Doggone Wine

My family would say I have a magnetic animal attraction to chaos.  I would argue that chaos randomly finds me just by nature alone.

For some reason on this blistery cold morning in mid-February, I must have woken up with a chaos magnet under my skin by no fault of anyone, it was just what the stars had in store.

Pitt County Humane Society is hosting a fundraiser tomorrow night, and On the Square was fortunate enough to be the supplier of the wine.  In hopes of getting back to Tarboro before “snowmageddon,” I jumped in my sweats, tennie pumps and baseball hat to haul the wine to Greenville thinking I would be back home in an hour tops.

Edgecombe County Public Schools were closed today so my lovely children who have a tendency to make monumental messes were home with their father who turns a blind eye toward mess.  Trying to make life easier, I decided to take our Dachshund, affectionately known as Bagel, on a road trip since his favorite thing ever is riding in the car.  Perfect sense, right?  I take my sweet pup on my wine run where the wine will be served at a gala for the Humane Society.  What could be better?

Or what could be worse, I later discovered?

Making it to the host’s home by 9:10, I pulled in their driveway, jumped out of the car, and ran to the front door to ask where I should put the vino.

My sweet friend who had so much going on in her house with this gala being 24 hours away along with three beautiful sons under the age of 7 at home for the day asked me if I would put it in the garage.


But not so perfect, when I ran back to the Tahoe only to find the doors locked ala Bagel.  Car running, I might add.

You have got to be kidding me.

Except I am so not kidding.

After five minutes of talking to Bagel in the best baby dog voice I could muster, my friend calls from the garage, “Is everything ok?”

“I have been locked out of my running car by my dog,” I say in my kindest voice (which I promise you didn’t sound very kind).

My poor friend who had a million things going on retrieves one of her 13 rescue dogs to try to get Bagel excited and jump on either the unlock button or the  roll-down window switch.

Bagel jumps and scratches and howls, but his fat little paws cannot seem to find the same button he hit while I was in the house for a whopping two minutes.

We get a coat hanger, but after 25 minutes of not being successful, it becomes apparent that I need to call Triple A.

Did I mention there happened to be 2 dozen heart shaped Krispy Kreme donuts at my friend’s house?

As I am on the phone with Triple A, there are cars pulling in the driveway to arrange flowers, drop off donation artwork and just all-in-all get ready for this big occasion.

Meanwhile, I have to explain to every single person who asks why there is a running car blocking the driveway that my dog has locked me out.

For someone who loves their dog but is not a huge dog person, I become completely dumbfounded by the responses.

Once they find out my dog is the one who has caused such craziness, instead of being irritated or angry, they become sympathetic and want to make sure that Bagel is ok.

I am not going to lie to you.

Bagel is the least of my concern.

Bagel is in the proverbial doghouse in my mind.  Right now, at that very moment, the only thing I am thinking about is putting the dog in his kennel as soon as we get home.

Granted, I would never physically harm the dog.

However, I am more than irritated with him as I wait the 45 minutes for Triple A to arrive.

Even my friend’s husband who cannot get in his own driveway because of my running car is concerned about Bagel.  He even informs me that dogs have the brain of a three-year-old.

You don’t say?

IT is like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

No one is mad with the dog.

Did I mention my car is still running?

Tommy from Triple A arrives and couldn’t be any kinder.

“Is your dog alright?” he asks before he has even turned off his ignition.

“The dog is FINE,” I say for possibly the eleventh time.

Tommy asks is this my house.  I tell him no, that I am here to deliver wine for the Pitt County Humane Society Gala tomorrow night.  He tells me he was invited to the party.

Tommy has 15 rescue cats.

Oh joy.

After Tommy unlocks my door, he shares a moment with Bagel.

Tommy is so kind and taken with the situation, that Tommy from Triple A helps me unload the wine for the event.

Wow!  Who knew love for animals ran so deep?

I must say, I have a new fondness for the Humane Society and what they represent.

Today was definitely Bagel’s last wine delivery road trip.

It is also the last time I will ever leave my keys in the car.

Thank you to my friend who could not have been more gracious and forgiving as I waited in her house eating her Krispy Kreme donuts.

You know who you are, and I am most appreciative.

Yours truly,



**Tommy is a fictitious name.  I have no idea how Triple A feels about their employees unloading wine.**




One of the first questions I was asked after accepting an assistant cellar master position at Windows on the World was what was the most widely planted grape on the right bank of Bordeaux.  Disgracing myself right at the beginning, I promptly answered:  Cabernet Sauvignon.

To my horror, the answer was, in fact, Merlot.


Bordeaux was the biggie when it came to knowing and selling wine back then, and if you worked at a steakhouse in New York City, your list was covered in it, making it imperative to know all of the classified growths.

The assistant cellar masters memorized early on the first growths:  Chateau Latour, Chateau Lafite Rothschild, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau Mouton Rothschild.  But to achieve sommelier status, it was required to know all of the 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th growths as well as the communes from where these wines hailed.

I will admit, Bordeaux didn’t really light my fire, but it seemed to be the darling of many a sommelier.  Of course, it wasn’t like I had really drunk any Bordeaux either at this time in my life so how could I say anything about this famous wine one way or the other.

It wasn’t until April of 1999, right after my 23rd birthday that I got to really experience Bordeaux, and that was by way of the 1985 Chateau Palmer, a 3rd growth Bordeaux from the Margaux commune.

It tasted like everything great Bordeaux claimed, and I was immediately a believer in this large French wine appellation.  Over the next two and a half years, I was given the privilege of tasting many, many great wines from Bordeaux.

You see, at Windows, wine service was conducted on a gueridon, a fancy name for a rolling cart where you could open, decant and of course, taste the wine before serving it to the guest.  Every bottle we opened was tasted first to make sure the wine was sound and drinking as it should.

At the time, the  most expensive bottle of wine on our list was a Bordeaux:  the Chateau Latour 1900 at a steal of $10,000.00.

Many legendary bottles of Bordeaux were lying in our cellar collecting age and altitude on September 11th.

Like a great deal of things in my life, tasting magnificent Bordeaux ended on 9/11.  It was the end of something hedonistic, something precious.

Seventeen years later, tasting first growth Bordeaux isn’t even on my radar.  Instead, I drink Cava by the gallon and my reds and whites, while absolutely delicious, are nowhere close to the price of classified growth Bordeaux.

And I assure you I am not complaining.  I am much more grounded now than I was then, literally and figuratively.

My life has gotten much more small scale, and while I often reminisce about the career I once had, nothing compares to being home with my family celebrating the joys of togetherness.

Interestingly enough, this past Wednesday, Rachel and I traveled to the Angus Barn in Raleigh to taste a nice line-up of Bordeaux.  Nothing older than 2009, and no first growths around to sample, we did swirl, smell and spit about 35 reds from this prominent region in southwestern France.  It was interesting to see these wines in all of their glory smelling of cedar, cigar, smoke, berries and pencil lead.

One of the favorites was the Chateau St.-Pierre, a fourth growth from St. Julien, a commune on the left bank that holds no first growths but has a handful of 2nds.

It always amazes me to think how much time has gone by and how different our lives are than they once were. I always remember about how wine ages, but often I forget, how I am ageing too.

