Craft Wine Adventures


By Linda Kissam, “Food, Wine & Shopping Diva”


Craft Wine discussionBIG BLEND RADIO INTERVIEW: This Craft Wine discussion features writer Linda Kissam, Carole Lawson – Craft Wine Association, William & Jennifer Layton – Layton’s Chance Vineyards & Winery, and Bill Schinkle – Tranquil Heart Vineyards & Winery. Listen to or download the podcast on,,, or


On your wine journey, you are likely to start with the bigger, more well-known brands. These wines are made for the masses, are pleasing to many palates, have agreeable price points, and are consistent in taste across vintages.

However, as your palate develops and your interest in wine progresses, you will begin searching out smaller producers that specialize in small lot wines. It is as natural as loving Hershey Chocolate when you were young, but progressing to Godiva or really “paying up” to Kreuther Handcrafted Chocolate Chef’s Collection as an adult. You change, your taste buds develop. It’s all good.

So I sense some interest from you about where to find small-lot wines. Good for you. You won’t regret your journey. Let’s start with what I mean by “small-lot wines.” If I put together a list of the best and most interesting wines I’ve tried in the past years, an overwhelming majority would be the work of producers with just a handful of acres, producing a limited amount of wine. Because they tend to have a more intimate relationship with their vines, small producers are more likely to produce wines that transmit an indefinable quality that makes it special: a sense of place, a certain flavor or feeling that only comes from that specific site. Are these wines more expensive and harder to find? Yup.

How do you find small-lot (also called craft wines)? Craft wine is specifically American wine. It features classic grapes and blends that stand toe-to-toe with the best in the world. Try starting at This is an organization founded in 2016. is a membership organization, but it’s where you go to find out the best small-lot producers. As explains, “We proudly support small production, handmade wines born from the heart and soul of the producer. These wines are a reflection of the hands that made them and the communities where they live. Some of it is traditional, some unique, all of it Craft.”

The designation of Certified Craft Winery is awarded to member wineries who qualify as a commercially-available, limited-production wine producer. Authenticity and traceability are key components. Wines must be authentic and traceable to their roots. Producers need to know the source of their fruit to qualify for this designation. The Certified Craft Wine designation is designed to support family-owned community wineries.  That’s a great statement. Keep it in mind as you expand your knowledge of wine. 

When you are ready to go down the proverbial wine-related rabbit hole, check out this site You won’t find any industrially produced wines here.  Every wine on NxtCrush is certified by the Craft Wine Association as a Certified Craft Wine.  You can easily explore and purchase to your heart’s content.

Like some direction on which wineries to look at first? Here are two craft certified wineries from two different states you should keep on your wine radar.

Layton’s Chance Winery in Maryland

Set on more than 14 acres of striking vineyards, Layton’s Chance is located in Maryland. It produces a variety of great wines, features a nice tasting room, a large picnic area with outdoor games, a nature trail, and a friendly staff. Owners Jennifer and William Layton are producing their wines in a state not typically associated with wine, Maryland. Jennifer is the general manager and her husband William, is the winemaker. The family grew corn and soybeans for generations until Jennifer and William took over. Layton’s Chance is the first Certified Craft Winery in Maryland.

JOE’S COOL RED / $17.95 / 18% alcohol. Joe’s famous namesake. This is a light dessert, fortified wine. Think strawberry, cherry, Concord grape, raspberry, and a hint of acai berry notes. Sweet but surprisingly ends off on a somewhat dry note. Slightly acidic finish. One of those versatile wines that can be served as an aperitif, after dinner dessert or mixed with club soda for a tasty sangria or as an alternative to a brunch mimosa. If you have a, “I only drink sweet wines” friend, serve them this.

2018 VINTNER’S RESERVE / $26.00. Vintner’s Reserve is a blend of Cab Franc, Norton and Chambourcin grapes. It presents as a dry full-bodied wine. Prominent berry flavors pair well with anything grilled or roasted as well as soft cheeses.

Tranquil Heart Vineyard in California
This is a biodynamic craft wine-maker located in California’s renowned South Coast Wine Country Region. They cultivate and harvest six different varieties of grapes producing award-winning, small-batch wines. To keep the balance of sugar, PH, and acid, winemaker Bill S. shares that they, “…are probably the earliest to harvest in So Cal.”

The actual name of the business is Tranquility Vineyards and Winery.  Taking the drawing of the property and turning it around the heart appeared. Per owner Bill, “Our logo is almost the exact shape of the property.  We decided that the heart had to be in the name, and we shortened Tranquility to Tranquil and added a heart. Tranquil Heart.”

Bill Shinkle, owner of Tranquil Heart Vineyard and Winery, is razor-sharp focused on producing quality, small craft wines.  There were doubters when he launched a winery in the most unlikely place, hot and dusty Hemet, California. But Bill’s background in horticulture told him he could go way beyond even his own expectations. “It is my goal to be in complete control over all aspects of the wine, from the vine to the barrel, and at the same time allow our members to have the opportunity to also be part of the winemaking experience.”

The winery has 15 acres, shaped in a heart. The climate is Mediterranean. He chose a diverse mix of mostly Italian varieties: Barbera, Teroldego, Aglianico, Muscat Canelli, Fiano, and Viognier. Tranquil Heart is a private membership club and isn’t open to the public. The award-winning wines are available via wine club membership or online purchase.

2017 BIANCA BARBERA/ $34: Made from the Barbera variety, which is always a good starting point for me. The winemaker treated this red grape varietal like a white. Interesting…no skins or seeds in the fermentation process. According to the winemaker, “We selectively chose 9 rows, pick it 3 weeks earlier than normal for our grapes used for our Red wine at around 21 brix level. We simply pressed it and removed the skins and seeds like we would a white.” The result? Easy on the nose and palate. Smells like Watermelons. The color took on a tantalizing Coral.

2015 WILLIAMS WILD RED RESERVE /$68: Small-lot production (38 cases) assures a unique tasting experience. A silver award winner from the 2018 San Diego Int’l Wine Challenge confirms how special this wine is. A thoughtful South Coast Appellation red wine blend consisting of 50% Barbera, 30% Aglianico, and 20% Toreldego. Nice balance, goes down smooth with toasty French oak and fruit-forward notes. Complex flavors. It pairs well with red meats, red sauce pasta dishes, or in stand-alone sipping.

Recipe: Caramelized Onion and Blue Cheese Steak Sauce

Pair with Layton’s Chance 2018 VINTNER’S RESERVE / $26.00
Courtesy of Layton’s Chance Winery


  • 2 Vidalia Onions
  • 4 Tbsp Salt & Pepper
  • 4 oz. Cream Cheese, cubed
  • 4 oz. Blue Cheese
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • Salt & Pepper


  1. Melt the butter in an oven-safe iron pan and add the onions. Season the onions with salt and pepper and cook until fragrant over medium heat.
  2. Stir in the Worcestershire, cream cheese, and blue cheese until it begins to melt and remove it from the stovetop.
  3. Smoke it on the grill at 300 F over indirect heat for 30 minutes or so or until golden brown. You can also bake in the over at 350 F until brown (20-30 min).
  4. Remove from the heat and allow it to rest a few minutes. Serve over your favorite steak or beef cut or as a dip.

Note from owner/manager Jennifer Layton:  This recipe is from  I love both onions and blue cheese so this recipe has been a favorite of mine.  I especially love it with local blue cheese, Bay Blue, from Chapel Creamery.

Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits. Visit

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Linda Kissam ‘Food, Wine & Shopping Diva’ is a professional travel, food, and wine writer who specializes in easy, breezy destination stories sharing her favorite things about the places she visits.

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