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View from the Punt – Perspectives on WBC11 from the Other Side of the Bottle (Part I of II)

The 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC11) in Charlottesville, VA has come and gone.   Much like the anticipation and excitement leading up to many major holidays – like Christmas for some, or Thanksgiving – WBC11 came with much anticipation and excitement, and went very quickly.   Too quickly, for me.

Given the number of different venues included in the three day event – over a dozen wineries and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello – conferences like WBC11 have a lot of moving parts and require an insane level of logistics work.   Behind every successful event like WBC11, there are people that work tirelessly (and, without much thanks) to make the event successful.  In the case of WBC11, major kudos and huge thanks goes out to three ladies that worked for a year to make this year’s event a massive success – Annette, Amy, and Mary Catherine from the Marketing Office of the Virginia Wine BoardWBC11 could NOT have happened without them!   Tamra and Danielle from the Virginia Tourism Corporation, and Stacey from the Loudoun Convention and Visitors Association also deserve a big thank you for helping make WBC11 a memorable event as do Allan, Reno, and Elle at Zephyr Adventures for taking a chance to bring WBC east bound.  Last, but certainly not least, a special thanks to each winery that took their time to pour for us – especially those who poured at Monticello.  Each of your respective, and collective, contributions is appreciated!

If history is a reasonably accurate indicator – postmortems from WBC08, WBC09 and WBC10 – many WBC11 recap posts will provide the standard laundry list of what some attendees did and did not like about the event and Virginia wine, perhaps a mention of a few wines from the speed tasting, and of course the obligatory rant about the heat.

Rather than add to the list of predictable topics, I wanted to provide a perspective that is rarely presented in WBC recaps (only seen a couple in the past, but could have missed them) – that of the person pouring the wine.

Although many of us in the wine blogosphere are quick with our opinions, many (most, all) of us are not as keen on soliciting feedback from those at the other end of the bottle.   Below are a few thoughts from those that made the wines and cider we enjoyed at WBC11 possible…

“We met bloggers from California, Oregon and many other places, who all seemed impressed with the quality of the wine and the passion of the growers and winemakers.  It speaks volumes that what is essentially a “volunteer army” (since most — if not all — aren’t paid for their work) would travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to meet one another, learn more about their avocation and how to be better at it, and welcome the opportunity to enjoy Virginia wine in a magical setting like Monticello.  The bloggers were engaging and genuinely interested in learning what distinguishes Virginia wine from that of other regions.  I, for one, like an educated consumer.  We came away impressed, and we look forward to having them visit us at Annefield.”~ Stephen Ballard, winegrower,Annefield Vineyards

Seems like all the bloggers just like to write about what a wine smells and tastes like.   I already know what my wine smells and tastes like. I don’t need the blogger to tell me that.  Where is the depth and analysis? ~ Winemaker that poured wine at WBC11

Although I do not fully agree with this winemaker’s opinion because not all bloggers write tasting notes, this is a very important point, and is often shared with me when I ask winemakers/winery folks about their thoughts on the blogger crowd.  For anyone at WBC11 paying attention during the Eric Asimov and Jancis Robinson keynotes, one realizes that more depth and analysis is needed in the wine blogosphere.  This message certainly resonated with me and I know many other bloggers took note as well.

No doubt a number of the blogs I read most often (which is actually quite a few) will take a more serious approach to their writing – from more professional coverage of winery visits, to sharing more of the story behind the wines they try, to more overall analysis.  I certainly need to, and plan to work on improving my writing and analysis, and look forward to watching the wine blogosphere step up their game as well.  (More on my personal WBC11 take-aways in a subsequent post.)

‘We enjoyed having the bloggers up at DuCard Vineyards and they seemed to appreciate the uniqueness of our gorgeous rural Madison County mountainside location, but I admit I was worried that perhaps they were getting hives … not from the heat but from the fact that in our remote area we don’t have cell coverage or wi-fi at our tasting room.  Our customers don’t seem to mind, and in fact enjoy the respite from technology, but I did see some of the bloggers banging on their iPhones trying to figure out what was wrong…. And I noticed that their posts were time stamped the very minute they were back in range after hitting the road.’
~ Scott Elliff, owner, DuCard Vineyards

‘I thought WBC11 was great, and think the blogging community is great and that we need to read blogs as wine producers and not say ‘This person doesn’t know what they are talking about’ and say more ‘How can I fix this potential issue or maximize on a particular skill or asset?’  I think it is great that the Wine Bloggers Conference exists because if nothing else it shows that bloggers are working toward constantly bettering their skill and their knowledge of the wine industry.

