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Omaha Magazine

You Had Me at Merlot: Dr. Laurel Prestridge & John Langwith Explore the World of Wine

May 27, 2021 04:15PM ● By Jeff Lacey
Laurel Prestridge & John Langwith with wine glasses

Photo by Bill Sitzmann

The history of wine, like a vine’s delicate tendril, wraps around the histories of countless cultures and places. From the earliest known evidence of winemaking (reported to be jars from Georgia 8,000 years ago) to the latest box of Merlot on the local supermarket shelf, wine is a blend of cultures and landscapes that spans centuries.

This truth is a major element of the appeal for oenophiles John Langwith and Dr. Laurel Prestridge. To these local wine experts, a glass of wine isn’t simply fermented grapes.

Langwith and Prestridge have spent over a decade exploring all the dimensions of the vintnerial arts, and the seed for their pursuit was planted in 2008 during a trip to Napa Valley. Not only did Langwith and Prestridge enjoy the flavors of great California wines, they appreciated the social nature of wine culture and the rich cultural history that comes with them as well. 

The wine that really hooked them, however, was discovered in 2010, on a Labor Day trip to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Traveling with another couple, they recall a single vineyard pinot noir at Domaine Serene Winery that, by all accounts, nearly stopped time. 

“Two bars, absolutely poetry in a glass,” Langwith said.

“After that, I really started appreciating the differences between red wines,” Prestridge explained.

The two then became increasingly involved in learning viniculture, and the journey they have been on since then in pursuit of their passion is as literal as it is figurative.  Not only have they been all over the United States, they have taken trips all over the world, often using wine as a lens through which to view cultures. They have been to several wine producing regions of France and Italy, as well as areas of Switzerland, Argentina, and New Zealand. The descriptions they give of their journeys are glimpses into fantastic adventures. 

Describing a trip to France in fall 2018, Langwith said,“we were on a cruise down the Rhone, and before that we went to Burgundy for five days, and we also spent some time in Beaujolais.” Describing a trip to New Zealand, he explained, “We were on a diving trip in Fiji, and we decided to try the wineries in New Zealand.”  One of their favorite locations is the rolling mountains of the Stellenbosch region of South Africa, which they visited in 2018. According to winefolly.com, Stellenbosch is the South African equivalent of the Napa Valley, and is home to soils three times as old as those farmed in Napa. Dr. Prestridge explained, “The settings are beautiful, the wines are fabulous, and the people were incredibly nice. We sat with the winemakers, and they will open up bottle after bottle for you to try.”

With every trip, Prestridge and Langwith reap a harvest of understanding, and this is what keeps them wanting more. 

Langwith said that people who develop a passion for wine become students of it. “You have to have a curiosity,” He explained. “You have to have an interest in understanding more about it. What defines an ongoing interest in wine is the drive, the curiosity to learn, and to try additional varietals. You have to be interested in wine as an experience; as experiences go, it is almost unlimited.” Understanding how regions, soils, and climates affect wines grows infinitely when one actually walks the vineyards, and the amount of information is both breathtaking and humbling. Langwith reflected on his wine knowledge using a scale from 1 to 100, saying, “When we started, our wine knowledge was maybe at 18 to 20, and even after seven and a half years of learning, our knowledge has grown substantially...but is still only probably around 40.”

In 2013, Langwith and Prestridge decided to further engage their love of wines by investing in Vino Mas, a wine bar located near 144th Street and West Maple Road. The bar isn’t just an investment opportunity for Langwith and Prestridge—it is a means of sharing their passion with others. They love spending time in the store because it brings the friendly couple back to one of the things they love most about wine. 

“Wine is really all about sharing,” Langwith explained. “It’s a great beverage to bond over.”

Deanna Albertson, their business partner at Vino Mas, explained that Langwith and Prestridge bring great enthusiasm to the business. “John and Laurel are adventurous, wine loving, friendly, personable and kind,” she said. “They love to travel and try wines. They want to venture outside the box when it comes to learning about the subject.” 

Perhaps the best part of the story of these world traveling wine experts is the vintage of their relationship: Langwith, who retired from TD Ameritrade in April 2020, and Prestridge, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Boys Town Hospital, celebrated their 36th anniversary in March. It is safe to say that this year, when they raise glasses of champagne to toast their adventures together, they will be able to tell people all about what’s inside. 

This article originally appeared in the 60+ section of the June 2021 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.