Things to do Before Traveling to Europe (or anywhere really)

We’re gearing up for our return to France and are running through our mental list of things to do before we leave. Yes, we’ve both done this before, separately. This is the first time we’re heading East over the Atlantic together. But, there are always those last-minute things to do that actually need to be done a few weeks before one leaves for a trip abroad — to Europe or elsewhere.


Anyone going on a European vacation is welcome to start with this list and add to it. We’d love to get your suggestions to round out a more complete list!

Here’s what we’ve got so far:

  • Purchase tickets :-)
  • Check passport expiration dates to ensure they will be valid for at least two weeks past your return date;
  • Make two copies of passport interior information. Take one copy with you (in case you lose your passport while you’re traveling), and leave one copy at
  • Call banks to inform them of travel dates for any bank cards that will be used abroad — so they won’t cancel your card as soon as they see outlandish activity. Find out which European banks partner with yours so that you can take out money without being charged a fee.
  • Call credit card companies to inform them of your travel dates, too.
  • Make copies of your credit card and bank card numbers in 
    case your wallet gets stolen or misplaced.
  • Pay any utility bills that will become due during the trip if you don’t have them scheduled to auto pay.
  • Call cell phone company to see if there will be exorbitantly high charges for calls / texts / wifi. Check to see what the rates are if using a cell phone is a must.
  • Find a ride to and from the airport to save money by not parking there.
  • Find child / pet / plant-sitters.

Surely we’ll find more to add to this list as our dates get closer. Let us know if we’ve missed any pre-trip to-do’s that you would recommend!

Finding a more permanent home for the vines

After their first year of growth with no hiccups, diseases or parasites, it’s time for our now two-year-old vines to find a new home and stretch their roots in more permanent soil.

We grew them from seed brought back from France and held on to them for a few years before planting them in small 2″ seed starter racks to get them started. After they germinated in their infancy soil, we transferred them to pots. Here are some close up of their tightly bound one-year-old stalks.

young vine

young vine

young vine

Like most living things, tiny seeds follow the sun upward. Only a few inches tall, our bare stalks began to branch out and grow tiny leaves soon after leaving the sun room.

vines with leavesvines with leaves

vines with leaves

vines with leaves

vines with leaves

One year later, our 21 vines have grown to four feet tall. So, how does one transport 21 vines without tilting over their soil buckets or unwinding them from their support pole? Rent a UHAUL!

Our UHAUL vine transporting adventures began on a Friday and lasted through Sunday afternoon. Driving our vines from their home of two years in Phillip’s mother’s suburban backyard, nearly 130 miles northwest to Heather’s mother’s country property. And, because the weekend trip coincided with the first of the year’s weddings, we dipped down into South Carolina to be in a friend’s wedding before heading to the Surry County Valley to plant.





These vines are ours to grow and nurture. We have a few French varietals that will help us understand how French grape vines respond to North Carolina soils and climates. Our access to Heather’s mother’s property is invaluable considering the land is undeveloped, well-protected and receives floods of sunshine during the day.


Packing up the UHAUL and towing the vines was effortless. The real work began on Sunday. Together, we measured out 3 rows of 7 vines. Then, Phillip spent the entire afternoon in his element, digging holes, filling them with black cow manure and planting. We surrounded the vines with love and encouragement the whole time, hoping they’ll take to their home and prosper!


To protect our grape vines from the deer that will surely inspect and taste the new fruit within reach, we constructed a temporary fence out of four foot metal stakes and a plastic fence mesh. The biggest challenge of the entire trip was getting the empty UHAUL up the steep gravel driveway at night when we finally left, but with a few tries, we made it.

Now, we’ll do our best to visit the vines often (and Heather’s mother), and update you on their status!

We’re heading back to France, finally!

We’re finally making our way back to one of our favorite places in the world. France!!

We booked our tickets today after saying, “Let’s just look to see how expensive the tickets are.” Of course, we had every intention of booking tickets at some point, but got caught up in the moment — not to mention the longer we wait to get tickets, the more expensive they’re likely to get.

After three years for Heather, and four for Phillip, we’re due for a return. France is a place that rejuvenates us. Plus, it’s a special place where a lot of our very good friends and voluntarily adopted family live and we need to catch up with these folks!

Our dates are set for the last ten days of April, which means we only have a short period of time to plan. We’ll likely combine the vacation with a lot of business-related stuff like touring wineries and meeting wine-industry peoples. While that may sound relaxing, quite a bit goes into getting to and from wine regions, setting up appointments and being fully present to take relationships further in order to carry someone’s product in the store.

We’re used to jumping in a car and road-tripping European style, couch-surfing included. We’ve done it a few times together throughout Europe. And while we’ve spend a lot of time in the Southwest, Southeast and in betweens of France, we’ll try to squeeze in time to explore new regions this go-around.

We’ll also have to get a list together of American-related gifts that we can share with our French friends. We’re thinking cheese sticks and beef jerky! Random, but everyone likes food and these two choices are signature Southern-American snacks. If you have any suggestions please let us know!

Looking forward to sharing updates as we countdown to our trip, while we’re there and of course, when we return.


Interview with Downton Abbey Travel Writers, Deb & David White


There are plenty of reasons why people are attracted to the stately mansions of Britain: architecture, interior design, art, gardens, romance, culture and history. No matter the motive that brings each visitor to the threshold of a great house — either in a book or on a tour — what keeps us coming back are the fascinating stories about the families who lived there.

With Downton Abbey’s much anticipated Season 4 premiere in the US, we thought it fitting to bring out our interview with the authors of Beyond Downton Abbey — A Guide to 25 Great Housesand Beyond Downton Abbey Vol. 2, Deb & David White.

The travel writing pair have co-authored their Downton Abbey-inspired series, and written books independently. When they’re not galavanting throughout Europe in search of a juicy story, they enjoy each other’s company in their charming home in Greensboro NC.

In her past life, Deb worked as a consultant for Fortune 1000 companies. She lived and breathed mergers and acquisitions from inside the conference rooms, cubicles and executive suites. In her first full-length novel, Pink Slips & Parting Giftsshe shares an entertaining account of experiences in corporate America. She is also a self-proclaimed Anglophile, which may have eased her transition into writing about travel-worthy sites in England.