I think the only criticism I have about the whole experience goes back to one of the things Jancis Robinson wanted to stress:  self-editing needs to happen a bit more often, particularly with micro-blogs (Twitter).  There are a couple of bloggers that lost a little bit of credit due to unprofessionalism.  Whether you believe someone is annoying or whether you drink too much and don’t do it responsibly is any one persons choice, but I would warn against public display. This can hurt the respect of the entire blogging community to traditional print journalists and the industry by using few people’s actions to show what can happen in this new type of media.  I personally found some of the “off-colored” remarks amusing, but they were also not really necessary to show ones thoughts as a wine blogger and was completely irrelevant to wine which is the story they say they want to write about.’
~ Jordan Harris, Winemaker, Tarara Winery

Jordan makes a great point here about some of the ‘off-colored’ and unprofessional tweets that came through the WBC11 Twitter feed during the conference.   I certainly expected to see a few negative comments since a couple of the attendees seemed to bring many preconceived opinions about Virginia wine with them.  Or, if the opinions were formed at the conference, they appeared to be based on tasting just two or three Virginia wines, and not taking the time to taste through the array of wines available.

Thankfully, the handful of negative tweets that were related to wine came primarily  from just one person, who preferred to spend most of their time parked in one of the cushy chairs in the lobby, ensconced in their own perceived awesomeness, dispensing snarky tweets about all that’s wrong with Virginia wine, no doubt holding the view that life is unfair because someone of their elitist pedigree has to spend a weekend in Virginia wine country with the regular folk.  There are always a few who seem to forget that professionalism and courtesy is a two-way street!

I must admit I do find humor in those few that take themselves so seriously, and thumb their noses at mortals like me who do not recognize their wine-blogging-godliness.  (they simply need to get out in to the real world a little more often)

‘Despite the oppressive heat I thoroughly enjoyed pouring my wines for all the bloggers at WBC11. Many bloggers I know only through tweets and have not had the opportunity to meet them in person until now. Plus I made many new blogger friends and had the chance at the end of the evening to hang out with some fellow winemakers, some of which I only knew via twitter. We took a little time taste each other’s wines and catch up a little, which is a very rare moment. I felt honored to support the WBC11, renew and make new connections, and meet up with my peers.’
~ Derek Pross, winemaker, Gadino Cellars

‘From our point of view, we thought the wine was received quite well with a lot of positive feedback, to the point that a retailer up in Ohio wants to now carry our Petit Manseng and we’re discussing possible distributors.   As far as something I would change, it would be the speed tasting events. I know everyone was trying to tweet/facebook/write notes for their blog in a very short amount of time, but because everyone was frantically typing, there was not a lot of back-and-forth conversation about the wines.  We felt like we were talking at people more than to them, and spouting the same spiel over and over rather than having questions asked of the wine/winery/vineyard, etc.  I’m not sure the “speed tasting” is something we would participate in again because I’m not sure it’s the best way to form an opinion about a wine.’
~ Stephanie Wright, Lovingston Winery

I couldn’t agree more with Stephanie on this point.  Although I found the speed tasting novel and interesting during my first Wine Bloggers Conference experience in 2009, I’ve totally lost that lovin feeling completely for this chaotic format.    Given the time constraints – less than 10 minutes for each wine – this format is unfair to the winery staff pouring the wines, as well as to each individual tasting, asking questions, and tweeting.  I hope the speed-tasting/live-blogging does not return for WBC12 in Oregon.

‘Having the bloggers at the winery was my favorite time as we really got to chat about our philosophy, as well as pour some new wines. I got some valuable feedback about the wines. The group was fairly quiet though but warmed up towards the end, and then back to the Omni for the red wine tasting, time between events was a bit short. That would really be my only negative is that I felt pretty rushed to be at multiple places, but that might have been our fault, for being involved in every event.   I thought for the most part, that the bloggers were pretty knowledgeable, open minded about Virginia wines and all negative comments I thought were fair.’
~ Stephen Barnard, winemaker, Keswick Vineyards

Given the amount of feedback I received from the Virginia cider/winemakers, I decided to post ‘View from the Punt…‘ in two parts.  Part II tomorrow… including a winery’s take on the speed tasting format…

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