It’s no secret that things are a little different this year, and for many, that includes changes to traditional end-of-year festivities. But just because you may not be going anywhere or seeing anyone different than usually you do, it doesn’t mean your holiday season needs to feel any less special or joyful.
In this episode, we look at all the ways to stay home and live lavish. There are so many things we can do, big and small, to close out 2020 on a cozy and luxurious note. Associate Managing Editor Layla Schlack gets top tips to keep your holidays merry and bright.
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 we’re looking at all the ways to stay home and live lavish. Associate Managing Editor Layla Schlack gets tips on everything from snacks to saving the world to make this year’s end-of-year season feel special and joyful, even if you’re not going anywhere or seeing anyone different than you do every day. Joining Layla is Nils Bernstein, Wine Enthusiast’s contributing food editor, and Alexis Percival, partner and co-beverage director at Kindred and Ruffian in New York City, to talk about their holiday eating and drinking traditions and how they’ll be altering them this year to keep the festive spirit alive. Layla also talks to Grace Mahary, a model and sommelier, about how she unwinds from her busy travel schedule, and how giving back to help the planet is part of her celebration.
But first a quick word from our partner, Total Wine. Total Wine is a holiday wonderland of over 8,000 wines, 3,000 spirits and 2,500 beers, and with prices this low, you can afford to explore. The choices are awe inspiring but not intimidating, especially if you think of Total Wine’s knowledgeable staff as friendly guides on your expedition. Wondering what to get your Nutcracker of a boss? Put a bow on a bottle of vintage Bordeaux and you’re done. For the rest of the wine lovers on your list, you’ll find Merlot from the south of France, Oregon Pinots, super Tuscan reds, insanely delicious Spanish Riojas—you get the picture. And you can always count on their expert elves for spot on recommendations for your holiday table. Prosecco with honey glazed ham, anyone? Total Wine also offers lots of easy ways to shop, including online, in store or curbside pickup, plus same day delivery and shipping. Go to totalwine.com to check out options available in your area. Step into a wonderland of wine, spirits and beer, in store or online at totalwine.com.
Layla Schlack 2:23
Hi, I’m Layla Schlack, the associate managing editor of print at Wine Enthusiast, and I’m here with two guests to talk about how we’re going to treat ourselves at home over the holidays. Alexis, do you want to say a quick hello?
Alexis Percival 2:43
Sure. Hi, I’m Alexis Percival. I’m a co beverage director and partner at Ruffian Wine Bar and Kindred restaurants in the East Village of Manhattan.
Layla Schlack 2:53
Great Hi. Glad to have you here. Nils, do you want to pop in and say hi?
Nils Bernstein 2:57
Yeah, hi. I’m Nils Bernstein. I’m the food editor at Wine Enthusiast.
Layla Schlack 3:02
Great. Well, thank you both for joining me. And right now we’re in November. We’re not quite into holiday season yet, but it’s nice to think ahead a little bit and, you know, maybe things will be a little bit different and calmer in the world then. So what do you guys normally do to kind of close out your year, whether or not you observe the holidays? What’s your late December like normally?
Alexis Percival 3:28
I have to say that I’ve been very fortunate that in 40 years, I have never missed a Christmas at home.
Layla Schlack 3:37
Alexis Percival 3:38
Yeah, and being in the restaurant industry that is, like, really rare. I think my parents would disown me if I didn’t find a way to do that. So that sort of the cap off, you know, work right up until Christmas like a maniac and then head home to Rhode Island.
Layla Schlack 3:56
Oh, that’s great. And is it a big family gathering or is it more just your immediate family?
Alexis Percival 4:01
Usually it is, but, in Covid times, TBD on that this year. But yeah, it’s kind of funny. There’s a very strict schedule and it’s the same every year. Sitting on the stairs in the photo, my brother and I, opening stockings, like it’s very regimented day.
Layla Schlack 4:26
Well, so now I have to ask, of course, I’m sure that you have kind of a food and drink regiment as well. What’s on the menu with your family Christmas?
