for fine wine to be selected, but wine was understood as elemental to the process of cooking, and sharing food with others.

After leaving a career in politics, working both for Senators and on campaigns, Sutherland chose to return to Houston and enter a career in K-12 teaching. During her tenure in public schools, and having already cultivated a knowledge of both Italian and French wine, Sutherland chose to further develop her understanding of food and wine through purposeful study and note taking. In doing so, she was seeking to deepen her own knowledge, but also to return to her experiences from childhood, now as the adult in charge.

In talking to Sutherland about the insights she gained from both her own practice, and her parents’ in entertaining, she clearly names at least two. First, in Sutherland’s view, wine is far more than a commodity to be traded and sold. It is a food. This is not to say that it is enough to live on (just as any one food is not enough for a balanced diet or sustenance), nor that everyone needs to have it. It is to say that a foundational relationship with wine sees it as just as intrinsic to the Aesthetics of a meal as the food of the meal. Further, in taking this foundational relation with wine, it can be seen as a sort of vehicle through which relaxation, transition, and even elixir can be found. That is, when well timed and placed, wine can lead to things.

Coming from such a view, focusing on a life in wine retail reveals certain limitations to be wrestled with. Most primary of these is the simple fact that wine shops separate the food from the wine, thus structurally treating the two as different in kind. What Sutherland witnesses, however, from working with customers in wine retail, is that most enter with food in mind. That is, the bigger portion of the time, customers select wine based on an idea they have for a meal. In other words, (whether considering philosophy or not) they’re there in shop striving to cultivate the Aesthetic balance Kant considers by picking the perfect bottle of wine for enjoyment alongside the food they have planned.

Melissa Sutherland: Accessibility and Commodity, Wine’s Availability

After several years in public teaching, Melissa moved to New York and in so doing also stepped into a career in wine. Having established a strong base of wine knowledge, and experience in the analogies of marketing through her political career, Melissa was asked to help start the first retail + wine bar in Manhattan, Vino Vino in Tribeca. The several years of experience there led to her being brought into a position in the fine wine retail location Italian Wine Merchants (IWM) as their Creative Director at a time when the establishment was reshaping itself. There she helped redevelop IWM’s brand to reflect the shop’s new direction, and worked directly with fine wines from Italy. After several years with IWM, Melissa decided she wanted to take a new direction to learn more about wine from another angle. The change led to her position with the more volume focused wine shop, 67, serving as a wine buyer for Italian White Wines, and Sherry, as well as their Director of Marketing.

The move from fine wine to volume stands in opposition to a view common in wine, where such a change might be seen as a kind of downgrade in focus. In asking Melissa to discuss her experience in working with 67, it quickly becomes clear that the choice actually advances multiple goals and interests she carries in relation to wine. The easier of the two answers here is simply that Melissa wanted to learn about the realities of selling volume in wine retail. The more involved answer is found in the way that understanding how to sell volume also makes it possible to better increase the accessibility of wine for more people.

In thinking about her own career goals, Melissa plainly states that one of them is to put wine in the hands of more people. In doing so, she describes such a process in relation to the question of accessibility, but it quickly becomes clear that her idea of the term includes multiple prongs. When thinking about how to make wine more available to more people the question of volume becomes essential, but alongside volume rests questions of communication.

Looking first at volume, a simple increase in quantity means there is more product available for more possible people in terms of potential numbers. But greater quantity also works to lower the overall price of a product, thereby making it more affordable to more people. What is truly interesting about the role volume plays in wine accessibility though appears through a kind of tricky planning. By wisely targeting affordable trends in wine sales, Melissa has the capacity to use already established market leaders in wine (like the ever popular, lighter versions of Pinot Grigio, for example) to leverage in lesser known wines she hopes to help more people discover. That is, by selling more popular ‘high volume’ wines, she can use the guaranteed income of those labels to purchase and sell wines that are harder to get, thereby increasing a different sort of accessibility to labels that may be less readily brought into the United States otherwise. In doing so, she is able to expose those fine wines, or more obscure wines to more people.

But genuine accessibility depends upon better communication as well. In wanting to increase more people’s connection to wine, Melissa invests her time in expanding the conversation. In this way communication happens through multiple levels, and via layered differing vehicles. The simplest examples appear just through different ways to make contact with customers. Conversations on the retail floor with people that have walked through the front door of a shop’s brick and mortar location is one way. But today getting people in the door depends not only on the street front shop view, but also on online presence happening through a website, twitter, and other forms of social media.

