Benzinger Family Winery

As newbies to wine country, Tommy and I didn’t have much in the way of a plan as far as visiting vineyards went. Our room in Sonoma included a wine tasting pass to a dozen or so vineyards which seemed like a good place to start. We figured we’d check out the places on the pass and ask for recommendations. Other than that there was only one place I really wanted to go,  Benzinger Family Winery.
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A few summers ago family friends visited Benzinger and shipped a case of wine back to their Vermont house. We tried the cabernet sauvignon over dinner one night and I loved it so much that they very sweetly sent us home with a bottle. For a year or so, I searched high and low for that cab to no avail. It turns out, as I learned while we were there, it’s an estate wine which means it’s not distributed and can only be purchased from the vineyard.
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As luck would have it, Benzinger was included on our winery pass. Everyone we talked to in Sonoma recommended doing the tram tour at Benzinger, and packing a picnic for lunch. So we made an afternoon of it, stopping  at Whole Foods to pick up supplies before driving the 20 minutes up to the vineyard.
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We jumped on the 12:30pm tour. This time of year is still considered off-season in Sonoma and Napa so it wasn’t very crowded which was nice. We were able to talk to our guide and learn so much as he drove us around the property, showed us the caves and poured some wines for us to taste.
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The property is surrounded by rolling hills and Sonoma Mountain, they protect the vineyard and make it feel very private. The tram took us up to one of the tallest knolls, giving us a great view of the garden in the center of the property.
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Not only is that garden beautiful, but it serves a very distinct purpose. Benzinger is a biodynamic farm, and they’re committed to organic and sustainable farming practices. On their website it states, “We don’t just farm this way because we think caring for the land is the right thing to do, it also happens to be the best way to make distinctive, authentic wines.”
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That means everything on the farm is put there on purpose. For example, this garden naturally attracts the right insects while sheep replace tractors to gently mow, aerate and fertilize the land.


Hailing from the Green Mountain State ourselves, we were smitten with Benziger and their commitment to the environment and the quality of their vines.
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Once we’d learned all about the farm, we moved on to the processing area. This is where the grapes are turned into wine. Not the most glamorous part of the tour, but quite interesting. We learned how grapes are destemmed and how the process for making white wine differs from that of red. It has to do with when the skins are removed. Honestly, I was more interested in the giant succulents and rows of vines than the equipment so I didn’t pay as much attention to this part. You’ll have to google that one if you’re curious.
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Next we moved into the caves, which are tunneled into the surrounding hills, to see where the wine is barrel aged. Each barrel is handmade from oak in France or Eastern Europe. Neither nails nor glue are used to hold the barrels together, they are perfectly crafted to be airtight on their own. It’s quite an art form and they sell for a pretty penny at $1,000-$1,800 per barrel. The oak is an important flavor component, each wine is aged according to how much flavor should be imparted. The barrels can be reused but only a few times, since they eventually stop giving off enough oak to flavor the wine. Aging times vary, whites are shorter and things like cab and Malbec take longer.
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Our tour concluded with a full tasting where I finally found the wine I’ve been searching for. It was as unbelievable as I remembered, so I shipped some home.
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Rosy cheecked and feeling quite relaxed, we left the tasting room to collect our lunch. We enjoyed a quiet picnic amidst in the rows of vines and springy buds. It was a perfect afternoon and a great start to our vacation.

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BTV to SFO

Last week Tommy and I left behind the cold, gray, unpredictable Vermont weather for sunny California. In ten years we’ve only taken one other proper vacation together and that was the few days after our wedding that we spent in Maine (but I’m not convinced that totally counts as a vacation since we had to cancel our real honeymoon in lieu of my knee surgery). Our other trips are usually to visit family and friends and attend weddings. So as you can imagine I was REALLY excited for this trip.
DSC_0043 (2).JPGWe touched down in San Francisco on Saturday afternoon – I was blown away by the rolling hill and green space. Maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but I knew that San Fran was hilly I just didn’t realize the surrounding area was so green! Love at first sight. We grabbed our rental car and headed straight out for those hills.
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We drove over the Golden Gate bridge and up to Sonoma. It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful drive.
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Tommy drove us while I snapped away with my camera. Look at that view!! I couldn’t get enough. But soon the cityscapes and water gave way to green pastures and rows of vines.
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An hour and a half later we made it to Sonoma and found our inn. It was one of those times where seeing it in person was even better than the photos online. It was bright, gorgeous and the staff couldn’t have been friendlier.