Alexis Percival 4:34
For sure. You’re allowed to have coffee, and then maybe some strawberry bread that my mom bakes and then we open stockings. We open presents and then a couple family members come over and my brother does brunch. Like a late morning brunch kind of thing and then we head over to my aunt’s house for a much bigger gathering and that is more buffet style. So it’s usually a nice roast and usually some ham and other sides and things like that. Every year, same thing, down to like the hour.
Layla Schlack 5:17
I love it. What about you, Nils? What’s your holiday, end-of-year time usually like?
Nils Bernstein 5:22
Well, it’s not quite as regimented as that. But I do, you know, I’m usually always with family. It’s usually a pretty small get together. But you know, I live alone, so, for me, it’s a really great opportunity to cook for a group of people. So I kind of take control of the Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, any kind of group meals that we have together around that time. One thing that my sister in law, who I’m also really close to, is Portuguese, so we have some traditions of hers that we work into the proceedings.
Alexis Percival 5:59
That’s so nice. That just reminded me, Nils—my brother has been a professional cook. As we’re older, my parents, you know, they need less stuff. It becomes harder and harder to do gift giving. And several years in a row, we’ve done Christmas Eve dinner as their gift. And I’ve done like wine and dessert and my brother has done like, you know, apps and main course and that’s been the gift to do something really special.
Nils Bernstein 6:32
That’s a really nice idea.
Layla Schlack 6:33
Yeah, I love that. My family’s Jewish and we don’t have a lot of Hanukkah traditions and we don’t necessarily see each other at Hanukkah, but I do Christmas at my mother-in-law’s and sometimes my parents come for that. But, similarly, we don’t do a lot of gifts, but she always has a big prime rib roast and, you know, goes all out on that. And she only drink sparkling wine. So I’ve kind of adopted this tradition of like if it’s Christmas or drinking sparkling wine, because that’s what Tracy does. Which is a lot of fun.
Nils Bernstein 7:08
Which isn’t a weird thing. Prime rib roast and sparkling wine, that sounds great.
Alexis Percival 7:13
Layla Schlack 7:14
Yeah, it’s pretty great. It’s a good pairing that I would not have—you know, the first year I think I brought like a Cabernet or something. And it was drank and appreciated, but now I’ve learned and it’s sparkling all the way.
Nils Bernstein 7:26
Well, the best pairing is always the wine you like the most, so that’s perfect.
Layla Schlack 7:29
Alexis Percival 7:32
I actually made a note to myself to bring that up. That, you know, a part of, you know, from the wine industry perspective, part of your job is knowing about wine, but the other part of it is the hospitality part. And by, you know, forcing people to drink what they don’t want to drink just because it’s a quote-unquote better pairing, that’s not part of hospitality. But one thing I do like to do is, you know, let’s say knowing someone really loves full bodied Chardonnays, for example, I might up the ante and buy an especially nice one. Or like, I know my father loves Rieslings, so I’ll make sure to bring a really nice Riesling for, you know, whatever we’re celebrating. To sort of just just dial it up and make it like extra special.
Nils Bernstein 8:26
I also think a lot of times people, if they’re into wine, they’re like, okay, they’re really think hard about what wine, you know, what the wine of the night is going to be, or exactly what they’re going to serve. And I think it’s great for the holidays, to just have a bunch of different wines on the table and play to everybody’s tastes, and have it all just have it be really abundant and random. Usually, for the holiday there’s so many side dishes, and you’re not just eating one thing all day. So I like just kind of, like you said, bringing really good examples of everybody’s favorites.
Alexis Percival 9:03
Good examples, and also, you just need some sipping wine, right? These holidays, they usually tend to be long marathon celebrations. So sometimes you just need some beers. Right?
Layla Schlack 9:14
Alexis Percival 9:15
You just need some sipping wines and some beers. And I also think that often when we have those sort of trophy wines, for example, we’re sort of setting ourselves up for disappointment because often they just go unappreciated. People really just are spending time with one another. Like, in my family, often, I mean, I’ll bring one or two nice bottles, but I tend to do those as gift giving for a later time. And my mom and like an aunt will just go in on a case of wine of like some Cote du Rhone that everyone can agree on and let it go, you know?
