Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Hosting a Friendsgiving? Thanksgiving? Hanukkah?

Hosting a Friendsgiving? Thanksgiving? Hanukkah? 

Regardless of the reason, you will need wine! Weather you have a get together or celebrate in front of the TV solo great wine means a great time. Black Friday is only a couple days away as well and is our one day only sale. We are offering 25% off all of our wines (or an additional 5% off your wine club member discount) and is a great time to stock up on all your favorites for the Holidays!

Wondering what to pair with a complex selection of foods ranging from yams to turkey, mashed potatoes to pumpkin pie? We've got you covered! Rose wines are hands down the easiest pairing wines and crowd pleasers. We have two options, both are great choices: Rose of Sangiovese and the slightly bolder Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon. They both have the ability to pair with most of the foods on the table and won't add to that already too full feeling. Rose wines make everyone happy being lighter than a red, bolder than a white, fruity for the sweet wine drinkers, but with great acidity to make them balanced and complex for red wine drinkers.

Make your dishes more wine friendly by leaning into the savory rather than the sweet. Instead of marshmallows in the yams, bake them with butter, slices of onion, slices of orange and a dusting of brown sugar. Add cauliflower to the mashed potatoes for a subtle earthy note and make sure the stuffing has nuts in it to add depth (unless someone is allergic of course). 

The red wines we suggest to make your meal heavenly are our Abbott Cabernet Franc and our Nebbiolo. Both reds have a lighter body than say a Cabernet Sauvignon which can clobber the flavors of a more delicate dish. These reds are also packed with natural acidity and lots of flavor so you have all the delicious aspects of the food and wine coming together in harmony. By making your dishes more wine friendly, you can pick up on the notes in the wine. Adding orange highlights acidity, adding nuts highlights tannin and any earthy note or berry will bring out the fruit in the wine. 

To finish the meal, pair your pie with our Amante port style wine. Skip the ice cream and have this as your sweet addition, add cheddar cheese to apple pie or keep it simple with brown sugar and salt roasted nuts, an unbelievable combination with the Amante. 

We hope each and every one of you is surrounded by those you love and can raise a glass to those that can't be with us during these strange and difficult times. 

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

5 Pandemic Wine Pairings You Need Right NOW

What the what?!? Are you in an episode of Black Mirror?

Unfortunately not, this is actual reality. BUT we are lucky to have internet, wine and sweat pants. I don't want to take too much time away from your binge watching Netflix so lets get down to some important pairings!

Pairing 1: "Tiger King", Netflix's ridiculous show. Ridiculously entertaining, I-wouldn't-ever-be-watching-this-if-I-wasn't-trapped-in-my-house show.
     PAIRED WITH: well this one gets several... If you are rooting for...
     Carole Baskin: Warm Vivac Chardonnay, just plop some ice in it and pretend it isn't still warm.
     Joe Exotic: Vivac Sangiovese with fruit and vodka, extra kicker just cause!
     Jeff Lowe: Vivac Cabernet with Coka-a Cola, beef up all those flavors and cover it up all at the same time.

Pairing 2: It's-another-morning-in-quarantine-and-I-got-outta-bed PAIRED WITH Vivac Rose of Cabernet... because this incredible little wine is the only thing that will encourage you to get up before noon.

Pairing 3: Zoom work meetings PAIRED WITH Vivac Abbott Red, red wine blend, because it tastes so good it doesn't even matter that you are drinking it out of a mug and telling your co-workers its coffee.

Pairing 4: I-haven't-showered-in-days PAIRED WITH Vivac Diavolo red wine blend because it goes down so smoothly that you'll be a couple bottles in before you've finished re-watching last season of Schitt's Creek and your purple lined lips can't even mouth "bath time".

AND the final pairing is... is-it-inappropriate-to-drink-out-of-the-bottle PAIRED WITH this Vivac wine was found on the nightstand, what day is this, who am I combo.

All joking aside, we hope you are all staying safe and healthy. We know many of us are losing loved ones and that the mental fatigue of handling this is real. We hope having a little laugh helps your day. Sending love from all of us at Vivac Winery.

