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When is a Vacation Not a Vacation?

I was talking to a coworker the other day, and she mentioned that she would be on vacation beginning the next day. So, of course, I asked where she was going. She responded that she wasn’t going anywhere; rather she was staying at home and would be doing a few little hikes and just hanging out with her daughter.

That reminded me of a question I am frequently asked when I say I’m going to Georgia, or Arizona, or Ohio, or anywhere I happen to be going off to. “Oh, do you have family there?” More often than I would like to think, people are genuinely puzzled by the fact that no, I do not have family there.

These scenarios just got me wondering – When is a vacation really a vacation? Of course, I can only speak for myself, but a vacation must include a destination – generally with a plane ride but a road trip can certainly count too. I know the concept of a stay-cation has been much in the news lately, but to me, hanging around home is sheer torture. I look at all the organizing projects I should be working on, all the clutter I should be tackling, all the deck painting, de-mossing, gutter cleaning, weeding, car waxing, light fixture changing that I should be doing and it just makes me depressed. I can only truly unwind if I’m not stuck staring at all that stuff, thinking about what I should be doing.

That isn’t to say that I never want to do these things, but I just don’t want to use my vacation time to do it. It is a conundrum. A friend of mine only considers it to be a vacation if it includes 5 (consecutive) days off work.

Sadly, I have no vacation on the immediate horizon (under either the destination/plane ride theory or the 5 day theory) – just a couple of weekend trips nearby for the usual – a wedding, a birthday party, a baby shower. All fun, all looked forward to, but all not vacations. Now a destination wedding is a different matter! Although I have to admit that a wedding in Washington, D.C. would be more of a vacation than one in Arkansas.

Over the years, I have been on some fantastic vacations – I have had some wonderful experiences and made some great memories.  Here are just a few from the last couple of years.

Crater Lake, Oregon - August 2011

Crater Lake, Oregon – August 2011

Relaxing with a Glass at Schmidt Family Vineyard - August 2011

Relaxing with a Glass at Schmidt Family Vineyard – August 2011

Gold Beach Whaler

Gold Beach Whaler – August 2011

Slate Run Living Farm

Slate Run Living Farm – Winchester, Ohio – August 2008

The Hanoi Taxi

The Hanoi Taxi – National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Dayton, Ohio – August 2008

The front entrance of Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle – San Simeon, CA – August, 2010

See, no snow on the sidewalks (or the roads)

Antietam National Battlefield – Sharpsburg, MD – February, 2008

The Biltmore Estate

The Biltmore Estate – Asheville, NC – June 2012

The Joseph Manigault House - Built in 1803 - Federal Style Architecture

The Joseph Manigault House – Charleston, SC – June 2012

Savannah's Colonial Cemetery

Savannah’s Colonial Cemetery – Savannah, GA – June 2012

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery Patio Seating

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery – Manson, WA – September 2012

An Elk Herd

Elk Feeding Area, near Hamilton, WA, September 2012

Male California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore

California Quail at Point Reyes National Seashore – Point Reyes Station, CA – March 2013

Harbor Seal Outside Monterey Bay Aquarium

Harbor Seal – Monterey, CA – March 2013

The Lone Cypress - Estimated Age 250 Years

The Lone Cypress – near Pebble Beach, CA – March 2013

So, how about you? What defines a vacation?

Farewell 2012 – Can’t Wait for 2013!

As I sit here on the couch listening to the washer and dryer run, waiting for Jon to finish playing with paint samples and put the movie in (yes, I’m well aware of how lame we are…), I decided to do a little 2012 tribute blog.  Some of the year was great, some not so great, but I suppose it can’t all be rosy.  So here goes, in no particular order…

1.  I hit my one year anniversary at my new job, a job where I feel valued and appreciated and love my co-workers!

2.  I went on an amazing trip with Jon… nine days in Georgia, North and South Carolina.  The longest trip I’ve ever been on with him!  You can read about it from the beginning here

3.  My wonderful Martini kitty, my feisty girl with a protein allergy who loves sneaking meat and hates being brushed, was diagnosed with low grade diffuse alimentary lymphoma.  Cancer of the blood cells.  We started chemotherapy treatment in November, and I was heartbroken.  So far, Tini is hanging in there.