David won’t tell you this himself, but he’s an all-things-England whiz (though, not the Hogwart’s kind). His first book, Let’s Take the Kids to London, is a travel guidebook written especially for families traveling to London and the UK. David uses his own personal experiences, including several family trips to the Royal lands, along with invaluable research to save readers travel time and headache.

If you’re inclined to take a trip to the Queen’s land with the whole family, or with your favorite travel companion, Deb & David have your English travel bases covered. Their Beyond Downton Abbey Vol. 1 & 2 books can be purchased here and here.

Though they both continue to consult on occasion, they’ve set up a lifestyle in support of their passions: travel, writing and each other. Inspired by their knack for planning in travel and in life, we interviewed them to get their story. Always in search of a couple making their dreams come true, we wanted to know what keeps their partnership successful. So we gave them the hard-hitting questions. The real greasy, in your face ones to see how they’d respond.

Check out our video interview with them. Please pardon our amateur video editing skills, and be sure to stay for the bloopers!



Croque-Monsieur & Croque Madame, a Perfect Pair for Francophile Friday!

Give me a grilled cheese sandwich any day and I will graciously accept it. But, give me a croque-monsieur or, better yet, a croque-madame and I’ll be in francophile heaven.

After an early morning visit to the local bakery, I can’t think of anything better on a chilly day than grilled bread and savory ham & cheese for brunch. With French bread in hand, an easy solution to satisfy this homely hankering is to make a pair of my favorites: croque-monsieur, and his better half, croque-madame, not to be confused with the Monte Cristo sandwich which I equally adore.

Wondering where the “croque” in croque-monsieur comes from? Croque, meaning crunchy is akin to the verb croquer or “to crunch” and the adjective croquant, meaning crunchy or toasted. I suppose the better question is “where does the monsieur” in croque-monsieur come from?” That may take a bit of research! The “madame,” on the other hand, is straightforward — put an egg on it et voila! You have a croque-madame.

This sunny meal pairs perfectly well with a bibb lettuce, cucumber and sticky balsamic salad. And seeing as this is a morning meal today, I’ll suggest kombucha over rosé for now…bon appetit!






Looking Back on an Exciting Year: Our Top 13 Memorable Moments from 2013

It has been quite a year! We began 2013 with a mantra: “This will be the year for laying the foundation.” And in many ways it has been. Granted, there is much left to do in the coming years, but for now we’re content with the ground we stand on.

2013In looking back on a year, it’s hard to say which moments were most memorable.

We ate a lot of great meals, drank quite a few fantastic wines, made new friends and enjoyed our time with old ones. But a few memories stand out, in part because we have pictures, and because they were significant moments that create a snapshot of 2013 and move us closer to our dreams, woo-hoo!

To pay homage to another awesome year (and to catch up on so many neglected blog posts), we’d like to share our 2013 Year In Review. In order of appearance, here are our Top 13 Memorable Moments from 2013:

#1: In January, we spent a week at the beach with friends and thought up the idea to start a blog to document our journey of finding land for a vineyard. There’s almost always a week of unseasonably warm weather every North Carolina winter. Without much effort, we found it early in January and spent time playing outdoors like schoolchildren in June. There’s nothing like taking a play break. We hope 2014 brings more opportunity to play, travel and enjoy life!

NC Beach Football

#2: On Valentine’s Day, our love story appeared in the INDY Week regional magazine. This was pretty cool to see in print, as if we were reading someone else’s story. Looking back on the first two years of our relationship, we were in different countries for nearly three quarters of that time. Now that we’re so deeply rooted in our Raleigh routines, our lives in France seem like they took place in another lifetime altogether.

#3: In early March, we transplanted 2 flats of 48 tomato plants and started this blog! Looking back at that particular weekend, the warmth of the sun on our shoulders, it was a magical start to the year for us and nearly 100 tomato plants. We transferred little seedlings from their first tiny flats, to larger flats where they would stay for several weeks until they were large enough to transfer to pots and face the wild world outdoors. Step by step, they grew into juicy and ripe tomatoes for so many meals in 2013, or were canned for meals in 2014. Nature always has a way of making sure there’s enough.


Phillip preparing to transfer 48 tomato plants

#4: In late March, we traveled to the northwestern-most corner of the state to visit our friends at Old Orchard Creek blueberry farm. While this wasn’t our only visit to the blueberry farm in 2013, it was the most memorable because it snowed! Rarely in the city do we get snow. Maybe a dusting, but mostly we get ice!

In our down time, we wrote the fourth post to our blog here. at Old Orchard at Old Orchard at Old Orchard at Old Orchard Creek

#5: In May, Phillip and his business partner Phil made Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s “40 Under 40 Tastemakers of America — a significant accomplishment for The Wine Feed that will no doubt contribute to future opportunities.

Phillip’s business partner, Phil, went up to New York to receive the honor and celebrate with the 39 other Tastemakers. This memorable moment put the guys on the map as a wine pair to pay attention to in the coming years.

The Wine Feed Makes Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 

#6: Throughout the late spring, summer and into early fall, we attended 5 weddings making this year a record for the fewest number of weddings we’ve attended in a year together. Over the past three years, we’ve averaged about ten weddings a year, celebrating so many of our friends and family, and providing the wine to help them make their events even more memorable. So far, we’ve got three weddings on the docket for 2014. We’ll see what else the New Year brings!


#7: In June, Phillip went to D.C. with his dad, brothers and uncles to see the Nationals play the Rockies. The stadium had never seen so many handsome men at one time (HA). The weekend of bonding called for beer and peanuts as two generations of 3 Zucchino brothers caught up in the Capital City.


#8: In August, we went to Upstate New York to visit Heather’s family. This was the first time Phillip was able to join Heather in a trip to her summer stomping grounds. With the little cousins in tow, we picked enough apples to last the rest of the year from O’Neil’s Orchard on Route 20 in LaFayette, NY.


