As a follow up to my two previous posts regarding my experience at the Wine Bloggers Conference (here and here), I wanted to finish out the serious by sharing a few of my own personal Lessons Learned and Takeaways from the event.

Overall, the Wine Bloggers Conference was excellent!   I’ve organized a couple of much smaller off-site events for my department (at my day job) and went nuts in the process.  Given the fact that there were about 275 attendees, lunches, dinners, tons of wine, tour buses, vineyard hikes, and several other components to this conference – the folks at Open Wine Consortium and Zephyr Adventures did an OUTSTANDING job!  Thank you guys for hosting a first-rate event!

Although the event was great, in looking back, I feel as if I didn’t make the most of my first WBC experience.  Much of WBC was a blur, trying to do too much with too little time – scanning name badges to look for familiar names, tasting, taking notes and trying to keep up with the Twitter brigade.  In retrospect, I realize that I really missed a lot of what WBC had to offer by trying to do too much.   In particular I did not put as much emphasis on meeting people, having ‘real’ conversations and building as many relationships as I should have. 

I am grateful for the people that I did meet, and am thankful for the few real conversations I did have, but I should have focused more on quality connections vice quantity.  To that end, below are a few of my own personal lessons learned from WBC09 that will help enhance my WBC10 experience (or, perhaps a WBC10 newbie will somehow find this post and benefit from these lessons learned).

Low Tech, High Touch – Make Quality Connections:  The initial hustle and bustle of registration coupled with the meet the sponsors tasting along with the sheer number of people and wine all in one place, was a bit overwhelming to me as a first time attendee.  Given the fact that this was a ‘bloggers’ conference, I felt obligated to attempt to keep up with the Twitter brigade, which seemed to exacerbate the blur I experienced.  Rather than zipping from table to table, giving a quick hello and handshake, tasting wine, taking notes frantically and trying to Twitter, I should have slowed down and focused on meeting, and getting to know, just one or two of the sponsors (wine makers).  In this case, I would have spent a lot more time talking with the folks at the Bonny Doon table to learn more about their biodynamic practices and the story behind their wines.  In the end, this approach would have resulted in meeting fewer sponsors and tasting fewer wines (which is perfectly ok with me), but I would have made one or two higher quality connections.

Plan Ahead – Who Do I Want To Meet?:  For some time now, I have been an avid reader of Dirty South Wine (Hardy Wallace), 1 Wine Dude (Joe Roberts), Fermentation (Tom Wark), and Good Grape (Jeff Lefereve).  Although they were there for three days like I was, I just didn’t ‘make the time’ to seek each of these folks out to say hello and have a conversation with them.   Next year I will list the bloggers that I definitely want to meet, and ‘make the time’ seek them out early in the conference to have a conversation.  For newbies to WBC2010 who may read this, don’t rely on ‘chance’ to meet the bloggers you follow because time flies at WBC and it’s over in a flash.  Heck, I didn’t even make the time to meet one of the organizers, Joel Vincent (and we were on Bus 4 together).

Plan Ahead – Do Some Freakin Research:  I went in to every one of the tastings blind.  Of course I read the agenda that was provided prior to the conference, but I didn’t take the time to actually learn more about the sponsors and prepare intellectual questions their group of winemakers.  For instance, the Friday night tasting was hosted by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers.  Rather than show up for the Friday tasting with tasting notebook and fingers at the ready to Twitter,  I should have taken time prior to the conference to learn more about this organization and their member wineries.  This would have helped me decide which wineries I wanted to visit to learn more about.  Instead I just wandered around like a kid in a Willy Wonka factory.

Take More Photos: I spent a total 10 days in Napa/Sonoma/Santa Rosa before, during and after WBC, but took only 25 photos.  Next year I will actually take more than a few photos.  In particular, I should have taken a photo of ‘the’ flute

Take My Own Spit Cup:  At several times during the Conference I found myself wishing I had a spit bucket nearby.  Sharing a spit bucket with a group of strangers in a crowded tasting is borderline gross and sometimes nearly impossible given the others trying to use the same bucket.  Next year, I will bring my own plastic cup, especially at the Live Blogging session.  Of course, next year I will taste less wine so I may not need that personalized spit cup.

Reach Out Prior To The Conference:  Like everyone else, my life is crazy busy.  I travel over 40 weeks a year, almost half of that internationally.  When I’m not traveling and get to spend time at home, I like to spend as much quality time with my wife and son as possible – and that doesn’t typically include writing wine blog posts (although it does involve cooking and tasting together so I do get to do a lot of research for this blog).  Not only do I need to improve on building face-to-face relationships during next years WBC, I also need to improve on reaching out and building virtual relationships throughout the year with other bloggers.  I read a lot of wine blogs and starting now, when I read a post that I really like, I plan to post a comment with my thoughts and feedback (I’m sure other bloggers like getting comments on their blogs as much as I do).  I also plan to connect with more people during my travels.

Support WBC 2010:  Never give the appearance of even thinking about criticizing the location for next year’s Wine Bloggers Conference.  If you do, Catie (aka –Walla Walla Woman) may throw a sweet Washington onion at you (ok, just kidding, I don’t think she would actually throw the onion directly at you).  For the record, I am truly looking forward to visiting Walla Walla for next year’s WBC and learning about Washington State wines.  Thankfully, I’ll be spending several weeks in Seattle this year and plan to travel over to Walla Walla one weekend to get a glimpse of what’s to come next year.

To summarize in one overarching Takeaway for me personally – WBC2010 will be about building relationships, having ‘real’ conversations and avoiding the quick Twitter-like “hi, how are you…” type of encounters.

Big Ups to Open Wine Consortium, Zephyr Adventure, Russian River Valley Winegrowers, ViniPortugal, and all those who made Wine Bloggers Conference 2009 a great event!  A virtual hat tip to Shana Ray and Thea Dwelle for creating the official WBC09 Wine Blogger Conference For Noobs document.  It’s because of you two that I actually stopped at Safeway and purchased a 12 pack of bottled water prior to the conference.  Good call on that one!

Below are a few other WBC09 insights and recaps from fellow bloggers: