GDP on Wine

Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz

Wine Bloggers Conference

Posted by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 25, 2011.

As many of you know I was recently at the North American Wine Blogger's Conference in Charlottesville Va. I met many passionate and enthusiastic folks there and had a blast. I'm going to try and get some of them to come over this way for a guest blogging stint, I'll hopefully be invited to do the same.

I was wondering if any of you folks wanted to jump on here, Wine Press that is, and post a blog post or two. I look forward to featuring some Snooth Community work in upcoming emails so don't be shy. Step on up and create a blog post, or ask a question.

It's time to kick things up a notch!


Reply by Uwe Kristen, Jul 27, 2011.

Hi Gregory, I am curious about your thoughts on the WBC. I have heard mixed reports so far.

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 27, 2011.

Well where to start, at the beginning of course.

I arrived on Thursday to participate in Thursday night's sponsor around the world tasting. Most of the wines I had seen before so I just took this opportunity to socialize, have a few glasses of wine, connect with old friends and meet some new ones. There were several people conspicuously absent, and I found out later that they were invited to a side party that night.

These side events are rampant at the WBC and sometimes quite secretive, but all you have to do is ask folks about them and all the doors open for you rather quickly so it's a an 'insiders' club if it's not really.

Friday we started with a meet the sponsors tasting at registration. When you registered you received a swag bag with the usual goodies in it. Two bottles of wine, a box of wine, a large jar of wine and raspberry preserves, an aluminum water bottle. and several other doodads. I just want to point out that this event cost citizen bloggers $95. All this, the swag bag and what comes next, it was only $95.

The sponsor tasting was nothing great, and I registered at 10am so even less enticing but the only way to pull this off for $95 is to have sponsors and sponsors aren't throwing their money away, they're making an investment. Next came the Keynote speech by Jancis Robinson, all very nice and interesting to her of the size staff Purple Pages requires, should be a warning to bloggers about how not to make money while blogging!

There was about a 15 minute break between the keynote and 'breakout' sessions. I attended the technology session, which was fairly ordinary though the majority of the session was spent answering people's question. The most popular was on the relative benefits of Google+ vs. Facebook. Again this was in response to a question from the audience and received rather spirited commenting from the audience so while it was a bit meaningless to me the audience seemed to enjoy it.

I had some work to do so I skipped the next breakout session and rejoined the event later that day for their speed tasting event. 12 wines, 5 minutes each. Obviously this is not the way to critically evaluate wine, but that wasn't the point, the point was to cram as many new wines into an hour as is possible. It was to have fun and to spark interest. That fun part seems to have been missed by some attendees who seem to think that everything must be serious. I had fun, I've tasted wines like that before, and I'll do it again, in fact the next day we did the same thing with red wines Friday’s session was for white and roses.

We then had about an hour before we were bussed over to Monticello, which stayed open just for us, had a full staff to lead tours, and even had TJ himself there to pose for pictures. It was swelteringly hot and the tent they had set up for the wine pouring just concentrated that heat, which was unfortunate, but if you seriously expect to critically taste 100 plus wines outside under a tent in any weather you're delusional. Again, that was not the point; the point was to afford people the opportunity to discover Virginia's wineries, and even a cidery. the cider by the way was excellent and many of the wines were interesting. Getting to try so many, even in these rotten conditions was enlightening. While I choose to once again have fun with it all Jancis Robinson was seriously engaging winemakers obviously making the best of this unique opportunity to get intimately familiar with the Virginia wine scene.

This was obviously all set up way in advance, and the weather, as we all know, was freakishly hot that week over almost the entire country so you have to shrug your shoulders and say, damn it's freaking hot out but appreciate the fact that we partied at Monticello. This was a fairly big thing for me as I am a big Thomas Jefferson fan.
After a break a returned tot he conference room for a tasting called the other 46. This had been promoted from the getgo as 'The other 46" but as it turned out it the 'other 46' didn't line-up as expected. I guess an event that is to be focused on Virginia just wasn't a big enough draw for many wineries from the 'other 46' so it was a rather small affair. I can't say I was stuck by many of the wines, but it was nice to see wineries from less known regions getting some coverage and promotion. The crowds were sparse, lots of side events and I sussed one out by asking some fellow writers in the lobby about their plans and ended up having a late dinner with them.

Saturday morning began at a line-up for the mystery bus tour. We were broken up into groups of 20-25 writers for an unknown itinerary, which to me made perfect sense since there are very few destination wineries in Virginia so you can imagine how lopsided the demand would have been for those buses as compared to, say the bus I was on which introduced me to Flying Fox, Compass Point, and Afton Mountain Vineyards. Not only was this a great way to force people to learn about new wineries and wines, but it also mixed up the crowd so I got to meet a great group of fun people, many of who’s work I have followed.

As a side note, at Compass Point we got to sample a 1991 Virginia Cabernet which was a treat, the wine was old, reminded me of Bordeaux, was sadly not decanted, a huge mistake but it was a real treat just to be able to try a Virginia wine that old. After we returned from our winery visit adventure, were we were also provided lunch, not to mention the bus itself as well as a guide, we met fro Eric Asimov's keynote speech which was amusing, very Eric, somewhat provocative, and at least entertaining. Then there was the red wine speed round.

