WBC11 – A Conference for Wine Bloggers

August 1, 2011 | By | 3 Replies More

I’ve been meaning for a week now to write something about the Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC11) that was held in Charlottesville July 22-24.  It was a well-planned, well-executed conference, but what I think was most important about it for the purpose of this blog is the way it showcased Virginia’s wine industry.  Some 325 bloggers from around the country attended, and they were all exposed in a variety of ways to Virginia wine.

While I was gathering my thoughts, I had occasion to read two really terrific posts from Frank Morgan on his blog, "Drink What You Like."  I started to respond to the post, and my piece turned out to be too long for a comment – probably too long for a blog post, for that matter – so I decided to submit a trimmed-back version to his blog and run the extended piece here.  If you haven’t yet seen Drink What You Like, trust me, it’s well worth a visit.

What’s great about these two posts (A View from the Punt, I and II) is the perspective it provides from “the other side of the bottle” – the views of those who were pouring their wines at this conference.  I had actually been wondering what the winemakers, vineyard managers, marketing directors and others who poured during the conference thought about the event and about the bloggers.  They pour (sorry for the pun) their lives into their wines, then pour the wines for people who sniff and swirl it for a few moments before rendering judgments that can be generous in their praise or critical to the point of being mean-spirited.

So, I would say first that I’m sorry that some of the wineries who took the time to participate encountered rude or unprofessional behavior, ranging from snarky or dismissive comments to overly-quick judgments to an unwarranted sense of confidence that some have about their palates.  I did observe a few bloggers engage in that kind of behavior, and I read a few posts after the conference that left me shaking my head in disbelief.  I don’t think any of this helps the blogger community, much less our readers.  However, as Frank noted, only a minority of attendees fell into this category.

I actually liked most of the wines I tasted (and honestly, I can’t believe how many wines I tasted!).  For those few that I truly disliked, I still made a point of thanking the winery representative and telling him or her that I enjoyed the opportunity. (Technically true: I enjoy all such opportunities.)  I just don’t see much point in being rude or negative in these settings, nor am I interested in throwing out a thunderbolt of criticism 30 seconds after tasting a wine.

What I found interesting were the comments some made about the appropriateness of harsh comments and even of tasting notes themselves.  One blogger whose posts I sometimes read was incredibly disparaging of the wines featured at this conference, and I took his comments to mean that he was particularly disdainful of Virginia wines.  Okay, I get that.  Don’t agree, but I get it.  But even allowing for the possibility that he honestly doesn't like anything produced in Virginia, I don’t think the virulence of his comments could be justified on any grounds.

No blogger should feel obligated to say nice things about a wine he or she truly detests, norshould he have to tiptoe around the subject.  And I don’t see much point in writing about wine if you can’t say what you like and don’t like.  If you trust your palate, you should say what you think about a wine.  Your readers will decide soon enough if your palate is similar to theirs, and will read your reviews with that in mind.  But there’s a difference between offering a reasoned and respectful review and deriding a wine as plonk.

Over the past year, I’ve gotten to know a few of Virginia’s winemakers and viticulturists, mostly through the viticulture and winemaking classes I’ve been taking through Central Piedmont Community College.  On the whole, I’ve been pretty impressed with their passion for viticulture and winemaking, their knowledge and skills, and their willingness to help those new to the field, including those who hope to compete with them someday (not me – I’m planning nothing more grand than a family vineyard that may produce 500 bottles a year if I’m lucky – but others for sure).

It was nice to see some of them at the conference, including Andrew Hodson and Emily Pelton from Veritas Vineyards, who showed up to pour at the “speed-dating” events (more about this in my next post).  I’ve taken several classes from them at Veritas, tasted a lot of their wine on multiple occasions, and I think Emily is one of Virginia’s truly outstanding winemakers.  I’m glad she and her father participated in this event, especially since it gave a number of bloggers from outside of Virginia the opportunity to taste wines that show our industry at its best.

