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22 July, 2014

WBC14: My Thoughts on the Wine Bloggers Conference

Comments : 12 Posted in : Events, Wine Bloggers Conference 2014, Writing on by : The Gourmez

It’s been a little over a week since I returned home from the Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton (WBC14), and I’ve had enough time to form some opinions on the experience. Overwhelmingly, those opinions are good, and they come from the perspective of a first-time attendee who didn’t entirely know what to expect from the event.

Did not expect ultrasound oxidation!

Did not expect ultrasound oxidation!

Did expect plenty of this.

Did expect plenty of this.

I wouldn’t qualify my experience as negative in any way. My thinky thoughts are more about defining what sort of wine writer I am and considering whether that fits into the WBC’s intended audience or not.

1. Value

The conference was run by Zephyr Adventures, which as their website rightfully claims, “specialize[s] in providing our travelers with big experiences from a small company at a fair price.” That company description exactly sums up my overall opinion of the conference. If nothing else, WBC14 offered two and a half days’ worth of unending wine tastings, two meals a day–

Fare at the Wine Blogger Awards dinner.

Fare at the Wine Blogger Awards dinner.

–the chance to get to know other wine writers and a bevy of industry professionals, and an afternoon spent at the Sanford Winery nestled in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA all for $100 for citizen bloggers like myself.

Next, add in the amazing value of the multiple excursions the conference put together. I attended the Bridlewood excursion for only $15, and we enjoyed a large picnic lunch at the winery’s immensely scenic grounds—

WBC_14_160

–tastings of their wines with the meal, and a panel of local food producers that resulted in yes, more food and wine.

That’s how you do a panel.

That’s how you do a panel.

I’m doing a whole post on that experience because of how impressed I was with its value. Even if I didn’t find the conference content worthwhile—and I did for the most part—I could easily spend $100 for wine tastings and meals at a weekend away. Throw in that content, and I made off like a bandit.

Also worth noting? Zephyr’s Sarah Wolcott has done an exemplary job keeping the WBC website updated with news from the conference. Believe me, bloggers depend on such strong organization skills as the Zephyr team provided.

But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t lacking. Mainly in COFFEE.

I’m helpless without the stuff. How can I adequately taste wine when my brain cells haven’t awakened? It’s asking too much of me, folks. Too much of poor, uncaffeinated me.

2. People

I’ve yet to attend a conference where the most beneficial part isn’t the networking that takes place between sessions, at meals, and at after parties. WBC14 was no exception to that rule. Both long-timers and my fellow first-timers welcomed me with opened arms.

Two of my faves, My Vino Rules and Wilfred Wong.

Two of my faves, My Vino Rules and Wilfred Wong.

Even the cool kids—you know the ones, every conference has them—were sweet and talkative once I summoned up enough courage to say hello. Yes, some of the invitation-only after parties might feel exclusionary, but I found they welcomed everyone once the news spread of what party was where. Though my favorite party was honestly the impromptu one on Saturday night, spent relaxing with a baker’s dozen of Argentinian students on a school trip and whatever wine folks wandered by.

WBC_14_108

WBC_14_148

No worries; we didn’t let the students get their hands on our wine. 😉

I haven’t made it through my mighty stack of business cards yet, but I look forward to familiarizing myself with everyone’s blogs. I’ll post on my favorites of those soon, too.

3. The Intended Audience

I shouldn’t have been surprised there were as many attendees from the wine industry at the conference as there were. The WBC site description reads, “Up to 400 citizen wine bloggers, industry bloggers, and other wine and social media professionals will gather from throughout the world to meet, learn, and share at this, the seventh annual conference.”

What that looked like at a Friday night after party.

What that looked like at a Friday night after party.

Somehow, I didn’t realize that meant I’d be in the minority as someone who blogs on wine from the perspective of the consumer rather than a journalist, winemaker, public relations representative, or seller of wines in various formats. Nearly everyone I met the first two days assumed I wanted to be gainfully employed in some area of the industry (I don’t). Most of my fellow citizen bloggers either had or were seeking certification in the various levels of wine expertise to become wine educators and/or speakers, a worthy goal but another one I’m not pursuing. If I make a little money on advertising to support my blogging habit, I’ll be thrilled, but I don’t consider that a necessity, either.

Perhaps it’s naïve of me to think I provide value to readers of wine blogs without seeking certification or in-depth coverage of wine producers, but I honestly enjoy keeping a catalogue of the wines I drink and sharing what an individual winery is like when I visit.

Standing Sun is big on horses.

Standing Sun is big on horses.

Which brings me to my next point.

4. The Content

The general expectation that I would want to become a member of the industry if I weren’t one already extended to a general expectation communicated from those at the podium that I should want to tell the story of the people who make wine and that my readers are most interested in such stories. From the keynote to the print wine writers panel to the photography and videography panel, I got the sense that the accepted definition of a wine blogger in this community is either someone who works within the industry and provides behind-the-scenes descriptions of what making wine entails or someone who’s a journalist and wants to tell the story of those people who make the wine.

Richard Sanford, who planted Santa Barbara’s first pinot noirs, tells one of his great stories.

Richard Sanford, who planted Santa Barbara’s first pinot noirs, tells one of his great stories.

But I maintain that some of us just want to drink the wine and describe it. For fun, I drew a representation of what I write in the style of the Quini wine-reviewing app, which has been entertaining to play with these last couple of weeks.

quini writing flower

Yeah, I’m not going to be an artist anytime soon. I’m also not a journalist, and I’ve never had any desire to become one. I regularly differentiate myself from one on this website because a great many bloggers are indeed journalists who practice their trade online rather than in print—it’s a fair assumption to make.