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family! Written by Michele Padberg, co-owner of Vivac Winery. If you enjoy this blog, check out her personal blog at Wine First Adventures

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Fueled by Vivác Winery: Top 10 Things You Don't know About Vivac Winery

Fueled by Vivác Winery: Top 10 Things You Don't know About Vivac Winery: Are you rolling your eyes at yet another 'Top 10' list for you to read? I know, we are sick of them too. But, if you can't beat ... -Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family! Written by Michele Padberg, co-owner of Vivac Winery. If you enjoy this blog, check out her personal blog at Wine First Adventures

Top 10 Things You Don't know About Vivac Winery

Are you rolling your eyes at yet another 'Top 10' list for you to read? I know, we are sick of them too. But, if you can't beat them... join them?

What could this list possibly include you are asking yourself? You already know the media coverage from the last blog post. You already know the amazing wines or you wouldn't care about this blog in the first place. And, you probably follow us on various social media platforms that show you the fun stuff us 4 owners run off and do with our what DON'T you know???

1) NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!! The sound you do not want to hear coming from the winery.
We would rather uncork (by hand) hundreds of bottles to fix a wine than release it to you with a problem. Yes, this has happened, and while devastating and costly, we will not put a bottle of wine out there with a problem. They may not all be to your taste, but they are correct.

2) They are sometimes 'twining' but they are not twins.
The winemakers are NOT twins. Many of you know this, but so many do not, that is seems to still rank as one of our top unknowns. Jesse is 18 months older than Chris.

3) Jimmy Two Times. (*1)
Our port style wine "Amante" (meaning 'lover'... yes, it does sound like a telanovela. We have no idea what we were thinking with that name either. It sounded good at the time) is made with 100% Tempranillo grapes, which is the traditional grape used for port in Portugal. Here is the sly part... we are dedicated to using 100% NM fruit 100% of the time... to make the port, we halt the fermentation with a high alcohol brandy... made by our friends down the road at Don Quijote Distillery who use 100% NM fruit to make their 100% Tempranillo brandy! I know! So slick right!?! End result is a 100% Tempranillo, 100% NM True fortified wine.

4)  How about them apples?
Dixon, where we live and have our winery and anchor tasting room, is a place just south of Taos; one of the most charming places on earth! It is a small town that has many apple farms (including the land our winery is built on), they also sell these apples, BUT we are not the "famous Dixon Apples" people have heard of. That was a family named Dixon who ran a historic apple farm near Cochiti Pueblo. And yes, their farm was destroyed by the Las Conchas fire a handful of years ago. Our town of Dixon has not had any major fires and still has beautiful apples available. Confusing I Know.

5) That's Amore!
During winter months, we have a small grouping of tables and chairs inside our cozy tasting room! Yep, you can still have date day at our place even when it's cold outside.

6) Run Forrest run! (*2)
Both winemakers have run many full marathons, Jesse has even run several ultras (including a 54 miler!). I ran one full in Napa, then stuck with halves, so much more civilized. And both of Chris and Lili's kids have started competing in triathlons! Their son Maddox has actually won a bunch too. This is how our "Fueled by Vivac" sponsorship for races started and why we have super cool sports shirts available in long and short sleeve. Send us a pic of you in one of our shirts, in a race, and we will give you a free bottle of wine.

7) Super cool!
We have created specialty wines for the incredibly talented musician/ artist/ actor Robert Mirabal under the label "Mirabal Reserve". These unique wines mirror Robert's life story and include a choke cherry addition to the dry Sangiovese wine. We made this choke cherry wine from fruit grown in Taos, where Robert is from. You can buy these wines at our tasting rooms or our website, order from their website or find them in select locations soon!

8) The lean years
We were on food stamps for years as we got the winery started and had babies. We are immensely appreciative and grateful for that assistance. We hope that now as we offer more and more jobs to the community and give back through local organizations that we are in some small way paying it forward.

