Friday, August 22, 2014

The Wines of Croatia Big Bibich Bash--Event Recap!




I got called out, by a native Croatian, for serving sub-standard Ajvar but it was all in the spirit of goodwill and love for authenticity, at the First Annual Big Bibich Bash held on August 16, 2014. I'm going on record right now and calling it “First Annual” Bibich Bash, because drinking the wines of Croatia is something that needs to be done again and again. 

But back to the Ajvar for a moment—I had two types of Ajvar out in bowls and the minute Nenad Baračkov walked in and saw them he said—“I can tell without tasting, that orange looking one is Podkavak. Not the best!” He declared.

Nenad knows his Ajvar!

We had only just met, so I was a bit taken back, but he was right. Nenad proved to be the most delightful guest and a fabulous source of information on the regional cuisine of Croatia. We discussed hobotnice (octopus), the best source for tinned sardines, the amazing cheese from Pag--Paški sir, and the origins of Supa, a red wine based soup with olive oil, sugar, and toasted bread.


Many of the other guests were well versed in the Croatian food and wine scene too. I was lucky to host such a very convivial group.

But the guest of honor was the Bibich—From the Sparkling Rosé, a festive dry delight --to the Sangreal Merlot, and the rich and dreamy Ambra.

In a bit of a tasting reversal, we started with the reds first as the whites chilled. But I dare say with Bibich, tasting the wines a reverse order is not a problem. The Bibich reds are true shape-shifters, full of flavor and nuance.

The Rhone style G6 Grenache was a standout as was the Sangreal Merlot and Sangreal Shiraz. One of my favorites the R6, a blend of 34% Babic, 33% Plavina and 33% Lasin; smells like a Zin, but drinks like a Pinot.

Bas de Bas Rouge -- Dark, brooding, and beautiful, with elegance and structure--an embodiment of the land and place from which it hails.

Overall, I find that a thread of salinity runs through all the wines and seems to be a characteristic of many Croatian varietals both red and white.


As much as I love the reds it is the rare, unusual, and beguiling Bibich whites, the "Croatian White Unicorns” that I find most intriguing.

My beloved Lučia—The original “white unicorn” that I first tried in Croatia. In a word; this wine is captivating. The mythical, magical creation of Mr. Alen Bibić.

And a new unicorn --Bas de Bas Blanc. The Bas de Bas Blanc is multifaceted “orange” wine made from Debit grapes that spent 3 months on skins in stone vats, then 5 years in oak. At first it is comes across as herbaceous but not in a pyrazine green bean or bell pepper way-- but in a true herbal way. I got an immediate note of thyme, and a clean pleasing spicy tea tree oil scent that quickly opened into notes of apricot and honey and baked apple along with some lingering crushed herb notes such as parsley, sage, and rosemary—so along with thyme, it’s a veritable Simon and Garfunkel song.

The Bas de Bas Blanc has lot of complexity on the palate with a great weight that belies it’s 12% AVB status. I’m not sure if this is a wine for the masses, but I doubt that’s why Alen made it. It’s meant to be enjoyed on it’s own merits-- not billed as a summer sipper by any means. It’s serious and deserves contemplation. And I’m told that the back label reads: “Produced only for true wine lovers.”

Debit -- I love 100% Debit in all it’s manifestations and this is one of the best.

R5 -- Rich and unctuous blend of Debit, Posip, and Marastina, along with Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay; it’s a marvelous mouthful that is both refreshing and bold, and opens up to subtle corners of unexpected flavor.  Trust me-- you just have to try this. 

Posip 9 - A classic Croatian white, fresh and vibrant-- this wine is enthusiasm in a glass. Great balance with a lick of salt, and a puff of chalk, it’s a gateway drug to the more complex whites. 

Except for the Posip, I think most of the white wines may show best if you start out chilled but let them warm up at bit, as I believe they reach their true expression when at room temperature. The whites also have the structure and body to pair well with hearty foods and it was universally agreed that they went particularly well with sausage hot off the grill.


We had hashtags and tasting sheets and love notes to Alen-- but mostly we had a great time.

