Monday, July 21, 2014

A Rant and a Solution for the Wine Bloggers Writing Workshop

I attended the Sunday Writing Workshop at #WBC14 led by Mike Dunne, Jim Conaway and Steve Heimoff, the same guys who were on the Saturday Wine Writer panel I wrote about here. The Sunday workshop had problems in my opinion, so I’d like to offer a solution on how to fix it for future conferences.

Oh, and I’m going to rant a bit too, so read on.

The conference agenda described the Sunday workshop as follows:  “… a two-hour workshop on Sunday that will help wine bloggers with their tone and writing.

The general advice given by the panel was sound—use proper grammar, check your spelling, gain command of comma usage, and if possible, get someone to edit your work.*  Yet when they got down to the actual critiques, it felt like the panel was scrambling to organize their thoughts on the fly and did not read the submissions completely. I’ve heard and read comments that many people in the workshop felt bewildered by the critiques. The panelists mainly evaluated the work for print publication, not the blog medium. (Which may have been the directions they were given. I don’t know.) But not all wine bloggers aspire to be print journalists. And once the panel discussed the economic reality of working as a wine writer, I doubt any will pursue full-time print writing at all.

For one submission, about winemakers in Istira, Mike Dunne advised the writer to avoid using weak descriptive language, but then he suggested the entire piece be re-written to focus on the use of Acacia barrels in the region. Yes, that would be lovely, but it was a profile piece on the winemaker, not the barrel program. How helpful was that to the writer seeking help improving a profile piece?

Next, Steve Heimoff commented on my wine tourism piece about DeLoach Vineyards and cautioned us not to “get spun” by our subjects. And then he added pointedly—“ Jean-Charles Boisset is not your friend. He does not care about you.”


I was not even in Steve’s group, I was in Jim’s group. Later, via some back and forth on twitter, Steve said there is a fine line between advertorial and editorial and that my piece read like a paid PR vehicle. I can assure you I was not paid by DeLoach.

Steve Heimoff (shown right) with Mr. JCB, his friend, not mine apparently.

A journalist from the Press Democrat attended the DeLoach event and filed a story that was almost identical to mine in terms of content and facts, yet the tone was impersonal and detached. (As a  journalistic piece should be.)  My blog post covered the same facts but was imbued with my personality and experience. That's what blogs do! Enthusiasm and humor does not make it an advertorial.

You can compare and contrast for yourself. Here are links to both:
Press Democrat—DeLoach
Come For the Wine—DeLoach

I think perhaps Steve failed to consider who my audience is and may not comprehend that my readers understand my tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. I took his advertorial remark as that of the pot calling the kettle black given his new Wine Marketing Communications role at Kendall Jackson. Or maybe he secretly covets my plucky marketing acumen. (I’ll admit you can take the girl out of marketing, but you can’t take the marketing out of the girl.) But I know the difference between writing for an audience and selling to an audience.

The truth is, I actually do admire Jean-Charles Boisset and I think his efforts to create interesting, fun, and educational experiences for visitors to his wineries presents a model of wine tourism. My goal is to encourage travel to wine regions. People who read the DeLoach piece said it peaked their interest to visit. Thus, mission accomplished.

And for the record, I don’t have anything against Steve. We are quite similar really. I like hats and dogs and wine too. And unlike some bloggers ( see #7)* -- I don't think his is a doddering, out of touch, grandpa. Heck, we may be the same age for all I know. (Just don’t call my blog advertorial, Gramps!)
*Well, in link above only said -- "grand-fatherly” -- not doddering and out of touch, those are my words.

End of rant.

Now, on to my suggestion for improving the workshop.


I think it was difficult for the panel to read so many posts and try to offer something concrete for each participant. Workshop was the wrong word to describe what the session delivered.

If WBC wants to offer this type of session again, I think the format needs to be recast as a PAID one-day pre-conference workshop and taught by a qualified writing instructor.

