New Zealand

Hello beautiful friends!  I’ve missed you, terribly.  I need you to know I have been thinking about my blog daily, feeling overwhelmed with the amount of photos and stories I want to share – feeling so behind that it is hard to start writing again!  But here we go, I’m diving in.  I think the best way to start again is to share where I am now and backtrack where I have been as we go… And here we are, a few months later and in a different hemisphere.  I would like to share with you, New Zealand.

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 Let’s zoom in a little to the South Island, into the central part of the southern region, to my new little home in Cromwell, nestled within the wine region of Central Otago.


In 1862, gold was found in the hills of Cromwell and gold miners flocked to the region.  As gold ran out, the region became the center for farming stone fruits.  More recently, vineyards have been dominating the landscape.  The region of Central Otago has an extreme climate full of valleys carved by rivers up against desert snow capped mountains.  However, this terrain has made this area a very special place to grow wine grapes due to the stony free draining soils of the valley.  The king of the region is, of course, Pinot Noir, the reason I am here.  As for the whites, there are several aromatic varietals being grown such as Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer.

My sole purpose of this new adventure in New Zealand is to work with a winery that I have been following closely over the past year, Burn Cottage.  They are considered a younger winery in the region, located in the heart of Cromwell.  Burn Cottage has 11 hectares of Pinot Noir  (including a small amount of Riesling and Gruner Veltliner) that was planted in the early 2000’s and has been farmed biodynamically from inception.  Burn Cottage also has ties to home in California, to a very inspiring winemaker by the name of Ted Lemon.  Ted is the owner and winemaker of Littorai Wines located in Sonoma County and is the Consulting Winemaker for Burn Cottage.

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And so, on January 1st, I boarded my flight, bound for Central Otago.  Since my arrival, I have been working full time in the vineyard and recently, I have transitioned to the cellar to help prepare for the vintage. Over the past two months, I have seen the vineyard transition from flowers to green clusters, and now, to ruby red.  You can taste that harvest is near.

I would like to share my days with you.  For the last few months, I have been spending my weeks in the vineyards and my weekends on the road, exploring.  The best part of being in New Zealand is having my best friend and partner with me, Mike!  We flew over together and he is working at another winery  just across the valley named, Akarua.  Once our work week is finished, we have been hitting the road (on the left side ,that is) exploring as much as we can of this beautiful country.  Please enjoy the following photos as just a sliver of my time here.  Just to clarify, New Zealand is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and to top it off, they make just as beautiful wines.


P.S.  I am looking forward to finishing the story of my time traveling throughout France and Europe, along with a few extra adventures.  Please stay tuned as we are getting our first pick of grapes TOMORROW from the Estate!

And just like that, the 2016 vintage has begun.





Petrichor (n) the pleasant, earthy smell after rain.  

& just like that, September has passed.  With one big rain storm, we have welcomed in a new season as the vineyards turn, the temperatures chill down, and the winds sweep in from the Swiss mountains to the East.  Living in a place surrounded by vineyards, you can truly see the change of the season by the colors of the leaves, and it have only just begun.  The faint changes are everywhere – from greens to golds, golds to oranges, and oranges to reds.  The temperatures have dropped, leading to chilly mornings and evenings as I’ve been bundling up each day for the cellar. 



Currently, we have every fermentation pressed! This means no more punch downs and pump overs, we have removed all the wine from the skins and seeds and are working just with the wine, heating up the tanks to activate the yeast to consume any of the left over sugars.



  For the first time at Briante, we are pressing fermented grapes from the Amphorae.  We acquired a small scale basket press for the job and it worked like a charm.


Since my days have continued to be spent in the cellar, my free time in the evenings have been spent strolling through the local vineyards at golden hour – with Inox’s company of course. 





