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PART II – View from the Punt – Perspectives on WBC11 from the Other Side of the Bottle

As WBC11 attendees return home, snuggle back in to their routines, and find time at the keyboard, opinion pieces and recap posts are being written. I’ve enjoyed a number of the more creative pieces, and appreciate the various perspectives that people have shared.  Not surprisingly, the most negative – called sharing one’s opinion by some – are the most read and talked about posts.

Like many of my blogging peers, I have a number of opinions to share about the format, sessions, and wines poured at WBC11, which I will write about in a subsequent piece once some time passes.  Until then, I feel it’s important to continue to provide an outlet for the voices of those who graciously shared their time and the products of their love and labor – the people on the other side of the bottle.

Part I struck a chord with many readers, especially, but not surprisingly with winemakers.  I’m moved by some of the emails and thanks received for sharing ‘their‘ perspective.  Of the ~40 emails I’ve received since Monday, it’s clear that winemakers want to better understand and interact with ‘us.’  Many of the winemakers that emailed me (including two that poured at WBC10 in Walla Walla) simply don’t know what to think about these bloggers, and others are unsure of how to go about connecting with us.

Perhaps we are so busy tweeting, Facebooking, Google+ing, and blogging about our opinions that we forget to listen to those whose work we are passing judgment on.

We have 2 ears, and just 1 mouth - Use them in that proportion!

Below are a few more thoughts from those who greeted you and I with a warm southern smile last weekend – View from the Punt – PART II – Perspectives on WBC11 from the Other Side of the Bottle

‘The Saturday event at the winery went very well.  I had more than one blogger comment on how amazed they were that we worked as a community.  Lending a hand to each other and co-hosting events is something that would be unheard of in other areas of the country. Since the event Saturday was inside the bloggers took more notes and were able to taste more wine.  We received very positive feedback on our wine and even sold some.’  ~ Lisa Champ, Sales Manager, White Hall Vineyards

‘As a first time sponsor and attendee, I had an excellent experience at WBC11. Most participants seemed enthusiastic and engaging, sharing knowledge freely and equally eager to hear about my work helping run a small winery and to discuss their work blogging. That exchange was key.

Yet (the world being imperfect) that exchange didn’t always happen. A few times, wielding a bottle of company wine, I was greeted with the kind of snark and the skepticism that some might reserve for door-to-door Bible salesman. Considering our winery’s approach, it seemed pretty inappropriate.

A huge factor in our small  (3000 cases/yr) winery’s sponsorship was the potential to connect with attendees through both wine and writing. Prior to supporting the winemaker in my general operations and communications role, I was a writer and editor for a dozen years, and have published in both print and online formats. Writing is my passion. In other words, I was not just showing up to push product; I was sincerely interested in the content of the conference. Given that, I was disappointed to be “vibed” on those few occasions, especially by experienced attendees. Felt kinda like high school. 

Next time I hope to have more consistent consideration as a participant. Then again, next time I will surely be blogging–because if there is one reality this conference has revealed, it’s that I have far too many opinions to keep to myself. Whatever the case, I thank WBC11 for getting my wheels turning and lighting a fire under my butt to better represent both the winery and my own thoughts.

Pouring for the speed tasting event was actually one of my favorite parts of the conference. Having tasted at the live blogging the day prior, I knew exactly how skeptical the bloggers were–and why. I was clearly up against a tough crowd, but relished the challenge of turning (often understandable) apathy or weariness into a smile.

I do think that segment could benefit from a bit of curating, so that attendees have a sense of focus as they taste. Meanwhile, given the arguably extreme format I felt good about the interactions I had therein… however brief!’  ~ Amy Tsaykel, Tin Barn Vineyards / Talisman Wines

I had the pleasure of meeting Amy during the speed tasting where she poured one of my two favorite wines of the event, the Talisman Pinot Noir (the 2007 Red Dog Vineyard – Pommard Clone, if my notes are accurate).  I don’t want to distract from the message of Amy’s comment by getting too far off topic, but I appreciate her raising the point of ‘high schoolness‘ – known affectionately by some as cliqueness. Interestingly, a winemaker friend of mine noted, in a humorous way, the obviousness of a couple of cliques at the conference. I also heard a few comments from fellow attendees about the number of cliques roving from private party to private party.

