Sour Grapes or Curious Choices At The Wine Bloggers Conference?

 Wine Bloggers Conference Walla Walla

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).

Overall Impressions

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.

Conference Activities

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/

Long Shadows Sequel Syrah

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.  

Extra Curricular

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

Posts by Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman and Paul Gregutt seem to indicate that there are some sour grapes over certain activities from the conference. Without being verbose, here are my comments.

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.

drinknectar

Owner of Nectar Tasting Room in Spokane, WA. (@nectarwine) Publisher of Spokane Wine Magazine (@spowinemag), author, speaker, consultant and internet marketer with Nectar Media (@nectarmedia)

29 comments on “Sour Grapes or Curious Choices At The Wine Bloggers Conference?

  1. Joe

    I did the robot? Must’ve been too much worm wine…

    Nice synopsis. I think the low marketing cost to at least dip one’s toes into the world of social media marketing (via bloggers, etc.) is worth the “risk”

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Dude you are quick. I had to go back in and edit several pieces. I totally agree. Wineries could send out dozens of bottles of wine for the cost of 1 small magazine ad in a local rag. Those dozen writers would provide a much bigger impact.

      Reply
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  3. Ed thralls

    Hey, I knew exactly where we were going and I thought it was a rather nice walk ; )

    great overview and perspective. I made some great contacts with both industry folks and bloggers. It’s more than just writing about some wine we tasted and some of us have the foresight to know how big this really is going to be for the industry

    Reply
  4. Brian

    Josh,
    This only makes me more exited and interested in attending one of these. I wish I could have been there. I’ve read some of the sour posts and the top 10s, I prefer the latter as the earlier of the two types does nothing but deter from my enjoyment of this hobby of mine.

    To All,
    Keep blogging/writing/vlogging or whatever the hell you want to call it. I love it, and you do provide invaluable insight that anyone (pro wine writers to consumers) can appreciate. Naysayers can hole up in their ivory towers and cast apsersions, have fun with that negativity.

    nuff said
    norcalwingman

    Reply
  5. Erica Ercolano

    Very well said, of course! I felt very privileged to be amongst such a well educated, well traveled, hard working and down-to-earth (for the most part) group. Knowledge of my limits and focus on learning kept me from any late evening festivities and I hope that any poor behaviors do not cast a negative view of the rest. Walla Walla most certainly served us phenomenally and hopefully that will influence the “influencers” to continue to support their destination and their wine the future. Thank you for writing your spin, no doubt it is what most of us are thinking. Again, well said!

    Reply
  6. Tamara Belgard

    Wow, you’ve done a phenomenal job summing up everything I’ve been thinking about. I find your #9 and 10 very curious as well, and perhaps part of the reason Walla Walla and Washington wineries aren’t seeing the results they were anticipating. Sounds like I missed out on way too many extra-curricular activities, guess I’ll be looking forward to next year!

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Yep – I think #9 and #10 make me the most frustrated. Spokane wineries missed a great opportunity to showcase who they are…but I’m not really sure how it was communicated to them either.

      Reply
  7. Mark Cochard

    Josh, I’ll give you a recap from the SWE conference being held in DC in a few weeks to see how the Virgina wineries step up to the plate to promote their state so you’ll get a feel for what they may do next year. I’ll be pouring our wines because the Mid-Atlantic is our region – Regarding Point 9 WA wineries were held back from doing more at the SWE conference held In Seatttle a few years back so as not to set to high a bar for future regions hosting. Go figure that one out. Who was the speaker on the geology of WW? I have some great stuff I can send you from my Diploma classes prepared by a former geology Prof at Eastern Washington State University. DM me your email on twitter.

    Reply
  8. Chris

    For Mark, the WW geology was presented by Dr. Kevin Pogue, http://www.whitman.edu/geology/PogueBio.html He was a very engaging lecturer and made rocks, floods, and birds nests fascinating.

    Josh, I attended a different group of sessions and came away with somethign valuable from each I thought, luck of the choice maybe on which to attend.

    On the involvement of Washington’s wineries, I took offence at first to being served Napa wine, but actually appreciate having things to compare to the homegrown stuff. Even the food paring with South American wines (mainly) I found interesting.

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Chris – I heard some great stuff out of the sessions I missed, luckily some of them are online. I think the bulk of my disapointment stems from having different expectations of what I would hear/learn. I have mad respect for all the presenters and only one seemed to be unprepared and one seemed a little self serving (no names).

      I didn’t mind the speed dating showcasing a few different wines or even the meet the sponsor session…I would have liked to have had a bigger focus on the region during the food/wine pairing though…but that is just one guys opinion.