I had my first weekend off – it was time to explore!  I purchased a one way ticket up to Dijon to visit a friend, Clemence, who I had met the previous vintage when she interned in California.  I boarding the train Saturday morning at 9am in the next neighboring village, Belleville.  The train traveled north, through Macon, up through Beaune and landed in Dijon a quick hour later.  The Dijon train station is quiet large, larger than the station I departed from, and I weaved through the tunnels, up a flight of stairs, and miraculously ran into Clemence as we were passing through the entrance at the same time.  I had arrived and was grateful to see a familiar face!  This was my first excursion by myself outside of Briante.  Clemente and I drove back to her house, catching up on the lost year between seeing each other.  In the evening we took the small train from her house into the center of Dijon.  We jumped off at the park center.  After wandering through and around the park, we made our way to an art museum where we slipped in for the last 20 minutes before closing.  From there we made our way to a charming intersection between the theater and museum and a street of restaurants and shops and found a small table at a place called Trinadad.

The feeling of being in Dijon – walking through the cobblestone streets, seeing the liveliness of the city and people, with the colorful tiled roofs, and church steeples, it was an overwhelming feeling of finally being in France.  I have made my home at Briante for the past few weeks, spending the majority of my time on the Estate with the focus on work.  To be out, with Clemence, sitting at the little wooden table nestled up against the stone wall of the theater, people watching at golden hour, made it very surreal.  It was a surge of energy and happiness and relief and of everything that I have dreamed about visiting these places.  Reality finally had hit me that I had arrived in this beautiful place, I was here, and I have been here all along!

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Clemence and I ordered two Kirs, a classic drink of white wine with a splash of cassis (red current).  We bundled up in our scarves, retold stories of our times in California, triggering an impulse order of a round of Mojitos, the best decision of the day.

As the evening was cooling down, we strolled past the city hall, fountains dancing in the golden hour light and wandered our way through the beautiful narrow streets.  We eventually hopped over several blocks to a small Irish pub to watch the France rugby game with friends. 


The next morning, we made a big lunch with all the friends who joined us for the rugby game before.  Classic soup from Beaune and pastry wrapped chicken with sweet potato, parsnip mashed potatoes.  We finished off lunch with some Epoisses de Bourgogne with a fresh baguette.  We left for the train station, this time to Beaune.  Clemence and I drove through the back roads of Burgundy, windows down, weaving through the french countryside and the charming small towns.  We made two stops, the first at Clos de Vougot and the second at the site of the Romanee Cotie vineyard block.



Much of this past week has been spent again in the cellar, vineyard and orchard.  We have been harvesting the quince trees that line one of the vineyard blocks, and guess who tagged along…


Currently, I have been planning lots of plans.  Plans on plans.  Travel plans, plans to see cities, and old friends, and old friends in old cities.  There is lots of exciting things to come.  Tomorrow, we leave for Alsace.  

Stay tuned!





With a turn of a leaf, harvest is over.  I haven’t had a moment to sit down and write since my time has been well spent in the cellar each day for the past two and a half weeks – up with the sun & down with the sun.  We had seven consecutive days of receiving fruit at the winery from the three different Crus and our work has continued with the fermentations.  The day before harvest, people from both sides of Lauren’s family gathered within the gates of the Estate to celebrate the beginning of the new vintage.  The group branched out from parents to aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, cousins of cousins, friends of cousins, everyone was here.  We congregated on the crush pad of the winery next to the towering stainless steel equipment that was clean and resting before the big day.  Romain, Lauren’s husband retrieved a magnum of Cremant sparkling wine from the back and entered the big circle with his wife.  The two of them gave a toast, thanking everyone for their support and their time to travel to help jumpstart the beginning of the vintage, that’s what I assumed anyway.  I had met all the family members at this point, as none of them spoke any English and we all kindly passed smiles.  We held our glasses up and cheered ‘Santé!’ before the bubbling Burgundy hit our lips. IMG_4631IMG_4791


We sat at a long table within the winery, next to the barrel cellar that was illuminated behind sliding glass doors by dim lights tucked below each barrel row.  The big beams above us cast faint shadows across the table, over the dishes being passed and the sea of stemware.  This is the table we were to eat each lunch and dinner together, everyday, for the duration of harvest.  I soon learned that the family had also come to help – this was the fruit sorting crew, these were the helping hands.