4.  I celebrated my two year wedding anniversary with my fabulous husband Jon.  We didn’t do anything special, but our trip was our anniversary celebration (see #2 above).

5.  I went to Michigan to visit my Grandma, who is 95!, and to attend my cousin’s wedding.  And I got to see many of my aunts, uncles and cousins!  I’m really lucky to have the family I do.

6.  Jon and I got to visit some fantastic exhibits at some great museums.  Gauguin at the Seattle Art Museum, King Tut at the Pacific Science Center, all the wonderful collections at the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the interactive musical experience at the Motown Museum.  And all the amazing historic home tours that we visited on our Grand Tour!

7.  I completed my third half-marathon!  And it was for a great cause!

8.  Jon and I went a fun wine tour in Washington and Oregon for the President’s Day long weekend.  Wine, historic hotels, and even some antique shops!

9.  I got a promotion at work!  Talk about felling valued and appreciated!

10.  We went on a fun long weekend trip to Chelan, where we tried lots of great wine and had one of the most fun and memorable drives home ever!

So, while the year certainly wasn’t perfect, and there were some ups and downs, I feel pretty blessed to live the life I do.  Here’s wishing that 2013 is an even better year for all of us.  Happy New Year!

Newhalem and Some Elk Sex

As we continued toward home from Chelan, we traveled further west on Highway 20 past the town of Newhalem.  Newhalem is a company town that was founded in the 1920s, to house employees of Seattle City Lights’ Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.  The Gorge Powerhouse began generating electricity in 1924, and is still operating today.  The building has a beauty that industrial construction just doesn’t seem to have anymore.  Even now, the power plant is operating and Newhalem is still a company town.  We were there after things closed for the day, but I have heard there is a historic general store and some information about the town and the electric project.  It would be be neat to come back and visit when things are open.

For more information about what it was like to grow up in a remote company town, you can check out Tobias Wolff’s book This Boy’s Life, which is about the author’s experience growing up in Newhalem in the 1950s.  This Boy’s Life was made into a movie starring Robert DeNiro and Leonardo DiCaprio in 1993.  I’ll have to check it out.

The Gorge Powerhouse at Newhalem

The last stop on our scenic drive home from our weekend in Chelan was at one of the elk viewing sites near Rockport, Washington.  There are two big fields along the highway where elk spend a lot of time in the fall and winter months.  There are signs posted there with information about the herd, but I’m not sure if they posted the signs because the elk spent time there, or if they starting feeding the elk there so they would come.  If anyone knows how these elk sites work, please let me know.

So anyway, back to the story…  Jon and I were driving down the North Cascades Highway towards home and I made him promise that he would stop if we saw elk.  He promised.  I think he was hoping they wouldn’t be there.  So when we saw them, I made him turn around and go back to the parking lot.  He was kind of cranky for some reason, and when I asked him if he wanted to get out to go see them with me, he said gruffly, “I’ve seen elk before.”  Whatever.  Suit yourself.  I took my camera and got out of the car and lined up with all the other tourists and wildlife enthusiasts and watched the elk.

So here are some pictures of the elk, including them getting up to some hanky panky…

An Elk Herd

Elk Chillaxin’

Elk Sex – I Think the Guy on the Left Looks Jealous

And the last part of this story is the funniest part.  When Jon and I got home that evening, after a long and beautiful drive, after moving from drought and earth charred from wildfires, to beautiful rivers, wild west towns, majestic dams, and mating elk, I gave him a hard time about being so grumpy when we saw the elk.  I razzed him, in my snootiest voice.

Me (imitating him in my snootiest voice): “I’ve seen elk before.”

Jon: “Well, I have.  They are just male deer.”

Me:  “Male deer?”

Jon: “Well, aren’t they?”

This is where I burst out laughing, first, because they aren’t male deer.  Well, to give him credit – some are male.  And second, because clearly he hadn’t noticed the elk were getting busy.  Yes, perhaps I’m juvenile, and easily amused…  It was a perfect end to a great trip, and one I can tease him about for years to come…

Winthrop, Washington

On our way home from our weekend trip to Chelan, we stopped awhile in Winthrop, Washington.  Winthrop is a historic town in the Cascade mountains, that was first settled by white settlers in 1891 after placer gold was discovered in the area in 1868.  Owen Wister, author of The Virginian, wrote the novel after honeymooning in Winthrop in 1898.  All I have to say is, his wife must have been a really adventurous woman, because it would have been quite the experience getting to someplace so remote!