Tremendous thanks as always to Frank Dietrich, for bringing the Bibich and sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for the wines of Croatia and in particular the wines of Alen Bibić. Thanks too, for introducing me to so many new and interesting people--Nenad Baračkov and Roberta Wahl; Zdravko and Marion Podolski; Gisele Carig, and Candace. Though we'd never met before, I do believe we were all bonded by Bibich by the days end. Also thanks to James, Fred, Thea, and Liza (and her wine protégés) for coming out.

If you are interested in tasting the Bibich line (and I heartily encourage you to do so) you can find them all at Blue Danube Wine.

For more information:
http://www.bluedanubewine.com/

Monday, August 11, 2014

BIG BIBICh BASH - Wines of Croatia



Three years ago this month, I held a Croatian wine tasting at my house with Frank Dietrich of Blue Danube wines, and it was the start of my love affair with Croatain wine and Croatia. See here, here, and here.

This Saturday, August 16th, we are doing it again with the BIG BIBICh BASH--featuring the wines of Alen Bibić.

I traveled to Croatia shortly after the 2011 tasting, and was supremely lucky to visit the Bibich winery in Skradin where I had one of the most phenomenal food and wine pairings of my life. The next day, some guy named Anthony Bourdain showed up for the same pairings and some extended drinking that was featured in an episode of No Reservations. But I like to say I was there first! 

My post about the Bibich Dégustation has become one of the most viewed posts of all on my blog. 

Frank will guide us though twelve BIBICh wines including the Lucia, Bas De Bas, R6 and R5, as well as the new to me P9 Posip. Follow the hashtag #BIBIChBASH for live tweets about each wine.

I’ve raved so much about my favorite BIBICh wines, such as the Lučia and R5, they have become known as “Croatian White Unicorns” by some of my wine friends due to the adoration and mythical status I bestow upon them. But Unicorn is an apt descriptor for these rare, unusual and mythical whites.

Here is a list of what will be poured at the BIG BIBICh BASH -- For more details, you can visit the Blue Danube site here.

Bibich Sparkling Rosé
Bibich Ambra
Bibich Bas de Bas Blanc
Bibich Bas de Bas Rouge
Bibich Debit
Bibich G6 Grenache
Bibich Lučica
Bibich P9 Pošip
Bibich R5 Riserva
Bibich R6 Riserva
Bibich Sangreal Merlot
Bibich Sangreal Shiraz

Okay, so no Teran above, but you can’t have everything!

Over the last three years I’ve been back to Croatia several times, and experienced an astounding array of food and wine. It is truly one of the best emerging destinations for wine travelers. If you plan to visit Croatia I offer you the following tips here

RELATED POSTS:
Spending Two Perfect Days in Zagreb
Best Places to Eat, Drink and Stay in Istria

Croatia Series:
Croatia Series Preview: Zivili!
Croatia Part 1: Bibich Dégustation
Croatia Part 2: The Splendors of Split
Croatia Part 3: Šibenik Caressed by the Sea
Croatia Part 4: Zadar, The Perfect Date
Croatia Part 5: Pilgrimage to Pag: Land of Paški Sir
Croatia Part 6: Istria--Truffles, Olive Oil, Prosciutto & Wine!
Croatia Part 7: A Taste of Zagreb

OTHER CROATIA POSTS
The Wines of Croatia: A Preview Tasting
Croatian Wines Making Waves
Country of Good Vines: Countdown to Wines of Croatia
I Can Almost Taste It! Croatian Wine is Near
Wines of Croatia Tasting: The Recap
Ajvar Smackdown
Croatia: Memories Lost and Found
Eli's Caffé in Zagreb--Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
Maraschino - Wrapped in Tradition

Friday, August 8, 2014

13 Santa Barbara County Wines I Can’t Get Out of My Mind



These are the wines I keep thinking about since I tasted them in Santa Barbara County during the July 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference. You’ll see three Chardonnays on this list, and while I am not an ABC’er by any means, I don’t usually buy that much Chardonnay outright. But that's changing, and I’m happy to find many new-to-me producers that have captured my attention and patronage.

A word on tasting notes: I present my notes to highlight what I found in a particular wine, and my initial thoughts and experience while tasting. Consider this a nudge in the right direction to make your own discoveries. Below are some quick impressions I jotted down, wines are listed in no particular order of preference.


