Are trends like orange wine and natural wine here to stay? What are the benefits of joining a wine club? How do you get out of a wine rut? Have consumer wine choices changed during the pandemic?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with Amanda McCrossin & Vanessa Conlin of the Wine Access Unfiltered Podcast for part 2 of our two-part conversation.
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- Why did Vanessa decide to pursue her MW qualification?
- What are the main differences between the MW and Master Sommelier qualifications?
- Why doesn’t Amanda think the orange wine trend is here to stay in the US?
- Why is there so much confusion for consumers when it comes to natural wines?
- How does Vanessa identify natural wines?
- Have consumer wine choices changed during the pandemic?
- What was the most expensive wine Amanda has ever sold?
- Why does Amanda have a special interest in unusual varieties of wine from the 1950s and 1960s?
- Where can you start when you want to try something new?
- What’s the experience like as a member of the Wine Access Wine Club?
- Does it matter where you buy your wine?
- Why did Vanessa do a tasting of high-altitude wines?
- Which type of wine glass does Amanda recommend for California wines?
- How is Wine Access working to help improve diversity in the wine industry?
- I loved the way Vanessa described the master of wine studies as a way to combine all of those pieces of her curiosity and feed her constant desire to keep learning. I feel that way when it comes to writing and researching guests and topics for this podcast.
- I agree with her that the wine community needs to do a better job of explaining what natural wine actually means and what people should look for.
- I love her advice to drink promiscuously! The people on the floor – whether it’s a restaurant or retail – know better than anybody what’s on that list or on the shelves. Talk to them and ask what’s interesting. Take a risk, drink promiscuously.
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For me, the MW was a way to combine all of those like pieces of my curiosity, and feed my constant desire to keep learning. - Vanessa Conlin Click to tweet
I think that as a wine community we need to do a better job of helping to explain what natural wine actually means and what people should look for. - Vanessa Conlin Click to tweet
The people on the floor – whether it’s a restaurant or retail – should know better than anybody what’s on that list or on the shelves. Start to talk to them and ask what’s interesting. Take a risk, drink promiscuously. - Vanessa Conlin Click to tweet
If you want to try something new and you expect it to be good, go to a reputable wine shop. - Amanda McCrossin Click to tweet
When I’m teaching wine and food pairing I’ll say smell everything, just don’t let someone catch you doing that. - Natalie MacLean Click to tweet
For some people, they’re like “Glassware, does it really matter?” I think it does. - Amanda McCrossin Click to tweet
About Amanda McCrossin & Vanessa Conlin MW
Amanda McCrossin is a sommelier, media personality, wine educator, host of the Wine Access Unfiltered Podcast, & creator/host of the Instagram and YouTube channel “SOMMVIVANT.” As the former Wine Director at PRESS Restaurant in Napa Valley, Amanda worked with the world’s largest, deepest restaurant collection of all Napa Valley wines in the world. Prior to being named Wine Director in 2018, Amanda worked as a sommelier with her mentors and predecessors Kelli White (author, Napa Valley Then & Now) and Scott Brenner to become one of the world’s leading experts in California wine. Today, Amanda focuses her efforts on producing wine “edutainment” and digital media content for her social media platforms geared toward both consumers and professionals alike. A frequent speaker, personality, and contributing writer, in 2018 she was named a Wine Enthusiast ‘Wine Star’ Nominee for Sommelier of the Year and has been featured by numerous publications and media outlets including SOMM TV, Food Network, Wine Enthusiast, Somm Journal, Food & Wine, World of Fine Wine, & Wine Spectator.
Vanessa Conlin MW is the Head of Wine for Wine Access, a national direct-to-consumer e-com wine retailer where she oversees all wine curation and wine content. Vanessa has served as the Director of Sales and Marketing for several of Napa’s most prestigious luxury estates including Arietta Wines and Dana Estates. Previously she was the wine buyer for two prominent Manhattan wine retailers and the Wine Director for a Manhattan-based wine bar. As an avid supporter of charitable causes, Vanessa is the President of the Board for Jameson Humane, a Napa Valley-based animal rescue and sanctuary, and has chaired the organization’s annual charity wine auction four times, raising over 7 million dollars. Prior to falling in love with wine, Vanessa worked as a professional musician, performing internationally and on Broadway, and holds a Master’s Degree in Music. She is an instructor for the Wine and Spirits Education Trust and was the recipient of the Niki Singer Memorial Scholarship from the International Wine Center. Vanessa became a Master of Wine in 2020.
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Vanessa Conlin 0:00
People on the floor, whether it’s a restaurant or retail, should know better than anybody what’s on that list or on the shelves. Talk to them and ask what’s interesting. Take a risk and drink promiscuously.
