Wine & “The Bear”

A wine industry perspective on the summer’s new hit show

(spoilers ahead)

The Bear on Hulu has gotten a lot of attention this summer. The first episode is some of the most chaotic television I’ve ever seen and I was immediately hooked. I felt like I was holding my breath the entire time and could finally let go once the episode was over. 30 minutes of frantic kitchen jargon, me thinking “what’s going on, who are these people, is his name Bear? Is this about The French Laundry or a deli?” So of course I had to continue watching to answer my questions and like many others, I binged it. I was not disappointed by the show (I had no expectations or prior knowledge of it besides the fact that it was about a cook) and I liked how it showed the nitty-gritty, unglamorous side of the glamorous fine dining industry. The chaos, the yelling at one another, but the coming together for family dinner and how at the end of the day the team generally had one another’s backs. This, specifically, reminded me vividly of working in wine production.

In her article “What ‘The Bear’ Gets Right (and Wrong) About Restaurant Work,” published in Food & Wine, Jane Brendlinger talks about how the show hit home for herself and restaurant workers all over the world. The late nights, the exhaustion, the relationships with family and friends falling by the wayside while consumed with work and the raw, not-so-fine reality of what happens behind the kitchen doors of fine-dining establishments. She talks about how refreshing it is to see this, and not the romanticized Hollywood portrayal of cooking. But she also critiqued the show heavily for its over-exaggerations, plot holes and the fact that restaurants being toxic work places is not news. That may be true, but as a winery worker and someone who has never worked in a kitchen, I was somehow still able to resonate with many of the struggles that the staff in the show face. There is one scene during the season where the kitchen has its ultimate peak in pandemonium: the staff could not be more unprepared for opening, they become overwhelmed with orders they aren’t stocked to fill, everyone is hanging on by a thread, people become frustrated and some even walk out, and that’s when I thought to myself: oh crap, it’s just like harvest.

Everyone knows that food and wine go hand in hand. Fine dining and fine wine are situated on the same level of exclusivity, glamour, prestige and elevation. While both are fabulous, both intentionally create exclusivity and hoops to jump through in order to enjoy the experiences they offer. Just as the food industry makes it difficult, nearly impossible, to get reservations at the world’s most elite restaurants, there is a very apparent barrier to entry in the wine industry. Fine-wine growing regions price even their entry-level tastings exorbitantly high, bottles are getting more and more expensive and tasting appointments can be as hard to achieve as reservations at a Keller establishment. Some wineries create such an aura of exclusivity that tastings are not even open to the public – only a select few can even dream of experiencing certain Napa wineries if they know the right people and are willing to pay the right price.

Yet, behind those expensive bottles year after year is the grit and tenacity of the people who make the wine that is enjoyed by so many across the globe. The chaos in the kitchen and realness of the cooks in The Bear reminded me of working in the cellar during harvest. I was fortunate to have worked for a winery in Napa that fostered a cellar culture of hard work, but also fun and passion that made the long and grueling hours worth it. However, it’s still hard.

I’m going to speak to my experience, but I know many wineries in Napa Valley operate similarly. It starts in the vineyard. What most people don’t know is that the best time to pick fruit is in the middle of the night when the temperatures are cool, and that’s exactly when most high-quality producers will pick. And since most high-quality producers prefer to hand pick their clusters, that means actual humans are out in the vineyards hand harvesting anytime between sunset to sunrise depending on when mother nature and the winemaking team decide it’s time to pick.

Next up, fruit must be processed as soon as possible after being picked in order to maintain quality. You don’t want your very expensive grapes sitting out in the 90˚ Napa heat. So that means someone must be there at the winery whenever the fruit arrives. This can be as early as 3 a.m. Somebody must be there to operate the presses and/or crushers in which the fruit is processed, so it can enter the winery and begin the fermentation process. Then, the rest of the team begin to trickle in. By 7 a.m. the day shift is in full swing.

After all the fruit is in press or tank, there is still plenty of work to be done. Cleaning those bins in which the fruit arrived, cleaning tanks for the next day’s fruit, pushing pumps and dragging hoses around, getting juice splashed on you, yelling at someone to “turn the freaking pump off” or to put their hand over juice shooting out of a tank that didn’t get the proper valve, the possibilities are endless. When times get so hectic that you have to scream at someone across the cellar because it’s so loud, and if you don’t act fast hundreds of gallons of wine could be lost. Or when the power goes out and you have to think on your feet about how to pump the juice out of the press pan into a tank with no electricity. Having experienced all of this, I appreciated the “messiness” from the show that Brendlinger highlighted in her article: “the cracked egg on the floor, the backed-up toilet, wrong deliveries and unpaid vendors, and the audible and visual chaos that comes when a million things are happening all at once in one kitchen,” she says. For me, the cracked egg was those peak, crazy harvest days in the cellar: the wet and slippery floors, the sticky surfaces everywhere, hoses laid across every square inch of the floor like sprawling veins, dirty buckets tossed in the corner, the absolute mess during the busiest hours of the day before anyone has a second to breathe and finally start to clean up.

There’s no fire involved (or at least there shouldn’t be) like there is in a kitchen, but there can be extremely dangerous situations if proper safety precautions aren’t met. Harsh alkaline cleaning chemicals that can literally melt skin if not protected by PPE, sulfur in solid, liquid and gas forms that has the power to really do some damage, several forklifts driving simultaneously on the crush pad that mimic the chaotic streets of Rome, CO2 gas wafting out of tanks that can be asphyxiating if not properly ventilated, large rotating machines that can pull you in (think “no capes” in The Incredibles). Making wine is obviously not life or death, but without the proper safety measures in a cellar it can in fact become this way.

