During the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, I talked.
And I talked to a lot of people. Some just wanted to say hi, some wanted photos with me (still trying to figure that out… because I’m not really a photogenic subject!), and others wanted my advice or thoughts on various wine- and blogging-related topics (also filing those in the “still trying to figure that out” category).
Given that I received similar questions from dissimilar people at the event, in good real-life sort-of-SEO-oriented fashion I thought I ought to craft something more generic out of those conversations, in the hopes that it would be useful to those WBC-ers who wanted to talk to me but didn’t get the time, couldn’t be bothered because they were drinking at the time and so was I and I didn’t shut up for enough time to allow them a word in edgewise, or who just want the money-shots without having to deal with me in person (I know what it’s like… I even have to live with me!).
And so I present the Four Most Frequently Asked Questions proposed to me at various points during the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference…
1) What did you think of Oregon’s wines?
Sadly, I’ve the least to offer on this despite (or maybe because of?) the WBC12 event location in Portland. I enjoy OR wine, and have found some real stunners from there, but also some real clunkers. The amount of OR wine to which I was exposed at WBC12 was actually really limited. Only one producer – King Estate – had wines poured at the main dinner event, and the producer-visit bus excursion I hopped on (to Willakenzie) took place in 100F heat, so I didn’t feel it responsible of me to pass any sort of judgment on any of the producers’ wines that were poured there (though when things cooled down at dinner, I found myself enjoying the Penner-Ash wines, particularly the Pas de Nom). I would include the small-ish overview of OR wines as one of the few drawbacks of WBC12, actually. One of my best WBC12 memories, though? Ditching the invites from the big producers, and instead drinking Illahe wine out of mason jars while eating taco cart food in Portland with long-time 1WD blog commenter Gabe! Not only was able to walk my own talk, I had a damn good time geeking out with him. This one is totally on me, though – I just didn’t have enough time between jaunts to get the know the area in depth, they way I’d have liked.
2) Are you upset that you didn’t win the Wine Blog Award again this year?
The first thing I found myself doing when being asked this question (many times) was correcting people: I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a finalist in various WBA categories for three years in a row, but I’ve won only one WBA (in 2010). So I’m still a bridesmaid statistically-speaking, and had to remind people that Tom Wark’s Fermentation won in the Best Overall Blog category last year (for those of you who didn’t know that: you need to get out more!). Much love and congrats to the 2012 WBA winners, by the way!
Anyway, I think it’s healthy to have a little bit of competitive disappointment when you lose anything; it’s the same feeling that I suppress so that my toddler daughter can win we play Crazy 8s. But getting truly upset about this sort of thing brings you close to douchebag territory. I mean, as a Steelers fan, I can be disappointed that they didn’t win the last Superbowl in which they took part, but it was their third in five years and they’d won two of those three, so how upset can you be about that? Not to equate the WBAs with the Superbowl, but considering my good fortune, I’m just happy to be a finalist and I’m happy for the winners who took home the trophies this year.
3) Speaking of the Wine Blog Awards, what was up with all the winners who didn’t attend?
This answer is going to get me in some hot fermentation eventually, but the fact that so few of the WBA winners were present at WBC12 I think says something about how seriously the WBAs are being taken (which is to say, they’re not being taken seriously enough yet). The awards have come a long way in a short period of time, and the organizers did a hell of a job incorporating suggested improvements (I’m on the improvement committee, so I know this firsthand). And Mutineer Magazine’s Alan Kropf did a great job on the awards ceremony, but – and I think this is telling when we’re talking about how seriously the awards are treated even within the wine blogging community – he was only given thirty minutes to present the finalists and the winners. If the WBAs are to be more meaningful to more people, then a much bigger deal needs to be made about them – promotion, awards, publicity, you name it. The WBAs are great and have come a long way without sponsorship, but when you compare them to other awards in the wine writing/media field, they’re just not “there” yet. You might be thinking I should get real, and wondering if I really think the WBAs ought to be as big as the James Beard awards; to which I’d reply “hell, yeah, I hope that they are that big someday!”
4) What advice do you have for me as a wine blogger?
This was the toughest and also most touching question I got at WBC12, and I got it a lot. So I walked away from the conference deeply touched that so many people gave a crap about what I had to tell them about their blogs, writing, approaches, ideas, and dreams. Much of what I told everyone can be boiled down to this: take the wine, and the craft, seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.
Always work on your writing, your voice, your style, your photos, anything; because the competition is fierce and the standards are high (I know that people like to bemoan the state of wine writing and blogging, but take a look at the quality of the things that you can read out there about wine FOR FREE right now, and then try to look me in the eye and tell me with a straight face that they all suck… you can’t because they don’t).
