Happenings at WWA (and beyond)
A collection off WWA event recaps, job postings, interesting articles, DC area events, wine industry happenings, and more. Bloggers will include WWA employees, event attendees, and students.
I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Jenalyn Johnson. Jenalyn currently works for a local wine distributor, but she did not always know she wanted to go into the wine retail industry. Read the interview below and learn how Jenalyn found, or rather stumbled upon, a way to turn her passions into a career.
How long have you been in the wine industry? Was it something you had been planning to do for a while?
I have been in the wine industry for 5 years. I jumped in or you could say I fell right into the business six months after turning 21 years old. Wine was never something I imagined I could do for a career. Now five years later, I could not imagine doing anything else!
Ever since I was a young girl, I knew that I wanted to be a sales woman. Starting at eight years old, I would go around my neighborhood, door to door, selling anything I could get my hands on. Looking back, I never dreamed that my future would be about selling something I’m so passionate about!
How did you get your start working with wine?
As it turns out, I got into wine during my college years, but not the way you might think! Growing up, I had a friend named Katy. Katy and I were close friends, so naturally I became close with her mother Sue. Sue was always sort of a business mentor for me. She was a Vice President for a large wine retailer at the time.
While attending college down in Florida I studied International Business, but continued to stay in touch with Sue. One day, out of the blue, she called me and informed me that her company was building a new wine store down by my school. She suggested that I go and work at the store. For some odd reason, she thought this might be a good career path for me. It’s almost like she knew me better than I knew myself. Up until this point, wine was a foreign language to me (I’d never even had a glass of good wine). Seeing as how I just turned 21, selling wine sounded like a good gig so I decided to give it a try (little did I know selling wine would become my future career).
I met Jessica Milby at a food bloggers social event a few weeks after the start of my internship here at WWA. I had a great time chatting with her, and her love and knowledge of wine and the wine industry really made an impact on me—she showed me that wine brings people together and that wine events can be fun and filled with youthful energy. Jessica also told me about her group, Young Winos, a social group that gathers young wine enthusiasts together to chat and learn about wine through creative social events. Young Winos sounded like a great idea to me, and I wanted to learn more about Jessica and how wine inspired her to create a wine group that appealed so well to young people.
How did you get your start working with wine?
I started as a server at a wine bar in Richmond part-time. I had no knowledge of wine at all but did have some serving experience. I learned a ton in my first few weeks and was intrigued by all the facts you can learn and how wine brings people together. My passion just took off from there.
What about the wine industry appeals most to you?
The fact that wine is always changing. No two vintages are the same so you must keep tasting! Also, you can never know all there is to know. My knowledge and experience continue to evolve.
How would you describe the wine industry/community in the Virgina/DC area?
Growing. More and more people are getting into wine and we can't learn enough. The ambition to learn and taste has helped the wine community grow across the area. People are learning from institutions like WWA, on their own, through local groups, and just by sharing bottles with friends. That's what wine is all about.
How did you get the idea for Young Winos and what kind of niche did it fill?
I found myself wanting to attend local wine events and geek out with others. However, my friends only enjoyed to drink wine and weren't on the same level that I was. I searched for wine groups and came across Young Winos out in CA. At the time they had a couple different ‘chapters’ across the US but none here in DC. I inquired about starting a DC chapter, was approved and took off from there. Starting with just myself, a Twitter and a Facebook, I reached out to young people in the DC metro area and began planning events. The group has attracted many different types of winos, from those who are in the industry and educated in wine to those who just want to learn more. It's an easy way to mix and mingle with fellow winos at different events that we host or attend. Now, two years later (this week!) we have over 300 members on our FB group and host 3-4 events per month.
On August 8, 2012 The Young Wino’s of DC hosted a wine tasting of “Wines Around the World” at the Bell Wine Shop on M street. The tasting, at the winning price of just $5 for facebook members and $10 for nonmembers, featured 40 different wines. There were 6 tables placed around the shop and upstairs, around which many young wine fanatics gathered to sip and mingle. Each table showcased personal favorites of the pourers themselves, each of which included both reds and whites. I always find tasting to be far more enjoyable when the pourers are generally passionate about the wines they are serving, and this setup allowed for such an experience!
I had the distinct pleasure of volunteering at the Swirl and Sip wine and food tasting at the Hillyer Art Space this past Saturday. Swirl and Sip is an online wine retailer based in the DC area, and their website highlights highly rated, quality wines. Former Washington Wine Academy WSET student, Jason Kim—founder of Swirl and Sip, was the host. The event showcased unique and delicious wine and food pairings. Swirl and Sip partnered with a handful of food vendors here in DC to create a fun night of food and wine. Apparently Jason was impressed by my wine-pouring skills in the WSET class because I was the designated pourer at the very first table in the rotation— sparkling wine.