9) Start them young
While we all love Taos Ski Valley (I mean hello! It is continually listed as some of the best skiing in the world), little known Sipapu Ski area only 30,mins from us, is a delightful destination and very family friendly. It is also where we had all of our kids (3 between us two couples) on skis by the age of 2! If you visit northern NM in winter, stay there and drive down the hill to see us.

10) Being smart 
Yes we have a wine for every palate (including a soon to be released RESERVE ROSE that is mind blowing), and yes we have 14 NM craft beers on tap and a local cider, but we ALSO have Nitro Coffee on tap, sparkling apple juice, specialty root beer and will soon we hope to have HopTea and NA Prosecco! We know not everyone in a group is a drinker (or likes to drink as much as we do) and we support having a DD and being safe so we want to offer amazing treats for those needing something without booze.

This probably could have been twice as long, but we know you have drinking to get to so we don't want to hold you up. If you have questions, about us or the winery, ask! We have updated our new website with a fun fact filled 'About Us' section and there are now tons of details about each wine available, but we know your curiosity doesn't stop there so message us, maybe your question will become our next blog post!

(*1) reference to the movie Goodfellas and a character named Jimmy Two Times because he said everything twice. Doubling up on Tempranillo is our version of Jimmy Two Times.
(*2) if you need this reference explained, you are not watching enough movies! From the movie Forrest Gump.

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!

Written by Michele Padberg, co-owner of Vivac Winery. If you enjoy this blog, check out her personal blog at Wine First Adventures

Friday, November 15, 2019

Making a Splash!

We recently had the honor to be selected as 1 of 7 wineries to present to the elite wine media such as Wine Spectator, James Suckling, Wine Enthusiast, HuffPo and many many more. Due to the fact that our other owner team had just left to travel Asia with their family, my husband Jesse and I flew to New York City to hopefully wow the who's who of wine.

Getting up at 3am to catch your flight and traveling all day (because New Mexico is its own island it seems and you can't fly direct to most places) landed us in the city starving and exhausted. Our hotel was perfectly situated in the Lower East Side next to Katz Deli and down the block from a wine shop! We ate, we drank, we fell asleep by 8pm. Ya, par-tee animals!

Trying to figure out how to present to the top wine media is really tricky. We were given 20 mins to present, which when we arrived we were told would actually be 15 mins, to sell our wines we were pouring and ourselves. I had selected a vertical (different years, but the same grape) of Cabernet Sauvignon that would show the craftsmanship and age-ability of our wines (2005/ 2009/ 2013/ 2016), a bold move that I hoped would garner us some good attention. I had worked hard on crafting a beautiful slide show to highlight the beauty and uniqueness of where we live and also so they could see it is a family operation with the four of us pouring our hearts and souls into the winery. In addition I crated professional media packets with details, photos, bios and wine stats for each attendee. I had a list of talking points and had encouraged Jesse to figure out what he wanted to say. Jesse looked at me the morning of the presentation like a deer in headlights and exclaimed that he, the winemaker mind you, shouldn't have to present. Given I usually do the presenting and I do teach wine classes, I am used to public speaking and I assured him I would be standing up there too and would jump in when needed. By the end of the event, he had media writers dripping off him, asking for photos and crooning over his "perfectly tussled hair". It was an absolute success and the wines made a huge impression. Days later as we discussed an offer I'd received to speak at a prestigious conference, Jesse would reference that event and say "What are you going to talk about? Or are you just going to stand there and let me do all the work?". Of course he was joking, and it is this wicked sense of humor that made me fall madly in love with him, so my response was to laugh so hard I almost peed my pants.

It's a rare treat to have these kind of big splashes for a little winery and we just got hit with 3. The 1st was James Suckling himself posting a review of our Refosco on all his personal social media touting that our Refosco bested those from even Italy. Then the NYC trip and finally having the opportunity to present at a travel wine and food writers conference (IFWTWA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Being surrounded by travel wine and food writers from all over the world for 3 days as you pour your wines and create friendships was fantastic!