Unknown Speaker 0:12
I love that
Amanda McCrossin 0:15
And consider the source; know where you’re buying wine from. I don’t think anybody goes to the gas station expecting to buy sushi and not feel sick later. If you want to try something new and you expect it to be good, go to a reputable wine shop that has, Vanessa’s point, people working there who have curated the wines, who can help tell that story and help you navigate that. If you walk into like a corner gas station liquor shop, it’s highly unlikely that you’re going to find what you like and to find anything different.
Natalie MacLean 0:41
That’s true. And when I’m in a good restaurant, I’ll trust the server or Somms’ recommendation of wine by the glass. I will try something, but not maybe, you know, at a fast food joint or whatever.
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? That’s the blend here on the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please and let’s get started!
Welcome to Episode 120. Are trends like orange wine and natural wine here to stay? What are the benefits of joining a wine club? How do you get out of a wine rut? And how have consumer wine buying habits changed during the pandemic? Our guests this week have the answers for you plus lots of great wine tasting tips and stories. And I’ve got a bonus for you; in addition to this podcast, I’d love for you to join me for the première watch party of the video of this conversation that I’ll be live streaming for the very first time on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube next Wednesday, March 24 at 7pm Eastern. The video will show you the pictures and other visual elements that we discuss in the podcast. I’ll also be jumping into the comments on all three platforms as we watch it together, so that I can answer your questions in real time. It’s like the Netflix version of the podcast. Plus, you can talk to me and ask me questions, in real time, as we watch it together and you’ll see what other people thought of this conversation and answers to their questions. In the show notes, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class and where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube Live video every Wednesday at 7pm including this evening and next week. That’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/120.
Now on a personal note before we dive into the show, as Miles and I were driving home from Aiana restaurant last night, the snow was quite blustery across the road. “Wow, look at all those snow, what do you call them? squirrels? No. What do you call them? Oh, I love that. Snow squirrels I said” delighted with his word invention that was so much more visual and descriptive, then I don’t know; snow squalls. As usual Miles is so good natured and now we’ve renamed those gusty tail winds snow squirrels. Have you ever renamed something more aptly? Let me know. Now if we could only come up with a better term for carbonic maceration. Okay, on with the show.
Both of you, as I mentioned, are very highly trained. Vanessa, you’re a new Master of Wine; 2020?
Vanessa Conlin 4:09
Almost about a year ago.
Natalie MacLean 4:11
Okay, a year ago. Okay. So what made you choose that journey? Because first of all, I mean, you can put it into more context for us, but it’s so hard. It is the most prestigious designation to earn in the world of wine. You know, it’s got this low, low, pass rate of like, I don’t know what it is, 10 or 15%, takes years, thousands of dollars. Why did you decide to go on that journey?
Vanessa Conlin 4:32
You know, I’m just generally someone that likes to push myself to keep learning. So part of it was that, I’m sure Amanda can relate to this too, coming from also a you know, arts background and that, like, you have to have a lot of self discipline to keep practising on your own, you know, to get up each day and whether it’s, you know, go take a barre class or you know, go take a voice lesson or practice on your own or study music. And so, I just had this sort of both learned but also instinctual thing where I just always liked to be sort of working towards something and I have a very good friend, Mary Margaret McCamic, who has an MW, who had started the programme. And so I heard a lot about it from her. But I think also, I just at that point, I was working at a winery, and managing their mailing list and hospitality. And as always, I was bugging everyone in the cellar with questions about, like, tell me more about SO2 or, you know, let’s talk about pH and all these things I just really wanted to know. And for me, the Master of Wine was the most sort of holistic way to learn all these things because you do have to learn viticulture, vinification, you have to understand the legalities and marketing of wine and current topics and how to communicate all these things together and use critical thinking to do so. So for me, it just was a way to kind of combine all of those like pieces of curiosity, and then sort of feed this fire inside of me, which is this like constant desire to keep learning.
Natalie MacLean 5:52
Love that! Pieces of curiosity. What do you think is the primary difference between, say, the Master of Wine and the other prestigious designation; Master Sommelier?
Vanessa Conlin 5:58
Yeah, I mean, the Master Sommelier is intensely difficult exam as well. There’s a couple of key differences. One is the Master Sommelier exam does include a service element, where the Master of Wine does not. So I would describe the Master Sommelier as really perfectly geared towards someone who is going to be working on a restaurant floor working with wine lists, whereas the MW is a little bit more broad in terms of what a career might look like, you know, it could be a writer, could be a winemaker, could also be a sommelier. It sort of appeals to sort of a broader swath of types of people in the industry. Another key difference would be that everything in the Master of Wine is written, whereas all the examinations are spoken, or most of them, in the Master Sommelier exam. One thing that I do really appreciate about the Master of Wine also, is that because everything is written, you are anonymous when you test, so the person who is going to be grading your paper is not in the room with you, you’re just a number it gets shipped off to London and graded by someone, you don’t know who it is, they don’t know who you are. So I really appreciated this sort of fairness of that of that, you know, whoever actually is going to be deciding whether you pass or fail, doesn’t know whether you’re black, white, male or female, how old you are, what you were wearing that day, any of those types of things. So I really liked that it was a very level playing field. And that sounds interesting.
