Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wine Bloggers' Conference 2011 - Part II - The Novel



The 2011 Wine Blogger's Conference held in beautiful Charlottesville, VA was, for me, a fun-filled, thought-provoking, even inspiring weekend. 


I have to admit that when I first arrived at WBC11 I was feeling a little, shall we say...

found on google search. not mine.

and not terribly prepared to meet 300 excited wine bloggers. I had spent, as many of us did, the entire day traveling. My drive from New York proved to be formidable, taking me forever just to leave Long Island in preface of what would be a traffic-laden, beleaguered journey. The high point for sure was passing through DC just at the right moment to pick up the charming Josh Wade of Nectar Tasting Room. We stopped in Fredericksburg at my dear friends' wine bar Kybecca and had the lamb sliders with a glass of Puzelat. The drive somehow so misguided my judgement that I did not photograph either one. Bloggerfail. Anyway. Despite the fact that it was great fun spending the remainder of my drive in such good company, it was not enough to keep me from being exhausted and fussy when I arrived.  After a Negroni, a nice chat with my already real life friend Wine Harlots, and a walk down to Siips  for a VA wine tasting and running into another dear friend Tammy Colson of Southern Wine Trails, life was much better! 

I missed the International tasting, but did get to attend some parties in rooms that were quite fun and met the contingent that would, unbeknownst to me at the time, make my whole weekend. More about that later. 


Day 1 

Now, I have to preface this by saying that I lived in the beautiful state of Virginia for 2 years and spent a LOT of time visiting my local wineries. A LOT. And I avidly and actively supported and still do the Virginia Tourism Bureau and Virginia Wines. 
So, I didn't go to the optional walk around UVA. I walked up the charming outdoor mall and got...


By the time I walked up the mall it was already about 127 degrees and 127% humidity. It was iced coffee and ice cream for me. That or I was going to start the day like a pro with a Bloody Mary (remember that thought.)

So after my um.. "breakfast," I get registered, walk around the meet n greet now starving and still insufficiently caffeinated to feel altogether human when I spot the cheese and ham. SALVATION! I walk around, try to feel enthusiastic about tasting and finally get the rosé garnacha from Navarra. It was my first wine of the day that I enjoyed. All good. Now, somehow it escaped many people that lunch was not on the agenda. I was NOT one of those people. I am hobbit-like in my eating with things like second breakfast, elevensies, etc. Corralled some new friends... among them the delightful Wannabe Wino and  went to Petit Pois for a most enjoyable lunch which included this lovely chilled pea soup with radishes. 

Jancis Robinson charmed all of our socks off with her wit, intelligence and humility leaving us with a lot to think about in terms of scholarship and plain old good writing. I feel honored to have been there to hear her speak. 

Now for the sessions:

From walk around tastings, to speed-tasting, to private room and offsite parties, wine was abundant!
I have to admit, though, that I tasted an overwhelming amount of PLONK during this event and was underwhelmed at the quality of wine in many of the sessions (NOT VIRGINIA.) (also shout out to Hardy Wallace) But in my experience, that is simply not to be avoided at this kind of massively sponsored event. One needs to pay careful attention to the programming and choose wisely which sessions to attend. (And which to skip out on and go sit by the pool for a quick dip with friends and bubbles!) 

The live wine blogging proved to be pretty fun, but the overall quality just wasn't there for me. Highlights were King Estate and Shindig Vidal Blanc/Riesling. Cheers to you! 

Then we get to Monticello. I'm sure everyone has already beaten the heat/humidity horse to death and then some, so I won't tire you with that other than to say thank the universe for the mist fan! The Virginia wines that stood out for me at Monticello included of course, the Chrysalis Norton. I admire Jenny so much for her massive efforts and passion for this more or less "native" grape. This is a wine that showed well at the Monticello sauna in spite of being a pretty big red. Jenny is a woman of great sense and had rotated the wines through ice, keeping them at a beautiful cellar temperature that was MOST welcome in the heat and humidity of the day. Also another testament to Jenny's commitment to excellence and quality. And if you haven't had the opportunity, I highly recommend you try the Albariño. The other HUGE standout that saved the day for me was the Foggy Ridge Cider. I don't have much to say other than it was perfect and I brought some home with me. FIND IT AND DRINK IT NOW. 

Attention to detail (save the lack of about 60 more mist fans), good food and service, good company and beautiful surroundings made what could have been a totally miserable experience actually quite pleasant and memorable. 

We went back for The Other 46 tasting and had some truly interesting wines from lesser known AVAs all over the country. After this I had an amazing dinner with fantastic wines and conversation at a private meeting about an up and coming direct to trade  concept. And being a woman who likes to experience the local culture to the fullest, I also included a trip to Miller's Pub where I got to hear a pretty amazing band American Dumpster (If those guys don't become famous I will be shocked) and drink a most welcome Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. 