Upstate NY Apple Picking

Then, we headed to Beak & Skiff Apple Orchard for some amazing apple vodka, gin and cider. This was a first for us both — we’ve ventured outside of wine and beer many-a-time, but this was our first apple vodka and gin. They were mighty fine. We brought back several bottles for the vodka and gin enthusiasts in our lives.

Beak & Skiff Apple Vodka

dr. frank wine

In 1962, merely a decade after arriving in America, Dr. Frank founded Vinifera Wine Cellars. The winery quickly earned a reputation for spectacular Rieslings and its original planting of vines formed the backbone of New York’s world-class wines and champagnes.

The highlight of the “adult” portion of our Upstate NY trip, was our private tasting with Frederick Frank of Dr. Konstantin Frank Wine.

We toured Keuka Lake, tasting at a number of vineyards and wineries. Dr. Frank Wine stood out as the very best — not surprisingly, The Wine Feed carries their award-winning Chateau Frank Blanc de Noirs bubbly.

A brief history of Dr. Frank — as an immigrant to the United States in the early 1950’s, Dr. Frank, a Ph.D. in viticulture, was instrumental in elevating the New York Finger Lake wine region to what it is today.

We are inspired by his vision and the community spirit he must have had to spend a lifetime (and two family generations thereafter) cultivating vitis vinifera in the Finger Lakes.


Dr. Frank's grandson, Frederick Frank who leads the winery's vision today.

Overlooking the vineyard with Dr. Frank’s grandson, Frederick Frank, who leads the winery’s vision.



grape vines

grapes on the vine

#9: In early September, Heather made the local newspaper when international artist JR‘s team showed up in Raleigh to photograph people in the community as a part of the Inside Out/11 M public art project in downtown Raleigh.


The INSIDE OUT Project/11M is a nationwide participatory art initiative aimed at creating a portrait of America that includes immigrants and the descendants of immigrants alike.


inside out project raleigh

inside out project raleighWe found out this morning (New Year’s Day) while writing this blog post that she was in the paper again — the same image was used for the News & Observer’s 2013: Our Favorite Photos. They just can’t get enough!

#10: In September, we bought a house close to downtown Raleigh which makes our commute shorter and bike rides more frequent. It’s a small one-story home that we look forward to transforming into a rental property once we find that land we’re after. We’re extremely blessed to have found our home in 2013 while our little city continues to grow and gain national attention as the place to live.

#11: In October, Phillip was a panelist at the Virginia Wine Summit alongside notable food & wine industry professionals. We spent two incredible days in Richmond, in and around the Jefferson Hotel and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art. You can read more about our VA Wine Summit adventures here and here.Virginia-Wine-Summit

#12: In November, we joined a talented photographer couple for a tasty mid-morning photoshoot. We met Carla and Khris of Timeless Photojournalism and everybody fell in love. They are an awesome pair of photographers specializing in travel, interiors and editorial photography.

Carla and Khris also have a blog which you can follow here. Below are some of our favorite photos from our shoot with them.

Timeless Photojournalism Shoot Timeless Photojournalism Shoot Timeless Photojournalism Shoot Timeless Photojournalism Shoot Timeless Photojournalism Shoot Timeless Photojournalism Shoot Timeless Photojournalism Shoot Timeless Photojournalism Shoot

Looking back, it really has been an incredible year. Sometimes it takes an entire day of flipping through pictures and calendars to fully digest 365 days.

#13: And to top off the year, in December Phillip’s business expanded operations to his brand spankin’ new wine shop & wine bar located in Raleigh’s lively Glenwood South commercial district. After a month and a half of comparatively on-schedule up-fit construction, Phillip & Phil opened the doors to their new space.

They have officially been open for 3 weeks, and tout being a “Wine oasis in a beer town,” which is the truth! Please stop by for a visit when you are in the Raleigh area.the wine feed raleigh

the wine feed the wine feed the wine feed the wine feed

The new Wine Feed will have a ribbon cutting ceremony and a Grand Opening in January — we’ll be sure to keep you posted!

Well, it sure seems like we’ve done a lot in 2013, but we’re ready to kick it up a notch! We look forward to sharing our adventures and getting to know you in the New Year. Here’s to 2014!!

Cheers —

Phillip & Heather

Thanksgiving 2013 — Dinner #2 with Mexican Turkey Mole

These days, it’s common for folks to bounce from home to home, taking in Thanksgiving at every stop. Some people stuff multiple Thanksgiving meals into one day. After yesterday’s glorious meal, I’m glad we have 24-hours between Thanksgiving #1 and #2 to digest and do it all over again.

So how about that Thanksgiving #2 anyway?

For the past few years, we’ve had a Mexican Thanksgiving at Phillip’s mom’s house. That’s right, a turkey with homemade mole (rhymes with oh-lay!) paired with yellow corn chips and guacamole, salsa, cilantro, tequila — the works. Our appetizer spread was Mexican-inspired, but also included a few foods from other parts of the world.


We’ve become accustomed to drinking wine at family meals, but a Mexican-themed Thanksgiving requires a little tequila for starters. Phillip’s youngest brother Andrew is the best at mixing cocktails. We enjoyed a yummy round of citrus + cilantro tequila cocktails with our apps before opening a special bottle of red to pair with the meal.

2009 Bedrock Heirloom Wine from Sonoma Valley

2009 Bedrock Heirloom Wine from Sonoma Valley

There are a few wines we hold dear to our hearts. Either we know the producers personally, or we’ve celebrated special occasions with a particular vintage. The wine we’re about to share with you is one we’ve enjoyed since 2009 when Phillip’s other brother, Paul, married Kristina. Several cases were consumed at their wedding.

Since then, we’ve enjoyed nearly every Bedrock Wine vintage, making it a wine both enjoyed at special family occasions and family meals that become even more special because of the wine. Though we haven’t personally visited the vineyard yet, Phillip met the producer briefly several years ago when he first moved to France to study wine making.