Natalie MacLean 7:10
And the Master of Wine seems a bit more academic leaning and Master Sommelier very much more like hands on practical, like, as you said, like for the restaurant versus someone who’s maybe going into some other aspect of the wine industry
Vanessa Conlin 7:25
Right. And I just think, again, of the Master Sommelier is so perfectly suited to someone really wanting to pursue that service element in the restaurant floor, that I believe there’s sort of more sort of factual recall. Whereas the Master of Wine really asks you to take everything that you know, and put it in an essay form, and then prove your point. Almost argue it as if you know, you’re a lawyer, or a detective, and then prove your point like a lawyer. So you really have to use critical thinking and tie in knowledge of all aspects of the wine industry, and then be able to communicate well as well.
Natalie MacLean 7:54
That’s great. I wanted to sort of switch gears a little bit. And Amanda, our listeners and viewers tonight are curious about what are the new wine styles that we should be looking at. Like, there’s so many trendy wines. I love your take on some of them, like, let’s throw out some of them. Orange wines? What are your thoughts? Like? Should we be trying them? Do you think they’re a fad? Are they here to stay?
Amanda McCrossin 8:18
Well, I don’t think that they’re a fad. I mean, we’ve had orange wine in Italy for quite some time now and in other regions as well, where you have a little skin contact. But I do think that orange wine in the United States has sort of become a fad of sorts. We’ve seen some really good examples. And we’ve seen some not great examples. But I think it’s such a small, narrow niche that it hasn’t really broken into the mass market. And for people that are really sort of obsessed with wine, I love that they can go down that rabbit hole. But you know, for consumers that have no idea what it is, I think it can be a dangerous thing because they hear orange wine and they don’t have all the tools to understand what that means. And going back to what you’d asked before about demystifying wine; well, it’s hard to get consumers to understand very complicated wine concepts. And so trying to explain to someone what an orange wine is, requires a lot of backstory and how a wine is made. So, you know, is it a fad? Maybe here in the US? I think it’s here to stay. Probably not, you know, in a large degree, but maybe in a smaller degree.
Natalie MacLean 9:15
Hmm. And Vanessa, whether you want to add to those comments, or tell us what your opinion is on another trendy wine, say natural or raw wines? What about those?
Vanessa Conlin 9:28
I mean, there’s definitely; it’s very trendy, natural wine. I think what’s confusing is there really isn’t a clear definition of what that involves to qualify as natural. So I think that there’s a lot of natural confusion with what that means. And I think there’s been some stigma, sort of over wines that aren’t billed as natural, when actually the two could be made quite similarly and one is marketed a certain way and one isn’t. So I don’t think that that’s going anywhere. I think that people are very curious about what is part of the process, just like they are with food. They want to know all the ingredients, you know how the animals were I handled, how they were raised. So I think it’s only natural that people are asking these questions. I just think that as a wine community, we need to do a better job of helping to explain what that actually means and what people should look for.
Natalie MacLean 10:13
And what is a natural wine then for you? And how would you, if you would, differentiate it from, say, a raw wine?
Vanessa Conlin 10:19
Because there isn’t a definition, I mean, I would say, you know, where I worked at a luxury wine estate in Napa Valley, we were certified organically farmed, but we’re not natural, because of course, there’s some sort of laws that apply about things in the winery that disqualify that, but in terms of how the wine was made, it was very minimally intervention, you know, there was a tiny, tiny bit of SO2, and that was really it. So I mean, to me, that qualifies as basically a natural wine. I think some people would say, well, that little bit of SO2 for consistency and bottling, maybe that disqualifies it. So I can’t really say what the definition is, because there isn’t, there isn’t one. So until we sort of codify it, it’s a very difficult topic. And that’s again, why I feel like we do need to do some work here as wine professionals, to help consumers really understand and so that they’re getting what they want in the end.
Natalie MacLean 11:06
And, SO2, sulphur dioxide, to help preserve the wine, to stabilise it, right?
Vanessa Conlin 11:12
Yes, exactly. Yeah.
Natalie MacLean 11:14
And you folks at Wine Access, do you sell these types of wines? Like what are you seeing as popular these days in terms of wines?