Unfortunately for the town, most of the mines had closed by 1915, and the town experienced a decline.  In the 1970s, the town decided to capitalize on the old western theme, and they restored the town to an old west style.  The restoration included wooden sidewalks and all of the shops on the main street of town have old west style facades on the buildings.  There are also a few historic plaques, explaining the original structures and the history of the town.  The population of Winthrop is less than 400, but a visit there shows a vibrant tourist area with people enjoying what the town has to offer.

Jon and I arrived in time for a late lunch, and we had gotten a recommendation from a coworker on the Old Schoolhouse Brewery.  Jon and I decided to check it out, and we had an awesome meal!  We started out with the chips and black bean salsa – the chips were homemade – and amazing!  For the meal, I had the guacamole, pepperjack and bacon burger and the Epiphany Ale, a medium body pale ale.  Jon had the bacon and artichoke salad and a coffee.  My burger was excellent – the hamburger is certified Angus beef!  And Jon’s salad was equally good.  The beer was one of the best beers I have had in a long time – this brewery is fairly new, but sure to have great success!

Schoolhouse Brewery in Winthrop, Washington

Jon Enjoying his Lunch at the Schoolhouse Brewery

After lunch, we wandered around town and checked out the shops.  There are lots of wonderful art galleries, and a bookstore with lots of local books.  There are several neat gift shops with unique items.  But if you get bored of poking into the shops, you can also check out the Shafer Mining Museum (I would have liked to go, but Jon was getting antsy…), or you can check out the pedestrian bridge over the Methow River.  The river is really shallow here, so you could easily see the bottom, and looking into the river was really peaceful.  If you plan to stay awhile, there are also lots of outdoor activities – camping, hiking, fishing, 4 wheeling…  Plus skiing in the winter of course.

Methow River – Winthrop, Washington

After we left Winthrop, we headed over the pass towards home.  State Route 20, also known as the North Cascades Highway, is beautifully scenic, with areas to pull out and take photos in several locations.  It is also much less congested than the more traveled Highway 2 to the south.  Of course, Highway 20 is only open part of the year, opening typically in April or May and usually shutting down in November.  Heavy annual snowfall and avalanches leave the snow at Washington Pass between 15 and 20 feet deep in the winter!  Interestingly, State Route 20 is the longest highway in Washington State, at 463.13 miles, beginning in Discovery Bay, on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, and finally ending within 1000 feet of the Idaho state line.

On this trip, Jon let me stop a time or two to check out the beautiful mountains, and again to drive over Diablo Dam.  Diablo Dam is one of 3 dams built on the Upper Skagit River, and it generates electricity for Seattle City Light.  Construction was started in 1917, but due to extreme weather and political delays, it wasn’t completed until 1930.  At the time of its completion, Diablo Dam’s 389 feet made it the tallest dam in the world.  The dam created a lake called Diablo Lake that is home to rainbow, cutthroat, brook, and endangered bull trout.  The water is a brilliant turquoise blue-green color, caused by pulverized rock that is deposited into the lake by glacier-fed streams, where it hangs suspended in the water.

Diablo Dam with Diablo Lake

And the coolest part is that if you drive down this little road off to the side of the highway, you can drive across the dam!  We drove across (you aren’t allowed to stop on the dam) and parked on the other side to take some closeup photos.  I know some of you will find it strange that I found a dam so interesting, but it was a really neat (and really big) piece of architecture!  Plus, there was this cute little chipmunk posing on the road!  And since it was really close to closing time (they close the little road at 5 pm and there is a gate that will not let you in, but will let you out), we were the only ones there.

A Cute Chipmunk at Diablo Dam

After we said goodbye to the chipmunk (ok, I’m the only one who said goodbye to him – Jon refused), we continued on toward home…

Chelan Saturday – Dinner (of sorts) and a Movie!

