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!}


  1. Best line in a blog post yet...:Patrick Comiskey's opening remarks on Ballard Canyon Syrah was like Ginsberg reading Howl. Transcendent!

    Amen sista!

    1. I saw the best {bloggers} of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked....

      ...a tiny bit of poetic license

  2. Thanks for the compliment- I really love nothing more than sharing all there is to do, see & EAT/DRINK in the Santa Ynez Valley- Cheers Marcy!!

    Christine Cunningham aka @SSunChristine aka TheSYVConcierge
    Standing Sun Winery

    1. Thank *you* Christine! You are an excellent ambassador for the region. We had a better, richer experience due to your suggestions.

  3. Priceless! - I am certain I was laughing as hard a Michael when I read this!

    "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."

    1. Hi Ken-- Thanks for stopping by. Mud was one of the most original and entertaining guests I spoke with at the Clos Pepe party. What a night!

  4. Great blog & thanks for your kind words about our presentation!

    1. HI David- Thanks for stopping by to comment. The “Drinking in the Differences” seminar was the highlight of my trip. Love learning about the soils and weather patterns that make a region distinctive.

  5. Wow, your WBC14 was a lot more fun than mine :) But I have an excuse - this was my first :)

  6. I had pretty good time at my first WBC too! But I’m sure yours was pretty great. Write it up and send me a link. I’d love to hear about it.



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