Because Something You Do Not Understand is Pointing You in that Direction

Finger Lakes Pic

“But I did understand that sometimes you have to take risks, do something you are afraid of, and go for it. Because something you do not understand is pointing you in that direction.” – Martha Macinski, Standing Stone Winery

The above words were delivered before our dinner on the pre-excursion Wine Bloggers Conference Finger Lakes tour that took place at Ventosa Winery in Geneva, New York.

Martha (aka Marti) gave an inspiring, and quite frankly, emotional speech. This seemed to be the theme of the conference – inspiring human beings.

There were many incredible women who spoke at the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference.
I heard that there was a push to represent women more on the panels, and hence this year there was a great representation of brilliant, strong and talented women. But I think even if there was not a focus on women, these human beings would have still stood out as remarkable people.

All of these remarkable human beings were different, and they did not always agree. The idea that they varied in their opinions was a great example that there is no one path to making a difference in the wine world.

Marti Macinski was speaking during a session that was about women in wine. And certainly, 20 years ago it was a different world for women with very few opportunities. Women were encouraged to be pretty and social – sciences and athletics were not an option. I’ve known women who started in sales and distribution over 15 years ago who were dealing with a very different world that did not look on their ambitions kindly.

But I think it is fair to say the world has significantly changed, and yes it seems slow, but women are making their way up the ranks. Their will be a huge swing in women being in power positions in the next 10 years.

Also, I have to write this post from my personal perspective – or I am not speaking my truth. I have many great female mentors and dear friends, but there have been great men in my life too. And so I am more interested in talking about great human beings, whether they are women or men.

Marti Macinski talked about how she and her husband took on the traditional “male” and “female” roles when they started their own winery, Standing Stone. But there are other factors that influenced that decision. Her husband had a technical chemistry background and she had a law degree. It made sense that he would be the winemaker. But due to them having financial problems and the reality that her husband would need to place more of his energies into his IBM “day” job – she found herself becoming the winemaker. She had no scientific background, no management experience and she was not used to standing up for her own wine opinions. Her background as a trial lawyer did not prepare her for this unexpected situation in life.

She said she remembers at that moment placing her head on the table and starting to cry.

Yes, we have all had those moments. No matter how tough we think we are – everyone has a breaking point. When I was very young and foolish I thought that some people had it easy in life. Of course, thinking that I had it hard – on my own at the age of 18, alone in New York City, working an insane amount of hours living off of nothing but potatoes and salt.

Through time I have met lots of people with various backgrounds. People from poor neighborhoods, people from middle class families, people from wealthy backgrounds. And they all have something in common – life is not easy for any of them. Yes, it is obvious when someone comes from the lower class that they have a huge hurdle in life. But everyone has their complications, and either you decide to take on the challenges with full gusto, or spend your life on the sidelines complaining about how other successful people are just “lucky”.

That is what Marti decided to do. She became a winemaker and a good winemaker at that. She took the opportunity to discover talents and a strength that she did not know she had.

All of us have had those moments of being broken by life – the more I talk to people and hear their stories, the more I know this is a universal truth. I think the only difference between a remarkable person and a regular person is one has decided to make the most of tough times, whether financial, emotional or both.

There was another remarkable human being who spoke that night – Liz Leidenfrost. She is a third generation winemaker for Leidenfrost Vineyards. Liz said that her original path was as a classical vocalist. But she found it to be a repressive world with cut throat competition, and she craved a more communal environment – also, they were not accepting of her tattoos and piercings. She came back to her family winery as an assistant winemaker. She goes out of her way to show that she can get dirty, lift heavy equipment and be one of the last to leave after a hard day’s work.

Liz thanks her father for believing in her, supporting her and accepting her and her life choices – and she still gets to sing – in Burlesque shows. She said that there is a strong sense of community with Burlesque and she feels completely accepted. Her initial intention of training in classical singing was not to end up doing Burlesque, but life pointed her in another direction – ultimately empowering her to be true to herself.

Throughout the conference there were other unique human beings who kept inspiring people. The famous wine writer Karen MacNeil spoke out about her journey. She left home at 14 to come to New York City and she had the attitude that as long as she just kept her head down and worked, she would be able to find her place in the world. She did not feel that being a woman was the biggest barrier – mediocrity was the biggest barrier. She talked about her struggle to get her work accepted. In her early days she collected 324 rejection slips and thumb tacked them to her apartment wall.

We have all felt rejection on some level, but think of 324 rejections all on the wall staring at you all at once! Instead of giving up, Karen took on the challenge. She used the analogy of a bike – she did not complain about the bike, she got on it and just kept going. Through time those rejections, and her perseverance, helped her to find a voice that has made her the special wine writer she is today.

“I learned that I was the kind of person who would go to great lengths to do something well.” – Karen MacNeil

It was interesting to have Stevie Kim speak on the same panel. I don’t know how many people at the bloggers’ conference knew who she was – she even made a comment that probably most people did not know her. In the wine trade she is a living legend. She is a big reason why Italian wines are not only successful in Asia, but successful around the world. She talked about an early experience of sitting in a business meeting with a key Chinese player in the wine world. At one point she was told to either put her “balls” on the table or get out.

I have had a similar experience myself. The sales, distribution and PR world are tough worlds – for men and women equally. I remember working for a top distribution company in New York City and the hours, pressure, and never ending sales quotas were killing me. I went to my direct manager about my struggles with balancing life, and he simply said that if I wanted to be treated like all the men and be valued like all the men then he would have to still hold the same requirements for me. And I have to say, even though it was a very male dominated world, if you show them you can bring in the numbers and go toe to toe with anyone – then you will earn their respect.