Here’s what The Wine Advocate says about the 2009 Bedrock Heirloom Wine:

The 2009 Heirloom Proprietary Red is an old vine blend dominated by Zinfandel and Cairanne. Its deep purple color is followed by stunning aromas of pepper, incense, camphor, blueberries and blackberries. This full-bodied powerhouse is surprisingly graceful for its size and potency. Consume this big, meaty red over the next 8-10 years. 93 points

Finally, at the center of our Mexican Thanksgiving meal, and the reason for the theme, was the absolutely splendid and well worth the wait turkey with Mexican chocolate mole (rhymes with oh-lay!) sauce. Oh, doesn’t that just sound divine! Topped with plenty of cilantro and sesame seeds, we savored every bite!


While we can’t give away the secret to the family recipe, I’ve found one that is similar from, here. Mole should be made well in advance of the meal. Allowing two or three days between making and consuming gives the flavors time to mesh. This isn’t something you whip up at random. It is very involved and may explain why we have it only once a year. We give major thanks to Phillip’s mother and Andrew for their hard work in crafting another delicious Thanksgiving meal.

At the end of our two-day Thanksgiving celebration, our bellies are full and we are thankful for another year. We’ve had much support in our businesses from friends, new and old. We’ve been blessed to have our family and our health. We look forward to what the year ahead will offer and hope you will come along for the journey!

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your’s–


Thanksgiving 2013 — Dinner #1 plus Fresh Green Bean Recipe

There’s absolutely nothing like the first holiday of the winter season. In many ways, Thanksgiving is the best of the winter holidays. You bring yourself. You bring something to share. It’s an entire day devoted to three of our favorite things: family, food and wine. And this year, we’re lucky to have two Thanksgivings in a row.

Our first Thanksgiving began with a sunny but bone chillingly brisk walk to induce appetite and prepare for 48-hours of feasting. Our contribution to the first Thanksgiving dinner, a 13-person meal, was a loaf of turkey-shaped bread from La Farm Bakery and a fresh green bean dish.


Fresh Green Bean Recipe

3 pounds (48 oz) fresh green beans

1 medium onion

1/4 cup almonds

3 cloves of garlic

1-2 tablespoons salted butter

sprinkle of pepper and salt to taste

This dish is pretty simple. In fact, the most labor-intensive part of the process is the washing and snapping of 3 pounds of green beans to start. Once washed and snapped, steam the beans in a steamer or boil them in a bath of boiling water with a pad of butter (1 tablespoon or more to taste) until “just right,” which for us means the green beans are soft enough to eat but still have a bit of fresh snap to them. To achieve this happy medium and bright green color, steam or boil for roughly 18 minutes. Slice the onion into halves, then into strips and add to the steamer or pot of boiling water when adding the green beans.

While the green beans and onions are steaming, add a little butter or olive oil to a pan. When hot, add the freshly squished and chopped garlic and lightly brown for 2-3 minutes. Add the almonds to pan and toast until golden, then remove from heat.

When the green beans and onions are cooked to perfection, drain the water and place the veggies in a casserole dish. Add the garlic and toasted almonds as a decorative topper. Bon appetit!

And of course, a Thanksgiving meal for us wouldn’t be complete without working our way through a few bottles of wine.

Domaine-Duffour-Cotes-de-Gascogne-2011-300x450We started with a 2011 Domaine Duffour, a white wine from the Cotes de Gascogne in France. This herbaceous and citrusy wine was made by winemaker Michel Duffour who took over the domaine estate from his father in the 1980s.

He replanted many of the vines, but he kept those that his father had planted to produce Armagnac, which is made from Colombard and Ugni Blanc grapes. Michel continues to make Armagnac, but he also produces dry table wines, such as this bright and fresh Côtes de Gascogne.

The beauty of the collaborative Thanksgiving is that everyone else brought something splendid to the table too. Here’s some of what we got to sink our teeth into:




Make your own at

We are ever so thankful for the families we have, and the food and wine we get to share with them. Tonight, we rest and gear up for more food and wine at Thanksgiving dinner #2, tomorrow!

Remembering an International Thanksgiving in France…

It’s hard to believe 4 years have passed since my first Thanksgiving in France. While I was in grad school in Puyricard, near Aix-en-Provence, France, I kept a blog to document and share the experience. For today’s post, I pulled a few photos from that blog to share my international Thanksgiving in France.

The business school I attended at the time, was made up of graduate-level students from around the world. Roughly 40% of the student population was French. Everyone else came from neighboring European countries, the US, Canada and countries like Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India, the Dominican Republic, China and parts of Africa. Every Friday at noon, there was a student-organized International Lunch open to anyone who wanted to bring a dish from their home country.

Of course, the Friday after Thanksgiving 2009 was special for the Americans, many of whom missed the comfort foods that frequently show up at a Thanksgiving meal. Nearly twenty of us organized ourselves to account for as many traditional Thanksgiving dishes as we could find ingredients for at the market.



We spent the night before cooking, and brought our Thanksgiving meal on the city bus to school the next day.

Thanksgiving doesn’t carry much significance in France since it commemorates a relationship between pilgrims to the New World and its native inhabitants. Still, we felt it necessary to share the celebration that most of us Americans have grown to love, by bringing a Thanksgiving meal to the International Lunch for our new friends from around the world.


“Oh wow, the US has more than just hamburgers and hotdogs!” 

I remember sitting next to a few German students who were surprised to find that American’s have traditional meals that don’t include burgers and hotdogs. It’s amazing what you can learn about your own culture at an international table.

Pairing Wine with “Catching Fire” — Book two of the Hunger Games Trilogy

Yes, we did just go there! After a whirlwind of reading the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy, our palms and brows are drenched. We just finished the book and can only wait in anticipation for both Catching Fire the movie, and the final book of the trilogy. This all-consuming read has kept us up way past our bed time this week.

Which wine pairs best with Catching Fire and The Hunger Games? The odds may be in your favor.

Which wine pairs best with Catching Fire and The Hunger Games?   Find out if the odds are in your favor.

We even found ourselves reading for two consecutive hours after dinner tonight, just to put it all to an end. “Just one more chapter…ok, keep going.” Without giving too much away — since we aren’t the only ones griping the cover with both hands before the movie comes out in just two days — we’d like to share what undoubtedly is on everyone’s mind. What wine pairs BEST with Catching Fire?