My loves have changed from wine to whiny children.  My priorities have gone from being at the restaurant every waking moment to being with my children every chance I get.  My thoughts still focus on food, but it’s less about what I’m going to eat and more about what I’m going to feed others.  The first growth days have passed me by, and my future seems bright with other firsts:  first days of school, first football scrimmages, first piano recitals.

The growths of Bordeaux are consistent, but I am growing away from where I once was.

It’s incredible to see how consistent wine is when compared with life.

The ageing process:  another one of life and wine’s beautiful comparisons.


Seasons of Change

Right now I am sitting on my kitchen floor drinking hot tea with honey and listening to Morcheeba Radio on Pandora, my guilty pleasure.

Why my guilty pleasure you may ask?

Morcheeba is a band I loved dearly back in the days of youngness and freeness and hedonistic lifestyle.  Back when there were no children, no ownership, no true responsibilities; just parties, rent and lots and lots of vino.  It kind of makes me feel guilty to reminisce about that time in my life when my children have their friends over and are playing happily down the hill next to the creek.

So much has happened since I blogged last, and I feel a little overwhelmed trying to write about everything that has transpired since January 14th.

There is a lot of change happening in my world, and I cannot get a grasp of how it is transforming my outlook on the future.

In the world of On the Square, February was a fantastic month for us and while we struggle with customers constantly asking why we don’t have a television show, we feel like our staff has never been stronger in both the kitchen and the front of the house.  I am constantly reminded by our patrons and friends what wonderful people we have working with us, and that is the very best compliment I will ever receive.  We are truly  happy serving and cooking for those who enjoy food and wine.  What more could we ever ask for?

In the world of wine, I rediscovered White Zinfandel and then realized I might be aging out of my profession.  After a delicious pop-up wine dinner at Raleigh Wine Shop with food incredibly prepared by Chef Lily Gray Warren, a former ECU wine student, I gushed at her grace and talent with creating and executing an unbelievable dinner with wines elegantly paired and served by Raleigh Wine Shop pros, Seth Hoffman and James Voltz.

One of the highlights of the dinner was the 2014 Broc Cellars White Zinfandel from Sonoma County.  For those of you who have known me the longest, you may remember the box of Franzia White Zin that had a permanent home in Gran’s refrigerator as well as Mary Ann & Dad’s.  When I was a teenager in high school, our family would go to Gran’s for dinner, and in the warm months, we would sit on her beautiful brick patio overlooking the pond where she would serve salted peanuts.  My sommelier days began there and then as I was allowed to tap the box of White Zin and serve Gran and her guests.

There are many classic White Zin stories under my belt, one of my favorites being when I was a sophomore at Carolina.  It was a cold January evening, and I thought I would dress up a little bit and see if I could get a glass of wine at 411 West, easily the fanciest restaurant on Franklin Street in 1996.  I ponied up to the bar and ordered a glass of white zin, thinking I was the coolest thing ever.  My coolness came to a grinding halt when I told the bartender “Just so you know, the wine isn’t white, it’s pink.”  “ID, please, young lady?” he retorted.  Less than five seconds later, I was escorted out of the restaurant.  So close yet so far away.

So when the Broc Cellars White Zinfandel was served at this amazing dinner, I have to say so many flashbacks were occurring in my head, I had to meditate for a moment so that I could really evaluate the wine.  Wild strawberries, garrigue and red rose aromatics, the wine was so far away from Franzia that only the name could trigger the mid 90’s for me.

Fast Forward to a week later when I braved the winter elements to travel to New York City to work my beloved La Paulee, my most favorite wine event ever.  For more information on what an amazing time it is, please visit

So, I arrive in the city, and as I work the event over the course of three nights, I realize that I am old, my friends.  The sommeliers are getting younger and younger, and I am not.  I know every single person experiences this in their lifetime, and it’s almost a feeling that cannot be put into words.  I compare it to seasickness combined with a little fear and a touch of envy.  Honestly, I am just now able to get a hold of the feeling almost a week later.  These talented sommeliers who look like modern day models have talent, confidence and knowledge coming out of their pores, and I must say it is inspiring to see the future of the wine service world look so bright.  I do feel old, but I also feel incredibly proud of the profession I embraced 16 years ago.

In the world of beer, our beloved Tarboro Brewing Company faces many hurdles in timeliness because of what I believe to be bureaucratic bullshit.  (Pardon my french, Cynt Cynt).  We are coming along, but as most aspects of new businesses, if you’re building it rather than buying it, every single thing takes longer than you anticipate.

In the world of mom, I feel like I can barely catch up with making sure my kids are healthy and happy and feel like they have all the tools they need to be successful.  Yesterday morning, I woke up to a good-bye love letter from our life coach Marina and as I typed her words into google translate, the children and I cried at knowing she wasn’t going to be a fixture in our home as she has for the last 10 1/2 years.  For more on Marina and my undying love for her, please visit

Cynthia and Stephen are my greatest gifts, and while I know that I may be aging out of being able to work the floor like I did 10 years ago, I know in my heart I will never age out of being their mom.  The stories they tell me, the fears they share with me and the hugs and kisses they bestow on me make me know there is nothing like a child’s love.

So, my friends, other things have happened over the past month and a half that I am certainly proud of:  surviving one week of a 21 day cleanse (I had only thought I would be able to do a day); running a half-marathon (almost dying, but still finishing); and giving up yelling at my husband for Lent (not 100%, but let’s say 82–how many more weeks do I have?)

We put so much pressure on ourselves to succeed, succeed, succeed, but when it comes to life, all I think we should grade ourselves on is the effort we put forward.  God knows we are all giving effort from the moment we wake up in the morning.

When it comes to change, I am trying to learn to embrace it rather than fight it.  If anyone has the answer on how I can do this more successfully, I welcome any and all advice.

Enjoy this season, my friends, for they will change.  You may think it’s the worst season of your life, but I guarantee you will look back on it wishing you could revisit.  I never believed my youthful season of White Zin out of a box was one I wanted to be in again, but here I am, over 20 years later, thinking that season was pretty darn special.





Beyond the Clouds

As I write, I sit on a warm couch at Pop Pop’s cabin, my father-in-law’s home in Lordville, New York.

Lordville is a hamlet located on the Delaware River, right on the New York-Pennsylvania border. The closest town to us is Equinunk, Pennsylvania, but we are also pretty darn close to Hancock, New York as well.

Stephen and I bring our children here twice a year, or at least we try.

It is up here where we truly unwind and relax, and regardless of the crazy negative two temperature and the 15-20 below wind chill, our family is quite content to just be a family.

When we first started coming to Lordville, there was no internet connection or cell phone reception.

Today, there is still no cell phone reception (at least with AT & T as your provider), but Pop Pop does have wireless now.

And so I write.

Tonight about a gift I received for Christmas that I am now enjoying immensely.

It isn’t often that I receive wine as a gift, but I have to say when I do, it is really a treat.

This past December, a dear friend-slash-sales representative for a wine distribution company, gifted me a beautiful bottle of Elena Walch’s “Beyond the Clouds” 2012, a white wine from Alto Adige, in northern Italy.