Vanessa Conlin 11:21
You know, we see it in situ, we sell all types of wine. I would say, as a category, natural wine is not one that we have rolled up our sleeves on. And I will say again, because there isn’t a clear definition and because I do want my wines to be shelf stable and ship stable and I want a customer to have consistency. If someone buys six bottles, I want the six bottles to be what they had in the first bottle as well. So do we sell wines that are very minimally or maybe none? Yes, but it’s not necessarily a category I’m seeking out. We taste every bottle before we offer it. So any wine has to sort of prove that it’s up to our standards to offer. But in terms of what sells we see all categories. I will say one thing that’s been kind of fun to see during the lockdown, there’s been a lot of sort of very crisp white wine, lots of these great little racy wines, like from Italy; we just can’t keep around. I don’t want to tell you other than, that, I think that happy hour starts a little sooner these days. And maybe people are looking for something kind of refreshing for what might be considered a little bit of day drinking like, you know, I’m not judging, but that’s that’s been sort of interesting to see that.
Natalie MacLean 12:27
So the lower alcohol and you’re not asleep by seven on the sofa
Vanessa Conlin 12:32
Oh, you know, crisp, easy drinking, unoaked wines have definitely seen an increase.
Natalie MacLean 12:37
Oh, wow. And either of you feel free to answer these questions, but I’m just curious because you sell so many wines and have over the years. What’s been the most expensive wine that you’ve ever sold?
Vanessa Conlin 12:50
Oh, Amandas got to take this one for sure. All right.
Amanda McCrossin 12:58
The most expensive wine we ever sold was magnum of 1969 Chappelet which was an extremely rare unicorn bottle if it’s in 750. If it’s a magnum, forget it, I’ll see that once in a lifetime. It was a wine that went for $10,000 and before we even got it in the door, we knew who we were selling it to.
Natalie MacLean 13:18
That’s a Rhone Valley wine?
Amanda McCrossin 13:20
Oh, no, that was Napa Valley. It was a 1969 Chappellet Napa Valley Cabernet from the vineyard on Pritchard Hills. It’s considered one of the best wines, if not the best wine ever made in Napa Valley alongside like a 1974 Heitz Martha’s (1974 Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon). It was made by Philip Togni who was trained by Émile Peynaud; so crazy pedigree, but then on top of that, you know, just great history that makes this wine really, really iconic in Napa Valley’s history.
Natalie MacLean 13:44
How did you guys source that? Like, did you get it directly from the winery? I mean, how would you get such a rare bottle to sell?
Amanda McCrossin 13:53
I say this, you know, with a grain of salt. But I think to some degree, we’re lucky in Napa Valley that we don’t have the amount of fraud that other regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux have. We do absolutely have it. This particular wine was sourced from a private sellers. So it was sourced by my then boss Scott Brenner, who knew the person who had bought it originally. And we also, having relationships with the wineries being in Napa Valley, we were able to corroborate those stories. So it was someone that had purchased it sort of early on and we knew that there were only about 10 in existence and we also knew where the others were located so
Natalie MacLean 14:28
Wow. And how about the the oddest or the most unicorn bottle that you’ve ever sold if there is such a thing? Any very weird bottles?
Amanda McCrossin 14:39
Yeah, I mean, I’m trying to think like we’ve had some old, like Inglenook used to make Charbono, Martini used to make Barbera; like, there’s some really old cool varieties that we never really see in Napa Valley anymore. Charbono has actually started to make a comeback, like if you want to talk about the trend, that’s actually a trend in Napa Valley right now, which is awesome. Known as Bonarda in South America and typically blended with Malbec, but yeah, some of these like really odd varieties from like the 50s and 60s that, you know, were really fun to put on the list, miraculously stood the test of time. And those are generally my most favourite to sell.
Natalie MacLean 15:15
That’s great. What tips would you give like, obviously, you run a wine club. So you’re advising people all the time on which wines to choose. But for people who are, say, looking at your selection, or walking into a liquor store, what are your best tips on how to buy wine, especially if you want to get out of a wine rut; you’re always going to the same bottle, it’s safe, you know you like it, but you want to try something new.
Vanessa Conlin 15:39
So Wine Access, you don’t actually have to be part of a club to buy wine from us. So we have a daily offer, which is you know, wine sold by email, there’s a store, we do have three tiers of wine club, if you like to buy that way, which is actually, I think, a great way to learn more, because you get a variety of wines to try. With the club, we actually have a theme for every quarter, I think, to back up for one second, I think that sometimes wine clubs have a bad rap, it sometimes can be a place to sort of make wine go away.