We are in our 21st year and while it feels like the success is over night, we look back and can't believe how far we've come. From food stamps and working other jobs to buy grapes and barrels, one by one, to being able to leave our incredible staff in charge so we can fly to NYC to shake hands with the top influencers of our day, it truly stuns us. And we owe it all to all of you, thank you!

Now hurry and get a glass of wine to celebrate with us!

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!

Written by Michele Padberg, co-owner of Vivac Winery. If you enjoy this blog, check out her personal blog at Wine First Adventures

Saturday, September 28, 2019

International Wine Competitions, How Do They Work?

After a recent conversation with some friends, I realized there are a lot of people out there that are curious how these International Wine Competitions work, who are the judges and why would a winery send in their wines. So if you are one of them, pour yourself a glass and settle in.

An International Wine Competition brings professionals in the industry together to judge wines that are submitted from all over the world. There are literally wines in every part of the world these days and many of them are incredible, yet they are not exported so we don't know about them. These competitions are located in different areas of the world because you will get a bulk of the wines submitted from the country it is held in and its neighbors. Shipping wine is costly so in order to truly judge the best of the world, there needs to be competitions in very different areas. Bringing judges from all over the world is important for the same reason, as is having judges with different jobs in the industry.

Who are these judges? They are Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers, renowned winemakers, respected wine writers, viticulturists, professors, and prominent wine buyers for impressive restaurants or stores. What they all have in common is they have not only a vast knowledge of wines from around the world, a good sense of winemaking and vineyard practices, but also a gift for smelling and tasting what's in a glass without many details (called blind tasting).

Some competitions are only a couple days of judging, some are a couple of weeks. But they are all more or less set up the same. Some competitions have 40 judges, some have 300 judges, but they all break it down to panels of 4-6 judges to judge any one flight of wines. Here is an example: I am a Certified Advanced Sommelier and co-owner of Vivac Winery (but it is really my ability that has gotten me an invitation to judge), I may be at a table with a Master of Wine, a wine writer, a wine buyer, a wine professor and a winemaker. We will get a flight of 12 wines (some flights are small like 8, some are big like 17), each wine that is poured will be registered with a number, we will see that number on our personal ipads. The only information we are given is the number associated with that wine, at some the grape or blend it is (sometimes it just says "white wine blend" or "red wine blend" or isn't included at all) and a vintage year. Now each of us silently rates that wine on our ipads and submits the score.  The final score will be an average of all 6 scores. In some competitions the highest and lowest scores are kicked out and the average is taken of the remaining scores. Then we discuss the wine. If all the judges gave the wine a similar score, it is a short discussion. If there is a large swing in scores (some high, some low) the discussion in more in-depth as to why someone liked it so much and why someone else disliked it. It is during this time that personal backgrounds come into play, maybe the winemaker caught a flaw the others didn't, maybe the wine writer is freshly back from an area of the world that specializes in this style wine and has details that shed light on how the wine should be thought of. Sometimes the scores are adjusted up in light of the details that came up in the discussion and can be the difference between a wine gaining a medal or not. Sometimes they can be adjusted down specifically so that they don't medal. All wines are tasted and spit out; you can actually be escorted out of the competition for swallowing. I know, so sad right? When you have a wine that has blown you away and got a gold, it is sad to spit it out and dump the rest of the glass, but sometimes the wine is so bad, you can't believe you put it in your mouth. Believe it or not, this work is really exhausting. We all take this very seriously, and each wine gets our full attention and respect, which after a full day of doing it, it can leave you utterly zapped... and really really "thirsty".

