Lessons Learned From The 2013 International Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton, B.C., Canada
It was a whirlwind weekend full of connecting, writing, talks, stand up paddleboarding and most of all, hour after hour of tasting for wine bloggers and winery representatives who descended upon Penticton, British Columbia, Canada. This was the fifth edition of the International Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) and the first for yours truly.
Amidst the splendor of what must absolutely be one of the world’s most underrated wine tourism treasures, the Okanagan Valley, and its various lakes, an emerging wine region emerged to the global wine writing community. Who knew that Canada produced wines that don’t taste like sugar (or maple)? Well, a small part of the wine community did and bravo to them for choosing this formidable site as hosts. Next year’s conference is much more on the beaten path in “Sideways” country, also known as Buellton, California (Santa Barbara County).
With some 250 participants, plus numerous winery representatives, this was a real success in more than just trending on Twitter (not sure why this was a goal, but it was, and they succeeded in it).
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the real details from the WBC: the ten wines that really struck me as vital for everyone to know about. In the mean time, here are the crucial lessons I took back with me south of the border from WBC 13. Perhaps they might be worthwhile for you to learn as well!
- British Columbia was the star, but Greece stole the show. We’ll go into details tomorrow about the wines of both regions. B.C. as host and the most unknown region left the most lasting mark I’d say on participants. However, it was the beautiful wines of Greece presented the final night that really left the departing tasting impression that we’ll look for at local wine bars now. Floral, full of golden fruit, and a solid backbone of honey, these are wines that couldn’t be a better fit with seafood at an outdoor tavern in Santorini or San Francisco. Greek wines are the darling right now of the emerging wine world. They deserve this new-found attention.
- B.C. wines were (almost) never duds, yet seldom exciting. The majority of the wines played it safe by not bouncing outside of being faithful to their genre. Calling them formulaic would be too harsh. They just didn’t achieve the depth that I know they will in the very near future. Without a doubt, the whites are more accomplished right now than the too often light and overly fruity reds.
- I’m being tough on B.C. wines, really. They’re almost there. The terroir needs to come through more, though. They just aren’t refined enough to really produce more than a handful of stellar wines. There are some, however, that Eric Asimov would adore.
- Never knew about Constellation Wines’ relation with Canada– the enormous conglomerate that owns almost all of the Canadian wine industry, in addition to the likes of Robert Mondavi, Ravenswood, and heck, even Pacifico and Tsingtao beers. They’re the world’s largest wine company. And yet, they seemed so personal at the opening reception…
- Speaking of the opening reception, how beautiful was the setting at See Ya Later Ranch? Talk about magical. I’d go see them again instead of saying “See you later.”
- Big round of applause to Joy Road Catering, easily providing the premier meal of the weekend for that reception. Hard to pick the favorite: Oysters with rhubarb mignonette? Cold poached salmon in sorrel purée with various colors of beets and dandelion leaves? The “Noma-like” radishes in edible soil and goat cheese? Coming from California, I’d have to go with the toasted brioche points slathered with foie gras, garnished by a quince tuile.
- The truffled popcorn and pork-beef sliders, while not bad, did nothing to convince we dining critics that sliders and truffle oil are fads past their prime.
- The big wine subjects from the trip and the industry as a whole right now: When to pick the grapes. Early? Late? Fearful of rain? Are the grapes ripe? Should we lower the alcohol or go with a big boozer? The debate has intensified…
- The next big subject: Expression of terroir. Great quote mentioned by James Conaway in the Friday keynote address from Michael Pollan about how “eating is an agricultural act.” Conaway is adamant that drinking wine is an agricultural act too.
- Another major polarizing subject: skin-fermented chardonnay.
- Speaking of that keynote, Conaway’s favorite wine? “Bourbon.” As any good Kentucky native would say.
- Conaway considers himself a writer, not a critic. Writers are opportunistic.
- The bloggers on hand certainly proved the two social sectors of the blogging world it seems: those who are only social through social media and those who are social and also participate in social media. The stereotypes of all bloggers being hidden behind their keyboards all day and night certainly isn’t fully true. That being said, there are certainly a few like that. That fact can’t be fully denied.
- I still don’t fully get how wine tweeting is essential…I do understand why breaking news updates via tweets are. But, wine tasting notes via tweet? Somebody convince me about that being urgent.
- Let’s get more wine industry on television and web television. These are wonderful personalities making the wine, selling the wine, importing the wine, tasting the wine, and writing about the wine. There are some great grassroots attempts by bloggers at doing this like “Wine-Oh TV.” Let’s make a wine channel. VSPN? I’d be glad to play Anthony Bourdain or Alton Brown.
- Important lesson from Conaway: don’t forget gramar and speling. Whoops, I mean grammar and spelling.
- Nothing more keeps bloggers from being reputable in the eyes of readers and professional journalists than poor grammar and spelling. Not even the angry rants or extreme raves can make bloggers less reputable.