Day 1 – The next morning, we all rose with the sun.  Hot espressos, fresh baguettes, homemade jams and butter scattered the same table we sat at the night before in the cellar.  As golden hour commenced and the suns beams lit up the morning, the first truck load of fruit arrived, bringing fruit in from the Estate property of Brouilly.  From the crush pad, the fruit made its way across the sorting tables, lined with family members, laughing and sharing stories, whose job was to sort out raisins and any damaged fruit.  Based on Lauren’s preference, the fruit was either destemmed or left whole cluster depending on ripeness. Then, the fruit was loaded into a stainless steel bin that rolled into the winery and hydraulically tilted to pour the fruit onto the bottom of the ‘giraffe’ conveyer belt that takes the fruit and drops it into the top of each tank. We filled our first cuve (tank) to the brim, alternating layers of whole cluster and destemmed berries.



Day 2 – We received fruit from Moulin-A-Vent and from Brouilly, filling our next two cuves.  We also hand selected clusters to layer into two Amphorae (small clay fermenters) with whole berries.  The plan – five day cold maceration with pump overs and punch downs, as temperatures heat up, we delestage to control temperature and supply oxygen to the yeasts in the fermentations.




Day 3 – We began the morning by filling the Bois – the Bois is a large wooden tank, beautifully designed to act as a neutral wood fermenting tank.  The one lot of Cote de Brouilly was designated for the Bois.   We started our punch downs and pump overs on the first tank we received of Brouilly and the other two lots we received from day 2.  We inoculated the Amphorae as we had no method of keeping it cold at this time to delay fermentation from starting on its own.  Lauren’s style of winemaking utilizes the abilities we have to cool the fermentations before they take off.  Cooling the fermentations stall the yeast from starting to metabolize the sugars that are in the grapes and lets the weight of the grapes slowly start to seep out the juice at the bottom of the tank, allowing this juice to mingle with the skins of the grapes, increasing the color concentration.  The Amphorae are too small for the cooling system we had, so we started the fermentation earlier than we were expecting.  On this day, we saw rain.  It is very unusual in California to see rain within the harvest season.  Rain can act as a big threat during this time, leading to mold developing with the clusters such as botrytis.  We were lucky enough to have winds come quickly after, drying out any remaining moisture in the vineyards.



Day 4 – We received Beaujolais grapes to make our Rose.  These grapes went straight to the Press to minimize skin contact and color saturation.  We continued to punch down and pump over our cold soaking lots and Amphorae and inoculated our first tank of Brouilly. 



Day 5 – We started the day by racking the Rose.  When we pressed the Rose the day before, the first pressing of the grapes can incorporate sediment of seeds and skins.  With time, these particles settle to the bottom, and the wine itself rests on top.  Racking simply removed the clear wine from the top of the heavier layer of sediment at the bottom.  We continued with our daily pump overs and punch downs as we filled two more tanks with Estate Brouilly fruit and inoculated the first Moulin-A-Vent lot. 




Day 6 – We started the morning with our cap management of pump overs and punch downs and processed more Brouilly fruit.  We spent the afternoon inoculating a few lots that were ready. The work day spread from 7am to 8pm, the longest day so far, and it was Lauren’s birthday.  Once the floors were swept clean, we popped some champagne to celebrate. 



Day 7 – In the morning, the last of the Moulin-A-Vent arrived and was filled into the last tank.  We added a few heaps of fruit into the Amphorae to find a little more wiggle room for the extra grapes that couldn’t fit into the tank.  Adding some new grapes to the Amphorae only will extend the fermentation time, adding sugar, also increasing the time for extraction, yum!  As we cleaned up the crush pad for the last time, a local restaurant was setting up lunch near the barrel room – on the menu – tete de veau, veal head.


I want to pay some respect to a beautiful piece of French culture that I am in love with… the bread.  I don’t even want to think about how many baguettes I have consumed being here.  We eat them with every meal – with jam, nutella, meats, cheese, everything is accompanied by a baguette, which is so wonderful.  I was lucky enough to meet Romain’s friend, Emul, who is the winemaker at Hamilton Russell in South Africa.  He left me with the most valuable piece of knowledge I have learned within the first few weeks in France which is, “the fist six hours of the life of a baguette is glorious, after that, it becomes a weapon.”  This statement is oh so true.

