Tag Archives: 60s

MaryAnn DiPinto: Doing More of What She Loves

MaryAnn with son Matt

For nearly 30 years, MaryAnn DiPinto held her dream job with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), enforcing the state’s Wetlands Protection Act. For the past five years, she’s run her own consulting business, giving her flexibility to pursue other interests, such as spending time with family, growing and preserving food, making wine from wild grapes, and “playing outdoors.”

A Vassar College graduate who majored in ecology/conservation, MaryAnn’s job with the state involved reviewing proposals for construction in or near wetlands, gathering information to evaluate their compliance with the Wetlands Protection Act, holding site meetings with interested parties, and conditioning or denying the proposed work. 

When she was offered an opportunity for early retirement at age 60, she formed Three Oaks Environmental, which continues her work with wetlands. “With my DEP expertise, folks were eager to hire me to help them through the design and permitting processes,” she said. “The best part of my work is in the field where I can play ‘CSI’ of the environment – identifying plants, analyzing soils, noting important wildlife habitat.”

Although she doesn’t advertise, her past connections and word-of-mouth keeps her busier than she anticipated.  “I have to learn to say no when I really can’t take on another project and keep my sanity,” she noted.  She wants to set aside time to go kayaking in summer and skiing in winter. When she attended a conference in Atlanta last summer, she took time to camp along the way from Massachusetts to Georgia, sleeping in a tent and cooking in a Dutch oven over the fire.

Besides her environmental work, MaryAnn plays guitar at the Saturday evening service at her church, has served on her town’s planning board, and was assistant scoutmaster for her son Matt’s Boy Scout troop, where she taught wilderness survival skills, primitive camping, nature observation and environmental science.  Her Women in the Wild weekend workshops include nature observation, hiking, outdoor cooking, drumming, yoga, stargazing, and a campfire with storytelling, singalong and toasted marshmallows.

Fox "concord" grapes for wine

MaryAnn lives with her partner Gene, his daughter and her partner on 11 acres of land in a small Massachusetts town.  Recently, she bought a tractor to convert more of the property to agriculture; she has learned to grow, harvest and preserve vegetables for year-round consumption. She picks wild “Concord” grapes to make wine.  She has also completed hunter education and become a mentor in the Massachusetts Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) Program. She prefers the venison and wild turkey in her freezer to store-bought meat, and keeps chickens for eggs and entertainment. 

MaryAnn is happy to continue doing what she has always loved – protecting and enjoying the natural world.  “I love my work outdoors, trying to blend in as much as possible to catch glimpses of wildlife that pass by without feeling threatened by my presence,” she said. 

On property adjacent to 50 acres of conservation land in Royalston, MA, she’s building a small cabin with the help of her stepson.  “It’s a favorite place for me to just get away and be still,” she remarked.  A peaceful place where she can enjoy the wilderness she’s had a hand in preserving.

Meet Maxine

The Dordogne River near the castle of Beynac in southwest France

Imagine leading food, wine and history tours to some of Europe’s greatest wine regions, a different destination every year.  Envision helping wine lovers understand the nuances and complexities of the fruit of the vine, whether they are tasting wine in Portland, OR, or Bordeaux, France.  This is how Maxine Borcherding spends her time now that she is “retired” from a 30-year career as a caterer and hospitality/restaurant management instructor.

How She Did It

It all began with a teaching assignment at Oregon Culinary Institute, which required writing curriculum for two classes on wine.  Maxine admits that she was a wine novice, but the company supported her education as a sommelier, “and a funny thing happened,” she said.  “I fell in love with wine, and with everything about wine.  I had to learn more.”

Since then, Chef Borcherding has graduated from the International Sommelier Guild Sommelier Diploma Program, become a French Wine Scholar and a Spanish Wine Educator, and is completing certification as a Master Instructor for the Rhone region. 

She confesses that the Sommelier courses and exams were more challenging than earning her Master’s degree. But becoming knowledgeable in this new passion gave Maxine the confidence to retire from full-time teaching in her 60s, and to devote herself to the Taste and Compare Academy of Wine, Spirits and Food that she co-founded with her mentor and friend, Hoke Harden, in 2010.

The Business Model

Taste and Compare provides hospitality staff training, consumer classes and consulting for restaurants in Portland, OR.  Since 2013, they’ve added once-a-year wine tours with stellar destinations such as Provence and the Rhone; the Loire Valley; Burgundy and Beaujolais; and Bordeaux, Cognac and the Dordogne in France.  A Spanish tour included Madrid and the Basque country, Rioja, and Barcelona. 

Coming in May 2020: a 10-day Portuguese Food and Wine tour with local experts (2 spots available as of this posting! – https://www.tasteandcompareacademy.com/portugal-2020.html).  The tours are intimate, limited to 10-18 people, and range from 7-12 days.  The idea is to create an itinerary that allows guests to enjoy the cuisine and the culture, as well as the wine, at a relaxed pace that incorporates unique experiences and free time to explore.

Scott Fisher and his wife Julie Bell traveled to southwest France with Maxine in 2015. He recalls the day they followed Edouard and his truffle hound Farah across a gently sloping hillside punctuated with holm-oak trees. Soon the trusty hound located the intensely fragrant black truffle of Périgord,
one of the most highly prized (and priciest) members of the fungi kingdom.

Later that day, Edouard’s wife Carole created a fabulous lunch featuring a brouillade made with gently cooked eggs, heavy cream, and butter infused with grated black truffles. Scott reflected rapturously about the dish itself, as well as the experience of eating it in a rustic stone farmhouse at the edge of the oak grove where the truffles were unearthed. He added, “The look on Julie’s face when she finally held a freshly dug truffle to her nose and inhaled its fragrance was the height of that trip for me.”

Creating Unique Experiences

For Maxine, the exquisite specialty foods of Europe are highlights of every tour. One memorable meal on the west coast of France featured platters and platters of fresh oysters and whelks, and “the most delicious sole I’ve ever eaten, which they said was caught an hour before,” with the famous rare potatoes of the island of Noirmoutier, which are grown in beds of dried seaweed and “taste like they’re drenched in butter.”

Staying in unusual hotels adds another level of fun to the trips. In the central Loire Valley, people have turned old chalk quarry caverns into charming houses and hotels called troglodytes, where Maxine’s group stayed and enjoyed the local stuffed flatbread called fouees.

Entrance to the restaurant at the troglodyte hotel

In Valladolid, Spain, Maxine and crew stayed in a stunning converted monastery which is also a spa with mineral springs and massage. “Being pampered like that is quite nice if you’ve been traveling for a few days,” Max observes.

What’s Not to Love?

Leading wine tours in Europe may sound like a dream, but it requires a tremendous amount of planning and marketing.  Who is your audience, and where in the world might they want to go?  What activities would excite them?  Are there special sites, festivals or feasts to plan around? Then there are logistics: deciding how long to stay in each destination, arranging transportation and reservations, finding local guides.  “It’s a lot of work,” says Max, “like a giant puzzle where you have to make sure each piece fits, and the result will create a memorable experience and raving fans.”

And that’s also the key to success in her business.  “If you create a great experience for your customers, they will be the best marketers that you can have.  Recommendations from people other people trust have greater credibility than any advertising or promotion,” she said.

Any advice for those who envy her life and would like to do something similar?  “Choose something that you are passionate about, and that interests enough people with enough means to make the venture if not wildly profitable, at least able to cover your costs and pay for your time.”

“Truly you never know when your life course will change – when a door opens, and zoomo, presto, you have an entirely new career.”

Want to learn more?