Workshop discussion topics could include:
*Framing a story
*Crafting a lede
*How to decide which form is best for your story
*Creating a compelling story arc
*How to write vivid prose and avoid clich├ęs
*How to pitch stories
*How to work with editors
*How writing for the web differs from writing for print!!! -- Because it does! {Unicorns be damned}

The workshop should also include in-class writing exercises.

So what should something like this cost? I’d say around $200-$300 per person. This amount would be a massive bargain compared to fees for similar one-day writing workshops and help ensure the chosen instructor is compensated and worthy. No qualified writer would or should ever do this kind of thing for free.

Marcy & Steve on the advertorial/editorial slide.
--It’s a slippery slope.

By the way, the day you can't rant on your blog is the day the Internet ends.

* WARNING: this blog may contain typos, grammatical errors, and egregious misuse of commas.

Related Post: Impressions on the Wine Writers Panel at #WBC14 Buellton and My Hunch About Jim Conaway’s Next Book

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Impressions on the Wine Writers Panel at #WBC14 Buellton and My Hunch About Jim Conaway’s Next Book

A few blog posts have already been written about the Saturday Wine Writers Panel at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton last weekend, (here is a good one) -- but I thought I’d give my impressions too.

The Saturday panel with wine writers Jim Conaway, Mike Dunne, and Steve Heimoff, was in my view, an example of people who are more comfortable on the page than in person. Many great writers are not great speakers. In fact some are completely inarticulate off the page. So while there were a few nuggets of gold in the session, the panning it took to get them was painful.

I found the panel tedious, but in fairness, these types of Q &A panels are always difficult to pull off and it’s hard to get the speakers to be concise and succinct. My hat is off to Taylor Eason for doing a great job wrangling the panel into some semblance of order. Cheers to that!

Mike Dunne, a writer for the Sacramento Bee, seemed overshadowed by the other panelists long rambles. His comments about his writing process were straight forward, but nothing truly noteworthy.

Steve Heimoff is well known as Steve Heimoff. The best question for Heimoff was  –“How do you manage conflicts of interest between your PR obligations with Kendall Jackson vs. your personal blog?”

Steve squirmed a bit and said “Oh wow, that’s a good question.” Then he went on to say that there were some pressures and issues regarding his blog while at Wine Enthusiast, but part of his deal at KJ was that his blog was off the negotiating table. It’s his opinion and he can write what he wants. So in essence he is corporate flack by day, intrepid wine blogger by night! Nice work if you can get it. I dare say he knows how to juggle his editorial with his advertorial. Amirite?

Jim Conaway gave the keynote in Penticton at WBC13 and I thought it was very good. I read both of Jim’s books on Napa and enjoyed them very much. I would have liked to hear more about Jim’s writing and interview process. His Napa books reminded me of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the non-fiction work by John Berendt.

These kinds of books take a tremendous amount of research and trust creation with your subject. It’s embedded journalism. I imagine Jim’s bourbon and charm offensive is very effective for disarming the people he writes about. Smile before you betray their trust! According to Jim, the diligent and patient writer will find a way to put their subject at ease and eventually the interviewee’s vanity will get in the way and they’ll open up to you. You just need to cozy up to your subject, drink their wine, eat their food, and then get them comfy enough to drop their guard and tell you some real dirt that you can write-up.

In the long run I think it’s probably difficult to repeat the process. You become a victim of your own success and word will spread that you are not to be trusted. That’s the mistake people make in the first place; they talk to writers freely -- but a writer must never be trusted.

I wonder if Jim’s foray into fiction with Nose has anything to do with running out of people who will talk to him? I hope not, because I think his non-fiction is far superior to his fiction.

Given that Jim came back for more WBC this year, I can’t help but wonder if he is working on a deep dark expose of the world of wine blogging. God knows he could write a dozy of a book on the topic.

So, fellow bloggers, did you find yourself getting chatted up by Jim at any of the after-after parties? Do tell.

