In this episode, the first of a four-part series featuring interviews with tastemakers honored in our annual 40 Under 40 list, we’re talking about inclusivity. Wine doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive or culturally exclusive, so why does it often come across as such?
Associate Managing Editor Emily Saladino explores how wine has such an elite, inaccessible reputation in the U.S. despite its popularity, and how it could become more welcoming and approachable to more people.
There are a lot of people working in wine who are eager to share their enthusiasm and expertise, including episode guests Chevonne Ball, owner and founder of Dirty Radish travel company, and Zidanelia Arcidiacono, Pinot Noir winemaker at Sonoma Cutrer. Their perspectives and personal experiences help us answer some big-picture questions: How can wine ditch its sometimes-snobby reputation and bring more people to the table?
You can read more about Ball and Arcidiacono, as well as all of this year’s 40 Under 40 Tastemakers, here.
Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.
Lauren Buzzeo 0:08
Hello and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, your serving of wine trends and passionate people beyond the bottle. I’m Lauren Buzzeo, the managing editor here at Wine Enthusiast, and in this episode, the first of a four part series featuring interviews with tastemakers honored in our annual 40 Under 40 list, we’re talking about inclusivity. Associate Managing Editor Emily Saladino explores why wine has such an exclusive reputation in the U.S., despite its popularity, and how the wine world could become more accessible to more people. Joining Emily is Chevonne Ball, owner and founder of Dirty Radish Travel Company, and Zidanelia Arcidiacono, Pinot Noir winemaker at Sonoma-Cutrer. Their perspectives and personal experiences help us answer some big picture questions. How can wine ditch its sometimes snobby reputation and bring more people to the table?
Emily Saladino 1:10
I am lucky enough to be joined today by Chevonne Ball, the owner and founder of Dirty Radish Travel Company. Chevonne hosts wine centric trips and experiences in two places where she has very deep connections, Oregon and Beaujolais, France. She is a certified sommelier and a French wine scholar. Chevonne, thank you so much for joining me today.
Chevonne Ball 1:30
Thank you so much, Emily, for having me.
Emily Saladino 1:32
I am excited to chat with you about something that I take very seriously, which is why does wine have such an exclusive reputation? Your company Dirty Radish hosts travel experiences in Oregon and France. And you also lived in Leone for some time. How would you characterize attitudes toward wine in France versus the US?
Chevonne Ball 1:54
It’s such a big question just because you’re talking about cultures, two different countries, and a lot of time in between when those two countries were in existence. So it’s kind of like a really big question to ask, but to break that down into this sort of digestible way, I would say wine has been a part of the culture for France for a very long time. So they do have a different attitude towards wine in a different behavior and how they partake in it, but definitely, it’s a slower pace. Definitely, with drinking, it’s a slower pace. And it’s something that complements a meal or enhances a meal. Whereas here, we’re just getting into those types of feelings.
Emily Saladino 2:36
Yeah, no, it’s true. You know, I grew up in the US and I talked to friends who grew up in different parts of the world, and they will say exactly that. They grew up with their parents, maybe pouring a glass with dinner, and that was just part of the meal. And I didn’t grow up in a house with a lot of wine. But it is really interesting to think about, like, maybe that kind of rips the bandaid off, you know, for lack of a more elegant comparison, you know, maybe that just makes you more accustomed to having it around?
Chevonne Ball 3:04
Well, I think in France, you’re talking about a fairly small country, and a lot of wine. It’s the number one producer of wine in the world. And well, Italy would probably argue, but…
Emily Saladino 3:17
That’s another podcast.
Chevonne Ball 3:19
At a minimum, you have France, Italy, and Spain all being the leaders and making wine. And so in that way, you can almost bet that somebody knows someone or someone has someone in their family in France that makes wine or is has a deep connection to wine. Whereas in the US, it’s just sort of these pockets as far as where the growing regions are, and then how people consume things, whether that’s just because of the cities or restaurants, but it’s very different. So that’s even right there another layer as to why it’s something that’s always been a part of their life in France as opposed to here.
Emily Saladino 3:57
Absolutely. It is really interesting. I do see it as being like, there’s sort of operational reasons why and then there are these cultural reasons why. As you said, it’s such a big question because it encompasses all of those things. In terms of the the logistical is probably the right word instead of operational, like, in terms of the logistical challenges, like, do you see those in the US whether it’s via the way our three tier system works, or just our import-export? Do you see that as playing into it?