Each table had two to four wines and a particular food that paired to match. I poured a Scharffenberger Brut NV from Mendocino County. It was fruit-forward, contained citrus notes and had a slight creamy finish. The Scharffenberger was paired with Brie cheese topped by a dried cranberry, and out of every pairing I tried at the event, it was my favorite (not like I’m biased or anything…). The other wine that I poured was a Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut NV from North Coast California. This wine contained more apple and citrus flavors than the Scharffenberger, and it had a delightful tartness to it as well as a refreshingly crisp finish. It was paired with Parmesan stuffed olives from Sapore Oil & Vinegar, which I’m sure were delicious to someone who actually enjoys olives.
Loudon Valley was different than other Vineyards I have been to in many respects, which made it all the more exciting! The tasting room was nothing grandiose, but a simple large kitchen turned tasting room. The causality of the room made it all the more welcoming and made me feel as though I was tasting in the comfort of someone’s home. The room was lined with windows, providing warming sunshine as well as a view of the vines. Currently Loudoun Valley is in the process of replanting all of their vines for a fresh start with their grapes! Although the grapes they are currently using seemed to taste just lovely to me.
For my second excursion in exploring Virginia Wineries, our first stop was Sunset Hills Vineyard. Located in Purcellville, Virginia, Sunset Hills had a beautiful barn-turned tasting room, complete with a wrap- around porch overlooking their grapes. The barn, being 140 years old, has a rich history. It was originally a working dairy farm and Sunset Hills preserved all of the original wood when they transformed it into the tasting room it is today. Out of the 6 wines we tasted, I could describe them all with just one word: pleasant. All of the wines, red and white alike, were surprisingly extremely easy to drink and lacked any unwelcome lingering aftertastes. I learned that the technical term for the aftertaste of wine is the “finish,” so in other words their wines had short finishes.
Ever attend one of WWA’s 1 hour classes and liked it so much that you wanted to learn more? The WSET Level 2 class takes the art of winemaking another step up! As a wine novice who practically fell into the wine industry by accident, I was eager to learn more about how wine works. Instructor Tom Finigan presented the material in a way which was easy enough to understand yet still rich in information. Because the course is jam packed with information I could go on for days with all the knowledge that I gained, but instead I will just present you with a few of the most exciting things I learned along with my favorite wines we tasted. If these wine tidbits are of interest to you, I highly encourage you to look into taking the class yourself! What could be better than learning more about wine and gaining a certification to make it official all at once?!
Five Most Interesting Insights:
1. The more sugar a wine contains the higher the alcohol content.
2. In general, although there are exceptions to every rule, white wines smell of citrus, green fruits, stone fruits, and tropical fruits; whereas red wines have hints of red fruits, black fruits, and dried fruits.
3. Europe (aka the Old World) has rather strict regulations on winemaking and wine production in order to maintain consistency and quality. For instance, irrigation is banned in Europe and they have to restrict their harvest to stay under mandated yield limits.
4. The human tongue tastes texture, not flavor, other senses are responsible for picking up on flavor.
5. In the U.S. winemakers have to pay significantly more per bottle if their wine is labeled with 15+% Alc, and that is why many wines higher in alcohol will be marked at 14.9% to avoid extra charges.
Five Favorite Wines:
1. Folie a Deux Chardonnay 2010 (Russian River Valley, California)
2. Angeline Pinot Noir 2011 (California)
3. Vincent Moray Chardonnay 2010 (Burgandy, France)
4. Lucashof Riesling 2011 (Pfalz, Germany)
5. Ponga sauvignon Blanc 2011 (Marlborough, NZ)
Last week Nikki and I sat in on the week long intensive WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) Level 2 Intermediate course taught by instructor Tom Finigan.
This course not only opened my eyes to the intricacies and complexities of the wine world, but it also allowed me to sharpen my palate and increase my sensitivity to wine quality and components. Despite the barrage of information, I never felt intimidated by the subject matter because Tom lectured in an accessible, approachable manner.
The most memorable aspect of this course was learning about the different wine producing regions all over the world. I am passionate about traveling and learning as much as I can about the world, so I was fascinated by the ways wine is produced and viewed in different countries. There was so much I didn’t know! For instance, I always knew that French wine was de bon qualité but I had never even considered South Africa or New Zealand to be wine countries as well. I began thinking about wine in a whole new way, and now I can associate different types of wine with different regions of the world.
We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to taste wines from all over the globe. One of my favorite wines was the Folie a Deux Chardonnay 2010 from Russian River Valley, California. I know I know, it’s not a super-hip wine from a tiny village on an island off the coast of Chile—but it’s delicious and refreshing and I loved it!