Natalie MacLean 16:08
Where bad wines go to die,
Vanessa Conlin 16:10
Right, that aren’t being sold through other channels, that’s absolutely not what we do. We hold every wine up to the same standard that we do for any of the channels. But additionally, we choose a theme for each quarter, like we’ve done up and coming winemakers, we had a theme Old World versus New World. I’m actually filming some videos later today about it. The entire club is on Italy for this quarter. So it’s very educational, you know, we write extended write ups five hundred to one thousand word write ups, about every wine with the club. As I mentioned, we also film videos; you can taste with us. So I’d say we go to great lengths. Actually, we think about this very, very seriously; how to appeal to the novice all the way to the expert, through content, through the written word and through video content. To answer your question about how to try new things, something that we also do is let’s say we’re going to write about a Gruner Veltliner, maybe someone who is reading this offer has never had it before; we do try to go to of course, describe the wine but also say for people who like wines, like you know, its like Sancerre, Albarino, you know, crisp, high acid wines, to sort of help you understand the style so that if you know one of those other categories, you might, you might know what to expect it in the bottle in the glass. But I think if you’re not buying wine from Wine Access, which of course I hope you will, I think just starting to ask questions; kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier. And whether it’s your shop or you know, people on the floor, whether it’s a restaurant or retail, should know better than anybody you know what’s on that list or on the shelves and so, really start to talk to them and ask what’s interesting to them and just take a risk ultimately, drink promiscuously.
Natalie Maclean 17:42
I love that.
Amanda McCrossin 17:45
And consider the source though, like know where you’re going to be buying wine from. I don’t think anybody goes to the gas station expecting to buy sushi and not feel sick later. Maybe that’s a bad example. But like, I think if you want to try something new, and you expect it to be good, go to a reputable wine shop that has to Vanessa’s point, people working there who have considered the wines, who have curated the wines, who can help tell that story and can help you navigate that. You know, if you walk into like a corner gas station liquor shop, it’s highly unlikely that you’re One: going to find what you like and Two: to find anything different. So I always say consider the source.
Natalie MacLean 18:18
That’s true. And when I’m in a good restaurant, I’ll trust the server or Somms’ recommendation of wine by the glass. I will try something but not maybe at, you know, a fast food joint or whatever. But I love also that tip of if this than that. I like this. I like that. So what do you recommend? That’s also a good tip for people trying to get out of the rut. So I also heard or read where you were doing a high altitude tasting, right? You were taking wines planted at high altitudes and doing a video tasting of those?
Vanessa Conlin 18:49
That was part of a winemaking techniques or winemaking influences club that we did and that was one of them. So we had a number of things we featured. One was actual things that the winemakers can do. So what is malolactic fermentation? How do you find that in a wine? What would you taste? What would you look for? And we explained that and then we also did things about sort of where vines are planted. So yes, like high altitude or a hillside; where it was part of the club as well. And then of course, we explained, you know, what you might find, what considerations went into the planting, the harvesting, all those different things, and then tie it back to what impact it would have in the glass.
Natalie MacLean 19:21
So a little mini course,
Amanda McCrossin 19:23
That was a really fun video too, because we got to hear everyone’s sort of perspective on high altitude, which were all sort of similar in the same theme, but everyone had different words. Like I’ll never forget Eduardo described it as like licking at battery which I cannot get out of my mind
Natalie Maclean 19:39
Licking a battery; because of the acidity?
Amanda McCrossin 19:41
No, because it’s like electric, like he was, like it just feels electric. I was like, you know, that’s a great description for someone who doesn’t
Unknown Speaker 19:47
Licking battery acid.
Amanda McCrossin 19:48
I mean, if you’ve ever licked a battery, which I haven’t, but you know, I couldn’t forget it.
Natalie MacLean 19:52
On the same subject. When I’m teaching wine and food pairing, I’ll say smell everything. Like the furniture, the leather chair, just don’t let someone catch you doing that. Instead of licking batteries, smelling chairs, but anyway, go ahead.
Vanessa Conlin 20:06
Oh no, I was just going to say Eduardo, who I made that reference to; he is on the wine team at Wine Access and he has the most wonderful expressions and turns of phrase, in terms of describing wine. I think one of my favourites was, I feel like I just won a game and have a group of cheerleaders carrying me away on their shoulders.
Natalie MacLean 20:25
Yeah, I love that description. Okay, well, let’s just look at some photos because I do want to share those with our audience. There we go. Is this Amanda?
Amanda McCrossin 20:40
That’s me. The ballet days.
Natalie MacLean 20:42 I just wanted to because we’ve been talking about some of these things. That’s lovely. Which ballet was this?
Amanda McCrossin 20:44
Oh, that’s the classic. It’s the Nutcracker of course.
