Sour Grapes or Curious Choices At The Wine Bloggers Conference?
While a small contingent is crying sour grapes over the 2010 Wine Blogger’s Conference I see more of a collection of curious choices rather than barrel of bad bloggers. Like most things in life, you can’t please all the people all the time nor would you want to try. The conference is in the books and hundreds of posts are streaming in about the adventures of wine writers. Here is what I do know:
- The 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference was extremely well organized. I was very impressed with the attention to detail and seamless operation of the logistics.
- Walla Walla is a fantastic host city. The Marcus Whitman hotel, the downtown tasting rooms and the participating wineries were all gracious, accommodating and generous.
- Washington is making kick ass wine that is just now starting to come into its own. The world better watch out because some of the best value and quality wines are being made in this state.
- The conference is misnamed – It needs to be called the wine writers conference (thanks Tom Wark).
Because we live in a world of “sound-bites” and “tweets” – I’ve decided to compose this post into 34 short, hopefully quote worthy bits that sum up my opinions, thoughts and experiences. These are the observations of a first time attendee to the Wine Bloggers Conference AND someone who has only been in this “industry” for less than a year. I’ve also included a few of my favorite pictures from the event (some that I took, others that I borrowed).
1. Who knew there were enough of us to hold a conference? While some make lazy veiled attempts to satirize our existence, we heard over and over from winery PR and trade that blogger mentions and wine write ups make a difference.
2. Individually, we’re all entitled to our opinion, style, format and approach. In this young medium of media the lines are still being formed. The best approach to success is to find and stay true to your voice, be consistent, pursue quality, and be patient.
3. Wine writers (formerly known as bloggers) are forcing the traditional media to be more transparent (via Steve Heimoff of Wine Enthusiast)
4. Networking with other bloggers was the single biggest take away from the conference. Connecting with peers, sharing our struggles, hearing success stories, and being inspired by goals will stay with me forever.
5. There are no experts at this, only those who have been doing it longer and have refined their voice and quality to garner a following of similar minded people.
6. Those that think bloggers only talk to bloggers are full of sh^t. Bloggers may be more apt to comment on other posts but the consensus is that each of us has developed varying sizes of local followers.
I mentioned some curious conference choices in the first paragraph. Here are some directed at the attendees as well as the organizers.
7. I find it pretty curious that one of the state’s key influencers was not more involved. In speaking with Paul Gregutt, he mentioned that he offered several times to be more involved. Paul literally wrote the book on Washington Wine and I would loved to have seen him part of the activities.
8. I find it pretty curious that some bloggers chose to skip the three winery bus tours on Saturday. Granted we are all adults, but paying hundreds of dollars (or more) to sleep off a hangover or just chat with friends at the hotel seems like a big waste. Your loss.
9. I find it pretty curious that more focus wasn’t put on Washington wine. I realize that this is not a Washington wine conference, but there are 650 wineries in the state. Why would I need a whole food and wine pairing session with wines from everywhere except Washington?
10. I find it very curious that only one Spokane winery make the trip to Walla Walla to pour their wine. If Spokane wants to gain momentum as a wine destination, more energy and effort needs to be put into exposing the wine to passionate people like wine writers.
11. It’s also very curious that some wineries participating in sessions like speed blogging or ’meet the wineries’ wouldn’t have information about their wine. At the very least have your printed spec sheet about the wine. Go the extra mile and provide a social media contact card that has your wine info ALONG WITH your Twitter, Facebook and Web info.
12. While not curious, I was somewhat disappointed with the overall outcome of the conference seminars that I attended. The most engaging and informative was the Food and Wine Pairing with Chef Jeffrey Saad. Also, I’m sad that I made the poor choice to skip the Geology of Walla Walla to sleep in. I hear it was very useful.
13. “Moving your Readership Beyond Bloggers to Consumers” provided 1 or 2 nifty web sites and essentially told me 1) Establish your voice, 2) Focus on quality, 3) Be everywhere – i.e. multi-platform engagement.
14. In “Advanced Wine Blogging” Jeff Lefevere provided a huge list of tools. While the list is pretty amazing, I could have been equally served with a hand out or link. The panelists are all very well respected and established, but I felt the session was underutilized to provide ACTUAL advanced techniques and insights from these guys who make it look easy.
15. I also attended a session by Craig Sutton about “Creating Conversions” – Craig is very well spoken and obviously a professional. I learned some stuff from his presentation but was hoping for more info on search engine optimization.
16. My favorite session was the Video Blogging session with Andrea Robinson, Chris Oggenfuss, and Lisa Mattson. I learned a ton of great information and more importantly it inspired me to make some changes to my own blog / vlog. This session and the two mentioned above can be viewed here http://cavemanwines.com/blog/
Speed Wine Blogging
Think speed dating but with wineries trying to ‘hook you up’ with their wine. I learned that I am not a speed blogger. I also learned that first impressions can lead you astray. It’s like getting that hot girl to go out on a date with you and then realizing you made a mistake when you have an actual conversation with her. Also important to point out…if you’re not spitting you may go home at 2 with a 10 and wake up at 10 with a 2.