I wanted to include some extra thoughts.  I stumbled across an entry I wrote down four weeks before I left for France.  As we completed harvesting here and I am approaching my week four mark in France, it is eye opening to read over again.  I hope if anything, you find an ounce of encouragement in it as I do reading it again.



July 17th, 2015 – I leave 4 weeks from today.  I am getting very excited as the nerves are awakening but also suppressing.  Im currently working at the tasting room, its been a very slow day as it’s 3pm and I have seen one customer and sold just a single bottle. 

I am looking to start my blog.  A blog without a name.  An unbranded blog, an unbranded untold winemaking story of a young 20 something year old girl seeking to make wine in foreign places.  To learn, to taste, to see, to meet and greet and stay and drink.  To make friends and eat meals and dip toes in unknown waters and walk vineyards that are older than her.  Looking to develop a story, to unravel a story that is wound up already, ready to be told.  It’s a vulnerable place to be in when you want to share your writings of a story you are living but haven’t written any stories in awhile.  Its nerve racking to open up and share words like these to people just like you, whoever you are reading this, but i hope you will be kind to these words and open to the experiences that are to come.  I hope you are forgiving of the errors in life and in grammar on page.  I hope you are reading though, and listening and sharing and sparking conversion to give advice or take it.  I hope you are freely diving in around and ultimately just absorbing encouragement to be brave, to go out and discover, and learn and seek and explore.  I have been living with the anticipation to start living this journey.  And its a terrible place to be in.  It isn’t fair to waste beautiful days scared of whats to come or be anxious for it.  But it is important to fulfill each day with what you want for yourself.  Whether its love, health, a deeper sense of self, or to create. 

I think the only fear I really have of leaving is to be vulnerable to a language I do not know, but that I would love to learn.  And by learning, it opens doors to bigger things, to things that provide an understanding and replace fear with a sense of familiarity.  Isn’t that the root of fear anyways?  The fear of something that is unknown or something that isn’t familiar?  But if everything in our life is found to be known and familiar where is the chance to grow and learn and stretch ourselves? How do we become bigger? How do we learn and expand to absorb new information to share with others?  It’s a funny thing that the more your learn the more you realize you don’t know.  You open doors to spaces you didn’t even know existed.   

I have found myself in a place of constant pursuit, of something in the unknown distance.  I have been pushing forward into the unknown of the future but with a sense of comfort and confidence which I find strange.  I have been tapping on doors, pursuing the small breaks to pursue something bigger, something more powerful.  I have been raised with the idea there is a plan for me to fulfill, and I have found comfort in knowing that every turn, every decision is for a reason.  As I push forward, it has opened doors into right directions, into open places ready to move to purpose.  This is where I find confidence.  Even in my fear of traveling this Fall, I find comfort in knowing I would only be on my way if not  for a reason, a big reason.  A reason with a purpose to fulfill.  A reason to learn, and strengthen and grow to teach and lead and share with others one day. 


Wild snapdragons at Moulin-A-Vent.

A Beaujolais Splash

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Currently as of August 29th.

As I receive news about harvest commencing back home at Narrow Gate, here in Beaujolais, we are anxiously awaiting the start of the ’15 vintage.  Each day, we see more and more truck loads of grapes zigzagging through the narrow roads of the village, in route to its destination. We can feel that harvest is close.

On Monday morning, we began to prepare the crush pad at the winery.  The winery building is located on the Estate, just behind the Chateau.  The building is… beautiful.  Much of the original stone and wooden beams are intact but there has been some restoration for functionality.  As the winemaker, Lauren is a firm believer in the golden rule – you can only make good wine from good grapes.  She prefers to use sorting tables – their function – to distinguish between the different sizes of berries through vibration, separating the raisins and damaged fruit from the whole healthy berries.  She also believes in order to preserve the quality of the fruit, the berries must be handled with care.  From the sorting table, to the destemmer, to tank – the whole berries go through a series of conveyer belts to go up and over gently into each tank.  Lauren jokes that clearly this operation was designed by a women, and I have to agree, it makes a lot of sense. 