Nils Bernstein 9:47
I agree. Luckily, the Portuguese side always has a lot of white Vinho Verde on hand, which is perfect all-day sipping wine for sure.
Layla Schlack 9:56
I also I mean, I also feel like, for me at least, the planning of the bottles I’m going to get and, when I was thinking about this episode, I was thinking about Kindred and like all the handmade pastas. For me that’s also part of the the fun, and the almost like a luxury that all I have to think about really is like, what are the most delicious things I can think of to eat and drink on this one day? Do you guys feel that way? Do you have any rituals around like menu planning or cooking that also just kind of feel like your own moment, your own little timeout around the holidays?
Nils Bernstein 10:28
I do. I think it’s you know, usually there are certain traditional dishes that everybody’s kind of expecting, you know? Often it’s a standing rib roast, like yours Layla, on Christmas Day. Mashed potatoes and gravy, you know, I usually make my pecan pie. There are certain things that I can’t experiment too much with because of expectations. But I do think it’s important to, I always think in terms of like, I don’t want this to be a chore, you know? I want it to be something I really enjoy. And so anybody who’s involved in the cooking, and especially people listening that are thinking about cooking and it’s not something that they’re excited about, I think the most important thing is to make something that you’re excited to make. Because I hate the idea of people cooking around the holidays, and feeling like it’s a chore when it should be something really—I think it can be really pampering to yourself to spend the day cooking.
Alexis Percival 11:23
Well, especially because you know if people just want green bean casserole, you know, and then you go through—there’s always someone who brings fancy green bean casserole and everybody’s like, ohhhh.
Layla Schlack 11:35
I wanted the cream of mushroom soup!
Alexis Percival 11:38
That or, like, you know, the canned cranberry sauce, you know? Some things, just don’t with them.
Nils Bernstein 11:44
That’s so true.
Layla Schlack 11:46
Now, are you guys planning to do anything different this year just because it’s been such a rough year. Do you feel like you need a little bit of extra comfort or pampering to close out on?
Nils Bernstein 11:58
Yeah. I’ve been in pampering mode since March pretty much. Yeah, I think, you know, it’s tricky, though also, because, you know, me and mine are financially hurt by the pandemic. So the idea that I’m going to splurge, you know, isn’t really practical this year. But I do think, you know, there’s great sparkling wine that feels festive, but isn’t necessarily really expensive. I really like, whether just for myself or a small group, I love shucking oysters, you know. It’s something accessible, but feels really not every day.
Alexis Percival 12:37
Yes, but a trip to the emergency room for people not comfortable shucking oysters will really put a damper on things.
Nils Bernstein 12:43
True. Yeah, I’ll do the shucking for everyone.
Alexis Percival 12:49
Yeah, pampering doesn’t have to equate, you know, to money. When I do any kind of meal planning, actually, because I also love to cook, I try to think of it in its entirety and tie everything into whatever theme I’m doing, you know, so like, this isn’t holiday planning, but like, let’s say I’m making fish tacos, for example. I’ll think about the dressing on the salad that I’m using. And like just making sure all the flavors and like the drinks that we’re having everything ties in together. And that’s not expensive, but it feels thoughtful. Yeah, and sort of comprehensive. I also think things like adding a little cheese course can feel exciting, you know. That’s not an expensive treat, but it makes it feel a little more special than just your regular night. Or also cloth napkins and candles. Like, that’s easy to do and it just makes it feel more intentional.
Nils Bernstein 13:44
Yeah, I agree. And when I’ve been thinking about what, you know, okay, how are we going to do make these things special, when we are able to get together? That’s kind of what I’m thinking is like, let’s have a cocktail hour. Yeah, let’s pull out the really good silver and it’s kind of like, let’s really add some formality that maybe is missing from our holiday get together sometimes. And that can be kind of a really, you know—let’s set a time that we’re actually going to sit down instead of making it more haphazard. I think really being intentional about what you’re doing and who you’re doing it with, is just a nice way to think about it.
