As you might imagine, it was a bit of organized chaos. In my live recap of the event, I basically had enough time to record gut reactions on each wine, and little else. Not that it wasn’t fun, it just wasn’t an ideal environment to really get to know any of the wines that were presented.
Which is why when I was offered a second chance to re-sample one of the producers represented at that speed dating event, I jumped at it.
Sean Minor Wines is a (very) small family outfit in Napa, making Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc (the latter two under the 4 Bears label), all of them under $20. The backdrop story on 4 Bears (which I managed to capture in my brief speed-dating encounter during the WBC), is that Sean Minor and wife Nicole decided to create their winery after analyzing their finances and discovering that their second largest monthly expense was (you guessed it) wine (presumably, with four children – after whom the 4 Bears label takes it name – their largest expense was the kids?).
According to their press release:
Rather than taking his start-up capital and investing it in the bricks and mortar of a winery, Minor decided to build his business as a negociant by sourcing out grapes and some already fermented wines from Napa Valley, Sonoma County and California Central Coast appellations to create his wines. The wines themselves are made in a leased facility in Napa County where Minor ages, blends and bottles the wine under the Sean Minor label. “As a negociant I’ve been able to really center our efforts on making a top-quality wine,” said Minor. “My efforts are spent creating impeccable tasting wine and personally introducing it to people throughout the country.”
During the WBC speed-dating, I managed to capture this about their `06 Cabernet:
Four Bears – one guy and his wife are the total staff, who started making wine (via co-op) to offset their growing wine drinking budget! My kind of folks… 06 Cab Sauv. $17 (Napa Valley). Very accessible, but not without depth (the cedar element is a nice touch).
I guess the self-made family thing really struck a chord for me. Anyway, from what I recalled of the day, the wine was good, priced to move, and was more than just a one-trick-pony.
So… how do their wines stand up outside of the heated excitement of wine speed-dating?
Pretty well, it turns out.
At their best (as in the case of the Cab.), the wines offer a depth that I would consider slightly beyond their price point, making them a very good value. At worst, the wines are still very tasty and certainly priced fairly, really only lacking in the length of finish and the simplicity of their secondary aromas; otherwise, the fruit is all California and they deliver appropriately.
Just a quick update to let you know that I’m one of several wine bloggers who were interviewed by the irrepressible Kaz & Randy of WineBizRadio.com at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, CA.
The WBR folks have been doing a phenomenal job the last few weeks of capturing the events of the WBC, and they have just posted a segment where they interviewed a few of us wine bloggers.
These interviews were conducted after an “alternate” conference agenda item was added, which consisted of a growing number of wine bloggers playing hooky and drinking poolside at the conference center.
In my interview, I give props (of sorts) to Tom Wark, Gino Razzi, and Steve Heimoff, almost tear up as I recall the collective love of the wine blogging community (and experience the collective effects of several glasses of wine), and truly “connect” during a deeply emotional “moment” with an uncharacteristically cuddly Kaz and a characteristically cuddly Randy.
So… I’m “freshly pressed,” so to speak (specifically in terms of palate fatigue and possible liver damage), from the first North American wine bloggers conference in Sonoma. Overall it was a fantastic event, about which I could pen a great number of virtual pages in covering. But that’s not what I’m going to write about.
Not exactly, anyway.
I’m also, as I type this, just returned from a visit to C. Donatiello winery in Healdsburg. I could write a lengthy amount (what else is new, right?) about how nice owner Chris Donatiello is (he’s quite pleasant, and generous), how beautiful the aroma garden grounds were (very), or the quality of their wines (extremely promising for a first vintage, but unfortunately not yet widely available – anyway, more on those upcoming on my twitter wine review feed).
But that’s not what I’m going to write about. Not exactly, anyway.
Instead, I’m going to write about how the face of wine media is changing, and why that’s dangerous for wine bloggers. Because I just spent the better part of three days at a conference where I and my fellow wine bloggers were being at times courted by the Sonoma wine industry, which helped to sponsor the event.
The congregation of 150+ wine bloggers at the WBC, whose individual influence in the world of wine could by-and-large be considered modest (at best), or insignificant (at worst), has amassed the collective power and reach of this new(ish) arm of the wine media – one that is now drawing a larger and larger amount of wine marketing attention. Gary Vaynerchuk underscored this during his WBC keynote speech, when he provided the energetic NJ businessman’s view of the opportunities available now that the ‘old guard’ is no longer the all-dominant force in wine media. The attention given to bloggers by PR departments is a natural progression – and now this is happening for the world of wine.
This is a dramatic turn of events compared to how wine blogging was viewed (more or less as a fad) a little more than three years ago. The winemakers, PR, and the Sonoma wine industry in general “get it” – and it’s all happening rather quickly thanks to the immediacy of the Internet.
Which means that wine blogging has the potential to completely screw itself now.
First, I need to make one thing very clear: there is nothing wrong with what the PR departments in Sonoma are doing by sponsoring the WBC and courting the wine blog-o-world. It’s their job – one that they’ve been doing for years with the traditional wine media.
In a way, wine blogging has arrived. The danger is that, as guest panelist Tracy Rickman told us during one of the conference breakout sessions, outside factors (such as the potential influence of the courting PR) can influence us to become more and more mainstream. At the moment we actually become mainstream, we have lost our edge (and might as well be ‘overtaken’ by the next phase of wine media, whatever that may be).
In the same breakout session, Wine Enthusiast’s Steve Heimoff cautioned that winery PR would no doubt attempt to “use” us, and that we needed to be prepared – and cautious about to whom we lend our trust. Keynote speaker Alice Feiring (yes, she actually entered CA wine country for this…) added (among some very inspiring dialog), “Trust no one.”
What’s a wine blogger to do?
Go on blogging, of course!
I’m not saying that bloggers need to become prudes who completely shut down at the very thought of having to walk a tightrope line of credibility just because they’ve been invited to an industry event, or a personal winery tour, or the like. Heaven knows I’ve got no problem whatsoever being courted by winemakers, PR contacts, or the wine media in general (in fact, my view is that it’s about time this has happened).
The trick is maintaining the willpower to keep a unique, individual, and (hopefully) credibly opinionated voice as a blogger while the “courting” ramps up.
I don’t know what the future will bring, but I’m looking forward to the ride…
Greetings from the waning moments of the 2008 Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma.
It’s 10AM PT. And yes, I am drinking already. Some great things are happening here in Sonoma, and I’m looking forward to blogging about my winery walk through Michel Schlumerger, our discussion on the state of wine media (during which I received props from Steve Heimoff), being interviewed by WineBizRadio and Mutineer Magazine, and tasting some amazing wines (many at very odd times).
More to come after my mini-vacation, wherein I will visit Kaz winery (finally…).
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