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I was curious – what is it like being a successful female winemaker in a not only traditionally but historically male dominate industry –  Lauren says that just like in California, there are more and more female winemakers entering the industry and making great wines. As for me, it’s the inspiring part of working at Briante, learning and assisting a female winemaker, who is paving the way for other young aspiring female winemakers, like me. 

On Tuesday of Week 2, it was hard not to feel the overwhelming sense of girl power once again as Lauren and I met up with a female Enologist from Beaune.  Our mission: to scout out and take samples of the three vineyard locations within the three different Crus – Brouilly, Cote de Brouilly and Moulin A Vent – to determine when we will harvest.

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Walking with Lauren and Isabelle the Enologist in Brouilly at the Estate.

We took to the closest Cru first, Brouilly, which is at the Estate.  We weaved through the low head-trained vines, tasting grapes, examining the seed texture and color.  Moving to another block, we continued down the rows of now trellised vineyards.  Briante has been slowly trellising the 40 year old vines within the vineyards to make them accessible by tractor, also utilizing the infrastructure to lift the vines off the ground to provide better airflow and sunlight.  We moved on to the second Cru, the south base of the mountain of Cote de Brouilly.  It is incredible to see the soil change as we move within the region.  Large blue granite stones and quartz rock littered the vineyard at the base of the mountain.  Typically a cooler site, the Cote de Brouilly fruit has a bit more complexity, with thicker skins.  Lauren says she likes to use it for a bit of whole cluster fermentation.  We walked, tasted, and collected our sample.  Lastly, we moved to the third site, Moulin-A-Vent, a 15 minute drive north of Brouilly, just below Macon.  Once finished, Lauren and I headed back to the Estate for a quick lunch of carpaccio and fresh bread.

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From where I stand with the wildflowers in the vineyard, breaking in my graduation gift!

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Cote de Brouilly, right outside of the village.

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At the base of the south side of Cote de Brouilly.

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Within the Cru of Moulin A Vent, looking north into the town towards the windmill.

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Another angle of Moulin A Vent, looking East to another village.

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Carpaccio and pesto. Bon appetite!

Later that afternoon, Roman and I headed north again, to the Saone River in Macon.  Roman’s good friend owns a boat shop on the river, it was time to water ski.  We took his friend-filled boat out and anchored in the middle of the river, between two bridges.  We opened a beautiful Alsatian Muscat and a Macon Chardonnay, popping the corks just as the ski boat pulled up to us.  We changed into short sleeve wetsuits and hopped onto the smaller boat.  We took off on the speed boat, to the top of the river.  Jumping into the water, it was shockingly warm, not like the refreshing waters of Lake Tahoe I have become very used to in the summertime.  The sun was setting, it was golden hour. We water skied until the wind became chilly and the shadows grew darker over the water.  We dried off, broke bread, carved some cheese and cruised up the river farther, circling around the island until the sun sank and the moon rose.  It was another beautiful day in France.

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I wanted to touch on a recent article I found concerning the Beaujolais region breaking out of its shell and its old stereotypes.  The article, “Beyond Carbonic: A New Era for Beaujolais” by Jordan Mackay, talks about this new wave unconventional style that is booming within the region, with the Crus at the epicenter.  He says that between 1960 to 1984, Beaujolais Nouveau style wines rose from 5% to 52% in sales, rebranding itself as a cheap, fruit bomb that was easier to drink than water.  During this time, the Beaujolais Nouveau areas cast their shadow onto the Crus, who do not produce this style and are the notably top wine producing zones within the region. 

