Maryam Ahmed, owner of Maryam + Company, a Napa-based food and wine consulting business, has launched a new tourism venture that will take participants far away from Wine Country.
Field Blends will take tourists on a three-day trip to visit winemakers, chefs, makers and farmers in different wine regions across the country, beginning in June in Walla Walla, Washington, according to Ahmed.
“My approach to Field Blends is to create an opportunity not only just to tell, but to show,” she said. “The experiences we’re providing are not single narratives but involve multiple wine, food or agricultural community members to come together for conversations.”
Attendees also will get to experience firsthand what they’re learning.
“For instance, if I’m talking about the geology of Washington state, then we’ll get into a soil pit and see the soil and feel the soil,” she said.
Field Blends also gives Ahmed the opportunity to translate the work she does for her business clients to consumers.
“So it’s creating conversations with industry change makers, with people who are innovating and have really unique projects happening,” Ahmed said, “and bringing the consumer closer to them, not only just for the experience itself, but for the education and for the action that it could impact as well.”
Sadie Drury, general manager at North Slope Management, which includes SeVein Vineyards and Seven Hills Vineyard, will be a participating speaker in the Walla Walla trip and also lead some of the vineyard tours.
“(Ahmed) is bringing a program that’s going to be really inclusive to all people, including my vineyard workers,” Drury said. “They’re getting a voice in what she’s doing. She is looking at wine in a different way … It’s not about what you taste and what you see in the valley. It’s more about all the people involved in every step of the way.”
Ahmed, 32, is a New York native and graduate of Cornell University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in hotel administration. After graduating, she moved to New York City and worked for a couple of years in the fine-wine division of a beverage distribution company, which led her to a deeper interest in wine and ultimately to Walla Walla Community College, where she earned a degree in enology and viticulture.
It was in 2016 when Ahmed landed in Napa to accept a job as director of public programs at the Culinary Institute of America, working both at the CIA at Greystone in St. Helena and the CIA at Copia in Napa.
“Basically, my role was to take what we taught the industry and the students and put it into more bite-sized experiences and information for the at home chefs, or the at-home wine lover,” she said. “I ended up doing some conferences for the wine industry because of my background in wine as well.”
After nearly five years at CIA, Ahmed launched Maryam + Company in July 2020, during a time when some entrepreneurs might be risk-averse to starting a new venture. But she decided to go for it anyway.
Ahmed pointed out that diversity and equity issues are important components to her work, and that includes giving underserved people in the wine business an opportunity to join the Field Blends trips by providing two $5,000 scholarships, donated by Visit Walla Walla, Walla Walla Valley Wineries and Washington state. The two scholarships will cover the trip and attendance, and are not financial payouts.
The Field Blend tours include planned itineraries that will take participants around a particular wine region to visit with, and learn from, local vintners, growers, farmers and chefs. The trips include meals, hotel accommodations and transportation between destinations. The cost is $3,200 for individuals and $5,900 for two people who travel together.
The inaugural Walla Walla trip is set for June 7–10 and can accommodate 14 people, with two seats reserved for the scholarship recipients. A second trip later in the year will take place in the Finger Lakes region of New York, scheduled for Sept. 20-23, during harvest.
Maiah Johnson Dunn, a writer, speaker and educator in the wine industry, will be Ahmed’s community partner for the New York trip and will help guide participants along the way.
“Our audience will have a really immersive experience with (two) winemakers and get to be on-site with them and walk around in the vines,” she said. “And ideally, since it’s during harvest, maybe they’ll even be able to sort some grapes and also understand what really goes into making wine beyond just what we see on a shelf and liquor store.”
Ahmed has known both Dunn and Drury for several years. It’s these relationships that are helping to bring Ahmed’s Field Blends vision to reality.
“Some people have friends that will move mountains for you, and I have friends that will dig soil pits for me,” Ahmed said with a laugh.
Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. She previously worked for a Gannett daily newspaper in New Jersey and NJBIZ, the state’s business journal. Cheryl has freelanced for business journals in Sacramento, Silicon Valley, San Francisco and Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-4259.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story identified Sadie Drury as a community partner for the Walla Walla trip. In addition, the value of the $5,000 scholarship has been clarified.