After the speed round there was a cognac tasting in the lobby since the room had to be turned over for our big dinner that evening. I had no interest in cognac so I shared some wines in the lobby with anyone who asked, A 2009 Troon vermentno from Oregon which was very nice and a 1998 Mascarello Monprivato which should have gotten a bit more air but is very close to being at peak. There were several other bottles passed around and then we had to head over to the dining room.

Dinner was fine, a nice set of Virginia wines was poured with a 5 course meal. Lots of bitching about the service, our wine service was pretty bad, but you know what. I'm guessing the Omni Hotel in Charlottesville doesn't generally have a room full of self-styled wine and food experts to contend with, so they were unprepared for the scrutiny they were under. I've been there, worked in hospitality for years, it's hard and with 5 course, something like 13 wines, and 340 people to serve, it's not simple. Oh, and remember all this was $95 so complaining seemed to me to be pretty arrogant. I just corrected our server as she went along and made mistakes and enjoyed the company at my table and the experiencing the wines.

The wine blogger awards were presented during the dinner by a somm turned Virginia Wine PR dude. He had a shtick, he was a jersey boy, but it was amusing and somewhat frenetic, as I expect it would have to be to attract people's attention during a seated dinner. It seems to me that the same people win these awards each year so that was disappointing but hey, that is not what I was there for.

After dinner there was the Rioja pub crawl, 5 Rioja wines of varying quality at five Charlottesville restaurants all paired with a signature tapas. It was another great chance to meet and mingle with fellow writers, and sample a few snack and even some nice glasses of wine. One location had roses on offer, Muga's and the 2000 Tondonia Gran Reserva. Again this could be about wine tasting, but really it was about wine drinking, and walking around snacking and sampling wines for free seems like a decent way to spend an hour. If you completed the crawl you were entered in to a contest to win a spot on the next rioja press junket. I came through with flying colors!

After the Rioja event there were myriad side parties that culminated with a party in the lobby that was quickly shunted off into an unused meeting room. Lot's of people brought out bottles to share, I had the Inspiration White Tempranillo and the 76 Cvne Vina Real ( a less than pristine bottle) to share with folks, trying to stay on theme. that party went until all hours though I bailed at about 1:45, which made the next morning a slow one.

Being a slow morning I arrived late for the blogger lead discussions, and caught a discussion about wine writer ethics midway in progress.  This was followed by an Ignite wine presentation where presenters had 5 minutes to talk their way through 20 slides. Some people did a better job than others and in all honest I don't think anyone really did a great job with this. They were essentially commercials and I could have done without them.

Then came the closing ceremonies, for lack of a better word. There were contest prizes awarded, discussions about the next venues 2012: Portland, 2013: Penticton BC, and the reasons for the choice. A discussion about the logistics of the Wine Blogger's Conference, and other details that mostly fell on deaf ears.

I had lunch with a nice group of fellow attendees and in general had a fine time. This was not a wine tasting event, nor was it that much of a learning about blogging event. It was mostly a networking event, which after all is what almost all conventions are. I had a lot of fun, but that's what i was there for. I met alot of people, but that's what I was there for. I tasted a lot of Sponsor wine, but that's why the event cost citizen bloggers 95 freaking dollars. Snooth was a general sponsor of this event by the way, which allowed one employee to attend though we spent a heck of lot more than $95. Most of the people I spoke with had a great time. The general consensus was that this was not as good an event as the last one, which was in Walla Walla Washington. I wouldn't know since this was my first wine blogger's conference.

Would I go again? I'll see you in Portland if you go! Would I want to see some changes? Sure, this could definitely be improved. Do I expect it to be fundamentally different? Not at all, this is a wine blogger's conference; it's not a Constitutional Law conference. Wine blogging is a fun, social activity for most bloggers, so it should come as no surprise that the main activity at the wine blogger's conference is having fun and socializing, and I hope it stays that way!

Reply by Lucha Vino, Jul 30, 2011.

Hi Greg,

Thanks for the detailed rundown on the WBC.  I'm hoping to go next year since Portland is "just down the road" from Seattle.


Reply by lifeofvines, Jul 30, 2011.

As a new blogger, WBC11 was my first experience. I agree with your point about networking. The most valuable part of the conference for me was to meet fellow wine lovers, winemakers, and other industry folk. Some people are not fans of the late night side parties but I considered these to be the best part of the conference. It was amazing to see so many wine lovers sharing their favorite bottles, exchanging stories, and getting to know each other better. People were friendly and engaging.

Was the main conference content a bit lacking? Yes, but the conference overall for me was a huge success and a great time. 



Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jul 30, 2011.

Vello, I will see you there!

Marie, Sorry we didn't get a chance to connect but something in my in box thinks we will soon!

Reply by dmcker, Aug 1, 2011.

Greg, once again I tip my cap to your ironman (or iron palate and digestive tract) constitution. Was tiring me reading about it, though the networking does sound quite useful....

Reply by ScottLauraH, Sep 8, 2011.

I wish I had discovered the online wine world just a few weeks earlier!  The conference was literally just up the road from me, and I had no idea it was going on until it was way too late.  I hope you found the Charlottesville area as beautiful as I do. 

Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Sep 9, 2011.

Chatlottesville was great but next time can you lower the heat a bit!?!

Reply by ScottLauraH, Sep 10, 2011.

Next time they decide to do a wine bloggers conference in Charlottesville, they should NOT use the Omni.  They also need to go for late October or early November, when the wine country is on fire with the changing leaves.  It's breathtaking. 

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