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To rewind just a little as a reminder, Beaujolais produces purely Gamay.  Gamay is known as the larger thin-skinned version of Pinot Noir.  Jordan continues to describe traditional Gamay as an “intoxicating mist of strawberries, raspberries, and cherries”.  These candy fruit flavors are contributed to the type of fermentation that takes place – carbonic maceration.  Now, these aren’t scary words – carbonic maceration is simply an intracellular fermentation that takes place within the grapes themselves, by leaving the grapes on the stems (whole clusters) and letting them sit in an anaerobic environment (without oxygen).  Instead of producing one huge fermentation, there are little individual fermentations taking place inside each berry, or at least thats how I see it.  By doing so, you decrease the juice exposure to the skins because the juice is trapped within the berries still.  Within the skins is the tannin.  If you decrease the time the juice is exposed to the skins, you decrease tannin, therefor produce a less tannic style of wine that directly preserves the fruitiness. And then, Voila… you have Beaujolais Nouveau. You with me?

Carbonic maceration has been the two words to describe Beaujolais for over the past 4 decades, also coined to describe the infamous Beaujolais Nouveau style.  As we fall into a new era with new technology, we are able to reflect and shift to create a new era of winemaking.  In this new era, the Crus are looking to regain their “seriousness” says Jordan, and that is exactly what I am experiencing here in the middle of where three Beaujolais Crus meet.  It is the beginning of an era where winemakers, such as Lauren, are not using carbonic maceration, but are simply combining whole cluster grapes with de-stemmed grapes to co-ferment together.  They are using simple technology such as cold soaking before fermentations to control the temperature to concentrate flavors and soak in the terroir.  The Crus are looking to produce wines that have deeper complexity, tannin structure with fruit, that gives it an ageability, which is the complete opposite of the Nouveau style.  When I talk to Lauren about her wines, that is the exact thing she says she wants for her wines, and that is what she is doing, reinventing the Beaujolais way, working to redefine the Crus once again.  If you are interested, here’s the link to the whole article.

Till next time,



Lavender & Apricots & Quetsche

Homemade lavender apricot jam with a fresh bakery waxed stamp baguette and a petite cafe.  This has been breakfast for the last week – a week!  I’ve been in this beautiful place for a week.  13 more to go.


Lauren has been kind enough to grant me some down time as I settle into my first week.  As we wait for the vineyards to ripen, there is not much to do but to explore (and practice my french) and catch up on lost hours of sleep from traveling.  I spent the next few days running in the mornings with Inox to explore the local villages, each day going a little further.  Lauren told me about the chapelle (chapel) on the hilltop of Cote de Brouilly (the next Cru over).  From the Estate, we can see it glistening among the stars on the mountain at night.  Within the winegrowing regions, the highest mountain peak within the village holds a chapelle, built as a guardian over the grapes during the growing season.  The next morning Inox and I set off for the chapelle.  We weaved down the roads through the vineyards, into the village of Saint Lager and up towards the top.  7 miles later, we arrived back at the Estate, feeling quite thirsty and quite exhausted from our ambitious journey.




Cote de Brouilly – a separate Cru within the Cru Brouilly – known for its rocky granite soils.




The chapelle at the top of Cote de Brouilly.


Inox, happy to run, happy to return to his castle.

Now, for the real reason I am here, the wine – du vin.  Beaujolais is a wine region in the southern most valley of Burgundy that beaujolais-mapgrows purely Gamay, a red grape varietal that is a cross between Pinot Noir and Gouais Blanc.  Stylistically, the region is known for its Beaujolais Nouveau that gained a lot of popularity for its light, fruity style, made in the absence of oak and without aging.  Beaujolais has 10 different distinguished Crus, which are regulated and distinguished wine growing areas within the region.  The Crus themselves are not allowed to make this Nouveau style and make bigger wines with more complexity (more aging before bottling and neutral French oak influence), with the ability to age in bottle after.  Domaine de Briante is located in the Beaujolais Cru of Brouilly, the biggest and most southern Cru of Beaujolais.  The soil varies from pink granite to calcarious clay and produces classic Gamay with fruity, floral aromas.  Domaine de Briante owns 8 hectares of Gamay within Brouilly (pronounced Brou-ee).  Briante also owns 2 other vineyard sites situated in two other Crus; 2 hectares in Cote de Brouilly and 2 hectares in Moulin-A-Vent.  Cote de Brouilly is home to the chapelle and is a smaller Cru situated within the Cru of Brouilly.  Cote de Brouilly is known for its ‘blue rock’ – granite soil.  The tougher soil gives the Gamay a complexity that can age longer in bottle.  Traveling to the north, we have the Cru of Moulin-A-Vent, which is a little higher in elevation with a sandier soil and produces more of a robust, tannic and intense style that produces a wine that can be aged up to 10 years. 