In addition to considering the vehicles through which conversation occurs, Melissa also considers how communication happens. With the speed of online communication, focusing on something like having a well focused brand becomes essential. As such, she dedicates herself to developing coherent brand presentation as a way to generate quickly recognizable avenues for wine consumers. That is, a wine brand, whether it is a particular wine shop, wine label, or wine personality, serve as a vehicle through which individuals can make contact with a wine (or not). Whether an individual understands and feels comfortable with a particular brand identity determines whether that individual will approach and later return to develop a relationship with that brand. In the case of a wine shop, the brand serves as a way to give customers a sense of what’s available for sale. The brand offers a quick sense of if the shop feels right, or looks like the most reasonable choice for the customer. In the case of a wine label, the brand helps generate a feel for what the wine has to offer–again, if the presentation of the wine will suit the customers’ palate. A brand, then, operates as a kind of fast symbol for what a customer might want.

Ultimately, what is found throughout Melissa’s discussion of wine, including the more technical aspects of juggling smart budgeting of wine sales, or developing coherent wine brands, is a passionate desire to invest in wine as a vehicle both of sharing, and generating possibility–an elixir for a more beautifully lived life.


Thank you to Melissa Sutherland for taking so much time to talk with me! I’m so grateful, and thoroughly enjoyed our conversation.

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


My last day in New York scheduled a drive out the South Fork of Long Island to visit with Christopher Tracy, a man inspired by the wines of Friuli (not to mention Blaufrankisch–I love Blaufrankish), and the wine maker of the winery Channing Daughters. However, at the last minute I had to cancel due to a mix-up with the car rental company. Disappointed not to hear more about Christopher’s work in person, I set out to find at least one of his wines in New York City.

Slope Cellars in Park Slope solved my problem by carrying the 2008 Meditazione, a Friuli-inspired white wine blend created with 30 days of skin contact, co-fermentation, and barrel aging. In other words, a New York State orange wine.

Channing Daughters 2008 Meditazione

click on comic to enlarge

Channing Daughters’ 2008 Meditazione is a strange, intriguing, and highly textural wine. The blend brings together Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Friulano, Muscat Ottonel, and Pinot Grigio in a full maceration production process. As has been discussed here previously, the extended skin contact chosen in producing this wine allows tannin effect on the palate. The result of which carries a wonderful tongue grip tickle sensation in the mouth.

In producing this wine, the blend of grapes changes from year to year depending on the best balance for the particular vintage. The grapes are de-stemmed and then co-fermented in an open top fermenter, without pump over. The wine is left this way with full skin contact for periods varying from year to year. In 2008 the wine was left on skins for 10 days (in 2009 for 30 days). After fermentation is complete, the wine is moved to a mix of new and old Slovenian oak for 18 months of aging before bottling. With its tighter grain, Slovenian oak introduces lesser tannin or flavor influence to the wine, while still providing some of the complexity and layering offered by its slow introduction of oxygen to the juice as it ages.

The flavors of the 2008 Meditazione are dusty and yellow fruit focused, with layers of nut, white pepper, and touches of honey. The wine begins tight in the nose and mouth with distinct textural layers that open to reveal more dried yellow fruit and skin notes with time in the glass. There are flavors of pickled lemon (salt with citrus), dried white sage, and lightly smokey elements. I couldn’t help but keep returning to the glass with this wine. It is strange, in the most wonderful way, showing the qualities associated with orange wines but with its particular grape combination carrying its own unique presentation of bouquet and flavors. The alcohol level comes in at good balance with 12% alongside medium acidity and tannin, and an ultra-long finish. I had to chase it around the block.



Christopher, thank you for making the time to meet with me. I apologize for the mishap, and am happy to know I can look forward to meeting you in person later in the year. (Also, Ben at Slope Cellars asked me to say hello.)


Thank you to Ben at Slope Cellars for the help in locating Channing Daughters Meditazione, and for the great conversation. I enjoyed meeting you.

Slope Cellars, 436 7th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215. 718-369-7307

Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to


Thank you to Eric Asimov for mentioning this piece in the June 20, 2012 edition of “What We’re Reading” in New York Times Diner’s Journal.


A ways into the movie The Shining, when things have really begun to unravel for the father-writer played by Jack Nicholson (at least partially because of his nightly run-ins with the devil bartender apparition), the little boy rides down one of the long hotel hallways of the grand hotel only to meet up with two little girls in blue dresses offering warning. The boy’s life is of course ever changed by the horrors instigated by the spirits of the grand hotel, but his time there is characterized by free reign of the hotel itself–every aspect of it open to him, including a kind of spiritual channeling of the other worldly energies present.

The strange circumstances of The Shining are, of course, meant to be horror entertainment, but also stand as hint to the reality that some of us have greater access to the intricacies of place than others–be it merely literal lock-and-key entry into the backdoor domains of a large hotel, or also the vibes of the universe not always admitted to or accepted by others.