RELATED POST: A Rant and a Solution for the #WBC14 Writing Workshop

I Tweeted My Way to The 50 Most Influential Wine Peeps List!

Well this is rich--

I was minding my own business, tweeting my little heart out about what else--wine--when I was told to check out a blog post by the Wine Wankers called the 50 Most Influential Wine Peeps on Social Media.

So I checked it out and low and behold I was on the list. The list is comprised of top scores from Klout and Kred by people all over the world who are focused on wine in social media.

I actually have never seen my Kred score before, but apparently it’s quite good with a score of 784 and 8 which put me at 44 (when the list was top 50 list) but now I’m at 45 on the on the Top 75 list --just below Jameson Fink and above Alice Feiring. Wooo Hooo! (see column at right below)

Then there is my Klout rank. I haven't really looked at Klout since they changed the whole look and feel of the site, but I just checked in and currently have a 57

On the Wine Wankers list I’m rated a 56 and that puts me last on the list. Just hanging on my by fingernails!

But here’s the deal--
Klout determines your score based on several social media sources and my score is 100% derived from Twitter. That’s all I do. Nothing else. No Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pintrest, Tumbler...or whatever the next new thing is. Just me tweeting away about #wine #wine #wine.

Imagine what my rank could be if I did all that other crap! Move over Wine Wankers, So long Ken Waggoner, See ya later Wine Spectator -- I’d be in the stratosphere! But truthfully, I would not even be on the radar of the Wine Wankers if not for Gwen Alley who mentioned to Conrad of Wine Wankers that I only do twitter and suggested I be considered for the list. So thanks Gwen!

In the meantime wine peeps started coming out of the woodwork to tell Conrad that they were worthy too and ask to be included on the list. So the list is now the top 75 Most Influential Peeps.

I hope get to stay on it, but you never know--these scores are all a moment in time. But I know one thing for sure, if Wine Wankers ever decides to rank by height I’ll be right up there--one notch above Joe Roberts aka 1 Wine Dude.

Hey Wine Wankers,  maybe you should add weight and height as a ranking. I think a few people might not want to have that information posted and I’d move right up the list.

Cheers --

UPDATE: List is now at 100-- But I'm still there!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Ideas, Advice, and Tips for #WBC14


Next week the annual Wine Bloggers Conference arrives in Santa Barbara/Buellton for the 2014 event. It’s expected to be packed, similar to the crush of bloggers that were in Portland in 2012. That’s great, but the night of many wines at WBC12 in Portland was so noisy I could hardly concentrate on any of the wines presented. So I think it might be cool to see tasting isolation booths at the Wine Bloggers Conference-- small, telephone booth size chambers where one can duck in, close the door, and focus on the wine. Heck, it's a sponsorship opportunity! Allan Wright, get on this pronto--you could charge big bucks for branded tasting booths. You can thank me later. 


* Drink, drink, drink and never spit any precious wine out. Spiting is for losers! Amirite? Right.

* Don’t bother drinking water. Wine is wet too, it will keep you hydrated just as well.

* Don’t sleep. Stay up for the entire conference. Go on, you can do it! Just like in your college days.

* Ladies: Wear really high heels, the higher the better. That way you can help aerate the soils at vineyards you visit and give the rest of us the chance to yell “Timber!" when you go crashing to the ground.

* Men: Wear White. White shirts are classy, always in fashion, and never show stains. White pants are great too. If you want to make a lasting impression show up dressed like Mr. Clean for speed tasting. Bonus points for the gold hoop earring.

* Ladies & Men: Wear feather boas at all times to garner respect and awe from fellow bloggers.

See you in Buellton.

* Advice dispensed above is for entertainment purposes only. But I mean it about the isolation booths.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Vive la France at DeLoach Vineyards -- JCB Comes to RRV

I’m drinking wine while a conga line dances to the beat of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean and snakes around large wood wine tanks embellished with disembodied legs and heads. All around me I see Libertines, silent sentries from the French Renaissance, their eyes glazed, mouths in half-pouts. It’s not a fever dream. It’s another night in the world of Jean-Charles Boisset.