After getting up at 4:30am east coast time, we were exhausted. So we walked the main square, grabbed some delicious Mexican food and called it an early night. The next morning we woke up to a basket of fresh baked pastries hanging on the outside of our door, which we enjoyed in our very own breakfast nook.
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I loved this about where we stayed. Unlike a traditional B&B, the whole experience was very private. Our room had a living room and breakfast nook complete with a fridge, coffee maker and cupboards. The fridge was stocked with milk, oj, butter and half and half and the cupboard held cereals, jams and local coffee grounds. Each day while our room was cleaned the table was reset and our fruit plate was refilled. I enjoyed a pastry while Tommy sipped coffee and poured a giant bowl of cereal. Then I was off for a massage – did I mention that our inn had a spa??
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I donned a robe and strolled down this outdoor corridor to the loveliest massage with the sweetest masseuse. She confided that she learned massage therapy in the sixties and has been loving her job for more than 40 years. I couldn’t blame her. The room we were in was stunning. Unlike most massages I’ve had, it was drenched in sunlight. The entire back wall was a window overlooking a tiny, private courtyard – not a bad place to call your office. Loving the wash of light, I was relaxed and energized at the same time. I left in a pretty euphoric state,  and more than ready to head out to our first vineyard – more on that soon!

Grown up field trip

Two weeks ago Tommy and I headed down to CT for a fun weekend with my family, my roommate from college and her boyfriend. On the docket – lots of eating and a day in New York City. Michael surprised Callie with tickets to Aladdin on Broadway for her birthday back in October and invited Tommy and me to join. That Saturday morning we boarded the train from Darien bright and early and set off for the city. Our first stop?
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The Museum of Natural History! This museum holds a very special place in my heart. Growing up, my mom used to take Casey, Dennis and me there all the time. Dennis was obsessed with dinosaurs. OBSESSED. My mom must’ve read him every single dinosaur book in the library, we owned more movies about dinosaurs than fit comfortably on a bookshelf and he had what seemed like thousands of figurines which he lined up meticulously by size. The entire floor of dinosaurs housed in this glorious museum was his childhood mecca.

We didn’t have a ton of time due to lunch plans with my parents and the show at 2:30pm so we had to be strategic. We decided on two exhibits: dinosaurs and ocean life.
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Fossils astound me. It amazes me to think of paleontologists digging these bones from the ground and reconstructing them from theoretical knowledge.
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How funky is this guy? It was cool to see the not-so-mainstream dinos. Most of them were new to me. I also learned that whales, who once had legs, descended from the dinosaur. I didn’t even have to read that off of a plaque. Dennis is a walking encyclopedia. Anything that crosses over with marine life, he knows. Which made the whale room even more interesting.
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Hey there, big guy! I love this space. When I worked at Middlebury we had our alumni holiday party in this room.  Imagine a gorgeous bar set up, 800 or so folks mingling in dressy party attire and delicious passed hors d’oeurves. It’s pretty magical.
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We cruised through checking out each window until it was time to head out for lunch. If you have a few hours to spare in NYC I’d highly recommend a visit. I feel like it brings out a childish awe of the unknown. You can explore up close things you’ve never seen (and may never see) in person.
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We met my parents at Saju, a favorite spot of ours for lunch or dinner. You can almost always get a table, the food is delicious and the atmosphere is cozy. Plus, it is close to the theaters.
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We caught up over lunch then headed on our separate ways. Cal, Michael, Tommy and I were off to Aladdin, my parents had tickets to Beautiful, and Casey and Dennis were meeting up with our cousin in Central Park.
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Aladdin was great. The set was really neat and the genie was fabulous! I enjoyed his songs the most. I hadn’t seen the movie in ages (I’m not a Disney buff like Tommy and Callie), so it was fun to relive all the songs. I especially enjoyed Tommy and Callie singing along.
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Before catching our train home we met up with Casey, Dennis and my cousin Hayley for a quick piece of post-show cheesecake at Juniors. By the time we slumped into our seats on the train I was exhausted! Our big kid field trip wore me out in the best way.