As much as I love to share vino with wine-loving friends, it isn’t often that I get to go on vacation with the fam so I packed this heavy bottle of white and had it chauffeured all the way to upstate New York.

When we left Tarboro this past Saturday morning, the goal was to make it the entire way.

At 8 p.m. on Saturday evening with the fog being so heavy we could barely see, we pulled off and drove to the nearest motel which happened to be in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, home of Yuengling Brewery.  Only a bed to enjoy, we rammed it on in a Ramada Inn (as my aunt Cynthia loves to say), and went to bed knowing we would get up early and finish the drive to Pop Pop’s.

So, on Sunday around lunchtime, we finally hit Lordville, and to say we were happy to arrive is the understatement of 2015.

One of our favorite traditions at Pop Pop’s is to cook butter burgers, one of the most wonderful meals any individual can enjoy.  The recipe is simple:  take great ground beef and fold pats of butter into the patties and then baste them in butter before grilling.  Exceptional, if I do say so myself.

And so, my friends, knowing I would be the only one drinking white wine, yet not being discouraged, I decided to open up my precious wine a.k.a. Beyond the Clouds.

AND, as I write I am still enjoying this beautiful bottle, three evenings later.

According to Elena Walch’s website and, the majority of the blend is Chardonnay.

That is a doozie to say the least, because before tonight, I was pretty sure it was predominantly Gewurztraminer since the wine is as floral as all get-out (to quote my father-in-law, and I think he’s pretty accurate in that assessment).

Recently while I was jogging listening to yet another podcast (gosh, I feel so weird-slash-phony writing that), I listened to the guildsomm’s opinions on Fiano, Verdicchio and Soave being age-worthy Italian white wines.  I couldn’t agree more.  I also couldn’t agree with the opinion that these whites are also beyond food friendly.

When it comes to Italian whites, I won’t lie….I am extremely intrigued.  It is because of this that I chose the Beyond the Clouds to travel with me up north.

Besides the butter burgers on Sunday evening, we have also eaten the following dinners:

On Monday, Stephen made Penne with Broccoli, Grape Tomatoes, Pecorino and Chili Flakes.

On Tuesday, my beautiful husband sauteed Brauernwurst, Bratwurst, Krainerwurst and Andouille with peppers & onions.

Tonight, he grills unbelievable Ribeyes from Roman’s, our favorite butcher in Honesdale.

Not only did this remarkably beautiful white pair well with each and every one of these meals, but it also stayed fresh while evolving over the course of four evenings.

For those readers who are excited about 2015 and the wines that they may not have tried previously, please start looking into the world of Italian whites.  There are so many amazing varietals and regions to be explored, and in terms of wine and food pairings, the versatility of these magical whites is incredible.

Next time you’re cooking or going out to eat (dare I say), ask about or enjoy an Italian white you aren’t familiar with; it’s like going beyond the clouds.

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A Year in Review–Part Two of Two

Happy New Year Everyone!  We have yet survived another New Year’s Eve at On the Square in Tarboro, and I am incredibly thankful to be surrounded by some of the greatest friends I have ever made.

A couple of afternoons ago I submitted a blog post that ended in July after a week long hiatus from the juice (fermented juice, that is).  This morning, I begin with August and everything after (no pun intended Counting Crows). I tried to begin and finish writing this blog on New Year’s Eve after service, but I’m getting old, peeps, and it just didn’t happen.

So, here we go, a wine year in review, part two.

August was a great month to wind down a terrific summer.  For the first time in seven years, we decided to vacation in North Carolina instead of making the eight hour trip to upstate New York to visit Stephen’s dad.

As much as we hated to not see Pop Pop, there was something wonderful and blissful about going to the beach with my siblings and nieces and nephews and enjoying hot days and nights on the beach compliments of my dad’s wonderful sister.  We played games, slept late, and we stayed in the water so much and so long all of our fingers and toes looked like the raisinated grapes used to make Amarone (gotta incorporate wine in here somewhere).

And, of course, we drank wine.  Mostly in the evening, but I’m not going to pretend we didn’t have a few day drinks as well. And this leads me to my wine of August:  Tess Red, a fun and downright delicious blend from Napa that is made from both red and white grapes.  Ironically, it is made from two sisters and everything about this wine screams summer lovin’.  We discovered this delicious red in August in thanks to a new friend/fine wine specialist who brought this wine by On the Square for a tasting, and we have been carrying it ever since.  Did I mention how fun this wine is?

September was a golden month for Stephen and me.  It was at this time where we finally raised the amount of money we needed to begin Tarboro Brewing Company.  For those of you who may not have heard, this is a microbrewery to be located at 526 Main Street in downtown Tarboro right across the street from the Post Office.  For the past 18 months, we have been diligently working on this project we believe to be fantastic for our community, and it was in September, where we finally realized it was going to happen.

Don’t think for a minute, however, that I still don’t say a prayer everyday asking God to be with us moving forward into our biggest venture yet.

Because September was a milestone for us, I believe the La Rioja Alta “904” Gran Reserva Rioja 2001 is the wine for this particular month.  Not only is the wine 13 years old and tasting like the fountain of youth, but it is symbolic of an incredible journey Stephen and I have experienced together since we started our way back to Tarboro to make our dreams into realities.  Definitely a special wine with lots of meaning, it was the perfect one for us to celebrate life and all of the beauty that comes with it.

On October 25th, I ran my third 5K (along with running my best time yet–whoo hoo) and then proceeded to On the Square for our second monthly wine tasting using the Halloween theme “Wine & Candy–” kudos to Alice Webb for this brilliant themed-idea.  Check out Alice’s blog for some seriously great writing.

For those of you who may not have heard, On the Square is now hosting wine tastings from 2-4 p.m. the fourth Saturday of each month, thanks to Rachel who birthed this idea and has made it a drinkable reality.  The pairing of the afternoon, in my humble opinion, was the Snake Charmer Shiraz from Vinaceous Cellars and Rusty’s Peanut Brittle (you know I would never be biased).  I don’t know what it is, but Australian Shiraz and dad’s peanut brittle are one of my all-time favorite combinations, and the Snake Charmer is a fabulous one to sip while crunching.  Extremely affordable and $15/bottle, this bold and flashy red drinks well with a few other dishes as well.  For a month that was sweet and big, I couldn’t think of a better bottle to highlight.

In November, Stephen and I attended North Carolina’s first annual Brewer’s Guild Conference at the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro.  We spent two days listening to amazing speakers from all over the country as well as fellowshipping with many people in the beer business.  It was more learning that we could have ever anticipated, and it really revved us up about Tarboro Brewing Company, coming to Tarboro for the greater good in May of 2015.  Because of this, I have to pass the vino and highlight all of the amazing local beers we have enjoyed in 2014.  From Mother Earth’s Silent Night to Duck Rabbit’s Anarchy to Carolina Brewery’s Santa’s Secret, these are all brews that we were fortunate enough to taste and see just how cool wintertime beers can be.  These breweries  have been influential and oh-so-generous in our quest to start a brewery in Tarboro.  Without these people and businesses paving the way, Stephen and I would never have been so bold to believe ours would work in our small community.  I highlighted these breweries’ seasonal and special brews, but make no mistake, I love all of their beers and the distinct flavors they represent.