At UC Davis we spent so much time going over safety precautions in the cellar and how to avoid these catastrophes. We were required to be familiar with and know the safety ins and outs of the cellar in order to continue as students in the wine program and be allowed to work in the on-campus winery. In Napa, we are also required to attend safety presentations regularly and follow OSHA safety guidelines at all times when working in the winery or operating forklifts. The reason I go into such detail about how dangerous a winery can be is to show the extremes of how opposite production is from the luxurious, elite tasting experiences seen on Instagram and on TV. Not to mention the attire of a cellar could not be further from that of a patron of a fine dining establishment – old, worn out jeans and a t-shirt you don’t care for because it will likely rip or get wine on it many times before harvest is through.

In the thick of harvest, our team would spend anywhere from 12 to 16 hours at the winery 6 days a week (some wineries require 7 days of work). I all but dropped off the face of the earth to the outside world – people in my life knew that from August to November I was on a schedule of work, eat (maybe), sleep and repeat, similar to how Carmy and his chefs live. Like I said in my harvest post, it’s exhilarating and I loved it. While I never experienced anything like what Carmy’s superior hissed to him in his flashback in the show, the wine program at UC Davis wasn’t exactly easy on its students. They did this because they knew that when we entered the industry (particularly production) we wouldn’t have our hands held. It would closely resemble the energy in the kitchens in The Bear. We would be expected to give up our personal and social lives during harvest, clean bins for 10 hours straight and not complain about it, face long hours of heavy lifting, unpredictability and the exact kind of chaos and potentially dangerous situations I described. They were trying to prepare us to always stay alert and think on our feet, like Carmy does when something goes awry in the kitchen but there are customers waiting to be served. That information was almost as valuable as learning how to make great wine.

Yes, The Bear is a TV show and not 100% accurate. It may have embellished and dramatized, but the message is there. The viewer is forced to witness the grit, passion, dirt, blood, sweat and tears that go into a perfectly plated dish. The same goes for making great wine. When someone is so passionate about wine and doing a good job during harvest that they sacrifice time with their loved ones and themselves, miss weddings and birthdays, come in to work when the surrounding valley is on fire and flames are visible in the distance, all to ensure the wine gets made. That’s the side that doesn’t get portrayed to the public and I’m thankful for this show shedding light on the struggles people who produce luxurious things face. I know production employees like myself can resonate with the struggle Carmy faces as he walks the line between creating something amazing and completely losing himself in it.

Yes, wine is fabulous, exciting, special and we should keep enjoying it. But it’s important to consider the individuals who harvest the grapes that make the great Cabernet you pair with your filet. It’s important to consider the individuals who make the wine, whether it be someone who has made a career as a cellar worker for 30 years or a wine student working 7 days a week just trying get a good name on their résumé.


What it’s like to work a harvest in Napa Valley

When I graduated from the Viticulture & Enology program at UC Davis, my degree had prepared me for what to expect when working a harvest. I also had several friends who had worked in production post-grad so I had a pretty good understanding of what a harvest internship would entail. However, in my 3 years in Napa I’ve worked with many interns who didn’t study wine but decided to pivot careers and come work in the wine industry. Many of them have told me that there is little to no literature on the internet describing what working crush would actually be like. It’s already intimidating changing your whole career path, but especially so if you’re going in blind. There should be more out there about what harvest is like for people who aren’t yet connected in the wine industry, so hopefully this helps paint a picture. Note that this is based off my personal experience and perspective.

You get to make the wine

Before I get into the nitty gritty, it’s important to know that every player is crucial to making sure the wine gets made. Wineries need interns to help make that happen and Napa Valley makes so much wine that it would literally be impossible without harvest workers. Even if you are ultimately interested in front of house/DTC, the hands-on experience you will gain from working a harvest will set you apart and allow you to talk about the wine on a different level when selling it. From pressing the fruit to barreling it down when the fermentation has gone dry, everyone plays a part in the winemaking. It’s amazing to see that hard work get bottled and then to be able to share that with your friends and family and tell them that you made it.

Wine production is probably the least glamorous aspect of the wine industry. It’s quite messy and you will likely never leave a day of work without having wine stains on your clothes, hands, or even face, but that’s the fun of it – it’s one of the most rewarding things you can accomplish. How many other jobs are there that require you to use your hands and make something from the earth?

It’s physically demanding but extremely rewarding

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, working a harvest in the cellar is extremely physically demanding. You will be expected to drag hoses, lift buckets of grapes and wine of up to 70 pounds, push heavy pumps around, put oak barrels onto racks, dig pomace out of tanks with heavy metal rakes, power-wash for hours, get inside presses and clean them out, among other tasks. You might also be working outside for many hours a day and Napa can get hot in the late summer.