This is especially important if you are about to share a celebratory movie-going night with friends this weekend. True fans will prepare a Capitol-style feast and fashion themselves in Arena attire. While we don’t have plans to go that far, we would like to share two wines with die-hard fans in hopes of satisfying beverage needs for The Games. We believe the two selections pair well with Hunger Games & Catching Fire festivities. Both wines are available at Phillip’s company site,

Honoro Vera 2012 Garnacha pairs well with Hunger Games pre-gaming.

Honoro Vera 2012 Garnacha

The first wine of our choosing, screams Hunger Games in both the label and the bottle’s contents: 

Honoro Vera, 2012 Spanish Garnacha makes a fine accompaniment to any Hunger Games pre-gaming. Grown in Calatayud, Spain just two hours southeast of La Rioja desert, this wine’s grape growing location imparts qualities of survival from the brutal Spanish sun. This tasty $10 wine features aromas of dark fruits and spice, and pairs well with a hearty meal like those served to tributes just before The Games.

The label design is most striking. Digital art details catch the warrior woman’s eye with an untrusting, Katniss-like expression.

While it sips well solo, we recommend consuming this wine with friends.


Tait “The Ball Buster” Shiraz

Tait “The Ball Buster” Shiraz

The next Hunger Games-inspired wine recommendation is a kick-in-the-pants indicator of the action one can expect in Catching Fire.

Tait “The Ball Buster” 2010 Shiraz from the Australian Barossa Valley claims family ties to hand-crafted production. Much like the citizens in the Districts of Panem, this family started in manual labor as coopers before venturing into wine making. This Southern Australian wine retails at $22 and pairs with captured game and grilled red meats. And it makes any parcel of District 3 rolls absolutely divine!

So there you have it. We’ve narrowed it down to two perfectly delicious wines which means the odds will be in your favor when you’re looking for something to sip while you read Catching Fire the book, or watch the film.

Let us help you order your wine at Then, tell us which of the two wines is the true victor of your palette!


Oz Clark Sums up the VA Wine Summit

To have an extraordinary weekend with great food and wine, and a few new friends is a delight. To have an extraordinary weekend that Oz Clarke enjoyed too, is just lucky.

We shared a bit of our Virginia Wine Summit experiences in earlier posts here & here. Phillip was a panelist during day two of the summit. Among the other panelists, his topic, “Bang for Your Buck,” was a crowd favorite, particularly for those on the production and sales side of VA wine.

The panel invitation afforded us a memorable visit to Richmond. Here’s a summary of the weekend and of VA wines according to Oz:

“Wine is merely one of the wonderful things that make life worth living. To truly appreciate wine, you have to appreciate all the other marvels of life around you and relate wine to them.”   ~ Oz Clarke

This message encompasses the pure essence of wine. Wine is the embodiment of much more than a list of characteristics in a single glass. Oz Clarke’s motivating thoughts on the future of Virginia wines is inspiring. Perhaps in twenty years when the wine industry shifts and lesser-known regions are celebrated, we’ll see Virginia at the top with a very distinct taste that only Virginia can create.

SOMM — The Documentary

If you, like us, enjoy learning about wine and wine regions around the world, you are probably well aware that learning about the topic in its entirety is impossible. The history of wine is basically the history of people. Wine grapes have moved from place to place, grown in various soil types, and have been produced in countless ways. Furthermore, wine is constantly evolving due to ever evolving consumer trends and climate change. How could anyone possibly keep up with all of this information?

The documentary “SOMM” tells the story of a group of wine professionals determined to overcome the “impossible” and  be the select few who do, in fact, know everything there is to know about wine.

The film shows only a glimpse of what goes into wine production, and even then, there is more focus on the cast of characters than production itself. Which is fine by me because after all, enjoying wine is just as much about the people consuming it as it is an agricultural art and science.

The film follows four sommeliers over a year of studying for the most challenging and endurance-necessary wine test in the world, a 2-day theory and practicum required to achieve Master Sommelier status.

One of the film’s star sommeliers, Ian Cauble, MS, made the Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s “40 Under 40 Tastmaskers of America,” along with Phillip this year. In the film, Ian is a devout student of wine and does achieve his Master Sommelier diploma after much dedication to join the few MS’s who came before him.

The film does a great job of telling the story of how one prepares for a MS test. It is both amusing and inspiring. I laughed in their musings, and nearly cried when the candidates passed or failed. Here’s a clip from the trailer:

The focus and obsessive dedication required to sit for the exam is impressive and motivating, but after watching the film, I am relieved to hear that Phillip does not plan to pursue diplomas in either sommelier or master sommelier. For certain, his viticulture and enology degree will serve him in the fields, but I now have a new appreciation for those who dedicate their lives to bring what is made in the field to the table.

Hope you’ll check out the film and tell us what you thought about it by leaving a comment!

An Entrepreneurial Couple Celebrates “A Passion for Bread” Book Release

Tonight, we celebrated two wonderful family friends and their business success. Lionel and Missy Vatinet started La Farm Bakery in 1998, long before their two daughters were born and long before they had a staff, a fully operating bakery and restaurant, a food truck and a permanent place at the farmers market!

A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker by Lionel Vatinet

“A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker” by Lionel Vatinet

After years of growing and managing the bakery to what residence of Cary, NC today know and love, Lionel and Missy have taken things to a whole new level with the publication of their long-awaited book, “A Passion for Bread: Lessons from a Master Baker.”

We have personally anticipated the book’s release since both of our mothers signed up to be recipe testers over a year ago. They tested things out in their kitchens, but there’s nothing quite like the artisanal, French loaves a master baker like Lionel produces!

We’re very excited for Missy and Lionel. They have had much success and the book has already achieved rave reviews. It’s no wonder the whole community turned up for their book release party.



A Master Baker’s encyclopedic knowledge of bread, passed on from a long line of French artisan bakers, to the American home, with detailed instructions and dozens of step-by-step photographs. It covers everyday loaves like baguettes, ciabatta, and whole grain breads, as well as loaves for special occasions, including Beaujolais Bread, Jalapeño Cheddar Bread, and Lionel Vatinet’s celebrated sourdough boule. A chapter of delectable soup and sandwich recipes will inspire you to create the perfect accompaniments. The book offers a detailed introduction to bread baking, 65 recipes, and 470 full-color photographs.