O Karthauserhof, O Karthauserhof, thy wine is so unchanging.

Easily my most favorite wine of the year, I am almost a little obsessed.  The Karthauserhof “Eitelsbacher Karthauserhofberger” Riesling Trocken blew my mind, and continues to blow it every time I reach for a bottle.  And please know, you don’t have to say it; just come in and ask me about my favorite wine in the store and we will lead you right to it.  An ahh-mazing wine from the Ruwer in Germany, this wine tastes like lime zest, evergreen, peach skin and wet stones in a glass.  Doesn’t sound good to you?  Please don’t worry about hurting my feelings, I am more than happy to drink it all.  Because of this obsession, we went a little crazy and bought a 3 Liter of the Alte Reben Spatlese Trocken for New Year’s Eve.  Not yet opened or tasted, it will be soon, because we are absolutely dying to have a little of this angels’ nectar poured all over our dry lips.

Not to disappoint or lie to you, we did end the New Year with an amazing magnum of bubbly from Vorin Jumel in the Cramant region of Champagne.  A Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay), this big girl made our mouths pop (think Pop Rocks but with al-kee-hol) like they were dancing.  And our mouths were dancing as we celebrated the birth of 2015 and said night night to 2014.  A wonderful year behind us, and an even better year ahead of us, my favorite word of the decade is grateful.

Cheers to you all for a peaceful, happy and libatious 2015!




A Year in Review–Part One of Two

And the year ends the same way it began:  with a bottle of delicious bubbly.

While on a chilly run the other morning, I decided to listen to a podcast about a review of 2014 from the standpoint of a couple of sommeliers.  It was an extremely interesting podcast hosted by Geoff Kruth, Master Sommelier and Chief Operating Officer for the Guild of Sommeliers.  He interviewed Matt Stamp, Master Sommelier and Stevie Stacionis, Certified Sommelier and owner of Bay Grape Wine Shop in Oakland, California.  I am friendly with Matt and Geoff, but I have yet to meet Stevie.  I will say, however, after listening to her thoughts on 2014, I am going to make it my mission to find her and maker her my best friend.  I loved her philosophy on wine, in general and her very kind and humbling nature as the interview progressed.  For anyone reading who may be in the Bay Area, I would definitely make it a priority to visit her wine shop.  I think you’ll be pleasantly pleased.  To listen, visit

But I digress.  This podcast reviewing the trends and top stories of 2014 made me want to write one about the wine world of my life and what has transpired over the past 12 months.  It has been a wild ride, and I have a wine for each month and moment of 2014.

Like I mentioned earlier, Champagne kicked off the new year in a big, rosy way.  January 1st at On the Square arrives right at midnight, and it has been our belief that everyone who works at the restaurant enjoy a glass of bubbly the minute the clock strikes 12.  On this evening almost 365 days ago, we popped a magnum of Billecart Salmon Brut Rose and poured until it was completely out (approximately 97 seconds).  This is old school Champagne in my book, and enjoying it out of magnum is meant to be shared with those who are extremely special to you.  In this case, Stephen and I are humbled each and every day by the love and support of those who work with us day in and day out.  While our daytime crew was not there to celebrate, we were toasting them as well as those bubbles made smiley faces all over our tongues.

In February, I decided to download an app called Couch to 5K at the advice of one of my dear friends.  In Tarboro, we have a 5K every Spring where all proceeds go to Tarboro Community Outreach Center, a men’s homeless shelter in town and one of my favorite organizations run by one of my favorite people, Sister Mary Anne Czaja.  It had been my experience in the past 7 years to walk the 5K, but I thought I would make it my goal to try to run it this past Spring.  The Couch to 5K app was my training manual to get me ready.  This was also right around the time our sommelier Rachel Whitehead started working the floor at the restaurant on a nightly basis.  Part of her training was blind tasting in preparation for the Introductory portion of the Court of Master Sommelier exam.  I loved getting wines together for her to smell, taste and assess.  From the very basics like New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc to more difficult wines like Rioja Reserva, I found excitement again in re-learning through teaching.  These wines were the Vickar’s Choice 2012 from St. Clair Family Estate and La Rioja Alta “Vina Ardanza” 2004.

In March, our very dear friends Adam & Hailey Rose opened up their own restaurant in Chapel Hill.  We have known Adam and Hailey since our days in New York, and both Stephen and I worked with Hailey at Windows on the World when she was an assistant cellar master and then the assistant dining room manager.  They moved to North Carolina at our begging about eight years ago, and they have been such great sounding boards to us since the beginning of On the Square.  Their success and hard work has almost felt like ours as we have been rooting for them since the concept was just an idea.  We were allowed the privilege of going to the Black House at Straw Valley for their friends and family opening, and we enjoyed our best meal of 2014.  I would like to also say I enjoyed one of the best Mondeuse I have ever drank.  From Bugey and made by Peillot, the wine is spicy, and I mean SPY-SEEE.  In fact, some of the guests at our table complained of the peppery spice, but not I, said the little red hen.  I loved that peppery spice, and it was a reminder that life in restaurants is full of spiciness, one of the reasons I love what I do.

April began with a bang (literally), and not only did I run the 5K in Tarboro, but I enjoyed it so much I decided to run another one later in the month in Morehead City.  Running did something to me that helped me relax and not think about all of the many tasks I needed to complete, and for 35-45 minutes, I was in a zone only focused on nature and breathing–two beautiful and necessary things.  Speaking of beautiful and necessary, let’s talk about still rose, one of my all-time favorite categories of wine.  Alright, who am I kidding?  I love almost all categories of wine.  Domaine de Triennes in Provence has been near and dear to our hearts since working in the winery in Fall of 2002.  Their rose is a little glass of heaven, and because I am a little obsessed with it, I ordered 15 cases for On the Square.  Because of this, we were able to pour it by the glass for all of the Spring and much of the summer, and share the raspberries and lavender with all of the beautiful souls who came into the restaurant.

After a very satisfying April, On the Square reached new heights in its off-premise event department by catering a 425 person wedding.  A daunting task that proved to be quite successful, we closed the restaurant on a Saturday evening (a first for everything) and cooked, served and cleaned for a grand wedding reception.  Big feats deserve big wines, and our big wine for May was the Quintarelli Rosso di Bepi 2002.  Made in the Veneto in years where the fruit isn’t as wonderful, the Rosso di Bepi was a first for me, and I equate it to the Seinfeld episode of Jerry telling Elaine she doesn’t want to sit in first class because she will never want to sit in coach again. The Rosso di Bepi was sinfully delicious, and the 10 bottles we received have now waned to 2 or 3.

Cynthia and Stephen finished the 4th grade and 1st grade respectively in June, and to say I was emotional is the understatement of the year.  This was our final goodbye to Princeville Elementary after five wonderful years, and while excited about going to Tarboro’s new global school, it was a sad time for our family to say farewell to a school that had been such a driving force in our family.  I am forever grateful to the staff and the students for the love, education and encouragement they offered both of my children.  It was also in June where Bordeaux Fine & Rare opened their warehouse to the trade to taste wines in their portfolio.  Just in time for the final Summer of Riesling, we tasted and bought the Archangel Riesling from Central Otago, New Zealand.  Infinitely gorgeous, this unctious, floral white made our farewells seem more romantic than tragic.