After the final wine of a flight is scored, there will be a short break, a palate cleanser and then the next flight starts. At some competitions the flights come out prepoured, others are poured at the table, but the bottle will be cloaked in a jacket so it is never seen. The idea is that each wine gets an unbiased evaluation. Imagine if a judge was allowed to see a label and had the thoughts of 'oh bummer, I hate that cheap crap', that would color the scores that judge gave. Instead, we have to trust our ability to seek out details in a glass and match that to the knowledge of wines around the world. If I know a Chardonnay is being poured (or if that info is not given, but based on my ability to smell and pin point what that varietal is and I've placed it as a Chardonnay), I think of all the places in the world (and there are a lot) and how the grape expresses itself in those places. The vintage date can sometimes play a part in deciding location; France will age Chardonnay longer than say South Africa. Then you analyse the wine. First, how is the color and intensity? Then, are there any faults? Then, assessment of the smell (aromas and bouquet), are they in keeping with what a Chardonnay grape should be? This is usually a good indicator of where it is grown as well (If you want to really see what I'm talking about, literally anyone can try this by comparing a Marlborough, New Zealand Sauv Blanc to a Loire Valley, France Sauv Blanc side by side. Same grape, extremely different characteristics. Usually this distinction is much more subtle, but that is a very good comparison that will get my point across). Then you finally taste the wine and evaluate the palate and finish of the wine. You score all of these components individually and then decide if it represents a Chardonnay from such and such a region or such and such a style and decide if it represents it well, if so how well? Make sense? If you don't get to know the grape it makes it fun to discuss with the panel. Because it is blind tasting, sometimes the reveal of what the wine was at the end of the day can really surprise you, suddenly you see that a winery you'd not thought very highly of, is actually doing some great stuff!

Depending on the competition, you could be there 8am-4pm with flight after flight after flight, others are 9am-1pm with a set limit of how many flights judges may taste in a day. All of them treat their judges like celebrities, it is pretty cool. Some competitions pay for travel expenses, most pay for lodging and meals. All encourage you to explore the city you are in and that can be them taking you to cultural events as we did in Budapest seeing a famous Russian Pianist in the city's most beautiful, historic theater. Or you could be reimbursed for the city tours and cultural events you seek out on your own as was done in Berlin. All have a welcome event that includes being wined and dined. All make sure you have plenty of wine after judging at your disposal. And all of them make sure you are happy. Oh ya and they give you gifts of some sort as a thank you.

So how do you get in on this? Well, my way in started out by a coordinator of one competition doing a search for recruiting new judges, came across this blog, did some recon on me, saw listings of classes I had taught and feedback on those events and rolled the dice on inviting me. Doing well at that 1st competition (meaning my scores were within range of the already respected judges on my panel, and getting feedback from those revered judges on how discussions with me went during the judging i.e. did I know what I was talking about, was I an asset at the table and in the discussion, did I have insights...), meant when I had a friendly discussion with a very influential judge, he was able to pull this info from the 1st competition, liked what he heard and submitted me for a 2nd competition in order to meet me in person. Judging along side me impressed this influential judge to the point he put his name on the line to submit me for 3 competitions in Central Europe. Submitting my name doesn't equal an invitation to judge, but helps a lot! Especially when it is this influential judge. Then that competition does its own vetting of you, like that judge had also done. I had the honor of being invited and participating in all three of those competitions, evidently they also liked what they heard. During that tour of awesomeness, I also had a chance to impress this influential judge even more with some geeky super taster wine skills that blew his hair back enough to submit me for a truly big deal competition that has respected judges waiting on wait lists for over 10 years. I participated in that one in July. I have been extremely lucky with the opportunities offered to me within only 1 1/2 years since my very first competition. Most judges have been at this for over 20 years and not been to some of the competitions I've been to. It is a huge honor. And yes, I am obnoxiously patting myself on the back. Finally my alcoholism has a purpose!

Now there are TONS of small differences in how different competitions are run and the reasons why, if you really want to geek out with me on that topic, you can message me and we will fall down that rabbit hole together. But after 7 competitions in 4 countries, that is what I have seen to be the basics.