Alexis Percival 14:24
Yeah, it’s kind of a weird crossover. I’m thinking of it in terms of simplicity, with dishes and things like that. Not overthinking those things. So, why add stress to an already very stressful time. It’s not a performance piece. To also do those little luxuries that don’t mentally cost me.
Nils Bernstein 14:46
Layla Schlack 14:48
I mean, that’s huge. I also think of like, for me, I’ve been working at home for the last seven, eight months. So, you know, even just dressing up is one of those things that I’ll do to kind of make it feel more like an occasion right?
Nils Bernstein 14:59
Alexis Percival 15:01
And I’m in the opposite. I’ve been at the restaurants for, you know, months. For me, not doing anything… Not nothing, but meaning like, I don’t really want to talk to large crowds of people. That feels like a luxury.
Nils Bernstein 15:18
Yeah, it should. But it is great how many things are low effort on the food side anyways. The cheese plate, you mentioned a great charcuterie plate, simple giant poached shrimp, things like that, that feel incredibly luxurious, but are really stress free.
Alexis Percival 15:37
Also a great way to support restaurants and small businesses, because a lot of them who aren’t doing indoor are doing those takeout kind of things, like putting platters together, cheese and meat, so that’s a great way to kind of kill two birds with one stone.
Nils Bernstein 15:50
Yeah, for sure.
Layla Schlack 15:51
Right. And so many of them are doing wine as well. You don’t have to think about the pairing if you don’t want either.
Alexis Percival 15:57
Including Ruffian. Ruffian will be holiday wine packs for both your gift to yourself or a gift to your friends and family.
Nils Bernstein 16:06
It is funny that there’s certain things that for me, you know, one of my great pleasures for myself at home is getting a sea urchin and just eating, you know, topping it and just sitting with sea urchin and something like that. But that’s not something I’m going to bring to—I think the rest of my holiday group isn’t thinking that that’s an especially pampering thing. The things that I consider pampering when I’m alone versus things I’ll do to pamper everyone in a group are a little different.
Layla Schlack 16:37
Yeah, and I mean, I think it’s really important, you know, at this time of year, but also in general, to distinguish those things and to make time for both. Black Friday after Thanksgiving, I never go shopping, right? It’s like pajamas and leftovers all day. And similarly, the day after Christmas, you know, on the years when I’m not working that day. That’s when I that’s when I do my little rituals that I like, you know?
Nils Bernstein 17:03
I was on a zoom with my brother and his wife and we were talking about what to do for Thanksgiving. And we were talking about the stuffing usually being the best part. And we’re like, how about this year we do two stuffings? We deserve it. It’s been such a difficult year, so it’s funny that our our idea of pampering this year to make up for the crazy year is we’re gonna have two stuffings.
Layla Schlack 17:27
But I mean, that sounds good to me. Like I could do an entire Thanksgiving of just stuffings. I love it. Do either if you have a particular style, which we’ve talked a lot about sparkling, but do either of you have a particular style of wine that like that’s your treat—that’s the thing that makes you feel fancy and special and luxurious?
Alexis Percival 17:52
It’s so, so basic, but I am a big Champagne lover. So being able to, you know, crack some Champagne and sit for a second, it’s something that I like to do both for myself and my fiance, we’ll have a bottle of Champagne together often before a meal or sparkling wine. But for example, if I’m having dinner with, you know, right now it might just be like one other couple, it’s a nice thing to stop meet up beforehand, have some Champagne and just talk and catch up a minute before we go and have dinner. It just gives you kind of a pause and a moment to just be like ‘Ah, this is lovely.’ Kind of just celebrating seeing one another, especially now.
Layla Schlack 18:43
Yeah, and that kind of feeds into what you’re saying about being more intentional right? With like, you know, linens and different courses and stuff like that, as having a proper aperitif with someone you haven’t seen in a while. I love that.
Nils Bernstein 18:55
Another nice thing about champagne that a lot of people don’t really think about it will last with a good stopper. You can have it in the first two or three days. So it is something that you can just, you know, pour a glass for yourself or for a couple people. You don’t you don’t have to wait for a big group celebration to open a bottle of Champagne.