It will be your life for 3-4 months but the adrenaline will fuel you

A typical intern day for a medium to large scale winery starts at 5:30/6am and goes until 4 or 5pm (or later) if you’re on the day shift. Most wineries will have a night crew that comes in during the afternoon and leaves later in the night or sometimes early morning. You’re working 6 or 7 days a week. The moral of the story is you’ll be waking up really early and going to bed pretty much right when you get home. You’re at the mercy of what your supervisor needs of you and there’s no hard cut off for when your day is over. You’re pretty much dedicating your entire life to the grapes during crush and probably won’t have a life outside of work for a few months. I call it the harvest bubble and it’s actually kind of cool because everyone in the bubble is in the same mindset of working extremely hard to accomplish a common goal. Waking up to your 5 am alarm is the hardest part – once you get to work the energy can be so upbeat and exciting that it motivates you to get through the day, especially when the music in the cellar is going. You will also catch some of the most beautiful sunrises on your way in and that always made the early mornings special for me.

A Saint Helena harvest morning, 6:30 am

Depending on what kind of winery you work for, you might have a one month long harvest or a four month long one. If you work at a sparkling house like Mumm, Schramsberg, or Chandon, your harvest could be 1 – 2 months long and will likely be during August to early or mid September because grapes for sparkling wine are harvested earlier. This might be ideal if you would like to get harvest experience but you’re still a student and school is starting back up in September. Wineries with larger scale production start with the white grapes in August/September then process red fruit up until late October. I actually recommend this experience because you get a lot of hands-on work with different varietals, exposure to many winemaking techniques, and more time to absorb the information.

Get ready to clean

Common winery practices (that you will learn on site) are driving a forklift and dumping fruit bins into presses, pumpovers, punchdowns, rack and returns, barrel downs, nutrient additions, inoculations, and others. The biggest winery practice across the whole industry is cleaning, and lots of it. This includes sanitizing tanks and equipment, power washing (macrobins, presses, the crush pad, honestly power washing pretty much anything and everything), squeegeeing, and lots of floor spraying. Maintaining a clean and sanitized winery is essential for producing high quality wine and is equally as important as any of the winemaking practices listed above.

The takeaways are priceless

Harvest is rewarding not only because you get to make a product and see it from start to finish, but you also bond with the people you are working with. I’ve met some pretty incredible people and formed life-long friendships with some of the people I’ve worked harvests with. When you’re on the grind with these people 6 or 7 days a week for 2/3 of the day, you get to be pretty close with them. Some of the best times are on your 13th hour of work at 11:30 at night when you’re so delirious laughing about something so silly with the people you’re working with. Those were some of my favorite memories and that camaraderie and good morale are truly what get us all through the long days. And what make it all worth it! 

Wineries will usually provide lunches at least once a week if not everyday. I always cherished these times during harvest, when everyone comes together even on a crazy day to relax and bond. Two of the other interns I worked with became my roommates of over 2 years and two of my best friends, and we still reminisce about working our first harvest in Napa together. The wineries will usually wrap up the season with an end of harvest lunch or party, and most will send you off with a few bottles as well.

It will be one of the best times of your life

Harvest, especially your first one, has the potential to be one of the best and most memorable times of your life. It’s fast-paced, exciting, grueling, sweaty, fun, and inspiring all at the same time. On top of making some of the best wines in the world, you will make incredible new friends, drink some pretty killer wines, be exposed to a thousand-year old industry, and likely be in the best shape of your life. The juice is worth the squeeze!!!


Where to Taste – Napa

With over 400 wineries and new ones popping up all the time, Napa can be a daunting place to plan a wine getaway if you’re not familiar with producers and the different AVAs. This post is by no means comprehensive, but let it serve as a jumping off point for where to look when booking tastings. These are some of my favorite wineries to visit when indulging in Napa. Enjoy!

Spring Mountain Vineyard

If you are looking for a classic winery that showcases Napa and instantly makes you feel in the heart of this famous valley, look to Spring Mountain. This historic winery was established in the 1880s and some of the original buildings still remain today. In terms of winemaking, they are famous for their Bordeaux varietals and unique, velvety expression of Cabernet Sauvignon (which is even featured on the wine list at The French Laundry). The sprawling estate itself is gorgeous, sitting on Spring Mountain in Saint Helena with each of its buildings beautiful and charming in their own ways (check out the Estate Tasting for a look into all of these). You can’t go wrong with any of the tastings this winery has to offer, nor the wines they pour.

Davis Estates

For a more a more avant-garde expression of Napa but equally as delicious, visit Davis Estates in Calistoga. This winery is on the younger side, founded in 2011 by the Davis Family, but there is no lack of tradition and passion despite its age. The estate has a stunning grandeur that becomes instantly apparent after turning into the drive off Highway 29. Upon walking into the visitor’s center, we were greeted with a glass of Chardonnay to sip while taking a walking tour of the grounds and learning the history of the Davis family and estate. The experience concluded with a seated tasting of the remainder of the wines in their cozy lounge with fireplaces lit and a view of the valley. Each wine was paired with a bite prepared by the in-house chef that complemented the wines perfectly! I suggest allowing at least 90 minutes at this property to fully enjoy all that the estate and friendly staff have to offer.

Newton Vineyard (now tasting out of Brasswood)

I first discovered this hideaway gem (also on Spring Mountain) in 2018 when I was an intern at Domaine Chandon as both properties are owned by the same parent company. Even though Newton is owned by a large luxury conglomerate, you would never know it because they have done such a good job of keeping that small, boutique winery feel. I loved Newton for their chic atmosphere and beautiful French-inspired gardens (in addition to their stunning wines, of course). Unfortunately, the entire property burned in the fires of 2020. However, they are rebuilding the entire estate to be a state-of-the-art facility and are still producing wine at a different facility. They are tasting out of Brasswood Napa Valley and you can still purchase and ship wine from them. Newton is famous for their Unfiltered Chardonnay (post on unfiltered wine to come) but I also love their Spring Mountain single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.