Chevonne Ball 4:26
Well, you have to go kind of almost back to who’s making the wine. What are the hands or who are the hands that are touching this wine as it comes through? So the people are making those decisions based on their palate, their education, their level. If you start bringing diverse people into those spaces, you’re gonna see something different. But right now, it sort of has been what it has been for a very long time, and that creates the culture that we have around wine, which is going to be that there’s a lot of sort of higher end wines coming in to start. [That is] is why there’s been that sort of like, oh, wine is this kind of place up in the sky that nobody can understant. So if all those things sort of play into each other. Does that make sense?
Emily Saladino 5:16
That absolutely makes sense. It is really interesting. I loved the language you used about, like it being this place on high. I do actually think for some folks there is that feeling where it’s like, surrounded by clouds and like angels with harps are like outside of every wine estate. And while there certainly are some shadows that are so stunning, there’s also places that are farms. I think we sometimes forget that, like anything, wine is an agricultural product.
Chevonne Ball 5:44
Yes. You have to look at these two different things of, all humans are created equal. And so we all have this sort of right to tha life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, if you will, but not all wines are created equally. So they shouldn’t be treated the same. There’s a lesson in people not understanding that these higher priced wines come from a very small pocket, a very small parcel, with a lot of work going into making that wine, as opposed to something that’s, you know, juice.
Emily Saladino 6:24
Right? Right. You get what you pay for it sometimes. Not always, but often.
Chevonne Ball 6:30
There are, of course, very decently priced, high-end wines. But understanding the work that goes into that helps you understand why the wine costs what it costs in your glass. You know, on the tours to France, people participate in the winemaking and they get to see it and be hands on and touch it. So it creates a different experience in that way. We went to Nicole Chanrion and she knew we were coming, but she was tying vines. And she put my whole group of folks to work tying vines. And there was one woman on the trip in particular who wasn’t a huge wine fan, but came for the art and history portion, and her husband liked wine. So she really drank that particular wine. She wanted to taste that wine because she had been a part of the process, right? It’s that sort of, you know, feeling of it too because, yes, it is an agriculture and I think people don’t sometimes get to see the farming part of winemaking
Emily Saladino 7:39
I love that she was like, “This is my wine. I’ve to get a glass. I got a couple glasses.”
Chevonne Ball 7:44
I worked for this one! You know, and meeting this woman…and they’re running around this vineyard tying, but it feels good to be a part of the process. And then, yeah, you want to drink it.
Emily Saladino 8:00
I love it. It’s funny, I once went on a tour—I was like, the equivalent of one of your guests—I went on a tour and I was in like a cava vineyard in Spain and the woman giving the tour was like, “Oh yeah, if you want to, like this is where all of the wines are resting on lees, and we pivot them like 90 degrees once a week—I’m making up the frequency—and she asked the group of myself and five other people like, “If you want you can you can turn one or two bottles.” And we were all like yes. Like all we wanted to do was turn the little bottles. And I was like, this is so hilarious. Like, I think about my day-to-day work, like sitting at a laptop. If someone were like, could I double click on that for you, you know, we just want to be involved.
Chevonne Ball 8:02
It’s somewhat different in a romantic way, you know? And I think that while I love the romantic life of winemaking, I’m not sure that’s my life. You know what I mean? Like You’re doing harvest and you’re tending to these vines and you have to just wait for the weather and see what happens. And it’s a lot of stress, but I’m really grateful for the work that I do.
Emily Saladino 9:13
One hundred percent. Yes, absolutely. You know, I think that you you touched on something that I actually wanted to ask you about, which is I’d read an interview with an Oregon winemaker named Kate Nash. She had raved about your ability just to put people at ease during tastings. And I’m going to quote here, she wrote, “She makes everybody feel really comfortable, which is a really important trait when it comes to learning about wine.” I absolutely loved that. And I wonder, can you speak to why do you think that is an especially important thing for people who are learning about wine?
Chevonne Ball 9:50
Because, well first, thanks Kate. I’m finding it still funny to be quoted, but I’m getting used to it. I think that, you know, it’s such a big subject when it comes to wine because there’s so many places you could go just from the basic of red versus white, right? Like, I didn’t know certain things when I was starting, but you can’t just know that you have to learn it. I think I just don’t forget that. So I want people to enjoy the wine just as much as I do. Because I hear people like wanting that. They’re like, how do you taste better, how do you smell that, or what are you looking for? That helps your experience if you are taught those things. So I try to make sure that that’s the first thing we talk about on these tours because it makes their the rest of their experience that much better. But then also they actually get to understand what and why they’re enjoying it. You don’t see that in a lot of other beverage spaces because there’s a little less of a story sometimes involved in that. Not to say that there’s, you know, less work going into those other beverages, it’s just different. It’s just a very different, specific thing. And I think people get really excited about learning and understanding what goes into into the process. Then it starts to also make you think about other things like other parts of farming and your food and how we consume things.