Alexis Percival 19:13
Yeah, and as we said earlier, it pairs with just about everything, so I mean, I am a big proponent of Champagne or sparkling wines with main courses for sure.
Nils Bernstein 19:25
Something I really like to do when you’re talking about what feels fancy or pampering or special to me is bottles that have a lot of age on them. And that, you know, so I guess these are the times that I pull out things from the cellar that I’ve been saving or go to a wine store that has a lot of back vintage and just thing that has, maybe it’s a meaningful date or, you know, a birthday or something that signifies something or just something that isn’t an everyday wine that has 10, 20 or more years of age on, it always feels really special to me.
Alexis Percival 20:05
For sure, and a great option for that too, at any time but particularly now when people are facing a lot of financial hardship, is go to a good wine store and ask for, you know, lesser known regions, because you get great value for things with age. I’m thinking like reds from Friuli, or like Portugal. You can get some really nice aged bottles for well under $100, that will blow your mind. Whereas, you know, if you were looking to Bordeaux, you would immediately shut it down and be like, I can’t afford that. I can understand that a lot of people may not feel confident making those purchases without some guidance, but that guidance exists.
Nils Bernstein 20:50
And also beauty of wine is that there’s so much talk about these perfect drinking windows, but if a wine is a little past its prime or whatever, it doesn’t matter. It’s alive in the, I think tasting an older wine, there is excitement associated with it, regardless of whether it’s in this tiny window of so-called perfection.
Alexis Percival 21:15
Most people won’t know that something is too young or too old, because we don’t realize these things unless you have other bottles of it for comparison.
Nils Bernstein 21:22
Exactly. Of course. Yeah.
Layla Schlack 21:25
I mean, although setting up a nice vertical for yourself would be a really luxurious things to do.
Nils Bernstein 21:31
You know, another thing I like doing though, is half bottles. I think sometimes they allow you to, you know, try a wine that you might not feel you can afford otherwise. They also age a bit quicker. So sometimes they have a little more interest in less time. Variety always feel special, so half bottles can be a way to accomplish that as well.
Alexis Percival 21:55
That’s a great point. Also, if you have the kind of holiday meals where you do courses, half bottles can be a great option, especially in smaller groups. Let’s say you want to serve a white wine but that’s not what you want for your second or third course. It’s a great way to not end up with you know, multiple open bottles of wine that you may not be able to consume.
Layla Schlack 22:20
Right and to help everyone moderate so that they don’t feel like they have to finish a full size bottle. And are there any foods in that vein for you where like, if you had to pick just one and now I’m talking not at your gathering but your morning after or your night before when it’s kind of you time, are there any foods or cooking projects that give you that feeling?
Nils Bernstein 22:43
It’s funny what that is to me when I think about things that are really special and I get really excited about doing for myself, is shellfish. Doing live scallops, shucking six or 12 oysters for myself, I love doing that. You know, kind of a raw bar-style seafood platter for myself is kind of the pinnacle of pampering in my mind.
Alexis Percival 23:07
Oh, yeah, and you can have it all to yourself. That’s amazing. I’m trying to think about this. I love to bake. In the holidays, the time of baking is for me. And I don’t really actually have a sweet tooth. And then the sharing of it is the aftermath.
Layla Schlack 23:27
Right. Which is also so wonderful.
Alexis Percival 23:30
Yeah, well, that’s kind of a twofer for me where I pick a thing I want to bake and I have that time to myself to just be concentrated on that project and that feels special and then give it away.
Layla Schlack 23:42
My partner and I do a special Christmas Eve of our own and not with our whole family. And I love like making pasta or making noodles or making tortillas. Just, you know, setting aside a few hours to pour myself a glass of wine and get in the kitchen and mess around with dough and make a mess, and nobody’s coming over and nobody’s gonna see it. And whatever I do from there is usually pretty simple because I’ve already gone through the trouble of making pasta or whatever. But that’s kind of mine. Like that’s kind of my deep breath, now I’m in vacation mode is that hour or two where I get in the kitchen and do that.