- Can blogs really be trusted as full-fledged sources of wine industry information and tasting ratings? Absolutely. Some of the bloggers’ websites are more thorough and insightful than major publications. It’s the ones with poor spelling and grammar that give blogs a bad reputation. Unfortunately, there are still A LOT of those out there.
- Restaurant blogs are different than wine blogs. Wine blogs seem much more detailed and thought out. Restaurant blogs can be great, but too often are just blurry pictures with writing that is no more interesting than a Yelp review (“I didn’t like the roasted chicken at Zuni because I’m vegetarian…”)
- It’s a two way street: wineries need to (and it seems many do now) understand the benefits of bloggers writing about them, while bloggers need to be respectful of the wineries. There needs to be no fear of connection between the two. Unfortunately, so much of the time wineries will go over the top to impress bloggers or bloggers are fearful of angering the winery. Both need to appreciate each other and the relationship. The conference showed that it can really be a very fruitful partnership.
- Wineries definitely are embracing the social media world. They need to in this day. The question is, how far to push the wines on social media without seeming desperate?
- At the same time, we don’t want wineries to play hard to catch. It’s great to see wineries open to the people, not exclusive.
- What is compelling content for bloggers? Really, it’s content that makes you start the article and read to the end of the article.
- Compelling doesn’t have to make a “buzz.” Buzz can be good. It can also be disastrous of course. Being careful is always critical. You don’t always go viral by being on the edge.
- Poor California took a beating as the example of uncontrolled wines. People should know that was very five years ago. Wines from the likes of Skewis and Liquid Farm prove the Golden State still takes the gold (yes I know, I’m a California resident, but I’m unbiased).
- It’s amazing how serious these wine bloggers take their craft, most of whom have other jobs. Bravo, bravo for your dedication!
- Bloggers- research, research, research! History and background are pivotal. There are far more wineries than grape varietals, let’s focus on the former and touch on the latter.
- One important characteristic often used with beer writing, but not wine writing: the color of the wine. Red wine isn’t just red. Is the center different than the outer ring?
- Wine in general still needs to reach the younger generation and defeat its snobbish persona. Somehow tasting notes need to be less vital. They’re too scary and unwelcoming. The terroir and the wine’s experience needs to be more important. Craft beer and craft cocktails are so huge right now from Budapest to Bangkok to Boston, wine still has a ways to go to fully compete with them. Let’s work on making wine more approachable and have a more energetic younger audience. Wine can be cool. Wine can be chic.
- How awesome is “live wine blogging,” or in other terms, “wine speed dating?” Tables of around six writers sample a pour from ten wineries over an hour, with the winery having five minutes to explain themselves. The live blogging and tweeting isn’t important. The face to face interaction is, as is being able to quickly tell a stand out wine when palate fatigue can easily settle in.
- The spittoon is essential. Water too. Any wine blogger knows that, or else they wouldn’t make it very long the opening night.
- The WBC after-parties sure reminded me of college parties, without the beer bongs and with top tier wine usually.
- Wow do the wine bloggers know how to keep me up late. I hadn’t gone to bed after 4 am in two years before this.
- Not to knock the Penticton Lakeside Resort and Casino’s food at all. Some was very enjoyable. Some was certainly…banquet food. Especially the poor halibut dish the last night with a United Airlines couch evoking guanciale potato hash. That was unfortunate.
- In terms of the “Casino,” I briefly stopped by, sans gambling. I did try the Molson at the bar. It tasted like…Molson. Or Coors. Or Bud.
- On the beer subject, Penticton has three craft breweries. After an improv tour, by far and away The Cannery is the winner over The Tin Whistle. Try their Blackberry Porter, super smoky Squire Scotch Ale, or the oh so Canadian, Maple Stout (much better than it sounds, very balanced, not too sweet or rich).
- Penticton sure has a large Saturday Farmers Market presence. Great to see the food passion match that of the winery’s.
- Brodo is the spot to go for sandwiches and salads, courtesy of chef Paul Cecconi. Top notch mushroom & goat cheese bruschetta, along with curry quinoa lentil salad, accented by almonds and golden raisins. Not banquet food.
- Some of the pastries at The White Apron Bakery from looked straight out of Pierre Hermé on the Rue Bonaparte. Those pain au chocolat looked magnificent, perfect flaky and tan. The white chocolate and lavender macarons lacked an Hermé textural levity (too crunchy wafers), but gorgeous sweet-floral flavor. Watch for pastry chef Amanda Perez.
- Stand-up paddle boarding is a lot harder than it looks. Kayaking and surfer seem easier.
- Coming from someone who was blown off their paddleboard by the wind (it was the wind, not me!), the Lake Penticton water is not warm. About 66 degrees maybe? What, you didn’t jump in to join me?
- The big take-away: Penticton sure did a top notch job hosting. The Okanagan Valley is magnificent.