Mollie Battenhouse, national director of wine education for Jackson Family Wines, has a unique resume for her profession.
She has more than 25 years of experience working in the food and wine trade as a chef, sommelier, wine director, wine writer and educator. It's rare to see that combination. She is one of 380 Master of Wine degree holders from around the world.
She has the opportunity to surround herself with professionals from all corners of the wine industry from importers to buyers, as well as award-winning writers and bloggers. So, if you have a question about wine, this Georgia native is your go-to person, and she says if she doesn’t know the answer, she has plenty of folks in her professional circle who will know.
Guests of the Savannah Food & Wine Festival will get the chance to learn from and chat with Battenhouse at several events, including her master class on North-to-South Exploration of American Coastal Pinot Noir from Jackson Family Wines. The class is from 4 to 5 p.m. Nov. 8 at Chef Darin’s Kitchen Table. Tickets are $50, or purchase a Nov. 8 “all day” class pass for $160. Seating is limited and reservations are required.
Battenhouse explains the class will take guests on a "trip" from north to south on the West Coast as they sample wines from several of the Jackson Family Wines estates.
“We’ll probably taste something from Oregon and then hit something from the Anderson Valley and make our way to the extreme Sonoma coast … and along the Russian River region and head down to Monterey and down to the Santa Barbara Valley.”
While the final wine selection is not set in stone just yet, Battenhouse says she will bring at least six wines from their Coastal Pinot Noir collection of wines.
“The class is aimed at people with different experience levels on wine and we’ll talk about pinot noir in general and discuss what we’ll be sampling and about how it is made.”
Battenhouse says it’s important to cover the history and regions of the wine because there can be a little bit of a language barrier for people just coming to wine.
“Some people may find that language foreign, but we won't go too deep unless someone asks questions.”
The class will include maps and photos of the Jackson Family Wines estates along the West Coast along with discussions on climate and how these different locations can affect the taste of each wine.
“People should come out and try our Jackson Family Wines other than Kendall Jackson,” she adds. “It might knock their socks off to know how special our Coastal Pinot Noir collection really is.”
She laughs and adds, “The wines are going to be delicious, so even if you know nothing about wine … you can ignore my presentation and come taste in silence.”
It’s that welcoming, laid-back approach to wine education that makes Battenhouse someone easy to talk to about wine, as she says no question is a stupid question. “Usually the question you want to ask is something someone else in the room wants to ask. You don’t want to walk away from an event and not know the answer.
“... I think you should ask any question you have... One of the essential things to becoming a Master of Wine is asking the questions in your mind. … Sometimes it’s hard to jump in there with a question... At my classes, I usually tell people at the beginning to ask questions along the way... I get excited to talk about wine because I love it. So, don't be afraid to ask a question and tell me to slow down or that I’m talking too much.”
But if you miss Battenhouse’s class, you can catch up with her at the Grand Reserve Tasting on Nov. 8, the Riverboat Luncheon Cruise on Nov. 9 or the Taste of Savannah on Nov. 10. And if you plan to attend the larger tasting events during the festival, Battenhouse offers some sensible tips to make the most of your day.
She explains she recently went to a new four-day event in California. “These big events can be daunting," she says.
“I could only attend a day and half of the event and there were classes and demos and several I wanted to go to.”
She laughs and admits she “might be a little nerdier than some people,” but she planned ahead and downloaded the schedule.
“I put those events that I wanted to attend in my calendar so I could keep up once I got there... If I waited until I got to the gate, it would have been overwhelming to choose.
“Map out who is going to be where and figure out what is most important to see or taste... It’s easy to walk in and start eating and drinking and getting full and then realizing there was something else you wanted to see... I like to have a game plan and allow some extra time for other things because there may be something you didn’t know you wanted to try.”
And if you don’t have time to plan ahead, she has one simple bit of advice to enjoy your food and wine festival events.
“Wine and food should be a sensory exploration,” she says. “It’s not just about talking and discovering; it’s the whole experience. So, take time and take it in.”
IF YOU GO
What: North-to-South Exploration of American Coastal Pinot Noir
When: 4-5 p.m. Nov. 8
Where: Chef Darin’s Kitchen Table, 2514 Abercorn St., #140
Cost: $50, $160 all-day pass for Nov. 8