We’re so happy for Lionel & Missy Vatinet with the publication of their first book. Who knows…maybe the next will feature bread and wine pairings…

How We Spent Our First Halloween at Our New House

For the first time in a long time, we’ve got a door bell of our own for trick-or-treaters to ring! Although we’ve lived together in an apartment over the past few years, this is the first time in a long time, that we’re able to “participate” in Halloween festivities in a neighborhood filled with doorbell-ringing children.

Almost all mums are perennials. They require upkeep and care throughout the year -- being trimmed back until mid-July so they'll stay bushy and bloom in the fall. If they aren't trimmed, they'll bloom again early summertime.

Almost all mums are perennials. They need to be trimmed back until mid-July so they’ll stay bushy and bloom in the fall. If they aren’t trimmed, they’ll bloom again in the early summertime.

Two weekends ago, we visited one of Phillip’s best friends who teaches high school English in a rural North Carolina town. We visited a farmer friend of his, and bought four baking pumpkins to serve the dual purpose of being decorative and, come Thanksgiving, being delicious baked pumpkin pies! We also bought ten magenta mums from the farm (cheaper than buying at a store, plus the money goes directly to the farmer), and will plant them in front of our house so we can enjoy the perennials next year too.

Farm Pumpkins


Halloween marks an important anniversary for Phillip and I. Four years ago, while we were both in France, Phillip came to Aix-en-Provence to visit me for the weekend. It was Halloween, which didn’t mean much to the French.

I was in grad school and Phillip had finished with the harvest in Bordeaux for the second consecutive year. So, we both took a break and spent the weekend in a very “typically” French way — strolling through markets to find gifts to send back to our families for the holidays. Being leisurely and enjoying the energy of the village.

We found ourselves sitting at a quintessential outdoor café in the square next to the Hotel de Ville, partaking in typical fashion of the afternoon coffee. Let me paint the picture for you! We sat at a table for two with a red and white-stripped umbrella overhead amidst a sea of tables with red and white-stripped umbrellas. There wasn’t a more perfect time or place for day-dreaming.

We’d been talking about our dreams for a while. We learned early in our relationship that we both wanted the same thing: to bring a piece of France back home to North Carolina to plant roots. To find a place to call home and let the early seeds of our labors dig into rich soil. So a few short years ago in that café on Halloween, we decided there wasn’t a better time than the present to visualize what that future looks like together.

With a pen and a paper napkin, over two half-consumed cappuccinos, we wrote out the end. We went all the way to the end of the vision and wrote out what it looked like, who was there and what was important.

This Halloween, as I was unpacking boxes, I found the napkin! It was dated October 31, 2009. Along with our vision, it listed things we foresaw needing to do to better prepare for our vision. Two of the “to-do” items included starting our own businesses, and visiting specific wine regions to learn about their wine production and visit their wineries.

The best part about having written the vision out was revisiting it, and seeing how much we’ve accomplished on the list. Of course, we still have a ways to go! Now we need to create another napkin plan. “The Dream on a Napkin Plan Continued.” On Halloween 2017, we can revisit the plan to see how our vision for land with a vineyard has come into fruition.

Do you have a vision for a future that you’re excited about? Go all the way to the end of the vision, who is there? What’s important? Write it out along with a few necessary to-do’s to get you closer to that vision. Then, in a year or two, revisit it and see how far you’ve come in creating that vision.


Salad Nicoise Paired with a Virginia Rosé and a Cab Franc

Stinson Vineyards is an environmentally sustainable, family run boutique vineyard located at the scenic foothills of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

Stinson Vineyards is an environmentally sustainable, family run boutique vineyard located at the scenic foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

We’re still enjoying the momentum and excitement from the Virginia Wine Summit, but from the comforts of our cozy North Carolina kitchen

Tonight, we’re enjoying local cheese, a semi salad Nicoise (because we’re missing a few ingredients for a full salad Nicoise), cheesy mashed potatoes, and a glass of a 2012 Monticello rosé from Stinson Vineyards followed by a glass of 2010 Cab Franc from Barboursville Vineyards.

Barboursville Vineyards is located in Charlottesville, Virginia and is home of winemaker Luca Paschina and the award-winning Octagon.

Barboursville Vineyards is located in Charlottesville, Virginia and is home of winemaker Luca Paschina and the award-winning Octagon.

If we were going to have salad Nicoise “all the way,” we’d be more inclined to pair it with a rosé from Southern France. We particularly love the Lauren Miquel Rosé from the Languedoc region and highly recommend it for salad pairings. Food and wine from the same region usually produces delicious pairings.

We recommend finding a wine you enjoy from a small production (this basically excludes anything you will find at the grocery store). Small production is typically anything under 10,000 cases.

Want to test your wine palate? A fun thing to do with friends to test the diversity of small production runs, is to taste the same grape variety from the same vineyard over three different years (i.e. 2010, 2009 and 2007). See how the wines vary and you’ll have a good idea of how each season differed from year to year.

Day Two of the Virginia Wine Summit in Richmond

As the Virginia Wine Summit continued, we went our separate ways. Heather headed out to enjoy Richmond’s art scene and revisited the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, now open to the public for normal viewing hours. Despite being at the museum for the Wine Summit reception last night, we didn’t get to see much art because the wings were closed. Not to worry, Heather made her way back today to see the VMFA collection.

And what a collection it was! By far, the best days to tour a museum and really see the art are Mondays and Tuesdays. There are no crowds and you can take your time. Heather likes to speak to the docents and find out whether they’re at all interested in the artworks in their designated space, what the overall response viewers have to the works, and learn about the museum’s collection. Most of the VMFA docents are art students from nearby Virginia Commonwealth University. This is a very cool way for the museum to diversify its experience for museum go-ers on top of housing an amazing art collection.


While Heather was high totting around town, Phillip prepared for the afternoon panel he was on with two notable sommeliers, Cappie Peete from McCrady’s Restaurant in Charleston SC, and Patrick Cappiello from Pearl & Ash Restaurant on Bowery in New York City. Their highly anticipated topic, “Bang for Your Buck,” opened dialogue on the market value of Virginia wines—an especially hot topic for regional wine makers. Afterward, we reconnected for a tasting of Virginia ciders from the Northeastern part of the state near D.C., down the Blue Ridge Trail to Southern Appalachia, near NC.