1.  2012 Tercero Roussanne Camp 4 Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley
One of the first wines I tasted upon arrival in Los Olivos. There is so much harmony and balance going on in this Roussanne. A delicate floral nose unfolds into a rich body of creamy spiced fruit and acidity. I bought a few bottles on the spot and then, having no restraint, immediately drank them when I got home. Now I’m pining for more.

2.  2012 Fes Parker “Rodney’s Dry Riesling, Santa Ynez 
Captivating nose of cut grass, petrol, jasmine and gardenia floral notes. Bright with acidity and flavors of lemon, lime and orange with a bit of honeysuckle.

3.  2013 Star Lane Sauvignon Blanc, Happy Canyon 
Peachy-Lychee, creamy vanilla with a pleasant mid-weight on the palate and long rolling waves of flavor.

4.  2013 Grassini Saugnion Blanc, Happy Canyon
I only got a quick sip at the speed tasting event, but it slowed down time around me. The bright, fresh hit of fruit and punch of acid made me want to grab the bottle and find a quiet place to enjoy it at a more leisurely pace.

5.  2010 Jonata “Flor” Sauvignon Blanc, Ballard Canyon 
Ginger cookie on the nose with great spice and pineapple notes. Sea salt and sandstone minerality, like a luxurious day at the beach. Elegant and understated but with wonderful tension and energy. 

6.  2012 Clos Pepe Estate Chardonnay, Sta. Rita Hills 
Wes Hagen’s “homage to Chablis” was a direct hit to my brains flavor center. Vigorous minerality tempered with a soft round mouth feel and light spicy floral notes of carnation.

7.  2013 Melville Estate Chardonnay Clone 76 Inox, Sta. Rita Hills 
Good grief, the nose on this was jump-out-of-the-glass gorgeous. On the palate, a slight chalky note, but tons of white florals and tart apple flavor with great minerality and a light ocean breeze of salinity. Inox, a french term, means stainless steel.

8.  2012 Alta Maria Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley 
My first thought --where can I buy this? This Chardonnay had a brilliance from within, like entering a snowglobe of earth and light and bright fruit flavors all falling softly around me. It shook me up. 

9.  2011 Foxen Pinot Noir La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills 
“No dump” --my shorthand note meaning all of this beautiful juice is going down my throat not in the dump bucket. When tasting numerous wines in a day, “no dump” is a mark of high praise indeed. Deep cherry, loamy, dusty floral nose and marvelous mouth feel. This wine had a spring in it’s step and a song in it’s heart.

10.  2012 Presqu’ile Whole Cluster Pinot Noir, Santa Maria Valley
I tweeted out this mini tasting note while I was at Presqu'ile: Whole cluster Pinot from @PresquileWine light and accessible but then reaches an unexpected depth. And indeed it did. The layers of flavor developed further with each sip. 

11.  2012 Lindley Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills
I tried this at the Authentic Press party Shawn Burgert hosted, and I wish I’d gotten more details, but it grabbed my attention at first taste.  On the bus back to the hotel I scribbled the name down in my notebook with the words-- "Check out what's going on at Lindley."

12.  2008 Qupe Syrah Bien Nacido BLock X, Santa Maria Valley 
X Block is the original Syrah vineyard at Bien Nacido. This dark, bold Syrah had great character with deep savory flavors of earth and spice. Fined with organic egg whites and bottled without filtration, the end result is a pure reflection of what happens in the vineyard.

13.  2010 Smasara Syrah Turner Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills 
This beaufiul Syrah made with 100% whole cluster, presents with a bit of pyrazines (bell pepper) on the nose, then provides an intense peppery flavor and long finish.


NOTE: Many of the above wines were sampled at the Drinking in the Differences Seminar held at Star Lane Winery in Happy Canyon and conducted by MS David Glancy of San Francisco Wine School. Stay tuned for a new post about that excellent event coming up.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Top 14 Tweetable Moments from 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference













Monday, July 28, 2014

Diary of a Mad Wine Blogger - #WBC14 Recap



No! I’m not mad, I really had a great time at #WBC14. I’m merely making a play on the movie title Diary of a Mad Housewife, which was made before the majority of your were born, so nevermind.

NOTE: For those of you with ADHD there is a short video condensing this #WBC14 Recap into a 3 minute slideshow at the bottom of the page. But read on. Reading is good for you.