Those of you just starting to blog shouldn’t expect to be able to critique wines at first, because simply put you’ve not tasted enough of them to have your opinion mean much to those who do not yet know you. But that day may come, and it may come sooner than you might think, so view every glass as means to get you there (because it is). Don’t be afraid to make money at this stuff, either. And just because you shouldn’t at first start rating wines like the more established people in this space doesn’t mean that you don’t have anything worthwhile to say – on the contrary, you might have a sh*t ton to say, and you might garner a lot of people who are willing to listen to it if you keep it real, authentic, and let your inner awesome shine through in your work (and it is work!).
26 thoughts on “The 4 Most Frequently Asked Questions From #WBC12”
1. I think some people get a mistaken belief that the WBC is all about the wines of its location. But the wines at WBC come from all over the world, and the wines of the specific region seem to occupy only a small part. A person might get a small view of the OR wine scene (Or VA last year), but it won't be anything comprehensive or in depth. An event like TasteCamp is much better in that regard if the main goal is the learn about a wine region. The scope of the mission of the WBC is much bigger than just learning the wines of the region. Not sure that will ever change,.
Richard – I think you’re right. I wonder if the sponsors consider that when they sign up for WBC? I did find myself wishing I’d spent more time on the OR wine scene, which is a good thing I suppose, so maybe we’ll see OR take advantage of the focus by organizing more blogger press trips or reaching out to TC, etc.
Joe, the problem with getting all the finalists in the room and at the conference in order that the winners be there is that the finalists are announced in July, at least this year. That gives finalists a month to decide to go, sign up for the conference, get tickets, etc. There may be a solution, but it's too early here for me to find it.
Tom – yeah, I thought about that one as well. I suppose part of is that if the WBAs were as big as they should be, or as I'm hoping they're aiming to be, then we'd be getting some of those people signing up to the WBC earlier. But as you say, the announcements leave very little time if that's what someone was waiting for before deciding on booking it (but then, I'd argue that they shouldn't be waiting for that! :).
To provide some additional context about WBC and especially the availability of Oregon wine. There were 50 Oregon wineries at a reception on Thursday evening that you apparently were unable to attend. In addition, at least three Oregon AVAs held "after parties" on Friday and Saturday nights where other Oregon wine was available.A number of Oregon wineries also poured their wines for Speed Blogging on Friday and Saturday. In fact the exposure to Oregon wine at this year's WBC greatly exceeded some previous years.
Charles – Yeah, I understand that. As I mentioned, that was much more me than WBC or OR…
I just don't feel completely right about how the comments about your view of OR wine from the conference are coming across. Yes, Richard is right that the conference isn't only about the region's wines. But it isn't NOT about them either. If one doesn't bother with all the out of state/region wines and all the international ones there are still lots of opportunities to get exposure to the local story. If you personally weren't able to take advantage of them I'd suggest being more clear about that. I re-read the article and I don't see it. If you don't feel like any of this gives a person any perspective to share I'm not sure what to say. I just don't associate that low of a value on it. Here's how I look at it.
The day 1 reception was stacked with wineries and like you said last year, a tasting like that is a mile wide and an inch deep, but it is a great place to start for so many people. When I get to posting on the wines from the event I have enough to share to feel like I learned something. Furthermore I've already or am planning several deeper dives precisely because of the contacts I made at the reception. Several of the after parties offered a whole slew of wines and one one time with owners/winemakers who were more than happy to talk about anything of interest. I know that those aren't ideal conditions, but a little challenge goes a long way. More contacts to follow-up with. I also stayed in the region a couple extra days and spent some of that time getting more of the story.
If a press trip in a small group with lots of one on one time is desired then stating that clearly might be called for. And there is nothing stopping you from making that type of trip at your own discretion. But let's just say that if producers have to choose one marketing budget item over the other and that means less support for WBC like events and the community at large then I say we've lost something. I'm going to be spending more time to get to know the wineries and wines and I'm going to do that by buying and visiting. I get two things out of that, a more specialized education of my choosing and the ability to fund producers so they can in turn pay to play at WBC for the whole community.
Jason – appreciate what you're saying but unless I put "This one is totally on me, though – I just didn’t have enough time between jaunts to get the know the area in depth, they way I’d have liked" in all CAPS and bold then I'm not sure how to make it clearer without it unreasonably dominating that part of the post.