After our tasting at Chelan Ridge Winery, we were wined out.  Plus, considering how pleased we were with the wines there, I’m not sure that we would have been as successful if we had gone anywhere else, so we headed back into Chelan and relaxed a little bit.  We got some food at the grocery store so we could have dinner at the room (after 5 days away from home I was getting pretty burned out on restaurant food).  Then we went out to a movie for date night!  Jon took me to see ParaNorman, the story of a nerdy boy who sees ghosts, and who has to help a little girl ghost find peace.  It is an animated film, and it was a really fun movie!  But I hate when people give away the details, so you will just have to go see it yourself!

The movie was shown at the historic Ruby Theatre, right on the main street in Chelan.  The Ruby opened in 1914, and is believed to be the oldest continuously running film theater in the state of Washington.  It is beautifully restored building that remains true to its Moorish design style.  The Ruby was state of the art for its time, with sloping floors, individual seats, a built in sound system and a fireproof projection room.  The restoration project installed more comfortable theater seats, but the first three rows still have the original seats, so you can get an idea of what once was.  You can even sit in those seats, if you are so inclined – we chose not to because there were a lot of kids at this movie, and many of them wanted to be front and center.

The Ruby Theatre, Chelan, Washington – Built 1914 – Renaissance Revival Architectural Style

The Ruby also hosts workshops, community plays and other events, to fulfill its goal of being a true community gathering place.  I loved visiting, and it is great to see a community that treasures its history and wants to preserve it.  While the projection system isn’t going to satisfy you if you are interested in seeing special effects in all their glory, history and architecture enthusiasts will delight in this special theater.

Ruby Theatre Interior – Looking Up at the Side Balcony

After the movie, we walked back to the hotel and had another evening of relaxing and enjoying some wine.  We had a great time in Chelan, but after 5 days of the smoky air, my poor lungs couldn’t take much more, and we decided we would head home the next morning.

Chelan Saturday (cont.) – More Wine and More Smoke

To get back on the wagon (or continue falling off, depending on your perspective) after our less than stellar experience at Atam Winery, we headed on over to Benson Vineyards Estate Winery.  Benson is probably the Chelan area’s most well known winery and the one of the only wineries in the area that is a 100% Estate Winery.  To qualify as an Estate Winery, that means the winery and vineyards have to be in the same AVA, all of the vineyards have to be controlled or owned by the winery, and the wine has to be made from start to finish at the winery.  Most of the Chelan area wineries source some of their fruit from the Yakima and Columbia Valley, so Benson is unique in that respect.

The tasting room is another in the grand Tuscan Villa style, with the building cut into the hill so you walk into the tasting room on the same level as the parking lot, but on the back side you can head down a flight of stairs to a gorgeous patio with chairs and tables, and a spectacular view of the lake.  Well, the view… the weekend that we were there… not so much.  You haven’t forgotten about the smoke, have you?  My lungs hadn’t!

Benson Vineyards – Can you see the really faint line across the picture near the center? That’s where the lake ends and the land begins. Normally, you can easily see the lake.

We enjoyed tasting several of their wines, starting with their 2011 Chardonnay.  This wine was aged in French oak for 6 months, but honestly it didn’t taste like an oaked Chardonnay.  It was very crisp, with flavors of tart apple – a very nice Chardonnay.  I tried the Rosé next, a Syrah Rosé that is dry with a light sweetness and flavors of cherries.  It would be an excellent accompaniment to BBQ on a hot day.  But I wasn’t so impressed with their 2009 Pinot Noir – it tasted too earthy for my taste, with lots of bitter coffee flavor.

The 2009 Nebbiolo was a big smooth wine, with flavors of strong tobacco and peppermint.  It was decent, but at a $45 sticker price, it needed to be amazing for me to buy it.  At $28, I liked the 2008 Rhythm much better, with a nice balance of berry and smoke.  The 2009 Cabernet Franc was another big tannic wine, with flavors of coffee and heavy smoke.  Not really my taste.  I liked the Cabernet Sauvignon much better, although it was also a big wine, its flavors of leather and chocolate were very smooth.