Emily Saladino 11:23
Absolutely. It’s a really interesting point that you make. Like buy the complexity of wine. And I agree, I don’t think that it’s better or worse than other beverages, but it’s different, right? Like it is complicated.
Chevonne Ball 11:38
I smell gasoline and I smell a beard, right?
Emily Saladino 11:43
Right. Exactly. Like when friends and I both drink pineapple juice, one of us isn’t like, “I don’t know, I’m really getting vanilla undertow.” You know?
Chevonne Ball 11:54
It’s ridiculous. We make it very complicated, so I guess that’s the thing is I try to take it back. When I’m explaining all these things about the wine and yada yada yada, the question is, “Do you like it? Is it good?” Because pineapple juice? Not everybody likes pineapple juice.
Emily Saladino 12:13
Those people are crazy.
Chevonne Ball 12:16
I agree. But you know, it’s a really complicated thing. It’s much far more complicated than pineapple juice. However, the basic is the same. Do you like it? Do you want to drink more of this?
Emily Saladino 12:31
I think that is a really important thing. It’s really tough for folks who, for whatever reason, I think that wine has this baggage attached to it where you’re almost nervous to say I don’t like this because people are like, well, that goes for $120 a bottle. You know, I think it can put this pressure on you, the taster, to be making like a value judgment as opposed to just a personal preference.
Chevonne Ball 12:57
I was kind of different when I was purchasing wine at restaurants. I would have sales reps come in and I always kind of told him the same thing. I’m like, I really want to hear about these wines, but we’re pressed for time. You know, we’re trying to get day. So how about we just talk about your weekend, and when I get to a wine that I want to know more about, then we’ll start talking about the wine. Because you talking about the wine while I’m drinking it isn’t going to change whether I like it or not.
Emily Saladino 13:23
Wow, that is revolutionary and shouldn’t be. But that is so amazing. Like, I completely agree that you should just get to decide whether or not you like it. But unfortunately, I find that revolutionary, I think very often, there can be the sense that someone is telling you how great it is. Or they’re just kind of like trying to impress you, they’re like, “This is by a woman winemaker who’s breaking all the rules.” You’re like, “Okay!”
Chevonne Ball 13:51
But it was a great way for me also to become friends with these amazing people, who now of course, all do different things. Many of them winemakers themselves. And, you know, it creates a connection. That’s what we’re trying to do, right? Like I get, I have to sell something, I have to put something on my list. And, you know, that’s part of my job. But I also should kind of enjoy this process. Also, isn’t it pretty cool that our job is to sit here and talk about wine?
I think that’s cool.
Emily Saladino 14:24
I agree. Ultimately, it’s hospitality, right? Like at the end of the day, it’s hospitality. I think that’s actually a nice takeaway for our listeners, like in the future when we’re at restaurants again, to feel free to engage the folks who are either the sommeliers, the servers, whomever, to engage them personally and say like, this isn’t why I like this. I actually think that’s a really good bit of advice for people.
Thanks. It made me feel good.
In general, the the people who sign up for trips with Dirty Radish are, you’d mentioned like, sometimes someone goes and their partner is really into wine and they’re kind of just there because they love the historical aspect. Are they like generally pretty wine savvy. What is the split?
Chevonne Ball 15:12
Definitely, they’re more on the food and wine side. We have these long conversations in the very beginning where I’m like, “Listen, I’m going to need you to not try and keep up with the winemakers. I know you think you can do it. I’m gonna need you to just listen. You’re not going to be able to keep up with drinking with us winemakers so don’t try.” That’s the majority of my clients.
Emily Saladino 15:34
That is great advice. In travel, in life, that is great advice.
Chevonne Ball 15:40
They’re professionals at this and when I say they will drink you under the table I mean it and it’s not in a good way. But I definitely have more people who are into the food and wine and now. Moving forward, going in the sort of offseason, if you will, especially for Leone trips, the food in Leone is very rich and then you have this bright acidity in the Beaujolais wines and then this amazing fruit forward Rhone Valley wines at most bistros or little bouchons. So to eat that food is better in the winter and the early spring so that’s when I do trips now and it definitely is a special kind of person who wants to come in the quote-unquote offseason and really get their hands dirty, if you will. Because it could be cold, you know. But that’s the whole thing is bundling up and walking the streets and eating along the way.
