Tag Archives: napa

The End of an Era

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So it goes.

After ten years, I have decided to resign from my role as an Independent Wine Consultant doing In-Home Wine Tastings for the Traveling Vineyard.

It was a difficult decision to make.

When I first started, I didn’t know if I would like it. But I figured, “What did I have to lose? If I don’t like it, I’ll quit.” Little did I know that I’d not only love it, but I’d also take away so much more than wine knowledge…

I’d make friends with people all over the country with whom I probably would have never met otherwise…

Lisa, Me, Katie - Puerto Vallarta 2007

I’d earn some fabulous trips…

Including those to Sonoma

Where I’d learn to love Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley…

To Puerto Vallarta, Mexico…

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Where we took a break from wine and tasted tequila instead….

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Then, there was Tuscany

Ah… Tuscany… One of the most spectacular trips I’ve ever been on…

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A beautiful stay at Villa Dievole

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Where my husband proposed…

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And then there was Napa….

Which was so much fun that it’s mostly a blur…

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Outside of the trips, being part of The Traveling Vineyard changed my life.

Those of you from my childhood or even high school, know that I was painfully shy. In college, I was even told by an acquaintance that when she first met me, she thought I was just stuck up because I didn’t really say much.

Traveling Vineyard lit something inside me.

I felt good in front of an audience.  (A little wine could always calm the nerves otherwise!).

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I got to teach!

When I was a kid, I loved school so much that as I ascended through each grade, I wanted to be the teacher of that grade! Then, when I hit high school, I realized it wasn’t really about teaching any more. Most kids/teenagers didn’t want to learn. I saw teachers pulling teeth to get the class interested or just to behave. I was even threatened to be kicked out of class once for falling asleep.

I no longer wanted to be a teacher.

But when I started doing Wine Tastings, I got to teach about wine. And I got to teach people who wanted to learn about wine.

One of the greatest rewards was hearing from other people that they never really liked red wine before; but that I had taught them how to like it. I walked them through each wine and explained how to recognize the aromas and flavors in each one so that they could determine the style they liked. I demonstrated that by pairing the wine with simple foods, the flavors could change as well. I gave them the ammunition to become more confident about wine, to describe what they like at a restaurant to get a recommendation, to be more confident in trying new things.

It felt so good.

I met the greatest people. They all loved or wanted to learn about wine!

This included fellow consultants (aka, my Wineaux friends)…

Wine Tastings Hosts…

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and the guests…

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A special thanks to every single host and guest I met over the past ten years! My Traveling Vineyard experience would not have been nearly as enjoyable without you!

And I even got to meet many of the winemakers…

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I earned awards.

I got not only recognition for my efforts, but the fun, friendship and financial reward that came along with it!

So, it was a difficult decision to cut ties.

In all honesty, I believe that The Traveling Vineyard is truly at its height. There is so much room to grow. If I had been putting the same effort as I had just a few years ago, I’d be twice as successful.

But I lost it.

I lost the passion.

I still love wine. I still loved meeting all of the people. I still loved teaching about wine.

Then why?

In 2012, I started on a path to better my health. My health became priority and running became a new part of it. After a herniated disk at the end of the year and back surgery in March of last year, I stopped doing tastings completely.

I needed to heal.

I needed to recover.

And I learned one thing…

I needed to slow down.

For the past ten years, I’ve basically had two full-time jobs. I was very involved with TTV. While there were no minimums to remain active, I did an average of six to eight tastings per month. In addition, each month, I held a Team Meeting. I participated in a Taste of the Business Meeting. I listened to the consultant and leadership conference calls. I taught Learning with Leaders classes. I didn’t miss anything that was offered.

When I slowed down with my tasting events, my husband noticed how much less stressed I was. I had more balance.

But I can’t do anything half-way. Generally, I am “ALL IN” when I’m passionate about something. By slowing down and doing less, I lost interest. I lost the passion. I found I liked the time at home with my husband and my dogs.

Then I realized that I’ve pretty much had two jobs most of my working life. I had summers in high school and college with two, or even three jobs. The same happened after college.

