Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Diary of a WBC Newbie

Diary of a WBC Newbie (Noobie to you)
Between all the pre-conference hype, the advice on how to survive and the crazy rumors, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first Wine Bloggers Conference. Here are excerpts from the notes I took during the three-day odyssey.
Summary Consumption Stats: 260 wines, 13 bottles of water, 9 varieties of cheese, 7 cookies, 3 brownies, 2 cupcakes, and 1 rubber chicken. -- Headaches: 0 (yay)
Day 1
I arrived at the Flamingo and the joint was jumping! You could feel the energy in the room and it was not just from all the cell phones and laptops. It was genuine excitement. Everyone looked familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. A function of having met most only via twitter and seeing a room full of life size avatar heads was disconcerting.
I took a quick spin through the sponsor room and tasted all the Bonny Doon offerings with Randall Ghram, chatted with the Secret Sherry Society and tried some Rockpile Zin! I met Lee Hodo of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers group, and then voted for tattoo boy @mwangbickler
Next it was off to the speed tasting event and at first I thought this is insane, but then I got into the rhythm of it all and liked it very much.
After that I wandered around the pool area looking for an outlet to plug in my iphone and recharge it and myself!
The Grand Tasting of Sonoma Wines poolside was very nice but a little cramped in the set up. Very difficult to see beyond the crush of bodies.
Time for Dinner with more interesting wines and Lot 39 and the Cline Mourvedré made a reappearance from the speed tasting.
Russian River Valley Wine Growers hosted an after party, but once again the room was very packed and hard to get around. I was able to get a Kolwalski farms cookie that was like a perfect piece of the universe in cookie form. I think there was another private round of tastings after that but I snagged another cookie and headed home.
Day 2
Holy Crap! I set my alarm for 7:30 PM instead of AM and I missed the bus to Napa. Off to a very bad start! Recruited my husband to drive me to CIA and got there in the nick of time. Didn’t miss a thing. One bonus of having an event at CIA is the food. I had some very tasty little mini scones that were 98 points of yummy!
1st keynote Barry Schuler – Barry rocks it. If you have any background in the dot-com world or experience working with VC’s in general you’d realize Mr. Schuler knows what he’s talking about even if he’s telling you nobody knows what’s going to happen next. I got the feeling that much of what he said flew right over the heads of the young-uns in the audience. I’ve launched a few big name brands in my day like Travelocity and OpenTable and Schuler is spot on when he says—“This is a unique moment in time. Out of great meltdowns come the next big thing.”
I think it’s critical that you identify how to use the next new technology to take you to the crest of the next wave. You don’t want to ride any one wave too long and get beached, or worse yet, miss your moment to catch the next big thing wave coming off the horizon. So Pay Attention! But despite constant change the primary message has not varied in the last 20 years:
Content is King. --1990
Content is King. --2002
Content is King, Community is Queen, Search is Lord & Master. -- Marcy Gordon, 2009
(You can quote me for this rally cry of the moment!)
I think Bloggers that have a “the world is my oyster attitude and screw the old guard” sensibility are going to be in for rude awakening when all the professionally trained wine writers and journalists that have been (and will be) displaced by the print media meltdown come breathing down their necks and eat their lunch! Get ready. Many of them are already here and more will follow like the great wash of immigrants getting off the boats at Ellis Island. They might not be as tech savvy and down with the latest trends and apps as you, but they will figure it out or pay someone to figure it out for them.
In order to be prepared-- follow Jim Gordons' advice. If you can take only one thing away from what Jim said it should be this –Become a better writer. Get yourself some mad skilz -pronto. Journalists and professional food, wine, travel and lifestyle writers already have the credibility and skills he outlined. Bloggers will need them too. If content is king, then the narrative form is it's throne. At least until video blogs kick in. (but remember narrative, meaning content, still counts in video too)
Talks over. Now on to the bus for an all day extravaganza of wine, wine, and more wine.
1st stop Ehlers Estate for a tour of the vineyard and lunch under the olive trees. The 1886 Ehlers Estate Cabernet Sauvignon was a highlight.
Next we take the magic bus for a long trek out and up to Cain for a blind tasting with Cain and Chateau Boswell wines. We tried to determine what factors of the land we could be detected in each and how they related to one another. Some of the discussion was frankly beyond my grasp. But the more hip to the drift folks in the room seemed to get a lot out of it.
On the wild drive down the windy road to Quintessa, a few folks got car/bus sick and had to bail off the bus. Yikes!
At Quintessa I got a glass of Illumination Sauvignon Blanc as ammunition for the grand tasting down in the tank room. Unfortunately on the metal catwalk above the tanks I got my heel caught in the grate. Help! I had a bag across my shoulder, a wine glass in one hand, a spit cup and iPhone in the other, and could not free myself. Thank god a winery person came across me and helped me out, otherwise I might still be stuck up there like a roach in a roach motel unable to check out. Despite my predicament I still had the wherewithal to snap a picture of the scene below me.