Maybe this is a little too much TMI, but in July, I didn’t drink for an entire week.  Not having done something like this since I was pregnant (and even then I enjoyed a glass), I signed a pledge to not imbibe while chaperoning a group of teenagers at Montreat in the mountains of North Carolina.  From Sunday to Saturday, I stayed dry without getting the shakes.  When I returned, I enjoyed a glass of Domaine Servin Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux, one of the yummiest Chardonnays I drank the entire year.  It was a perfect white to say you done good honey, now go back to your regular scheduled programmin’.

To be continued…..



My Cup Bubbleth Over

About a month ago, On the Square Sommelier Rachel Whitehead and I made a trip to the Umstead Hotel in Cary to taste close to 90 champagnes made by growers.  In wine geek speak, growers are known as Recoltants and grower Champagnes have the initials RM on the label, which means Recoltant Manipulant.  What these initials indicate is that the fruit is grown on the same estate where the Champagne is made.

In the year 2000, grower champagnes were starting to become a big deal in New York City, and since that time, the popularity of them has grown exponentially.  For a sommelier in eastern North Carolina living in a town of approximately 10,000 people, I am obviously a fan of all things small.

Growers are, for the most part small, family run operations that only make Champagne from the grapes that they grow versus the big houses that buy fruit from all over.  A great analogy would be going to Dew’s Produce and buying their sweet potatoes that they grow themselves versus going to Food Lion and buying sweet potatoes that have been bought from a host of farmers.  In the case of buying from Dew’s, you know exactly who has grown this potato whereas you may not be familiar with the farmers at the Food Lion.

Anyone reading this right now may be thinking about the trend in restaurants creating such a big scene at the moment affectionately known as Farm to Table.  This is another great analogy to help understand Grower Champagne.

But I digress.  Tasting these Champagnes that morning was as big a rush as I have experienced lately, and tasting one, in particular, was the equivalent of jumping out of a plane, it was so invigorating.

What made the experience even more exciting were the growers who flew to North Carolina to share their passion and love for their bounty.  Alexandre Chartogne of Chartogne-Taillet, Etienne Goutorbe of Goutorbe, Stephanie Milan of Jean Milan and Didier Gimmonet of Pierre Gimmonet travelled from Champagne to New York to Cary to allow us the opportunity to taste the “terroir driven wines of the Champagne region.”  It was amazing, to say the very least, and when given the opportunity, I encourage the bubble lover to make the splurge and try some of these wines that are beauty and complexity in a bottle.

The difficult part of that day (and believe me when I say I know I sound like a total diva writing that) was narrowing down those 90+ wines to a slim six for our inventory at On the Square.  Rachel and I soaked in our Champagne session spitting the entire time (another difficult task), but when the day was over, we chose six Champagnes and no more.

For those of you in or around Tarboro, we will be tasting one of those precious bubblies today, November 22nd from 2 – 4 p.m. at On the Square for our fourth Saturday wine tasting.

Come join the celebration of life as we celebrate small growers, small-town living and small pleasures.

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You will often hear winemakers talk about vintages in long, in-depth sentences starting with budbreak in early Spring and continuing through the summer with flowering, fruit set and veraison and then ending with harvest, the grand finale.

And just like in life, the spring can be wonderful, the summer can be scary, and the fall can be hit-or-miss.

It all depends on Mother Nature and where she wants to take the year.  Or the vintage, if you’re a wino.

January of 2001 started out with a huge bang.  It was then where I was promoted from Beverage Manager to Beverage Director of Windows on the World.  At the young age of 25, I truly thought I couldn’t get any higher than where I was.  The wines flowed like water at the top of One World Trade Center, and I absolutely loved every single aspect of my job.

February and March were cold and blistery, but life was so wonderful it didn’t matter.  I lived just across the river in Brooklyn in a Brownstone with two besties from NC, and when we weren’t working, we were enjoying all of the vibrant life New York City had to offer.  I guess you can say when it was time for budbreak in the Northern Hemisphere, we also were breaking out of our winter blues and coats and heading full throttle into outdoor bars and leisurely walks in the park.

Late spring was a little rocky when one of the girls in our threesome told us she needed to go back to graduate school in Raleigh to start on her Pharm D.  Of course, we understood.  We had been in the city for three years, but it was a sad time nonetheless, and we all cried the days leading up to her departure and the days following it.  The fruit was setting in the vineyards and it was setting in our lives.  We all knew it was about time where we were going to have to decide what direction we wanted to take our careers.  If you had asked me then, I would have told you I was never leaving Brooklyn.

In June, as part of my task as Beverage Director, I organized the wine and spirits for the Central Park Conservancy Gala held in the middle of Central Park with about 1000 guests.  I was offered complimentary tickets, and my new winemaker-friend Jeremy Seysses from Burgundy was in town so we went together and enjoyed Manhattan in June, one of my most favorite months.  Life was grand, and I was flowering.

July was hot, but full of energy, and with August right on its tail, I received yet another fantastic wine invitation. Paul Grieco, then wine director at Gramercy Tavern, invited me to the Niagara Peninsula to learn about the new wines of this part of Canada.

It was a trip where “the” sommeliers of NYC were asked to attend, and I felt like the biggest whig in the world getting to go along.

Right around this time, I was also hosting my sister’s engagement party at our apartment, and when she and her bridesmaids arrived in Brooklyn, I don’t think I have ever been more excited.  We had rented a private room at Greatest Bar on Earth right beside Windows on the World, and we went up there for dinner and drinks before renting a limo and driving all over the city.  It was all magical and perfect and heavenly in every way.

The next morning, I took a cab to the airport to get on a JetBlue flight to travel to Canada with 10 other sommeliers.

Veraison:  when the grapes change colors.  In Canada, the grapes were beginning to do just that in August, and I was able to see it happen right before my eyes.  I was changing too.  I was ready to commit to my job as a sommelier, and I had signed up to take the Advanced portion of the Master Sommelier exam in San Francisco in October.

What became of our harvest?

There was no harvest in my life that September.  Or October.  Or November.  Not even a little around the holidays in December.

My harvest did not come that year nor did it come for a countless number of others.

I, along with so many others lost the harvest in 2001, and those grapes will never be recovered.

Thirteen years later, I can remember the first eight months of 2001 as being as close to perfect as any time in my life.  So fun.  So exciting.  So young and so in love with life.

While many wineries were getting ready to pick grapes, the unthinkable happened on the east coast of the United States.

And with that unthinkable, the world changed forever.  And for everyone.

One of my favorite wines we have at On the Square right now is the La Rioja Alta “904” Gran Reserva 2001 from Rioja, Spain.

The wine is fun and exciting and beautiful and full of energy.  It very much reminds me of the wonderful part of that year for me.

Life goes on.  We can nor ever will be able to stop time.  The only way we can cope is to embrace it.  To embrace the precious memories and not dwell on the horrific ones.

In wine, the vintages are what help us produce these memories.  Not just of what the season was like at the vineyard, but what the season was like in our lives.

