You know how most pilot episodes, books or articles are consisted of the author being crazily hyped up, having basically no idea what’s going on, but hoping that his “new thing“ will not fail miserably? Well folks, the first Filling in the Blancs had many candidates lined up, but I’d say this one initially struck the lotto. Matt and Charine are two young wine lovers who have decided to flip over the table and head on a quest of turning their passion for THE drink into a career and call it Exotic Wine Travel. It’s been a bumpy road through lesser-known regions, but step by step, winery after winery, they’re getting closer to their goal. So far, they’ve published two books – Travel Learn Earn: Let the World Be Your Guide to Freedom, as well as Uncorking the Caucasus: Wine from Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia and have appeared on JancisRobinson.com, Wine Folly, Future Travel and Wine Tourist Magazine.
If you could own a vineyard anywhere in the world, which special destination would you choose?
Charine: I just came back from a two-week press trip in Cyprus. So naturally, that country is on the top of my mind. More than 90% of the vines in Cyprus are old goblets and the vineyards could climb as high as 1,500-meter in elevation. Those two conditions, plus Cyprus’ Mediterranean climate, help to create wine grapes that deliver great intensity. The views around the vineyards are spectacular too. I’d love to own a piece of that gem. Most importantly, I love Cypriot food so owning a vineyard there would give me reasons to visit the country over and over again.
Matt: For me, it would be Piedmont. The combination of hilltop villages, community feel, and towering Alps in the background. The rolling hillside vineyards in Barolo and Barbaresco will be forever magical to me. Plus I love the food and the grape Nebbiolo.
You love food. A LOT. What’s the strangest food & wine pairing you’ve experienced?
Charine: I’ve never had a pairing that I would consider strange. Now that’s a new to-do! But I think one of the most interesting pairings I tried was a vertical tasting of Markus Dingac Pepejuh and salted chocolate cake drizzled with olive oil.
Matt: For me, it was a dessert pairing. We mixed Italian cuisine and Croatian wine recently. It was Italian profiteroles coated in chocolate and paired with a Croatian Ice Wine made from Riesling. I usually don’t love dessert pairing but for one reason this one was completely harmonized. It leaves me longing for more dessert wine pairings!
Favorite winemaking style?
Matt: I love red wines that are fermented in old, open-top oak vats with no temperature control and then aged for a long time in old oak. They seem to add real texture and flavor to the wine. The benchmark of this style of wines for me is R. Lopez de Heredia in Rioja. There is a producer in Dalmatia, Croatia named Miloš doing the same thing with Plavac Mali.
Charine: The style doesn’t matter much to me as long as it is a good wine, and better yet, with a good story to tell. That said, I’m definitely partial to the minimal-intervention approach to wine. I’m quite a naturalist; I haven’t taken any medication for six years and subscribe to the low-sugar, no-processed-food diet. So it makes sense for me to also practice the same value when choosing wine. The thing is I’m still at the beginning of my wine career and such choices can be self-defeating.
You made a sharp turn into wine. What was your career’s “aha” moment?
Charine: We left Singapore in May 2015, with the intention of building a location-independent lifestyle and business. At first, we thought we’d go into separate businesses where Matt would work on developing a personal development program and I’ll continue my career as an independent brand consultant. Seven months into the trip, we realized we were spending all our time and money on wine travel. During our trip through the lesser-known wine regions in the Caucasus and the more established places like the Etna wine region, we also realized that information on where to go, what to drink, and where to stay isn’t as accessible as one might expect. That was the point when we found the sweet spot between market need, passion, and our own unique selling point as full-time wine travelers.
Matt: Yes, that!
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned in this business so far?
Charine: If one of us wins, everyone wins. That means to celebrate the community spirit and help each other whenever I can.
Matt: Exactly. The most successful people we have met in this industry are ones that are most willing to help. People that get joy out of seeing other people win always rise to the top. I have been so thankful for those that have helped us and look forward to getting to the point where we can do the same for the next round of people looking for help.
Prepared by Aleksandar Draganić.
I’m a WSET certified grape juice drinker, and yes, I’m that 1% of people that love their job. I drink wine, write about it, preach about it, even take pictures of it. Find me at @grapenomad