Some people say, the longer a Sommelier celebrates a place in the business of serving and pairing, the more often he or she becomes able to anticipate what a customer will choose before they actually order, or to nail a perfect match between food and beverage without yet having tasted either. Shown through such ability is a blend of nuance and knowledge that characterizes an on going study not only of wine at large, or food flavors, but also human nature. It also reveals an interesting sort of sensory intuition.

This last week I was lucky enough to spend time with New York Sommelier Levi Dalton, and so, too, hear about his various experiences in the wine world and how they have helped him develop this type of sensory prescience.

Levi Dalton: Working in Wine

Known as a brilliant go to expert of Italian wine, Sommelier Levi Dalton has helped develop the wine programs at several restaurants, including the now closed New York favorites, Southern Italian focused Convivio, and Northern Italian focused Alto. However, by his tenure at Convivio and Alto with Chris Cannon, and working alongside chef Michael White, Dalton had already sharpened his skills at restaurants in Boston, Miami, and New York. But, for Dalton, his time with Cannon and White offered an experience of being fully believed in. Cannon saw in Dalton the talent he has for synthesizing unique food-wine experiences, and invited him to develop a distinctive program for the wine to go with the foods White produced. As a result, Dalton helped broaden the customers’ palate for then-lesser known grapes such as Frappato or Aglianico, and introduce a public to the phenomenon of orange wines.

Prior to his work at Convivio and Alto, Dalton worked for Daniel Boulud at Cafe Daniel, first in Miami, and then in New York. The establishment carried a prix fixe menu for which Dalton would often design wine pairings. Through the experience, Dalton learned a particular view of meal design. Daniel Boulud encourages Sommeliers to look ahead to the final wine in designing the pairings menu. That is, he stresses the idea that the final course is the grand finale, and previous courses, including wines, work to showcase this last experience even while also celebrating each step of the way on their own. To put it another way, in this view, pairing wine and food courses should not be thought of separately but instead as a dance along the full course of the meal.

Moving, then, later to work with Cannon and White, the customers were able to develop their own prix fixe menu from a range of choices. But, what customers often chose for food would readily upset the order of traditional food and wine pairings. Customers were asking for what they wanted. It’s simply that the ordering sometimes presented a particular challenge for a Sommelier. That is, if customers chose a food traditionally paired with reds to start, and then something like seafood, for example, to follow, then the second course would apparently pair with a white wine. The problem with this, of course, is that starting with a red can often over power the palate for the subtlety of a white, thus leading to the white not showing as well as it would on its own. In addition, the menus White developed often offered courses that are simply challenging for wine pairing. With the trust Cannon had placed in Dalton, he was able to develop a wine list that showcased wines unexpected in traditional pairings that could work to celebrate the meal as a whole, not just individual courses, and solve the difficulties of unusual foods, or, traditionally out of order courses.

In this way, Dalton’s work at Convivio and Alto effectively put him in a position of carrying, and thus promoting lesser known wines. Such a reality sounds exciting to many Sommeliers that dream of developing their own wine program. The additional truth of such a situation is simply how to make it work. The job of a restaurant is, after all, to serve (and develop) its clientele so that it can continue. Many venues instead choose to stick with wines that they know mainstream customers want. That is, wines currently established with good sales in the market. By doing so such venues save themselves some of the time of explaining the wine list to customers on the floor, and the risk of wines not selling simply because they’re not recognized. Taking Dalton’s approach pushes on other demands. That is, a restaurant (or shop) willing to take the risk of lesser known wines also steps into the demand of educating its public. The Sommelier is required to invest time in bridging the gap between customer knowledge and the unusual list items. The restaurant must be willing to make sure its serving staff has at least basic understanding of the wines so that they may best present them to the customer. As Dalton describes it, much of his time has been spent reflecting simply on how to make this work. That is, on what it takes to recognize a customer’s palate, and from that information get them to try and order something new that they still can enjoy. One of the simple ways he found to broach the process was just in thinking on how to form the wine list in an accessible way. As an example, instead of listing the wines simply by region or price, the wines can be organized by style and depth so that customers immediately have more information towards what they are looking for.

Dalton’s investment in wine education does not hold just at unusual grapes or wine types, but extends to lesser known producers as well. He is drawn to seeking (though not exclusively) lower production, lesser known wine makers with good quality, and interesting approach. Then he seeks, in his work, to help develop their name, and thus also their success. By exposing the public to lesser known wine makers he hopes to help people, that are still under exposed in wine, step into a higher level of success.