Wines of note:
17. WHITE: Desert Wind Winery Viognier, Maryhill Viognier , Ortman Family Wines Edna Chardonnay, and Long Shadow Poets Leap Riesling
RED: Solena Estate Pinot Noir, Louis M Martini Lot 1 Cabernet, Trio Vintners RIOT, Long Shadows Sequel Syrah and the Molly Dooker Velvet Glove.
Great description from my friend Randy Watson of @thewinewhore – “The Velvet Glove comes up to you screams in your face to get your attention, pulls down your pants to get you all excited and then runs away leaving you empty (and pantless).
A Day with Winemakers
18. I can’t say enough about the day we spent with wine makers on the lottery buses. The conference organizers did a great job keeping the locations of the bus trips a secret. In keeping with my brief synopsis of everything…here goes.
19. Rick Small of Woodward Canyon is an amazing winemaker and storyteller. Listening to Rick’s passion for the wine while walking through his 30 year old vineyards was a life changing experience.
20. The panel of winemakers session at Beresan introduced me to the BEST Viognier I have ever had. Wine maker Quentin Mylet of Turtulia Cellars was proud of his first release and his passion poured from his body.
21. Lunch at Whitman Cellars was a mess of an allergy attack. Sadly I did not get to enjoy the wine as I was distracted with itchy eyes, runny nose and sneezing every 15 seconds. I do remember a delightful Cab Franc and dining in the barrel room was a treat!
22. Dinner with Otis Kenyon was a special occasion. Sitting next to Steve Kenyon sipping a 2005 Reserve Merlot while enjoying the evening speaker, Lettie Teague was a dinner to remember. FYI, Merlot goes great with beef cheeks.
23. Make sure you know where you’re going if you’re going to walk to an after hours party. Walla Walla may be a small town, but walking east doesn’t mean you’re going to find the house you’re looking for.
24. Same party…when you turn on dance music, Constance Chamberlain bounces like Tigger for hours and Joe “Suburban Wino” Herrig does a wicked robot.
25. Same party…it’s always best to leave before the cops show up…
26. When offered wine from a snickering Christophe and Chris Oggenfuss, politely refuse or you may find yourself drinking wine made from fermented worms…no lie.
27. I felt like a proud parent when I gave Hardy Wallace some juice made from Spokane (Nodland Cellars 2006 Blend), He said, “This is the most balanced wine I’ve had since I’ve been here,” granted it was only Friday.
28. When Charles Smith throws a party it quickly deteriorates into drunken debauchery that includes stripper poles, flaming pasties, and kegs of free wine!
29. Sitting in a lobby drinking wine with a bunch of relaxed winos is a great way to experience the luxurious Marcus Whitman hotel.
30. Paul Gregutt is a cool cat. Thanks for opening your home to us for a few hours to taste how historic Washington Wine is aging. Tasting through 1994-1999 vintages from Chateau St Michelle, Columbia Crest, Kestrel, Seven Hills and more shows the awesome age ability of the state’s wine.
31. Spokane loves Ben Simons (Vinotology), Joe Roberts (1WineDude), and Eric Hwang (BricksofWine). We had an amazing time enjoying the wine and view from Arbor Crest. It was obvious that Barrister Cellars was a hit across the board for everyone as well.
Stomping on Sour Grapes
32. Where are the blogs? – Bloggers do this for FREE. They have lives to attend to and being gone for 4 days or more usually means catching up on what they missed. The initial round of posts may have been easier “Top Ten” “I Learned” kind of posts, but NOW we’re starting to see more in depth evaluations of the wine and the region. See over 100 of them here.
33. Bloggers wasted my time by skipping sessions? – Sad for them if they spent hard earned money to sleep off a hangover. As far as I can tell the 20+ busses were off on their journeys with 10-15 people on each bus. Not everyone is going to be engaging and dynamic. Chances are the no-shows are about as committed to writing as they are to learning…so the result would have been the same either way.
34. Pay to Play Not Paying Off? – I don’t get this one. Yes the event is pay to play but it’s not about any one winery. It really isn’t about even promoting the region of Walla Walla. This is a Wine Bloggers Conference that happened to be held in Walla Walla. The association and town did a pretty phenomenal job of making sure that these passionate writers actually had reason to write about Walla Walla. People from Paso Robles to Paris and Atlanta to Boston are writing about the amazing wines of Washington State. I think that’s a phenomenal payoff!
As I said earlier…sour grapes? No, mostly a result of misunderstood expectations and missed information. Walla Walla rocked the wine world and the wine world fell in love with Walla Walla and Washington wine.