20 Jul 2011
I bet I taste over 100 wines this weekend! What will you be doing?
This coming weekend I will be attending the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, VA. Having been born in Roanoke, I’m excited to get back to my roots and sample the grapes grown in the one of the oldest planting regions in the country. Thomas Jefferson tried for years to establish Virginia as a wine growing region and with several failed attempts, Virginia is now the 7th largest wine producing region in the country.
After last year’s wine bloggers’ conference, I made note of five things that I wanted to do to the blog.
- SEO – Search Engine Optimization: I began focusing efforts on maximizing SEO by paying attention to blog titles, first paragraph text, image titles, and tags. The results have led to several posts that have consistent daily traffic from Google searches.
- Improve the quality of my video: I migrated to an HD camera and invested in a third party video editing software. While my computer quality caused a five month delay in videos, I definitely saw an increase in quality once I made the switch.
- Improve the quality of my writing: I think the writing quality has improved but I still catch editing mistakes after the blog is already published. The true judge of quality, YOU. With over 100 posts since last year’s conference, I hope you’ve seen an improvement.
- Reorganize content: In September 2010 I spent an entire weekend re-organizing the blog content and investing in a new blog template. The result is a menu of drop down choices that are logical and easy to navigate. The front page is divided into featured headlines (top), Nectar Tasting Room news (left), wine reviews (right) and social media content (bottom).
- Improve wine reviews: I simplified my wine reviews providing the content that I would want to read when looking into various wines. The simple 5 point rating system helps users identify what my ratings are. I’m also very proud to be one of the contributors to the very popular Hello Vino iPhone app.
This year I go into the wine bloggers conference as a business owner and I am still very passionate about the field of wine writing. While my time to dedicate to writing is significantly reduced, I do plan to make more effort to get back to contributing to the blog. I’m amazed at how frequently customers come in who were first introduced to Nectar Tasting Room because they read this blog. My goal is to find the motivation and inspiration to bring this blog back to the 20,000 page view / month hay day.
The agenda in Virginia is jam packed and begins with an international wine tasting on Thursday night. Wine tasting begins as early as 10am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and officially doesn’t end until after 9pm (unless you head to the super secret private invitation parties). Wine for breakfast…just like every other day of the week, right? While networking is a critical component to the conference, my goal this year is pack in as much information and education that I can. Rarely does one have the opportunity to taste so much variety of wine in such a short amount of time. I’m particularly looking forward to Saturday’s “Virginia’s Wine History, Geology, and Business Climate,” and the vineyard tours.
How much wine will I taste? Not sure, but my guess is well over 100 different wines. My goal; document every one. I hope you look forward to reading about them as much as I look forward to tasting them.
Scenes From Last Year’s Conference
20 Dec 2010
It’s that time of year when people pull out their Top, Best Of and Year in Review lists. All for jumping on the bandwagon, I decided to pull together three lists that recap my year in wine blogging. In this post I share my favorite articles across the bloggersphere, top wine stories, and my favorite post from each month of 2010. Later this week, I’ll reveal my top 10 value wines (under $15) and the top 10 wines of the year.
One of the earlier wine blogs I connected with was Joe Roberts from 1winedude.com. Joe’s interview with author Robin Goldstein (Wine Trials) was my favorite wine news post of the month. The 70+ comments provide a ton of reading fodder as well.
January marked the premier of one of my favorite weekly posts, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from Ben Simons of Vinotology.com. Most weeks, Ben provides a humorous look at news from the wine world.
The top post from Nectar Wine Blog (previously DrinkNectar) is a still very relevant post called, Is Facebook Tweeting Hurting Your Business? While the practice of Tweeting your Facebook status may be efficient, it can have a negative effect. Check out my reasoning why.
Thanks to people like Rick Bakas of Bakas Media and Craig Drollett of Taste Live, online taste and tweets became commonplace in 2010. Events in 2010 allowed me to explore wine from Chile, Virginia, Texas, and Michigan and celebrate #WAMerlot, #CaliCabs, #CabernetDay, #SauvBlanc, #Chardonnay, #WAWine, #Champagne, and more.