I also fully recognize that WBC visits and tastings aren't really meant for me. I prefer to sample things differently and with a lot more focus, but the majority of the WBC attendees don't have the time and/or the opportunities to taste like that. So I didn't get bugged out about it, I just went with what I could get and what I could do and focused on having a good time and networking.
I'm not at all lashing out against the producers for catering to the 99% of WBC attendees.
Having said that, I stand by the criticism because I felt that focusing on one producer for the dinner wasn't the right call. Not that the wines were bad, it's just too narrow – and that *does* differ from WBCs past; in those previous cases, there were for sure things about the dinners that stood to improve, but they were not as narrowly focused and included wines from multiple producers in the hosting regions (at least, that's what I recall from 2010 and 2011).
I do regret a bit that we're focusing on that small portion of the piece, because WBC12 had a sh&t-ton going right for it, including pretty high quality wines from across the globe (OR included), beautiful settings for the vineyard visits, great food for the most part, and some great sessions, and the single best keynote (from Randall G.) that we've ever had at a WBC.
Yup, you are quite right, this WBC had so many trends in the positive direction that we should be careful not to overshadow them.
I'm not sure "This one is totally on me, though – I just didn’t have enough time between jaunts to get the know the area in depth, they way I’d have liked" speaks as specifically as you want it to. To me it misses treatment of the general value in what was offered. If you actually missed some of the opportunities for whatever reason I don't see how readers will know that. If on the other hand you chose not to go to events that would have offered you exposure how would you square that up with your perspective? With producers ready to share an outright choice not to show up would probably be best handled by not touching on this point all together.
A lot of people in the wine community look up to you and a lot of people (a lot compared to someone like me for perspective) read your blog so my concern is that the OR wine community, who may or may not know you, do not get the wrong idea about the event. Lots of retweets of your post on the #WBC12 tag. The comment from Charles from the Oregon Wine Board, prior to mine, makes me think that might be the case in part. The folks in Oregon did a great job of showing up for us with all their good and bad treated equally. I am just hoping they feel enough positive vibes to feel like it was a success.
Jason – thanks, and I do understand the concern. There is definitely a part of me that feels I am not big deal, so I often do not look that far ahead when writing and I probably should. The good news for OR I think is that WBC got a lot of people focused on it, with a lot of good things to say, and people like me saying things like “I wish I'd had more time there” so I think ultimately the message is very positive.
woohoo! i'm famous!
thanks for the shoutout joe. i also had a blast drinking wine out of mason-jars with you and your friends, and geeking out about wine. i could have spent hours talking about Oregon wines, native fermentation, and the various wine blogs and bloggers. in fact, that is basically what i do on the comment boards; but it was really fun to nerd out about wine in person.
as for your lack of exposure to other Oregon wineries…well, you're just gonna have to make a return visit!
Gabe – thanks. And I like the way that you think! :)
As an aside….I hear a lot of wine bloggers saying that there was a lot of exposure to Oregon wines. If I may speak from the other side of this equation….
I have been disappointed about how many bloggers have chosen to write about the big famous wineries like Penner-Ash, Domaine Serene, King Estate, Brickhouse, or Ponzi. Don't misunderstand me…those are all really fantastic wineries. And maybe Oregon is more isolated than I realize, and a big famous winery by our standards is a little-known gem outside our bubble.
But there are a lot of really small, really new wineries doing really amazing things in Oregon right now. Being unbound by the traditions of older regions like Europe, California, or Australia; we have a bunch of small production (less than 1,000 cases annually) wineries being started by assistant winemakers or cellar rats gone solo. We also have a lot of $10-$12 wines that are only available locally. And we have a growing scene of urban wineries and enopubs sprouting around Portland.
Reading all these bloggers talk about Domaine Serene seems wrong – they do full page ads in the Wine Spectator! I guess I am saying that I would have like to see all these small bloggers supporting equally small wineries. Anyway, that's my two cents.
Gabe – Interesting point. I suppose to some extent, the biz sees bloggers as an alternative medium for giving exposure to those small producers. But on the WBC side of things, my guess is that those small producers didn't have the coin to be part of WBC, and therefore aren't getting as much of the coverage as those who did.
exactly. It's like the alternative media is being swept up in the same game as the mainstream media…and if that happens, are they really offering an alternative?
There are limitations in terms of what a person can do and go see, Gabe. Additionally, there are limitations on what smaller producers can do, as the Dude notes.
There is also the issue of which wines a person is likely to find at their local outlet and whether a writer ought to aid the consumer in what's possible.
gabe – Ah, but another way of looking at it is that blogs can often cover similar ground as established media, but in different ways. Preferable, I'd like to think they do both.
hope i don''t sound like i'm complaining too much.; that was not my intention.
