2011 Wine Bloggers Conference: Sponsor Programming Heavy, Relevant Content Light

Banner at Charlottesville Airport

Banner at Charlottesville Airport

I’m just back from the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference, held in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was very much looking forward to this event—my first time at one of these things. I went primarily because I take my wine blogging activities seriously and was hoping to share ideas, learn from and interact with fellow bloggers. I know a number of wine bloggers in my area who have never been to this conference, and I wanted to see if it might be useful for more of us to make the effort to get to this sort of thing. I was also attracted by the presence on the program of two wine writers whose work I very much admire, Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov. I return, however, with very mixed feelings, including a host of negative reactions. I also have a number of what I think are constructive suggestions for making this a more useful and professional event for wine bloggers. So this will be a rare RJonWine post without a single tasting note, and that’s not because Eric Asimov enjoined us toward the end of his keynote address to “refrain from publishing any tasting notes for a year”—a suggestion intended to be provocative, of course, but also one of his more pointless, if not obnoxious. This post will instead list upfront what I think was positive and negative about this year’s “conference,” report at length on what I heard and experienced, and conclude with my recommendations for future such events.

Executive Summary
The Good

• The seriousness and dedication of the Virginia wine producers we met
• Thoughtful prepared comments from keynote speakers Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov
• A too brief 60-minute discussion nearly at the end, early Sunday morning, amongst 40 or so of us that just started to grope toward a conversation about the future of wine blogging
• Wi-fi access that worked and stayed on for virtually the entire event
• Keeping on schedule, for the most part
• All-too-brief conversations with several fellow bloggers
• An unprogrammed tasting in someone’s hotel room of several very good Croatian wines that Clifford Rames, of Wines of Croatia, brought down from NYC with him to share with interested attendees
• An unprogrammed, post-conference visit to two Virginia producers whose offerings impressed us during the conference, on Sunday afternoon with Fred Swan (NorCalWine.com) and his wife Eva

The Bad
• Extreme heat and humidity
• Lack of an opening reception, or some kind of initial gathering of people from the same region or the like to bring first-time attendees into the fold
• Hearing about a lot of interesting sounding side gatherings amongst prior WBC attendees after the fact, because the organizers of such gatherings only invited people they already knew from prior conferences
• The lengthy industry-sponsored “infomercial” for Virginia wines that was the event’s centerpiece, the Saturday dinner
• “Live wine blogging” about largely mediocre sponsors’ wines
• Tiny “wine glasses” that permitted no swirling
• A very ill-timed, pre-dinner cognac tasting
• Lack of lunch/any mention that lunch wasn’t being provided the first day, after a morning of tasting, followed immediately by the keynote and afternoon seminars

The Ugly
• Holding a major tasting event focusing on the wines of Virginia in 100 degree heat and high humidity (at Monticello), despite plenty of advance warning of weather conditions
• Devotion of nearly 90% of the program to paid-sponsor presentations and activities
• A large proportion of tasting events of limited interest to most bloggers, featuring a predominance of uninteresting and mediocre wines (and a significant number that were downright bad)



Background: Event Organizers
This was the fourth year of this self-described “conference,” and its first on the East Coast. It’s an event created and organized by Zephyr Adventures and Joel Vincent Productions. Zephyr bills itself as an adventure travel company that runs food, wine and beer tours in various parts of the world. It also organizes a Fitness and Health Bloggers Conference and an International Food Bloggers Conference, among other things. Joel Vincent, whom I’d never heard of before, started something called the OpenWine Consortium, which seems to have been intended as a wine business techno consulting platform of some kind, and which is now owned by FohBoh, a foodservice industry technology consulting company. Bottom line: the organizers of the conference are not wine bloggers, and they organize this conference (and others Zephyr organizes) on a for-profit basis. The result is some professional organization by an experienced team, but a dearth of programming planned by wine bloggers for the benefit of wine bloggers. The programming is for the benefit of the paying sponsors, and the assembled bloggers are the captive audience for this paid-for programming.

I note, though, from even Zephyr’s conferences for other types of bloggers that their profit model doesn’t necessarily mean there has to be very little programming aimed at the needs of the bloggers. For example, on the program for their first Fitness & Health Bloggers Conference held this past June were the following seven general session topics of interest to most bloggers:
1-hour session on Monetizing Your Blog
50-minutes on Working With Companies and PR Firms
2-hour session on WRITING: Blog to Book
1-hour session: Hot Topics in Fitness & Health Blogging
1-hour session: Become an A-Lister on Social Media
1-hour session: WRITING: Use Almost Anything to Inspire Your Next Blog Post
50-minute session: Search Engine Optimization – To Do or Not?

All of the above types of topics would have been of interest to me as a blogger, and presumably many others at WBC11, but none of these topics were on our agenda. Prior WBC attendees told me that the three earlier conferences included more of these kinds of sessions, and that they were somewhat surprised there was relatively little such programming this year. It’s clear from the above list that Zephyr knows how to include topics like these in the program for a conference aimed at bloggers, so why were all of these topics missing from our conference?

Apparently the difference is that WBC11 was the fourth year of the wine bloggers conference, with 325 attendees enrolled, whereas the program above was for the inaugural year of the fitness bloggers, a conference that only attracted 70 attendees, and so is still trying to get off the ground. Presumably in the case of WBC11, the organizers felt it already had a sufficient following so the programming no longer needed to be for the attendees’ benefit—they could instead maximize sponsorship revenue by selling virtually all the available programming time to sponsors: a host of state and regional wine producer associations, as well as individual wine producers and industry related products.

At least that’s what this event felt like. The amount of program time devoted to “conferring” among blogger attendees at WBC11 was glaringly minimal. It mainly amounted to an hour-long slot on the morning of the third and last day for three blogger-led discussions (you had to pick one), and a little bit of discussion in the second half of one of the seminars (the Online Technologies breakout). That was really it in terms of program time devoted to wine bloggers hearing from each other. Maybe the organizers felt entirely justified in taking the opportunity, this year, to fully extract all their potential profits from an event they’ve put in four years of hard work to build to this point. Pardon me, though, if, as a first-time attendee, I don’t feel well served by their choice to put profit over valuable content for WBC number 4. By the end of the Saturday night program, I felt so overwhelmed with industry pitches and sponsored programming, and so starved for the kind of interactions that I had taken time off work and paid airfare, lodging and the conference fee to be part of that I was, quite honestly, resentful and angry. I would be just as angry if the only available TV channel in a place where all I could reasonably do, given the circumstances, was watch TV, devoted 90% of its air time to commercials.

Weekend Blow by Blow

I already mentioned the lack of any kind of welcoming reception. The first night, Thursday, beginning at 7:30 pm, was instead devoted to a rather motley group of “international” producers and distributors who were arrayed along the walls of the large hotel ballroom at the Omni where most of the weekend’s events were held. I won’t bore you with the wine details, but they included some of the most singularly dreadful and unbalanced Bordeaux superieurs I’ve ever sampled. I couldn’t really believe I’d awakened at 3 am that morning to catch a 6 am flight from San Francisco so as to be able to get there in time for such a lackluster assemblage of wines, and virtually no interaction with fellow bloggers.

Giampaolo Tabarrini

Giampaolo Tabarrini

The next morning, Friday, was more of the same–a morning long tasting, dubbed “Meet the Sponsors”–that ran from 10 am to 1 pm. I got through all the wines being poured in that amount of time, but the only ones I was really delighted to sample (again) were those of the engaging Giampaolo Taborrini, whose delicious Montefalco Sagrantinos I’d previously enjoyed at the Tre Bicchieri tasting in San Francisco this year. We then assembled for Jancis Robinson’s keynote. She was, as ever, cogent, respectful of her audience, and very current in her references, as one expects from the wine world’s leading author and reference book editor. I appreciated her perspective as someone who has successfully communicated to the world about wine through virtually every modern medium–wine newsletter, television, books, newspaper–and via her charming and impressive website and online forum.

Crushd smartphone app being demo'd (app went out of business 2 months later)

Crushd smartphone app being demo’d (app went out of business 2 months later)

Contrary to my expectations, there was no lunch provided in the large ballroom–set up with round tables, of the type on which meals are usually served–during or following Jancis’s talk, and the first set of seminars began immediately thereafter. I am not physically capable of tasting all morning, listening to an hour-long speech and then continuing on with two more hour-long seminars back to back without some sustenance, so I went to the hotel restaurant to place a to-go order. I’d hoped to take it into the 2 pm break out session on Online Technologies and Wine, but when I entered the room for that panel, it was already standing room only, so I went outside to consume my sandwich. I got back into the panel for the last 25 minutes or so, which seemed to mainly consist of a debate as to whether Google+ or Facebook was going to be the winning social networking platform. And that was the one breakout session I’d really been interested in attending. The other two scheduled for the same slot were Aromas of Wine with Winebow Wines (sponsor) and Millenials and Wine (a topic that apparently turned off and bored the few twenty- and thirty-somethings I checked in with afterwards).

I picked the least uninteresting, to me, topic for the second session, ending up in a pleasant enough repeat of the presentation on Aromas of Wine, perkily delivered by Sheri Sauter Morano MW, with some nicely packaged food items to sniff for reminders about common wine descriptors. It was a nicely delivered version of this kind of experience in a one-hour period, but I came away with virtually no new info from it. The other topics in that slot were Drinking Local (the benefits thereof seem so obvious on their face that I didn’t think I’d get much out of listening to an hour on the topic) and The Legalities of Wine (pretty much a boring lecture, from the feedback I received from several attendees). Then it was time for the reconvening of the entire conference for a “live wine blogging” speed tasting–an hour devoted to the ballroom table at which one was sitting being pitched on a dozen wines in five-minute increments by more event sponsors. We were exhorted to blog or tweet about what we were tasting, which put me in an immediate dilemma. I only tweet about wines or topics I think are at least somewhat newsworthy. The wines being presented were not newsworthy. Some of them, on the contrary, were quite mediocre, and I didn’t see the point of wasting my time or anyone else’s by tweeting that fact. (A tetra-packed, smoke-tainted but heavily processed Cabernet from California’s ill-fated ’08 vintage? Seriously? I’m supposed to tweet about that?) But the pressure was on to tweet–the conference organizers told us from the podium and in the written program instructions that we should, and the participants’ tweets were projected on the ballroom’s large screens as they issued forth into the twittersphere. So the paid sponsors got to see their wines being hash tagged for denizens of Twitter, and the participants got to taste a dozen largely forgettable wines for an hour. Score another one for the sponsors.

