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.

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. 

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...

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!


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