2009 Wine Bloggers Conference Overview

Ξ July 26th, 2009 | → 5 Comments | ∇ Wine News, Winemakers, Wineries |

What follows is a brief outline of a number of stories and modest interviews I will be posting over the next week, all gathered from this year’s outstanding Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) held at the Flamingo Motel from July 24th to the 26th. Indeed, the 2009 conference showed a marked maturity over last year’s. By maturity I mean that whereas in 2008 there was an air of apprehension, caution and mixed feedback, I cannot imagine the negatives being more than a hiccup in an otherwise splendid banquet of conversation and activities. Why? Because it finally became clear to the majority of participants that the WBC is less a community out-reach program for troubled teens and much more about making of the event what our motivation and talent is able. Self-direction is now the order of the day. All for the better.
While the WBC has been able to harness a substantial percentage of the wine-blogging world, to put them in one place, to mark a date in our collective timeline, and while the import and influence of our irregular 4th Estate remains ambiguous, it is the wineries and other interested sponsors and organizations that this year stepped up their game. Beyond their startling generosity this year, they put front and center an important new subject, that of the greening of their industry. Of course, the commercial overtones of the conference, the persistence of bloggers’ ‘monetizing’ obsession remains as stark as ever, still there was, especially on the part of the participating wineries, an insistence on widening the discussion. Tired of writing about whether you like this or that wine? Fatigued by the mind-numbing sameness of tasting notes? Well then, write about the remarkable green initiatives undertaken by Napa and Sonoma wineries.
Saturday’s schedule was the heart and soul of this year’s conference. We first shuttled to the Culinary Institute of America where we were immediately put into a stupefied, migrainous mood by one of the dimmer ‘futurists’ I’ve yet heard, someone named Barry Schuler, formerly the CEO of AOL. We learned from him that Paul Masson made lousy wine, that San Jose is an AVA, and that one day we shall all be deceased. Fortunately, he was followed by a presentation of real importance, one given by Wines and Vines editor, Jim Gordon, a presentation titled The Future of Wine Writing and Industry Trends To Be Aware Of. Despite ending his title with a preposition, I can find nothing but positive things to say about it. His was perhaps the first constructive ‘nuts and bolts’ talk about wine writing in the two-year history of the WBC, certainly the finest. Among his practical principles:
Know your subject
Get your facts from the source
Get facts right
Stake a claim and mine it
Stay ahead of the pack
Look beyond the blogosphere for topics
Though his time was cut short by the futurist’s ramblings, Mr. Gordon outlined a very healthy wine blogger’s praxis. My understanding is that the presentation will appear in written form, perhaps in Wines and Vines itself. Subscribe and read it for yourself.
We next were instructed to pick one of eight or so busses. Each bus driver had been given a secret winery destination, two actually. I chose randomly and ended up on a truly remarkable journey. Our lucky busload of bloggers arrived first at the venerable Sterling Vineyards where we met the winemaker, a witty and earnest soul by the name of Alison Crary. Her work and the green initiatives undertaken by Sterling Vineyards will be one of my three subject posts for this week. Suffice to say, she was very well informed on all the details of her winery’s work. Additional detail was exhaustively provided by Terry Hall of Napa Valley Vintners. From watersheds to recycled water, from Ms. Crary’s organic garden to biodiversity, we were given an extraordinary amount of important material on practical greening technologies and land preservation.
We next traveled to Storybook Mountain Vineyards where my faith in Napa Cabernet Sauvignon was briefly restored. There we met a trio, a veritable tour de force of collective intellectual sophistication and grit. The subject of another of my posts to come, we were introduced to Dr. J. Bernard Seps of Storybook, Pat Stotesbery of Ladera Vineyards, and Dirk Hampson of Nickel & Nickel. Their talk was titled “Do AVAs Matter?” It was a graceful presentation about which I shall later write. For now I want to briefly mention their approach to the topic. Dr. Seps took the long view, the historical dimension of Calistoga’s region, Mr. Hampson outlined more practical geographical matters, but the real pleasure to be had was listening to Mr. Stotesbery’s bare-knuckled take on the TTB and recent controversies not only in Calistoga but with respect to AVAs generally. No marketing bullshit here. They had a point of view and they presented it with superb focus and wit. Great fun.
From an eye-opening tasting of Napa wines at Quintessa, we next traveled, asked again to blindly choose a bus, to Pine Ridge for dinner. As with the CIA departure this, too, was a shot in the dark as to where we might end up. I was fortunate enough to be told by Tish to take lucky number 8. I will have much more to say about the evening but I want to specifically mention meeting at long last one of my favorite people in the wine world, Amelia Ceja of Ceja Vineyards. Pictured above, I might add how happy was Joe Roberts of 1 Wine Dude to at last find somebody shorter than himself.
We returned to the Flamingo for the event I had longed for, the Vini Portugal wine tasting event. This will also be a topic of mine in the next few days. We can thank Catavino, a superb site founded by the attractive couple Gabriella and Ryan Opaz, for this dazzling line-up of wines. About much more later!
There is still so much to relate! And I will in the coming days. Able Grape founder Doug Cook’s brilliant wine lesson at the end of the evening (missed Alice Feiring terribly), meeting the folks from El Molino High School, the only high school known to have a winery permit, stellar wine makers such as Montemaggiore’s lovely Lise Ciolino. Much more to come!


5 Responses to ' 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference Overview '

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  1. 1WineDude said,

    on July 26th, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Quite a write-up! Looking forward to the further recaps. And I’m glad you posted that picture… I feel like a giant…

    Great to finally meet you!

  2. Walid Romaya said,

    on July 26th, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    Well written post Ken. I agree that this year’s WBC was a little more mature in mood and the winemakers were generous and hospitable. Looking forward to read more of your posts.

  3. Administrator said,

    on July 26th, 2009 at 11:32 pm

    A gentle rib, my friend. It was a pleasure to meet you.

  4. Pea Noir said,

    on July 27th, 2009 at 2:15 pm

    Thanks for bringing your leadership and voice to WBC09 and for not turning me into the ATF this year.

  5. Ariel Ceja said,

    on August 1st, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Happy to hear you got to meet my mama – I also look forward to meeting you!

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