Travelling wine lovers, Terry and Kathy Sullivan of Wine Trail Traveler, have spent many years exploring, tasting and writing about different wines and regions across the world. Coming from careers in education, Terry and Kathy’s mission is to use what they learn to inspire and inform others to feel confident visiting wineries, asking questions and developing an appreciation for different wine cultures. Having tasted over 150 different varietals, they’re bringing their palates and experiences to the 2012 International Wine Tourism Conference in Italy this January. In anticipation of their talk, we asked them about Italian wine, what they hope to bring back to their readers, and some of their favorite travel tips.
1.) The 2012 Wine Conference takes place in Perugia, Italy, how do you view Umbria as a wine destination?
We are in the process of researching this region for varietal grapes and wineries to visit. Last year we were introduced to Sagrantino by Claudio Salvador, owner of Firelands Winery in Sandusky, Ohio. Claudio also imports wines from Italy. Sagrantino is similar to a wine we were hoping to make. Terry likes the bold to outrageous tannins the grape offers. We made a blend of California Cabernet Sauvignon and Virginia Tannat just to create a bold tannin wine. We look forward to discovering different varietal grapes and wineries in the Umbria area. In addition to writing articles for each Umbrian winery visited, we would like to create a trip itinerary for wineries in Umbria. The itinerary can be used as a tool for wine travelers interested in visiting this wine region.
2.) You indicate on your website that you have visited Tuscany, what are your thoughts on Italian wine tourism so far and what are you most looking forward to learning in Umbria? We discovered that many wineries in Tuscany do not have an address that one can simply input into a GPS. Many just have the nearest town as an address. This caused us to work backward with our GPS. We found the approximate location of the winery on a map and told the GPS to take us there. Most of the time we were successful. We also learned that wine tasting at wineries in Tuscany has its similarities and differences than tastings in the United States. Those we visited required an appointment. Making an appointment requires research on the part of the traveler. There is a much higher use of fine stemware at the wineries we visited in Tuscany compared to the wineries in North America. In our articles about wineries in Umbria, we plan to provide the GPS coordinates as well as information about visiting the winery such as appointments. We are looking forward to meeting passionate wine people and learning about their stories. While spending two weeks at Mormoraia in San Gimignano we discovered the old next to the new. We observed large aged wine casks next to gleaming stainless steel tanks each with a touch screen monitor to control temperature. We enjoy the old and new approach to wine and will observe what methods are used in Umbria. We want to continue learning more about the use of wine and Italian food. Kathy read and wrote a review about the book My Calabria: Rustic Family Cooking from Italy’s Undiscovered South and was fascinated. We are looking forward to finding such a relationship in Umbria. While in Tuscany we fell in love with the house wines being served at each table. Here in the States one typically reads the wine list and orders a bottle from the list. In Tuscany wine is treated as food, something that many in the States should learn. History of wine is fascinating and we hope to learn more about the “old ways” of making wine in Umbria, the history of wine in Umbria and the made varietal grapes of the region.
3.) Coming from long careers in education, how did you both first get into wine? What is it about wine that excites you most? And what steered you from the everyday consumer to the wine-professional? Our daughter, Erin, spent a semester in Aix-en-Provence where she learned about wine. She taught us the steps to structured tastings. We then attended a wine festival with the goal of selecting wines for our oldest son’s engagement party. We followed the structured tasting steps and selected several wines. Our selection proved to be a hit at the engagement party. From that point in 2004, we began to visit wineries to taste their portfolio of wines. In late 2006 we retired from our education careers. While visiting with a friend who is a professional with a doctorate degree, we talked about visiting wineries. We mentioned how enjoyable it was to winery tasting rooms. This professional responded that he would like to do that but was too intimidated to visit them because he wouldn’t know what to do. His statement became the tipping point and with our background in education we thought we could help encourage people to visit wineries and vineyards. We began writing articles about wineries visited in late 2006 and created the WineTrailTraveler.com site in January of 2007. Wine comes with a story. We love to hear the stories of owners and winemakers. One would think that we have heard every story possible after visiting 700 wineries and vineyards, but we still believe that everyone’s story is unique, so are their wines. As soon as we began to formally write about wine we wanted to increase our learning. We attended a local community college class that met for two evenings. The instructor provided a crash course on white wine one evening and red wine the second evening. We tasted ten different wines each night. Terry then took the Intermediate Level WSET course. Kathy learned along with Terry as studying for the exam proved to be much more intensive than the course itself. We also attended TEXSOM, the Texas Sommeliers Conference. There were five sessions that we attended with ten wines presented each session. The community college course, WSET and TEXSOM were similar in instruction. The instruction was heavy on geography and memorization of producers and grape varieties. However we thirst for different wine knowledge. We decided that in 2008 that if we were going to write about wine we should make wine. Since then we have made wine at home from kits, from juice and grapes. We made mead from scratch. In 2009, we made a Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend with grapes at Tin Lizzie Wineworks in Maryland. The wine was aged for nine months in American oak before bottling in 2010. Also in 2009 we made a barrel of Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes at Vint Hill Craft Winery in Virginia. The wine was aged 20 plus months in new French oak. It was bottled in August of 2011. We are now in the process of making a Sauvignon Blanc, peach wine and raspberry melomel. Along with making wine, we took two online courses in wine from Washington State University. Actually making wine is exciting. Some of the wine we made is destined to be mulled during the winter or made into Sangria during the summer. We made some wine that passes as a good everyday wine. We also made wine that will be reserved for special occasions. Visiting and writing about wineries as well as making wine steered us from wine consumers to wine professionals.
4.) Your website outlines your travels through multiple wine regions in North America, Europe and New Zealand, what advice do you have for fellow traveling wine lovers? Kathy: Do your homework. Find out what the customs of the region are before you go. Do not compare wines with other regions. Let the wine speak for itself. Go with the flow. While language can be a barrier, wine is a commonality that brings people together. It is a wonderful experience learning how others enjoy wine and make wine. Terry: Ask questions. Realize that everyone is different and so are their likes and dislikes when it comes to wine. Just because you taste a wine doesn’t mean that you are going to like it. Form your own decision of what you smell and taste. Learn to identify wines you prefer to drink and those you would rather pass on drinking. Wine is very subjective and another person’s score of 92 may not be what you prefer. Travel, taste and drink. Travel to wine regions and visiting wineries is one of the potential avenues to wine knowledge. One can read about the wines and wineries of Umbria in a book, however, travel to wineries in Umbria offers a different experience and education. Fellow traveling wine lovers can start by visiting wineries close to home. Then extend the travel outside of their local area.
5.) Which Italian wines do you hope to see in the Jane Hunt MW Grand Wine Tasting Wines of Italy?
Terry: I’m looking forward to Sagrantino and Tannat but also would like to taste little known varieties. I’m looking forward to tasting Grechetto, Moscatello, Moscato Bianco, Pinot Bianco, Procanico, Trebbiano, Aleatico, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Even though I made several Cabs, I like to try many different Cabs. Kathy: I will taste any wine with the exception of a wine produced with hot chili peppers. Yes, we have come across a hot chili pepper wine. It has a tendency to ruin any wine you drink after it. I enjoy red wines with food, white wines for a relaxing summer day and dessert wines, of course. Also, I am looking forward to tasting varieties I have not tasted before. We are both working on our second hundred wines for the Wine Century Club. Thus far we have tasted over 150 different grape varieties and like to experience different grape varieties while in Umbria.
To learn more about Terry and Kathy’s wine experiences, explore Italy and mingle with 300 other wine lovers, sign up for the International Wine Tourism Conference today!