Wine Festival: Divas at the Met

by Lauren Mote

Last night, I felt as if I was part of a women’s rally – and not in the pro-feminist way that was borderline detrimental to my brain back in university while studying for my finals in Political Science – a rally to celebrate the ambition, and soon after, the success of 6 women in the wine industry.

Daenna Van Mulligan, founder of  Wine Diva and Wine Scores, put together a truly inspiring evening, with the help of Rhonda May at CityFood (who sponsored the event).

Diva at the Metrolpolitan Hotel was the host for the evening, and in the basement of the hotel, the Cristal Room, the podium lit up as each women grabbed the mic to tell their story.

Eva Bertran, the Executive Vice President of Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, Sonoma County California, was slotted as the first presenter, but sadly was still stuck on a plane for some reason while the event was due to start. However we did have a leaflet on Eva’s history and contribution to the wine industry – Eva grew up in Spain, where her family was in the wine business. Eva eventually left, and settled in Sonoma County, and has been there for over 20 years. Since arriving at Gloria Ferrer back in 1986, Eva has been passionately promoting the wines and the vineyard as if it was her own family’s estate back in Spain.

Eva Bertran (far right) with colleagues, Gloria Ferrer.

Eva Bertran (far right) with colleagues, Gloria Ferrer.

Gloria Ferrer is said by some to be the pioneer in California sparkling wines. Tasting: Gloria Ferrer Royal Cuvee 2001 (small bubbles, lovely acidic mousse, apples, citrus and bread).

Eve Jell, the International Sales Director of Spier Estate, Stellenbosch South Africa, was out next presentor. The Stellenbosch winelands are located in the heart of the Western Cape, amongst golf courses and race tracks. Today, Spier Estates has 4 vineyard sites, an amphitheatre, and is highly focused on sustainability and social upliftment. Eve started out as a food buyer, and quickly grabbed the certification necessary to get into wine buying. Eve started working with Savanna wines, which eventually merged with Spier Estates.

Eve Jell, Spier Estates

Eve Jell, Spier Estates

For over 20 years (since the 80’s) there have been 7 winemakers at Spier, of them 3 were and still are women. Eve listed her top 4 reasons why she loves the wine industry: there’s not necessarily any fortune, but it’s a lot of fun; work became a combination of hobbies and passion; Eve has traveled all over the world while working in product development, marketing and sales for Spier; and it’s the only career where you’re encouraged to drink during office hours. South Africa’s wine producing region are known for their chenin blanc based white wines, and they’re among some of the nicest in the world. Up until recently, 75% od grape growning regions in South Africa were covered in chenin blanc as the most widely planted white grape. Tasting: Spier Estate Private Collection Chenin Blanc 2007 (apples, pears, honey, wax, thick-round mouth, med + acidity): 400L barrels (Hungarian and French oak), constant battonage, “sur lie” during fermentation. Before bottling, the wine was tranferred from oak and “sur lie” treatment to stainless steel to preserve that fresh fruitiness.

Heidi Noble, of JoieFarm in Naramata, has suddenly become something of an icon the Okanagan wine region, simply because Heidi and her husband Michael put an element of realism into their project. At one point Heidi was a chef, Michael a server, both sommeliers, both wine agents, and with their experience plus blood, sweat, a lot of tears and money, they made their dream of opening a winery a reality. Heidi is a self-taught winemaker, with some guidance from winemakers at both Pentage and Poplar Grove wineries in the Okanagan Valley. Each year (JoieFarm is now onto it’s 5th vintage) their vintage sells out, and it’s no wonder because JoieFarm’s wines are geared towards white grapes that perform extremely well in the rergion, and a juicy rose wine that sells out completely from high demand all over BC. In 2004 JoieFarm sold out of their 2700 cases fast, and today, during their 2008 vintage, Heidi is hoping for a fast sellout on the near 10000 cases. Heidi’s best sellers are the JoieFarm Noble Blend, a blend of old school Alsatian grapes like Pinot Blanc (affected with botrytis), Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer (dominated in the blend), Kerner (an old Sylvanner-Riesling cross) and Erhenfelser; and the JoieFarm Rose (dominated by Cabernet Franc).

Heidi Noble, with friend Carmen.

Heidi Noble, with friend Carmen.

Heidi says that the JoieFarm Noble Blend saved the old vines and the old vineyards in the Okanagan as soon others winemakers were coming in, and replaced these “oldies” with Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, but Heidi truly believes that white grapes and certain red grapes are the only ones that perform extremely well. Tasting: JoieFarm Noble Blend 2008(citrus, floral, high acid, round mouth, velvety texture).

Sandra Oldfield, winemaker and owner of Tinhorn Creek Vineyards, Okanagan Valley, was born to an Italian mother and Irish father – both were non-drinkers. Spent the better part of her formative years selling dresses at Macy’s in California. Eventually, she used her gift of “sales” and applied it at Rodney Strong Vineyards, who helped convert Sandra’s palatte from “hating wine” to “loving wine”. Sandra studied amongst several other women in her class, at the UC Davis School of Enology/Winemaking (graduating in 2002), and eventually moved to the Okanagan with her husband-to-be Kenn, and started Tinhorn Creek Vineyards. Their first vintage produced 10000 cases.

Sandra Oldfield (centre)

Sandra Oldfield (centre)

In 1998, Sandra – known for making award-winning wines – was awarded red wine of the year for her Merlot. In the last 8 years, Tinhorn Creek has produced somewhere around 38000 cases of wine, and Sandra will be bottling her latest vintage at the end of this month. Tasting: Tinhorn Creek Oldfield’s Collection 2Bench 2007 (50% Semillon, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Sauvignon Blanc, small amounts of Viognier and Muscat). This is a smaller lots wine, where Sandra was exploring blends. It’s fairly dry, food geared, crisp acidity and perfect for seafood, and other British Columbian regional cuisine. To preserve it’s fruitiness, this wine is fermented in stainless steel only.