Final thing, why would a winery send their wines in to a competition? In one word, its SALES. Having a panel of expert tasters and influential industry people all agree your wine is a wine worthy of a medal gives the general consumer a safety net when shopping. The wine buyers hear your wine got a medal, they want your wine on their shelves, on their wine lists and when consumers walk into your winery out in the middle of no where New Mexico, they feel reassured that their preferences and what they enjoy, are signed off on as OK by the wine professionals. Our winery has won Gold and Silver medals at every International Competition we have entered, San Francisco Chronicle, Finger Lakes, Great American and even at ones in Hungary and Czech Republic!

That was a lot of heady info about this wild niche part of the wine world, don't let it overwhelm you. When it comes right down to it, wine is meant to be fun! It is meant to be consumed, enjoyed, loved, and a element that makes an experience exceptional. So drink what you like, with whatever you like and ignore all the rules.

-Cheers from the Vivác Winery Family!

Written by Michele Padberg, co-owner of Vivac Winery. If you enjoy this blog, check out her personal blog at Wine First Adventures

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Earning and Understanding the Title 'Sommelier'

* written by Sage Vogel

Anyone who has visited a winery tasting room or two, or seen a wine documentary or read a wine blog (Cheers, I hope you're drinking wine right now, because I am) has likely heard the word 'sommelier.' You may be somewhat familiar with the term and know it roughly equates to being a 'wine expert' and you may know there are schools and guilds that grant the title to worthy individuals.

But, if you're like most people, you likely still have some questions about this funny word and what it means when someone has it on their business card. You may have wondered:

How do I say 'sommelier' without embarrassing myself?
What exactly is a wine sommelier?
What does it take to become a wine sommelier?

If any of these questions have popped up in your head, read on. I think I can help shed some light on the subject having recently earned the title. First, let's go over pronunciation and definition, then I'll tell the story of my journey towards becoming a sommelier.

How to Say Sommelier

The easiest way to pronounce 'sommelier' is to say it like suh-mel-yay in such a way that it rhymes with the word 'say.' Making the association with the question itself "How do I say 'sommelier' should help a little bit.

If you took French in high school and you remember a little bit of it and you don't mind sounding just a little pretentious you can add a very subtle /h/ sound at the end of the word, that's a voiceless /h/ meaning your vocal cords do not vibrate: suh-mel-yay-h.

If you want to be even more pretentious, know that traditionally a female sommelier is called a 'sommelière,' which is pronounced like suh-mel-yai-h with the ending of the word sounding like the word 'air' if you replaced the /r/ with the voiceless /h/. We don't use this word in the US, so don't worry if the difference between it and sommelier is too subtle.

If you're still having trouble with saying 'sommelier', there are many resources online like videos and recordings to help you out. Here's a link to the sommelier wiktionary page, I prefer the pronunciation under the French section: Wiktionary Sommelier

If that's still too difficult, you can almost certainly get away with just saying 'somm.' You might even sound more "in the know." Look at you, abbreviating things like one of the cool kids.

What is a Sommelier
If you scanned that Wiktionary page you know that the word 'sommelier' was originally used to refer to a person in charge of guiding pack animals who carried wine. Things have changed a bit since then. Nowadays, a sommelier (called 'wine stewards' by francophobes) is a professional trained in all aspects of the art of wine service, and there's a great deal involved in that.

A good sommelier knows and can teach wine tasting etiquette, they can serve, entertain and educate, they know the New World and Old World winemaking regions and their specific traditions and styles, they know how to pair food and wine, how to craft a wine list, how to pick out aroma, bouquet and tasting notes and they know when to admit they're not sure about something. That last bit is important, no sommelier knows everything, it's impossible (There's more than 10,000 wine grape varietals in the world, and don't even get me started on Europe's regional quality control laws). Any good sommelier worth their weight in grapes knows they'll always have more to learn, and that's not a reason for embarrassment, it's a respectful admission of the wine world's richness and complexity.

So, who gets to call themselves a sommelier?

'Sommelier' is not a strictly controlled term, but it's highly unlikely you'd benefit from putting it on your resume without certification from a respected Institution, Association or Guild. While its possible to defend the title after years of working in the wine industry, this is quite rare and understandably difficult. Most sommeliers pursue some level of formal education along with other training and considerable work experience in the industry. There are a number of organizations that can provide this education, both in the US and abroad. If you want to become a sommelier, you should start by looking for what certifying bodies are operating in your region of the world.