Emily Saladino 16:41
I love offseason travel myself. I absolutely love that. If someone is there and they’ve they’ve gotten off the plane and they are bundled and they are walking and eating and drinking, how do you help them get over any intimidation? The example I sometimes use is that when I was first working in wine, I was really self conscious to swirl my glass, like I felt like it looked pretentious. And then I was self conscious to spit in public, right? Like you just you go through these sort of phases of what you do, how comfortable you are in wine. And now I’m happy to swirl and spit anywhere, don’t get me wrong. But it took a while for me to evolve in that direction of being like confident and comfortable. How do you help the travelers reach those places?
Chevonne Ball 17:28
Well, I think first when it comes to wine tasting, it’s coming from the understanding that there isn’t another food or beverage that we really consume where that is a normal thing to do. You spit it out. That’s weird. It’s weird. And you have to tell people that it’s okay. They don’t know how they know that. It’s not listed on a wine bottle to understand that that’s the culture of what we do. You learn by showing and sharing and explaining. I think that’s the hugest thing. I know why I’m swirling the glass. They feel pretentious, because they don’t know why they’re swirling it, right?
Emily Saladino 18:10
I think that’s an excellent point. People just need context.
Chevonne Ball 18:13
Yeah. What else do—I don’t swirl milk in a glass. I mean, you smell it before you take it out of the fridge fully and make sure it’s good. Other than that, you’re not really contemplating your milk.
Emily Saladino 18:31
Maybe once in a while.
Chevonne Ball 18:33
Maybe once in a while you’re checking into that milk, but other than that you put it directly in the glass. But with wine, we’ve got to have a whole pomp and circumstance about it, right? Because there’s a ceremony. That’s a part of the culture of wine and it’s a very singular thing. It’s only in this one place that we really do these kinds of things, of course, yes, in coffee and beer and, you know, and spirits and things like that, but it’s different. Still even with wine, right?
Emily Saladino 19:02
Right, and why like why is that? Because I completely agree. I have definitely gone to like coffee cuppings when people are like sniffing and swirling in a sort of similar way, but it is different in wine.
Chevonne Ball 19:15
You have to have a tool to get into the wine. That’s not the case with beer. The table will open that bottle if you have to, or it comes in a convenient can. Liquor—what am I using to get into a bottle of liquor? My hand, that’s it. But wine I have to have a whole tool. It’s a thing. Of course, it’s different. We just did some sabering last night and I couldn’t believe it again, more people who had never savored a bottle. I mean, that’s weird to me, but it’s not weird to them. Why would I do that?
Emily Saladino 19:54
I love the idea that there’s a literal barrier to entry.
Chevonne Ball 20:00
We’re like, “Can you though? Like, do you know how to get into this? I don’t know if you can even have it. First you’ve got to figure out how to do this.”
Emily Saladino 20:13
I had a friend who he enjoys wine, but he’s not someone who self identifies as like a wine drinker. And he was like, “I feel like they make it deliberately difficult.” And actually, I can’t wait to tell him about the fact that like, there is a key you need, an actual tool you need to get into it. But while I would say it isn’t deliberately difficult, I do think it’s difficult. I do think it is more difficult for me to wrap my mind around to the classifications and the certifications in wine than in something like beer.
Chevonne Ball 20:44
Same. I try to listen to people talk about beer or other things. Sports, politics, history, people get so in depth about something I’m like, “How do you know all that information?” And they’re like, “Well, that’s what I’m passionate about.” Like, Oh, right. So when I’m talking about wine, that’s the same, it’s my passion. So I’m talking about it in a way that other people probably don’t understand. It’s education. Education is the basis of what we would call a democratic society. Education is what leads you to the thing that you want to learn more about, and then you learn more about it, then you get to experience it, hopefully in that way.
Emily Saladino 21:27
You also mentioned the word in a democratic society. And that is something that has kind of been like batting around my head, since I was thinking about this podcast. Which is, how can we make wine more democratic? You know, how can we make the culture and the product more accessible to more people?
Chevonne Ball 21:46
I think, for me, I want to take the word democratic out of it, because it doesn’t really make sense when it comes to wine in the sense of, again, education is part of what makes things democratic but this is but more than that it’s passion, it’s experience, it’s all these other things. And again, back to the [idea that] not all wines are created equally. And so how you come to be in wine or what you choose to do in wine is going to be different—and that should be okay, right? That should just be okay. Like we don’t get on people if they like cheddar. Like you really like that particular wine? Oh, no. So we have to, as a culture, like, open the door for other people to be able to come into those spaces. That again, goes back to the hands that touch the product from start to finish. So how does this one bottle of get here and who made it? And then that’s going to correlate with also who drinks it in some ways, right? But everything comes back to this culture, which is customs and behaviors and attitudes towards something And so when you haven’t had people in certain spaces making those wines, why would it have trickled into those cultures? Right?