In September of 2004, Stephen and I harvested a beautiful baby girl named Cynthia who will turn 10 on September 12th.  She is a constant reminder of how life can get sweet again even though we never thought it could be.

In July of 2007, we had an early harvest with our son Stephen who is a constant reminder of how life can get fun again even though we never thought it could be.

And for the harvest of 2014, Stephen and I celebrate 11 years of marriage and 12 years of running a business in the town where I was born and raised.

The harvests are still coming, regardless of if we are ready for them.

For those of you who have had years where there was no harvest (and we all know how painful those years can be), please be assured that one will get here.

It may take more time than you expected, but I assure you the harvest is coming.

Just wait for it because it could be the vintage of your life.


Somm uh yay

Meet Rachel.

If you already haven’t.

Rachel Whitehead is On the Square’s sommelier, pronounced somm uh yay if you’re interested.

She came to On the Square almost a year ago, and in a very short period of time has displayed a real love for wine as well as a real talent for serving and speaking to guests.  To say we are proud of her is an understatement.

In June, Rachael travelled to the Angus Barn in Raleigh to take the introductory test for the Court of Master Sommeliers exam.  This two day lecture will not make you a certified sommelier, but it is a great way to see if wine is a career path that interests you.

According to Rachel, she loved every minute of it, and it was a real eye opener in many aspects.

After coming back to Tarboro from 48 hours of filling up on theory and blind tasting, Rachel commented that people were asking her what was next now that she passed the test.

I have to admit I was a little flustered by the question.

“What do you mean, what’s next?” I asked her.

“Well, people are asking me am I going to stay at On the Square and serve wine now that I have passed this test.”

Immediately, I got it.

To most people in our society, a test is a marker.  It is what defines our career.

For instance, we don’t practice law until we pass the bar.  We don’t teach until we have our certification.  We don’t become a nurse until we take our boards.

However, once you take these tests and ultimately pass them, you do something called work.  One works in their field of study.  Once you make the grade on these exams, you then go on to make these tests a reality and use these skills in a practical setting.  If you didn’t work, one would forget most of what they learned.

A couple of days ago, I read a really fantastic article called “Are Wine Enthusiasts Destroying the Sommelier?” by Adam Teeter.

I hadn’t really been able to answer the question others had been asking Rachael until reading this article.

A sommelier is a wine server, or a wine steward, if you want to be a little more fancy.

We sell wine.  We also serve it.  We pair it with food.  We tell its story.  We are passionate about how it is made and how it ages.  We are also wine sharers. We like to share all of its magic with others.

Taking a test certainly helps us learn, but by no means does it help us relate to people.

In my opinion, to be a capable and talented sommelier, the person has to be able to speak to guests and to be able to share wine moments.

Fortunately for those of us at On the Square, Rachel has been able to do that since day 1 because she has that natural gift of serving others with pleasure and kindness.



For a Super Second

There is someone I have been getting to know for a number of years who is a for-sure wine lover.  I would like to say she reminds me of me, but the truth is she is much brighter and  much more organized at the young age of 22 than I am at the ripe age of 38.

Most of our communication is via email as she has been living in Chapel Hill for the past four years, and I in Tarboro.  We talk about different vintages for different regions and all of the producers that she is enjoying in her travels.  It is quite therapeutic to hear her love of wine in her words.

When she and her family came into the restaurant this evening, she brought a bottle of Chateau Palmer 1988 that a wine shop owner in London had given to her when she was studying there.  She had told me she was bringing the wine into the restaurant to drink, and I must say, I was giddy at the idea of getting to open and decant it.

For those of you who truly know me, you probably know that Bordeaux as a category doesn’t really get my engine running.  However, my friends, Chateau Palmer is a different story altogether.

Flashback to March 6th, 1999.  Carolina is playing Maryland in the ACC Tournament at the Charlotte Coliseum.  My four roomates and I are piled onto our blue pull-out sofa in our two bedroom apartment in Hells Kitchen drinking Bud Light and cheering the Heels on to a close victory against Maryland.

The phone rings in our apartment, and the caller on the other end asks for Inez.

I’m not going to lie.  My roomies and I were fired up.  It was a Saturday night, the Heels were winning, and the five of us loved nothing more than a reason to celebrate.

However, I gained composure, took the phone, and said in my most professional voice “This is Inez.”

On the other end of the line was Master Sommelier Andrea Immer, the Beverage Director at Windows on the World who along with her entire Beverage Department, had interviewed me the previous day.

“We want to offer you the job as an Assisant Cellarmaster,” she said into the telephone.

After I finished tripping all over my words thanking her profusely, I hung up the phone, and in true Tar Heel fashion, told my girls we had yet another reason to get rowdy.  In about six seconds, the Heels won, the girls and I changed from jeans into party attire and went downtown to the Culture Club to rock it out to Jessie’s Girl and 99 Luftballons.

Andrea’s phone call changed my life.  Literally, it changed my life.

I loved wine, I definitely knew that for a fact.

But I didn’t know wine, I didn’t even come close.

I started my career as assistant cellarmaster exactly two weeks later, after I gave notice at my current job.

About two months later (if my memory serves correctly), Andrea told us that she would be leaving Windows to begin a new path as Beverage Director at Starwood Hotels.

For Andrea’s last day, she got to choose one wine for the entire staff to toast her farewell.  We all convened in the Windows dining room where cases of 1985 Chateau Palmer were opened and offered to every single staff member.

This was the first time I was able to taste a Bordeaux classified growth.  To be exact, a third growth from Margaux.

It was magical, and I can also say this was the first time I had tasted a wine that was made from grapes in the 1980’s.  The wine was intoxicating, and I had never tasted anything quite like it.  Pencil lead, an Arturo Fuente box, smoke, cedar; I had no idea wine could taste like this.

In the Windows cellar on the 107th floor, there was a Sotheby’s encyclopedia of wine that the cellar masters read in the evening as we doled out wine to the Windows’ captains.

When I returned to work later that afternoon, I sat down to research the Chateau Palmer I had just been given the amazing opportunity to taste.

“Only Château Margaux outshines this property, jointly owned by Belgian, French, and British (the Sichel family) interests. Château Palmer 1961 and 1966 regularly fetch prices at auction that equal those fetched by the premiers crus.  A true super second that promises to achieve even greater heights since the introduction of Alto Ego, a sort of super premium of second wines, in 1998. The wine is matured in wood for 18 to 24 months, with one-third new oak.” —Sotheby’s Encyclopedia of Wine

Super second:  that was a new one.

Chateau Palmer, a third growth of Margaux, was so delicious that it had been unofficially named a super second growth.

Cool wine, cool reputation.  I was hooked.

When my young, wine-loving friend came into the restaurant tonight putting a bottle of 1988 Chateau Palmer on the table, I was transported back in time to 1999.  It was blissful.

For a super second.



To All the Mothers Out There

I haven’t written in  a long time.  Too long, actually.  I feel kind of guilty about starting back because I have strayed for quite a while.

But what better time to start writing again than on a beautiful May day in Tarboro where the sun is shining and birds are chirping.

It’s very peaceful in my house right now.  Everyone is asleep except me, and I have time to collect my thoughts and hopefully compose them in some eloquent way.