Benson Vineyards and Estate Winery Patio Seating

After our tasting, Jon and I sat out on the patio for awhile and enjoyed the warm air, but we couldn’t really linger for long because of the heavy smoke in the air.  So, we headed to our next destination.  At that point, we didn’t really know where we wanted to visit next, so he headed out and turned when we saw a winery sign that piqued our interest.  That sign said Chelan Ridge  Winery.  We had no idea what we were in for…

The tasting room was staffed by Henry, and a tasting room server (I didn’t catch her name).  Henry explained that he and his wife Lynn own the winery, and she is the winemaker.  He spent his career as a commercial airline pilot, and they decided to start a winery as a retirement project (that sounds like an awesome retirement!).  Henry and the server were both really friendly, and Henry enjoyed talking about the wines.  When he saw that I was taking notes during the tasting, he offered to make a copy of the tasting notes for me.  They had 4 reds when we were there, and here’s what I thought.

2008 Merlot – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – This Merlot opens with rich, bright aromas of ripe dark cherries, blackberry jam, and dark chocolate. It’s bright acidity and supple tannins round out a long firm finish with flavors of black cherries, black currant, mocha, and toasty French oak.

My Notes – Very tannic, Toasty – aged in French oak.  A lot of great structure and balance – needs some age.

2008 Syrah – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – This Syrah opens with lush aromas of ripe dark fruit, white pepper, and violets, followed by rich jammy flavors of blackberries and plums, along with spicy oak. Bold tannins show on the entry and in the finish. This is a no sissy wine! Pairs wonderfully with grilled ribeye!

My Notes – White pepper.  Very good structure – big tannins.

2008 Rouge de Moraine (Bordeaux-Style Blend) – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – Our Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (55%), Cab Franc (27%), and Merlot (18%) is a real fruit bomb layered with dark cherries, rich plums, and toasted oak forming the base of the aromas, with cherries, pomegranates and blackberries on the palate. The dense tannin profile is complemented by dark chocolate notes and good acidity making it a great food wine.

My Notes – very smooth – excellent blend.  We bought two of these.

2008 Cabernet Franc – Estate Vineyard

The Winemaker’s Notes – Spicy aromas including red currants, raspberries, vanilla and light oak give way to black cherry flavors, black raspberries, and baker’s chocolate. Bright acidity and moderate tannins provide good structure and balance. Superb with alder plank salmon or grilled meats!

My Notes – Raspberry on nose.  Dark bitter chocolate.  We bought one of these.

Chelan Ridge Winery – And Lake Chelan on the Left Side Down the Hill, Only You Can’t See It!

I may not have written much in my notes, but this is no way means the wines were duds.  In fact, these wines were the stars of the weekend.  If Jon and I weren’t trying to save money, I would have gladly bought multiple bottles of each of these wines.  I contained myself with just the three bottles, but it was really hard.  If you have an opportunity to visit this winery, don’t pass it up.  It is truly a gem with standout wines!

Chelan Saturday – Wine and Smoke

Part two of our September Chelan trip…

On Saturday, we slept in and relaxed in the morning before we headed out to do some wine tasting.  We had planned to do some hiking while we were in Chelan, but the air was still so smoky that it would have been impossible.  I have asthma, and that would not have been a good idea for me to be breathing in all the smoke, which hung visibly in the air, giving it a dirty orange color.  We got moving (at a leisurely pace) and decided that we would head out to Manson, which is about seven miles from Chelan, and where a lot of the area’s wineries are.

Our first stop of the day was at Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards.  This place is fun – taking its name from one of the more colorful parts of the area’s history.  Back in the day, the 1930s to be more precise, construction on the Grand Coulee Dam was shutting down, and hiring was picking up at the Howe Sound Mine.  The mine produced mostly copper, but also gold, zinc and silver.  A group of enterprising “professional” ladies, who had been working down at the dam, decided to move into an abandoned lodge at Point Lovely, a couple of miles up the lake from the Howe Sound Mine.  So, one of the locals opened up a water-taxi business, rowing men from the mine the few miles up to the lodge.  Hard Row to Hoe – get it!?

The tasting room capitalizes on the story, featuring photographs of Victorian prostitutes and with a space decked out in velvet wallpaper, beaded lampshades and a beautiful velvet upholstered settee.  If you haven’t heard the story when you arrive, they are happy to tell you the juicier details.  And even their website gets into the act, featuring a graphic of a man rowing a rowboat across the water, and topped with Mae West quotes on every page.