Emily Saladino 23:12
I think that’s a really great point. Like where would that access point be?
Chevonne Ball 23:17
We’re still saying female winemaker, woman winemaker, woman-owned winemaker Black-owned winemaker. So we’re still saying those things, that means it’s because there’s a need to highlight it because there aren’t that many. We don’t say white male winemaker. It’s just assumed. That is a culture. As soon as other people are able to make wine, of course the culture is going to change and the access will change because it’s available and open in other cultures. The culture of wine is available in other cultures—does that make sense?
Emily Saladino 23:56
It does, though. No, I think you you really hit the nail on the head. When we say things like black female winemaker, women in wine, you know, all of this, what it does is point out that this is like an aberration from some kind of norm right? That’s weighty. That’s a weighty message in those words.
Chevonne Ball 24:17
And so it’s hard to question how do you make make wine more accessible and democratic and all these things and not look at how wine is made and where it comes from and who’s been in those spaces to make wine. A lot of this comes to, again, agriculture. So who owns the land to make those wines? You have to think about those things before you can be like, why don’t more people in America drink wine? Well, there’s a whole reason. And, again, culture. You’re seeing it in kitchensnow. It’s completely normal to have a wine fridge built into the kitchen. That wasn’t the case on TV when I was growing up in the 90s, but now you see on Modern Family and Blackish, the moms are drinking wine, middle of the day, wine fridge, we’re pulling a bottle. It’s a new thing to have here. And it’s not to say that that’s not the case globally, but it’s definitely different here, right?
Emily Saladino 25:17
I think that’s actually a great call. You’re so right. When I was growing up, I never saw sitcom moms or dads or anyone really. The only time people were drinking was like when they were getting drunk. Like there was not casual wine consumption by like, the equivalent of a mom. It’s actually a really great call. Just seeing like the fridges being added to if someone’s making a TV set of a nice family kitchen.
Chevonne Ball 25:46
So culturally, it is already shifting and that’s because of a lot of reasons. But yes, you’re definitely seeing more people in different spaces, whether that’s, they are the people who are making the wine, they’re the people who are importing the wine, or the people who are distributing the wine, sales reps talking about it, who’s managing the restaurant that’s buying the wine, like it goes down the whole line. So again, who are the hands that are touching the wine from start to finish? It’s all a part of how is going to be inserted into any one given culture. Because you’re talking about the culture of wine, kind of leading in or blending in with other cultures is going to look different, but it’s still unified in the wine culture that we’re talking about.
Emily Saladino 26:38
I think about it a lot when I say things like, US culture. The US is enormous. There are so many of us. If our extremely stratified politics are any indication, we feel very differently. And so I think it’s an interesting thing to even try to zero in on thing from a cultural perspective. We’re more than one point of view.
Chevonne Ball 27:07
Wine, unfortunately isn’t classless. It’s not without that, because there are different price points. That’s just a part of the nature of wine. But we don’t we still haven’t quite figured that out in the sense of we’re still in this place of shaming the lower end wines. We’re definitely a little elitist on this end when we talk about wine. That’s why like, you know, people make fun of me cuz I love the show Frasier, fine.
Emily Saladino 27:39
No shame in loving Frasier. This is a safe space.
Chevonne Ball 27:42
Maybe it’s because you just don’t get the jokes because we’re about wine.
Emily Saladino 27:52
It is very funny. Frasier had a really strong impact on me as well as being like, these are the people who know about wine. It’s these two guys.
Chevonne Ball 28:01
But also, on a personal note, my mother loves that show. So I remember watching it when it was on and I didn’t quite get the humor, but of course I get it more-so now. But that’s the thing, again, it’s a culture. That show, it’s humorous and you know the joke was funny, but you don’t necessarily know why the joke was funny, you know? Now you can be like, I totally get that Bordeaux reference. Why isn’t that normal?
Emily Saladino 28:37
Maybe it will be, maybe in 10 years from now. The various ways that wine intersects with US cultures, I see it as really evolving in the past 10 years. I think rosé had a lot to do with it. I see it sort of shifting and so I wonder if 10 years from now, will everyone be watching reruns of Fraser on whatever streaming networks—whatever we’ve moved to past networks, you know, will everyone be watching them and getting these Bordeaux references?
Chevonne Ball 29:07
I’m looking forward to the day when they revise it as Black Frasier, which I’m really excited about. I think there are talks of that happening and I’m very excited about that. But back to the rosé, as well, like your mom or someone like, you know, like people weren’t drinking rosé and now it’s rosé all day, frozen rosé. Like, wine is fashion as well. It’s a fad. Things come in and out of fashion all the time. So everything’s gonna come around once again, but also, as it comes around and these fads change, it’s going to bring new people into that wine culture that we’re expanding all the time because we’re changing the way that things happen.
