PD wine writer Sarah Doyle: From food to wine and 17 countries in between
“Behind the Byline” introduces you to those who write stories, shoot photos, design pages and edit the content we deliver in our print editions and on pressdemocrat.com. We’re more than journalists. As you’ll see, we’re also your neighbors with unique backgrounds and experiences who proudly call Sonoma County home.
Today, we introduce you to Sarah Doyle, one of our wine writers who is focused on in-depth coverage of the wine industry.
Before wine, there was the Easy-Bake Oven.
The year was 1983, and thanks to the miracle of television commercials, I had firmly decided the dazzling, sunshine yellow oven (once powered by a single light bulb) would be the answer to my childhood dreams. As it turned out, my youthful zest for cooking would spark not just a lifelong passion for food (and eventually wine and spirits) but also my career as a writer.
Born and raised in Santa Monica, I landed on the East Coast via Boston to study classical clarinet, which amounted to nothing more than 21-year-old uncertainty and plentiful student debt.
My love of food and cooking eventually led me to culinary school in New York City, where I went on to work as a private chef and recipe developer while searching for my culinary niche.
At one point, I decided a job in the Martha Stewart test kitchen could be my calling. But during the cooking audition, I accidentally used a sheet tray — instead of a baking pan —to bake my lightly golden, perfectly risen Parker House rolls.
Let’s just say, sh*t hit the pan — I mean, fan. And I was promptly dismissed by the head chef.
That was okay; I didn’t want to work there, anyway. Besides, I had recently discovered a new passion for food writing, and storytelling and finding unique adjectives for words like “crispy” and “plump.”
But it wasn’t until I wrote a popular essay for Saveur magazine on the idiosyncrasy of carob Easter bunnies that I realized I had found my true calling as a writer.
Over the next decade, I would go on to write for 40 magazines and newspapers, first about food, then about spirits and travel, then about the alluring blend of all three.
Along the way, I developed a full-fledged love affair with Scotch whisky, which led to my first articles for the New York Times, the Boston Globe, Robb Report and Forbes. It also inspired a move to Scotland’s Isle of Islay in the Inner Hebrides and a certificate from Bruichladdich’s Malt Whisky Academy (but that’s another story).
If I had to define the first moment wine truly swept me off my feet, it would be my first visit to Tablas Creek Winery in Paso Robles. I had just moved to the Central Coast to be near family when a friend invited me to tag along to the winery for a tasting.
I had always enjoyed wine; wine accompanied food. But I hadn’t experienced its mystery, complexity and intricacy until I tasted the Rhône-varietal wines at Tablas Creek.
For starters, what was picpoul blanc? Rousanne? Marsanne? Mourvèdre? And why did the latter have me wrapped around its finger with its distinct underpinnings of gamy meat?
During a tour of the property, our guide explained that Tablas Creek originated from a partnership between the Perrin family of Château de Beaucastel, a famed estate in the Southern Rhône region of France, and the Haas family of Vineyard Brands, an American wine importing business whose founder, Robert Haas, helped to establish Beaucastel as one of the leading estates in the international wine community.
We toured the greenhouse and learned the magic of grafting budwood onto rootstock, the two snapping together like pieces of a puzzle. And as the chunky limestone soil crunched beneath our feet, we learned about dry farming, the definition of calcareous, and the tenacious character of a grapevine with limited access to water.
My visit to Tablas Creek winery was a turning point. The allure of wine deeply resonated with my passion for food and cooking, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to know.
Within a few weeks, I got a job in the Tablas Creek tasting room, which would eventually lead to a 15-year career in the wine industry, both on the Central Coast and in Sonoma County.
This included three harvest internships, advanced study in enology and viticulture, and various positions that ranged from public relations and marketing, to education, sales, and most recently, communications.
I also earned the Wine & Spirits Education Trust Level 3 Advanced Award in Wine.
Like many people during the pandemic, I spent time reflecting on my purpose and what I’m most passionate about. So yes, I became a card-carrying member of the Great Resignation.
I realized my deepest joy comes from writing about the intricacies of this incomparable wine region — the people, the land, the changing climate, current trends, our revered history, and how all of these things affect the wine in our glass.
As a writer I have an innate curiosity, I love to ask questions, and I work hard to convey the passion of others through my words.
In March, I joined The Press Democrat as a wine reporter, charged with providing in-depth stories about the wine industry.
I am thrilled and honored to be reporting about wine in one of the most important wine regions in the world.
It is our lifeblood here in Sonoma County. And I enjoy showcasing all of the aspects of this ever-evolving industry.
This month, I am celebrating 10 years as a resident of Sonoma County, and I’ve never felt more lucky to call this community my own.
I recognize that every day is a new opportunity to expand my knowledge of our local wine industry, and I fully embrace wine education as a lifelong endeavor. But I couldn’t be more excited to share this journey with you.