Robert Sinskey

This is the perfect chill spot to unwind at on a sunny and warm Napa day. Tucked into the hillside off of the Silverado Trail, Robert Sinskey has a chic interior tasting bar and a sizable outdoor patio (where I prefer to taste) where you can have your tasting. Sinskey puts a large focus on food and wine pairings which I love and pairs your tasting flight with bites that the culinary team curate and prepare. What I really like about this producer is that they are willing to step out of the box of your usual Napa wines and bottle something a little more fun and off the beaten path, like their vin gris of Pinot Noir and Libration magnums series.

Stags’ Leap Winery

This winery (not to be confused with Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, its neighbor) has a history dating back to the Prohibition era. The estate first had grapes planted in 1872, and later a prominent San Francisco couple purchased the property turning it into an elite Napa resort for the high society, and was said to have hosted gatherings at the manor during the 20s. Since then, the original manor (which resembles a castle) has been preserved and caves on the property have since been constructed. The grounds boast vineyards and gardens and seem to transport you to an old-world wine countryside.

This will definitely not be the last Napa Tastings post – after living here for almost 3 years I am still discovering more every day!

Tasting my way through France

Recapping two French wine events visited in the last month 

If you’re looking for a place to gather with like-minded fellow wine geeks, France is the place for you. When I lived in California, we of course had the occasional wine fair or exposition. However, here in Paris and in the surrounding wine regions there is a giant wine event happening almost every weekend. Wine is such a deep-rooted part of the culture that it’s not surprising they celebrate the good juice so often. The best part is, every event is packed with attendees – press, sommeliers, winemakers, administrators and managers, and people who just love wine. 

In the two short months that I’ve been here, I’ve had the opportunity to attend two amazing major wine tasting events. There have been at least two other events that I wanted to visit as well! The availability of these types of events is incredible to me. Here is a recap of the two events, one in Burgundy and one in Paris. 

The first event I went to was the Fête des Grands Vins wine tasting during the Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune festival weekend (a mouthful I know!). This festival always takes place during the third Sunday of November and has been a tradition for 162 years. The Vente des Vins is a wine auction that benefits the conservation of heritage and hospital structures in Beaune and Burgundy. This year marked the 162nd festival weekend and the 149th Grands Vins tasting. 

“Every year, professionals, connoisseurs and simple wine lovers meet on the weekend of the third Sunday in November for festivities in the purest Burgundian tradition.”


I visited the festival with my good friend who had just finished working harvest for a domaine in Burgundy. The Grand Vins tasting took place in a huge indoor convention space and featured the appellations of Burgundy as well as Beaujolais. They even had vendors for winemaking and bottling equipment as well. The hall was massive – you could spend hours just wandering around going from booth to booth (which we did). Oftentimes, the winemaker himself poured the wine and spoke about it. My favorite winemaker and wine were Jean-Baptise Lebreuil, of Domaine Lebreuil, and his Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru-Aux Serpentières. Jean-Baptise’s family has ran the domaine for three generations and he was so engaging and energetic to talk to. Even though the wine was a 2022, it still had great complexity and was not overly fruit-forward like other 2022s we had tasted earlier in the day. It was light, had hints of earthiness and was very elegantly balanced, three of my favorite elements of Burgundy. He also poured us a delicious 2019 Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru by Comtesse de Chérisey. 

After the tasting salon we went back to the heart of Beaune where the festivities were continuing. This annual festival, which has happened 162 years, is basically the biggest event in Beaune each year. Hotels get booked out a year in advance and you have to come prepared with an empty stomach, good walking shoes and a wallet full of cash. The streets in the town centre were blocked off to cars and full of people of all ages walzing through the brisk autumn air. Tents with oeufs en meurette, vin chaud, crêpes and boeuf bourguigon graced every corner. The restaurants and shops were open as well, and most had tables set up outside their storefronts shucking oysters and pouring wine. It was truly a magical experience.

The second event I’ve been to was Le Grand Tasting Paris at the Carrousel du Louvre on Friday, November 25. Yes, this event was literally underneath the Louvre. This is one of the biggest wine tastings in Paris and features some of the biggest names from all over France, and even some international ones too. This event was truly massive and featured over 300 producers. The regions included Bourgogne, Bordeaux, Champagne, Loire, Provence, Languedoc, Rhône, Alscace and even Italy and Chile. You could literally spend all day at this event and maybe still miss a couple of producers. My favorite experiences were getting to taste Château de Beaucastel and the amazingly unique Chenin Blancs from father-and-sons operation Domaine des Baumard, Vallée de la Loire. 

I also had the opportunity to attend one of the Master Classes at the event. The Master Classes feature different producers and dive into the details of a certain cuvée or bottle. I attended the Veuve Clicquot Master Class hosted by Chef de Caves Didier Mariotti. Didier described the intricate crafting of La Grande Dame, the maison’s most iconic production. He explained the tasting and blending process, and went in-depth into one of the Pinot Noir plots that lend its grapes to La Grande Dame Rosé. We tasted La Grande Dame 2012, 2012 Rosé, and the 1990 vintage. It’s always an inspiring experience to be surrounded by people who are so passionate about wine, and hearing about this passion directly from the people who make the wine.

