Why do you do Wine Speak?

The main goal for Wine Speak is how can we affect change?

 Affect change through sharing, camaraderie, talking story & hopefully collaboration moving forward. 

That first year, we had a dream list of 15 people (from the New World) who we felt had something very profound to share.  We were able to get all 15 to come.  While they may have known each other by reputation, they really didn’t know each other well.  Wine Speak was the venue to bring these people together.

It is important that everyone involved believes in the common goal of–“how can we affect change“?

It really starts with the “home” team–co-founder Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP of Operations, Ancient Peaks winery) & her whole team.  Amanda is certainly the rock, heart & soul of this event. She is so driven & determined with amazingly all of the honesty, graciousness & intangibles which makes the intent so credible, believable & achievable.  It is clearly understandable why she was deservedly selected as 40 under 40 by the Wine Enthusiast & prominently featured on the cover.  Yes, she is the real deal.

Her team vehemently has the vision, the dedication & will power to make everything happen AND on so many different levels & complete aspects.  They relentlessly persevere & get things done with integrity, grace & very importantly, in a way that makes everyone feel included.  They are like a family & they are so inspiring to watch them pull everything together.  It is NOT just a job or just another event.  Wine Speak resoundingly has meaning for each & one can clearly see & feel that.  I am always so honored & touched to be part of this family.  

I have also been privileged to get to know better every year the owners of Ancient Peaks winery–Rob Rossi, Doug Filipponi & Karl Wittstrom.  (Doug & Karl I would say are proudly real cowboys & could easily be in a group with John Wayne & the like.)  They are salt of the earth, honest men & it is so heart warming to see how they completely embrace this event with all of their resources & at the same time, I can see it in their eyes, that they are learning & growing along with everyone else. 

I should also mention & thank the community & people of the town of Atascadero.  They have warmly welcomed all of us visitors with genuine, wide open arms AND just jumped in to help whenever & wherever they can.  It is always so touching & amazing.  From the Mayor to the City Council to the small businesses, to the hotels to the restaurants to the wineries–I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.  I marvel how what we call in Hawaii the aloha spirit also resides in Atascadero.

I remember that first year, the attendance was way more than we ever anticipated.  The looming question was–where could we now do it?  

Thankfully, the mayor & the City Council allowed us to use their chamber in City Hall to conduct our seminars.  What????  What other city would jump in like that?  Also, that year there were heavy rains AND mud slides which shut down Highway 101 heading south to LA.  So, there were of course emergency meetings, after which the Mayor & City Council would set up our tables, chairs, wine glasses, etc for our seminars the next day!!!!  What????  Exactly my point.  This is a clear example of a community just jumping in to help us create an event & fulfill a dream.  I thank you all so much. 

So, the infrastructure was set & continually evolving, under the watchful eye of event matriarch Amanda Wittstrom Higgins.

What would happen when all of the winemakers/professionals, sommeliers & gang come in to share, get to know each other so we could all better talk story added much dimension to the goal of how can we affect change.

I should mention, it was a thrill to have so many younger, wanting to learn & share sommeliers (headed by Chris Ramelb) & winemakers attending this year. 





And, I was so thankful for all who came & shared their wines.  Most notably Nunzio Alioto, legendary Master Sommelier & my best friend for over 40 years. 






How do we affect change?–

3  or 4 years ago, I remember watching the face of a young, VERY reserved assistant winemaker’s face as he first smelled the 2015 Faury Condrieu (which I had brought).  It stunned him.  You could see it on his face.  The sense of great wonderment on his face heightened with his first taste.  (I was watching from a distance).  It was absolutely blowing his mind.  When I showed him the bottle, he was just shaking his head in disbelief, because he also grew & made Viognier, BUT nothing like this.  One could easily & readily see this wine changed the way he thought.

Fast Forward to 2020.  We brought Lionel Faury to speak.  That assistant winemaker is now a winemaker & I made sure they met & hung out for the 2 days.  I was touched when these two very reserved individuals were hanging out and belly laughing loudly & freely one night.  A dream come true? Yes, certainly for me.

On night 2, my best friend Nunzio Alioto, MS, brought several wines to share with all.  He served the first, 1995 Chave Ermitage “Cuvee Cathelin” to Lionel BLIND.  This wine absolutely stunned him, just as his wine had that young winemaker years ago.  You could see & feel a strong sense of bewilderment & wonderment on his face, even more so when he tasted the wine.

The earth shattering moment continued as Nunzio served Lionel next BLIND the 1989 Gentaz Dervieux Cote Rotie, the single most memorable wine I had ever had.

Both were from his general area & the Gentaz from the same hillside he works.

When he saw the labels, I would say, tasting these two wines were also a dream coming true. for him.  These are 2 of the very most legendary wines of the northern Rhone of all time, at least for true purists like him.  He had not had either before.  It was a grand, game changing moment for me to watch & marvel.

Just in this one vein of people, look how the event affected each of these people.


Yet another example. 

For the first year, since I have helped train flight attendants for Hawaiian Airlines, I asked two of the principals to come to Paso Robles & do a seminar on the Aloha Spirit/hospitality. 

The attendance was 250 AND these 2 ladies killed it. It was truly a chicken skin moment.   I would say 80% of audience were young ladies & one could easily see wonderment on their faces.  I can be like that.  I want to be like that.

Being inspired by all of this, for the second year, we created a panel, which we named “Wine from a different Perspective”.  4 panelists—Meredith May (Publisher/owner The SOMM Journal/Tasting Panel); Jordan Fiorentini (winemaker Epoch); Helen Keplinger (former winemaker of Bryant Family/former Food & Wine magazine “Winemaker of the Year”); Shelley Lindgren (owner/wine director of A16/SPQR both in SF AND former James Beard Wine Professional of the Year).  Moderator—Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP Operations Ancient Peaks/ co-founder Wine Speak/ cover of Wine Enthusiast—40 under 40 issue).  ALL very successful women.  I told them they could talk about anything, NOT just about being a female in the business.  For me, having 5 earnest, intelligent, charismatic, hard working, very successful professionals on stage together discussing their professional paths was truly inspiring in itself.   It was sooooo emotional, & people including myself were crying.  OMG.  Jackpot.  It certainly inspired many to the umpteenth degree. 


For 2020, rather than having so many on stage, we decided just to feature just two—Madeline Triffon (Detroit)—6th American to pass the MS, first female American/ 2nd female in the world.  In a totally male dominated fine dining industry, she rose above it all.  Moderator– Amanda Wittstrom Higgins (VP Operations Ancient Peaks/ co-founder Wine Speak/ cover of Wine Enthusiast—40 under 40 issue).    They again had everyone crying, it was again so emotional & impactful. 

ALL three of these addressed the goal of how can we affect change.  AND, they gave each attendee someone or something to aspire to.

Why do I do Wine Speak?  I hope these examples help to answer that very complex question. 

AND, I must honestly say, I was undoubtedly the person most inspired, because of the all of the people who came to share, create camaraderie & looking to create collaboration moving forward.

A special thanks to Cameron Ingalls of Acacia Productions, whose pictures capture those special moments & brought them to life.   

Thank you to all of the sponsors.  I am so touched by each of you for jumping all in to support.  Your actions speak louder than words.

Also, a BIG thank you to all of the wineries who came to share their insights & their wines to all of us is so very much appreciated.  We can make a difference because of your support.  

Much mahalo to you all!


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