Wine Bloggers Bite the Big One: This post from @DirtySouthWine (aka Hardy Wallace, aka NPAHardy) was in response to recent allegations that wine blobbers are a bunch of non-influential, wine whores railing against traditional media and seeking free wine. This amazing post will have you laughing from poop to chainsaws.
The most active post on my site for February tapped into a vein of hostility toward restaurant wine prices. Wine Ripped off and Ticked Off (60+ comments) – A look at the horrible wine practices of restaurants and their 400% mark-up, uninspired wine lists and crappy wine glasses.
For me, March was a break out month with #WAMerlot. The partnership with 10 Washington wine writers helped make many connections that have turned into friendships. The month ended with a great trip to Seattle to participate in Taste Washington. It was actually during that visit that some of the initial ideas for Nectar Tasting Room began to develop.
Two of my favorite wine blogs provided highlights from March. Tamara Belgard of the now quiet Sip with Me blog (Tamara now works in marketing for Cana’s Feast Winery in Oregon) writes an incredibly sensual post titled, My Date With Pinot Noir. Warning, either have a cold shower running or your significant other nearby. The second highlight is an ambitious series from this year’s recipient of Best New Wine Blog, SwirlSmellSlurp.com. The “his and her” blog has attempted to taste wine from all 50 states in the series United Slurps of America. At last check the team has sipped through wine from 17 states.
While not necessarily one of the most viewed posts of the month, it is one of the events I am most proud of in 2010. “The Night Merlot Was King” was the recap of the #WAMerlot event. Through social media a group of bloggers was able to mobilize 100 wineries to showcase Washington Merlot for online and offline events.
April marked the mobilization of the online wine community against House bill HR5034. Industry heavy hitters Tom Wark and Free the Grapes helped generate significant buzz against the bill that threatens to limit how wineries can ship wine to customers. I strongly urge you to join the American Wine Consumers Coalition to stay informed on important news that impacts wine consumers.
Wine Enthusiast contributor Steve Heimoff provides some great content to the wine blogging world. Steve Heimoff’s’ post “5 Questions for Robert Parker” generated 50+ comments. Steve asks the questions respectfully and eloquently.
My most viewed post – 7 Social Media No Brainers – While these tips may seem basic, I guarantee there is more than one that you’re not doing. I see these basic rules broken every day. You should check it out. Let me know if you are doing ALL seven.
Some of the most re-hashed stories of the year provided hours of reading enjoyment and online debate. While not specifically occurring in May, seemingly every blogger has covered the topics of wine scores / 100 point score and Biodynamics. Palate Press presents a very well thought out insight into credibility and how Robert Parker may have hurt his street cred by introducing something better than 100 points. VIEW POST.
Stuart Smith of Smith-Madrone Winery provides an alternate view to the practices of biodynamic farming on his blog Biodynamics Is a Hoax. “I submit that if you believe in science you cannot believe in Biodynamics, and the corollary is just as true, if you believe in Biodynamics you cannot believe in science.”
I’m very excited to share that the most viewed post for May was a video, picture and text recap of our journey to Lake Chelan, WA. VIEW POST – I love the Chelan area and look forward to our annual visit.
June’s landscape was dominated by the 2010 Wine Blogger’s Conference. 300+ wine bloggers, writers, trade, and media converged on Walla Walla, Washington for a showcase of the new media of wine blogging. The 2010 Wine Blog Awards recognize excellence in new media. The list of winners is a showcase of the best wine writing on the internet. The 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference will be held in Charlottesville, VA.
A post that went live in the final 3 days of the month quickly gained traction and took the lead for most viewed post in June. Behold the future of obscure sport TV, the next big reality programming…The Sport of Speed Wine Blogging!
The wine world is not immune to economic woes. 2010 news was full of wine consolidation, winery closures, and news of a glut in bulk juice around the world. In Texas we witnessed the auction, withdrawal and re-auction of Cap*Rock Winery. Similar woes beset Virginia’s Kluge Winery and California’s Cosentino Winery later in the year.
Featuring one of the more creative pieces of writing this year is a piece from Wayne Kelterer of the blog, A Long Pour. Wayne’s creative interview of the wine grape, Merlot is humorous and witty. Find out why Merlot is sad no one cares anymore.