Emily Saladino 29:56
I think that’s super interesting. And also, I would love to watch black Frasier when it comes out. Like Idris Elba—who’s [it] gonna be? I’m curious who the cast will be?
Chevonne Ball 30:06
I don’t know. I feel like Tracee Ellis Ross is involved, but don’t quote me on that.
Emily Saladino 30:14
I’m into it, I’m ready. I really do think you’ve offered a lot of really good perspectives here on just how big this conversation is, right? Like just how sort of far reaching both the way that wine is perceived and consumed is.
Chevonne Ball 30:33
It’s a big conversation. I’m very happy that we’re having these kinds of conversations. But you know, we’re working to create two things. An equity in in wine spaces, which means, like I said, moving and shifting things. But then also, how do you bring people into this culture of wine which requires education. It really is to be able to enjoy in the way that you best can. I think that kind of goes for everything, right? Like, how your food is grown, how your whatever is made.
Emily Saladino 31:11
It’s kind of what you were saying at the beginning of our conversation about the person who she wanted to drink the wine that she’d had a hand in making. And so if you know a lot, you don’t have to be actually the one physically making it. But if you know a lot about the way your wine is made, or as you said, there’s greater equity in the folks who are making the wine, who are physically doing the work, and the way it is consumed and perceived. That’s a very, that’s a totally different conversation.
Chevonne Ball 31:36
I think it’s like, knowing something, or having that education and that experience. It’s kinda like driving like, I know how to drive I don’t know how a car really works. But I’m sure someone who really knows and understands how a car moves and shifts and all those things probably enjoys driving way more than I do.
Emily Saladino 32:00
That’s an excellent parallel. Yeah, they are like thinking about the ways that the gears are shifting when I’m just like trying to go to the store.
Chevonne Ball 32:11
But I’m when I’m drinking a wine and I’m like, Oh, these are, you know, biodiversity grapes. And they were picked in this cool climate like, you know, you’re just like going down this list. it’s enjoyable, right? More enjoyable.
Emily Saladino 32:29
Absolutely. Well, Chevonne, thank you so much. This has been so wonderful to talk to you just about the diversity of experiences we can have with wine in the US. That’s almost where I see this as being. And the ways that the culture can change.
Chevonne Ball 32:47
Yeah, I mean, the wine culture will change. It has to. And it’s not going to change for the worst, I don’t think. I think that’s kind of what everyone is afraid of when they think of change. Like oh, well it’s gonna get bad. [But] it might be good. Let’s see what happens.
Emily Saladino 33:48
I’m speaking with Zidanelia Arcidiacono, a winemaker in Sonoma, California. Born in Texas and raised in Argentina, she is now the Pinot Noir and winemaker at Sonoma-Cutrer. She’s speaking with Wine Enthusiast in the middle of harvest week, a fact for which I am extremely grateful. Zidanelia, thank you so much for making the time today.
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 34:07
Sure, Emily, no problem.
Emily Saladino 34:10
I’m so excited that we get to chat today about a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Namely, why wine can feel so exclusive. Because you grew up in Argentina and to work in the US, I wonder if you can speak a little bit to the different ways geographies and cultures play into how people consume and think about wine. Do you see differences between the way folks perceive wine in Argentina versus the US?
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 34:40
I think so. I mean, I don’t like to generalize and answer for everyone in Argentina or everyone in the US. Of course, there’s exceptions. But I can talk about my own experience and what I was exposed to. So in Argentina, we enjoy a glass of wine with each meal, I grew up in an Italian family, so there was wine every time during lunch time, and many times during dinner, so it was very natural. We didn’t think too much about it, it was just there. It’s what adults do. But here in the US, it was slightly different. I’m not sure if it’s maybe because of the fast pace that we live in that we always tend to wait for that specific time and occasion and we get so worried about making sure we pick the right wine that goes perfectly with the meal. And we end up just forgetting to just enjoy.
Emily Saladino 35:43
That is such a great point. You know, I once interviewed a Champagne maker and he was like, “The US loves buying Champagne, but I don’t talk to people who drink a lot of it.” And I was like, that’s actually a really excellent point. Especially with bubbles, right? Like you open them and you’re like this is gonna expire like I’ve got to get on it. And I think you also raised a really smart perspective, which is like we’re speaking in generalities here. Argentina is enormous, the US is enormous. My partner is also a native Texan. And in my experience, Texans love to tell me how the state is the same size as France. And this is something I’ve heard a billion times. And I actually think it’s a useful comparison point, though, when we’re talking about wine culture. There’s a lot of different attitudes that were sort of trying to navigate in wine.