When I awoke about five minutes ago, I had two texts wishing me a Happy Mother’s Day.  Last night at the restaurant, my friend Kasey told me she had bought her mom a bike for mother’s day.  My other friend Demetrious said he had found one of his first pieces of art from middle school to frame for his mother this mother’s day.  One of the teachers at Cynthia’s school was in last night who doesn’t have children per se, but is  a mother to 46 children five days a week, nine months out of the year.  She showed me the dearest email from one of her fifth graders who clearly loves her like a mother.  My sweet Nana would keep all of the cards I made and bought in a scrapbook that were Mother’s Day cards.

What a day to celebrate all of the women of the world who have been motherly to so many people.  My mother’s sister, Aunt Cynthia never had children.  But what she did have was an incredible amount of love for her two nieces who she doted on like nobody’s business.  Burton and I reaped the benefits of Saturday breakfasts in hotels, as many Lee press-on nails as we could ever want and multiple trips to Washington D.C. all courtesy of Cynt Cynt’s big heart and undying love for her two nieces.

I always said if I was blessed with a little girl, I would name her Cynthia Simmons, and in April of 2004, when I found out that beating baby in my tummy was female, she had already been named years earlier.

There are so many mothers who deserve a Happy Mother’s Day.  Teachers, aunts, best friends, moms, grandmamas, stepmamas, foster mothers, sisters and baby sitters change the lives of so many children and continue to change them on a daily basis.  I think about all of the incredible women who have influenced me and all of the wonderful women who are influencing my children, and I say a prayer every single one of them knows how special they are.

To all of the mother’s of the world, you rock it every single day of the year.  Without all of your love, guidance, support and wisdom, I would not be who I am and where I am.  Thank you for leading by example and spreading the love every woman needs to be a mother.


The Gift that is Still Giving

In true Inez fashion, I am extremely late in writing this thank you note.

My Nana once told me she didn’t give gifts to children who didn’t write her a thank you letter.  Because of those words, I used to be the most diligent letter writer ever because I was so afraid I would be left out the following Christmas or birthday.

I must admit, however, the older I become, the harder it is to find the right words to write my friends and family letters to show the gratitude for their gifts.  So please forgive me On the Square for taking so long to tell you how grateful we are for our incredible Christmas gift.  I know it is beyond overdue.

Stephen and I recently went to a wine luncheon in Raleigh where Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and Chef Lachlan Patterson of Frasca Restaurant in Boulder, Colorado shared their incredible wines and delicious food.

While talking to Bobby, he mentioned that they could never duplicate their restaurant Frasca because of the people who work there.  He called his sommelier and servers the “terroir” of Frasca, and because of them, they could never have another one that would be as the same.

I have meditated on that statement for over four days now, and I believe that to be the same reason On the Square would never be able to open in another place with the same results.

The people who work with us are most certainly the reason we are able to succeed.  They bring so much to the game, and they are strong team players all over the court.  Because of our servers, our dishwashers, our cooks, our managers, our bartender and everyone in between, we cannot duplicate what we have in downtown Tarboro.

All of these people who work so hard to make sure On the Square is a wonderful place for food, service, wine and drink come together every year to generously give us a Christmas gift.

Of course, their gifts have been given to us year round when they show up for work and give their time and talents to our guests, but they continue to go over the top and give us lavish gifts each and every December.

From Rosetta Stone to a Keurig coffee maker to the refurnishing of our restaurant bathrooms, they have given us far more than we could ever deserve.  Just when we think they cannot give us a more thoughtful gift, we are surprised once again by their unbelievable generosity.

This past December, the crew at On the Square gave Stephen and me a week in Charleston with dates set in stone (so no procrastinating) as well as gift certificates to restaurants in the area.

For us, it was the ultimate gift.  An entire week of eating, drinking and sleeping with no stress, no worries, no cares.  I have to believe it was a gift to the people of On the Square as well who had an entire week of no freaking out, no yelling, no harassing.

As Stephen and I drove to Charleston on that beautiful Sunday morning, we realized it was the first time the two of us had gone on a vacation alone since our honeymoon.

That in itself is an amazing gift.  We had the best time just being together, laughing, getting ideas on food, service and cocktails, walking around a gorgeous city and enjoying life.  It was, my friends, a gift that is still giving me wonderful memories.

On Tuesday, at that same luncheon in Raleigh, Bobby Stuckey told us how every other year he shuts down the restaurant and he takes his entire staff to Friuli for a week to enjoy the region and understand the food and the wine culture.

I smiled to myself thinking about how our staff did the same thing for Stephen and me.

Thank you all for giving so generously and so freely.  Stephen and I both are forever grateful for all of the gifts you give us every single day.


Bragging on My Husband

My husband loves to cook.  He also loves to drink.  More so than any other chef I have worked with, Stephen respects the relationship of wine paired with food.

When given a list of wines, he paces for hours trying to create the ultimate menu that will place the wines in the highest sphere possible.

He sincerely cares about the winemaker, the vineyard, the grape and the end product.  He wants the wine to shine, and he isn’t arrogant about making sure his food is the queen of the party.  It is also crucial to note he has an amazing crew in the kitchen who are dedicated, talented and hard-working.  Because of these people in our kitchen, the menu was wonderfully executed.

Last night’s French wine dinner was a lively visit to France on Tarboro terroir.  We were lead through the vineyards by one of the most knowledgeable wine people I know, Debra Lewis of Vintage 59 Imports.  Her expertise and her passion made the evening memorable on many counts, and On the Square was fortunate to be able to have her in our dining room.  The night is still present in my mind, and I wanted to share with you the menu and the pairings, and of course, the pictures.

So, I give you, my friends, a blog in photographs for those of you who would like to enjoy.


Château de Lavernette “Granit Blanc de Noirs,” Beaujolais NV


Duet of North Carolina Goat Cheese

Semifreddo, Jalapeno Glaze, Crisp Purse, Arugula

Xavier Weisskopf “Le Rocher des Violettes” Montlouis Demi-Sec, Loire 2011

Domaine Merlin-Cherrier Sancerre, Loire 2012



Pan Seared Scottish Salmon

Oyster Mushroom Ragout, Fried French Horn Mushrooms, Beet Mashed Potatoes

Domaine Bachelet-Monnot Maranges 1er Cru “Fussiere,” Burgundy 2011


Braised Short Ribs

Duck Confit Risotto, Crispy Local Collards

Domaine de la Garrelière “le Rouge,” Loire, 2011

Château Coupe Roses “Cuvee Vignals,” Minervois 2011

Chocolate Crepe

Lavendar Crème Anglaise, Blue Cheese Whipped Cream

Château Unang, Cotes de Ventoux 2009



Giving Back the Wine Way

One of my dearest friends has been blessed with a beautiful little girl who has a different way of learning.  Because of this, she requires a special school, and in great thanks to many, many dedicated individuals, she is able to send her daughter to the Frankie Lemmon School in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Ironically, the Frankie Lemmon School has an extraordinary fundraiser every year called the Triangle Wine Experience.

In an effort to give back to a friend who has given me so much, I contacted Ashley Christensen, chef and owner of AC Restaurants, who also serves on the board of Frankie Lemmon.