Day 1 WEDNESDAY--
I was met at the Oakland Airport by @dallaswinechick aka Melanie Ofenloch and Liza Swift of @Brixchix_Liza, who picked me up in the BrixChix luxury SUV.

After many hours on the road, we arrived in Los Olivios, at Tercero wines. There is nothing like a glass of chilled wine after a long drive in a hot back seat, and Tercero Granche Blanc was just the ticket to wipe away the miles. I’d never met Larry Schaffer of Tercero before and I hedge to say, he may wish he never met me. But actually we had a blast.

Larry's tasting room was a harbinger of things to come in Santa Barbara County --no snobbery, no bullshit, just pure unadulterated fun and great wine to back it all up. Larry wants to put his guests at ease and dispense with the formalities. He makes bread too. The rye bread in particular was superb. Which prompted my question of the day- "So Larry, have you always been interested in all things yeast?”

For some reason, everyone in the tasting room, including a group of bridesmaids on an escorted tour, found the question hilarious. Larry was stumped for an immediate reply but wrote the question on his chalkboard for further pondering. I never did get an answer. Hey Larry---I’m waiting! (see video below)

From Tercero we went out to Beckman Winery along with Frank Morgan @DrinkWhatYouLike, who was kidnapped off the streets of Los Olivios. We tasted the Beckman wines and then went into the barrel room with Mikael Sigouin to taste samples from his own label, Kaena. I’ve never had so many barrel samples in one visit before. Many tasted ready to bottle. All were sampled from individual syringes which were used to prevent cross contamination and also looked way cool.

Next we checked in to the Windmill Seen Better Days Inn. Is there a Trip Advisor rating for skeevy? Although in fairness I must say the electrical supply at the Windmill was a far superior to that of the Buellton Marriott where it took 18 hours to get a full charge on an iPhone. Were they having a brownout at the Marriott, or what?

Quick change of clothes and off to the The Hitching Post II for dinner. It’s a mandatory stop on the “Sideways" tour. The atmosphere was cross between a wine geek pilgrimage spot and a lounge lizard pick up joint, with clientele to match. Ask Frank Morgan about the table next to us. Whoo Boy!

Back at the Windmill (Seen Better Days Inn) the parking lot was in full Sideways mode with a bunch of drunk guys that took notice when we piled out of a car emblazoned with Brix Chicks on the side. Uh, oh. 

I retired to my luxury suite for the night while the rest of the #RougeTrip group went in search of gentle massages. Don't ask. 

DAY 2 THURSDAY--
9AM-- Bus to Star Lane winery in Happy Canyon for -- Santa Barbara “Drinking in the Differences” seminar-- led by MS David Glancy and Fred Swan of San Francisco Wine SchoolThis was by far the best part of my trip to Santa Barbara in terms of learning and gaining a comprehensive overview of the region. We were able to taste many wines and get the winemakers perspective on each. Excellent presentation. Thank you David and Fred, and Star Lane for hosting.  I have in more in-depth post about the “Drinking in the Differences” seminar coming up.

5PM-- Check-in at the Marriott and catch the bus to the Rodney Strong 25th Anniversary party. If only I’d known about Rent The Runway or owned a few tiaras like Thea Dwelle @Luscious_Lushes I would have been more appropriately attired in the de rigur silver.

Robert Larsen and Rachel Voorhees hosted a terrific party. Naturally the wine from Rodney Strong and Davis Bynum paired very well with the incredible food at Solvang’s Root 246. It was certainly the best restaurant dinner of the entire trip.

11:00 PM --Walked to Standing Sun Winery After-Party to keep my carbon footprint small. Actually I missed the bus. But it was so close. I also missed meeting @SSunChristine who I’d been chatting with on twitter. She gave so many great tips on where to eat, but hope to meet her the next time I'm in the area.

TIME??-- Back at the Marriott I found my way to the Solena Estate and #BCwine suite with April Yap- Hennig @SacredDrop, and Sujinder Juneja @sujinderbc and Leeann Froese @lfroese from @TownHallBrands.  I was glad to see some #BCwines on hand as I have become a bit of a #BCWine groupie. In addition to the Oregon Pinot from Solena -- Townhall poured Mt. Boucherie Family Reserve Gamay Noir 2012, Haywire Switchback Pinot Gris 2012, SpierHead Pinot Noir 2012, Serendipity Viognier 2012, and TIME Meritage 2011.

