Local Princeton graduate never keeps things bottled up

by Len Lear
Posted 10/1/20

Isabel Hirshberg, 23, is a very bright young lady who has a degree in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University with a minor in Spanish, but the field she is in right now is as …

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Local Princeton graduate never keeps things bottled up

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Isabel Hirshberg, 23, is a very bright young lady who has a degree in Public and International Affairs from Princeton University with a minor in Spanish, but the field she is in right now is as different from her collegiate field of study as lightning is from a lightning bug. You might say her job now is to make pour decisions.

Ever since the pandemic started, Isabel, who lives with her parents in Elkins Park, has been hosting virtual wine tastings via Zoom as well as in-person, socially distanced wine tastings and food pairings in the Philadelphia area.

“My family had the extreme pleasure of a wine tasting with Isabel a few weeks ago,” said Amy Warr, of Elkins Park. “We learned a lot about the regions and varietals of Chilean wine that she had personally selected and presented to us. Wine can be very personal, but we all enjoyed each wine we sampled.

“Isabel took the time to explain the flavors, and it was amazing how they complemented each other. We were then left to devour a delicious charcuterie board of meats, cheeses, jams, nuts, fruits and homemade bread! Best of all, it was performed in a Covid-free environment.”

Does Isabel feel guilty about not pursuing a career in her major at Princeton? “Education is never wasted,” she insisted. “I would not have been offered the opportunity in Chile if I did not study at Kingston Family Vineyards (where she had a year-long fellowship), where the team was bi-national, and Spanish was the first language. When I returned to the U.S. early due to Covid, the entire job market had changed.”

Isabel has always known how to read between the wines. While at Penn Charter High School in 2015, her senior project was an examination of the economics of opening a bakery, but she was always interested in the symbiotic relationship between food and wine. After her junior year at Princeton, she took a summer internship with a software company in New York City but took a second job on nights and weekends at Sherry-Lehmann Wine & Spirits, an elite store with a gigantic wine cellar.

“I loved learning from the clientele there,” she said, “many of whom made weekly trips to the store for over 50 years. I have never been to another wine store with such a vast and world-renowned French collection.”

As a result of that experience, Isabel decided to study wine-making and grape cultivation during a fellowship at the Kingston Family Vineyards in Chile. “In Chile I loved the unpredictable and dynamic nature of the job,” she recalled. “I never knew what lay ahead each day, whether it was hosting wine tastings, moving inventory, helping sort grapes in the winery, etc.”

So when Isabel had to return home earlier than expected because of the pandemic, she decided to use what she had learned in Chile to create wine- and food-tasting events for people who are tired of being cooped up in their homes and not allowed to eat indoors at restaurants in Philly. Isabel also cooks and bakes the foods that she brings to the clients' backyard events.

“I love finding varietals that are not as well known,” she said about the wines she brings to the tastings. “My favorite varietal right now is Carignan, and I enjoy bottles that express just this grape, called varietal wines. The wines are tremendously rich and have both red fruit and spice characteristics. I drank this wine for the first time in the Maule Valley of Chile.”

The “nibbles” prepared by Isabel change depending on the wines she pours. All are homemade and have included dark chocolate red-wine truffles, strawberry and raspberry-infused white chocolates, black cardamom spiced blondies and almond toffee.

What is Isabel's ultimate goal with respect to wine? “I am taking the first level examination offered by the Master Court of Sommeliers later this month. I look forward to continuing my wine education beyond this course, but I have also promised myself that I will never reach a point where I no longer can enjoy a glass of wine in a casual setting.”

In addition to her studies at Princeton and her love of wine, Isabel played on the women’s squash team at Princeton for four years. In her senior year she was Captain of the team, which ranked second in the Ivy League and finished fourth nationally. But on or off the court, Isabel was always on Cloud wine.

For more information, email corksandcheeses@gmail.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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