Any time large groups gather there will always be sub-groups (i.e. – ‘friends’) who congregate and appear to mimic the framework of a clique.  Whether these gathering of friends meet the technical definition of a clique, I’m not sure.  I will leave this to others to determine.

Although I was aware of several small groups that seemed to go out of their way to be cliquey at WBC09 in Santa Rosa (just my opinion), I didn’t seem to notice the same level of cliqueness this year.  This could be due to the fact that there were so many new attendees at WBC11, or perhaps I’m too disconnected and lack the social senses to notice or identify cliques.  Or maybe I’m like the fish that doesn’t realize he’s in water?

I would be interested to know other attendees thoughts on this topic.

Me (far left) with my Virginia wine friends (or, um, clique?)

‘Overall I thought the Wine Bloggers Conference was a great opportunity and an interesting event.  Definitely a very different event. The good was getting to meet so many people who are obviously very passionate about wine. The Bad was I didn’t care too much for the fast paced nature of the speed-tasting events.  If this is done in the future I would suggest that the bloggers not type or play with their gadgets long enough to hear the details about the wine. By that same token wine pourers would have to spit out the major details and not get in to long-winded descriptions of their wine.

One of the main reasons I hosted the post conference gathering was to get some real time with individual bloggers and try to get my message across, and talk about Jefferson wines, where they’re at, the foods they need to be paired with, etc. before there is an opinion written.

It’s my opinion that harsh comments should be left only for chemically flawed wines – i.e. high VA (volatile acidity), high Brett (Brettanomyces), acetobacter and or other types of spoilage.  If bloggers don’t know what these terms mean, and how to identify them, then don’t blog about wine until you do.’  ~ Andy Reagan, Winemaker & General Manager, Jefferson Vineyards

This particular topic has been the subject of much debate recently in the Twitterverse and blogosphere.   I certainly believe that everyone has the right to tweet or blog whatever he/she thinks about a wine, but I lean towards agreeing with Andy that the harsher comments should be saved for those wines that are truly flawed, and not so much for those that are disagreeable with our palate preferences.  Many of us (collectively referring to bloggers) have a lot to learn in the ‘say it with class‘ department.

As of late, I’ve encountered a number of Virginia wines with noticeable flaws and ones that I’m simply not fond of.  Rather than attempt to berate these wineries/winemakers in public via Twitter I opted to contact each winemaker via private email to share my thoughts.  I even sent one winemaker an email last Saturday during WBC11 to ask what happened to the 2010 vintage of one of their wines.  I could have easily tweeted my negative opinion about the wine, but feel that wasn’t the best way to share my opinion in this case.  (Ed. note – I believe a fella named Hardy Wallace of Dirty South Wine would refer to me as a ‘catfish‘ for my lack of backbone to publically name and shame the wines I didn’t like.  Mr. Wallace and I will have to agree to disagree on this point.)

I’m of the opinion that too much sunshine creates a dessert – the Sahara Desert, used to be the Sahara forest.   I certainly share many less-than-positive thoughts and feedback via Twitter, but I save the harshest criticisms for private (and wish more of my peers would consider this approach when dealing with someone’s labor of love).

I’ve added too much of my own personal opinion already to this post, so I’ll spare readers too much more, but I would like to ask for other’s opinion on this subject.   Please post your thoughts on this in the comments if you would like.

‘Your interest in our side of things got me thinking back to a class I took in 2009, and some of the points it raised. The class was “Concepts and Issues in Journalism,” and it was focused on the challenges that traditional news organizations/media face with the advent of online blogging.  I’ve noticed that some bloggers fall into the trend of writing pieces that are so opinion-based that they increasingly sound like “industry experts,” rather than “fact-checking journalists.” And as you know, the face of journalism is changing; marketing is online; and bloggers are important voices that every business in every industry needs to pay attention to. 