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 36:42
And it’s a country [with] so many cultures. It’s so rich as well. Hopefully we all learn from each other, and we get to try more wine. So become a little more flexible, and maybe take on other cultures and what they think about wine and wine consumption.
Emily Saladino 37:05
Absolutely. To that end, you started some community programs at Sonoma-Cutrer. Can you tell me more about those?
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 37:14
Well, at sSonoma-Cutrer, we have multiple different groups. I’m extremely curious, I always want to know what’s going on. So pretty much I joined most of the groups. So we have community relation groups we have Grow, which is to help grow women. COPPA, which really brings awareness to the Latino and Hispanic community and all our different heritage. But the one that I’m the most proud of because I have the joy to co-lead is Set. So Set as the sustainability team at Sonoma-Cutrer, and this is the time where we need to be very aware of sustainability. Our environment, we think is extremely important. What we do is we bring out awareness to our leaders, as well as education to all the employees about sustainability, and come up with ways that we can improve the process make it more sustainable in all things we do. So we go from trying to find zero waste ideas, also to conserve water, which is such a precious resource here in California, and also energy conservation. Our team is formed by people from all the different areas, so we have people from admin, finance, people from the kitchen, people from landscape, people from the vineyards, people from production. So we are a very rich team, where we can actually share our ideas all across the company. We’re fortunate that [our leaders] hear us and they are able to make changes.
Emily Saladino 38:59
That is incredible and I love what you said about looking at the sustainability issues in wine. What it what it reminds us is that wine is above all an agricultural product. It’s, again, caught up in this sort of exclusivity reputation that can surround it in the US. I think a lot of folks forget that it is agricultural—you are growing and cultivating grapes. There’s a lot that you’re doing with those but it is very much an agricultural business.
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 39:29
It is, 100 percent. Many times we forget. And mostly in the winemaking side, I think we have this dual personality sometimes because wine can be very glamorous, or people make it very glamorous. I mean, if you come and see me during harvest, it’s a completely different picture. So I recently be was part of like some photoshoots and things and I’m amazed of how I look when I’m not in harvest versus how I look during harvest. Because I’m all dirty and running outside and it’s what it is. We’re out in the country near the vineyards.
Emily Saladino 40:22
It’s true. I feel like there is sometimes this perception that, sort of what you were saying about it needing to be the right moment to open that bottle, there’s also this idea that it is so precious—and look, I work in wine, I do think it’s amazing—but it is also something, as precious as it is, your every day is spent literally getting your hands dirty. I think that that is that is a really important distinction. Well, not every day—forgive me—during harvest. I think that is an important thing also. Wine is super cool, super layered and nuanced, but it doesn’t need to be this veiled in mystique, right? It is also the product that you make in a winery in fields and it is something that grows. I think that is a really nice visceral connection that that consumers could have with it.
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 41:22
Yeah, totally. Many times we just forget that, I always like to say, it’s just wine. So don’t be afraid. We need to make it more welcoming.
Emily Saladino 41:41
This is, to me is the heart of the issue, to make it more welcoming and inclusive. How could we do that?
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 41:52
So I don’t think I have like a perfect answer to that. But I really don’t understand why. When I came here learned and I was extremely excited about craft beers. And I think nobody thinks that you need to be a brewer to be able to drink beers. I don’t think when you drink a cocktail or any other drink you need to be a master distiller or a mixologist to be able to enjoy it. So I’m not sure why with wine we feel like we need a degree in winemaking or viticulture to really understand and appreciate wine. So yeah, many times I get the question of so but how do you distinguish these aromas from those and these flavors from these other flavors and I keep telling people it’s just practice and not being afraid of trying new things. There’s even wines that I don’t enjoy. They’re not my personal palate—that doesn’t mean they’re bad. They’re just not for me. But that’s why there’s so, so many wines out in the market. I don’t let that stop me from enjoying wine and from exploring and being able to enjoy more options, you know?
Emily Saladino 43:16
Exactly. It’s this idea that it needs to be perfect. And if I had one oaked Chardonnay, that doesn’t mean I’ve had every oaked Chardonnay. I think that there can be a little bit of bad and this idea that if you if you didn’t love one, like that’s it. Category over. And maybe that is accessibility. Is price point part of it? Wine is more expensive at the entry level than other beverages. I mean, I live in New York where cocktails are crazy pricey. But wine does start at a higher price point. I think about it sometimes, like the best craft beers in the world are going to cost me about $30. Whereas the best wines in the world I will never probably in this lifetime afford. Do you think that price point—how does price point that play into it?