I understand that the bloggers were busy with conference activities, and they didn't necessarily have time to explore the Oregon wine scene in depth. In that respect, I would say that everyone missed out, not just Joe.
But as far as covering wines that people can find in their local store, or covering the same wineries as the major media outlets in a different style…I won't exactly say I disagree, I just have another take on it. You can read about big-time wineries anywhere, and I guess I was hoping that alternative media would find alternative stories while visiting Portland and the Willamette Valley.
There were a few blogs that did that. "Wine Without Worry" found the Columbia Gorge, a great AVA that is unknown to most of the country. Hopefully this post on "1 Wine Dude" will inspire people to sneak wine in mason jars into Portland food carts next time they visit our fair city. And maybe a blog I'm not reading wrote a story about a small winery that is not getting a lot of exposure but making great wines.
My point is that there are a lot of stories to tell about the Oregon wine industry. Stories that go way beyond tasting notes for famous wineries. Inspiring stories about evolving wine regions, hard working winemakers, and the quirky city that supports them all. I hope that people left the WBC with stories about those things, not just tasting notes for the penner-ash pinot noir (which is indeed an awesome wine)
gabe – For what it's worth, I asked 1WD readers some time ago whether or not they wanted to read in-depth pieces about wines that they probably cannot get. Overwhelmingly, they said Yes. So I agree that there is an appetite for the untold stories even if that doesn't translate into a take on wine that's widely available.
All things considered there are two conversations going on here.
The first, Dude initiated, concerns itself with what can be made of what was offered at WBC12. I think there was a good deal offered in concrete information and inspiration to dig in. I am hoping people are prompted to do so. I am not going to damn WBC12 as a starting point for people new or somewhat unfamiliar with OR wine. On the flip side ome folks don't go to WBC so much for the wine and education as much as the social event and networking that it offers. That is part of the story and for those people that is the only part I want to hear about from them. They aren't qualified to talk about the rest then. My mantra during some of the breakouts was get out in the field. And I mean it. Only the most serious will.
The second conversation, thanks for going here Gabe, is once we peel back the cover what do we find? Well, the well funded producers are going to get eyeballs first. They have the money and they can give into the system to attract people to taste, visit and share. That is true everywhere and that is just how it is. Without those businesses many of the smaller ones wouldn't exist nor would stand any chance at all at attracting enough people to make them seem relevant. So what do they have to do? Well, if they can't pay to play with the big boys they have to get guerrilla. Use social media and digital communications to invite people to come visit while they are already there. Spend as much as possible to get as much love as the convenience of the situation allows. Follow up with WBCers afterwards and seek out folks who will be returning. Get them into the winery and the tasting room. Wow them with the excellence and the things you do best. Hope they give you love in return.
I already know I have to go back, and not just for the wine. The people were great, the half day I spent on the coast wowed me, wine country has so many possibilities and then there is the beer, food and history of Portland itself. Many vacations could be filled exploring just parts of Oregon.
Jason – well stated!
agreed. very well said Jason. In all fairness, I wasn't at the bloggers conference, so I don't know exactly what went on. I just know what I've been reading on blogs, and I haven't heard a lot about Oregon beyond the big name stuff.
maybe it is just a matter of patience, and waiting to see what comes out in the near future. maybe my expectations were off. while i agree that wineries should be working to attract social media, i also believe that bloggers (if they want to be taken seriously) need to go out and find the stories, not just pick-off the low hanging fruit. that is what i was hoping was going to happen in Portland.
Anyway, thanks for your input Jason. Might just be the tough medicine I needed.
Nice recap Joe! Totally agree with you on the Wine Blogger Awards in that I'd love to see them taken more seriously by the industry, and the (obvious) measure you point out is the lack of attendance by winners at the awards dinner…
As always, it was great to catch up with you at the conference!
Joe, I also found it disappointing that many of the award winners weren't there. Tom Wark's point about the nominations being so late notwithstanding, surely the organizers could reserve spots and make a point of inviting the nominees in case they're not registered? It also makes me think that perhaps there could be a couple of additional awards strictly for those who registered, that would make for more work but would make for more enthusiasm at the awards ceremony too.
Firstvine – my (probably controversial) take on this is that the WBWs need a big-time sponsor. Someone that can shell out the dough for a big gala-style event, prizes, & a shedload of publicity. Then we will see people really wanting to win them, really talking them up, really clamoring to be a part of the evening and the event.
Comments are closed.