Natalie MacLean 20:47
Oh, right. There you go. The background, right.
Amanda McCrossin 20:49
Yeah, that’s dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Natalie MacLean 20:53
Oh nice. Were you the Sugar Plum Fairy?
Amanda McCrossin 20:58
That year? I was Clara. Not in that picture. But the year before I had played Clara. I don’t know what I was dancing there.
Natalie Maclean 21:03
Is this you in the middle?
Amanda McCrossin 21:04
That’s me. The little one the little girl.
Natalie MacLean 21:06
Oh, right there Clara. So sweet. Oh my gosh. And then we have Vanessa with La Bohème
Vanessa Conlin 21:15
La Bohème. Yes, this is an updated production. So they set the time frame differently than when it was originally written. But yes, this is backstage on Broadway. So Baz Luhrmann, the movie director, also directed this production. We were various people about to go on stage and be a part of a scene in Paris of Christmas Eve. And so this is a you know, some of the characters you might encounter on the street that night. I love that hat.
Natalie MacLean 21:42
I love that hat. And this is you with your MW. Graduating, looking relieved?
Vanessa Conlin 21:49
Yes. Well, I took this photo in my home, because unfortunately, because of COVID, the annual ceremony in London was cancelled and you’re an MW the day that they call you, but the actual giving of their certificate normally you receive that at a ceremony in London, and I bought the dress and the shoes for the ceremony, which didn’t happen, but then they mailed the certificate. So I decided that I would just put it on anyway.
Natalie MacLean 22:10
Beautiful dress. Absolutely. Why not? And for those who are listening to the podcast version of this, you’ll have to come over to the video version and take a look because these photos are terrific. And back to Amanda. Is this at Press?
Amanda McCrossin 22:22
This is at Press. This is when I chopped all my hair off and poured Mayacamas (wine) by the glass. Actually, no, I don’t know if that was. Yeah, that was at Press. I was working as a sommelier. That was for an article that I was featured in called “Liquid Diet” for Food and Wine magazine. And they chronicled every single thing that I drank in a week, which if you can imagine is a lot of wine, a lot of coffee and a lot of Champagne.
Natalie MacLean 22:45
That’s great. And where is this Amanda?
Amanda McCrossin 22:50
Oh, this is actually something I got to do with Vanessa. This was like our first on camera. I think it was together. We did this thing, a blind tasting, it’s called blind tasting sessions on Somm TV, so she and I blinded each other on 2 wines. So I have the Edge Hill Vineyard Chardonnay, which is made from the oldest vines in the Bacigalupi vineyard, which were in the original Judgement of Paris wine for the Chateau Montelena and then the one on the right there, that’s a 1977 or 79. I forget. I think it’s 77 Joseph Phelps (Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon) Eisele Vineyard, so very famous vineyard that the Araujos purchased in early 90s and now is under new ownership and just called Eisele Vineyard, but one of my favourites. Vanessa was great. She nailed them.
Natalie MacLean 23:34
Oh, did she? In blind tasting, like identifying them without seeing the label?
Vanessa Conlin 23:38
Amanda nailed her wines to by La Doriane
Amanda McCrossin 23:42
Vanessa and I stealing wine from the cellar. Just kidding. Yeah.
Natalie MacLean 23:46
You’re looking happy about it, though. Where’s this? Is this the Wine Access cellar?
Amanda McCrossin 23:51
No, this is at Press. This is our wine cellar. So this was actually about half of our cellar. On the other side, front of us, there two other glass enclosed cellars. But I used to have the series there called Sunday school at Prosper. We’d invite wine professionals to sit down and sort of do a roundtable with like, 15 people and Vanessa was nice enough to be one of our guests.
Vanessa Conlin 24:14
I think you brought a magnum Raveneau Petit Chablis
Amanda McCrossin 24:16
I brought a magnum of Raveneau Petit Chablis
Vanessa Conlin 24:18
Very kind of you. Very generous, very generous.
Natalie MacLean 24:22
Oh, my goodness. And this is you tasting at a winery somewhere.
Vanessa Conlin 24:27
This is the blind tasting sessions in action. So I think that you can see that look on my face. I’m sort of waiting with anticipation to see.
Natalie Maclean 24:37
Amanda is thinking about it.
Amanda McCrossin 24:39
Like is this the Viognier or ..
Natalie Maclean 24:42
Same tasting session?
Amanda McCrossin 24:44
That’s Jason Wise
Natalie MacLean 24:47
The director of Somm TV?
Amanda McCrossin 24:47
Natalie MacLean 24:48
Fantastic. Yeah. Those are great to watch too. For those who are interested. This must be shipping Wine Access products, is it?