Stay tuned for more French wine event recaps to come! À bientôt ~

2 French white wines that refreshed my palate 

In following a dream I’ve had since high school French class, I moved to Paris to get my Master’s degree, immerse myself in the culture, better understand French wines and become fluent in the language. For a while I knew that working at a wine bar would be a great way to expose myself to French wines while fast-tracking my language skills. When I moved into my studio, I noticed there was a lively little wine bar tucked into a side street in my neighborhood. Every night, I would see the bar alive with happy people and a great air around it – good vibes. I decided to stop in one night after class and check it out for myself. I sat at the bar and the owner greeted me, and when I asked for the wine list he said “I am the wine list.” I knew the place was something special.

So, 2 days after I stopped in for a glass and a petite planche of charcuterie and fromage I came by again. I told the owner that I had just moved here as a student and I would love to work at the bar if he ever needed extra hands. I told him about how I studied wine and what I was doing in Paris and he instantly lit up. “Come by tomorrow and we’ll try it out.” After completing my first shift on a Friday night at the bar I was officially hired!

Oftentimes, winery representatives from all over France will bring wines to the bar for a dégustation, which are my favorite days. Recently, we had a representative named Julian who poured us 2 Alsatian Rieslings, 3 Rhône whites, and 2 Rhône reds. The 3 whites were a Viognier, a Condrieu (100% Viognier) and a Marsanne-Roussane blend. We tasted the Viognier first, followed by the Marsanne-Roussane and finally the pièce de résistance, the Condrieu. This 2021 Condrieu by Maison Bruyère & David was stunning – perfectly balanced with a hint of minerality, vanilla, subtle fruit flavors of stone fruit and melon, a soft mouthfeel and a spritz of acidity. According to Julian, 2021 was a great year for white Rhônes and this wine was a perfect indicator of that. It was also graced with floral aromas of orange blossom and honeysuckle. I had just been learning about the Condrieu region and this wine did not disappoint. So far, this Condrieu has been my favorite wine of ours and we now pour this wine for our guests.

The Marsanne-Roussane was tasty as well, but the owner refrained from bringing this one on board because we already had an outstanding white Saint Joseph in stock. When I tried it, I understood why we didn’t need anything else at the moment. The Saint Joseph we pour is a 2019 “Cuvée Loess” by Vigneron Gilles Flacher. It has a mouthfeel that is creamy, smooth and about as full-bodied as you can get for a white wine. It’s extremely well-balanced with fruity notes of pêche, orange blossom and fresh brioche that has just a hint of sweetness. The grapes for this 2019 cuvée were grown in granite and loess soils of the Northern Rhône Valley. Made in the traditional winemaking style en barrique, the Marsanne and Roussane are able to express the richness and complexity imparted by the terroir to their fullest potential. This wine would fare well with a salty hard cheese, perhaps a cheddar aux oignons caramélisés or a compté.

My dégustation notes

More dégustation reviews to come! À bientôt ~

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3 age-worthy Sauvignon Blancs

When I first moved to Napa, I was not particularly a fan of most Sauvignon Blancs that I came in contact with (unpopular opinion I know). I love the acidity of the grape, but the green and grapefruit flavors were too strong for my taste. However, I think it’s important to try new wines even if I am hesitant about the varietal. This philosophy paid off, and I was able to discover a whole new style of Sauvignon Blanc that I grew to love. Here are three SB’s that changed the white wine game for me.

Lillie – Larkmead Vineyards

Larkmead Vineyards was the first California producer to introduce me to this less-common style of Sauvignon Blanc. Their Sauvignon Blanc is called Lillie and prior to trying it, I had only experienced SB that was highly acidic, really green (think flavors of green grass and green bell pepper) and citrusy. This is traditionally the flavor profile that most Napa Valley producers lean toward, as do those from the Marlborough, New Zealand region. This style is very popular and prevalent, but for whatever reason it’s not the style that I personally prefer. For me, I prefer white wines that are more floral, round on the palate and have notes of stone fruit and honey instead of green apple, grapefruit and grass (probably why I like Chardonnay so much).

The Lillie is delicious. Light-bodied while still structured enough to hold up to rich dishes, this wine resembles more of the Bordeaux style of whites than the Marlborough. If you gravitate toward Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc, I highly recommend this wine. Larkmead even calls it a “Sauvignon Blanc that acts as a Chardonnay.” It has the same beautiful roundness as a Chard, but retains the classic SB acidity and balance, and just the right amount of those citrus fruit flavors without being overbearing. Quantity is limited and is only offered on an allocated basis or for purchase at the winery.

Illumination – Quintessa

Illumination truly lives up to its name. Crafted by winemaker Rebekah Wineburg, Illumination is the only white wine that Quintessa produces, and might be the only one that they need. Made predominantly from the Sauvignon Blanc Musqué clone, this wine is bright, light and truly well-balanced. The majority of the fruit comes from the Quintessa Napa Valley estate, yielding the perfect counterpart to the Quintessa Estate Red Wine.

I first tasted this wine at my UC Davis Viticulture and Enology alumni event back in December, where we tasted wines produced by fellow alumni. It was actually the third wine after a Napa Cabernet and Sierra Foothills GSM, and it held up beautifully against those two big reds. Not to mention, the label art is truly stunning and will impress any dinner party crowd. This wine is truly age-worthy and worthy of its cult following.