Bloggers at a seminar

Bloggers at a seminar

After that experience, we were herded out to buses set to take us up to Monticello, the home that our wine-loving third President designed and built, where 34 Virginia wine producers were assembled under a gigantic white tent on the front lawn to taste us on a pair of their wines, and where a buffet dinner was to be served. Did I mention that it was still about 100 degrees outside, with 50% or more humidity? Who in the wine business thinks it’s a good idea to serve wine in 90-100 degree heat? Apparently the Virginia Wine Marketing Office (funded by the Virginia Wine Board), which organized the historically significant but highly wine unfriendly location, and our conference’s organizers. These were the worst conditions under which I’ve ever tried to taste and evaluate wine. Some serious tasters simply gave up, judging rightly that it would be unfair to the wines to try tasting them under these conditions. I perversely persevered, however, aiming to taste all of the wines being offered in the two hours allotted, by speed tasting and trying to imagine what the wines would be like under more normal conditions. As I baked and drenched my clothes with sweat in the heat, I wondered if I could really manage to finish, but I honestly didn’t want to just sit stranded up there for two hours, contemplating the miserable climatic conditions. And, after all, there was my idol Jancis, looking remarkably fresh under the circumstances and thoughtfully quizzing producers on their wines while tasting alongside me. I ultimately did manage to get through everything except the inexplicable pair of fruit ciders being offered, which left me just 10 minutes to wolf down a few buffet items before the buses were set to take us back to the Omni. What did I learn from this extreme, and very arguably pointless, physical endurance test? It did seem like there were a number of varietally true and fairly balanced Viogniers, along with some promising Bordeaux varietals–Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. I was also impressed with the discipline and cordiality of the producers pouring under such oppressive conditions. A couple of them shared that they’d been given an alternative plan in case weather conditions were “adverse,” and they weren’t exactly sure why 100 degree temperatures and high humidity hadn’t been considered “adverse.”

I had a good conversation on the bus with a British-born blogger now living in Florida. On arriving back at the hotel, the next scheduled event, from 9 pm to 11 pm, was billed as a tasting of wines from the “Other 46.” One might expect that this would include wines from all, or most of, the winemaking states of the continental U.S., excluding, I suppose, New York and California. Instead, they only apparently meant wines of several such states whose grape councils, distributors or individual producers happened to be sponsors. It was another real endurance effort to taste through these wines, especially since most of them were not good at all, after having tasted for three hours in the morning, a good part of the afternoon and then two solid hours at Monticello. I noticed, though, that there was only a very light crowd present for this tasting in the largely empty hotel ballroom, and I felt bad for the producers pouring these wines that they’d lugged a long distance for such a relatively small crowd. I later learned that this was when a lot of other gatherings were happening among prior conference attendees, events to which they’d invited fellow attendees of prior events that they knew, but not those of us they hadn’t had a chance to meet. Since this was the official program event, and the only event I was privy to, however, and these poor representatives from the wines of Maryland, Texas, Indiana and Ohio had so few people to pour for, I soldiered on through this darned tasting as well. And I do have a peculiar interest in some of these wines which are, in their own way, wine exotica to someone based in California–Ohio’s Nortons and Pink Catawba, and Indiana’s State variety, Traminette. I retain a vivid sense memory of tasting and comparing all eight of the Indiana Traminettes being poured from different producers, with their increasing levels of residual sugar. I’m working to suppress, however, the memory of those barely drinkable Nortons and Catawbas from Ohio. Oh well.

Indiana Traminettes

Indiana Traminettes

After that was over, I walked the 20 minutes back in the still smoldering evening heat to my hotel (one of two spillover hotels suggested by the conference organizers, due to the limited number of available rooms at the Omni).

The next morning started with a six-hour time slot, from 10 am to 4 pm, devoted to bus excursions to two of Northern Virginia’s wineries. Attendees were supposed to get on these buses without knowing which wineries they’d be visiting. I didn’t care much for that concept, and I also really didn’t like the idea of repeating our Monticello experience of tasting these wines in the continuing 100 degree heat and high humidity (or subjecting my body to more of those conditions throughout the bus trip, even if the tasting room was actually air conditioned). I was also beat from the brutal onslaught of tastings and miserable weather the day before, and local news was reporting a strong chance of a thundershower. I therefore stayed in my hotel through that activity, getting a bunch of tasting notes loaded into CellarTracker, and having a square meal at the Indian/Afghanistani restaurant across the street from my hotel. Those who did go on the winery visits were served lunch at one of the wineries, and that reportedly turned out well for some and not too well for others. I rejoined the Saturday group activities that began at 4 pm with Eric Asimov’s talk.

I’m a fan of Eric’s very well written wine columns in the New York Times, but he also has what I can only describe at this point as a “shtick”–questioning basic wine world assumptions and clichés (e.g., “Why do we call it ‘wine appreciation’”?), but often not offering very helpful alternatives. I must admit I found this pattern increasingly tiresome well before his 50-minute time was up. Nonetheless, he did have a number of very quotable lines, which I saw many fellow attendees were busy tweeting and retweeting as the speech wore on. In response to one of three questions asked at the end of his remarks, Eric enjoined the assembled wine bloggers to “not publish any tasting notes” for the next year. Yeah, right. Eric’s proposal that we do away with all wine descriptors except for “sweet” and “savory,” in his column several months ago, was, for me, the single most useless and badly argued thing he’s written, but he continues to make it clear that he finds the wine world’s ubiquitous descriptors and tasting notes useless. As someone who generally finds them quite useful, however, I appreciated the chance to tell him an hour or so after his talk that I greatly enjoy his writing, but find his haranguing about tasting notes to be pointless and wrong headed. He seemed to take my input well.

After Eric’s talk, we were again subjected to another round of “live wine blogging,” and 12 more sponsors’ wines. The scheduled event that followed that, at 6 pm, was one that virtually everyone in attendance seemed to think was strangely timed–a pre-dinner reception tasting of cognacs and cognac cocktails; another sponsor-paid stretch of time. Since I rarely indulge in cognac—only very late on a special, or celebratory evening, when I don’t have far to go to sleep afterwards–I passed on the cognacs and cocktails, and spent the time trying to meet a few more bloggers. I felt bad, though, for the cognac producer representative who was given a virtually inaudible PA system in the hotel’s atrium. That was followed by what was billed as the Wine Blogger Awards Dinner, but which turned out to be an entire evening built around a five-course meal and five flights of wines devoted to the wines of Virginia, emceed by a local sommelier who apparently fancies himself a comedian and entertainer.

The blogger awards portion amounted to only about 10 minutes of the nearly three-hour program, where the awards were hyper efficiently handled through a quick video display of the logo/mastheads of each of the blog nominees, and then a display of the winner’s name. Only a few of the winners were on hand, and only two of those had a chance to make brief remarks; one of the winners was passed over entirely when he wasn’t recognized in the audience or didn’t get up to the stage fast enough. I’d hoped to learn a little more about the nominated blogs, and to hear something from the winners. The program was clearly arranged, however, to make sure the awards consumed the absolute minimum amount of time, as they were certainly not the program’s focus, so we could get back to the three-hour Virginia wine infomercial.

I actually did enjoy a couple of the wines we were poured for the five-course dinner, and we were fortunate that representatives of one of those producers (Pollak Winery), whose Viognier we admired, happened to be seated at our table, so we got to learn more from them about their wines (and invited ourselves over the next day to taste some barrel samples of wine from the same vintage and vineyard site, fermented with different yeasts). Too many of the wines poured at this event, however, were not good at all, which made it hard to understand why they were getting so much air time at what was the conference’s centerpiece event.

It was nearly 10 pm when this dinner concluded, and the representative from Vibrant Rioja, the Rioja producers’ promotion arm, announced the details of the progressive tasting, at five of the area’s eateries, that was supposed to follow. I’d already been to the major Vibrant Rioja trade tasting in San Francisco a few months back, at which I tasted virtually all the current releases from the participating producers, so I figured this was the kind of event I could easily pass on, in the interests of getting some sleep before the one event I was now very much looking forward to–the Sunday morning one-hour discussion amongst bloggers. I did see a Twitter invite, however, for a Croatian wine tasting happening upstairs in someone’s room, from Cliff Rames, who has retweeted my few blog posts about Croatian wines (attracting large numbers of viewers to those posts), so I decided to check that out before heading back to my hotel. I’m glad I did. I got to meet Cliff, as well as Richard Leahy (tapped to be the author of a book on Virginia wines due out in a year or so), and tasted there several of the most interesting wines I tried all weekend. As that gathering started to take on more of the tone of an after party, however, I headed out. I really didn’t want to be either hungover or overly tired for the one session on the program that promised a little “conferring” among attendees that I hungered for.

Cliff Rames

Cliff Rames

Unfortunately, I had a lot of trouble sleeping that night. I woke up around 3:30 am stewing over the feeling that I’d just been subjected to a lot of “payola” all weekend–events devoted to sponsors’ products, regardless of their interest and value to participants. I was angry, resentful, and ultimately had to write out the thoughts I was struggling with, in order to get them off my mind so I could return to sleep. After writing out a few very harsh paragraphs (yup, much more raw and harsh than what you’re reading here), I did get another hour or two of sleep. I then packed up, got a quick breakfast at my hotel and headed over to the Omni.