It’s funny you mentioned fresh pasta because I really find that to be fun and relaxing. It just feels good to roll out the pasta. And there’s something just kind of sexy and comforting about it. And also, you know, when people think about making fettuccine or something, you’re passing it through the machine, but I really liked doing, you know, handmade pastas. Doing stuffed pastas, rolled pastas, cavatelli, things like that are really—you kind of get your hands in it a little more and it’s a little more meditative.
Alexis Percival 24:21
I was just gonna say that. It’s repetitive and meditative, and also if you’re working in a New York sized kitchen, really nobody can bother you because they can’t get close enough to get in your way.
Nils Bernstein 25:03
Exactly. I also like when I have that day where I’m just like, I’m just gonna pour a glass of wine and spend the day in the kitchen, I like making dumplings also. Because they freeze really well also. Making shrimp and pork dumplings, things like that. Playing around with the fold techniques.
Alexis Percival 25:24
I think it was last year, my family had done a whole ham and no one was going to take it there was so much meat left on it. It was bone in and I took it back from Rhode Island in a couple Ziplocs, like one big bag. And you know, I made a pea soup with ham hock. Those day after projects are pretty fun.
Nils Bernstein 25:54
And probably you’d never do that in under normal circumstances because when are you going to have a giant ham laying around?
Alexis Percival 26:01
No, yeah, exactly. But I knew I couldn’t watch it go to waste, either. And they were like, are you really gonna take this back to New York? I was like, hell yeah. I can’t let that go.
Nils Bernstein 26:12
I think during all this time that a lot of us have had over the break to kind of, you know, everyone’s gotten into baking sourdough bread and all of that. But it was kind of a fun opportunity to see what things I really—what things felt like a chore to do and what things felt like a lot of fun. Like, I felt I wasn’t so into doing the big loaves of bread, but I found bagels and English muffins to be really, really fun projects.
Layla Schlack 26:41
Yeah, bagels are fun. English muffins I’ve only done once or twice. But yeah, I’m excited for that.
Nils Bernstein 26:50
Another fun thing to do is to watch the Great British Baking Show and get ideas to try to recreate them.
Layla Schlack 26:55
Yeah, it’s fun also, just to kind of think about these projects, because I was doing a lot of that at the beginning and then you kind of settle into your new routines and you get busy. And so it’s nice to think about having time for those sorts of projects again.
Nils Bernstein 27:09
And you know, some things that, kind of in the mode of, okay, maybe it’s the next day and you just want to relax, maybe you don’t want to be on your feet all day in the kitchen and fussing around. A lot of these kind of, you know, cozy long braises and stews don’t actually have a lot of active cooking time, but it’s so much fun to just kind of have them bubbling away on the stove all day.
Layla Schlack 27:32
And have those smells around you.
Alexis Percival 27:36
Yeah. And then freeze a bunch of it so you have it for later. Another fun thing for I mean, fun and easy, would be like make some quick pickles and things like that with leftover veg so that you have them in the weeks following. There were some projects that just felt like oh, yeah, I’m not doing that again.
Layla Schlack 27:59
Yes, for sure.
Nils Bernstein 28:01
Yeah, it is funny how at the end of this year I’m like, okay, certain things I’m definitely never doing again. But yeah, I did discover a lot of things that were fun to do as well.
Alexis Percival 28:11
Maybe this the window has passed for a lot of these things, but every year—we were talking about treating ourselves—and one of the projects that I make sure that I do is I can tomatoes from the farmers market. It’s not a lot. It’s maybe like, I could use one jar a month, you know, until the following season. But we were talking about fresh pasta and that is so quick. I mean, well, not the fresh pasta but all I can offer I’ll make pasta or I’ll buy pasta and crack a jar of those tomatoes and it’s so easy but so delicious and feels completely decadent because it’s like summer tastes but in like February.
Layla Schlack 28:55
Yeah, that’s a great one. And then what do you drink with that?
Alexis Percival 29:00
I’ll usually do something like a light red. Just like something kind of rustic and easy, like not overthinking it, not high alcohol. Yeah, just something easy peasy because the meal is not meant to be overthought. Sometimes, like a light Sicilian red, something like that. Yeah, something youthful and easy.