Sunday at Sugarbush

Last weekend while the rest of the east coast was getting buried by a monster snow storm, Vermont was sunnier than it’s been in weeks. Tommy and our friends Hannah and Peter had plans to ski on Sunday, and I decided to take a ride to the mountain with them.
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I tried skiing a few weeks ago but my knee isn’t quite ready yet. It felt so good to be on skis, but I’m just not strong enough to go without doing damage. However, it was a good reminder of how much I love being at the mountain. So I packed up my book, my camera and some snacks and hopped in the car with the skiers.
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Sugarbush was bathed in sunlight, and after a bitterly cold week it felt great to be outside. Last week I really struggled with the cold, feeling lethargic and unmotivated to do much of anything.  What a difference the sun can make. Sitting in the lodge looking out at the bright blue skies, I was itching to get outside.
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I bundled up and took a walk. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and at 22 degrees I was actually quite comfortable. It seemed quiet for such a beautiful day. As Peter pointed out, the big storm probably prevented out-of-staters from coming up.
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I walked around the base a bit and then went exploring up the road. There’s a new section of condos going up so I peeked around there before walking back down.
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I joined Tommy, Hannah and Peter for lunch out on the patio. Did I mention it was a gorgeous day?? Clearly, we Vermonters don’t get enough winter sunshine. I couldn’t stop talking about how beautiful it was.
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I may still have a ways to go before I can ski again, but it still felt good to be out soaking up the rare January sun with these guys.
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2015 in pictures

One of my favorite January traditions is making a photo book of the past year. I used to try to be good about printing out photos, but they’d always end up sitting in unorganized piles and stuffed into drawers. A photo book takes up much less space and is easy to display around the house.
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We usually keep ours on the coffee table in the living room. It makes for a cute stack of books and they’re right at our fingertips if we want to flip through while sitting on the couch.
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Here’s our full collection – 2013, 2014 & 2015. I’ve kept the design as similar as possible to make them look like a set. The front cover is a large photo of Tommy and I with the year.
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And the back is a full page photo. This year’s photo is a shot of the 4th of July fireworks over the sunset on Acapesket beach.
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Inside I dedicate one page or a two page spread to each event or occasion and keep everything in chronological order. I love being able to quickly flip through the whole year. Each book is bursting with family, friends and good memories.

Highlights from 2015 include:

  • Snowshoeing on a very frozen Lake Champlain.
  • Celebrating Mardi Gras in Burlington
  • Tommy’s surprise 28th birthday party.
  • Julie & Dmitriy’s wedding on the Cape
  • The third ever Conetta Trifecta party – celebrating Dennis’ college graduation, Casey’s Masters graduation and my birthday (above, left.)
  • Wine and Bluegrass at Shelburne Vineyard (above, right.)
  • Labor Day on the Cape with Korinne and Ian.
  • Brunch at Shelburne Farms to celebrate our first wedding anniversary (below, left.)
  • Eat x Northeast beer tasting and food festival with Hannah and Peter (below, right.)
  • Our first Friendsgiving.
  • Thanksgiving at my parents’ house.
  • Conetta Christmas
  • A St. Mike’s reunion in Newport, RI.
  • McCann Christmas in Burlington.

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I used My Publisher to make all three books and have been very happy with the quality. They’re a bit pricey regularly but always seem to have great holiday sales in December and January that make them super affordable.

So that’s how I keep our photos organized each year. How do you organize and display your photos?

The cupboard under the stairs

No, I’m not hiding Harry Potter under my staircase. But I did create some much needed pantry storage in the stairway that leads down to our basement. One of the quirks of our old house is that there’s no storage on the first floor – not a single closet.