The precious single hour of programmed discussion amongst bloggers, starting at 9:30 am, went by way too fast for me. The topic of the three offered that I picked was The Present and Future of Blogging. The discussion was led by Ward Kadel (www.winelog.net/blogs/drXeno). Most of the assembled group, 40 or so of us, seemed, like me, much worse for wear at that hour of a Sunday morning. Presumably there were no sponsors naive enough to pay for an early Sunday morning slot. Our main topics as the informal discussion evolved were the relative advantages of WordPress over other blogging platforms; relative merits of the short vs. long form; the difficulty of assessing and quantifying Facebook post sharings or mentions versus those on other kinds of social networking sites; and wine bloggers’ lack of clout, except when we put our efforts together collectively. Jason Mancebo (www.20dollarwineblog.com) offered to assemble a listserv of those of us interested in continuing discussion on the latter topic if we gave him our cards. So it was a very limited kind of discussion in the face of the topic–the present and future of blogging–but more than I’d gotten out of the rest of the conference on the issues most relevant to me as a blogger.

The three separate discussion groups were then reassembled into one meeting of the whole to listen to what was billed as “Ignite Wine!” This turned out to be five-minute speeches from 12 presenters, including a few more sponsors, each limited to 20 or so PowerPoint slides. We were told that this was a format that had originated in the tech world in Seattle, and that the organizers had introduced a successful version of it at their recent Health and Fitness Conference. I found this an uninformative and complete waste of time—wondering if the organizers really thought that what wine bloggers were most interested in was Toastmasters type training and experience. The final presenter of these five-minute, canned, PowerPoint presentations, though, was a propagandist for the cork industry. His over-the-top, ridiculously one-sided condemnation of what screwcaps were supposedly doing to the environment I found downright insulting to the intelligence. Given the non-engaging format, there was no way for any of us who felt differently to respond. Since that was the last of these presentations, I was back in anger mode at the end of this frustrating conference. The organizers spent the final moments of the conference announcing to the few of us still on hand the location of the 2012 WBC, and the tentative selection of the site for 2013’s WBC (Penticton, British Columbia).

producers hanging in there at Monticello

producers hanging in there at Monticello

12 Suggestions for Improvement

So how could the next conference, which they announced at this event’s conclusion would be held in Portland next August, be structured so as to make it not such a waste of time, from my perspective?

1. Start with some kind of welcoming reception or activity that allows first-time attendees to interact with other attendees, especially prior attendees. (I was told by a few regulars that there had been a huge drop off on the part of first-time attendees in the past. Shouldn’t someone have gotten a clue?) Some group introductions would be nice, as would a brief caucus by region or blog type.
2. Plan a program with input from bloggers that is devoted to only 50% sponsored events. (Okay, if profit really is the sole driving force for the organizers, even 70% would be a big improvement over the nearly 90% load at this year’s WBC.)
3. Plan some seminars or breakouts that are more of a discussion than just presentations and lecture.
4. Assess weather conditions in planning venues so as to maximize the appreciation of wines being offered and sampled.
5. Announce in advance when meals are being provided and not, so attendees can arrange for other ways of assuring they get that all-important “base” for further tasting.
6. Find a hotel that can accommodate all, or most attendees, so that many of us aren’t located so far away that it makes it hard to participate in some of the more spontaneous happenings.
7. Be more selective about sponsors, to ensure that they are likely to be of interest to at least some attendees.
8. Solicit topics of interest to attendees in advance, to ensure that there’s real interest in the topics being offered.
9. If you continue to include “live wine blogging,” make it a breakout event for those who might be interested in that kind of exercise.
10. If you retain “Ignite Wine,” make it also an optional breakout.
11. For god’s sake, figure out what, if any, role the wine blog awards is supposed to play at the conference. Either make them a real part of the program, or cut them out entirely. Don’t make them seem like something we have to rush through and get out of the way so as to focus on more mediocre sponsored wines.
12. My bottom line recommendation: less damn tasting and more opportunity for talking and interaction.

Final Thoughts

I may not be welcomed back to one of these things in the future after registering here my honest impression of this event. Realistically, though, I wouldn’t want to return if there’s not a major change in the way it’s structured, especially the total domination of the program by activities devoted to the event’s sponsors. But if one or more of us don’t speak up when the organizers go way overboard in selling off the vast majority of the program time to sponsors, what does that say about journalistic values in wine blogging? Life is too short for me not to be honest and true to my own deeply considered reactions, and, I hope, constructive in offering suggestions about an event devoted to a subject–wine–that I am passionate about, and involving a community–bloggers–that I’d like to know better, and to interact with more meaningfully.

I do applaud the event organizers for their punctuation honesty, at least, in not including a possessive apostrophe in the event’s title. It is not currently a Wine Bloggers’ Conference, with a program organized by and aimed at the needs of us bloggers. It is, instead, a Wine Bloggers “Conference,” aimed at bloggers as a commoditizable captive audience for sponsors.

At the end, what if anything really worked about this particular event, for me? I did learn a little about the wine industry in Virginia, the grape varieties they are excelling with (Viognier in particular, as well as red Bordeaux varietals), and gathered that a number of the producers are quite serious and rightfully beginning to generate some respect for their efforts after enormous amounts of hard work and expensive investment. I wouldn’t have experienced that if the event hadn’t been held in Virginia, and there was no other particular reason why a wine lover in California might be drawn to visit producers there, whose wines don’t exist on California wine store shelves. It also seems clear the state’s wine industry is bidding to become the East Coast’s wine tourism destination, and I think they’re well on the way to fulfilling that ambition.

I also got to meet a few of the bloggers whose work I’ve admired—e.g., Tom Wark, Hardy Wallace, and David White–and got to know a little better a few I already knew from my own area. And I enjoyed spending time, post conference, with Fred and Eva Swan, and visiting with them two of the producers—Pollak and Veritas—whose wines we’d admired at the conference. And, of course, I learned a lot about what not to do if I ever want to go into the blogger conference organizing business. 😉

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66 Responses to 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference: Sponsor Programming Heavy, Relevant Content Light

  1. Craig Camp says:

    While I do agree with many of your observations, I can’t agree with your complete rejection of the wines poured during the Live Wine Blogging segments. I was proud to personally present two of my limited production wines, which I have to say we put our heart and soul into crafting. I would put these wines up against the wines of any producer of similar varieties in the world. The 201o Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Corallina Napa Valley Syrah Rosé is a single vineyard producing only 300 cases and the 2007 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon is from one of the finest vineyards in the Napa Valley. I feel I put my best stuff out there. I can’t speak for the other wines as I was pouring, but I am very proud of the wines I presented.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for commenting here. I don’t see where I “completely rejected” all the wines poured during the Live Wine Blogging. What I rejected was the format. What I wrote about the wines being poured was that I didn’t find them “newsworthy.” I did, nonetheless tweet about a few of them, including your ’07 Cornerstone Cellars Howell Mountain. Here’s what I tweeted: “Very youthful Napa Cab from Cornerstone – ’07 Howell Mountain. Needs several yrs. 90 pts #wbc11”
      warm regards,

      • Craig Camp says:

        Thanks for your kind comment. I missed that in the Twitter blitz. I agree that the content could have been more substantial on the blog side of things, but from my perspective they should have more content about wine itself. Seminars on vineyard and cellar practices could help advance the knowledge of wine bloggers thus improving content. It’s not only about tasting mass quantities.

        • Richard Jennings says:

          We couldn’t agree more on the value of seminars on vineyard and cellar practices for wine writers. I attend those kinds of seminars when they’re offered, mainly for winemakers, locally, and I get a lot out of them. I’ve posted about a few of them on my blog.

  2. G.E. Guy says:

    Richard – mixed reactions to your post. I definitely agree with your assessment that the content was incredibly light. I had been expecting to come away with more useful information to make our wine blog better AND improve the blog I use for my “real job”, and I let the organizers know that unless there was more useful programming I can’t justify the time and expense of another WBC.

    As for the dinner, I guess I came with the assumption that because Virginia’s Wine Marketing Board worked so hard to get the WBC here, VA wines would feature prominently at the dinner. Likewise, I would assume that if it’s held in BC in 2013, there will be a dinner similarly featuring that region’s wines. Hopefully your frustrations with the programming to that point didn’t color your perceptions of our state’s wines. While I wouldn’t say that everything served at dinner would have been my choice, there were excellent producers there besides the two you mentioned, Pollak and Veritas.

    It’s too bad we didn’t get the chance to meet at the conference. A welcome reception, as you mentioned, could have been a great opportunity to get to meet folks before everyone split off into their pre-established groups (life really IS high school in a John Waters film). I plan on reaching out to Jason Mancebo to be included on the listserv you mentioned, since it sounds like something that’ll fill a void left by the organizers.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for your comment. By my estimation, a third of the programming hours at the conference were solidly devoted to Virginia wines. I don’t begrudge a substantial amount of time being devoted to the hosting state’s wines. And where else is someone from California going to get a chance to taste an array of Virginia wines? Besides the Saturday dinner, though, which was originally billed as the Wine Blog Awards dinner, there was the tasting/dinner at Monticello the night before, and the 6 hours on the bus (for those who did that) to visit local wineries during the day Saturday. I came away with a lot of admiration for what’s being done in the Virginia wine industry, as I tried to indicate in my post. I don’t think some of the wines for Saturday’s dinner, however, were well chosen. The third course started with a wine that was egregiously faulty, which many people noticed, and two others that weren’t good examples of the best of VA wine. The ’07 Meritage that Mr. Shaps subbed in for the fourth course wine originally listed was really out of balance. I thought the wines we got to taste from some VA producers Friday morning, at the meet-the-sponsors tasting, and many of those poured at Monticello, were much superior to what showed up at Saturday’s dinner. Just tryin’ to keep it real.

      I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to meet you too.

      Warm regards,

  3. Beau says:

    Richard, thank you for taking the time to write out this post, while it’s long, it does echo what I noticed from a lot of tweeters over the course of the Conference. As I read through your bullet points I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps this specific Conference (and associated producers) has matured, and an entirely new format is in order.
    The other idea that meandered through my mind was this: For an established blogger, but WBC newbie, your approach to the conference was different than someone who might have just started a blog. You’ve been fortunate to taste the best wines in the world, seemingly often, and go visit producers that a lot of us only dream of. For me, at last year’s WBC, as an 8-month old blogger in Washington, I loved the breakout sessions and lectures and got a ton of value from almost all of them.
    I think you hit the nail on the head though with the “off-conference activities”, I noticed a lot of that this year (and last year), and it seems like if you aren’t in a certain clique or part of the bloggeratti, you don’t get an invite. I can see how that would leave a sour taste in first-time attendee’s mouths.
    Cheers and thanks again for writing the post!