Layla Schlack 29:29
That sounds perfect. Well, thank you so much. It sounds like we all have simple, luxurious and really, really delicious holidays ahead.
Nils Bernstein 29:38
You know, the three of us find a lot of pleasure and relaxation and pampering fussing around in the kitchen, and I hope other people are inspired to do it. Like I said before, I hate the idea that people think of what to eat and drink around the holidays as a chore, you know? Yeah. Like that’s one of the most fun parts of the holidays.
Alexis Percival 30:00
Things are hard enough right now we don’t need to be adding additional stress.
Nils Bernstein 30:04
Layla Schlack 30:05
Yeah. So yeah, I you know, to everyone listening, do what you love, do what feels good. And hopefully this provided some ideas and inspiration. If not, like Alexis said, a lot of your local restaurants will be happy to do a meal kit with wine of something fantastic. So you can have all of this delicious luxury without toiling away in the kitchen yourself. Thank you so much.
Nils Bernstein 30:30
Thanks, Layla, great talking with you.
Layla Schlack 30:36
So I’m here with Grace Mahary, who is a model turned sommelier, who also has a restaurant with her husband, and a nonprofit. Grace, hello, how are you?
Grace Mahary 30:49
Hi, I’m great, thank you for having me here.
Layla Schlack 30:52
Yes, thank you so much for joining us. I know it’s hard to carve out time. Speaking of which, what is kind of a normal December holiday, end-of-year time look like for you?
Grace Mahary 31:05
Um, well, I would say, my family, my brothers and my parents usually try to get together. This year, I don’t know what that means yet. We generally try to spend time together and we’ve been in Canada for the most part of our lives, so we try to go somewhere warm for the holidays. That might not be the case this year.
Layla Schlack 31:36
And then I mean, I imagine this year is different, because normally you would be traveling a lot in general, and you’re probably not. Is that right?
Grace Mahary 31:44
That is true. I am Yes, I have become a certified somm, But I am 1,000% still modeling and generally would be on a flight at least once a week. So definitely different times.
Layla Schlack 31:57
So what’s the travel schedule like that, what are some of the ways you kind of unwind a little bit when you’re not on the road?
Grace Mahary 32:04
Naturally, wine. But you know, I try to bring things that I appreciate or have sentimental value with me on the road. And then I also just try to be as, you know, sustainable or environmentally concious as I am traveling, which is already a terrible polluter. So I try to bring reusable cutlery, a straw, you know, water bottle, all the things that I can think of, to make me feel a little less bad about what we’re doing on planes.
Layla Schlack 32:35
Are there any particular styles of wine, or regions or grapes or anything like that, that really kind of help you relax, or that you kind of associate with relaxation or associate with feeling good in general?
Grace Mahary 32:49
Um, no, I wouldn’t associate any one particular type of wine with relaxation, but I am into discovering new wines, obviously. You know, things from Austria, Portugal, South Africa, things that, you know, not a lot of people have on their list, I find great joy in that. And now I’ve had time to go back to Canada, where I was born and raised. And it was super fun just to kind of dive into the Niagara Escarpment and things that are coming out of BC. So yeah, I’m humbled by all the options.
Layla Schlack 33:24
Yeah, there’s a lot. It’s really kind of endless, right? Like, you feel like you’re gonna be learning about wine now for the rest of your life.
Grace Mahary 33:31
Absolutely. Like once I became certified, I realized I know absolutely nothing. So anyone that might feel intimidated, don’t worry, we still know nothing. We’re just trying to have a good time with you.
Layla Schlack 33:44
Exactly. So without being able to go somewhere warm potentially this year, have you thought at all about the holidays yet? It’s early November now when we’re recording this, but have you thought about the holiday season and you know what you’ll try to do with your family instead if you can’t travel?
Grace Mahary 34:01
Yes, I mean, I am a Canadian resident, so I could obviously go home to Toronto and spend time there again with my family. But I’m also a huge event planner amongst friends. Nobody in the public world knows this. But one of my cousins has a big birthday in December. So if we are allowed to travel, we’re going to try to go to the Caribbean. So fingers crossed. I mean, we’ll figure it out as it goes.