The Napa Valley Vinters Grand tasting was astounding especially for a person new to the whole experience. But after being stuck in place for 10 minutes up above, I had to make up for lost time and speed through the room before we were put back on the bus. I just made a beeline for the most expensive wines I could find and never get to drink. I also cornered a few experienced bloggers and got their opinions on what I should try. Good idea because without this consultation I may have missed the Spottswoode (Thanks @winedog!)
Back on the bus and off to Gargiulo for dinner. Gargiulo was picture perfect nesteled in a beautiful corner of the valley located off the end of Oakville Cross Road. They make Italian varietals and one of my favorites, Sangiviose. We were greeted with a Rosato di Sangiovese and it was delightful. We dined alfresco on the edge of the vineyard and drank Aprile Super Oakville Blend --97% Sangiovese and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon that was in the style of a Super Tuscan red. Loved that wine and wanted to take it home with me.
Hated to leave Gargiulo but I’ll be back.
Back on the bus and on to the Wines of Portugal tasting sponsored by Vin Portugal. I met one of the winemakers Oscar Quevedo, of Quevedo Port Wine, on the bus and will be posting a special feature about him on this blog in a few weeks.
I enjoyed tasting all the wines of Portugal before the rest of the crowd arrived and all the air got sucked out of the room. Hard to be short in a crowd scene. Something I’m sure Mr. Twisted Oak has never experienced in his life. There ought to be a law against being that tall. Really, it’s just not right.
I skipped the after after parties and went home. I’m too new a noobie to be able to taste/drink all night long no matter how much I spit.
Day 3 --Break out session time.
I was quite impressed with the content of these sessions. All were quite good. I attend the FaceBook Twitter session with Janet Fouts , followed by Monetization of your Blog by Tim Lemke.
After the breakout sessions we tasted some wines of Washington for the Walla Walla Bing Bang Here We All Come Thang ® kick off promotion. I loved the graphic design and layout of the map they handed out—well done Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance. Then it was off to Dry Creek Vineyard for another stellar lunch and eight great wines by Dry Creek Rued and Gustafason. They even had a bloggers lounge set up under the trees. Nice touch.
Afterwards my bus went to the tip top of the ridge for a death march in the heat all around Montemaggiore. We got the low down on bio dynamics and got to touch the cow sacred horn. Later we saw the compost tea machine and it made wonder what exactly is in Peets Coffee. After we tasted the wine we tried the olive oil. One taste and I bought a bottle on the spot. This was rich, spicy, and unfiltered olive oil, very much like my grandfather in Sicily use to make. They don't produce much so if you like and appreciate fine olive oil I suggest you get a move on and buy some before I go back and buy the rest.
So thats it. Three jam-packed days of wine, dine, and more wine. I survived with out scratch, and I never even got a headache once! Must have been all the hydrating. I met some incredible people that I know I will be seeing again very soon. And best of all I have a ton of new story ideas and angles to work on for my blog and other writing assignments.
Kudos to Joel Vincent and Zephyr Wine Adventures Alan & Reno I was wowed out of my mind and my expectations were way way exceeded. Thank you very much.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Value or Nuisance? I give up on the hunt for wine under $10

For a while now, I have been trying to find wines under $10 that are better than average, or at the very least drinkable. The problem is that for every $9.99 or $7.99 or $4.99 mystery bottle I buy, I could have just as easily bought one really good $25-$30 bottle.
I’ve decided that unless I have tried the wine myself (and no, shelf cards with points don’t do it) it’s just not worth the money. Yes I occasionally find a real gem that I enjoy under the $10 mark but usually it’s at Trader Joes and usually when I go back it’s sold out or discontinued. This happened recently with the La Boca Malbec from Mendoza. They had a Cab, a Merlot, and a Malbec each at $2.99. The Malbec was terrific, the other two, not so much. But of course when I went back for more Malbec it was “discontinued”. When I asked for more information, it turned out the wine had been so successful the distributor raised the price beyond what Trader Joes was willing to pay. So that was strange, kind of defeats the whole equation of value priced wine. Too bad Trader Joes can’t do in house tasting; they would sell a heck of a lot more wine that way.
Of course wine is so subjective, what I like you might hate, but I hate paying for wine I hate when I could just as easily gotten something I like.
My days of hunting out the gems are over. I don’t have the time and I don’t want to waste the money. Also I am spoiled from having lived in Italy where you could buy really great wines for less than 8 Euro and just about anything you bought was terrific.
Luckily I now live in a region where wineries are plentiful. And I’ve learned the importance of winery visits to taste the wines and hopefully find something I really like. Also buying at the tasting room usually gives you a slight discount. Plus if there is something I really like, I join the wine club and get savings on a case or two.
Learning about wines from different regions via programs like the Wines of Chile tasting and Twitter Taste Live events are very helpful too. Now when faced with something unfamiliar on the shelf, at least I can make an educated guess as to how well I might like the wine based on the region or varietals.
These days I’m more attracted to my local wine shop where the owner can get to know my tastes and recommend accordingly. It’s just like the bookstore model where hand selling of books has been the hallmark of the independent bookstores customer base for ages. In fact bookstores use the shelf talker method (written by employees) very successfully in their stores. But some wine shelf talker with a point rating from someone I don’t know is just not talking to me.


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