Amanda McCrossin 24:56
No, these are actually this. This was a little thing that I did for the holidays. I did a gift giving guide. And so these are my favourite wine glasses. These are the Mark Thomas Double Bends that I was talking about
Natalie MacLean 25:06
Which glasses are these again?
Amanda McCrossin 25:08
They’re called Mark Thomas. He was a consultant for Saltos (wine glasses). And they sort of have the same weight and feel of Salto, but they’ve got more of a roundness to them. So they’re great for California wines. One of the things that I don’t like about Saltos is they make California wines angular, and a little bit disjointed. So this actually sort of solved that problem, giving you the roundness, but also like really giving the wines a lift and brightness. But you know, for some people, they’re like, good glassware doesn’t really matter. I think it does.
Natalie MacLean 25:30
I do too. And I use Saltos. So I’m curious to try these, Amanda. And so what do you mean by it makes the wine angular?
Amanda McCrossin 25:37
We think of Napa wines as being many different things. But I think because we have such great weather, and the wines are often very sun-kissed and have an element of fruit and things. Sometimes the angularity of that glass can really sort of mute that; it can mute the sun-kissed nature and the softness of those wines and make some of the angularity of those wines more pronounced, which in some cases, you want, you know, certainly some older wine but maybe more like their savoury notes. But for some of the more youthful California wines that have more denseness and juiciness and suppleness, I find that it can really disjoint the wine and actually make some of the alcohol sort of poke through a little bit and make the tannin sort of like to zappy on your palate, if that makes sense
Natalie MacLean 26:14
Interesting. I like that. Zappy. I’m definitely going to try these glasses. I’m curious now. And this is you somewhere travelling?
Amanda McCrossin 26:22
Yeah, this is at Mayacamas. I think this is actually my first official duty as wine director. So when I was promoted from sommelier to wine director I hired a new team and these were my first two hires; Jody and Carrie and one of my favourites in Napa. And here we are at a Château in Bordeaux.
Natalie MacLean 26:30
And here we are at a Château in Bordeaux. Is this when you had like a weekend off between Napa and New York?
Amanda McCrossin 26:38
Yeah, this is my getaway my jaunt to Bordeaux. This was me, like living my best life. And I think I was at Château Palmer in Margaux
Natalie Maclean 26:51
The turrets from the label. Absolutely. Beautiful. And the two of you, is this Silver Oak ? Or where is this?
Amanda McCrossin and Vanessa Conlin 27:00
Natalie MacLean 27:01
Okay, I see the label.
Amanda McCrossin 27:04
We talk about Silver Oak a lot, not because we designed it that way, but because it is such a loved winery. We joke that they should be a sponsor of our podcast because every guest that we have on is like either says their favourite wine is Silver Oak or Opus One or, like, have some story about that. So we thought it’d be fun to take some promotional shots there. And then after Silver Oak invited us to do their release party; so it all kind of came full circle. So we have a great relationship with them. And Vanessa has a great relationship with the Duncan family as well.
Natalie MacLean 27:31
Fantastic. Just a couple more this is um, this is La Chapelle.
Vanessa Conlin 27:35
Yes. In Hermitage
Natalie MacLean 27:37
So that’s what I thought I was hearing earlier from the Napa.
Vanessa Conlin 27:41
Exactly. It’s not a tombstone. I know, it looks like
Natalie MacLean 27:44
you’re sitting on the winemakers grave.
Vanessa Conlin 27:48
It’s just a marker, I promise you. But yeah, so that’s, of course in the Northern Rhône on the top of the Hermitage, and that was during this intense heatwave. So not pictured is me almost passing out shortly after this photo was taken.
Natalie MacLean 28:04
Here you’re filming for the wine club?
Vanessa Conlin 28:07
Yeah. So yeah. In fact, that’s Eduardo, who I mentioned before, and I’ll be with him later today filming our wine club videos about this quarter, which is on Italy. So yes, we sit down. As you can see, in this photo, we taste all the wines together, we can talk through our experience with the wine, what you might need to know, of course, or might want to know I should say, and then yeah, and then share them out. So it’s always a really fun day.
Natalie MacLean 28:29
I think this is the last one of the photos that I have. So who’s this?
Vanessa Conlin 28:33
That’s me with Josh Hart, who’s an NBA player for the Pelicans in New Orleans, who has become a personal friend of mine, he’s really curious about wine. He’s become a collector, but very, very open. What I really like about him is he’s never afraid to admit what he doesn’t know or ask questions, which I think kind of goes back to one of our previous questions, right, that you had for us, is how to learn, is to never be embarrassed to ask a question. So I get a lot of sort of text messages about what’s this bottle? And what does this mean? And when should I open this? And it’s been really fun for me. But I think the more important thing to know about Josh is that Wine Access and Josh partnered on a scholarship for diversity in the wine business, so we gave away one hundred scholarships for black and indigenous people of colour. So we’ve taught three, we broke them into four sessions. We’ve taught three of them. And then the fourth one is actually I’ll be teaching tomorrow.
