I’m not a joiner. I rarely attend conferences unless I’m speaking at them because I have a pretty hectic schedule as it is, but when the annual Wine Bloggers Conference - 2014 was held in my backyard in Santa Barbara winecountry, I had to attend. I had never been to this three day conference before and frankly there was little impetus to go in the past. But proximity was the deciding factor and I confess I’m glad I went.
Regardless of what you may think of bloggers (and there are very talented bloggers with a huge reach, and those who struggle to construct an intelligent sentence) this conference is about blogging but I think more importantly it is about the future of wine writing. I’m fortunate to write about wine for international magazines like Decanter (London), Fine Wine & Liquor (China), and U.S. publications like The Tasting Panel, and The HollywoodReporter, (and of course this blog) and whereas many people mistakenly believe that print publications have more intrinsic value than blogs, the future of all print publications including magazines and newspapers are evolving. Blogs and websites are changing the wine discussion, bringing small producers who rarely get media coverage to a wider public, advancing grape varieties and wine maybe you’ve never heard of to a thirsty public, and have few constraints in terms of what is acceptable story telling. And this is what the Wine Bloggers Conference does – it continually stokes the embers of writers to keep doing their best, if not outright outdoing their best.
Sure there are panels on making money, SEO, trends and topics and each conference is a great chance for the host wine region to showoff its uniqueness and history. The WBC in Santa Barbara brought out old school winemakers, new kids, the politics of wine and panels on wines from across the globe. A few highlights for me:
Speed Tasting: In a cacophonous environment each winery visits your table for just 5 minutes and pours one wine. You can ask questions, Tweet about the wine or do nothing if you wish. It was actually quite fun. First off there is a sense of time constraint and I’m all about this concept because I really don’t need a large swath of time in order to determine if I like a wine or not. By the end of the hour you’ve had 10 different wines from various producers covering various varieties. It’s fast, furious and for me, two wines fit specifically into two different stories I was working on at that time, one for The Hollywood reporter, and one for IntoWine.com.
Diversity: So many different breakout sessions, which feature a diversity of wines, not just the AVAs in the region you are in. So I went to a tasting panel on Greek wines - having been to Crete and written about it I wanted to check out other Greek wines and was able to sample wine I had never tasted like Robola, and Malagousia . I also attended a panel all on Merlot from Duckhorn and Rutherford Hill wineries because I sincerely appreciate this under appreciated grape.
People: I have been writing about wine for magazines (both national and international), newspapers, websites and blogs for well over a decade. But being in the industry you don’t always meet in person other writers, winemakers, PR folks and brand ambassadors, even though we have an on-line relationship, and the WBC is important for just that fact alone.
Should you attend? I say yes if you haven’t ever been to one before. WBC15 will be in the Finger Lakes wine region in New York in August, 2015, a terrific region and a compelling reason to go in its own right as the Finger Lakes are hitting a confident stride of wine production. And no, it’s no like you need to have some wildly successful wine blog, maybe you’re just starting out – a huge strata of people attend. You'll meet and network with others in the business, have lots of dinners and lunches, lots of wine, late nights and get tons of valuable information. Ultimately the wine writing world is always in a state of flux: new wines, new technologies, new regions, new packaging, new marketing. But what never changes is that it’s all about the people – you, the winemakers, other writers and industry folks - your stories, their stories and shared connections, and that was the best takeaway for me.