I’m sure you’re aware of this year’s whitepaper on consumer trust in wine bloggers, published by Wine. Now, in all fairness, it merely addresses the fact that the average consumer listens to a wine shop merchant more than they listen to bloggers when it comes down to actually purchasing a bottle of wine for dinner. That’s fair; you gain trust in your neighbor, not an online voice you’ve never met. But on the issue of trust, isn’t it the Journalists Creed that gains trust in newspaper readership – the fact checking, the ethics, the oversight, etc.? And if that’s the case, it occurs to me that the blogger more interested in writing “opinion-based journal entries,” as opposed to the pursuit of “reporting,” would then develop less trust amongst his/her audience. I guess at the end of the day, when I’m reading a wine blog, I lose interest when I find that it’s focused on what the blogger liked or didn’t like, instead of reporting on whatever the facts of perception were, and leaving judgments up to their readers. I think if more wine bloggers took a “reporting” approach, there would be more trust amongst blog audiences, and those blogs would be more influential overall. Or maybe it’s just one factor among many. And don’t get me wrong – opinion based blogs have a place, and have a following for a reason. Sometimes you just need to escape into a fun read/review/voice.’   ~ Allan Delmare, Wine Club Manager/Marketing Director, Rappahannock Cellars

‘As a fruit grower and cidermaker, I can say without reservation that it was refreshing to pour for people who are genuinely interested in wine, open to new experiences and enthusiastic about trying new wine (and cider). The audience was knowledgeable, yet open to new knowledge. Everyone visiting the Foggy Ridge Cider table asked questions and showed genuine interest in the apple varieties we use for our cider, as well as our cider blends and styles. And at other points in the conference I heard sharing—sharing ideas, impressions, knowledge, enthusiasms and contacts. There was very little “showing off” and the wine snobbery I see at some events. And there was a much much higher level of knowledge than we sometimes see at festivals.

If I could speak to all the WBC11 attendees, I would say don’t be afraid to ask growers and producers questions about how we make wine or cider, the fruit we chose and why we grow such difficult to grow fruit, technical details and more. Don’t hold back! We love to talk about our passion for growing fruit and making wine and cider. You don’t need an enology degree to ask questions and learn what’s really going on beyond the “elevator speech” for a wine or cider. Just like Jancis Robinson said, dig deeper and find the real story behind the marketing story. That’s why we do what we do  ~ Diane Flynt, Cidermaker, Foggy Ridge Cider

Diane’s Foggy Ridge Serious Cider was certainly one of the shining stars of WBC11.  Many of the attendees that I informally polled – with a ‘any favorites?‘ or ‘any new finds you would buy to take home?‘ – noted the Foggy Ridge Serious Cider as one of their favorites.  I wasn’t surprised to hear this feedback. For readers interested in learning more about Cider, and Virginia hard apple cider, check out this piece by Diane Flynt – Virginia Hard Cider 101.

‘Being a part of WBC11 was a great experience for Chateau Morrisette.  As one of the oldest wineries in the state of Virginia we have seen so many changes take place over the years in the way we communicate with our audiences.  The powerful impact that the blogging community has throughout the entire United States and here in Virginia is reaching out with varied perspectives, differing voices, and objective views that are incredibly valuable to us all.  It was great to meet many of you and see many west coasters embrace Virginia wine and the rich history in our state.  We are grateful for the experience and send a hearty southern “THANKS!” ‘ ~ David Morrisette, Chateau Morrisette Winery

‘I think WBC11 went very well for the wineries, due in large part to the efforts of Annette, Amy, and Mary Catherine [from the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office] and the rest of the Virginia wine team.  I feel WBC11 brought a lot of exposure to Virginia wine.  I read comments from WBC10 that many Washington wineries did not feel like they got great exposure, so I am sure it is really a matter of getting out of it what you put in and we are really fortunate to have so much support here in VA.    I think our favorite part was, of course, the winery visits Saturday morning.  While the Live Wine Blogging was fun because you get to meet so many people so quickly, the longer visit at the winery (we had our group for 2 1/2 hours I think) gave Stephen the chance to really geek out about wine with a bunch of people that are just as passionate about wine as he is, so that was great!   He does a lot of group tastings of course (we have to take full advantage of the accent ;), but not usually with such a knowledgeable and passionate crowd, so he was loving it.  I loved following all the groups comments on twitter too and am glad they seemed to be enjoying their visit as much we enjoyed having them.  ~ Kat Schornberg, Keswick Vineyards

