About 60 people were on hand when Virginia Peninsula Community College presented a wine-and-cheese event Nov. 17 at the Peninsula Workforce Development Center.
Crystal Cameron-Schaad, owner of Crystal Palate Wine & Gourmet in Norfolk, majored in political science and broadcasting at the University of Central Florida.
However, wine has always been one of her passions. She even worked at a wine bar in college.
“It’s a world I’ve always been fascinated in, but it wasn’t one that I thought was going to be my career,” she said.
Eventually, she was exposed to upscale vintages, learned the stories behind the winemakers, and experienced different cultures and traditions. She did turn it into a career, and was at Virginia Peninsula Community College on Nov. 17 for a wine and cheese event, educating the 60 or so on hand on the finer points of both, and how to pair them.
“Bringing people together around the dinner table, breaking bread through wine and food is such a beautiful thing for me,” Cameron-Schaad said. “It’s what connects us at the end of the day.”
The fundraising event was led by Tracy Ashley, the College’s director of development, as way to engage and educate the community. She hopes it was one of many similar events.
“They may vary in the topic, but will usually have some educational component – such as wine tasting, beer brewing, dessert creation - as well as fun,” Ashley said.
The College’s goal of engaging the community fits well with Cameron-Schaad’s reason for opening her business: bringing her community closer together.
“I love sharing the stories behind the winemakers from around the world,” she said. “We really focus on small family winemakers, learning about their cultures and their traditions and bringing it around our dinner table.”
Cameron-Schaad’s journey has been an interesting one. Following her college graduation, she spent eight years in television, followed by about three years in politics and public relations. While working in public relations for a Fortune 500 company, she branched out into the event business on a part-time basis.
“I always like to say Crystal Palate, the first iteration, started back in 2013 as a private event company,” she said.
She was doing it as a hobby, an escape. In 2017, she opened her business.
“I spent most of my career in media and politics, and now I joke around that I drink for a living,” she said.
A certified sommelier, she is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers and the Society of Wine Educators. She also is a graduate of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust in London, a wine writer, and has her own podcast.
Her favorite wine is Brunello di Montalcino, which is a Sangiovese-based wine out of Tuscany.
“I think the reason I love that wine so much is it was the first bottle I shared with my dad after college graduation,” she said, referencing a quaint little restaurant in the north end of Boston. “Wine evokes the sensory experience and it really ties us back to memories. Our sense of smell is directly linked to our memories, right?”
She also served that wine the first time she made dinner for her husband.
“You can put your nose in a glass of wine and it can transport you back to a memory in your past,” she said. “And so every time I have a Brunello di Montalcino, I think of that dinner in Boston with my dad and just the aromas of that sour cherry and anise, just warm spice flavors. It was literally like a warm hug in a glass.”
It also pairs well with Italian food, she said.
She doesn’t like how wine has become a status symbol. She says it should be something that connects people and brings them together to share. It’s about making wine more accessible and encouraging people to try new things.
Education and expanding your world view are the purposes of events such as the one at VPCC. And after all, isn’t that what college is about?