I think I had a good time there. I think there is video. I awoke wearing a Solena Estate T-shirt so who knows...

DAY 3 FRIDAY--
Skipped the hotel food and went directly to Industrial Eats a few blocks away. This place was incredible. Thank you @SSunChristine for the recommendation.

Opening Keynote -- Much has been said on this, but the underlying message struck me as elitist. Do What You Love, Love What You Do.  Tell that to the person who cleaned your room. Are they doing what they love? Probably not. Not everyone has the means to go on sabbatical and see a haiku in the sand at sunset on a beach in Belize and come up with a plan to save the worker bees from mediocrity. Kumbya, and pass the wine.

Speed Tasting Whites-- I have mixed feelings about speed tastings, but as much as I vacillate on whether the format is a good thing or a bad thing, I always seem to find a new-to-me wine that is a standout. This year that wine was the Grassinni Saugvion Blanc from Happy Canyon. Good god, that was delicious.

Excursion-- I was a very lucky winelover to get on the right bus. ProTip: If you ever see Fred Swan standing in line, don’t question, just get in line behind him and let the experience unfold. And unfold it did at the stunning Presqu'ile Winery. This was by far one of the best excursions I’ve ever experienced and I’ve attended 5 wine blogger conferences now including Sonoma, Walla Walla, Portland, and Penticton. (Although Portland, with the “fake bus arrest by Officer GoodBody" on the way to Carlton, was one for the ages.) Our bus also had James Ontiveros on board to fill us in on some aspects of the vineyards we passed on the way to Presqu’ile.

Austrian Wine Heuriger -- Going rogue Austrian style. Loved the chance to try so many Austrian wines in one spot, and the food was authentic and plentiful. Including a pretzel so large it could have served as a personal flotation device for five people. The Heuriger was great fun and gave me the chance to dust off some high school German. Du siehest lustig in iheren Sonnenbrillen and Ya, diese wien ist sehr gut!

Jordan and J After Party--
Jordan and J always have the best parties with the best hosts -- Miss Lisa Mattson @lisamattsonwine and Miss Taylor Eason @TaylorEason.

DAY 4  SATURDAY--
Back to Industrial Eats where the word had spread this was the place. I felt bad for the regular customers besieged by a room full of noisy bloggers, but I’m sure the owners appreciated increased  business.

My favorite official sanctioned session was the Ballard Canyon Grower Producer Wineries – Syrah Territory. I'd like to see more regional tasting seminars like this at WBC. Patrick Comiskey's opening remarks on Ballard Canyon Syrah was like Ginsberg reading Howl. Transcendent!

Skipped the Wine Blog Awards and partied with Craig Camp and his Cornerstone Cellars wines.

Authentic Press Party -- Shawn Burgert @AwanderingWino hosted a dynamite after party at Saarloos & Sons Winery. Great night of mix and mingle with winemakers and fellow writers/bloggers. Amazing selection of woodfired pizzas made with some eclectic ingredients. Favorite moments of the evening: 1) Seeing Melanie and Liza immediately pull out their credit cards and join the Saarloos wine club on the spot, after Keith of Saarloos & Sons poured his wines. 2) Hanging out on the patio with Michele Francisco @winerabble and catching up.

After-After Hours: A crazy round of Cards Against Humanity in room 255 was shut down by hotel security after some poor soul in the next room was expecting to sleep. But before we got kicked out I witnessed Michael Wangbickler @mwangbickler, break out in a fit of laughter that was 95 points of hilarity.

DAY 5  SUNDAY--
Why am I up at 9 am? Oh right, because I said I’d go the Wine Writer Workshop, and so glad I did  because it gave me plenty to write about here.

I stumbled out of the Wine Writer Workshop and was whisked away to Los Olivios for lunch with Refugio Ranch at their private estate house, but not before I got myself to the Alta Maria tasting room to buy some of the Chardonnay and Pinot I’d tasted the previous night at Presqu'ile. The Alta Maria wines are seriously beautiful wines, captivating and impossible to ignore.