It’s taken me this long to realize that it’s time for me to slow down.

To take care of myself.

To just enjoy life.

It’s a little difficult because I’m so used to being busy. But I’m learning.

2014 is going to be all about self-care.

Traveling Vineyard has taught me so much not only about wine, but about life. The company will always hold a special place in my heart. I would still recommend The Traveling Vineyard to anyone wanting to learn about wine, wanting to earn some extra cash or to take it on full force as a career. I know many consultants across the country and would be happy to recommend someone, if I can, in your area for more info about hosting or consulting.

And with that, I say, “Farewell,” to that part of my life. I have fond memories frienships that will last forever.

Remember… “Over a bottle of wine, many a friend is made…”

~Unknown

Thank you for ten fantastic years, Traveling Vineyard!

Cheers~
Carrie

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Napa Valley Grille – Bloomington {CLOSED}

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This Wine Wednesday, you get a Two-Fer. A little sumpin’ sumpin’ about a restaurant from wine country.

In August of 2009, I took my husband on his first trip to California Wine Country. When he proposed in Tuscany, the least I could do was earn an all-expense-paid trip for two to Napa through the Traveling Vineyard!

And while I prefer Sonoma {my first trip to California, also a trip earned through The Traveling Vineyard} to Napa, we have fond memories of our time there. On our free night, there were so many restaurants to choose from in Yountville that were in walking distance from our rooms at the Villagio. We chose the Bistro Jeanty, a casual French country joint across the street. But about a 1/2 mile down the road was the Napa Valley Grille.

And for some reason, there is another location – in the Mall of America.

HUH!?

Now, I’m not much of a power shopper. Hell, I’m not much of a shopper. I try to avoid the Mall of America if at all possible. If I do go, it’s for something specific, not an outing. And I try to go on a Wednesday – the day of the week that it’ll least likely be packed. Yeah, that’s me. But I don’t know many Twin Cities residents who really frequent the place.

The funny part?

My husband and I met at the Mall of America. No joke.

To bring a little bit of Napa back to us, we made reservations on a Friday night at the Napa Valley Grille assuming it’d be packed. I did need a new pair of walking shoes for our upcoming trip to Ireland. And my go-to store for comfortable, but semi-fashionable, all-day walking shoes is Aerosoles, which just happens to reside at the MOA.

We walked across the mall to the restaurant and informed the host of our reservation. But the bar was practically deserted! In fact, most of the restaurant was dead. It was almost 7pm! It just so happens that we prefer to sit at the bar. So we told the hostess that’s what we’d like to do, and she graciously said that was just fine.

I’m not sure it was normal that it was so slow or if it was just that it was only the second weekend after school started. I’m sure there was some sort of mad back-to-school rush just a couple of weeks prior!

The bartender was pretty darn good. He told us about their September Half-Priced Bottle of Wine Month. Really? A half-priced wine bottle special {on certain bottles featured each week} for the entire month?  Who does that?! Are they hurting for business? Or do they realize that people shopping at the MOA already just spent an arm and a leg and just need some vino?  Because of this special, we chose a Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley that neither of us had had before:

Half-Priced Bottle of the 2008 Sonoma-Cutrer Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California

This bottle is normally $80 at the restaurant. Since we normally spend $40 – $50 for a bottle of wine at a nice restaurant, we gave it a shot. It’s fun to try something we normally wouldn’t at a restaurant.

Tip:

Half-Priced Bottle nights are the best times to try new wines you normally wouldn’t at any restaurant!

The wine was very good – but not $80 good. It ignited a discussion between the two of us on which higher-end wines that we thought were worth it. We realized that these are few and far between. Granted, Opus One, a Grand Cru Burgundy and Cristal are still on our bucket list… So we’ve got some tasting to do…

Still, the Davis Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir remains one of my favorites of all time.

Thank you, Guy Davis, for showing me what Pinot Noir is supposed to taste like!

In any case, the Sonoma Cutrer Pinot was still enjoyable. But to be honest, for being a wine establishment, the wine menu was not very impressive.