Natalie MacLean 29:23
Oh, that’s wonderful. That’s a great note to end on for the pictures. Again, I just can’t believe how quickly the time has flown. And I still have 56 questions to ask you about. So just kidding. But you have kindly offered to give 15% off Wine Access orders for the first three people that go to qineaccess.com/unreserved as in Unreserved Wine Talk, the title of this podcast. Is there anything that we haven’t touched on that you’d like to mention now?
Amanda McCrossin 29:55
Well, I will just say it’s been a pleasure to be on this podcast. Any time I get to spend with Vanessa, which as of late has been, with some regularity, because of our podcasts Wine Access Unfiltered, is a good one. So thank you.
Natalie MacLean 30:07
Terrific. Absolutely. And where can we find you both online? Well, obviously wineaccess.com. But are there any other things you want to share from social or websites? That sort of thing? I know, Amanda, you have a YouTube channel.
Amanda McCrossin 30:20
Yeah, that’s actually my primary job these days. So I left the restaurant industry just before COVID last year, completely unrelated to focus. Primarily, I’m making content for YouTube and Instagram. So I’m @sommvivant. So I create wine focused content, sometimes non wine focussed, but always just, you know, with the consumer in mind, how I drink, how I’d want to be taught when I was 25, or 26, in New York City. So that’s where you can find me, you can find the Wine Access Unfiltered podcast on every platform, and then also on Instagram @wineaccessunfiltered and then I’m sure Vanessa’s got some social media handles she can share,
Vanessa Conlin 30:59
For sure. So for Wine Access on Instagram, just @wineaccess, and then mine’s pretty easy. My personal is @vanessaconlin. So just my first and last name on Instagram. And then we do have a Facebook group called The Wine Access Experience, where we also post content, etc. So that’s where you can find us. And of course, as you mentioned, online at wineaccess.com.
Natalie MacLean 31:19
Okay, fantastic. Well, thank you both for being with us on the podcast. I wish you all the best. I’m looking forward to chatting with you on your podcast. And I hope that our listeners will find you on all of those various channels and your podcasts, your website, your YouTube, but thank you both Vanessa, Amanda, this has been a real treat.
Vanessa Conlin 31:38
Amanda McCrossin 31:39
Thank you for having me.
Vanessa Conlin 31:41
Natalie MacLean 31:47
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Amanda and Vanessa. Here are my takeaways.
Number one, I love the way Vanessa described the Master of Wine studies as a way to combine all those pieces of her curiosity and to feed her constant desire to keep learning. I feel that way when it comes to writing my books and articles and researching guests and topics for this podcast.
Two, I agree with her that we in the wine community need to do a better job of explaining what natural wine actually means and what you should look for when you’re buying one.
And three, I love her advice to drink promiscuously. The people on the floor, whether it’s restaurant sommeliers or retail wine staff, they know better than anybody what’s on the list or on the shelves. Talk to them. Ask them what’s interesting; take a risk. Drink promiscuously.
In the shownotes, you’ll find a full transcript of our conversation, how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class, and where you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube Live video every Wednesday at 7pm Eastern. That’s all in the show notes at Nataliemaclean.com/120.
You won’t want to miss next week when we turn the tables and Zach Geballe the host and producer of the VinePair podcast interviews me. Zach is a wine writer, educator and certified sommelier based in Seattle. I’ll be interviewing Zach in an upcoming episode as well.
In the meantime, if you missed episode eight, go back and take a listen. I talked about this scandalous wine women on television. I’ll share a short clip with you now to whet your appetite.
Brooding dark red wines do pair better with political intrigue than whites. Plus, chilled white wine can mist over with condensation in the glass which would be unsightly. Liv and the president’s chief of staff Cyrus Bean also enjoy a glass or two while discussing rigging elections and other matters. She once opened for him “A Bordeaux that will bring tears to your eyes”. Meanwhile, First Lady Mellie Grant tells Liv over lunch with beautiful menace; I know how you love your wine. They’re arch rivals, not least because her philandering husband, President Fitzgerald Grant III, is in love with Liv. But Livs most serious love affair is with red wine, alone, in her apartment. Wine is mostly used to drink away the stress at the end of the day. It’s a coping mechanism.
If you like this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially ones you know who’d be interested in the tips that Amanda and Vanessa shared. Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week.
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Nataliemaclean.com/subscribe. Meet me here next week. Cheers.