Phillip tasting VA Cider at the VA Wine Summit 2013

Phillip tasting VA Cider at the VA Wine Summit 2013

Dinner that evening was the best. If you’re at a long table of restaurant sommeliers, foodies and beverage specialists, you’re in good company for what is bound to be a memorable meal. We dined in European fashion at the Roosevelt Restaurant, taking our time, tasting lots of dishes and rolling through bottles with smiles on our faces. Within our group of twenty-something people, we got to know Kendra Bailey Morris, the author of The Southern Slow Cooker, and her husband. And we had a hip slappin’ good time with Cappie Peete and Morgan from McCrady’s in Charleston.

Us with new friends Kendra Bailey Morris, the author of The Southern Slow Cooker, and her husband.

Us with new friends Kendra Bailey Morris, the author of The Southern Slow Cooker, and her husband.

Cappie and Morgan of McCrady's with Phillip.

Cappie and Morgan of McCrady’s with Phillip.

They say Virginia is for Lovers…wine lovers, food lovers, and lovers in general. Needless to say, we had a great time. Like any industry built on relationships, wine professionals relish the opportunity to get together over good food and wine. It was an exciting start to the week and as we gear up for a busy fall, it was a nice break from our normal routines.

A Fancy Welcome to the 2nd Annual Virginia Wine Summit in Richmond

Yesterday turned out to be unexpectedly delightful. After a relatively short drive from Raleigh to Richmond, we arrived at The Jefferson Hotel—our stay for the next two nights and home of the second annual Virginia Wine Summit, a two-day wine conference taking place in the hotel’s grand atrium and ball rooms.

The Jefferson Hotel was supposed to open on November 1, 1895, but at the last minute it was realized that November 1 was a Friday, and it was considered bad luck to start anything on a Friday. So the hotel was opened on Halloween instead.

The Jefferson Hotel was supposed to open on November 1, 1895, but at the last minute it was realized that November 1 was a Friday, and it was considered bad luck to start anything on a Friday. So the hotel was opened on Halloween instead.

You may have heard of the Jefferson Hotel. Built in 1895 and completed on Halloween day, the renowned hotel has hosted the likes of President Obama, both President Bush and George W., both Roosevelts, Taft, stars including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the cast of several films.

Some speculate the grand staircase was featured in Gone with the Wine Wind, and was where talent Bill “Bojangles” Robinson was discovered by his agent. 

Another fun fact — the Jefferson Hotel’s fountains were once home to alligators brought up from Florida and abandoned when they we no longer “cute” enough to fit in someone’s purse…   We can only imagine how the gators were relocated once they ripened to adult size!

 The Jefferson Hotel was supposed to open on November 1, 1895, but at the last minute it was realized that November 1 was a Friday, and it was considered bad luck to start anything on a Friday. So the hotel was opened on Halloween instead. From the time the hotel opened until 1937, rooms were just $1.50 per night.  A room with a private bath was $1 more per night.  The Thanksgiving Day Dinner at the hotel in 1949 cost $2.50.  When Elvis stayed at the hotel in 1956, he brought his own television and the hotel manager was shocked that Elvis ate his bacon with his fingers. In the mid 1950s, the hotel had a pink limousine to drive guests throughout the city.  The Jefferson has been in several movies including My Dinner with Andre (1981), First Kid (1996), HBO's Ironed Jawed Angels (2004), The American President (1995) and the recently discovered Rock and Roll Hotel (early 1980's).  Alligators once resided in marble pools in the Palm Court Lobby.  Richmonders would vacation in Florida and bring the baby alligators home as pets.  As they outgrew sinks and bathtubs, residents would bring them to live at The Jefferson.  Tour the hotel’s public area and see how many alligators you can find today!

Alligators once resided in marble pools in the Palm Court Lobby. Richmonders would vacation in Florida and bring the baby alligators home as pets. As they outgrew sinks and bathtubs, residents would bring them to live at The Jefferson

The Wine Summit brings us here as one guest (Heather) and one contributing panelist (Phillip). The annual event, currently in its second year, is intended to expose buyers, sommeliers, retailers and wine producers to the scope of what Virginia wine production has to offer. There are even a few food writers, press professionals and a chocolatier on hand to provide a different perspective on VA wine’s reach.

When we arrived on Sunday, we were immediately greeted by Richmond’s hospitality and friendliness. If we didn’t love where we live already, we could easily see Richmond becoming home—a mid-size city focused on higher education, culture and family. Richmond is similar to Raleigh in many regards. We checked into our lofty hotel room with just enough time to head back out the door with a group of Wine Summit attendees en route to the welcome reception being held at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

The Museum, already closed for the evening, made the perfect backdrop for the meet and greet. Heather especially loved the setting. The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is among the top art museums in the nation.

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts entrance

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts entrance for the 2013 VA Wine Summit reception

It’s easy to get to know folks in a crowd when the wine is flowing. Our first sip was a glass of 2008 Trump Sparkling Rosé from the Monticello AVA. Starting a festive evening with either a bubbly white or a sparkling rosé means you’re going to have a great time, and that we did!




Wild Alaskan Salmon with Pesto Fettuccine plus a Homemade Pesto Tip

This meal was created fairly quickly with items from the market, in the pantry and in the fridge. The chardonnay / viognier pairing makes for an easy, breezy afternoon.

Wild Alaskan Salmon with Pesto Fetuccine

4 essential ingredients:

  • fettuccine (pantry)
  • pan seared CSA Alaskan wild salmon (fridge)
  • peas (market, then fridge)
  • homemade pesto (freezer)

2 extra ingredients for balance and good measure:

  • salt & pepper (pantry)
  • olive oil (pantry)

Wild Alaskan Salmon with Pesto Fetuccine

Laurent Miquel  Chardonnay / Viognier

Laurent Miquel Chardonnay / Viognier

With a pesto or cream pasta dish enjoyed in the late afternoon or eveing, a nice medium white wine can be superb. And, if you’re outside on a porch like we were when we enjoyed this dish, it’s even better.