And that is one of the things I thought most important about this conference – the way in which it showcased the good and great things going on in the Virginia wine industry.  In that regard, I want to commend everyone from Virginia who provided support, from the wineries to the tourism agencies, and the state officials, right on up to the Governor himself.  They went above and beyond the call of duty to showcase the Virginia wine industry.

I listen to a lot of speeches in my job, and so I’m usually not thrilled about the prospect of listening to one more in my off-hours, especially on that hot Friday night at Monticello while I’m trying to taste wine.  But I thought Ag Secretary Todd Haymore was terrific – humorous, intelligent, right on point, and suitably brief, which is notable given that he had traveled from Richmond to deliver his remarks.  Gov. McDonnell has been very supportive of the Virginia wine industry, and I was really quite appreciative that he put out a statement about the conference.  I go to a lot of conferences that are attended by big-bucks corporate types, and it’s pretty rare for the governor of the host state to acknowledge the event.

Now, I don’t really know where the organizers of the conference left off and the state agencies started up, but I have to say that this was one of the best organized conferences I’ve ever attended (and again, I have attended quite a few conferences and conventions over the years).  All of those responsible deserve a lot of credit.  It was well-organized, and I have to believe that the out-of-state attendees went home with a good impression of what’s happening here in Virginia.

A final word on that subject:  I thought the tasting at Monticello was the highlight of the conference.  I’ve been to Jefferson’s home on the “little mountain” many times, and as a University of Virginia graduate, I have the required reverence for this greatest of American statesmen and oenophiles.  But I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to sip a glass of Virginia wine while standing in the shadow of the house he built with such special care for the placement of its wine cellar.  It was a one-of-a-kind experience, and it exemplifies the strong support that the state gave to this event.

By the way, we were in the midst of a horrible heat wave in Virginia, but I have to say, I didn't notice it that evening at Monticello.  Maybe it cooled off in the early evening or maybe it was the spirit of Jefferson watching out over a group who shared his passion for wine.  Or maybe it was just the sheer thrill of tasting wines at Monticello.  Whatever, it seemed like a perfect evening for me.

I’ll break off for now, and pick this up again in a night or two Part II of my reflections on WBC11.




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Category: All Posts, Jefferson, Monticello, Virginia Wineries, Wine

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  1. WBC11 Stats and Recap Aggregation « Drink What YOU Like | August 4, 2011
  1. Kenny says:

    I enjoy wine blogs as both a source of entertainment and knowledge. I appreciate the opinions of the bloggers as it gives you insight as to how others perceive various wines, wineries and current issues in Virginia’s wine industry. On more than one occasion I have rethought my position on an issue after reading a blog which made some good arguments that were contrary to my line of thought. It doesn’t necessarily mean I changed my mind about the subject, but anytime you have a source of dialog that makes you rethink issues its a positive.

    I also enjoy the wine reviews. Obviously you have to understand that these are the opinions of one individual. An individual whose palate may be far different from your own. But for the most part I do appreciate the reviews and descriptions of Virginias wine and wineries. The exception to that rule would be those VERY FEW who seem compelled to insult the makers and purveyors of the wines they don’t like. I have seen a few comments that went far beyond what was needed to convey the writers disappointment with the wine. Quite often these offenders are anonymous, as they blog under a screen name. I have to wonder what that does to the credibility of the writer. But again, these are the exception, not the rule. Blog on Virginia!

    • Bob says:

      Kenny, agree with you on all points. I’m fine with wine bloggers who offer honest opinions in a respectful way, either pro or con. What I’m not fine with are writers who trash a wine in a mean-spirited way for no apparent reason other than to prove who tough they are. I wouldn’t waste my time reading anonymous posts — that lack of accountability is what gave rise to flame wars on the Internet years ago. But I think there’s great value in the views of those who blog honestly and offer reasons for their opinions. You can decide over time if your palate is similar to the writer’s, and adjust accordingly. But I would hope all reviewers recognize that winemakers pour their heart and soul into what they do, and treat them with respect — even if they don’t like the wine.

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