Jennifer Dilley’s interest in wine began in college. She preferred Ernest and Julio Gallo boxed wine to the typical beer fare; and she also had an inkling that she wanted to know more about it. Fast forward to her 30th birthday, when her sister surprised her with a sibling reunion trip to the Napa Valley in California. Jennifer, her sister and brother all boarded a “wine train” that runs through Napa for a special monthly dinner; it featured a local chef and wine pairings. That chef happened to be Thomas Keller, the legendary founder of The French Laundry in Yountville. At the time, the Dilley table had no idea who he was (or how lucky they were to meet him!).
The wine that was paired with the Keller dinner hailed from Ceja vineyards, a nearby farm owned by two Mexican-American couples. The Ceja owners loved the Dilley family and their story of the sibling’s meeting in Napa so much that they were invited back to the Ceja vineyard at the conclusion of the train ride. Imagine vines, gorgeous fields, a picnic table under an open sky, homemade cactus salsa, and eight bottles of wine, and you can see why Jennifer’s first true introduction to wine was downright magical. They blissfully lingered in the fields for hours!
Some years later, Jennifer and her sister hadn’t been back to Napa for quite a while, so they decided to meet there again, but this time with a new purpose: conquering the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half-Marathon. Though neither are avid runners, wine was their motivation and the sisters decided to run a half-marathon on the vacation. “When there is wine tasting at mile 10—why go anywhere else?” said Jennifer.
Jennifer liked it so much that she kept going back year after year. This summer would have been her sixth half marathon and her third time running in this event. Alas, a foot injury foiled the plan, so instead she watched the start of the race and got to enjoy the paella and wine as an enthusiastic spectator. Like one of her favorite race signs read, “Run it fast, take it slow—either way you’ll get merlot!”
When Jennifer met her husband Erik, he was already a wine enthusiast. “He remembers regions, labels and vineyards much more than I do,” said Jennifer. “We have a wine cellar, and it’s something we really enjoy together.” Napa Valley cabernets are their favorites.
The couple makes time for their wine hobby in the Twin Cities, too. At Lela, a restaurant at the Sheraton hotel in Bloomington, they often try the monthly wine dinner featuring a five-course pairing and they enjoy taking Twin Cities Wine Education classes at North Loop Wine & Spirits. A more leisurely weekend outing for them is to Schram Vineyards in Waconia—it’s a bucolic lakeside setting with bocce courts and food trucks.
Jennifer is also planning on visiting future wine destinations in Washington, Oregon, France and Italy. “Vineyards have such a lovely ambience—the people just want you to enjoy the wine. So how can you not have a good time?” said Jennifer.
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