Every time I get an invitation to a Jean-Charles Boisset event I know I’m going to enter a world of pure imagination dedicated to the proposition that wine wrapped around education and pleasure is the key to creating a memorable and satisfying experience.

Last week I attended an event to showcase the reinvention of DeLoach Vineyards in Sonoma. The property has been re-cast as homage to France, but with both feet firmly planted in the good earth of the Russian River Valley.

Now at DeLoach you can participate in a variety of experiences including a blending session to produce your own wine, a guided tasting of vineyard designates that highlight the particular soils of the local vineyards, or you can learn about the world of wine and mustard and even make your own batch on premise. The mustard experience is in partnership with Fallot Mustard of Burgundy France and includes a flight of DeLoach wine. There is also a very intersting new experience called the Taste of Terrior.

The Appellation Room
The vineyard designate tasting is held in The Appellation Room that features a gigantic relief map to help you pinpoint the exact place the vineyards are located and understand the influence of prevailing fog patterns. This is the kind of stuff I love, but even if you are not a geek about soils, I think its one of the most relaxing and comfortable places to just sit back and consider each wine at your own pace.

The Royal Barrel Cellar is an illuminating experience
The Royal Barrel Cellar
A companion to the Appellation Room is the Royal Barrel Cellar with an energetic vibe and the most electrifying lighting experience that makes it truly feel like Wonka-land. Here you can taste barrel samples and ponder the life force of wine fermenting all around you.

Theater of Nature
Wander around the manicured gardens and groomed grounds to The Theater of Nature, where you can take a self-guided interpretative walk thru biodynamic and organic practices. This experience is comparable to the one at Raymond Vineyards in Napa, but DeLoach has far better views. Yes, I’m biased, DeLoach is practically in my backyard and I’m partial to the Sonoma scenery.

Taste of Terrior
Just beyond the Theatre of Nature, past an old growth stand of redwoods, is the garden that produces the majority of produce used in all the dinners and events at DeLoach. The garden path wraps past a spotless barn area housing sheep and chickens and then leads up to one the most interesting new experiences – the Taste of Terrior.

At the Taste of Terrior guests can compare Boisset Family wines from famed regions of France side-by-side with locally produced Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines. The point is not to debate which is better, France or Sonoma, but instead to elevate the sense of place each presents and educate the palate all in one stop. It’s one of the only places to offer such a tasting in the entire country. I did not partake of the experience that night, but I am anxious to go back and check it out.

JCB Winery Lounge
For those of you who have visited Raymond Vineyards in Napa and long for the Baccarat crystal tank room, the decant JCB Lounge, and the members only Red Room-- don’t despair-- you can capture a similar sensation at the exclusive JCB Winery Lounge at DeLoach.

Jean-Charles Boisset is more than the Willy Wonka of Wine – he is The Pied Piper of Pinot Noir, The Grand Poobah of Grand Cru, The Sultan of Sustainability, but most of all he is The Purveyor of Pure Imagination and Pleasure.

Back in the Libertines Cellar, the music pumps, our wine glasses glisten, and the conga line grows longer as JCB admonishes us to raise our hands for yet another round of La lala! La lala! La. La. La!  The scene is so deliriously euphoric it’s like a nerve gas of sheer joy has been pumped into the air.

The message is simple: Enjoy yourself, revel in the excess, give yourself over to the absolute pleasure of wine. It’s a command, an invitation, and in the world of JCB--a credo.

No matter where you visit; be it Raymond Vineyards in Napa, Buena Vista in Sonoma, or now at DeLoach, you will eventually be compelled to give in and release yourself to the wine, the place, and the absolute pleasure of experience— JCB won’t stand for anything less.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Russian River Valley Neighborhoods: No SUBstitutions

Got Dirt? 

Four Wine Guys, a Critic, and a Dog Walk into a Bar....