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment. From what I gathered from other prior attendees I spoke to, the sessions at last year’s WBC were more valuable both for newer and older wine writers than this year’s were. I gather these things are notorious for that sense of “cliquishness” though. I don’t blame the organizers for that, but I do think they could counter it some, through welcoming receptions and caucuses of people with mutual interests. I’m sorry I missed the event last year, as I’m interested in Washington wines. I only heard about it after it was sold out though.
      warm regards,

  4. Jason Phelps says:


    I’m sad to hear that you had what sounds like such an underwhelming experience because it doesn’t match my experience very well, and I was a first time attendee too.

    First off, you cut into the wines quite a few times in the post. Wine is about people, and I have to be sure if any of the producers who find themselves in your crosshairs see this they are going to be left with an unfavorable impression of you. The local wineries weren’t asking you to compare their wines to the great wines of the world, they were asking you to experience what a young and growing wine region can do. As for the sponsors, well the top wine labels don’t have to be here, they make bank elsewhere. Evaluating the wines on their own is a choice, and if you don’t want to, don’t. But it makes no sense to outright pan them just because they don’t suit your taste. You lost an opportunity just like you describe other’s did here.

    Most of the logistical issues are going to be a trade-off between positives and a negatives from one year to the next. If it wasn’t the heat and a low disclosure about food options, it would have been something else. I rolled with it and can’t say I felt like a suffered.

    I’ve been to other conferences that cost considerably more and don’t have nearly as much sponsor time as this one did. Doing the math makes what I saw sensible, but I agree it doesn’t have to be like that. People on all sides might need to be willing to put more skin in the game to change it though.

    As for the content, I agree with some of your points and would encourage you to make suggestions and engage others to support your ideas in hopes of getting them implemented. But, it is worth mentioning again that just because something doesn’t suit you doesn’t mean it isn’t useful for others.

    And finally, the cliqued out behind the scenes stuff. This is the last thing you should be worried about. Your opinions are clear here and in turn everyone else has a right to do what they want to do. Lots of people had private parties and many I am sure I never heard of too. I got a few invites ahead of time (and I don’t know anybody!) and many more while I was there. I can only assume being personable and engaging once I got there made me the kind of guy people wanted to spend time with. Whatever it was I am grateful because I made new friends. What you experienced isn’t going to change because it is a byproduct of human nature.

    I applaud you for throwing this out there and seeing what you get for a response, and choosing how to respond (or not) to the comments is another opportunity.

    I hope you won’t totally give up on this event because with the right ideas and some passion behind them you and others could make a real impact on it in the coming years.


    • Richard Jennings says:

      Hey Jason,
      Thanks for your comments. I’ve been to a lot of conferences myself, and have organized some (on different topics). I wasn’t comparing the local wines to “the great wines of the world,” and I think I’ve already said some pretty positive things about Virginia wines, and plan to do so with tasting notes in another piece. I stand by everything I wrote about my experience at this event, but I’m glad you had a better experience than I did at this one. I think I already made my suggestions. I’ll wait to see what the powers-that-be around this conference do in terms of expanding beyond paid-for content. I have plenty of wonderful tastings and events to go to without ever setting foot at this one again, but it would be nice to see something called “Wine Bloggers Conference” ultimately being of more benefit to assembled wine bloggers.
      warm regards,

  5. TLColson says:

    As a fellow first time attendee, I agree that a bit more time would have been nice for interaction with other bloggers. And I did get into a lengthy discussion about the value of interaction in unconference settings at an afterparty. (I believe the unconference is where great ideas happen) I also agree that if meals were not going to be provided, time should be allotted for nourishment – after all, the palate must be recharged at some point and changing for dinner without missing a session would have been convenient. I also skipped a few things to attend to personal needs.

    However –

    I was the person pouring Ohio wine. And I’ll try not to take it personally that you apparently were so disgusted with the entire conference that you failed to note what you were drinking at the Ohio table. May I refer you to the tasting notes on Ohio wines: http://southernwinetrails.blogspot.com/2011/07/what-you-need-to-know-about-ohwine-at.html

    You were actually poured 2 national award winning wines, a Cabernet Franc and a dry Riesling. The Catawba was not advertised, and only poured upon request and it saddens me that this is what you remember from our wines, as you must have asked me to taste it – Catawba is a native grape, a generally sweet wine and very much an acquired taste – facts which I relayed before it went into the glass. Much of the feedback I received was no where near as cutting as yours, and in fact very much the opposite. I’m happy to discuss those wines with you further if you’d care to reevaluate. Constructive feedback of a technical nature will be generously passed to the winemaker.

    It was hot, and not anywhere near ideal conditions for tasting wine and perhaps there were some schedule changes we’d like to see – but I did not see anywhere in your post the appreciation for the amount of time and effort required to bring a conference of this size together at such low cost. The folks at Zephyr, the Virginia Wine Board, and several county and town governments coordinated to put together this event. Venues, hospitality, transportation and wine require money, sponsors are required to keep costs reasonable for bloggers who make little to no money for their efforts – and organizers do need to make a profit, after all, they are not 501(c)(3)s. At the minimum, we tasted and ate $95 worth of wine and food in the course of 3 days. I have attended conferences that cost me well over $1000 per ticket. This was an incredible bargain.

    I appreciate your perspective on the conference as I share some of your concerns. The vitrol… slightly less – perhaps that is the southern in my wine trails.

    Tammy Colson
    citizen blogger, Drink Local advocate

    • Richard Jennings says:

      I thank you so much for your lengthy and detailed comment here. I agree that conferences cost money. This one cost me over $1800 in cash out of pocket, not to mention vacation time used and opportunity costs. I have to say I didn’t get that much value compared to other wine events I’ve very willingly spent that much money on. But that’s my experience–other’s mileage will vary. I wish I had had a spiritual epiphany with those Ohio wines–I want to love every new wine I meet; I’m really not bound by a lot of preconceptions, and I try to root out those I’m aware of. Honestly, though, those Buckeye State wines were hard for me to take. Interesting, in a clinical sense, but not something I’d ever willingly drink for pleasure. Guess they’re an acquired taste. Please be assured, though, that I approached them seriously, took detailed notes, and will be entering them into CellarTracker, where all the notes I want to refer back to go, and will probably do a post on the whole “other 46 event.” I do respect your perspective, however, and applaud you for sharing it here.

      warmest regards,

      • TLColson says:

        Thank you for your courteous reply, and I’m sorry you find no redeeming value in the Ferrante wines that were poured. Please know that there are about 120 wineries in the state, several of which I”m sure you might find respectable. I’ll suggest Hermes in Sandusky as an example, though they are not making cabs and chards – more agliancio and nebbiolo.

        This particular conference was over $2000 to us to attend and pour wines for a group of incredible people and respected bloggers. And I didn’t fly across the country, I simply drove down from the shores of Lake Erie. I do feel your monetary pain, but I also know that Frank and I got that much back in experience, networking, rekindling friendships and tasting good VA wine. I’m sorry you didn’t feel the same – perhaps you are right – this is just the wrong conference for you.


  6. Allan Wright says:

    As one of the primary organizers of the conference, I have a number of thoughts. First, we believe VERY much in feedback and will take your feedback into account. As you know, we also do a post-conference survey where everyone gets to provide feedback. We know that everyone has a different view and have to look at overall sentiment, specific ratings for each event, and comparisons to prior years. Second, it is a bit of a challenge providing new content each year to the many bloggers who have attended more than one conference. If we did one more “monetizing your blog” session we would have been hung from the rafters by our veteran attendees. So we purposefully tried to create new content that would appeal to everyone such as Millennials and Wine, Online Technologies and Wine, Drinking Local, the Legalities of Wine, the Future of Wine Blogging, Wine Blogging and the Wine Industry, and Reaching Outside the Wine World. Third, we DO ask every year in our survey “how is the balance between content, wine, and social activities?” Every year we ask that and every year we make sure to rebalance if we get off, trying to give attendees exactly what they (as a group) want. Fourth, this conference was in Virginia. We knew it was a risk taking the conference outside the traditional wine areas and that some people might not like all the wines. Fifth, we have no control over the unofficial parties and do not like them ourselves. Having said that, if bloggers did not attend, they would not exist. Finally, Monticello is a natiional treasure and they went out of their way to open just for us, bring in a Thomas Jefferson character, have a dozen of their docents work on Friday night to provide us tours, put up two big tents to shade the 40 winemakers and buffet dinner, provide fans and misting machines, and even bring in the Virginia Secretary of Agriculture to meet with bloggers. I agree the hot weather was tough but that train was in motion and could not be stopped. I think we can all recognize that Thomas Jefferson did not have air conditioning either.

    In summary, we will take all the feedback again this year and make changes for the future. I do have one more comment. One of the messages from keynote speaker Eric Asimov was to question and be more investigative. I am always a little shocked when someone writes such a scathing review without actually talking to someone like me who has valuable information to share. I was there the whole weekend, always answer my emails, and would have been happy to provide you with explanations for some of your concerns. Just email me next time you need some info.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      I very much appreciate your response here, and the indication that programming and the like will get a thorough review for WBC12. I am curious, though, what information you think I needed to get from you in order to make this piece, which was a report of my experience of the conference, more accurate. This wasn’t an “investigative” piece–I do those here as well. It was the report of a first-time participant in this event on what I experienced, and my suggestions on how the event could be improved. If I got any facts wrong, I would appreciate having those corrected.

      As your planning moves forward for WBC12, I may well be writing you with a set of questions toward a piece on how WBC12 might be different from WBC11.
      Thanks again for your comments here,

  7. Allan Wright says:

    One more thing. The Live Wine Blogging is always one of the highest rated events of the conference – since 2008 when we started it – and is the only event that spontaneously breaks out into cheers at the end. We would not do it if most attendees did not like it.

