When deciding to launch The Hudson Valley Story one person came to mind immediately. I knew she was knowledgeable and shared my passion– not just about blogging, but about branding, social media and of course WINE!. My friend Debbie Lessner-Gioquindo is THE Hudson Valley Wine Goddess! It’s great to actually know a Goddess..But A WINE Goddess that’s a BIG bonus in my book!
Enjoy our recent conversation when we got together for libations to talk Dream Jobs, The Old Days, Beach Houses and more…It is The Hudson Valley Story!
So Debbie, we know each other a long time! We won’t say how many years but we worked together for your dad and uncle who owned Beacon Broadcasting WSPK K104. Your dad, Bob Lessner had also worked in television and film and was the Chief Sound Engineer for Allen Funt’s Candid Camera for six years. What memories do you have of this growing up?
Gosh, I was young back in the Candid Camera days. One of my vivid memories is meeting them for lunch at Cross County Center in Yonkers. I remember coming off the escalator to see my dad, Mr. Funt and staff. My dad use to tell some great stories of the days he worked on Candid Camera. He would have to hid the microphone and there were some pretty strange places he was in.
What made you decide to become THE Hudson Valley Wine Goddess?
My husband and I got into wine in the late 90’s. People were always asking me about wine so I thought a blog would be the best way to communicate my knowledge. Being raised and living in the Hudson Valley, I thought, why not be the Hudson Valley Wine Goddess
Tell us about all the initials after your name and what they mean? Did you need special training and certification to get them? (CTC, CSW, WLS)
Those are in the exact order I received them in. From 1991 until 2010 I owned a travel agency Personal Touch Travel and Exclusive Wine Vacations. I always believe in striving for the best in whatever you do. CTC stands for Certified Travel Counselor which was a designation given by the Institute of Certified Travel Agents. I had to go to NYC once a week for 6 months to attend class and then pass a certification test which was multiple choice and essay.
CSW was next and it stands for Certified Specialist of Wine. This once again is a certification and it is given by the Society of Wine Educators. I’ll tell you that was a hard course. It can be home study or you can attend a class. I opted for the class, because I am someone who needs structure. The first day of class there are 15 of us, many industry people and the teachers tells us there is a 50% pass rate and more than half the class was taking it for the second time. I thought to myself, I have a day job, 2 part time jobs and a family, what am I doing here? The class was 10 weeks and a 100 question multiple choice test that you had to pass with more than 75% on the wine, wine regions of the world and serving etiquette . Well I did it the first time around!
WLS is a certification given by the Center of Wine Origins. It’s a Wine Location Specialist in Port and Champagne. I learned so much in this class about Champagne and Port.
What are your favorite Hudson Valley Wines and brands to crack open?
I really like Traminette and Baco Noir that grows very well in the Hudson Valley. Benmarl and Hudson-Chatham are two of my favorite Baco producers. Whitecliff and Robibero are my favorite Traminette producers. You can’t go wrong with a Chardonnay or Cabernet Franc from Millbrook Vineyards or a Riesling or Pinot Noir from Tousey Winery.
What are your favorite Wine Bars and why?
I don’t really have a favorite wine bar per se. However, I will say that a good wine bar has a good wine list that has a variety of wines from the different regions of the world as well as serving local wines.
How did you get involved with Happy Bitch Wines?
I had just been downsized from my day job and I saw a tweet on twitter from Keryl Pesce about creating a wine to go with her book. I responded and met with her to share my knowledge and information about the wine industry and we became partners.
What do you think of all the brands of wine and alcohol by celebrities? Is it a bottomless pit in terms of the variations of wine, vodka, tequila that can be made?
Yes it is and I believe in quality. Anyone can slap a label on a bottle of wine or vodka, but if it isn’t good quality, they won’t be back for a second glass. The wine industry is very competitive and so is the shelf space. One must create a community around their label/brand for it to be successful.
You recently bought a home on the Jersey shore and are splitting up your time there. How do you find the Hudson Valley market differs from Jersey?
It is quite different. Farm to Table hasn’t reached South Jersey yet. Boy am I spoiled living and eating in the Hudson Valley. The people are a lot different. Customer service is lacking and it shouldn’t be in an area driven by tourism. Being a marketing person, I find the tourism industry is behind and that the businesses rely on methods that are becoming antiquated. Remember the book, Who Moved My Cheese, well they are in the room with the cheese stock disappearing thinking it will always be replenished while their counterparts left to find new cheese.
How do you pack your clothes to go back and fourth? I heard Suzanne Somers say once she rolled her clothes so they don’t get creased and you fit more in your bag. I tried it and found it works. What about you?
Very easy, I don’t. I have a wardrobes at both places. However, sometimes I find myself wanting to wear something that is in the other house.
What’s your dream job?
I guess you can say I am kind of living it. Having a wine label, doing marketing for small businesses, sharing my wine knowledge and running a wine competition. What more can I ask for.
This is Where Debbie Opened a NEW Bottle of Wine and Became the interviewer!
Melissa, what inspired you to write a blog about the Hudson Valley?
I always enjoyed writing and photographing pieces for newspapers and magazines. I also have my blog NewEnlandBlogger for about five years. I decided to move back to New York this fall after spending most of the last year in Cape Cod and it just seemed like the next step for me. I had been restrained by to many situations the last few years where I could not explore creatively speaking what I feel should be out there! I learned a lot from some very creative people in New England. As far as the video it’s really an extension and tells a complete story using audio and visuals. It’s the perfect story telling vehicle especially in the times we live in!
What are your favorite Hudson Valley wines or brands?
I like 87 North white wine by Robibero Winery in New Paltz, I love the Seyval Natural from Clinton Vineyards. Several years ago when covering an editorial assignment for a tourism magazine at Tuthill House at the Mill Restaurant I ventured into TutHilltown Spirits for a tasting and have become a fan of their Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey. I like making Hot Toddy’s with it in the cold weather months!
You spent a lot of time living out on Cape Cod the last year. How do you find the market differs from the Hudson Valley?
It is a very busy place in the summer months. The service seems friendlier many times. The people seem friendlier for the most part. One of my favorite places to go is Chatham Bars Inn in Chatham. I also spent some time on Nantucket and I found the same. I also like the presentation of both food items and drinks. Plus there’s nothing like fresh seafood with drinks!
Now that you are back in the Hudson Valley, what are your goals that you want to achieve?
I like to work directly with people helping brand their company. I can’t give it all away yet! I’m still developing my goals. It was a rough year for me with a lot of changes in a lot of directions…I am enjoying the time I spend in Rhinebeck now!
How do you think your past experience in radio sales provided you the skills you have to be successful today?
Radio was my first passion after songwriting and photography…lol. Radio, especially ten years at a great station supplied the basis to really understand marketing, the power of a good script and message, call to action, how to get the prospects attention and so much more! My radio days have installed knowledge that I still use today in working with clients! Once you learn the formula you just apply it to different mediums!
Cheers Deb…Cheers Melissa…