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Here at Total Wine we strive to have the best customer service in the retail beverage industry – part of this commitment to training is our annual company-sponsored trip to the northern California wine country where 40+ of our team members get information straight from the principals of many of the leading wineries in the U.S.! Over the next couple of days we will be sharing with you the journey our team is taking.

Your tour guide, Cyrus Hazzard

Your tour guide for this excursion is Cyrus Hazzard, who is a member of our Customer Experience team and our concierge of wine sales. He was also a former store manager at our McLean, Virginia location.

Let the expedition begin …take it away, Cyrus!

Day 1

Dalia Ceja, director of sales and marketing

A few late flights gave us a challenge getting on the bus, but we made it.  First stop was Ceja Vineyards in Carneros – a small family owned and run winery on the Napa side of Los Carneros (The Rams).  We had the pleasure of meeting three members of the family – Momma, daughter and grandfather. Theirs is an amazing story – the family bought the vineyards in the early 80’s when people thought buying vineyards was a crazy thing to do.  The whole family lives right there on the property, Dalia grew up there but recently has moved.  We arrived and lunch was served from a fantastic taco truck, a great meal to start the trip! The tasting was fantastic, really fresh wines with incredible balance.

Grapes going through veraison

Walking through the vineyards there were some great examples of véraison, which is just starting here in Carneros. Véraison is a grape growing term meaning “the onset of ripening” or “change of color of the grape berries.” – pronounced [Vay-ray-zoN]. The biggest take-away from our visit to Ceja Vineyards was the synergy of the family and their dedication and love of family, land and wine.

The next stop was Kunde Family Estate in Sonoma Valley. Proprietor Jeff Kunde met us at the tasting room but wouldn’t let us off the bus – he hopped on and started to give the driver directions to take us up to the top of his property.  Along with him was Remy, their resident vineyard dog.

Jeff Kunde, speaking to our team

The trip up through the vineyards was a fun one – bus scraping all the way on the half-paved road, squeezing through the vines and across rattling cattle-guards.  Jeff told us some fun facts as we ascended, did you know that the movie Bottleshock was mostly filmed at the Kunde estate?  We drove past the boxing ring and he pointed out the old winery where the Judgement of Paris portion was filmed! From the top there were some really beautiful views of the rolling vineyards across the Sonoma valley. We had a small tasting of his wines and headed down the hill for dinner.  On the way down he pointed out some of his “century vines” – Zinfandel vines that looked like tree trunks!  They are an average age of 130 years old.

Sunset, watermelon and feta!

Dinner was fantastic – Caesar salad, flank steak with chimichurri sauce, local chicken, pork sausage and something I’d never had before – watermelon and crumbled feta cheese.  Now that is something simple and fantastic to replicate in your own kitchen!

Super Bowl XXXIV-winning coach Dick Vermeil (c) with Cyrus Hazzard (l) and Heather Lalla (r)

Then the fun really began – a meet-and-greet tasting at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, California. A night featuring of rock stars of the wine industry, some really fantastic people to meet!  Claude Blankiet of Blankiet Estate was there, Lou Kapcsandy of Kapcsandy Family Winery and even Dick Vermeil, Super Bowl winning coach and proprietor of Vermiel Wines!  It was a first class tasting with all the bells and whistles, a night our team will not forget.  It is hard to pick favorites from that tasting; they were all so fantastic! You know it’s a great tasting when all the producers are milling around enjoying themselves as well tasting others wines.

Day 2 is tomorrow. We are off to Napa Valley for a great day of tasting Cabernet and Merlot. It’s hard work but somebody has to do it!

More tomorrow …