Even though I eventually left distribution, it was a great learning experience, and I thank that manager to this day for helping me to discover that I am a lot tougher than I thought I was.

And then I had the great pleasure to meet Madeline Puckette with Wine Folly. I’m sure you have already heard of Wine Folly, and if not, seek them out on Facebook and Twitter. She uses her fine art background to come up with infographic wine posters that help beginners, low and high involvement consumers to understand wine in a fun way. Also, many people in the New York City wine trade love these posters and share them on social media all the time.

Madeline is the type of person who really listens, tries to figure out who you are, what you are about and ultimately, what moves you. Even though she has helped create a company that has been a game changer in the way people learn about wine on a mass scale, she is also the type of person to make you feel as if you are the only person in the room when she is speaking to you. She is releasing a book on Amazon soon with all her great infographic posters. I would highly recommend checking it out. She is the real deal.

But one of the most inspirational people at the conference was Meg Houston Maker, who was the winner for Best Writing on a Wine Blog this year. You don’t have to love wine to love her writing, and after reading her writing, if you did not love wine before, her highly skilled way with language will inspire you to become a wine lover.

Meg delivered a great speech at the last session of the Wine Bloggers Conference. She not only gave great writing advice, but she spoke about how everyone in that room had a valuable voice to share with the world. It was wonderful to see all the beaming smiles of people who were recharged to get back to their blogging/writing.

The above human beings were very special and some of the highlights of the conference, but I have to say I had some incredible one on one experiences with men and women alike.

My conversations ranged with people like a male blogger who had the passion to try winemaking as a hobby; mothers talking about juggling working, blogging and nurturing their kids; wine bloggers who were devoted Christians and trying to find balance between the two worlds; and I even got into a conversation with a woman who at one time helped to drive in supplies for the Rockaways after Hurricane Sandy devastated the area.

I am an atheist who chose to not have children a long time ago, and I have lived in New York City for over 21 years, so no, I did not share all of the life experiences of people I met, but it was great to connect with so many people who had different perspectives. In the end I realized all of us are just trying to not be judged; to be accepted for who we are…

It is not always easy to explain why we feel the need to blog about wine. For me it started out as the desire to improve myself – communicate better and share all the things, regarding wine and life, that I’m trying to figure out on a daily basis – and I know I am not static – what I say today may not be true next year. I’m not completely sure in what direction this blog is leading me. But as long as there are warm smiles, lots of laughs and encounters with inspiring people who are heroes in their own quiet way, then the end result of this journey is not as important as the encounters we have with other remarkable human beings.

Why do any of us place a significant amount of energy into anything without any guarantee of monetary reward?

Because something we do not understand is pointing us in that direction …


These wines were tasted in a “speed tasting” session during the conference on August 14th, 2015. They are all from the Finger Lakes, New York, and I thought some of the wines were great value for the money.

-2014 Lucas Semi Dry Riesling:                                                                                        2014 was a very good vintage for Riesling (not such a great vintage for other varieties), freezing temperatures allowed long hang time, low disease pressure and great concentration and layers of complexity developed in the grapes, this is not a blockbuster wine but it has a lovely harmony and offers great value, this is like biting into a ripe juicy peach with good weight and marked acidity.

2009 Hermann J Weimer Blanc de Blanc Traditional Method Sparkling Wine:                                                                                                                                          100% Chardonnay, light toasted notes with some undertones of toffee – perhaps due to base wine fermented in neutral oak, not the same fierce acidity as Champagne (and only around 6 g/l residual sugar), more approachable for lovers of traditional sparkling wines with lots of rich flavors and texture.

– 2013 Villa Bellangelo Semi-Dry Riesling:                                                                   20% botrytized fruit, exotic spice and dried apricots, this is ridiculously delicious at USD$18 bucks!

-NV Chateau Frank Célèbre Riesling Traditional Sparkling Wine:
Gentle bubbles, intensely flinty and minerally, marked acidity balances around 30 g/l residual sugar, linear body, one of the better examples of a Riesling Traditional Sparkling wines I have experienced.

-2013 Red Newt Cellar Dry Riesling:                                                                               Racy acidity giving it a great backbone, juicy tangerine fruit and a clean finish.

-2014 Glenora Wine Cellars Gewürztraminer:                                                          Very different from the Standing Stone, pronounced perfumed nose, broad palate, softer acidity.

-2013 Hunt Country Vineyards Vidal Blanc Ice Wine:                                         Mouth coating, luscious, sweet wine that is reminiscent of golden delicious apples dipped in honey, but I would say it did not have the intensity of concentration of other top Vidal Ice Wines from Niagara.

-2013 Standing Stone Gewürztraminer:                                                                        One of Marti Macinski’s wines, and her Gewürz was just as impressive as her speech, only USD$15 bucks, restrained nose with more of a gravelly essence than perfume, who knew that Gewürz could have minerality, finished with slight rose petal note, fresh acidity.

-2011 Fox Run Vineyards Reserve Riesling:                                                               Great to have a Finger Lakes Riesling with some age, expressing more honey than flinty notes, no sense of petrol and a sustained finish with anise and white flowers.

-2014 Fulkerson William Vigne Grüner Veltliner:
Moderately aromatic with hints of celery and white pepper, not as tropical as the Austrian versions, more citrus flavors.

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