She graciously invited me to be a part of a donation item called the Twelve Roses, a night of food and wine consisting of five female chefs from New Orleans, Nashville, New York and of course, North Carolina, five California winemakers and two female sommeliers.  The event would take place at Eliza and Brian Olander’s home on a Saturday evening where wine and food would come together to make a magical evening of eating, drinking and being merry.  All proceeds from the auction item would go to the Frankie Lemmon School.

I couldn’t think of a better or more exciting way of becoming involved.  Thank you, Ashley, for allowing me the opportunity.

I invited my friend Laura Maniec, Master Sommelier and owner of Cork Buzz in Manhattan, to join in the fun.  She graciously accepted, and I made plans to pick her up at RDU International on Saturday at 1:05 p.m.

I haven’t seen Laura in two years, and I couldn’t have been more grateful for her donation of time, talents and flight fare to come to Raleigh to complete the wine and dining package.  An old friend completely giving of her time to help an old friend out–isn’t that the way it should always be?

Because we didn’t have to be at Eliza and Brian’s until 6:30 p.m., we had plenty of time to spare.

Wanting to check out Joule Coffee, one of Ashley’s newest restaurants, we made our way downtown to meet up with one of the most extraordinary people in the business, Matt Fern, General Manager of the AC Group.

Some of the greatest moments of my career are when I get to learn from other people in the industry.  Visiting with Matt and Laura for the remainder of the afternoon (with a cameo appearance from Vivian Howard of Chef and the Farmer) was some of the best coffee and wine time I have enjoyed in my lifetime.  Just sitting down and hearing about what we can do as restaurant professionals to improve upon ourselves was not only therapeutic but vital at the same time.  Three hours felt more like 15 minutes, and before I knew it, Laura and I were madly rushing to get dressed for the night of fun.

As most of you readers know, nothing makes me more excited than wine and food, expect my children and husband, of course.  This night proved to be especially exciting because of the people involved on every level.

Eliza and Brian’s home and cellar were awe-inducing.  The winemakers were not only powerhouses, but lovely, fun, gracious people.  Pam Starr of Crocker & Starr, Jenn Porembski of Zeitgeist, Martha McClellan of Levy & McClellan, Julie Martinelli of Martinelli and Helen Keplinger of Keplinger proved to be inspiring and amazing speakers who donated mind blowing wines.

And, of course there were the chefs.  Ashley, Vivian, Andrea Reusing of Lantern in Chapel Hill, Alex Raij of Txikito in New York, Lisa Donovan of Husk in Nashville and Rebecca Wilcomb of Herbsaint in New Orleans lovingly made some of the most delicious food that paired incredibly well with the wines.  For a recap of the dinner, see end of blog.

The night was magical, to quote Martha McClellan, and I don’t really know if there are more gracious hosts than Eliza and Brian.  They so generously opened up their home to all of us, and the energy just felt fantastic from the moment I walked in the door until the second I left.  All of the service was perfectly expedited by Laura Collier, one of the most brilliant and cool women I know.  She made us all feel like we were in the most competent hands in the world, and I believe we were.

I loved my night.  I loved being with people who either work in wine and food or who love people who work in wine and food.

On Sunday morning, I dropped Laura Maniec, fellow sommelier, off at the airport to get on a plane for Laguardia.  From there, I drove back to Tarboro, not even 24 hours later.  As I came in on Highway 64, the sun was almost completely shining in its full glory.

For the hour drive, I spent my time recollecting every moment of that precious evening.

I consider any night where I get to eat and drink well an incredible blessing.  But when I think about a night where I get to give back to something that makes a difference in a child’s life, I become humbled.  Humbled to know people who really care and really want to share.  To say I am grateful is an understatement.

Remind yourself everyday when you have an opportunity to make a difference, it is an opportunity to make your personal world a little better.


Twelve Roses Menu

Lima beans & Run-up Turnip Greens in Broth with Lemon and Soft Herb Pistou
Vivian Howard
Martinelli Chardonnay 2007 & Martinelli Zio Tony Ranch Pinot Noir 2006
Sunburst Farms Trout with Navarran Artichoke and Jamón Iberico
Alex Raij
Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc 2011
Chilled, Shaved Ryals Pork Loin with Chili-Citrus Bagna Cauda, Onion and Broccoli Sprouts
Rebecca Wilcomb
Zeitgeist Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
Spice-Cured Moulard Duck  with Hayman Sweet Potato, L’Hoste Kumquats, Four Leaf Farm Pea Greens
Andrea Reusing
Keplinger Sumo 2011
Two-Way Ribeye with Rutabaga Rratin, Creamed Bloomsdale Spinach, Red Pearls and Hedge Hogs
Ashley Christensen
Levy & McClellan Napa Valley Red 2009
Milk Chocolate and Butterscotch Pudding Cup, Sweet Cream, Appalachian Salt and Breadcrumb Shortbread
Lisa Donovan





My Dad Always Says

When it comes to my father, there isn’t much to say except I love him so much my heart gets full just writing about him.

As I go back to re-read my blogs, I realize my more recent entries don’t seem as personal or as full of life as they once did.

As difficult as it is to admit, the blogs aren’t really feeling me because I have been a little down and out.

So I’m going to be honest.  Really honest.

Honest to a fault most likely.

My dad has always told me not to say anything about someone that you wouldn’t say to their face.

Literal translation:  If you don’t like someone, then you better be comfortable enough to tell them because if you’re just saying it behind their back, you’re a complete coward.

Dad translation:  Be kind.  If you’re saying something mean, most likely, there’s no way you would say it to their face.

And this, my friends, is where my honesty comes in.

Enough is enough.

All of these people out there who use the internet to bash food or restaurants or service or wines or people are just cowards.

O.K. I said it.

Where does it stop?

Do you not think that this whole career thing might be personal?

I choose not to read chowhound or yelp or tripadvisor or any of the limitless web information out there because it can be so scathing, so ruthless, so hurtful, I have no desire to even go there.


If you don’t like the fish, tell me.

I will do my best to remedy the situation.

If you don’t want to tell me, and you’d rather just write about it, then you’re out of luck.

Not only can I not try to fix it, but I also never saw your complaint.

My favorite thing about living in Tarboro.  The people are straight up.

I tell the story often about my daughter who goes to a school that is around 90% African American.  This past summer she went to a very nice camp that her namesake great aunt allowed her the opportunity.

At the precocious age of 9, she was very aware of her surroundings.  When I picked her up from camp, I asked her how she enjoyed her time.

She answered, “Mom, did you know some girls talk about each other behind their backs, but then when they’re around each other, they pretend to be friends?”

Not excited to be dealing with this so early, I said, “Honey, welcome to girl land.  It’s one of those things girls do, sadly, they often talk about each other behind their backs.”

Cynthia looked confused, and then answered, “Not black girls, mama, if they don’t like you, they say it right to your face.”

Girl, if only I could be a black girl.

And then I realized, I have been keeping my inner-black girl inside me for the past six months.

Well, no longer.

Here’s the deal.

And it was given to me by the most brilliant man I know, my father.

If you don’t say it to my face, then I don’t think it has much weight.

Weight meaning I can’t take you unless you’re honest.