Knights Bridge Fairview and Pont de Chevalier Sauvignon Blancs

These two estate SB’s from the Knights Bridge Estate Vineyards in Knights Valley are both beautiful expressions of age-worthy Sauvignon Blancs. During my tasting at the winery earlier this spring, winemaker Derek Baljeu poured us the Fairview when overlooking that very vineyard on our estate tour. The wine is crisp, light and delicate, with the perfect balance of both fruity and floral flavors. I loved the wine so much that I bought both the 2018 and 2019 vintages to compare at home. When I shared these wines with friends later, everyone (a group of varying taste preferences) was equally as impressed and enamored with both bottles. This is definitely a wine you can use to convert someone who typically steers clear of Sauvignon Blancs.

All three of these wines have inspired me to discover more bold, age-worthy Sauvignon Blancs, and to be more open-minded when it comes trying Sauvignon Blanc in general. Fortunately, this style of white winemaking is growing in popularity in Napa and Sonoma, and I can’t wait to see what other producers bring to the market.

Winemaking techniques – Filtration

Filtration is a winemaking technique that has been used for many years in both Old and New World winemaking. While it has benefits for the aesthetic appeal of a wine, it is also important for the structural integrity and ageability of a wine.

There are many methods of filtration (not to be confused with fining*) but they should not involve any chemicals or extra additives. I’ve outlined a few of the main methods below:

Plate-in-Frame, or Pad Filtration

This is a common type of filtration technique used for smaller scale producers. Like the name suggests, it involves plates that sit vertically in the metal frame of the filter mechanism. Pads made from cellulose (tree or plant fiber) are inserted between each plate, and the wine travels through the filter mechanism by moving through the pads. Any sediment, microbes, tartrate crystals, etc. are left adhered to the pad and at the outlet you have your clean*, filtered wine ready to be bottled.

The cellulose pads come in many different pore sizes through which the wine moves, depending on how much a winemaker wishes to filter his or her wine. Wine may pass through multiple filtration passes or even multiple types of filters, one to clarify the wine from bigger sediment pieces and another one to reduce microbial content in the wine. Plate-in-frame is the method of filtration with which I am the most familiar. It is technical and time consuming, but requires skill and precision to operate.

Membrane/Cartridge filter

With a membrane filter you can “sterile” filter your wine. The word sterile sounds scary, but it just means that the wine passes through a membrane with a pore size of less than 0.45 microns (smaller than what we can see) so that spoilage bacteria or yeast cannot get through. Filtering your wine at this level quite literally removes most of the potential for spoilage and thus increases the potential to age the wine for many years. It drastically decreases the likelihood of having any harmful yeast or bacteria in the bottle that could have harmful effects on the wine’s integrity, such as altering the taste or smell. This is the type of filter often found at the beginning of a bottling line and the last line of defense against spoilage before the wine is bottled.

Cross-flow filtration

Cross-flow is very common in medium to large-scale commercial wineries. It is more straight-forward to hook up and run than plate-in-frame and can also be used to remove Brettanomyces yeast, which can yield sensory characteristics that in America may be undesirable.

Not every producer filters. Some wines don’t need to be – they may have settled in barrel/tank for quite some time so that when they are racked off the lees there is hardly any sediment. Some wines are meant to “drink now” and the winemaker may not deem sterile filtration necessary. Like most things in winemaking, there is no right or wrong way to do it, it’s mostly winemaker and consumer preference. There is nothing bad or wrong about a wine that has some sediment at the bottom. On the converse, just because a wine has been filtered that is not a bad thing! Filtration is just another step in the winemaking process like crushing or de-stemming the grapes. It doesn’t add any “chemicals” to the wine or make the grapes any less organic. You can always ask the producer what their filtration method is to gain a better understanding of it as well.

Click here for an Inside Winemaking podcast episode about Filtration

*fining entails adding an agent to clarify wine by binding to tannins, sediment, color, proteins, etc. and then the unwanted compounds are either precipitated or filtered out.

*by clean I mean filtered and rid of sediment, debris, microbes, or anything unwanted in the wine. However the term “clean” when used in wine marketing has no one, clear meaning. Marketing ploys use this broad term to suggest that the wine is natural or doesn’t contain additives, but since there is currently no legal definition of “clean wine” it does not actually guarantee that it is. It doesn’t guarantee the consumer anything in terms of the quality of wine or where it came from.

Where to eat in Napa

Great food and wine go hand in hand and there is no shortage of that in Napa. Here you will find a plethora of delicious Italian and American food, but there are more diverse cuisines popping up everyday. We have old favorites such as Bistro Don Giovanni and Bouchon, but new and creative additions have come to play such as Osha Thai and Wilfred’s Lounge in downtown Napa.

This will surely not be my last post on where to eat in Napa but hopefully it can provide a starting point for your next wine weekend getaway.

Bistro Jeanty, Yountville

Bistro Jeanty is one of my top two favorite restaurants in Napa. The facade of the building looks like something out of a French countryside village and as soon as you enter the restaurant you immediately feel like you could actually be there. The service is friendly and recommends great options on the menu, which is predominantly French cuisine. We tried the fried smelt, beef tartare, spring special among other. Delicious and authentic, I can’t say enough good things about this place.