I’m simply someone who enjoys contemplating new-to-me wines, learning more about their similarities and differences as I discover them, and sharing those thoughts with readers who want the reassurance that someone else has done this or tried that before they make their own purchases.

Likewise, when I visit a winery, I’m not hoping to meet the winemaker and learn their philosophies on grape growing. I’m not saying there’s no value in such details—of course there is. It can absolutely enhance my appreciation of a wine, and if I feel it does, I’ll likely pass that information along to my readers. I plan to do a post on the Ballard Canyon Syrah panel for that very reason.

WBC_14_133

Mm, wild, renegade syrahs.

And when I’ve met the producers of wonderful wines, more often than not, I’ve met plain wonderful people. But when I’m visiting a winery, I’m hoping for (a) a relaxing, scenic afternoon and (b) to discover wines that intrigue me. I don’t expect the winemaker in the tasting room, and if I were writing as though that were a normal experience, I wouldn’t be writing from the perspective of a consumer.

21st Bday

My first time buying any alcohol, memorialized here for you.

I think there’s room for a variety of wine bloggers at the WBCs, and I’ve heard the past ones had more content from consumer wine bloggers than this one did. As I said, the attendees were all great people and lovely to network with no matter what perspective on wine writing they came from. But I’d enjoy having more sessions geared to the more casual wine writer like myself, perhaps discussions with likeminded bloggers on what we enjoy reading and the best ways to support each other’s work, hearing people’s adventures with advertising on their blogs and what motivates them to keep churning out content even without the prospect of financial return, or maybe trying new-to-us fruits and spices so we have more descriptors to pull from. Lord knows, I need to break out of this strawberry, cherry, plum, and cardamom rut I’ve been in.

Description rut or not, I’m never getting over this cardamom-infused whiskey. Never.

Does #4 mean you won’t find me at next year’s Finger Lakes destination? Not at all, because the primary content provided by the WBC was wine, wine, and more wine to taste and evaluate whether in liveblogging sessions, at nightly pavilions, or onsite at the wineries of SBC.  Yes, some of the content was directed at a different audience than myself, and that got my cogs spinning on the different types of writers who call ourselves bloggers, but that’s not a bad thing. Just an observation. Whether I head to the Finger Lakes depends far more on what 2015 brings. Anyone have a crystal ball?

My takeaway? WBC14 offered an affordable weekend trip full of wine discovery with great companions who were as excited as I was to take in the scenery, wines, and appellations we were introduced to. Not all the content appealed to me, nor did the assumptions made by some speakers and some of the people I met that we all aspired to the same writing goals. But we do all aspire to do wine justice in our own ways, and that’s a unifying factor.

So is a love of the Hitching Post's food, especially these top sirloin & goat cheese bites.

So is a love of the Hitching Post’s food, especially these top sirloin & goat cheese bites.

Thanks to the WBC14 board and attendees and Zephyr Adventures for such a great event! Next post, next week? The Sanford Winery and Sta. Rita Hills excursion.

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12s COMMENTS

12 thoughts on : WBC14: My Thoughts on the Wine Bloggers Conference

    • July 31, 2014 at 12:27 am

      Rebecca, we must meet again, soon! Any Bay Area travel planned? I don’t think Texas is on my agenda…

    • July 31, 2014 at 12:27 am

      Rebecca, we must meet again, soon! Any Bay Area travel planned? I don’t think Texas is on my agenda…

  • July 25, 2014 at 7:09 am

    I do not believe we met this go around, but hopefully at a subsequent WBC? Great insight and recap here.

    • July 31, 2014 at 12:27 am

      Thank you! We did not meet, but we’ll have to remedy that in the future.

  • July 28, 2014 at 5:54 pm

    I’ve been looking at some of the other recaps of WBC14 – and they’ve all had their points, but I really liked this. The problem with these kinds of events is that you can’t be all things to all people (I read about several parties and events that I was *not* invited to), or in all places at all times, either.

    But I totally agree – there’s room for all kinds of wine writing and blogging. (Good luck on the hamburger search, BTW)

    • July 31, 2014 at 12:29 am

      Thanks for the hamburger hunt love. Anywhere in Dublin I should be checking out? I completely agree that a conference cannot be all things to all people, which is why tracks can be so beneficial, at least offering more opportunities for people to pursue courses that interest them. But then I realize that only maybe two sessions of the weekend didn’t offer what most interested me–tasting SBC wines–and my complaints seem ridiculous. Should have just used that time to catch some rest!

  • August 7, 2014 at 9:03 am

    Thanks for your really thoughtful writing. From what I gather, you felt the conferences was so focused on the business side of blogging that it forgot about the ‘wine’ and ‘experience’ side? I actually hope the conference producers see your comments, they are very useful.

    • August 14, 2014 at 2:46 pm

      Interesting question! I think I’d phrase that a little differently. I was surprised by the assumption on the part of several conference speakers and participants that I would want to be part of the wine business rather than just enjoy writing about the experience of drinking wine and visiting wineries as an average consumer. The presentations I attended that weren’t focused on tasting wines had an overarching assumption that the participants would be working to join the wine industry, and I am not. I would have liked more focus on sharing our own thoughts on appreciating wine and developing our own palates, etc.

  • August 16, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Hey Rebecca! Was a pleasure to meet & hang with you on the Sanford bus.
    Enjoying your perspective on WBC14 and hope to see you in 2015. A votre sante!

    JvB

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