  8. Allan Wright says:

    Richard, one final thought. Now that I have got the first two responses off my chest, my overall feeling is this. The Wine Bloggers Conference is for bloggers. We try hard to make it awesome for bloggers. We listen to all of our attendees each year. If we have gone too far towards wine tasting and sponsors and away from basic blogging content, we will re-right the ship for 2012.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      That was the main point of my piece, and I’m glad you got it. I know you can’t control the weather, etc., but you do, ultimately, decide on the programming, and I was shocked at how heavily the programming content was given up to the sponsors. I don’t go to any event that’s going to be 80-90% advertising and promotional pitches. I go for educational content and useful information, as well as networking. If the WBC wants to sell all their programming time to sponsors, that’s fine, but I would never return, and I bet a lot of other attendees will ultimately get tired of it too. Then there’s going to be few people left for sponsors to pitch.

  9. Frank says:

    Richard: Thank you for your thorough commentary on WBC11. I appreciate your thoughts and the time you spent with this piece to share your experiences. I wish I had met you at WBC11 because I could have learned a lot from a conversation with you and from your many wine experiences.

    Despite what appears to be your inability to reasonably control your emotions (i.e. – reference to a 3:30 wake up stewing and resulting angry typothon…), you make several excellent and notable points – thank you. I’m not going to spend too much time Monday morning quarterbacking or nit-picking every hour of the agenda, but I will say you make several excellent points that should be addressed for WBC12. In particular, there should definitely have been an official ‘welcome’ reception of some sort. I have no doubt there will be such a reception at WBC12. I’ve not been to too many conferences (wine or otherwise) where there wasn’t an official (yet, informal) welcome reception to gather everyone. Great point. Secondly, you are spot on, the timing/placement of that cognac tasting was a real head-scratcher. I doubt we’ll see such a repeat at WBC12.

    I’ve read this post several times, and can’t seem to find one important component. The fact that you feel the organizers should have done more for ‘you’ is clear (and I agree in certain instances)… what’s missing is any mention of what ‘YOUR’ responsibility is in making the conference a positive experience. You seem very interested in having others (Virginia wine, Zephyr Adventures, etc.) maximize the experience for ‘you.’ Do ‘YOU’ have any role in making the most of the conference (newbie or not)? Did ‘YOU’ reach out to the attendees prior to arriving to connect and setup a time to meet (certainly, ‘YOU’ took the time to review the Participant list prior to arriving, didn’t you?)? If not, I guess the conference organizers should have done that for you too?

    In my real world life, I attend several large industry (not wine related) conferences every year, all of which have flawed agendas and problems, but I go in to these conferences with my own agenda (that’s code word for ‘ME’ taking responsibility for ‘MY’ conference experience) – finding out who the influencers are, deciding who I want to meet and scheduling coffee/breakfast/drinks with that person(s), what vendors I need to meet, local restaurants that I want to go to, local sites, etc. Although I have high expectations for these conferences, the planners are human and are trying to provide the best general experience for the overall general number of attendees – not for ‘me’ personally.

    2009 was my first time attending Wine Bloggers Conference, and I went there knowing very few attendees personally (with virtually none of these ‘private party’ invites), but I did take responsibility for making sure ‘I’ had a great experience. Prior to the conference I reached out personally to many attendees via email, and I also contacted the organizers to get an early list of those that were pouring at WBC2009 to arrange pre/post-conference visits. Although I did some early reaching-out, I still felt unprepared when the event actually started (i.e. – “I” should have been even more proactive in connecting with the influencers, and regional organizations).

    This may sound crazy to someone who paid hard earned money to attend WBC11 – conference registration fee, plane ticket, hotel, food and Virginia tourism Tchotchke – but I feel ‘YOU’ do have some responsibility in making sure the conference is a great experience for ‘YOU.’ Call me crazy.

    Lets end on a positive, light-hearted note… I must admit that I find it comical that ‘YOU’ let the ‘payola’ announcements and the fact that the organizers did not provide you lunch cause you such consternation. If these are the types of things that cause you to “stew” and get “angry” and “resentful,” then me thinks you should get out a little more often.

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts on WBC11, and I hope we connect at WBC12 if not sooner. All the best! Frank, DrinkWhatYouLike.com

    • Sarah S says:

      Thank you Frank. I don’t think this man would have been pleased no matter what Virginia offered. He had already made his mind up before he arrived. Non-sense… and negative – that’s all I can say. Pretty much a waste of time to even read his blog – seeing as he is so narrow minded. I know I will not be following it in the future – he is overly critcial, and that’s not someone I want to take “wine advice” from. Perhaps he should stick to his day job…

      • Richard Jennings says:

        I’m guessing from your comment that you did what you accuse me of: made up your mind before you arrived at my blog, and decided it was too “much of a waste of time to read.” I say that because, if you had read the post, you would have found the following positive comments about Virginia wines:
        1) First bullet point under listing of “The Good” aspects of the event was, “The seriousness and dedication of the Virginia wine producers we met.”
        2) The last bullet point under “The Good” lists as good, “An unprogrammed, post-conference visit to two Virginia producers whose offerings impressed us during the conference, on Sunday afternoon with Fred Swan (NorCalWine.com) and his wife Eva.”
        3) In the paragraph describing trying to taste the Virginia wines under the extreme conditions at Monticello, I summarized what I learned about the wines at that tasting as follows: “It did seem like there were a number of varietally true and fairly balanced Viogniers, along with some promising Bordeaux varietals–Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. I was also impressed with the discipline and cordiality of the producers pouring under such oppressive conditions.”
        4) In my summary of the Saturday night dinner devoted to Virginia wines, I wrote, “I actually did enjoy a couple of the wines we were poured for the five-course dinner, and we were fortunate that representatives of one of those producers (Pollak Winery), whose Viognier we admired, happened to be seated at our table, so we got to learn more from them about their wines (and invited ourselves over the next day to taste some barrel samples of wine from the same vintage and vineyard site, fermented with different yeasts).”
        5) In my very final thoughts in the piece, there’s the following: “At the end, what if anything really worked about this particular event, for me? I did learn a little about the wine industry in Virginia, the grape varieties they are excelling with (Viognier in particular, as well as red Bordeaux varietals), and gathered that a number of the producers are quite serious and rightfully beginning to generate some respect for their efforts after enormous amounts of hard work and expensive investment. I wouldn’t have experienced that if the event hadn’t been held in Virginia, and there was no other particular reason why a wine lover in California might be drawn to visit producers there, whose wines don’t exist on California wine store shelves. It also seems clear the state’s wine industry is bidding to become the East Coast’s wine tourism destination, and I think they’re well on the way to fulfilling that ambition.”

        In what way do these comments suggest that I wouldn’t “have been pleased no matter what Virginia offered” and “had already made [my] mind up before [I] arrived”? BTW, I am working on another piece for the blog about the Virginia wines we tasted. The piece you are commenting on was about my overall experience of the WBC event, and my suggestions for its improvement. The focus of the piece was not on the wines, and, as I mentioned in the beginning, included no tasting notes.

        Thank you for at least commenting here, even if you didn’t bother to read my post.

      • George Kautzman says:


        You couldn’t be more wrong about Richard! As someone who has known Richard for many years, shared many a bottle over dinners and tasting events, and avidly reads his blog, I can attest to the open-mindedness with which Richard approaches every wine he is about to experience.

        What makes Richard’s blog such a great site is his honesty. I don’t always agree with him, but I know what he says is well thought out, comes from the heart, and expresses his true opinion. He doesn’t sugar-coat his impressions, and that might come across as “overly critical”, as, apparently it does to you.

        I hope you would at least acknowledge that Richard’s piece here was well thought out, offered SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT (it wasn’t just a negative rant), and expressed only HIS view of the event, which is all he can offer, anyway. You don’t know Richard (or his work) as is apparent from your comments about him. Perhaps his blogs are too brutally honest for you, but to those of us who know and follow Richard’s blog, he offers a valuable site, well worth the investment in time to read and consider his comments.

        By the way, Richard doesn’t offer “wine advice”. What he does do is share his experiences with those of us less privy to taste the vast scope of wines which he has access to, and write them up as to HIS impressions of the wines. To dismiss him and his blog as “not worth your time” is YOUR OPINION, just as his writeup of the WBC is HIS. You are both entitled to your opinions.

        To dismiss him as “overly critical” sounds like you’ve already made your mind up about him before giving his blog a thoughtful read. Kinda sorta the same behavior you accuse Richard of . . .

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for your lengthy and thoughtful response. I’m sorry not to have met you as well.

      You wrote that you read my piece several times and “can’t seem to find one important component.” I didn’t know a post was supposed to have a single important component, but I think mine did have one strong theme. You might have had trouble finding it, though, ’cause apparently I “buried” it in the title: “Sponsor Programming Heavy, Relevant Content Light.” I’m pretty sure I mentioned it a few times in the piece as well, the fact that virtually all the content at the conference was paid for by sponsors, and did not deal with issues and concerns of most interest to bloggers. Hope that helps.

      I had to laugh when I read your comment regarding my “inability to reasonably control [my] emotions” because that’s not how other people I interact with seem to experience me. I work with a lot of mental health professionals in my business, and I’m regularly told that I lack “affect” and that it’s difficult to discern how I feel about something, as I generally don’t show any emotional reaction. A lifetime of experience has taught me to be very cautious about relying on emotions and expressing emotional reactions, as emotions can be very fleeting and unreliable. Nonetheless, when my experience of an event is so disturbing and emotion provoking that it keeps me from being able to sleep, I do try to pay attention to why I’m having such a strong emotional reaction. I generally do as I described in my piece–write out what I’m feeling, so as to understand the feeling better, and to put it on the page so I can get it out of my head. I didn’t have to mention that part of my experience in my piece, but since the piece, as it wrote itself, was turning out to be a lengthy description of my personal experience of the event, it made sense to me to include that aspect of my experience. At any rate, thanks for sharing with me that my mention of that makes me sound like someone who can’t “reasonably control” my emotions. My buddies are going to get a kick out of that.