For Brunch – Ad Hoc, Yountville

Chicken and waffles but make it Napa. Chef Thomas Keller has tackled it all including a stellar brunch spot for when you want something boujee but also comforting. We came for the most light and fluffy omelette you will ever taste, but stayed for the caviar spread. Where better to have caviar for breakfast than in Napa Valley? It is served with toast points, chives, red onions, homemade crème fraîche and fluffy egg yolks. Top it all off with their Bloody Mary and you’re set for a day of wine tasting.


Queso frito

Zuzu is a true locals spot and my absolute favorite restaurant in Napa. If you want to feel like you are sitting at a bistro in a European city, go to Zuzu. They serve Spanish tapas and have a great wine list featuring all kinds of sherry and delicious Spanish whites and reds (that are affordable too!). Get the paella – you won’t regret it!

Napa’s best-kept secret is…

Nowadays, it’s almost impossible to get a last-minute tasting reservation in Napa. I live here and I even have to make reservations weeks (sometimes months) in advance! It’s a catch 22 – everything is open and people want to go out and have all the experiences they missed out on during covid, but wineries and restaurants have never been more understaffed. The time when you could have a walk-in tasting seems like a completely different world but it actually wasn’t that long ago. Up until March 2020 you would have a much easier time getting tastings, aside from when wineries on the Silverado Trail started to require reservations to minimize traffic on this road (which seemed like an abomination at the time). It’s almost impossible to have a spontaneous weekend these days, but there are some hacks that have made having a last-minute Napa experience great.

The biggest hack to the reservation quandary that I’ve found is taking advantage of Napa’s numerous downtown tasting rooms. Yes, there is a whole world of vast vineyards and ornate wineries as you travel up Highway 29. However, downtown Napa is a lively hot spot for wine tasting that you could easily spend an entire day exploring.

When most people travel to Napa, they’re trying to hit the big name wineries and spend most of their time up valley. For this reason, it’s often easier to get a reservation at the downtown tasting rooms and some of them even still accept walk-ins. A few of the very ritzy wineries such as Mayacamas and Vineyard 29 even have tasting rooms downtown with experiences that are less expensive than what the main wineries offer. It’s a great way to taste these more exclusive wines in a trendy spot.

The link above lists all tasting rooms and wine experiences in downtown and the Oxbow Market (Napa’s version of the Chelsea Market), but here are a few of my personal favorites:

Vineyard 29


Brown Downtown

Alpha Omega Collective *this company owns a Spanish label and a SLO label that you won’t get to taste at the winery in Saint Helena. They pour these at their tasting room and they’re delicious, I prefer the Spanish label to the Napa one!*

On my list to try ASAP:

Chateau Buena Vista


Mayacamas tasting room

Don’t just visit downtown Napa for your dinner reservation. Take advantage of all the hidden gems it offers on your next stay.

The case for Chardonnay

Chardonnay is one of the topics about which I am the most passionate. For some reason I feel extremely adamant about getting the word out that Chardonnay is not all movie theater butter and heavy, heavy mouthfeels. It can actually be light and floral and dance on your palate like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc (but better). Unfortunately, California has cultivated the narrative that Chardonnay is synonymous with oak and butter when in fact, the French have been using oak in their Chardonnay winemaking for centuries.

So why is it that these oaky and buttery Chards came to be? At its core, Chardonnay is actually a cool climate grape that originated from Burgundy, France. If you ever hear someone offer you a “White Burgundy,” it’s going to be Chardonnay. It’s the dominant white grape of the region, as is Pinot Noir the dominant red. The growing conditions in Burgundy can be more harsh than those of California, with much more frost events possible and lower temperatures during the growing season on average.

Chardonnay, as we’ve seen, can grow in California and it can be quite beautiful. But it gets so hot in California during the growing season that sometimes a lot of new oak gets used in the aging process to wrangle the rich, ripe flavors of the grape. Chardonnay can stand up to a lot of new oak aging which is why this style of winemaking has become so popular over the years.  

In Lettie Teague’s “Must a Chardonnay be Bombastically Oaky?” she discussed the topic with former Beringer head winemaker and Chardonnay legend Ed Sbragia. He suggested that maybe the winemakers back in the day who hopped on the oaky bandwagon didn’t understand oak as well as we do now, and they also had much fewer options in terms of toast and brands. Yes many descendants of European families with winemaking backgrounds settled to start the industry here in Napa. But that doesn’t mean there was constant communication between the old world and the new world when it came to winemaking, and the growing conditions here are so different from those of France and the old world. For the most part, it was winemaking in the wild wild west. Winemaking has advanced so much since Chardonnay was first planted in Napa, so why should this grape be unrightfully shackled to the reputation it had in the 80’s when none other is? Besides Merlot, but that’s a whole other issue to tackle.

The right Chardonnay can even be paired with dessert!

A common association with oaky is the term buttery. While there isn’t actual butter in the wine (sigh) the chemical compound that creates the movie theater butter flavor, diacetyl, is produced by malolactic fermentation. This secondary “fermentation” is really a conversion of malic acid to lactic acid (malic acid is naturally produced in the wine during primary fermentation). Malic acid is tart and edgy while lactic is creamy and soft. This creamy mouthfeel and other complexities derived from MLF are desirable in a wine and why many winemakers encourage MLF in their Chardonnays. However, malolactic fermentation is not synonymous with heavy and buttery Chardonnays. It is possible for a wine to have gone through 100% malolactic fermentation but still be light and fruit-forward, just like you can have a heavy, oaky Chardonnay with no malolactic fermentation in it. The key is the aging process – if the wine’s been aged in neutral oak, a very small percentage of new French oak or none at all, it can still be incredibly bright. I’ve had delicious, bright and fruity Chards that underwent 100% malolactic but were aged in 100% neutral oak.