If you live in the Southwest, have several years of experience in the wine industry and are currently employed therein you can take the Level I: Guild Wine Seminar and Examination given by the International Wine Guild based in Denver, Colorado. Upon completion, given your industry employment is active, IWG will certify you as a Wine Sommelier and as a member of the Guild.

That's what I did, and here's how it went.

How I became a Sommelier
I started working for Vivác Winery in the summer of 2015, right after graduating college. I've known the family for almost my entire life and we've always been close. So close, actually, that I've been drinking Vivác wine since well before I should have been allowed to do so. The job quickly proved to be a great fit for me, but it wasn't until this year that I realized it might actually be the job for me.

I've worked a couple other jobs since my first summer at Vivác, the opportunities came up and Liliana, my tasting room boss and mentor, encouraged me to take them so long as I would return to the Vivác bar for the busy summer seasons. I taught English in southern Spain for a school year and High School Language Arts here in New Mexico the following school year, but summer after summer I returned to Vivác and each time it felt more and more like coming home. This year I didn't renew my teaching contract (despite the tempting offer of a $1 annual raise, come on New Mexico) and I fully invested myself into working for the winery. Along with working behind our bar, I began distributing (building and maintaining business relationships with stores, restaurants and hotels) and also began jumping at chances to help in the winery itself, crushing grapes, harvesting, bottling, drinking, etc. I learned a lot, and fast, which is good because when I saw that IWG had a seminar earlier this month for first level sommelier certification, I knew I really wanted to take it and I knew I'd have to employ all I'd learned about wine to pass.

The International Wine Guild has been in operation for over twenty years. It is a standalone wine vocational school that provides college level wine education through 25 different professional wine education courses. The Guild offers technical diplomas (Level I, Level II: Advanced, Level III: Master) and other certification programs to professionals in the wine industry and serious enthusiasts. It seemed fitting for me to pursue my certification from the IWG not only because of its prestige and locality, but also because three of the Vivac founders are certified through their program. They know us, we know them, it's a healthy relationship to have and maintain. I highly recommend them to anyone in our region who is interested in kicking their wine education into a higher gear.

The Level I: Guild Wine Seminar with IWG is a two day intensive seminar followed by a final exam. Provided a student is successful in the class and the exam they are welcomed as a Guild member and are provided with either a Professional or Non-Professional Award title. A professional chef is eligible for the Chef of Wine Arts title, while other professionals in the industry may pursue either Wine Manager or Wine Sommelier titles. Anyone not employed in the industry may receive the title Wine Cellar Manager. I, of course, wanted to be a Wine Sommelier.

Day 1 of the seminar had class beginning at 8:30 AM. The course is structured to accommodate as many as 75 individuals but I was unusually fortunate to have scheduled with a smaller group of less than ten that was a good mix of both professional and non-professional classmates.

Our first module of the day provided a broad but thorough rundown of Key Terms and Concepts we would need as a foundation for the rest of the course. Efficiently and methodically our educator, Senior Wine Instructor Nicholas Post, educated us on essential wine categories and the rules designating them, basic winemaking for reds and whites, the world's "noble grapes," basic chemical equations for fermentations, acid transformations and other basic chemistry, fundamental understandings of Body (Acids, Alcohol, Extract [flavor intensity], Tannins, Viscosity) and Structure/Character (Dryness, Body) and correct serving order and temperature.

Nicholas immediately proved an excellent and obviously seasoned instructor. Looking back and reviewing our course, I'm still surprised how manageable he made assimilating so much information so quickly. It was challenging, but not frustrating. Not everything we went over was new for me, but a lot of the content filled gaps in my prior knowledge that really helped me with what was to come.

The next module focused on Old World wines, and Nicholas began the lecture by reminding us that when he was done, we'd get to start tasting, which is really always the best part when it comes to wine, right? Drinking it?

