Premier Pairing – Sessions at the Presidio – Recap

My 2017 Sipping Smarts class series kicked off at the end of February with a Premier Pairing at Sessions at the Presidio. Our devoted crowd of attendees — many of whom have been at ALL of my classes over the years – gathered for a 3+ hour extravaganza.

humbolt-vodka-sterling-caviarWe started with a CAVIAR & VODKA BAR showcasing two types of decadent Sterling Imperial Caviar (one freshly-harvested and the other aged for a year) from California’s top producer, Sterling Caviar. The tins were scraped clean with many exclaiming it was the best caviar they’d ever tasted. Served with Mionetto Prosecco and Humboldt Distillery Organic Vodka, it was a delicious way to begin.

We then had three flights of wine, beer and food pairings. As I usually do, I couldn’t decide what to pour, so I showcased 13 different wines including a special magnum of 2006 Chateau Montelena Cabernet Sauvignon pulled from my cellar. (No one seemed to complain.) For the full list of wines, click here! 

Add to that a fantastic beer pairing on each flight from Session’s beer-expert, Jordan Spaulding, a certified Cicerone, and perfect (and hearty) pairings from Chef Michael Bilger. Needless to say…we had an educational and highly entertaining day! Uber got some serious business, too.


I hope you can join me for the next Sipping Smarts class focused on Spanish Wine and Food. It will be held Sunday, May 7th from 2pm-5pm at Canela restaurant in San Francisco.

Paella, anyone?

Join Me for a Twitter Tasting with Wines of Sicily!

Save the Date!

I have partnered with Wines of Sicily and this Thursday, November 3rd, join me as we taste our way through many of the wines under the Sicilia DOC designation. We’ll be tasting and tweeting, talking about the grape varieties, the food, the region and most of all, just how incredible Sicily IS! In order to truly enjoy this tweet-tasting experience, join along by checking out our cheat sheet below and purchasing your own Sicilia DOC wine. Chime in and let us know what you think but following @winesofsicily and using the hashtag #winesofsicily 

Cheat Sheet and Shopping List



Not only is the island ruggedly beautiful with diverse wine growing regions, Sicily’s history has been influenced by cultures from the Greeks to the Normans.

The Story of Sicily

Sicily’s Wine-growing Mosaic




From crisp, fruit-driven whites such as Grillo to chillable reds like Frappato and intensely elegant Nero d’Avola, wines made with indigenous varieties will please all palates.

Meet the Grapes

Wines of Sicily - Grapes


The diversity of local dishes from caponata to cannelloni makes eating Sicilian style a treat, but these vibrant and refreshing wines go with a range of everyday dishes.

Recipe Pairings 



Here are some of the top producers to put on your shopping list when buying wines from Sicily. A quick trick to find quality wines is to look for the words Sicilia DOC. 



Wines of Sicily - Stemmari

Tasca d’Almerita

Feudo Montoni

Wines of Sicily - Feudo Montoni


Valle dell’Acate

Wines of Sicily - Il Frappato - Valle Della'acte

Masseria del Feudo

Baglio del Cristo di Campobello

Principi di Butera

Maggio Vini


Vini Gulfi

Villa Pozzi









Wine Country – Sonoma Coastal Region

When you’re thinking about wine country in California, you are apt to miss the Sonoma Coast, often considered Sonoma’s most enigmatic wine region. From San Pablo Bay, to Mendocino, this AVA gets a direct influence from the Pacific Ocean’s cool, often cold climate.


Known for creating some of Sonoma Wine Country’s best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the Sonoma Coastal AVA is a contradiction in itself, creating twice the rainfall of any other region, some areas that sit above blankets of fog twice a day, and yet still has enough heat to ripen the grapes to perfection.

Some of my favorite Chardonnay and Pinot from this region are from Patz and Hall as well as Lombardi. Each one has it’s own vibrant, racy and elegant personality that denotes the region within which it was created.

Explore the Sonoma Coastal AVA!



Five Minutes On the Vine : Winery Passport

We’ve decided to start a new series around here, Five Minutes On the Vine. Once a month I will showcase an amazing winery, winemaker or wine innovator and ask them a series of questions.

Our inaugural feature is Scott Stanchak and his incredible app Winery Passport. Named Food and Wine magazine’s Top Travel Wine App, Winery Passport is a “mobile wine concierge for discovering local wines and wineries…”, allowing you to write tasting notes, stamp your “passport” for every winery you visit and share those experiences online with your friends and fellow wine drinkers!