The Refugio Ranch tasting/drinking was lovely and relaxed. The vineyards are not planted in contiguous blocks so it’s very restful to gaze out at the vines dotting the landscape. Great time chatting with our host Jeff Butler and thanks to @Dallaswinechick for arranging it.

Clos Pepe Party -- Off the list (non-sanctioned) and off the hook—There was craft beer from OCD Brewing, speakeasy cocktails, fried quail, and pizzas made by Wes Hagen himself, along with miles of wine bagged and foiled to taste blind. Local food, wine, beer, music, and people are what make a party great.

I get Wes. I can relate to his rebellious nature. He speaks his mind and he has a lot to say. I got kicked out of Catholic school for the doing much the same thing. But most of all I appreciate Wes’s basic philosophy--You don't have to talk about wine, you don't even have to drink it. But just once every day come together with the people you love at table.

He makes it sound sacred -- "at table" -- dropping the article instead saying at ‘the’ table. But he has a good point—join together with people. Look them in the eye, drop your devices and connect your holy spirit in conversation at table. That's what it's about.

During the party a large group of bloggers sat together, but instead of joining them I went in search of a table with people I did not know. I sat with a young woman and asked if she was a winemaker. “Oh no!" she laughed. "I’m with the band.” She was the sister of the one of the band members and we talked about how music and wine could be described similarly. I commented that the band had a great sound-- Grounded with an old world sensibility and played in a new world style with great vigor and verve. I think she wrote it down, or dismissed me as a kook. 50/50 chance either way.

Later I met a lima bean farmer named Mud and we had a spirited conversation about farming and the lay of the land. "I'm just a farmer not a winemaker," he said. Nothing fancy--Dirt. Water. Beans. So I asked him his opinion on the naked wine movement and he replied "Yeah! Lets get naked and drink in the pool!" I guess my question was misinterpreted, or mis-heard as an invitation to go skinny dipping, but it gives a new spin to the concept of naked wines for sure.

I also met and spoke with Joanne Duray, winemaker and owner of small +tall wines, and she told me had just released her first vintage. Ironically, I’d tasted one of her Pinot's in the blind bags, but did not know until later the when the bottles were unwrapped and I saw the number correlated to my notes. It was one of my favorites. Synchronicity be that.

Thanks to Wes for the philosophy and the hospitality, and to all the winemakers that brought their wine to share at table.

DAY 6 MONDAY
I wish I could stay on a few days more to revisit the places I loved and check out the ones I missed--but in the words of our former Govenator...I’ll be back. Big thanks to Morgen McLaughlin, Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Vintners Association for all her work pulling together the excursions and bringing Santa Barbara County wines to the forefront of our minds and palates.

Oh, and thanks to Allan Wright at Zephyr/WBC too. Now where’s my check? {Please, someone stop me before I quip again!}







Saturday, July 26, 2014

West of West Wine Fest in Sebastopol -- August 1, 2, & 3



So many wine festivals and grand tastings and so little time. What's a winelover to do?

Actually, I’ve begun to shy away from the gigantic ballroom or warehouse (think Fort Mason) tastings with hundreds upon hundreds of wines. I prefer the smaller, focused tastings such as the 7% Sloution event I wrote about here.

But even better than events that are small and focused, are those that are local. And for me, it does not get anymore local than West of West Wine Festival. The Festival will be held at the Barlow, the new epicenter of Local Wine, Art, & Food in Sebastopol, which I can walk to from my house. {Three cheers for wine festivals within walking distance of your home!}

Now in its second year, the West of West Wine Festival showcases wines from West Sonoma Coast vintners, wineries, and growers. This year the Saturday Seminars will cover wine and food pairings in The Evolution of California Cuisine & Wine and an exploration of wines made from the vines of the Heintz Vineyards by top producers including Banshee & Zepaltas, DuMol, Flowers, Freeman, Littorai, Williams Selyem, Ceritas, Radio Coteau,  and Kesner Wines.

The Grand Tasting featuring over 40 producers will be held on Saturday from 3-6pm and again on Sunday from 1-4pm.

Event is next weekend August 1-3 -- so get tickets now if you want to attend. You can find more information and purchase tickets at link below.

http://www.westsonomacoast.com/west-of-west-festival/


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.”

What?

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, anotherwineblog.com 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.

SOLUTION--

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 clichés
*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

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