The module started with a lesson on the EU's international Quality Classification regulations, essentially what winemakers are required to do in order to insure the quality and integrity of their product. I won't get into it, but I will say that the EU is considerably more strict than the New World's wine governing bodies and they focus a lot more on terroir (the growing environment).

Given the time constraints, IWG focused on France and Italy's wine for their level one seminar, a wise choice given their history and influence on winemaking in the world today. Together we explored these countries' regulations and the most important regions, including Bordeaux, Rhone Valley, Tuscany and Piedmont.

When the wines came out that's when the fun really began. Nicholas' associate Tom (a Level II Sommelier) poured us our French wines (including my first Chateaneuf-du-Pape!) and we pulled out our tasting analysis sheets. Nicholas walked us through analyzing the wine by instructing us how to discern Clarity, Color/Hue, Aroma and Bouquet in nose and mouth, Sweetness, Acidity, Body, flavor notes, possible flaws, mouth attack, flavor profiles, finish, overall impressions and finally possible food pairings.

Then came Italy with a Soave Classico, Cortese di Gavi, Barolo, Amarone della Valpolicella, and several others. Fun to say, fun to drink!

Day 2 started at 8:30 AM sharp again with a module on New World Wine. We went over comparisons between the Old and New World wines, learning, to put it very, very briefly, that Old World wines tend to focus more on Terroir and Acidity, while New World wines are all about Fruit and Alcohol. In the Old World winemaking is art, in the New World winemaking is science.

There was a lot to learn and a lot to taste. I won't spoil it for any of you who might be interested in the course but our last tasting flight was a blind tasting, inspired by the live taste test that Master Sommelier candidates have to take, in which we had to discern the differences between same varietal wines cultivated and produced in different parts of the world. It was the perfect way to really drive home the subtle but notable differences in wine styles and profiles.

The seminar concluded with all classmates and the two IWG instructors being friends, we swapped business cards and wine tales, and made toasts over an exquisite champagne. I think we all parted ways with a renewed interest in the craft and a sustained thirst for its product.

I took my exam a little over a week later, after studying and re-studying our takeaway texts and my own notes from the seminar. The exam covered nearly everything we learned in 50 minutes with 50 questions. It was challenging and comprehensive, and though I wish I had studied more just to relieve some of the stress, I'm proud to say I walked away with a 90% grade, a genuine sense of accomplishment and what I can undoubtedly say is the well-earned title of sommelier.

There are two more levels for me to complete if I want to become a master sommelier, and it's definitely in my plans. A classmate I connected with jumped into the next level immediately after the Level I Seminar and she told me afterwards that it was considerably more intense but also even more rewarding. I'm looking forward to it, especially since I've already been having so much fun flexing my new knowledge for visitors to our tasting room.

Earning my title as a Wine Sommelier from the International Wine Guild proved an amazing experience that I know I will always look back on with fondness and pride. Through it all I learned a great deal but most importantly it really helped evolve my perception of Vivác Winery, our products and our founders. There are a lot of things we do here that we don't have to do, according to American law, but we do anyway because quality is our first tenet and (this is the really important part) despite these self-imposed challenges we are still successful and managing to grow.

The truth is that the odds are stacked against us, and any small winery that gets built from the ground up. We're a relatively small operation, we're local, we're family-owned and operated, we're 100% New Mexican and all the wine we sell is wine we make, we're quality-focused, we're internationally recognized and we're actually doing this thing without having to compromise our integrity or our product!

Learning all about the backbone of this business made me realize, in specific detail, why our winery is so special. It made me appreciate in a much more intimate way how difficult it must have been for our four founders to get this winery on its feet and keep it there. This is a very special company I'm blessed to be a part of, and I understand that better now more than ever before.

I'm looking forward to what happens in the years to come, both as a fledgling sommelier and as a seasoned Vivác employee. I'm looking forward to learning more, to teaching more, to tasting more and to toasting more and I hope this post may inspire you to do the same.

-Cheers from the Vivac Winery Family!