Off the kitchen is a stairway down to the basement which is equipped with three large shelves and many hooks. This space would be ideal for storage but it was filthy. And I mean D-I-R-T-Y! Plus, the old owners left behind lots of funky basement items like plant food, bleach and old flower pots that were strewn along these shelves. When we moved it we shoved our grocery bags and a few other items in with the existing left-behinds and called it a day. Until last week when I couldn’t stand the mess another minute. I forgot to take a true “before” photo, but here’s what I was left with after clearing out the space.
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Glamorous, eh? Once I got everything out I sorted the garbage from the good stuff. After getting rid of a full trash bag of things that weren’t even ours, I was left with a much more manageable amount of things to store. I started stripping the fake wood grain contact paper off the shelves. Not sure who’s idea it was to cover wood with faux wood paper but it seemed a little redundant. Then Tommy helped me remove everything from the walls (that wooden strip of hooks you see on the right, the fire extinguisher’s holder, a holder for screwdrivers) and we were ready to paint.
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We had a gallon of paint left over from our living and dining rooms to use. The plan was to cover the walls and shelves with two coats of Benjamin Moore’s Edgecomb gray then go over the shelves, trim and that row of hooks on the right with a semi-gloss white that we also had on hand (Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s white.) Here’s the after shot:
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Look at all the functional storage space!! I was happier than the proverbial pig in mud restocking those shelves. There was so much more space than I had previously realized.
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I was able to bring up all of our “Costco” items from the basement (toilet paper, tissues, oats, broth) and pull the extra cleaning supplies out from under kitchen sink. We use that little cabinet on the right to store some tools, tape and other miscellaneous items.

On the right we hung the broom and reusable grocery bags. Before we had no less than 100 bags, so I got rid of the ones we never use and hung one bag that’s ready for to grab for the grocery store (3-4 bags seems to be what we need most weeks) and stuffed the rest into another bag. It looks so much cleaner with just two sets of bags hanging.
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On the bottom shelf we fit our iron, ironing board and steamer along with a bag of shopping bags and some things we had stored above our fridge.
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It’s so nice to have everything laid out so I can see what’s actually there. The reason I have so many extra cleaning supplies is that I can’t always see what’s jammed under the sink. I would grab a refill at the store only to come home and realize I already had two bottles of glass cleaner tucked away.
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It may not be the most gorgeous space in our home, but it’s incredibly functional and I’m so happy with how it came out. I woke up Sunday morning and ran straight down the stairs to the kitchen so I could open the door and peek at the fresh, clean, neatly-organized shelves one more time. (Does anyone else find themselves oogling projects once they’re finished? Or is that just me being a weirdo?!)

A Warm Winter Walk

Two weeks before Christmas, Tommy and I celebrated the holiday with my family in CT. While we were down there we also spent a day Newport, RI for a little holiday reunion with some St. Mike’s friends (plus Casey and Dennis who tagged along for the trip.)
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We met at our fabulous friend Abby’s apartment before heading to Marble House for a holiday mansion tour. Abby works for the Newport mansions so she gave us a personal tour, which was a lot more fun than walking around with headphones on listening to a recording!
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You could only take photos in the foyer so here are a few from there. The house is stunning, every surface is covered in different types of marble from all over the world. There’s a whopping 500,000 cubic feet of marble throughout the house! Add Christmas decor and you feel as though you’ve stepped into a fairy tale of sorts.

The funny part is, these mansions were never open in the winter as they were strictly summer “cottages”. It’s such a shame because you could throw one heck of a holiday party in such a gorgeously adorned 50-room mansion!
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Once we’d had our look around we headed out to the grounds to explore. It may have been December, but the weather was more reminiscent of late April.
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We decided to take full advantage of the warm weather, and set out on the Cliff Walk. Note Tommy’s lack of jacket and Ray’s short sleeves – a funny juxtaposition to the Christmas tour we’d just taken.
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I love Newport’s rocky coast line. It reminds me so much of Maine. I couldn’t resist getting a little snap happy with my camera.
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I also love Abby’s ski sweater!
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We walked along catching up, chatting about holiday plans and checking out the mansions along the way.
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When we were kids my parents used to take us to Newport in the summer and my mom loves to tell the story of how we whined and complained the entire length of the cliff walk one year. I guess we were too young to appreciate the calm, quiet beauty. Which is ironic because now taking walks to look at houses is one of my favorite activities. I love peeking around neighborhoods when we travel, and even in Burlington, it’s one of my favorite ways to get to know a place.

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Warm as it was, it was still winter so the sun started to set late in the afternoon. We turned around and headed back to the car. Casey, Dennis, Tommy and I actually had another stop on our day trip. We were meeting my parents in New Haven for dinner and a concert. So we said our goodbyes and parted ways.
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We had so much fun exploring Newport and catching up with Abby, Melissa and Ray. We may not be able to get together as often as we’d like, but we always pick up right where we left off.
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