Misty Carlson: "Using the word 'terroir' seems to freak people out these days, but that is what I am looking for and hoping to find in a bottle."

It’s hard to tell what Misty Carlson is more passionate about: hiking, food or wine?

For the sake of this column, I’m going to go with wine, but in any case, it seems like Carlson has the joys of life figured out: working with wine, living in Palm Springs, hiking a lot, and cooking almost every night with her partner.

Like many of us, Carlson got into wine without knowing ahead of time she was, in fact, getting into wine. It started with an interest in pastries, which took her to Paris to pastry schools on her vacations. She went into advertising before embarking on a second career as a cheese monger. She’s always loved food, from the time she was little—so when she got her current job at Whole Foods, it meant that she got to enjoy many of her passions at work every day. She now runs the wine department.

Carlson is a farmer’s daughter from Iowa. That background influences her perspective on wine: She loves the story, the journey from grape to glass. There are some people who want the same wine every night, and they want it to taste the same way. “I understand that, and being in the grocery business, of course, I have that available,” says Carlson, “but personally, that’s not what I’m interested in.”

As far as I am concerned, Carlson oversees the best selection of wine in the desert. One can get brand-name staples, yes, but one can also always find something unique and interesting—and delicious.

We sat down one evening at Dead or Alive and chatted as we sipped on some Abbazia di Novacella Kerner, “Stiftskellerei Neustift.”

When did you first start getting into wine?

About 10 years ago, as a cheese monger back East. I did a lot of wine and cheese tastings when I worked at a specialty food store; that’s when the food/wine thing started to coalesce for me.

What was your first wine love?

German riesling, in college. I went on a trip to Europe and visited friends there.

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

Definitely small production “natural wines”—wines that are really clean and unmanipulated, wines that let the grapes tell a story. Using the word “terroir” seems to freak people out these days, but that is what I am looking for and hoping to find in a bottle. I also like knowing who makes my food and wine, and the stories that go along with that. Right now, because of the large number of varietals available—many of which I am not as familiar with—I seem to be gravitating to Italian wines. But the Santa Maria/Lompoc area is a big favorite of mine. You can tell that when you go through our pinot noir section at Whole Foods.

What are your favorite selections available at Whole Foods right now?

Saetti Lambrusco, Chanin pinot noir (I love his wines), Cruse Wine Co., dry-farmed wines from Tablas Creek, Stolpman syrah, La Clarine Farms Jambalaia, Donkey and Goat, and Venica and Venica pinot bianco and pinot grigio. Grower Champagnes and Pét-Nat.

Your desert island wine?

That would be tough, because I can’t stand to drink the same thing two days in a row. But if I must, I’d have to say Champagne, because I never, ever grow tired of it. Otherwise, a nice, thirst-quenching rose.

Favorite food pairing?

This will probably gross you out, but pan-fried chicken gizzards or livers with a simple Beaujolais! Or lambrusco and charcuterie! Gruner veltliner and wiener schnitzel. Polenta with a fresh wild mushroom ragout and a lagrein. I can’t limit myself to one answer! I really love food, and so does my partner, so we do a lot of serious cooking at home. It’s our “entertainment.”

Favorite wine book?

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. I keep it on the table so I can read about what I am drinking on any given night. Also, Vino Italiano by Joseph Bastianich and David Lynch.

What are you drinking now?

Statti Gaglioppo.

What do you love about the desert?

It’s so gorgeous … the mountains and cactus. It’s easy to step out your door, or drive a couple of miles, and be surrounded by nature.

Your favorite places to go in the desert?

Bogert Trail to Murray Peak, Joshua Tree, Mecca and the Painted Canyon, and Whitewater Preserve. As far as food and entertainment, I like Cheeky’s, Tyler’s, Farm, Dead or Alive, Joey Palm Springs, Johannes, Bootlegger Tiki, and my must-have every day: Ernest Coffee.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at christine.soto@gmail.com.