      As to the main thrust of your comment–that I needed to do more, especially in terms of advance work, to make my experience of the event a more rewarding one–in retrospect, as far as this event goes, you are absolutely right. Unlike you, however, I’ve mainly had good experiences of the many prior conferences I’ve been to, so I didn’t feel the need to do as much planning for, and creating my own experience of, WBC11. People were tweeting me yesterday after I put this piece up that they usually do a “pre-trip” to the WBC location, so as to prepare for their WBC experience. That honestly never occurred to me, and I would have had a hard time finding the time and money to do a pre-WBC trip to Virginia, given my schedule and other demands on my time. I’m sure such a trip and planning would ensure a much richer experience of this kind of event in the future, but what I knew, or thought I knew, about WBC in advance of this event did not prepare me for the need for that much pre-visiting and pre-planning to get true value out of this gathering. Maybe that’s an “advisory” or “warning” that needs to go into the WBC advance materials.

      On your final note, suggesting that I was looking for a “free lunch” on Friday, I find it fascinating that you read my piece that way. I was objecting to the lack of any information that lunch was not being provided, given all indications that the program, most of which was taking place in a hotel ballroom, was running straight through from 10 am through the late afternoon. I much prefer getting my own lunch, and selecting what I want to eat, rather than hotel food service food, so believe me, I wasn’t objecting to missing out on a free lunch that afternoon. It was the information that one should plan on doing something about their own lunch during a program that ran from 10 am through late afternoon that I very much needed and was not provided.

      Thank you again for sharing your perspective on my piece (and your own experience of WBC09 and 11) here, and for the good laugh about my inability to control my emotions,

  10. Tom says:

    All in all I had fun at WBC, but you’re right to put “conference” in quotation marks. I did get to meet a few people who were in the know about the side events and so got to go to a couple of them, but otherwise I stuck to the official events.

    A few random observations:

    1) Why couldn’t they give us name tags for the Thursday night reception? It would have saved a lot of effort.

    2) Totally with you on the near lack of content. I’ve never been to a conference with so little of it. I spoke with one of last year’s attendees who said it was pretty much the same then. Since people don’t complain, I guess, there’s no reason for them to change it. The first session I went to had too little preparation by the panelists and a moderator who couldn’t keep them on point, however little point there was. The only exception was the very last session, which was only getting going at the very end because, again, of lack of organization. With so few actual content sessions, they shouldn’t have been running concurrently, as well.

    3) You’re also right in that the worst, far and away, was the cork presentation. I am a chemical engineer who worked in environmental health advocacy, so I know a bit about plastics and health. When he linked plastic stoppers and screw caps to chemicals leaching into wine and then said that these endocrine disrupting substances were responsible for the majority of cases of breast cancer, he went way over the line. Just to be sure, I went to look at info from the Silent Spring Institute — the real experts on environmental exposure, and there’s nothing there that comes remotely close to what he said. This is serious enough misinformation that I will demand a public retraction.

    4) OK, I get the need for sponsors, and I didn’t even mind tasting so many of their wines. But the live blogging was too much for me.

    5) The trips to the wineries were actually a very nice experience. Got more chance to talk to the people on the same bus, too, so I rank that as one of the better things of the weekend.

    Not sure I want to spend the money to fly to Portland next year if it’s more of the same.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. Obviously we had a lot of similar perceptions. I’m glad you enjoyed the trips to the wineries on Saturday, and my single biggest regret is not feeling physically up for that after the exhausting series of activities on Friday. I did enjoy visiting the two wineries I made it to with Fred and Eva on Sunday afternoon, but I’m sorry I missed out on meeting more fellow bloggers by not feeling up to doing it Saturday.
      And thank you for the additional information responding to the cork industry propagandist. For the organizers to allow someone with such an extreme and unfounded view to make the final presentation at the conference, oblivious to the debate that’s raged in the wine world over cork vs. alternative closures for so many years now, demonstrates a real “tin ear” when it comes to the interests and existing knowledge base of most wine bloggers.

  11. Matt says:

    To be frank I disagree with pretty much all of your point in this article, well except the Taborrini wines (I also enjoyed those quite a bit). First off, this was my first time in attendance as well and I found this conference to be quite fun and enjoyable as well as a great opportunity to meet with and talk with other bloggers. And if you didn’t get that same experience I believe you only have yourself to blame. I took the extra time to seek out on my own various other things outside of the conference that were happening and talked with other bloggers at every opportunity. For instance the International wine tasting, though I didn’t care much for it as I blog about East Coast wines, I did take it as a chance to meet and greet. And then headed to Siips wine bar afterwards with others and continued to do so.

    And as to you point about the heat, yes monticello was a bit miserable but it was unfortunately not up to any of us. I live in VA and the heat this time of year usually isn’t this bad and i think they coped as well as they could under the circumstances … though I admit I wish there would have been more fans.

    Then as to your point about them shilling Va wines …. well thats kinda the point. from what I have read of the past conferences they always make it a feature to showcase the local wines. that is why they move it every year, so that you can see more of the wine in the US then what is only produced in California. And as for the other sponsors, I may not have always cared about what they where saying but still I found the information interesting none the less (for the most part).

    And staying close to that point, the vineyard outings, I’m sorry but if you skipped that intentionally then you have no place to complain about not having enough blogger interaction. I had a wonderful day talking with other bloggers and even planning some possible future collaboration work with them as we sipped wines on our bus tour. Not only that but it was just plain fun.

    The final point I’ll make is with the ignite presentations. I found those to be quite interesting and I hope they do it in future conferences, though I admit it need some minor tweaking. and hey I am a bit biased on this issue as I gave one of those presentations (Why you should care about East Coast Wines). But still it was a new format that several volunteers like myself went up and gave our all on, not only to get exposure but to try and get our messages out a bit more (at least on the blogger side, the sponsors where of course doing their job).

    So overall I honestly just don’t think you gave this conference a chance to begin with. You skipped out intentionally on various events and didn’t seem to even try to make an effort with other bloggers, otherwise you would have done the vineyard outing. And as for the wines poured, that’s your opinion and your taste (which is fine). But I know others who felt quite differently, including myself, about a lot of those wines. I am sad you didn’t have a better, perhaps Oregon will be better for you next year, but myself and a lot of other had great times (despite the heat). Okay, my rant it done.

  12. Dave Nershi says:

    Yikes! I’m sorry this event fell so short in your eyes.

    This was my second WBC and I feel this was a good experience (versus a great experience last year in Walla Walla). I believe you missed out on the best part of the conference, which is the winery trips. There you can experience the winery, vineyard and craft of the winemaker — quite a different experience than wine being served in a ho-hum ballroom from 6-foot tables pushed against the walls.

    I felt there was an insufficient amount of programming focused on blogging. Although Allan points out that veteran attendees might be disenchanted, there should be some core programming on a basic level each year with other break-outs geared to most sophisticated bloggers.

    The Other 46 reception was a disappointment to me as well. It seemed to lack excitement (and attendees). I’m a big proponent of regional wines (yes, Ohio wines as well) so I would have liked to see more thought given to entertainment, special decor or some unique attribute that would differentiate it from the previous night’s event.

    I’d suggest a policy be established strongly discouraging events being scheduled in conflict with special events.

    Your suggestion of a welcome reception or get acquainted type event is also a good one.

    The heat definitely took the fun out of many activities. The weather was so miserable at Monticello that I barely touched the reds. I felt even worse for the wineries that wanted to be able to shine during the event.

    A final note. I think a lighter touch could indeed be used with the sponsorships. We want to give them appropriate recognition, but it shouldn’t lessen the coolness of the event by being too heavy handed. They’ll understand.

    Allan, Reno and company do a nice job putting this together. I’m confident they’ll make some positive adjustments going forward.

  13. Joe says:

    I think the snap, defensive response is to accuse you of being narrow-minded and curmudgeony (is that even a word?). However, I think there’s reason for it:

    East coast bloggers (myself included) have been mobilized to defend their turf against certain criticism from the west-coasters. I say this because I’m an east coaster, and I’ve prepared for the bullets from the moment they announced Charlottesville (in Walla Walla in 2010), and when I first stumbled upon your post, I wanted to accuse you of being a sourpuss.

    However, I’m glad I stopped to think things through. After applying a little level-headedness (which can be difficult for me), I realized that I truly appreciated your honesty, and your not holding back true feelings on the event. While I don’t share many of them, you’re not me, and I’m not you. Whether we all agree or disagree (and I’m not going to split hairs, which seems to have been done ad nauseam in this comment thread), one of the great things about living in the States is our freedom to disagree, and the uninhibited available of blogs magnifies said freedom. And we need a lot of different voices to reach a diverse audience.

    I’m truly sorry you did not have an overall good experience. No, I don’t work for the Virginia wine board, and I currently have no financial stake in the conference. However, the diplomat in me wants everyone to have a wonderful time, and I offer sympathy for your disappointment.

    If anything, let’s make sure we connect at the next conference (if you muster the intestinal fortitude to attend). At the very least, I can be sure to offer you a proper invite to one of the private gatherings. Wine should bring us all together, no matter our differences or opinions.

    Thanks again for your honesty, Richard. If our blogs lose that, then we all lose credibility.

    Joe Herrig, suburbanwino.com

  14. Allan Wright says:

    I have seen several mentions of a lack of an opening reception. We did have an optional Thursday reception with international wines and a Friday reception at Monticello. Both had plenty of free time to walk around and talk to other bloggers. Can someone explain what exactly you are looking for here?

    We also had a suggestion to create a “live networking” event similar to our “live wine blogging”. I am not sure that would work but perhaps that is what you are angling for – a defined way to meet others, without the wine we provide at the two receptions named above?