Layla Schlack 34:26
Do you feel like you have to kind of do something extra over the top, really luxurious this year just because of the kind of year that it’s been?
Grace Mahary 34:35
You know, luxury to me is is you know, having a great glass of wine, you know, under 50 bucks even and an amazing meal paired with it. It’s the little things for me that bring luxury out of my life, so I don’t necessarily need to live this lavish like holiday. I can really just spend it with my people. I’m just honestly I’m so glad to be alive and the people that I know have around me who are still healthy and safe, I think that’s the most luxurious blessing in the world right now.
Layla Schlack 35:06
Yeah, 100%. Do you have a particular meal and bottle that you have in mind is kind of your ultimate?
Grace Mahary 35:14
Oh, I should have known that question was coming. Um, I don’t, but off the top of my head, maybe like something cheesy or grilled cheese or like lobster bisque and something from the Leflaive domain. Something rich and mineral driven and delicious from Burgundy.
Layla Schlack 35:36
That sounds like heaven. Yeah, that sounds like a perfect meal. And like you said, it’s you know, it’s comforting too, right? It’s not like the most lavish thing in the world. You’re not shaving truffles over it. It’s good, delicious stuff. If there’s anything going on with your nonprofit you’d like to share with our listeners, I’m sure they’d love to hear about it.
Grace Mahary 35:55
I mean, so I run a nonprofit in clean energy called Project Tsehigh. So Tsehigh means sun in Tigrinya, which is from Eritrea. So my family is from Eritrea in East Africa and going there after, like, all these luxurious jobs in fashion was a real wake up call to the disparities in this world. So I started this nonprofit because of that. So essentially, what we do is donate solar panels to communities that are under resourced or do not have access to electricity. We’ve essentially worked in East Africa from 2016 to 2020. But because of the pandemic, we obviously have to halt overseas work, or work overseas. So we’re working within America and we’ve decided to partner with gardening programs to combat food deserts. So it’s really exciting because obviously, it kind of leans itself into the somm world and growing grapes. And you know, what’s important, how to farm responsibly and with clean energy, but it also aligns us with the BIPOC fight for equality in this country. So I’m proud of my team and I’m really excited to be part of this. And I hope one day I can grow grapes in this country.
Layla Schlack 37:05
Yeah, that’s incredible. And do you see I mean, right, because, like you said, energy and farming and incorporating more BIPOC folks. Do you kind of see those things becoming more synergistic, or coming together in a more formal way as you continue kind of your wine career in addition to your energy work?
Grace Mahary 37:26
Totally. 1,000%. Yes. I speak for people of color, we’ve been gatekeepers to land for centuries. I’m from East Africa, but the people that were brought to this country were amazing farmers, amazing at whatever skill that they had, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t be in charge and in control of the farming practices now. So it’s really exciting because of course you want your professional world to overlap your passion and your interests. That’s my goal.
Layla Schlack 38:01
Well, great. Thank you so much. This was wonderful talking to you. And, you know, I like your approach that luxury is doing things that make you feel good, and sometimes that is trying to make the world a better place, right? It’s not all about bubble baths and caviar. Though those things are nice too.
Grace Mahary 38:19
I also was really intimidated to get into wine. And I think from that perspective, you’re like, okay, everyone deserves a good glass. Everyone deserves great food. So, you know, if I can make it less, you know, mystical and more welcoming, then my goal is done.
Layla Schlack 38:35
Great. Thanks so much Grace.
Lauren Buzzeo 38:40
I don’t know about you, but after listening to those conversations, I’m ready to celebrate. Sure, it will be different, but there are so many things we can do big and small to close out 2020 on a cozy and luxurious note. It seems like step one is kind of unanimous: break out the bubbly. Let’s all just start there. Subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on iTunes, Google Play or wherever you find podcasts. If you like today’s episode, we’d love to read your review and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out too. You can also drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more wine reviews, recipes, guides, deep dives and stories, visit Wine Enthusiast online at winemag.com and connect with us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @WineEnthusiast. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Lauren Buzzeo and Jenny Groza. Until next episode, cheers.