      Reply
  9. PaulG

    Josh, well-stated and thanks for the kind praise. Thanks also for trekking out to Waitsburg with the Dude – it was a pleasure to share those old wines with you guys. As for the “sour grapes” I would suggest that what might seem to be somewhat harsh criticisms are not really sour grapes. You said it best – “the bulk of my disappointment stems from having different expectations of what I would hear/learn.” I think some wineries may have had expectations different from what actually has transpired, or simply don’t know what to expect. I am going to keep my blog functioning as a forum for critical debate from both within and without the blogging community. I don’t see a lot of sites where bloggers and critics and winemakers co-mingle. I want mine to be one such. Anyway, keep up the good work and I hope to see you up in Spokane later this year.

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Thanks for stopping by to comment, Paul. Having a space where varying opinions can co-mingle is needed. Too often people make mountains where there are none. There will always be those who felt slighted, left out, or underwhelmed at an event like this. I think that the overwhelming majority is positive.

      When you come to Spokane, please do get in touch. I may not be able to share a 1994 Chateau St. Michelle with you, but I would love to treat you to dinner and wine.

      Josh

      Reply
  10. Catie

    Josh, it is important to note that wine bloggers have been criticized for many things, but especially two of them come to mind:

    1) We have been criticized for skipping out on well planned events to nurse hangovers. However, there were also “unauthorized tastings” that were not part of the WBC but held during WBC well planned events. I want to raise the question, that many seem to skip around. Do our guest speakers, empty chairs and leftover food really know the difference between hangovers and “unauthorized tastings” that were not part of the conference schedule?

    2) There has also been criticism over social media tools and if they are measurable. Many think that blogging, Twitter et al, makes no visible difference to winery sales. Well, what would happen if all wine blogs stopped blogging and mini-wine blogging stopped on Twitter and Facebook?

    Thanks for your curious thoughts and overall impressions.
    C~

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Catie, I’m not sure If wine bloggers have been criticized for “many” things or just a few have expressed minimal concerns. From the 10-12 wineries / winemakers I’ve had personal conversations with they all felt that the experience was a delight. If someone had different expectations set or specific egos to stroke then I could see where there could be some frustrations.

      The “unauthorized tastings” thing is being blown out of proportion. Unless I am unaware of something different, the tasting you’re referring to happened from 1-4pm on Sunday afternoon AFTER the conference was over. Some of the empty seats may be because the 300+ paid people in attendance were not ALL bloggers. Several industry people made up that number and they may not have been on the bus trips Saturday. However, from most of the pictures I’ve seen, there were plenty of people in attendance. That argument doesn’t hold water and needs to die. The curious part is those that did skip…why would the make that poor choice?

      Your second point is very valid. Social Media tools can be measured…but what are you measuring. You can’t measure direct sales using twitter or facebook unless you have specific marketing campaigns around them (tracking numbers, shipping promotions, special discounts). Can you measure the results of putting an ad in the phonebook. Every time the phone rings do you ask, “did you get this number from the phone book?” I agree with you on this. More education needs to happen and people like you are doing a great job of educating.

      Baby steps…

      thanks for stopping by to comment

      Reply
  11. Catie

    Josh, In all respect – yes, you are very unaware about something. You are incorrect about the time. You showed up late, from what I understand in everything I have read about this “event.” The invite was posted via Facebook for 11:00am. I also confirmed it with a couple of other wine bloggers who were there at 11:00 am and chose to attend the tasting instead of attending the WBC. I even asked MrG if had to be that early due to the fact it was starting while the conference was going on. MrG explained he had out-of-town guests he was hosting coming in around 2:00. If MrG’s event had not been held during the conference I would not have missed out. It sounded like a great event. So the people that you saw were probably a residual of the earlier group, along with expected guests. If I had known it was still going on after the conference, I would have considered coming by. I never thought another thing about it until – -

    MrG wrote a blog titled Easy to Criticize. In his blog, wine bloggers were criticized for many things, one was: “…skipping carefully-planned events to nurse a hangover.” I am in agreement with MrG about this. But when I questioned him in a comment if “skipping carefully-planned events to attend unauthorized tastings” was different? As a former large event planner for profit and non-profits, like I pointed out, empty chairs and leftover food do not know the difference between hangovers and extra unauthorized events… I never got a response. In fact, he chose not to post my comment. I sent him an email about his criticism of blogger’s behavior and asked the question, and again, I never got an answer to my question.

    That’s all I care about – I don’t care about the who, what, where or when about this event. All I want is to hear is an explanation as to why missing out on a carefully-planned event” due to attending non-WBC event is different than staying home and nursing a hangover? Wine Bloggers are criticized everytime we turn around. Sure, toughen up. Most of it is comical and transparent. But when one of our “own” criticizes us for missing out on carefully planned events, like he did in his recent blog, then I have questions. Explain the difference. Anyone? Bueller?