    • Richard Jennings says:

      I find it absolutely fascinating, and telling, that you don’t know what I, and others, mean by an opening or welcoming reception, given that you are, essentially, in the tour and hospitality business. The Thursday night tasting event, with sponsoring wineries or distributing pouring their wines, was not an opening reception! It was a tasting, with a bunch of people pouring their wines. An opening reception at conferences I’ve attended over the years (some of which I’ve helped organize) is a recognition that there are people arriving from various parts of the world who don’t know each other. It’s a chance to welcome them, give some kind of overview of the event, introduce some key folk, and maybe (depending on the numbers of people) have people introduce themselves. This is too large an event for introductions of everyone, of course, but there could be shows of hands, or people could gather in corners of the room, if they’re from, for example, the Midwest, the South, the West or the East. There could be a show of hands, or gathering into corners, of those who are citizen bloggers, versus industry bloggers, versus other roles. You run all these biking and skating tours–don’t you have people introduce themselves at the beginning, so people can get a sense of who their fellow attendees are and start developing some camaraderie? Obviously the dynamics are different when you are talking 20 versus 100 versus 200 or 300 people, but there are ways of doing this that make people feel welcomed, that give them some idea of who else is there and start the event off on a friendly and inclusive basis. There weren’t no such thing at your conference–not even close. I didn’t know I needed to spell out what I meant, as it’s been pretty common at most kinds of conferences and gatherings of people who don’t already know each other that I attend, and, as I say, I think it is basic to a sense of welcoming and customer service that the hospitality industry tends to be pretty knowledgeable about. I guess I’ll quit taking for granted that you guys know much about conference basics, even though you’ve obviously put on a number of them.


  15. Russ Kane says:

    Don’t feel sorry for Texas wines. I poured at the Other 46 event and had two hours of non-stop action at our table. A two occasions I had people 3 or 4 deep. We had two Viongniers (Brennan Vineyards more old world minerally and McPherson Cellars new world fruit and floral) and two Tempranillos (Llano Estacado with a fruit dominant Crianza style and Lone Oak Winery with their 30 month oak aged Riserva). If you missed it am sorry cause, things were hopping there.

    I also went to the Crotian wine room and found it a real treat. A friend of mine from Denmark and I always talked about the beauty and wine growing of the Dalmatian Coast. It would have been a good place to hide if our business venture went bad.

    Overall, the 2011 event was head and shoulders above the first one I attended in 2008. It has lost some of the intimacy of the 2008 event. My suggestion is that the attendees meet before the start up of the 2012 event and pick some topics that we can run in parallel with the WBC12 proceedings. What do you think?

    Russ Kane

    • Richard Jennings says:

      I didn’t miss those Texas wines at all. I tasted all of them. The Viogniers were just okay, but the Lone Oak Tempranillo was one of the better domestic Tempranillos I’ve tasted. I’m looking forward to getting my tasting notes on those and the other wines of the weekend up on CT, and the more noteworthy ones on the blog, now that I’ve gotten my basic reaction to the conference and its programming off my chest.

      I don’t quite understand what you’re suggesting about meeting before the WBC12 and picking topics to run in parallel with it, but I’m intrigued. Care to explain a little more how that might work?

      Warm regards,

  16. winebratsf says:

    Tom, (and RJ),
    with all due respect – the content last year vs this year was vastly different. That said, there will always be people that aren’t satisfied with the content, which is why – primarily – the conference organizers brought back an important component from the first conference, the “Unconference”. This was where your voice could be heard.

    However, finding the balance between learning about the area the conference is being hosted in, and adding content, in 2.5 days – is tricky. Perhaps it’s time to look at adding a day of content. If presentations were not to your taste, you were free to find others that were. That is why there were options. There will always be naysayers about content and conferences; there is no way to please 100% of the audience.

    Even so – as an experienced blogger and an experienced attendee, I still find value in the content. To state that there is a total lack of content is bogus since there was, in fact, an array of sessions and keynotes for you to absorb. The choice was yours.

    While I agree that more consideration should have been made for the weather, being VA in summer, and meal planning, a certain personal responsibility DOES need to be taken. It is not up to Zephyr or the WBC to guarantee you will have a good time. A point was made multiple times during the weekend that you do not HAVE to do any activity, and that was an important reminder, and one that you both seemed to have missed.

    I CHOSE not to attend the Monticello dinner because I didn’t feel that I would enjoy it.
    I CHOSE to go out to dinner.
    I CHOSE to go to the Online Technologies session.
    I CHOSE to hear Jancis speak.
    I CHOSE to attend live wine blogging.

    These are MY choices.

    Furthermore, as I CHOOSE to engage in twitter, I found out about many after parties and spontaneous get togethers. I did not get ANY pre-conference invites to parties, and I am a 4 year attendee. If you are engaged with the audience, they will engage you.

    If you go assuming that you will have a bad time, you will – indeed, have a bad time and consider it a total lack of money. You are not the only one who spent considerable time and money to attend; if I stewed about that, I’d never go anywhere. Instead, you need to ask yourself “what do **I* want out of this? HOW will I get that?” and go out and do that.

    Engage in twitter. Engage in blogs. The list of attendees is published in advance; read the blogs, follow #wbc11 on twitter. Get to know some people . Plan some casual get togethers. There only way to not be an outsider is to make yourself an insider.

    • Tom says:


      Since you addressed this to me, I’ll reply, otherwise I wouldn’t have, all due respect or not. I had a good time at the conference, met some nice people, and thought it was worthwhile. I sent a list of recommendations to Allan on how things could be made a little easier for next time, for which I received a gracious reply and thanks. I’ll be happy to share them with you if you like. One of them was to better characterize the blogs of the attendees so that we can find people based on geography and content — in other words, be better prepared — I’m sure that neither you nor I has time to read over 300 blogs before the conference.

      As to your point about “choosing” to go to one thing or another, if sessions are concurrent you can’t do all of them, you can just guess at the real content — and if you spend 15 minutes deciding that one isn’t right for you, it’s very difficult to join another session already in progress and catch up. The same went for the Unconference sessions. I “chose” to do the activities I did because I felt I owed it to myself to try as many wines as possible, and because I hadn’t done them before– especially since this was my first WBC. I’ll know more for next time if I can make it.

      I did exactly as you recommended and I had a good time — and yet there are still ways that this could have been a better experience. That’s what I’d hoped people would take away, but I guess I didn’t make myself clear.

  17. Allan Wright says:

    This is more posting than I have done on any blog except my own. 🙂

    Richard, to answer your question and give you just one example, here is how the conversation might have gone about Live Wine Blogging.

    You – Allan, I really hated that Live Wine Blogging. Why do you do it?
    Me – Really? Bummer. I created that idea back at the first conference in 2008 and it was so popular people erupted in cheers and asked us to do TWO of them the next year.
    You – Well, perhaps it is getting old.
    Me – Actually, we ask attendees to review every event and LWB almost always is one of the top ranked events of every conference.
    You – Maybe the wines just weren’t as good this year.
    Me – Could be. We don’t taste all the wines in advance and if you don’t generally like Virginia wines, that might be part of it.

    Result might be that you write a more balanced review of the conference, at least a review that recognizes others have different viewpoints. I understand blogs are personal statements but we are all citizens of the world and I think the world goes around a lot more smoothly when we understand how others think. Of course, our politicians don’t seem to hold to that view and neither do many of our TV broadcasters.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      If you’d told me that everyone always reports they love the “live wine blogging” event, I would have been dubious, but I would still have blasted it. I would have wanted to know how you phrased the question, and how many people really responded. But I don’t doubt that there are some, presumably newbie and more naive, bloggers who might dig it. Nonetheless, it was grotesque. It made me feel dirty. And do you actually screen any of the wines in advance, or have a panel that advises you on what sponsors to accept? It sure didn’t seem like it.

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  19. tairanniew says:

    I was not at the conference, so probably should leave this alone, but I find it remarkable and amusing that so many people are giving Richard a hard time for not enjoying himself!

    He never claimed that everyone is miserable, and he never claimed that his view is definitive or even representative of anyone except himself. It is personal. There is a huge difference between “I like/hate A” which is subjective and “A is intrinsically good/bad” which is objective.

    To ask him to recognise that there are people who enjoyed it is logically pointless – except to make the organisers feel better about themselves!

    It is akin to wine tasting notes that go “I hate this wine, but there are people who like it”, or better still “I like this wine, but there are people who hate it”! Pointless, yes?

    Allan, to imply that he is not aware that other people have other views is insulting and childish, as is inferring that he is a rabid politician or tabloid media. You can see from his responses to all the comments that he is more than willing to listen, and readily acknowledges that other people have other views.

    We are not discussing how to save starving children in Africa. He just does not like the conference you’ve organised. That’s all.

  20. Jack Collins says:

    I really enjoyed your post and I hope the WBC Organizers take it to heart and learn from your experience. I’m not a wine blogger but am very active in the wine world. I almost attended this year’s conference since it was in C-ville, my old stomping grounds dating back to high school. To those that said you get out what you put in that is partially true, however, this is not a free event. This is a paid event and for it to be successful going forward the event needs to realize that inclusion is paramount. The wine industry, as a whole, is very exclusionary. Wine bloggers are a notable exception to this and need to bare arms as a whole to break up the exclusionary practices of the wine world. You have paid reviewers telling you not to write a review for a year. I would hope more people will step forward and condemn this. Wine reviewing and/or tasting is a personal experience. What I like you may not. Writing about what you taste not only helps you learn your palate but also helps your readers understand where you are coming from. Much the same as a ‘pro’ wine reviewer garners followers so will a wine blogger. If you and I agree on a lot of wine reviews I’m more likely to buy a wine you’ve liked. To put it best, do what you want how and when you want. Don’t let others dictate your wine blogging. As for conferences, based on the many I’ve attended the most fun ones I went to were ones I attended with friends. If you do go to WBC 12 please let me know. I’m always close to Portland and I can take you to taste some wonderful wines.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for your very articulate comment. I fully agree about the industry and the other points you make. And if I do go to WBC12, or at least hang out in the same hotel while it’s going on, which is tempting because I’m overdue for a trip back to Portland and Willamette Valley, I will certainly let you know. It would be great to meet you.

  21. Brian says:

    Keep it up RJ. Actually maybe next year the organizers will run a session about how to not be childish and petulant when writing comments to blogs. And they can use their own comments here as examples of what not to do. Frankly their comments alone would make me never want to support them.

    • Helen Jane says:

      Agreed! This was a thoughtful, considered and brave piece.

      The organizers and those criticized had many ways they could have responded.
      I’m surprised their responses seemed so inappropriately defensive.