Dalton’s interest in helping lesser known wine makers succeed would seem to parallel his own experience in the wine world with becoming a Sommelier simply through hard work, and persistence. Dalton stepped into the New York wine scene at a time when French Sommeliers were still the easy norm, then went from working with Daniel Boulud and his team of French Sommeliers to being “the tall white guy” at the exclusive, formal Japanese restaurant, Masa. In both places, his skills were apparent and appreciated, yet his appearance and background stood out as distinct from the assumed atmosphere of the restaurant. To add to it, Dalton very much worked his way up into becoming a Sommelier, starting as a bus boy for a restaurant where he also did bottle stocking for their bar. To move up over time to Sommelier, Dalton worked a lot of extra hours, doing more than required by his particular job in order to convince people he was worth the risk of promotion.

Still, it is in his time at both Cafe Boulud and Masa that Dalton experienced serving styles that, though contradictory, still influence him. At Cafe Boulud, the presentation worked not just for eating but as a kind of welcoming entertainment. On the other hand, at Masa the focus was on a sort of strict formality meant to offer warmth and comfort through its cultivation of presentation and etiquette. It is this combination I find in Dalton’s demeanor–a vivacious (and slightly goofy) push to entertain overlaying a steady, and quieter generosity of spirit.

Levi Dalton: Going Back to Timberline Lodge

Raised initially in Oregon, Levi’s parents worked at the ski lodge at Timberline ski area on Mount Hood, the same building in which the movie for Stephen King’s The Shining was filmed. With his mother working as a cocktail waitress, and his father a short order cook, Levi grew up with ready access to the restaurant, but also a lot of time freely out on his own. The area was quiet enough it was safe for a kid to be out without a baby sitter. As a result, Levi often spent his days following around Walt, the facility maintenance man, as they went below the main building to fix the boiler, or go unstop a hotel room bathroom. He also spent a lot of time visiting his parents in the restaurant, hanging out in the kitchen, or watching the action on the restaurant floor.

Later, after he and his parents moved to California, work in a restaurant was an obvious go-to job for high school. He already knew how restaurants worked. At 15, then, Levi began his career working as a bus boy in a family focused restaurant in Oakland, also stocking the restaurant bar between shifts. It was yet another experience for him of restaurant life as a kind of extended family–cooks would take a nap in the restaurant between shifts, they’d have dinner together at the end of the night, and make sure he got home safe too. During this time he regularly worked on the wine side of stocking the bar, then going home after to read about the bottles he saw. The interest paired well with his general views of culture and growing up. That is, in Levi’s view, part of ones job as a young adult was to learn your way into a sort of overarching cultural knowledge studying what wasn’t ready at hand. Connected to this too was an understanding that wine simply was part of culture. It wasn’t that wine stood out as special. It was simply that to understand culture one must also understand wine. As a result, even in high school Levi spent portions of his free time reading wine magazines to educate himself towards adulthood.

Later, moving to Boston for college, he took on a waiter job to help cover expenses. A business class luxury model restaurant-hotel, The Federalist, had just opened at a time when, thanks to wine auctions, it was possible to drop a few million and establish a world class wine cellar over night. Levi was able to land a wait job for the Federalist, and spent his time going in early to help stock the wine cellar so that he could study the bottles they had in the cellar. As a waiter he found that it frustrated him to be unable to answer any questions the customers may have. So, if any such questions came up he took note of them and then would study the subject after going home that night. Between his desire for serving the customer, and his determination to learn the cellar he was soon promoted to restaurant Sommelier, and found himself leading wine classes for the other serving staff. The time at The Federalist established an impressive foundation for Levi’s palate, as the experience meant he was regularly tasting wines still seen as pinnacles of wine history, including the obvious examples of decades old Bordeaux.

From The Federalist, Levi was asked to help the restaurant’s sous chef to open a brand new restaurant, with Levi developing the wine program. It was there that he began the experience that would help ready him for his work ordering and selecting wine, beer, and spirits later at Masa, or at Convivio and Alto.

Though it took him years to take the leap, Levi has since gone on to write about wine on his own blog (It was actually through his writing there that I first found anything about Levi Dalton, though it was later through twitter we became friends (pun purposeful, of course).) Asking about the delay between his clearly having established substantial knowledge in wine and his starting to write about it Levi answered honestly. He explained that in reading what others wrote he consistently thought that as much as he’d like to write he probably couldn’t. It appeared to him the person he was reading was simply smarter and more articulate than he took himself to be. He was finally gently pushed into starting to blog by being asked by numerous other people to write guest posts and articles on wine. Finally the request came enough Levi decided to take the risk and produce his own work.

He said the lesson there, and, from his story about working in wine, I take it in more than just writing too, is that when you find something you want to do, just stick with it. Don’t talk yourself out of something, just because you think someone else is better.


Thank you so much to Levi Dalton for taking the time to meet, and talk with me. I’m very grateful.

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