    Re: Curious – I was also curious as to why MrG wasn’t around much at the WBC. He was on the registration list, but I asked and he explained he had a lot on his plate. Okay. Sounds reasonable, but it still would have been great to see him on a school bus with the rest of us “kids” or even get his take, first hand, at the Speed Dating events. I think it would have meant alot us to see Paul Gregutt as a wine blogger, like the rest of us, and instead of a journalist/author.

    If you are curious as to his involvement, in the actual WBC, over and above being a participant? Several people wanted to be involved whether it was donating their time or coming in as a paid speaker. I understand it was tough to get everybody involved – it was only a three-day event and besides, the focus was the winebloggers, not the Washington wine industry. Geez, I was an event sponsor and I didn’t even get to have my own workshop, tastings, et al.

    What I would recommend to anybody in the industry who wished they could have participated more, take advantage and become a sponsor for the WBC11 in Virginia. There are only 150 wineries in VA. That’s just about the amount of wineries in Walla Walla. Reinforce what the WBC10 learned about Washington State by sponsoring and/or pouring the wines.
    Sincerely,
    C~

    Reply
  12. Catie

    One more thing: I worked two years for the county defense attorney and just recently I put in ten years working for a team of litigation attorneys, so yes, I get very detailed oriented when it comes to time, people, places and things. It is my training, which has now become very second nature to me.

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Catie – I have mad respect for the both of you! I also appreciate the additional information you provide. I am super excited about your new adventure. I’m closing watching what you do and wishing you huge success, you are fulfilling your dream and some day soon I hope to be doing the same thing!

      Cheers to you, your input and your success!

      Josh

      Reply
  13. Lisa Mattson

    Dear Josh,

    It was a pleasure to finally meet you at WBC. I’m glad your wife could come and hang out with everyone too. You are a very lucky man.

    Thanks for the no. 16 kudos for our video blog panel discussion. I wish we could have had another 30 minutes just for Q&A. If you have any other questions or want to bounce ideas, don’t hesitate to reach out.

    I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to talk more at the Wine Bloggers Conference. All the video volunteer work took more time than we anticipated. Hope you liked your diaries. Thanks for tweeting and posting.

    Please look me up if you’re ever in Sonoma County wine country. Our video blog is located at http://blog.jordanwinery.com. If you have any suggestions on content, I’d appreciate the advice.

    Thanks for being so enthusiastic and inspiring to all of us blog (or vlog) newbies.

    Cheers,
    Lisa Mattson
    The Journey of Jordan: a wine and food video blog

    Reply
  14. Constance C

    look at those sweet dance moves I’m rocking right there.

    Otherwise, fantastic overview ;) We’ll have to do it again next year!

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Next year it will be tops on my priority list, Constance!

      Reply
  15. Craig Sutton

    Hi Josh,

    Sorry about not really talking about SEO, strange enough when I heard Reno call it an SEO class I was a bit taken back, that was not at all what we had discussed my presentation would be or I would have focused on that topic.

    Overall it was a positive experience to be able to talk to people about the conversion process, but hate hearing that we didn’t cover your expectations. Let me know if there is something I can do or a resource I can point you to. I will be running a small business conference dealing with online marketing in Sept here in the Tri-Cities, might be time to take a road trip to Spokane?

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Craig, wasn’t your fault at all. I really did get a lot of great info from your presentation…I think you provided me an SEO link via twitter after the class…any other resources you have would be great and if you come to Spokane…I’m so there!

      Reply
  16. WineWonkette

    Kegs of free wine at Charles Smith’s shindig? We left too early! Not too early to see the Voodoo Dollz strip tho! (You can see pictures of some of the disrobing from a link at http://www.anotherwineblog.com/archives/8972 )

    I missed a couple of the Breakout Sessions I really wanted to attend. I can’t imagine skipping the winery tours. Why else were we there?

    And I concur with your curiosities about the non-Washington focus at times. I realize some other folks are trying to get their message across for a future WBC event. But if Washington has some wine gods, it would have made much more sense if they have been the keynote speakers. At the very least a meet and greet session would have been nice.

    And some of the BEST sessions were very early in the morning. That happens every year. And it’s unfortunate. To me it always looks like they were added in at the last minute, and not as important as the other events.

    Great meeting you and love your blog!

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Amy – thanks for the link to the post. I concur with your assessment of like being at camp with every minute scheduled. It was a pretty tight agenda that left very little room for recovering. Even if wine weren’t involved in the after hours it still would have been a challenge to get to everything, let alone be perky and alert!

      Josh

      Reply
  17. Karin

    I confess. I missed the bus tour. And I kicked myself. Hard.

    But I didn’t miss it because I was sleeping off a hangover. I missed it because one of the conference hotels charged me for a reservation they couldn’t find, and I’m still fighting them about it.

    There’s always more than one explanation. #dontjudgemeplease

    Great thoughts!

    Reply
    1. drinknectar

      Haha – I’m not judging you Karin. Good luck with getting that settled. Contact your credit card issuer and file a chargeback claim.

      Reply

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