Wine-sniffing goes hand in hand with wine tasting, and I quickly discovered that I am a terrible wine-sniffer. Embarrassingly, I thought that quite a few of the wines had bacon-y undertones (wishful thinking). But as the classes continued I learned how to isolate the scents that were actually present in the wines. For example, I can now discern the scent differences between tropical fruit, red fruit, and purple fruit in wine! I considered taking myself out to a celebratory dinner afterwards.
Despite starting at 9:00AM, this class was interesting and engaging throughout. I certainly learned a lot, and I recommend this class for all wine beginners with an interest in expanding their knowledge and their palate. Who knew wine could taste so delicious before noon?
Tom Finigan is one of the talented instructors here at the Washington Wine Academy. He teaches the level two intermediate WSET (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) course, and his students leave each class inspired and more interested in wine than the class before. Tom has completed the WSET Level 4 Diploma—an intensive program that can take two to three years to complete. His passion for wine and the wine community carries through in his lectures, and I had the pleasure of sitting down with him and asking him a few questions about his experience in the wine community.
“How did you get into the wine industry?”
I began working at a high-end restaurant in college and during summers as a bartender. After college, I bartended full-time, and this is when my knowledge of the wine industry began to expand. My manager at the time would hold weekly tastings with the bar staff where she would teach us about wine and spirits. The more I learned, the more inspired I became for the industry. I continued to work in restaurants during grad school and I slowly found myself becoming the ‘wine guy’ wherever I worked. As I moved up in the wine sections of the restaurant sector I began to get introduced to more prominent people in the wine industry. I learned from them and continued to expand my knowledge and passion for the wine industry.
“What is your most memorable experience in the wine industry?”
My first visit to Napa Valley, CA as a wine professional was an especially memorable experience. It was amazing to see the industry working as a whole, and experiencing the industry in Napa helped my knowledge to grow and expand. I admired the pride and openness of the wine professionals I met there, because everyone was so kind— regardless of their prominence in the industry. Every wine maker I met was eager to share their philosophy and knowledge, and that the welcoming sense of community was inspiring.
Alex was awesome enough to take me to Paradise Springs Vineyard on June 19th. We picked the perfect afternoon! The sun was out, and the small, but beautiful, vineyard was the perfect setting for wine tasting and lunch. We tasted 9 different wines: 4 whites, 1 rosé, and 4 reds. The first Chardonnay (Chardonnay 2011) was aged ‘sur lees,’ which I just learned is a fancy way of saying the winemaker let the wine mix with dead yeast cells during the fermentation process. It was a dry Chardonnay, but the proceeding whites (20120 Viognier, 2011 Sommet Blanc, and 2010 Petit Manseng) had a refreshing sweetness to them. The rosé, Nana’s Rosé, tasted dry, as most traditional rosés I have tried tend to taste, but aromas of tropical fruit left me with a surprisingly crisp after taste. All 4 reds (2011 Cabernet Franc, 2010 Petit Verlot, 2010 Meritage, 2011 Norton) were aged in French, American, or Hungarian oak – so what right? Well in my nonprofessional opinion, I gathered these oak-aged wines, along with the first oak- aged Chardonnay, had fuller bodies than the others. Depending on the oak and the length they are aged, the body of oak-aged wine is enhanced with a smoky, toasty, sweet, or spicy aroma. Out of the reds, the 2011 Norton was my favorite, and happily enough the grape is native to VA! The tasting room only added to the atmosphere, with dark woods and stones covering all the walls but one. The back wall was made entirely of glass, allowing for us to view hundreds of Paradise Wine barrels. It really was a local patch of paradise!
Fun Fact: The only grape grown on their on-site vineyards is their Cabernet Franc!
Ferrari, yes like the car but not owned by the same family, is a winery that was founded in Trento, Italy in 1902. Entirely family owned and run then and now, Ferrari winery excels at producing delicious wines off their own and neighboring Italian vineyards. Under the passionate and proud praise of Ferrari CEO, Matteo Lunelli, we tasted six fantastic wines paired with delectable dishes from Tosca Restaurant (Washington DC). Joining Alex’s notes with my own, I have compiled a list of highlights which combine a novice perspective with a more knowledgeable wine source – proving wine can be enjoyed by a variety of audiences!
-Ferrari vineyards are located 700-800 meters above sea level, aka the perfect climate for Chardonnay (because it provides a great diurnal temp switch!)
-Vineyards planted on hills will inevitably have varying altitudes and lead to longer cultivation seasons
-Ferrari overall uses very low sugar content in their wines – so when drinking while eating the food does not over power the wine
- Many Italian vineyards must all work together to get all the grapes needed for specific wines – many owners are linked to their land and refuse to sell areas of land which are perfect for growing certain grapes
- They are now investing in educational programs for growers with a sustainability emphasis (Just like WWA!)