Escargot paired with Bourgogne

I understand it can be risky to buy a bottle or even a glass of wine at a restaurant if you know you don’t like heavily oaked Chardonnays. However, it might be worth the risk to find a new wine that you actually love. The wait staff and sommeliers are there to help you find the right wine, so be sure to describe what you do want with words like “light, crisp, fruit-forward, mineral, and Chablis-like” if that’s what you want. Chablis is basically Rombauer’s alter ego – it’s light, crisp and high in minerality (which is quintessential of its growing site). If you do like a heavy, oaky Chardonnay you should communicate that as well so whoever’s helping you knows not to stray from those options.

Key terms to look for if you prefer a Chardonnay that is light, fruity, crisp, floral and high in minerality:


Petit Chablis


Bourgogne Blanc (White Burgundy)

Neutral oak

Stainless steel

Chardonnays from Australia (specifically Margaret River)

Keep in mind that Chardonnay from Bourgogne might still be aged in oak, but it will probably be less intense than the Kendall-Jacksons and Rombauers of California. Pay attention to if the wine was aged in new French oak or neutral French oak (anything older than new).

A light, crisp Chardonnay from the Santa Cruz Mountains. 13.4% alcohol was a refreshing change of pace too

All wines are beautiful (if made well and from good grapes). Stay wary of people who say all Chardonnays are bad – maybe they just haven’t found the right one and you can take it upon yourself to introduce them to one they might love. I even got my mom to start drinking Chardonnay (after she had avoided them for years because of the oaky and buttery trend) just by finding the right ones. Happy Chard hunting!

A Bourgogne label

What it’s like to work a harvest in Napa, continued

I had the idea to write about working a harvest in Napa for a long time but I struggled when it came time to get it all down in words. After you do something enough times, it can become second nature and harder to describe to an outsider. That was my problem with the original piece, and after sitting with the post for some time I realized that because there was so much information to cover I left out a few crucial details.

Something I regrettably and completely looked over was the fact that you will be submerged in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. The sunrises, smells, and sights of an early morning harvest drive to the winery are an experience unlike any other. The scent of the vineyard soil being disturbed, pomace dumped after pressing, and grape clusters released from their vines fills the air with a sweet and earthy aroma that is quintessential of harvest. This filled my car every morning driving on Highway 29 and it always excited me for the day ahead. Smell is the number one sense correlated with memory and I will always think of my first harvest in Napa Valley when I smell this scent.

As someone from Southern California, I always considered myself a sunset person and preferred this time of day to sunrise. Harvest changed me – there is something so peaceful and spiritual about a Napa Valley harvest sunrise that charges you with the energy you need to work through the long hours. The colors are an indescribable palette of pinks, yellows, blues, oranges, and reds. Every morning is unique to the one before but equally as special. There’s a reason the hot air balloon industry thrives in Napa! It’s easy to be on autopilot driving to work at 5 am, especially in the middle of the season, but taking a moment to appreciate the grandeur in the sky around you will truly make the early rise worth it.

Napa has such rich, prolific, volcanic soils because millions of years ago it was covered with active volcanoes and part of the valley was even submerged under water. In the early mornings driving to work when the sun begins to peak out of the Vacas, the Valley gives off a prehistoric aura. It’s so raw at this time of day and has a completely different feeling than when the rest of the Valley wakes up and the bustling tourism begins. You can’t experience this feeling any other time of day and it’s truly something special to be witness to its beauty in the peacefulness of the early morning.

I touched on this in the first piece, but I don’t think I elaborated enough on how much you will learn working a harvest in Napa (especially as a harvest newbie). I came to work my second harvest in Napa right after I had graduated with a degree in viticulture and enology. You can learn so much in school, but until you are actually thrown into the cellar you will only have a conceptual understanding of winemaking. I thought I knew how a pumpover worked, but it wasn’t until after I did them just shy of a hundred times that I actually felt like I understood them. I took an extremely in-depth sensory evaluation course for my major that taught me how to look for flavors and aromas in wine. That was one of my hardest and most rewarding classes, but I really learned how to smell and taste flavors in wine by smelling and tasting my way through the cellar during harvest – tasting the grapes in the bins waiting to be weighed, putting my nose in the barrel as I filled it with wine, stopping to smell the fermentation of an open-top Pinot tank as it wafted up during a pumpover. I would literally taste the foam of an inoculation as the fermentation was starting just to see what it was like. It wasn’t great but you get the point. Now when I taste wine I am much better at pinpointing what I smell because I am connecting it to the cellar and the step of the winemaking process that created that particular scent.

That said, you will only get out of a harvest what you put into it. If you show up every day willing to work hard and invest yourself into the work you will be rewarded with a wealth of knowledge. Get to know the people, both interns and full time, working on your team because they probably have really awesome stories and experiences to share. You can learn a lot just by watching your teammates work and asking questions. Most people who work in production love what they do especially if they studied wine, and will love answering your questions about it. You truly get more out of the experience the more you devote yourself to it. Taste and smell as many things as you can and be willing to help with as many different projects as possible because this exposure will pay off.

Between these two posts I’ve talked a lot about how beautiful and exciting harvest is, but you will only truly understand when you immerse yourself in it completely. Cheers!

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