Andrea Besslich, International Export Manager of Schloss Reinhartshausen, Rheingau, Germany. Andrea is part of one of the oldest wineries in Germany, having been around for over 150 years. Born in the Mosel (another famous German wine producing region), Andrea studied Economics and Geography before settling on a career in the wine business. While working for the German Wine marketing office, Andrea graduated with a wine degree.

Rep, Vino Allegro - wine agency for Schloss distribution in BC.

Rep, Vino Allegro - wine agency for Schloss distribution in BC.

Andrea was setting up tasting, controlling exports of German wine, and imports of “New World” wine into Germany. In 2003, Andrea found herself working for an Australian winery, but in 2005 she longed to get back to her passion for German wines. Today, Andrea is responsible for the export of Schloss Reinhartshausen wines all over the world. She travels a lot, and tries to stay at the same hotels frequently in whatever city she visits to gain that sense of home. Her parents really want her to have kids, but she doesn’t think she’ll have time! Tasting: Schloss Reinhartshausen Hattenheimer Wisselbrunnen Riseling 2007, 25 year old vines (citrus, high acid, lasting finish, off dry, petrol).

Antonella di Tonno, Managing Director of Azienda Vinicola Talamonti, Abruzzo, Italy. Antonella, at 28 years old, is the youngest woman featured in tonight’s event.

Antonella di Tanno (right)

Antonella di Tanno (right)

Educated at the University of Roma with magna cum laude (meaning with high honours in latin), and is cotinuing through marketing, history and traditional tactics, to take Azienda Vinicola Talamonti into the future. While finishing her advanced wine certificate, we are fortune enough to hear her story about a family legacy started by her father. Tasting: Azienda Vinicola Talamonti Kudos (Kudos -> Montepulciano -> Sangiovese) IGT Colline Pescaresi 2004 (candy, strawberries, smoke, mint or slight slight herbaceous, smooth round tannins, chocolate, spice, licorice-pipe candy), spends 24 months in oak, it’s elegant and powerful.

Cathy Seghesio, Marketing Manager, Seghesio Family Vineyards, Sonoma County, California. This was the story that I loved the most – mostly because of how Cathy told it – and I will try to reiterate… bare with me. In 1886, Edwardo Seghesio settled in the Italian-Swiss colony in Sonoma County, after a lengthy history already of working in Italian wineries . In 1894, Edwardo married Angela, and they bought a vineyard. One year later, the couple planted Zinfandel all over the property. By the time they had their 5th child, the Seghesio’s were lending other wineries the start up money they needed, they were a true ambassador for the newly rising wine producing region. 6 months before Prohibition in 1920, Edwardo bought another 1200 acres, plus a 14000 square foot winery, thinking the nationwide ban on alcohol would only last months. 13 years later, Prohibition had ended, and Angela(who passed in 1957)  survived her husband Edwardo (who passed right as Prohibition ended), and assumed control of the winery. Throughout the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, 50% of the grapes in Sonoma County were processed at Seghesio. They were known as a bulk winery for a long time. The first ever Seghesio bottling was in 1983 at 130000 cases. In 1993, they decided to drop their other “grape” programs (like chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon) to focus only on zinfandel and other Italian grapes  (unfortunately they wre part of that scary “white zinfandel” movement in the 80’s and 90’s). Today, the Seghesio family owns 500 acres in the Alexander Valley and Russian River Valley, and their vineyards are still hand farmed, and canopy management is also done by hand. Cathy and Peter Seghesio live with their sons on the San Lorenzo Ranch,  in Healdsburg. Tasting: Seghesio Home Ranch Zinfandel 2006, from a 56 acre area with old vines planted in 1895, with a small amount of Petite Syrah added to the bottle (juicy, powerful black fruits, spicy, full body, rich supple tannins).

Up on the “Grazing Floor” in the Vancouver Room, a second wine from each producer is paired with a delicious nibble by Diva’s Executive Chef and Sommelier Dino Renaerts.

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut NV paired with poached prawn spoon with Provencal artichoke aioli.

Spier Estate Vintage Selection Shiraz-Mourvedre-Viognier 2006 paired with braised lamb shank Wellington, with rich lamb jus.

JoieFarm Rose 2008 paired with Yukon gold potato and garlic croquette, parsley puree and saffron aioli.

Tinhorn Creek Oldfield’s Collection Merlot 2005 (merlot, cabernet franc and syrah) paired with smoked duck fork, with spiced pineapple and citrus jam (Chef Dino’s most feared pairing, but it was awesome! So smoky!).

Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbacher Hohenrain Riesling Spatlese 2003 paired with Divas sloping hills farm pork terrine with apricot chutney.

Azienda Vinicola Talamonti Tre Saggi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2003 paired with braised beef shortrib arancini with balsamic onion and truffle jus.

Seghesio Old Vines Zinfandel 2006 paired with Valrhona chocolate pudding with cherry and blackberry pepper – on a stick!

About Lauren Mote

Lauren has been an intricate part of the food industry for many years. Whether it’s behind the bar, in the kitchen, tasting and learning about wine, or sitting with her laptop writing food stories and reviews at the local coffee house, it was clear at an early age that Lauren’s professional and personal life would be completely consumed by the joy and passion of edibles.
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