‘Overall, I thought WBC11 went well. Prior to my attending on Saturday, I got some feedback from someone who poured their wine on Friday night and his thoughts were that most of the bloggers were not all that interested in listening to the winemaker (also in attendance on Friday) and spent a bit more time socializing with one another. My experience on Saturday though was completely the opposite. I felt that the bloggers were very engaged and asking many questions, though they seemed a bit distracted with tweeting. I think this is to be expected given the nature of the event. I’m not sure what to make of the difference between the two nights except that the round table seating just offers too much opportunity to start side conversations.

And, perhaps by the time we got in to pour our wines, they had already been through the sparkling wines as well as rose’ and feeling a little chatty. 

If I were to offer up any critique, it would be this; the event was a bit noisy, which can make it a bit difficult to connect with each individual there. I myself had a difficult time hearing some of the questions that the bloggers were asking of me and I’m afraid they may not have been able to hear me very well. This was likely due to the ‘speed dating’ format of the event and the round table seating. If I were to make any recommendations for the future, I would ask the organizers to consider a more structured tasting that would allow each winery about the same amount of time to address the attendee’s but provide an atmosphere where the bloggers could focus a little more on the wines and the presenters. This might also present an opportunity for the bloggers to sample all of the wineries in attendance rather just a few and allow the wineries to address a larger audience.  ~ Tom Kelly, Vineyard Manager, Rappahannock Cellars

‘As a first time attendee, marketing & public relations professional, WBC11 was an invaluable weekend.  I learned a lot of information about wine and the industry, I gained insight to vast and varying opinions and approaches, and I left with an overall positive impression of a passionate group of wine-loving individuals who truly love what they do.  From my perspective I agree with the statements of both Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov that “more depth and analysis is desirable and needed in the wine blogosphere.”  For example, many bloggers I spoke with either refuse or rarely will do a negative review of a wine.  I propose the following thought:  As a wine-lover I may find a handful of bloggers that I determine share similar palates to mine.  Now I might follow the bloggers not only because I love their insight, writing style, thoughts and tone but also because they become more valuable to me the deeper their insight explores.  This exploration would take me down the road of “great” “good” and “okay” wine but also would share with me the “terrible” “not-so-good” “awful” and “abhorrent” juice as well – all of which is still quite subjective to our particular palates.  I propose it is okay and actually VERY valuable to your audience to take the time to share with audiences the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Who knows?  The winemaker of that absolutely disgusting beverage might grow in his/her skill and make your favorite wine one-day and s/he might put your mug on his label (or at least your blog address in 1/2 pt font on the back)  ~ Suni Heflin, Marketing Specialist and Social Media Manager, Chateau Morrisette and Foggy Ridge Cider

It’s clear that Virginia winemakers/cidermakers, like their peers from every region, are a proud, passionate and talented group who love connecting with people and sharing their story and passion.

From reading the roughly 50 WBC11 recap posts so far, it seems that the vast majority of attendees had a great time and appreciated the work of the Virginia Wine Board Marketing Office, Zephyr Adventures, Virginia Tourism Corporation, and others that helped make the conference a success.  As with any event with over 300 people, there are bound to be a certain percentage that do not enjoy themselves, and will remember WBC11 Virginia solely for the heat and humidity.  If nothing else, WBC11 Virginia rattled a few cages and was the catalyst for a lot of discussion.

Thank you to each of the winemakers, vineyard managers, marketing professionals, and winery staff members who took their time to participate in WBC11 and share their thoughts with readers.  I appreciate each of you!


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