WBC11: A Conference for Wine Bloggers -Part II

August 3, 2011 | By | 1 Reply More

When I signed up for the North American Wine Bloggers Conference, I had just assumed, without really giving it much thought, that it would be a conference mostly about the art and practice of blogging, made into a wine blogger conference by the shared interest of those attending.  In fact, it was mostly about wine, with a few sessions devoted to the practice of blogging.

Thank God for that.

What was I thinking?  Of course, it should be about the wine.  After all, I get a regular stream of solicitations at the office for conferences focused on the how-to of social media, so that market is apparently covered.  The wine blogger conference market, however, is another story, and WBC11 catered to it in so many ways, especially by providing am abundance of opportunities to taste wines – Virginia wine in particular, I’m happy to say – and hear from the men and women who grew the grapes and turned them into wine.  That’s something you just can’t get just anywhere else.

There was a little bit of shtick in this conference, kind of like the way Jeopardy pretends that it gives the answer and the contestants provide the question (which usually seems to consist of putting the words “what is” in front of what otherwise would be an answer).  Here, it was about adding blogging to all kinds of events.  So, we didn’t just taste wines, we participated in “live blogging” while we tasted wine.  And since it was a conference for bloggers, we all had computers (or at least smart phones) in front of us during almost every session, taking notes, posting our thoughts about whatever it was that was happening at any given moment, and sometimes just surfing the Net or perhaps banging on the keyboard to make it appear that we were posting something really insightful.

Kind of silly, right?  Well no, not really.

Whatever you might think about the idea of live blogging, the live wine blogging sessions were among my favorite events at the conference.  (And I liked pretty much everything about this conference.)  Picture a large ballroom with perhaps 45 round tables, and six or seven bloggers seated at each – computers, wine glasses, spit buckets, bread and water in front of each.   Winery representatives had five minutes at each table to make a pitch and answer questions before they moved to the next table.  Whites and roses were featured at a session on Friday, while reds were featured at a separate event on Saturday.

There were problems, to be sure:  sometimes five minutes just wasn’t enough time, and sometimes it was hard to hear the winery rep. (Imagine a room with more than 300 people, about a quarter of them talking at any given moment.)  And I can sympathize with winery reps who criticized the “live blogging” aspect of it, wondering if we were more interested in banging out a tweet than in listening to them, or if they were able to get their pitch across in a noisy ballroom.

Since it was billed as “live blogging,” I felt almost duty bound to post something in real time, but trying to tweet while listening to a spiel, asking questions and listening to the answers was a bit too much at times.  Well, actually, it was always a bit too much.  And personally, I think that comments, especially tasting notes, posted in the haste of moment are inevitably superficial.

Even so, I posted two, partly because I wanted to see my name on the big screen (there were screens in the front of the room, running tweets that carried the WBC11 hash tag), and partly because I thought I should get into the spirit of live blogging.  One of my tweets was about Veritas, and the auto-fill feature of my netbook mangled the winery’s name.  (Since this was “speed dating,” by the time I noticed the error, I didn’t have time to fix it.)  The other was about a Texas winery.  I had never had a wine from Texas, but I thought it was pretty good, and I just wanted to say something about it.

I agree that there’s a place in the world for live blogging.  A reporter listening to a company's conference call after an earnings report and sending little nuggets of information via Twitter every couple of minutes is a great example of how live blogging can provide a useful service.  The same applies to a reporter listening to Steve Ballmer at the Consumer Electronics Show, or President Obama giving a speech or – well, you get the idea.  There’s not much time to think during the speech about what you're writing, but chunks of information in packets of 140 characters or less can be very informative.

But in those types of situations, the blogger is sending out short, factual snippets that don’t require a lot of thinking.  Trying to say something intelligent about a wine while talking to the vintner is something else entirely.

So that’s the negative.  But the good part of the live blogging sessions more than made up for the shortcomings. In the space of an hour, we got to hear knowledgeable people from a dozen or so wineries talk about one of their wines.  We had a chance to taste, to ask questions, to listen to questions and comments from fellow-bloggers, and to engage in a bit of dialogue.

I love stopping into wineries to taste, but I find that I often end up talking to someone who speaks from a script, and then answers questions by looking at a sheet of paper that I could just as easily read myself.  (For more on my thoughts on tasting rooms, see, “Not Just a Tasting Room” at http://projectsunlight.net.)  Here we had some incredibly knowledgeable people guiding us through the tastings:  vineyard managers, winemakers, and marketing reps who could actually answer questions about the wine’s Brix level at harvest or the impact of the weather on the vintage.  What in the world is there not to like about this?  I personally was quite grateful for the experience, and just wish it could have gone on longer.

I arrived late for Eric Asimov’s talk on Friday because I was working in the vineyard that day at DuCard (got to DuCard just as the wine tour from WBC11 was finishing up), but I loved the little bit I heard from him.  Since I was coming from the vineyard, I arrived without notebook, paper or electronic, so I don’t have much in the way of notes, but what I heard first was a recommendation to write about wine in a way people can understand.  Instead of snobbishly trying to describe every little taste you pick up on your palate, describe it in terms that are meaningful to the average person who might consider buying it.  Is it flabby? Full of fruit?  I’m not doing him justice, but it was along those lines.  For me, it boiled down to speaking from your own heart rather than trying to parrot the descriptive words we read in Wine Spectator or The Wine Advocate each month.  (And of course, as a reader and aspiring writer of Science Fiction, I was thrilled to be in the presence of Isaac Asimov’s nephew.)  He was an intelligent and articulate source of advice to the community of wine bloggers present at the conference, and I’m grateful the sponsors of WBC11 were able to secure him as a speaker.

Another thought: I visit a fair number of tasting rooms, and invariably, I am the only one who spits.  When my children are with me, they find it a bit of an embarrassment, and sometimes I think that even the folks working the tasting rooms regard it as somewhat boorish.  I don’t.  I think it’s an essential part of wine tasting, and I find it nothing short of scandalous that large wine festivals make it next to impossible for people to spit, even though they know their patrons may be tasting 50 or more wines in a day.  It was nice to be at a tasting where almost everyone spits.  I started to apologize to one woman early on for picking up the bucket and spitting into it, and she responded by saying, “You wouldn’t be a pro if you didn’t spit.”  It was nice to be counted in the company of pros, even if only briefly.  And if was nice to find so many people who were just like me, interested in tasting and not embarrassed to swirl and spit before moving on to the next wine.

Which leads me to this:  my blog is very new, even if my interest in wine dates back three decades and more.  But I’m serious about the blog, and I came to the conference hoping mostly to learn a bit more about the art and technology of blogging, since I thought I had many other opportunities to learn about wine.

Well, I was wrong about that.  The opportunities to to taste and to share thoughts about wine with professionals in the business, both vintners and bloggers, are what made this conference so special.  I loved every minute of it, and can hardly wait for WBC12 in Oregon next year.

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Category: Virginia Wineries, Wine

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