Wine & Beer

This SLO County winemaker made the cover of Wine Enthusiast magazine’s tastemaker issue

How to taste wine like a pro: Tips from a SLO sommelier

Wine tasting can be overwhelming if you don't know what to look for. Jenna Congdon — a certified sommelier and wine director at The Station and Granada Hotel and Bistro in San Luis Obispo — takes us through the 5 S's of wine tasting.
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Wine tasting can be overwhelming if you don't know what to look for. Jenna Congdon — a certified sommelier and wine director at The Station and Granada Hotel and Bistro in San Luis Obispo — takes us through the 5 S's of wine tasting.

A San Luis Obispo County winemaker graced the cover of Wine Enthusiast’s 2019 “Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers” issue — and she showed off her Central Coast roots with a lasso rope and wine glass in the photo shoot.

Amanda Wittstrom-Higgins, vice president of operations at Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita, was honored by the popular magazine as a top tastemaker in the wine, beer and spirits industry. The list will appear in its October edition.

Wine Enthusiast wrote that Wittstrom-Higgins and the other tastemakers “represent some of the best talent in the country working to push the boundaries of what’s possible in drinks culture... With an eye on innovation and an impulse to constantly reach for the horizon, each of these honorees is doing their part to lead the conversation and leave a lasting influence on the world of food and drink for generations to come.”

For the tastemaker photo shoot, all the winemakers were told to bring something “authentically you.” Wittstrom-Higgins said she knew she had to bring her lasso rope.

“I grew up with horses and cattle, and my whole family ropes,” Wittstrom-Higgins said. “Looking at past award winners, everyone is so fancy, I realized to stand out I just needed to be myself.”

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The Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 list recognizes the young winemakers, brewers, beverage directors, grape growers and other movers and shakers who are changing today’s beverage industry. Ashton Worthington

Wittstrom-Higgins was recognized for her achievements in business, mentorship, charity and community engagement.

Wittstrom-Higgins founded Dream Big Darling in 2018, a nonprofit mentorship program dedicated to helping “rising female talent in the wine and spirits industry.” Dream Big Darling is inspired Wittstrom-Higgins’ grandmother, who used to call her darling and taught her that “being genuinely kind and loving is the biggest gift we can give in this world.”

Wittstrom-Higgins also co-founded Wine Speak Paso Robles in 2017, an annual multi-day industry trade event that attracts professionals from across the country. Wittstrom-Higgins said she wants the event to help bring industry professionals closer together.

“I really hope our industry can continue to expand in regions like Paso Robles and in places that are somewhat undiscovered on more of a global stage,” Wittstrom-Higgins said. “We want to bridge the gap between knowledge and geography.”

Wittstrom-Higgins has helped Ancient Peaks Winery forge annual double-digit sales growth and expand distribution to 44 states and international markets, according to an Ancient Peaks news release.

“We want to make incredible wines that over deliver at their price point, and share a piece of our Paso Robles AVA ranch with the world,” Wittstrom-Higgins said.

Wittstrom-Higgins is a fourth-generation San Luis Obispo resident and attended Cuesta College and Cal Poly.

“What we have in this community is really special. The roots in agriculture create a humble environment, but it’s also mixed with a lot of innovation and hard work,” Wittstrom-Higgins said. “It’s such a privilege to be able to represent my community, my company and my family with this honor.”

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