Stephanie Edge was 18 when she set out with nothing more than a backpack on a six-year adventure to see the world. Her journey took her to 73 countries on six continents.
"I experienced so many different cultures, and more often than not, each had wine," Edge said. "Each place had a set of customs, techniques and foods that went alongside their particular wines. I was always fascinated. . . . As a winemaker, I bring those sensory experiences with me into the cellar."
Edge is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner -- the Turning Leaf, NV California Chardonnay. While it wasn't the highest-scoring wine, it edged out the others for wine-of-the-week status because it's a tasty quaffer at the budget-savvy price of $8.
The non-vintage chardonnay is tropical with a range of flavors. It's slightly sweet, with notes of peach, nectarine and apple, and a hint of butterscotch.
"Making a non-vintage wine gives us the most flexibility to create the best blend every time," she said. "We create wines with layers of complexity with each bottling. Lots from newer vintages contribute ripe, fresh fruit characteristics, while older vintage lots add rich fruit flavors, toasted oak notes and a fuller mouth-feel."
Striking the perfect balance between fruit and oak flavors is the biggest challenge in making the chardonnay, Edge said.
"We try to not allow any one part to stand out or dominate the other, but instead integrate and complement each other," she said.
Edge joined the Sonoma County arm of E.J. Gallo Winery in 2003 as a research enologist. She earned a bachelor's degree in Agricultural Science Oenology from the University of Adelaide in Australia, and she first experienced California winemaking through an exchange program with UC Davis.
"When it comes to crafting chardonnay in general, I love the versatility of this grape," Edge said. "It can be made in a fruit-forward style, allowing the grape to express its inherent characteristics, but with more intricate winemaking techniques, like malolactic fermentation and oak influence, we can create a wine with a richer mouth-feel, buttery notes and nuances of toasty oak and caramel."