Laurent Miquel is an 8th generation winemaker from the Languedoc region of France. Laurent’s wines are reasonably priced, like many wines from the Languedoc, but they are a far cry from many of the region’s charmless bulk wines.

This blend of Chardonnay and Viognier is unique, and the result is a delicious match of the Chardonnay’s medium-bodied citrus and orchard fruits with a subtle floral perfume from the Viognier. This wine is unoaked, so it is fresh, bright, and a great warm-weather porch sipper. Pair with seafood, poultry, or salads!

We enjoyed this dish with a simple pan-seared salmon and a bunch of tasty peas. Not much is required to make it delicious. Homemade and frozen pesto added good flavor.

If you make fresh pesto, try freezing it in an ice tray and storing the individual cubes in vacuum-sealed bags until you’re ready to use them in a dish. This technique gives you a desired amount of fresh pesto per dish without wasting.

If you try the pairing or something similar, let us know how it turns out. Also, if you make fresh pesto and have tips for storing it, leave your tip in the comments below!




Conversation with an Accidentally Entrepreneurial Couple

Don-Sheyenne-KreamerAt a networking event several weeks ago, Don introduced his wife Sheyenne to the group by sharing that she is the smartest person he knows. Not only is she his wife, she is also his best friend. Over time and exploration, she has also become his business partner.

I followed up to see what else I could learn about this dynamic duo. “What’s your story? How did it all begin?”

Over the phone on a sunny afternoon before the July 4th holiday, Sheyenne prefaced their story by saying, “If nothing else, I’ll entertain you!” Then, she proceeded to giggle through a very candid and revealing look into what happens when two people challenge the status quo in the work place and at home.

When they met, entrepreneurship was the last thing on either of their minds. They both worked for the big corporation, one of the biggest at the time. After experiencing two layoffs in one year within the same industry, Sheyenne decided she was done working for the man. Even with opportunities still on the table, enough was enough.

Don wasn’t too keen on this idea, urging her to reconsider. He wasn’t happy with her lack of financial contribution to the family. But she wasn’t willing to give up on an enterprising idea that required significant R&D and prototyping to launch.

But five years later, Don got the same bug, feeling less than thrilled in the big company churn. This is where their new discoveries began to take root. They had to figure out how to bring in new income streams at key points of decision-making. At the same time, they were on very different career paths. Sheyenne was in recruiting and career development while Don was working in office equipment.

“There were a lot of battles over the years. Years of squabble!” Sheyenne shares through her own laughter, reflecting on where they’ve been and where they are now. They had to navigate rocky territory as most entrepreneurial couples do.

“In business you have to grow your patience level and your communication level. These are things we take for granted and it is a challenge in the beginning!”

After years of prototyping, self-discovery and growth, they have found their entrepreneurial calling as a couple. They demonstrate their platform everyday as a small business that contributes to the community in an ethical and honest way.  They are intent on modeling the way for other businesses to engage with the community while maintaining profitability. They often work with at-risk youth and folks in need of more than an extra dose of support in finding their own calling and getting on their feet. “We are about lifting people up and empowering them,” says Sheyenne.

While they didn’t start out with a vision for entrepreneurship, they’ve embarked on a journey more fulfilling and rewarding than they ever imagined.  Together, they have uncovered strengths, weaknesses and differences that make them all the more compatible and open to experiencing the journey as a team.

Our Memorial Day Weekend Small Towns Tour in NC

Happy Memorial Day!! Lots of folks in our city and state spend Memorial Day weekend in the NC mountains or at the coast. These are great getaway destinations but on a holiday weekend—particularly one that announces summertime—we prefer to avoid the crowds. Instead, we decided to do some reconnaissance for our land search by touring a few small towns nearby.

We woke up on Saturday, looked out the window and determined that it was a perfect day for a road trip. After several cloudy and rainy days, the sun was in full splendor beckoning us outside to play! So we got in the car and took off down the highway.

First, we went to Mebane, NC where we hung out at Reed’s Downtown Table.

Mebane NC

Then, we headed to historic Hillsborough to have lunch and enjoy the downtown. We had a satisfying lunch: authentic gyros at American Gyro on Old Hwy NC-86 before heading North toward Hurdle Mills.

Our tour of Northern Orange, Person, and Granville Counties took us through some of the funniest town names: “Stem,” “Surl,” “Ca-Vel” and “Push” North Carolina gave us a good chuckle. We passed Virgilina Road which leads to the small community of Virgilina on the boarder of NC and VA. We also passed Tally Ho, Gentry Dunkley Rd, and Mollie Mooney Rd.

With roadside farms sprawling for acres upon acres, we didn’t see too many people but we did get a sense of how the land is divided among families in the area. Every half mile or so we crossed a side road named after a family member. It’s clear that land has stayed within the family in these parts.

In addition to going for a joy ride in the expanse of North Carolina’s countryside, one of our road trip goals was to get a feel for the land and the communities within the land. We looked at four properties along our route. A few stood out to us as beautiful properties with good potential. Others gave us the sense that we’d have to work hard to develop a sense of community. A large part of our vision includes inviting people to the land and cultivating a sense of place. If that doesn’t jump out at us immediately, it’s important that we dig deeper to envision what could be without writing it off immediately. This is an important part of the research process that we hope will save us some time in the longrun.

On Sunday we awoke to another beautiful day! So we followed our noses to another small town: Apex, NC.


One of the benefits to living in central North Carolina is that a lot of the towns along the railroad maintain their historic downtown charm. Sometimes you can find an old train car  that no longer serves its original purpose, but makes for great climbing and photo taking!



The main street in downtown Apex on a weekend afternoon is dotted with open door shops and folks enjoying lunch at outdoor tables.

Walking down the street can throw you back to another decade and another pace which meant we could catch our breath and enjoy a leisurely afternoon. We took a coffee break at Common Grounds Coffee shop where we collected notes, retraced our drive from the day before and wrote this blog post.



If you live in or are planning to visit any of these small towns in NC, give us a holler!