Hard Row to Hoe Tasting Room

Ah, but enough about the story, you want to know about the wines, right?!

We started off with the Shameless Hussy Rosé.  It is a blend of Pinot Noir and Sangiovese that is off dry and with just a hint of sweetness.  I really liked this wine, but Jon always tells me I have too much Rosé.  What?  I don’t understand what that even means!

Then we tried the Marsanne, which is not often done as a single varietal wine.  The wine had flavors of lemongrass and oak, and the server explained that it was aged in a neutral oak barrel.  The tasting notes say it tastes of honey and grapefruit – I didn’t really get citrus flavors out of this wine, but who knows, my sniffer might have been off because of all the smoke in the air.  Jon liked this wine quite a bit, but I prefer a less oaked white wine.  I should mention it won Gold at the Seattle Wine Awards.

Next up was the Semillon, a crisp wine with a light butter flavor.  It was very nice.  I can’t tell you any more about it, because it is not mentioned on their website.  Then came a Cabernet Sauvignon, with light tannins.  It was a very laid back Cab, with the grapes coming from the Wahluke Slope in the Columbia Valley.  The Wahluke Slope has about 15% of the grape acreage in Washington State.    I liked it, but Jon likes a bigger, bolder Cab – this one was softer, with a more widespread appeal.

Their 2008 Lickety Split is a blend of two different Syrahs and a Primitivo.  All the grapes for this wine are also brought in from the Wahluke Slope.  It is a smooth balanced wine that is perfect to drink now.  A wonderful wine, but priced a bit high for my taste.  The 2007 Primitivo, again with grapes grown on the Wahluke slope, is also very smooth, with light tannins and blackberry flavors.

There wasn’t a bad wine in the bunch here – just some that were more my taste or Jon’s.  It was a real treat to try Primitivo grapes fresh from the cluster, because they were doing crush right outside!  The grapes were very sweet – sweeter than I was expecting them to be.   And the tasting room staff were fun and friendly, and were willing to give lots of information about the wines.  We came home with three wines and they are just waiting for the right night to open them!

Hard Row to Hoe Picnic Area – It would be a great day if not for the smoke in the air!

After Hard Row to Hoe, Jon and I decided to try Atam Winery.  Atam Winery is one of the areas only estate wineries – growing their grapes and producing the wine on site (more on estate wineries in an upcoming post).  It is close by, and a guy I met at the conference said that he had been there with his family the night before and was pleased with it.  So off we went.  It is up a huge hill, with vineyards and a horse pasture in front of the winery.  The winery is the lower floor of a home built into the hill, and the day that we were there, the tasting room door was fully open onto a big patio where you could sit and enjoy a glass of wine.  But unfortunately, the experience went downhill from there.

There were the birdscarers…  I know they want to protect the grapes and all, considering it was really close to harvest, but trying to enjoy wine while a sonic boom goes off outside every 15 seconds is just impossible.  Jon thought they were gunshots, and was having all sorts of thoughts of crazy Eastern Washington folks shooting their guns off everywhere!

And then, the server was a bit stiff.  She poured the red wine, a Barbera, first and said that since the wines were made in the German style, they sampled the red wine first, like the Germans do.  But that was all the information she offered up.  She didn’t tell us why the German style wines should be sampled in that order.  She didn’t explain why or how a Barbera, which is an Italian grape, was being made in the German style.  She didn’t say anything about any of the wines!  So I’m left wondering if what she said is true, that the Germans do their wine tastings with the reds first.  If you know the answer please let me know.  And if you know why – even better!

So, we tried the Barbera – it had a slight foam on top which was strange -the wine was so-so.  The Riesling we tried next was sweet but flat, and had no acidity to balance it out.  The Gewürztraminer was like grape juice; it had no structure.  I didn’t like any of the three, so I won’t delabor the point with any more detail.  At that point, Jon just wandered off, out to the patio and then further away… I knew he wasn’t coming back.  What to do now!?  I hate leaving a winery without making a purchase, because these are generally small businesses, and people’s livelihoods, but I really didn’t like any of these wines…  I said thank you and departed, and then chastised Jon when we got back in the car for bailing on me!

And I certainly won’t be taking anymore wine recommendations from my conference friend!