  22. Russ Kane says:

    What I’m talking about is an anti-conference. Get WBC to set aside a room where we can run some events in parallel with the planned program. If the planned events are so good they won’t miss us and we can have a good time on topics of common interest.

    In the bigger scheme of things this may be like Sundance. It was a successful independent film festival, but eventually went mainstream. Many of the indies broke off and formed Slamdance held at the same time as Sundance and in the same town, Park City UT. It is dedicated to indies and nothing but indies.


    • Richard Jennings says:

      I do like your idea. An alt-con, where attendees who want to take a break from collecting swag and writing tweets on behalf of WBC’s sponsors could come over and chat about what concerns them as bloggers. Thanks for that. I love Portland, and Oregon Pinot, and being in the area where a lot of bloggers are assembled, and skipping on a conference with content dictated by sponsors is starting to sound very appealing.

      • Russ Kane says:

        If you want to pursue alt-con ideas for WBC12 for Portland count me in.

        If you want to review the tx viogniers with me I would like your input as I picked the two I brought as two of the best representatives that have tasted well versus nationally rated wines.


  23. Andy Reagan says:

    A few suggestions for you Richard. If I were you I would have taken advantage of the blogger community you are a part of and gotten in touch with your fellow bloggers long before the start of the conference email, phone, all sorts of ways to strike up a conversation. I say that with no idea whether or not you have the time to follow other wine blogs. When I flew to Sacramento last winter I was sure to get in touch with winemakers in Lodi, and Napa in the hopes that I would be able to see their operations and experience places that I otherwise would not have had the chance. If you had googled virginia wineries and found that my winery was the closest to your hotel, you could have emailed me and tried to set up a meeting. I totally agree with you on some of the points you made, the glasses used were pathetic, the fast paced corraling of the bloggers through the conference left little time for them to experience the wine industry here the way I would have preferred, but 2.5 days to satisfy 300+ bloggers seems like a huge task. With that said your points are valid opinions and I would hope that if they are shared by even 1/4 of fellow bloggers that things will change for you guys next year. Another suggestion I have would be more for the organizers. Perhaps offering more content running at the same time as tastings or winery visits. Allowing attendees to taste when they want to taste or listen to talks when they want to listen. This imho would allow for more time to be devoted to each and a much more laid back approach to the weekend. You’d just have to get the speakers on board with repeating their talks a couple times over the weekend. I didn’t necessarily find your post scathing as others may have, I do believe however, that you have to take more initiative for some of the things you were unhappy about, whereas the conference organizers also need to provide a better experience. Especially better glasses.

  24. Bob Davis says:

    I liked the write up. I’m really surprised at all the defensive comments. I’ve been to several large events on the west coast and they seem to understand more of what makes a successful event. They don’t let sponsors essentially take over an event. Sponsors get a nice mention and a lot of ad space.

    They also understand down time between sessions. Power Point presentations are BORING almost regardless of the subject. They should be banned at wine events.

    For me, slogging through uninteresting wines gets tiresome very quickly and I admire your stamina. I also agree that scheduling an outdoor event in Virginia, in the summer, even when it is not abnormally hot is not a very good idea. I understand the pride of showing off Monticello but we never play tourist in MD/DC/VA from June through August. We live here and it’s just too hot most of the time.

  25. Aaron says:

    I vote for Tairanniew as the wisest person on this page so far. As she said, it was just one particular guy that didn’t like one particular conference. Gee whiz.

    It’s amazing how defensive and hurt wine-producers or conference-organizers or widget-makers can be when one particular person does not like their wine/conference/widget.

    It’s not like RJ is some great celebrity on whose endorsement, or lack thereof, hangs the success or failure of every enterprise. I’ve never even heard of the guy before today.

  26. Aaron says:

    Oops, I meant “he” not “she”.

  27. Mike says:

    I certainly agree with some of your points, but I don’t agree with your overall assessment. I did think the conference was a bit light on content. The online technology breakout session was very good, as were both keynotes. Outside of that, there wasn’t any real content. As a first time WBC attendee, I would have loved a breakout session on monetizing your blog. As one of the organizers mentioned in the comments, this was offered many times in the past. I can understand them not wanting to repeat the same session too often, but isn’t that the point of having multiple breakout sessions to choose from? Us WBC newbies could have gone to the monetizing session, and those that had been before could choose to go elsewhere.

    It’s unfortunate that you weren’t up to the vineyard visits on Saturday. That was most certainly a highlight of the conference. It was great to get out and see the country surrounding C-Ville. It was great to spend some time with a couple of the local vineyard owners, and taste their wine. It was great to spend some time with a (relatively) small group of fellow wine bloggers. Also, between air-conditioned buses and air-conditioned tasting rooms, the heat wasn’t an issue like it was at Monticello.

    In one of the comments above, you referred to the speed blogging as “grotesque.” Can you elaborate on that a bit? Personally, I thought those sessions were pretty fun. Sure, they aren’t good for thoroughly evaluating a wine and taking proper tasting notes. I think the point is to just go with your first impression, taste wine, and have fun with it. My only criticism of the speed tasting would be to de-emphasize the live blogging part of it. Participants should only blog or tweet about any samples that were particularly noteworthy. I found that when I didn’t worry about tweeting, I really had fun tasting and discussing the wines with others at my table. Us bloggers from all over the country can tweet at each other all year long. It’s better to take the opportunity to actually speak face-to-face while we have it.

    Maybe a welcoming reception would have been nice, but I don’t think that sort of thing is so crucial. During all the tastings – international, meet the sponsors, Monticello, other 46, and so on, there was plenty of time to meet and converse with other bloggers.

    Overall, I had a great time at WBC11 and I hope to get to Portland next year.

  28. Ah, if you had only asked me, Richard, I would have told you this is not something you’ll enjoy. You’re already a professional taster and this event was not for a serious professional such as yourself. Any tasting at Slaton’s or TerriorSF you’d enjoy more.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      I wish I’d asked you. 😉 No, this event was not as serious as I’d hoped. Maybe it will be, one day though. I’ve agreed to be part of the group of bloggers that helps advise the organizers on programming and the like for the next one, in Portland. I think some positive changes can be made.

      • Beau says:

        Now that is something I look forward to seeing, Richard. Will you publicize your suggestions and/or the group’s, before the WBC12 in Portland?

        • Richard Jennings says:

          I think it does make sense for either the organizers, or the group advising the organizers, to let interested people know what suggestions/changes are being made well before WBC12 occurs. If the responsibility falls on me to make this communication, I will certainly do so, as this kind of communication is, I agree, vital to keeping the community of wine bloggers posted on what kind of event this is going to be.

          Thanks for your comment,

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  30. RJ,

    While I may agree with some of your statements, post facto blow out only shares the negative. I spoke with Alan in length after the conference as we had overlapping flights itineraries. I too volunteered to get involved again (I had a small in 2010), and believe for 2012 we need to reel some of this back in.

    We’ll realize the difficulty of having plush amenities come with these sponsorships and sometimes from comapnies pouring wines that are less than desirable for our palates. But the sentiment I had and heard is lets bring it back to the community of bloggers, lets emphasize our unity, as if we falter we lose our ground.

    And I too had the experience of feeling like I was in an ongoing focus group or marketing seminar, so I often ditched out of events and caught up with who ever was around.

    There is alot that can be improved, but I actually think we need to strip the glitz and glam, and deal with sub-par glassware and humble spreads of food, so that we can get back to the core of why we are all together. And we also need to be aware that unconferences and free flow programming will have marketing poachers, which I know will be addressed and monitored by Zephyr.

    So let’s see what happens with Willamette, but as plans are already well in the works. Now is the time to throw hands in the middle and get constructive and make sure 2012 is robust and sincere.


    • Richard Jennings says:


      I really appreciate your sharing your perspective, especially based on your prior experience with these conferences. I’m not sure I understand your statement that “post facto blow out only shares the negative.” In my write up, I started with “The Good,” and ended with some positive points. At any rate, I have likewise expressed willingness, following up on Tom Wark’s invitation to me, to serve on a group of some kind to help advise and even support the conference organizers as they try to make course corrections for WBC12. I am happy to give them another chance, based on their apparent willingness to hear from those of us who have constructive suggestions and are willing to help.

      I very much like your idea of getting back to basics, and not “selling out” for the “glitz and glam.”

      Warm regards,

  31. John Glas says:


    I love your honest opinion on this event. I saw your notes on the wines poured during the conference and they are embarrassing to say the least and certainly not up to the standards you are use to. I hope you can make a better event happen in the future as your standards are sure to promote better wines and being in Oregon will help.

    I have to laugh at the no posting of notes/scores for a year. If one does not have an opinion on wine I always say drink the cheapest one you can find.



  32. Casey Benjamin says:

    I must admit, I found your misadventures wildly entertaining, like the John Hughes movie “Plains, Trains & Automobiles” kept wondering what else could possibly go wrong. I know you work hard to provide the content that you do, but a little reminder that it’s not all fine cuisine, DRC and first growth is always refreshing.

    My wife runs a popular food blog, one day I suggested she post her kitchen failures since she only ever posts the success stories. Turned out to be one of her more popular posts.

    Speaking of which, she attends many similar events; BlogHer, FoodBuzz, IFBC, etc. I hear many of the same complaints that you have, one memorable moment was when Chef Rocco DiSpirito was slinging a line of frozen foods to a room full of foodies. A waste of time and food that did not get eaten but hey… the conference fee was a few dollars cheaper. Interestingly enough, the types of discussions and panels you were hoping for did occur in the early years at those conferences but now she mostly goes to hang out with her clique of friends that she met at previous years conferences.

    I applaud your professionalism and diplomacy with the post and comment follow ups. You provided helpful suggestions and praise rather than going into full on rant mode which is so common online.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      Thank you for the kind words, and for sharing your wife’s experiences. What’s the name of her blog? I’d love to check it out. Interesting that these blogger type gatherings, in more than one field, seem to be taking a similar direction.
      And you’re right, it’s not all DRC. 😉 I’m busy finishing up a post about Virginia wines, which I wouldn’t have tried so many of but for the conference. It was a learning experience, and I appreciate the dedication it takes to make even passable wines in difficult climates.

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