The most viewed post of the month quickly became one of the most viewed posts of the year on Nectar Wine Blog. Take a look at some creative ways to recycle your wine bottles. I guarantee you’ll be inspired to buy a glass cutter.
Power belongs to the entrepreneur. In August (and the months that followed), I watched several of my friends step out in pursuit of their dreams to be in the wine world. Using social media to build contacts and networking connections, good people like Joe Roberts, (http://1winedude.com) Ed Thralls (http://winetonite.com), Tamara Belgard, (http://sipwithme.blogspot.com) Rick Bakas (http://bakasmedia.com), and Ben Simons (http://vinotology.com) have blazed trails of inspiration for many people.
A lot of debate occurs about the place of the 100 point scale in the wine world. Vintank, and several influential bloggers, are looking to unseat the balance of power by introducing a “BADGE” method of rating. Why We Think the Badge Concept Will Work
Perhaps one of the cleverest videos of the year belongs to the folks at Hope Family Wines in the Office like spoof to promote their new wine, Troublemaker.
As attention turned toward harvest one of most insane stories of the year was from @vinography on the story of how thieves managed to steal a ton of Syncline Winery Mourvedre grapes…right off the vine! The Wine Super Villain Strikes
News was also dominated by the unseasonably cool weather in Washington and California (the country’s premier grape growing regions). The challenge would continue through harvest with cool weather continuing in Washington and a strong late season heat wave making things challenging in California.
I really enjoyed this creative post from my friend, Taryn Miller. Her ode to Cabernet Day, “Twas the Day of Cabernet” was creative and well written poetry.
The most viewed post at Nectar Wine Blog was A Blend of Apples and Grapes – iPads in the Tasting Room.
October saw a battle of booze in Washington State. Initiatives 1100 and 1105 threatened to end the three-tier distribution system and the states monopoly on booze sales. Neither initiative was very well written and in the end they both died at the voting booth. Sean Sullivan of wawinereport.com provided a very detailed analysis of both. Sean is one of the most valuable Washington wine resources in the state!
The always humorous and self deprecating Suburban Wino kicked off his new series, Booze in the News. Joe Herrig is one of the nicest guys in the wine world and his site is a must read for those into good wine, good food, 80’s movie / TV trivia, and odd tangents.
In October, I announced the upcoming launch of Nectar Tasting Room. The shared space wine tasting room features five Washington wineries and is the culmination of the reason for starting this wine blog. I was humbled by the massive support from the wine community. Twitter analytics show that the potential reach of this announcement surpassed 250,000 people.
November / December 2010
While I’ve been buried in the work that revolved around the release of Spokane Wine Magazine and the upcoming opening of Nectar Tasting Room, the amazing wine writing continued to fill the interwebs. This creative minds at VinTank outdo themselves with this unique interview with Craig Wolf from the Wine Spirits Wholesalers Association.
Enobytes tackles the technology of QR Codes and their impact on wine, wineries and other marketing. While I don’t agree with everything in the post, the conversation that has grown in the comments contains some great insight and knowledge.
Twitter Helps Fight City Hall – My use of social media gets the traditional media’s attention as I struggle with the rigid permitting process of City Hall. The result is a collaborative meeting of compromise and progress with city officials!
Wow, what a year. As I looked back at the posts and news, I was overwhelmed with the volume and quality of content. So many things were omitted here for the sake of length. Book releases from friends Evan Dawson (http://www.evandawsonwrites.com), Paul Gregutt (http://paulgregutt.com) and Rick Bakas (http://quickbitesbook.com), consistent quality content from Jeff Lefevere (http://goodgrape.com), the building of a brand by Barbara Evans (http://seattlewinegal.com), the retirement, un-retirement and disappearance of The Hosemaster of Wine, and so much more mark an amazing 2010. Cheers to the wine blogging world and cheers to an eventful, profitable, and passionate 2011.