Rob suggested we order a starter:

Half-eaten Wild Mushroom Gnocchi – with shaved parmesan, thyme, white truffle oil

Oh my word… What flavor! The combination of the texture of the seared gnocchi with the salty shavings of parmesan, the mushrooms and the succulent truffle oil… We were in heaven. I could order a small salad and this and consider it a meal.

If all the food is this good, I thought, we are in for a treat.

The bartender was very helpful when helping us select our meal. I asked him what his favorites were. He rattled off the tenderloin, the clams in spaghetti, the beef bourginon, the lamb skewers…

I had considered the lamb skewers, but Rob reminded me that I could get that just down the road from us and we knew how good it would be. Point. I don’t know why, it sounds kind of run-of-the-mill, but I decided to go with the:

Rosemary Garlic Chicken – yukon mashed potatoes, herb roasted radishes, pan gravy

To be completely honest, this dish was horrible. It looks all nicely grill-marked and beautiful, but the chicken was very fatty. I can’t even remember the last time I experienced that! The skin was chewy and rubbery, not crispy and tasty. I really had to cut and dig through to get some real meat out of it. The sautéed radishes looked like yummy, seasoned potatoes, but tasted weird. Maybe it’s just me because I’ve only eaten radishes raw. I tried several, hoping they’d grow on me, but it didn’t happen. And the mashed potatoes and gravy? They were a basic, bland version. Not very impressive at all.

It’s my fault. I should have tried something more exciting. I should have gone with something recommended. Wait! No, I shouldn’t have! Shouldn’t a restaurant be proud of everything they have on the menu? Maybe I’ve had such good food in Wine Country, that my expectations for a little bit of Napa Valley in the MOA were way too high.

I didn’t eat very much, but it took just a few bites of Rob’s burger…

After the gnocchi, Rob determined that they knew how to do pasta well that he was eyeing the risotto. He told the bartender this and that he had also considered the Napa Valley Cheeseburger, but wanted to know if he thought it was one of the top ten in Minnesota.

Oh the pressure!

But the bartender answered without hesitation, “Absolutely! The meat is hand ground from our filet mignon and prime rib trimmings!” Rob took his word for it and placed the order.

Napa Valley Cheeseburger aged cheddar, fries

Presentation: I’d give it a “D”. To me, it looked like any old burger from Applebee’s. The fries were fine, but nothing special. Wasn’t this supposed to be a semi-classy joint?

Still, Rob told me to take the first bite. I did and tried not to show any emotion, but he kept looking for it in my face. “Do you want me to tell you what I think or do you want to make up your own mind?” I asked.

In the end, we agreed: It was excellent meat. It was juicy and well-balanced. The bun was toasted and you could actually taste the cheese. However, it lacked seasoning.

SEASON IT ALREADY!

With just a little seasoning, this could have been an exceptional classic burger.

With the chicken debacle, Rob gave me a couple more bites of the burger to compensate. I did a long run prior to dining out and had a bit of calorie deficit!

Of course, when the bartender asked us how our food was, I just nodded, didn’t make eye contact and said, “good.” I guess I’m not good at being very vocal about these things. There have been times when I have been, but maybe that’s when they didn’t get my order quite right or didn’t cook something to my liking.

But to just tell them their food sucks? I don’t know how to do that. I mean, it’s not the server’s fault. And sometimes, I lose confidence. I worry that I’m just not culinarily advanced to enjoy the food to the highest level, especially in a super high-end restaurant. But this just wasn’t good.

Would we go back? Maybe. If we were stranded in the mall, having to wait for someone. Maybe if we had guests in town, we’d go over and try one of their flights of wine, or perhaps a cocktail. Maybe we’d order the gnocchi to tide us over. But I don’t know if it’s really worth it to try much else.

Is it food for the masses – the mall masses? Perhaps. I can’t see Napa getting away with this.

What do you say when something that you ordered tastes horrible?

Help me get over this hump!

Cheers~

Carrie