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 44:19
I think so. But I have tried wines that are not so expensive that really fill the spot for me. So I’m always hunting for those great deals. I have an advantage, you know? All the wines that get bottled—we do a lot of tests during the bottling line. So at the end of the day, I may be able to grab that bottle and take it with me so I have great wine for not much. But yeah, I think sometimes you have to allow yourself to try wines that maybe are not too expensive and find those gems. There’s varieties that are not too expensive and you might like them. So don’t always think that because it’s extremely expensive [that it] is going to be the best wine. You may not like it. It may not really be for your palate. So don’t wait for those extremely expensive wines to really enjoy wine. Go out and try what you can afford.
Emily Saladino 45:42
That’s such great advice. A wine instructor once told me that he thinks that Portuguese whites are a value category. And I think about that all the time when I’m in wine shops just in terms of bang for the buck. Where do you think are great values in wine for those of us who don’t have access to that bottling line, which sounds amazing. Where do you think I like good values to look for?
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 46:14
You can buy local or you can even buy from other countries, you may have to do a little research. But always know that there’s people that you can ask for recommendations on wines. Many wine stores, many, sommeliers in restaurants, they may know about these gems. When you ask them, they are extremely excited to share all this knowledge with you, so don’t be afraid of asking people if you don’t know. You can certainly go ahead and try all the wines possible until you nail it. Or you can just go ahead and start asking people that actually are able to be more exposed to wine on a daily basis. They may recommend you really good gems and in a lower price point. Go for it, ask for recommendations. Last year, I went to Portugal. So yes, I agree with that. Whites from Portugal are really easy to drink. Very fresh, very crisp, and I enjoy them very much.
Emily Saladino 47:35
I think you you raised such a great point, which is sort of like Texans who want to tell you about the France thing, people in wine are dying to talk about wine. Unfortunately, sure, are there some snobs out there? There are, but there kind of are in anything. You hang out with a baseball fan and sometimes if you’re not well versed in baseball, you can quickly lose the narrative. That happens in wine sometimes but it it doesn’t have to be intimidating. You really did raise such a great point, which is that people want to talk. People in wine want to talk about wine.
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 48:14
And I think it’s also in us to just let people know that just because you know, because you study wine, and you’re exposed to wine, not everyone needs to know everything. So just share it and and make them feel welcome. Share your knowledge with others. Don’t make them feel like, oh, you don’t know anything, so I’m not going to talk to you. I’m not going to make good recommendations because you don’t know. That’s why they’re asking. And if you’re on the other side, the side that are just getting into wine, don’t be afraid if you get a bad answer. That’s just one single person or answer. Just go ahead and find someone else. Just keep your journey.
Find someone else is great advice for wine and life, I think. It speaks to that we are all evolving and so if the person you talk to today isn’t a match for where you’re at in your wine journey, you can talk to someone else tomorrow. I think that is excellent advice.
Many times, even if I talk to people, they they may be starting in their journey of just enjoying wine. I may not have the same taste, but hey, we don’t have to, we don’t have to. So, I respect what you like. And I love what I like. So it’s again, being respectful with others decisions is extremely important.
Emily Saladino 49:59
Exactly. There’s no right taste. I was speaking about Champagne earlier and a lot of folks in the wine community in New York, I’m not going to say fetishize Champagne, but really like it in a very specific way. But it can also be alienating because that tells someone like oh, well like I really love cava or I really like Prosecco. You know, those folks are wrong. It’s good to like what you like. At the end of the day, you’ve got to drink it.
Zidanelia Arcidiacono 50:38
Totally. I mean, I’m just happy people are getting into wine, they’re drinking wine and having a great experience with it. So then you can actually decide, well, maybe I want to drink something different. Maybe I want to advance and know a little bit more or, no, I’m good here. To me it’s just good that you decided to start drinking wine and enjoying it. That’s good enough for me.
Emily Saladino 51:10
I love it agree 100% Thank you so much. This has been so lovely to speak to you. I really hope that everyone who’s listening hears a winemaker telling them, “Drink what you like,” and is like, “Oh, yeah, I can do exactly that.” It’s that easy. I love that.
Unknown Speaker 51:30
Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.
Lauren Buzzeo 51:36
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. These conversations make one thing abundantly clear—there are a lot of people working in wine who are eager to share their enthusiasm and expertise. Wine doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive, or culturally exclusive. There’s so much to cover in wine, and the more voices we can add to that dialogue, the better.
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