This past Saturday I attended a seminar on Russian River Valley Neighborhoods to learn about the characteristics and defining qualities of the wine region in which I live. The seminar was presented by the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Association as part of Pinot Classic weekend.

The Neighborhoods seminar took attendees on a guided tour through the Russian River Valley “sub” region vineyards of Middle Reach, Laguna Ridge and Green Valley via our olfactory senses and palates. The Green Valley appellation is a big one so it makes sense it might be a prime candidate for some slice and dice, but creating new AVA’s can be quite a political and thorny issue for everyone involved. And apparently there is no such thing as a “sub” appellation, so the areas discussed were called neighborhoods, which is the very clunky and clandestine way to say “sub” AVA. 

"It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood." -- Mr. Rogers

Mike Sullivan of Benovia moderated the panel with Mark McWilliams of Arista representing Middle Reach; Michael Browne of Kosta Brown representing Green Valley, and Rod Berglund of Joseph Swan representing Laguna Ridge.

Also on the panel, Steve Heimoff, who penned a definitive book on the region: A Wine Journey along the Russian River; and although the handout said he was from Wine Enthusiast, Heimoff is currently working for Kendall-Jackson. The final member of the panel was Heimoff’s little dog Gus. Gus did not say much, he was certainly cute, but looked to me like his name should be Schnapps.

Dirt and Fog

As with any wine region weather is a crucial element and fog in particular is a big deal for Pinot. I can vouch for the distinct fog patterns that are unique to the RRV area and how it changes with the seasons. I marvel at how clearly defined the band of fog is that enters from Petaluma Gap to the south of the Sebastopol Hills vs. the slow hang and creep of the Middle Reach fog banks as compared to the “fill and drain” of the fog in the Laguna Ridge basin.

Despite varying winemaking protocols terroir trumps all and our goal was to see if we could detect the varying degrees of silt, sand, and clay soil characteristics of each neighborhood in the wines. The Russian River Valley Winegrowers are creating a searchable knowledgebase of the region to establish a baseline and common language to track and determine patterns of the neighborhoods and define what characteristics of terroir are expressed in a given region.

Green Valley – Higher acid and bright red fruit, soils defined by silt and loam.
Middle ReachRich, powerful, fruit driven, deepest soils.
Laguna Ridge -- Earth and spice, mix of silt, sand, and some clay.

“Great wine drinks great at all ages.”– Mark McWilliams

Taste Blind Smell the Love

We were presented with nine Pinots to blind taste-- three each from vineyards in Green Valley, Middle Reach and Laguna Ridge. There were also jars of Franciscan, Alluvial, and Goldridge soils. The Alluvial and Goldridge smelled amazing, both emitting deep dark and complex aromas, but my jar of Fransican had barely any scent at all.

The Alluvial soil smelled so good, I suggested to Virginie Boone, seated next to me, that we add some water to the sample jar and do mud pack facials while we tasted through the rest of the wine samples. She wisely declined.

Tasting blind really helped me to focus in on the characteristics of each neighborhood rather than the style of the producer. I was able to guess a few of the wines, such as Kosta Browne and Arista, but I based those assumptions mainly on the vineyard name and location, which were big giveaways.

I also correctly guessed the Laguna Ridge wine from Goldridge soil. The moment I smelled the wine I had a hunch it was Dehlinger. A taste confirmed it in my mind. It was revealed at the end of the session to indeed be Dehlinger. {This rarely happens to me, so chalk one up for my blind tasting abilities!} No other Pinot I’ve ever had tastes or smells or drinks quite like Dehlinger.

Here are a few of the quick notes and impressions I jotted down for each wine:

Middle Reach Vineyards (all 2012)
Little Hill/Rochioli: Distinctive nose of chalk, rich earth and powdery rose with bright fruits and good acidity.
Harper’s Rest/Arista: Deep rich flavor and brambly notes with firm tannins.
Allen Vineyard/Williams Selyem: Subtle, elusive nose, with chalky, dusty earth and bright intense fruit with long dry finish.