Day 2

Wake up. Iced Coffee. Walk around the Farmer's Market. Get a snow cone. Perfect. 



Needless to say, it was a late night; and well, a woman needs a power breakfast if she's feeling like this and going to make it through another full day of tasting events. 
(thanks to Lisa for the video...had us all crying with laughter and sympathy.)
So I went to Nook for "breakfast" with the above-mentioned badass professionals, bloggers and lovers of life. This is when we made the more-than-brilliant decision, guided by William's sagesse to skip the winery tours and hit the wine store and the pool. Yeah. That's right. We ditched school for this:  

Again, William made the absolute right call on the Vinho Verde. PERFECT solution to the weather. I have to say that these 3 incredible people made the conference 3 times as enjoyable for me! It is a sincere pleasure and privilege to have gotten to spend so much time with such professional, interesting, intelligent, ridiculously fun people. Kindreds for sure. I really think we need T-shirts or tattoos or something. Or maybe a theme song along the lines of this.  Maybe we should make a movie. Ok, ok... maybe not a movie. But you get what I mean. 

Since Eric Asimov was also sitting poolside, we weren't late for the speech! And oh, what a speech it was! Some of my personal takeaways from that are that wine is meant to be drunk, not sipped and spit (though sometimes in the trade we just have to) and shared with dear ones. That as a writer I have to decide what my priorities are and consider writing as a journalist. I'm all for prioritizing but I may leave the true journalism to others. I did appreciate his point about employing critical thinking and questioning assumptions. Also the joke,  "Kid, never listen to the f*cking idiot next to you." He also encouraged us to find our voice, citing Alice Feiring as an example. Whether you agree with her or not, she has a unique voice. One my favorite things he said was, "I have no use for manipulated facsimiles of these high scoring napa valley wines." And his closing remarks, "professionalism is the key to credibility." Perfect. I think it is evident that he surprised us and encouraged us all in some very important ways.

Thank you very much for speaking to us! 

Um... dinner. Cough. 
I couldn't quite manage the pre-dinner Cognac. Not quite sure whose idea that was but I think that was kind of a bust for everyone. Cognac = after dinner. That being said, I think we all would have loved to walk out the door to a table full of Cognac as the perfect end to a dinner. But then I wouldn't really know because I frankly had to abandon dinner. This is the only part of the program that I had any real issues with. First, NO WINE, like FOREVER but a full table of stemware. Good thing we brought our own bubbles! Then, the speaker, funny at first, but lost me completely with his tasteless Amy Winehouse "joke". I was very excited to hear the award winners and extend a huge congratulations to all of them! Cheers to you! All I'm going to say about the "food" is that I couldn't eat it and I left. 

More bloggerfail---no photos of the massively huge table of Rioja wines (including Tonodia) downstairs at Mas OR the milk fed baby goat made Basque-style by the fabulous Thomas and no video of me showing off my mad porron skillz with the Txakoli (one of my all time favorites). MAD thanks to Pia for sending me downstairs!! 

I returned from dinner to the Atrium of mayhem! What fun we all had! 



a little more of this feeling 

But I'm a professional. So I hit the iced coffee with a vengeance. 
I have to say that I really enjoyed Sunday quite a bit. The breakout sessions were fantastic and I hope to see more of this in the future, and longer. Really well done! I also LOVED the Pecha Kucha style Ignite session. Brilliant! More please. 

Overall I was really impressed with the way the conference organization and the Omni Hotel handled 300+ wine bloggers for 4 days. Congratulations on a job well done! Can it be improved? Sure. But so can everything. Loved it! Can't wait for 2012! See you there! 

Now I'm feeling all nostalgic and misty again like a little kid leaving camp, hugging the counselors, squeezing new friends tight and promising to stay in touch. Sniff... 

And seriously... see you in 2012


  1. HUGE thanks again to the WBC for this wonderful opportunity!

  2. Nice blog entry, very cool to read your perspective.

  3. Fussy?
    But you did look very road-weary when I found you in the hotel bar -- funny that we would stumble-upon each other in a bar!
    Can't wait for our next adventure.


    Nannette Eaton

  4. My pleasure, Raelinn! So glad you found Mas first of all. The crowds can be murder, but it's the best restaurant in town, in my opinion. Tomas put together some amazing Riojas, and roasted a freaking goat, so happy you found us :)

  5. Thanks very much Beau, Nanette and Pia! Nanette it was great seeing you, as always! And Pia, I LOVE Mas. I used to live in Culpeper and would go there whenever I would come down to Cville. GREAT place!! So nice meeting you as well. Cheers!