& for the wine I have consumed… ahh, here is just a handful. 

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Lauren’s husband, Roman, is from the wine region of Alsace, which is in north-eastern France, close to the border of Germany.  There are beautiful Rieslings and Muscats, among other varietals that come from this region.  Lauren and her family are all from Beaune, another great city just an hour north in Burgundy, home to Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay in the south.

The weather has been much like California, sunny and warm – so naturally I have been cooling off at the pool and reading in the shade.



But then something happened.  Something so rare to find within California, some would say a miracle.  It rained.  So we harvested the small plums (quetsche) from the orchard to made a rainy day tarte.


Front Gate.


Inox and his kingdom, of grapes.


Rainy skies.


Recipe: quetsche simply cut in half and the pit removed. A sprinkle of brown sugar on top and a little butter. Baked for 1 hour. Voila!. 

More to come soon, a bientot…

Pain et Beurre

My mother told me that I will feel like I am in France when I look around and everything is beautiful, and I have realized now, that I am in France.  Everything is beautiful!  As we descended into Lyon, all I could see were rust colored roofs, vineyards, and castles nestled into the hillsides.  Owner and winemaker, Lauren Faupin, who also doubles as my boss this vintage, picked me up from the airport and we drove north into Beaujolais, to Chateau de Briante, just outside of Saint Lager.  Everything is beautiful – the stone buildings, the green hills covered in sprawling grapevines, the rock walls, the wildflowers, the dangling flower pots, the narrow roads, everything.  We pulled into the Chateau property through two pillars supporting a large iron gate that was swept open. gate

The Chateau itself was built in the 18th century, belonging to a family that owned it ever since, using it as a family vacation home. Lauren and her husband bought the property in 2011 and have slowly been restoring it.  The main building is three stories with 17 bedrooms, shaped like an ‘L’. Surrounding the Chateau are smaller guest homes, beautiful well kept grounds with scattered gardens and fruit trees, a beautiful pool house and pool, a hillside cellar and museum holding winemaking equipment from the past, the winery itself, and of course, the 8 hectares of Gamay vineyards that spiral around the Chateau.  Have I mentioned, everything is beautiful? I settled into my bedroom on the third story, unpacking, feeling like a princess in a castle.  I met Lauren’s husband Roman at dinner.  We broke bread for my first meal in France, along with Chateau de Briante Gamay and roasted duck.  After only sleeping 2 hours on the airplane during all of my traveling, I tucked into bed after being up for more than 30 hours, and fell into a deep sleep.


South perspective of Chateau, from the walls of the vineyard.


Standing within the Estate Gamay block in Brouilly, looking onto Saint Lager and Cote de Brouilly.

I woke up at 10am the next day, to find coffee, fresh bread and homemade jam on the table downstairs.  I wanted to explore.  Lauren advised me where to wander within the vineyard and let me borrow the family dog, Inox (translated to mean ‘stainless steel’) who is a 20 month old ‘white’ golden retriever.  Together we walked, Inox leading the way, down the narrow road lined with trees and out the gate, turning left to walk the border of their vineyards.  We turned into the blocks, down the middle of vineyard, Inox was in charge.  Now, at 20 months, a young dog very much acts as a puppy, even at a full grown size.  Inox was more excited than me to be out walking the vineyards – his tail swishing back and forth, his nose in the soil. He was also on a leash as he gets excited and easily wanders off, forgetting where home is.. So the combination of the long leash I am holding and his excitement, quickly gets us tangled within the tightly planted vines that are sprawling along the ground.  These vineyards are 40 years old, without trellising or irrigation, planted 2x2ft. Before I can even do a thing, Inox has his 20 foot leash wrapped around 3 or so vines, tangled and caught between the arms and leaves and clusters dangling in the sunshine.  I pause for a second, feeling like I am in a movie. The scene – the stupid American, with the French dog that doesn’t know English, tangled in the vineyard that I have only just arrived at.  A few minutes later, I had us free from the vineyard, sticking now to just the main path, to avoid anymore comical experiences with Inox.  When we got back, Lauren asked how it went, I told her I didn’t take Inox for a walk, he walked me…


King of the Chateau, Inox.