24 Nov 2010
A few weeks ago, this little bloggie turned one. In a medium where “old school” is five years, turning one sorta makes you a teenager. Armed with my new “know it all,” brooding, moody attitude, I’m putting on my skinny jeans and flannel, shuffling the iPod on EMO and getting ready for year two. The last year has been an incredible adventure of success, stumbles, and relationships. I don’t claim to know it all or be an expert on blogging, in fact I’ve made a whole mess of mistakes in year one. A wise man learns from the mistakes of others (and a fool is destined to repeat them), so here are 10 blogging mistakes I made in the first year. I hope you avoid these.
10. Don’t post your new post after 6PM – As a general rule you’re better off waiting until the next morning. I’ve been guilty of this a few times and without fail, the post in question gets very little traction in viewership and response. Twitter and Facebook (great traffic drivers) get very conversational after 6PM and promotional pushes seem to fall on deaf ears. One time, in order to keep my 7 month streak alive, I did post at 11:58PM on a Friday night. That post saw as much traffic as the path between Pelosi and Obama’s house since the 2010 elections. In a similar vein, don’t come out of the gate with your best stuff on Saturday afternoon on a sunny summer day. Just because you’re sitting at your PC still in your tightie whities doesn’t mean many other readers are.
9. Don’t spell people’s name wrong when you highlight them in a post – Blogs often quote others as reference points, additional information, or for cross promoting. Linkbacks are great for SEO optimization. When writing a post on social media, I reached out to Rick Bakas, (then the Director of Social Media Marketing for St. Supery winery) for a quote on the subject. Armed with several great quotes, I drafted my post and then sent it out for the whole world to see (by whole world, I mean the 327 people who followed my stuff at the time). The problem was I spelled Rick’s name Backas. Rick was gracious and kindly pointed out my flaw. The real embarrassment was when I did it AGAIN in another social media post, this time calling him the Directory of Social Media Marketing. What a tool I am.
8. Don’t forget proper SEO tagging – Many months went by before I realized that I was missing out on better search engine optimization. It may take a few extra minutes but I’ve noticed a dramatic difference in traffic and ranking by focusing on three simple things.
- Make sure that the title contains the key words of the topic
- Make sure the images are tagged appropriately (spkwine1.jpg is not as good as Barrister Winery Spokane 1.jpg)
- Use the SEO portion of your blog platform. WordPress has a great built in tool that lets you optimize your page and your post with key words and a brief synopsis.
7. Don’t pick fights with people – I only partially did this once (okay maybe it was three times, but who is counting) but have seen it done on many occasions. The times when I didn’t hold my tongue have always come back to bite me on the ass and have hindered my brand and my reputation. Online communities are like small towns and it seems that at some point everyone will know your business. If you have a beef with someone, take it to them directly. If you feel like calling someone out on your blog, you may generate a lot of comments and traffic, but be ready to retract any emotional statements. In one of my more popular posts (and a fun one to write), I talked about this very subject – In My Opinion, Your Opinion Sucks
6. Don’t be a recluse – One of the most fun parts about blogging is being a part of the community. When I first started, I commented on hundreds of blogs. It was a great way to get to know the writing styles of the blogging leaders, lean more about wine, and also introduce myself to a bunch of really cool people. Writing top notch stuff is great and all, and it might get read at some point, but developing relationships, sharing other people’s content, recognizing other’s hard work, and adding to the conversation will build your community quickly.
5. Don’t be everywhere – Focus. I don’t do LinkedIn, Google Wave, Friendster, My Space or many other social networks out there. When I first started in this wine community I joined a few Ning sites that seemed to have quite a few members. Keeping current on all the sites proved to be a challenge. Many of these sites still exist but don’t seem to have much influence on traffic and the community seems less engaged. I learned early on that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and local networking site, LaunchPadINW were the places to be. Find your niche and excel there.
4. Don’t be hit and miss with your content– If you want to be successful in blogging, you’ve got to have daily content (or near daily). Google likes fresh content and people on social platforms are slutty tramps with ADD (I mean that in the nicest way, so let me explain). There is always a shiny new widget on Twitter and Facebook. Your fans, followers and likers, will quickly find something else to fulfill their reading desires. Staying current on content keeps them coming back and faithful. While I let my streak lapse without any fanfare a few weeks back, I’m convinced that my commitment to content is one of the main reasons for the continued increase in traffic and recognition. If you can’t do daily content, make a goal of 3 times per week or every Tuesday, and stick with it. The same can be said with updating Facebook and Twitter. Develop a strategy and stick with it. Your consistency will pay off.