Laguna Ridge Vineyards: (all 2011)
Trenton Estate/ Joseph Swan: Full black berry and red fruit flavors with great acidity.
Goldridge/ Dehlinger: Soft and approachable with a slightly dusty floral nose. Distinct bright red fruit flavors and a lush full mouth feel. Complex and harmonious an expressive poem of Pinot.
Soul Patch/Davis Family Vineyards: Spicy and tense with good balance

Green Valley Vineyards: (all 2012)
Emerald Ridge/Dutton Goldfield: Floral nose with intense black and blueberry flavors –spicy mid palate and firm tannins
Keefer Ranch/Kosta Browne: Bright and delicious red fruit, medium tannins and nice level of acidity surfs a long wave of flavor to very pleasing finish.
Fog Dance/Hartford Court: Bright bold bowl of spicy cherries with a hint of sage, and eucalyptus notes with a long finish.

More information:
Russian River Valley Winegrowers

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tinhorn Creek Wines Coming to a Glass Near You

For many visitors a trip to wine country in British Columbia often results in the common refrain: “Where can I get BC wines in the states?” Previously the answer was: “Pretty much nowhere.”

When I visit the Okanagan, I’m faced with the dilemma of take nothing, or schlep a case or two of wine through customs on my own. For me the choice is easy-- I gladly take on the role of pack mule to get the wines home. But now things are about to get much easier for U.S. wine lovers. Tinhorn Creek wines are now available for direct delivery to your doorstep. Hallelujah!

It’s almost as exciting as it use to be getting the new phonebooks, and when the wine arrived this morning I felt like Navin... The Tinhorn Creek is here! The Tinhorn Creek is here! Things are going to start happening now. Oh Yes!

I’ve raved about Tinhorn Creek in many past posts see here, here and here.  And despite the hassle I always purchased wine and carried it home. Then once I got my precious stash home I’d be very protective of it. Hoarding some might say, but honestly if you went through all the effort to hand carry a case or two home, I dare say you’d be protective to the point of hoarding too.

But I’m feeling very generous with my wine now, knowing more Tinhorn Creek is just a phone call away. Heck, I may just have to invite Richard Jennings over so he can experience a bit of what he missed at WBC13 in Penticton. Come on over Richard. If you like, after you try the wine, maybe we can go harass some concierges for their lack of wine knowledge, you know, just for the fun of it. (Richard, you know I say this in jest, but offer to taste is legit.)

As part of the launch for the new shipping program I was sent samples of the following Tinhorn Creek wines that have been chosen to showcase the region’s distinct winemaking style and terroir:

2013 Pinot Gris  – a great summer sipper that’s just been released, bursting with aromas of citrus and tropical fruit with underlying notes of honeysuckle.

2013 Gewurztraminer – 100% Gew├╝rztraminer with subtle aromas of rose petals, lychee, pink grapefruit and spice.

2013 Oldfield Series 2Bench White – premier blend of five different whites, crisp and clean with pear and stone fruit aromas on the nose, and a citrus and apple palate

2011 Cabernet Franc – textbook Cabernet Franc from the Okanagan with lovely fresh red fruits, minty herbs, sage, black currants and spice. ( I’d marry this Cab Franc if it was allowed in my state)

2010 Oldfield Series Merlot – artfully crafted merlot, smooth and luscious, with flavours suggesting cherry and raspberry coated in dark chocolate.

2010 Oldfield Series 2Bench Red – a traditional Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot with lots of rich, crowd-pleasing berry and plum fruit.

Consumers in the US can visit http:/ shop directly from Tinhorn Creek’s website in US dollars, a minimum of 12 bottles per order is required and consumers may order ‘A Taste of Tinhorn’ mixed case with two of each of six select wines currently available, or make up their own preferred mix. A delivery fee of $29.95USD is applicable, however there are no additional tariffs, fees or customs duties to pay, it’s all included.

For more order information and pricing call 1-888-484-6467 or visit the website at


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