An hour later, Lauren’s grand-pere and grand-mere arrived, with rabbit stew and potatoes for lunch. They both are well into their 80’s, in good health and full of energy, and have never left Europe they say, nor do they know any English.  The afternoon was spent drinking great wine, eating a beautiful meal, sitting next to her grand-pere as we communicated through gestures and pointing and laughter.

A Bientôt!

Starting a new journey also comes with goodbyes.  Not permanent goodbyes but more similar to à bientôt!  A good place to start this story is with my goodbyes.  I said goodbye to San Luis Obispo, moving out completely of the town that has held all my memories of the last two years of my life.  The day I moved was the same day Mike and I started our last weekend together at Outsidelands, a three day music festival in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco! We drove up, following each other to the city to start our last adventure before harvest. On Monday morning, I rolled into Sonoma to meet my dad at Littorai to taste and tour with the assistant winemaker, Daniel Estrin.  He gave us a very wonderful tour of the property that was inspiring for us to see the true potential of a fully immersed biodynamic farm, the true future potential for Narrow Gate Vineyards.. 


Outsidelands 2015, Cheers!


Library preps stored in a half barrel in the barn.

on Tuesday morning, my father and I met at Dutton Ranch in the Russian River Valley.  They put us in contact with Lauterbach Cellars who are small Pinot Noir producers that have Clone 115 and Pommard available.  We took our time walking the vineyards and found a favorite site at the rocky top crest of the hill.  The fruit was beautiful, we had found our second site for the Pinot Project.


Clone 115 at 19 Brix.


The rocky soil at the top crest of the hill.

Tuesday evening we made our way back to Narrow Gate Vineyards.  The next few days were full of checking off last minute to-dos and packing.  Never would I never think that I would have a surprise waiting for me on Saturday evening.  A bouquet of sunflowers, a bottle of Domaine Carneros Champagne and my Michael, waiting for me outside my room on the patio to join us for dinner.  What a wonderful evening spent with the ones I hold close before leaving for San Francisco the next morning.  We enjoyed a wonderful meal with a 1993 Burgundy and a 2011 Looney Vineyard Archery Summit Pinot Noir, ahhh.


My ‘surprise’ being smuggled in the car from the winery to the house.


He got me!

Sunday morning we took off to the city, meeting Mike for dinner at Rocca in Burlingame, near SFO.  Mike and I said our final goodbyes watching the planes landing over the water on the boardwalk outside of the hotel, wishing each other good luck with the upcoming vintage.


Appetizers at Rocca.



Palazzo Della Torre.

When being a “Hildebrand” there are a few rules one must always follow: 1. Hildebrand’s always do extra credit.  2.Hildebrand’s never quit. 3. Hildebrand’s always arrive at the airport WAY too early.  I checked my bag at SFO, said my goodbyes to my parents, made it through security and to my gate, just shy of three hours before my plane was to depart. I ended up finding myself with just a minute to spare at my next two connecting flights, which had me running through the airport, across terminals to my gates.  A Denver thunderstorm was putting on a show, delaying our landing, therefor shrinking my layover time to connect to my international flight to Frankfurt from 45 minutes to 15 minutes.


Thunderstorm above the Rockies.

When traveling 16 hours, you are bound to meet some characters.  I met a New-York house wife, made good friends with a German stewardess who gave me Riesling and chocolates, ordered whiskey for the Indian couple sitting next to me, and a professional female mountain biker from South Africa.  I left San Francisco at 1pm on Monday and arrived in Lyon, France at 2pm on Tuesday, enfin!