3. Don’t be elusive – This one is important for folks that are blogging and getting into social media with an agenda. I’ve always been honest about my intentions. When I began, I always informed the wineries, wine bars, and coffee shops I reviewed that I wanted to eventually open a wine and coffee bar. When that goal morphed into a tasting room, I made sure I shared that. While not everyone has embraced those goals, and some still look at me with a skeptical eye, they can’t accuse me of being sneaky or underhanded (well, they can – but would be wrong).
2. Don’t be a conformist – Find your voice and stick with it. I’m not always the greatest writer but I know my strengths and I avoid my weaknesses. You won’t find me producing some technical wizardry like you find on Palate Press from time to time. I am not as quick witted as 1WineDude or connected to the industry as Steve Heimoff. I’ll never give in depth winery analysis like Washington Wine Report. I’ll be me. There are times I’ve posted some serious expose and had to deal with the consequence of people not liking it. I used Twitter to get the media interested in my plight against city hall. Some say, I should have played nice. When I wrote about one wineries unsuccessful attempt to open in the area, I wrote about the irony of the opposition. I was vilified. When I wrote something very sexy about Champagne recently, one person told me I needed to be more careful now that I was a business owner. For me, I think it’s important to stay true to who you are. Keep being you and the people who like you will keep liking you.
1. Don’t have an unorganized brand approach – This is a lesson that I’m continuing to learn and struggle with. When I came out of the gate I wanted to be Nectar Coffee and Wine. I bought that URL and I also bought Drink Nectar. Drink Nectar was unavailable on Twitter, so I did @nectarwine. Over the course of the year, I’ve become the “Drink Nectar guy” locally. My Facebook page is Facebook.com/DrinkNectar. My YouTube channel is Youtube.com/DrinkNectar. Almost daily on twitter, I’m mistakenly referenced as @drinknectar (that account is a dead account with zero tweets). When I went to open a business, I didn’t want it to be called DrinkNectar. This was a huge FAIL on my part that is becoming difficult to correct. I recently decided to RE-BRAND to accommodate the opening of Nectar Tasting Room. Hopefully, after a year of successful re-branding, I’ll have solidified myself as Nectar Wine Blog, Nectar Tasting Room, Nectar Media, and Spokane Wine Magazine. So, in order to avoid the same confusion that I have, I strongly encourage you to think through the aspects of your approach before you get started.
There you have it, 10 blogging mistakes that I’ve made this year. I hope they help you avoid making the same mistakes in your blogging adventure. Now I think I’m going to post this, even though it’s getting close to 6pm.
12 Aug 2010
Can the 100 point system be overthrown? In a recent post, “You Don’t Score Wine? You’re Full of Crap,” we debated the fact that most people, whether through points, grades, stars, glasses, or even the basic like don’t like system, score wines. It is clear that the 100 point system is severely flawed and should be executed, BUT it is also clear that it is firmly in place and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. There are a few factors that contribute to the 100 point dominance:
- Those who use it continue to hold the most influence. People like Robert Parker, Steven Tanzer and The Wine Enthusiast crew wield a great deal of wine power and until their publications become obsolete or they change, we’ll continue to see the scores.
- Wineries and PR firms perpetuate the problem. Don’t believe me, go into any tasting room and you’ll probably hear someone behind the bar say, “This wine received 92pts in the lasts Wine Enthusiast magazine.” When wineries move away from this as a marketing tool the 100 point score will go the way of the dodo.
- 100 point score is identifiable. Customers, especially those who are confused by wine (which is the majority of people), can identify with the rating system. Actually, any rating system whether it is A-F or 1-5 or 1-10 can be related to fairly quickly.
Is a Wine Scoring Revolution Coming?
Recently a group of bloggers have launched an effort to buck the traditions. A new wine badge system attempts to knock down the dominance of the 100 point scale. Is their attempt a mere pebble against the wall or is it the stone that could take Goliath down? Are these renegade mavericks onto something new or will we find the system floating in the river, another victim of the 100 point mafia?