We reached out to Scott to ask him a few questions about the app and most important of all, what he’s been drinking these days…


What was the impetus for creating Winery Passport? 

My wife and I were at a wine tasting in New Jersey when it was time to stamp our paper passport books that the Garden State Growers Association provide. The problem was we had forgotten our passports at home. The winery owner offered us new ones, but then we’d have to carry two identical books since we already had stamps in our other ones. At the time, I had released a popular word game (LetterSlider) on the App Store and been looking for my next app idea. I thought, why not put the passport on your most personal device? Winery Passport launched a few months later in August 2013.

What was the process like, getting it from idea to actual app?

The process took a tremendous amount of time and patience. My goal was, and still is, to build a product that is both valuable for users and wineries. Thankfully, having developed mobile apps before, I knew how to design the requirements and hire developers to make everything happen. I also have a background in marketing and understand what it takes to build brand awareness and return-on-investment for wineries.

The hardest part of building Winery Passport, however, was also the most critical: compiling the most complete and accurate list of wineries available. Initially, we did a lot of research to gather winery listing information across the U.S. and Canada. From there, we’ve continued to refine our database through user feedback, conversations with wineries and other ways. Today, I believe we have close to 100% of all wineries (as many as we know about) in those countries, as well as a tremendous amount of data related to each. Let us know if we’re missing any!

How has your response been from wineries and users? 

I think the wine industry is still trying to make sense of mobile, and really digital marketing as whole. When we first launched, Winery Passport only offered increased exposure for wineries in front of our audience,‹ sort of like appearing at the top of Google search. But we knew that was only one dimensional.

Capturing customer information is a major problem for wineries: a poll puts it that about 25% ever leave an email address when visiting a tasting room. We have 100% though, which is why in April we released the ability for our recommended winery partners to directly message all users who have stamped at a specific winery or have it on a wish list.

Then, in July, we unveiled leads. Now users can request to buy wine, book tastings or join a wine club directly from the app. These request forms pre-populate the user’s information automatically and are completely mobile optimized, making the process only a few seconds. Now we hit on all the major direct-to-consumer touch points for wineries: tastings, wine clubs, wine purchases.

When wineries understand the value of these tools, they absolutely love them. There is definitely still an education process related to what is possible in mobile and why it’s worth embracing. With 60% of all digital time spent there, it shouldn’t be optional. 

As for our users, they’re absolutely the best. I get emails every day telling me that they were looking for an app like this. They’ve helped us build a better app by using it, spreading the word and sending me feedback. A message from the winery or ability to request a tasting isn’t just beneficial for the winery. Our users have a relationship at this point with the winery and hope to draw more value out of it. We’re helping make that connection and they love it.


How do you think it enhances the overall wine-tasting experience?

Here’s the idea path for a user’s Winery Passport experience:

1. User finds a winery near their location, on a map, by country/state/province or by name. 

2. User requests tasting and sends their information to the winery. 

3. User stamps their Winery Passport at the tasting, enters their wines tasted and rates the experience in their journal.

4. User shares stamp on Facebook and Twitter. 

5. Winery messages user post-tasting with an offer to expand the relationship. 

6. User visits winery’s Winery Passport listing and taps Buy Wine to purchase a case of the latest vintage release.

What’s next for Winery Passport? Any changes you’d like to see made to the app to enhance the experience even more? 

I’m really excited about the progress that was made in 2015 and that has set the foundation for what should be an amazing year. The biggest thing on our roadmap is international expansion (I’ll touch on more in a bit.) I also would like to open up the ability to stamp at a winery more than once. That means also revising how the journal functions. This is an area I’ve given a lot of thought to and haven’t quite nailed down the perfect way to execute without detracting from the user experience.

Any chance Winery Passport will make the leap across the pond? 

Winery Passport expansion is absolutely on our roadmap this year. Initially, we rolled out to 13 states. The goal was to refine the app before we made our way across the U.S. to California — the mecca of wine. The response was so great, we were in all 50 states and all Canadian provinces within two months. In the two-plus years we’ve been live, those have been the only two countries we’ve focused on. But you’ll start to see changes in the app soon preparing for expansion, including a new country structure when you click on Location. I’m definitely open to suggestions where to go next!

What is your favorite wine you’re drinking now? 

I love a glass of Pinot Noir. I post a weekly bottle “Friday Wine of the Week” on my Twitter feed (@ScottStanchak). I feel bad for my followers because 80% of the time it’s been a new Pinot Noir. I just am such a fan right now.


Download the Winery Passport for Apple or Android users and share with us where you’ve been stamping!