Thank you to all our 2023 presenters.
Director of Hospitality, Shelton Vineyards
As a native of the North Carolina Piedmont, Jennie has fond memories of growing up on her grandparent's farm surrounded by late summer vines of Muscadine and Scuppernong grapes. Those early recollections stayed with her through ten years in publishing advertising sales and another ten years in pharmaceutical sales, before an opportunity in 2009 to join Childress Vineyards as wine club manager.
Jennie's dedication and commitment to design, customer service and hospitality have been at the core of her professional life and always played an integral role. She describes herself as a hospitalarian. She enjoys practicing the art of hospitality every day with great reward. Jennie's greatest joy from her work comes from the opportunity to connect people. These connections have given her the opportunity of a successful tenure as co-owner of Perfect Pair Events, then playing an integral role in launching Foothill Brewing's event space, Footnote and luxury brand winery, Dynamis Estate Wines. Jennie recently joined the team at Shelton Vineyards, where she will continue to happily ply her trade as Director of Hospitality, sharing her passion for wine and her desire to make people feel welcome. Every day has the opportunity to be memorable.
Winemaker, Horton Vineyards, VA
Caitlin Horton is a third-generation winemaker. She spent her early years with her grandmother in the family’s vineyard, where she learned how grapes were grown from pruning to harvest. From there Caitlin transitioned from a short internship in the cellar to learn winemaking. Later she transitioned to tasting room staff and built her way up to general manager of the tasting room while keeping her hands in the cellar. Now she is in the wine cellar permanently doing what she loves and experimenting with blends and different harvest techniques that she learned with her certificate in winemaking from Cornell University. Caitlin has produced an award-winning and publication-worthy line of wines, Gears and Lace.
VP Winemaker at Biltmore Winery
Sharon Fenchak spent many Sunday afternoons as a child visiting her grandparents, all of whom lived within driving distance of her home in Pennsylvania. Her grandmothers, in particular, were closely connected to the land and enjoyed feeding family and friends from the bounty of their gardens.
Their influence fueled Sharon’s growing interest in agriculture and food science, a focus she maintained even as a Communications Specialist in the United States Army. While stationed in Vicenza, Italy, Sharon discovered an appreciation for the wines of the region—particularly the bubbly moscato for which the area is noted.
After returning to the states, Sharon earned a bachelor’s degree in food science from Penn State University, followed by a master’s degree in the same field from the University of Georgia at Athens. With a deepening interest in the science of winemaking, she sought work as an assistant winemaker at Habersham Winery in Baldwin, Georgia, under the wing of winemaker Andrew Beaty. With skills gained from that experience, Sharon became winemaker at Chestnut Mountain Winery in Braselton, Georgia where she oversaw the wine development process.
In 1999, Sharon joined Biltmore’s winery production team as assistant winemaker to veteran French winemaker Bernard Delille. Despite their different backgrounds, Sharon and Bernard shared a philosophy of creating high-quality wines that reflect true varietal character while still being food-friendly and approachable. In addition to making wines, her role featured research of several grape clones and grape-production testing methods for the estate.
Sharon was promoted to winemaker in 2003 and continued handcrafting high-quality wines worthy of the finest Biltmore traditions of taste and style. In 2016, Sharon completed her MBA through Western Carolina University to have a better understanding of running a wine business.
On Bernard’s retirement in 2018, Sharon became Biltmore’s head winemaker and vice president of winery production, which includes oversight of winemaking, the estate’s vineyard and partnerships with west coast growers.
For the future, Sharon hopes to continue building the tradition of the Biltmore brand among wine enthusiasts locally, nationally, and globally.
Professor | Dept. of Hospitality and Retail Management, Associate Director | Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute
Dr. Natalia Velikova holds a joint appointment within the Department of Hospitality & Retail Management at Texas Tech University, where she serves as a Professor of Wine Marketing, and at the Texas Wine Marketing Research Institute, where she takes on the role of Associate Director. Natalia teaches a variety of engaging courses in wine business, wine tourism, and wine appreciation, including WSET® certification.
Dr. Velikova maintains an active research agenda with focus on wine consumer behavior, emerging wine markets, and wine tourism. Her extensive work includes over 40 peer-reviewed articles, as well as contributions to international conferences and trade publications. She has also received several research grants, including Fulbright U.S. Scholar Awards to the Republic of Georgia and Bulgaria, and a Fulbright Inter-Country Lecturing Grant to conduct a series of marketing workshops for the Greek wine industry.
Natalia is strongly dedicated to professional service in support of the wine marketing discipline. She has been invited as a guest speaker at numerous international and national industry conferences, where she shares the findings of her research with industry professionals. Natalia also serves as the Associate Editor for the International Journal of Wine Business Research, and as Secretary on the Executive Board of the Academy of Wine Business Research.
Natalia eagerly looks forward to sharing her expertise as a speaker at the upcoming Southeastern United Grape and Wine Symposium.
Winemaker, Bluestone Vineyard
Lee has worked in the Virginia Wine industry as a grape grower and winemaker for his family’s farm, Bluestone Vineyard for the last 15 years. Formerly the president of the Virginia Wine Council, and currently the President of the Shenandoah Valley Winegrowers Association, he has always taken interest in the industry beyond his own vineyard. As a way of expanding the industry beyond his family’s farm, he also helps neighbors with vineyard management and custom crush programs. His 2019 Petit Manseng was his third wine to be included in the Governor’s Case, the top 12 wines in Virginia’s Governor’s Cup competition.
Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management, Pennsylvania State University
Kathy Kelley is a Professor of Horticultural Marketing and Business Management at The Pennsylvania State University. She teaches a Retail Horticultural Business Management course, and her research interests include studying consumers’ wine consumption and purchasing attitudes and behaviors, wine tourism and what encourages tasting room visits, and related. She also has extension responsibilities that include developing business and marketing educational programs for wine brands and winery tasting rooms.
Golden Road Vineyards
Crista is a native Texan who grew up in Houston and attended a small, private liberal arts school called Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. Foreign languages came naturally to Crista during her studies, and she learned Spanish, French, and Mandarin throughout high school and college. Crista ended up triple majoring in International Business, Finance, and Chinese and graduated with a B.S. and B.A. in four years. During college, she spent her summers traveling the globe: Spain, China, and Denmark, and backpacking in Eastern/Western Europe and Thailand. Crista was a member of many cultural organizations and president of the Chinese Culture Club, where she led hosting Lunar New Year events. She was also the Vice President of Alumni membership at her International Co-ed Business Fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi. This role involved extensive amounts of networking.
She moved to the East Coast right after undergrad and began her federal consulting career. Crista has 15 years of professional experience in strategy, operations, and process improvement consulting. While Crista consulted Veterans Affairs and has proudly spent most of her career in Health I.T. as a Project Manager supporting the nation’s veterans and active-duty military, she kept involved in Diversity and Inclusion corporate programs. She had a leadership role in company-sponsored Diversity and Inclusion, International Business Resource Group (IBRG), and has coordinated events ranging from company-sponsored Olympic events to obtaining appropriate levels of sponsorship for the US Fulbright Program.
Though her educational and career background is far from vineyard management and enology, her work leads to her meeting her future husband and the evolution of her career goals. Crista and Chad met in Washington, D.C., when they met at a work lunch. Networking lunches were typical at the consulting firm where Chad was a new summer intern.
Fast forward to when Crista and Chad got married and decided to spend a year taking viticulture and enology classes in the Charlottesville, VA, area at Piedmont, Virginia Community College (the Virginia equivalent of N.C.’s Surry Community College). They purchased Golden Road Vineyards on July 7, 2017, and entered the N.C. wine industry immediately. While learning farming was their priority the first couple of years, they expanded their network by attending N.C. wine events at the annual conference, digital, visiting fellow wineries near and all over North Carolina, and networking with the local community and throughout the Yadkin Valley AVA.
General Manager, RayLen Vineyards
Micah grew up in Roaring River, North Carolina, and returned to the area after leaving his beloved East Carolina University and several years living in the heart of Virginia wine country. Prior to joining the team at RayLen Vineyards and Winery, he spent 7 years as an Assistant Tasting Room Manager, Wholesale Brand Rep, and Cellar Rat for another area vineyard cultivating his love for great food, great wine, and hospitality. Active in his community, Micah is actively serving as a board member for Youth Hockey in Greensboro and also serves on the Davie County Tourism Advisory Board. When not at work he enjoys exploring new restaurants and wineries, content creation, spending time with friends and family, riding his motorcycle, and above all, HOCKEY. He lives in nearby Clemmons with his wife Brittany, two sons Embry and Rowyn, and their two yorkies, Coach and Enzo.
JOLO Winery and Levi Banks
Carrie, is our General Manager of Guest Services at JOLO. She directs all of the front of the house staffing including our servers, hosts and back of the house team. In addition, Carrie runs all our technology for our POS and our OpenTable system along with our newsletters, email marketing and our website content. Carrie’s ability to manage all the disparate but critical functions is incredible. Not only is she highly competent at different functions for us, the entire team at JOLO adore working for and with her. She treats every team member like family always going the extra mile to accommodate special requests and training schedules. What’s more, the level of service she inspires across the team has allowed JOLO to be recognized with a 5 Star status on both Trip Advisor and Open Table, being the only F&B location in the state with 5 stars on both platforms. Carrie has proven to be not only dynamic but inspirational.
Vineyard Manager, Parker-Binns Vineyard
Only after deciding to leave the small town of Rocky Hill, Connecticut as a 20-year-old kid did my journey to today seemingly begin. After witnessing 9/11 from the confines of my freshman “French 1” classroom, I knew in some capacity that I wanted to serve my country. Fast forward a few years and with life seemingly spinning in circles in my hometown, it was time. I enlisted in the Air Force and left for bootcamp on January 27th, 2009. After 6 years; two short tours, one long tour and a quick rise up the ranks, I was asked by my family to join them on their adventure in the wine business. In 2014 I was lucky enough to secure a position at Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro N.C, only 5 hours away from the family farm. This allowed me to spend weekends “dipping my toes” in the vineyard life for the final 6 years of my military career. Eureka! I had found my passion and future after the military. I realized that while my proficiency in Aircraft Armament may not serve me as a grape grower, the intangible traits the military gifted me along the way deserved to be recognized. Discipline, a yearning to learn, selflessness and commitment to excellence were not in my tool belt when I left Rocky Hill but are threaded into all I do today.
Today, I serve as the Vineyard / General Manager of our amazing team at Parker-Binns Vineyard. Honing and sharpening our individual and collective crafts with each passing season, attempting to put our stamp on the emerging North Carolina wine industry.