Paul Mabray of VinTank says the badge system lets you “create a category for a wine that you believe in and assign a badge to it, explain the criteria openly and transparently, and only give those wines that you appreciate fit that category a badge. Simple, elegant, but more importantly a TRUE representation of the quality you admire in the categories you create. A wine fits or it doesn’t.” Badge ratings have currently been employed by Ward Kadel (DrXeNo), Mark de Vere (MdV MW), and more recently Steve Paulo (Notes from the Cellar). Steve currently has 9 badges while the other two writers have implemented 5.
First off let me just say, kudos to the idea and the effort to change the way consumers think about wine. While wine is complex and can have several layers of aroma, flavor and texture, it is not a science deserving of being critiqued on 100 point scale. The visual indicators created by this trail blazing group of bloggers serve as a stamp of approval for their readers. Each of these writers has developed what Mark de Vere calls “taste tribes.” These are people who know like and trust the author and have aligned themselves with their likes/dislikes. Implementing badges for your taste tribe seems to be a strong alternative to numerical scores. The badge conveys a wine category along with a recommendation from the reviewer.
Several challenges present themselves when launching an attack on the status quo. For me, the badge system has potential but needs to keep the following in mind to be the new sheriff in town.
- Identity – As I mentioned earlier people can easily and quickly related to a score. 4/5 is better than 3+/5. Two thumbs up are better than one thumb up. In order to have relevance to readers beyond your taste tribe the badge image needs to register. Ward Kadel’s “Awesome” badge is a good example of this. Awesome is identifiable and recognizable. Ward likes that wine and it is worthy of trying. Identity challenges arise with badges like “New World” or “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Brunello.” The image without the context of the description isn’t as easily identifiable by the customer. Badge users should keep identity in mind when creating their category and image.
- Consistency – A tandem to identity is consistency. With 3 reviewers using badges there are 19 images representing about a dozen different categories. The 100 point system solidified its place by being a consistent product. While 93 points from Parker may be different than 93 points from Robert Dwyer (Wellesley Wine Press) there is still a consistency that the consumer can relate to. Badges could take greater hold if more standard categories and images took hold…but that would go against the grain of individuality that bloggers love so much.
- Marketing – PR firms love marketing hooks. Scores / awards can become a lazy way to sell wine, but they can help establish a baseline to a confused consumer. 93 pts holds some weight when correctly displayed on a shelf talker. For badges to be successful at unseating the 100 point scale they need to be easily transferred to the marketing world. Right now, it’s easy for a marketer to put, “91 Points Steven Tanzer, December 2009.” How would this look? “Ward Kadel gives this the New World badge.”Steve Paulo’s badge, “Legit Juice,” has some good marketing potential. IF (and that’s a big if) PR people took the time to use a well crafted identifiable badge image on a shelf tracker or promo piece, that would carry some marketing muscle.
- Influence – The fourth challenge in front of badges ruling the world is influence. This won’t happen overnight and will gain momentum as the first three items are worked out. Brands like Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, and Wine & Spirits carry a lot of influence. While it may be true that the wine blogging world has more readership than these three traditional media pieces, the trouble is that it is divided over 1000 different portals. I applaud the early adopters mentioned in this article. In order for a tipping point to occur several influencers, including 1WineDude, Dr. Vino, Vinography, and more would have to jump on board.
The revolution is beginning. The warriors are starting to don their armor. Personally, I think it’s a good direction to head and a worthwhile road to travel down. I would consider implementing badges on DrinkNectar but would want to do some market research first. I’ve recently implemented a visual indicator for my scoring system. It gives more clarity to 3/5 or 4+/5. I think it provides more visual awareness to a wine rating, but I haven’t done any voice of customer surveys. Another barrier for me is design. I’m not a graphic whiz. If I created a badge, it would probably end up being cheese fest.
What do customers want to see? I’ve seen pro and con comments from the blogging world but in the end, these badges are for consumers to help make better informed buying decisions. I encourage you to take some time to research what’s happening on the sites mentioned here. Leave them your feedback or leave some feedback here.
Do wine badges have the potential to overthrow the 100 point scoring system?
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.