It was one part Survivor, two parts American Idol. Throw in a little Top Chef, a splash of Amazing Race, and a dash of The Bachelor and you have the Wine Bloggers Conference 2014. I returned nearly a week ago, and although I have yet to process fully, as I was reflecting on the weekend, it occurred to me that it had several of the pieces that make a great reality show. Timed events, surprises, legends, even a spat among the panel.
Take the first event of the conference. Discover Portugal: Influences Around the World. There were stations in each corner of the room with food and wine pairings from India, Portugal, Brazil, and Japan. The food that I had a chance to try was delicious but it was the wines that made a lasting impression.
The event made me think of the viral videos we have all seen. A little girl comes on the stage, slowly, with her head down. The audience looks at each other, not knowing what to expect. Can she hold her own? But when she opens her mouth, jaws drop.
When people think about Portugal, they usually think about port. Maybe they have had a lower end Vinho Verde. But when I poured the wine, they all had the same look of surprise. They had no idea what to expect, but as they swirled, smelled, and tasted, their eyes lit up. Mineral driven whites, bold savory reds, large range, low price points. American Idol meets Top Chef. Think of the ratings.
This is where we move to The Voice, or the Biggest Loser coaching portion. Corbett Barr of Fizzle gave us the pep talk, the how-tos of blogging, work-life balance, opportunity and ways to support one another. We left inspired, ready to take on the blogosphere.
We moved to the panel of Santa Barbara County winemakers hosted by Larry Shaffer of Tercero Wines: Richard Sanford, Ken Brown, Rick Longoria and Bob Lindquist. Wine lovers go on “hometown dates.” How did they choose SBC? Why is it unique? Why do the wines from Santa Barbara County deserve to move on in the competition? They all received roses.
Speed Tasting. 10 wines in an hour. Kind of like the auditions of American Idol but there were no humiliating moments. Some made us stand up and applaud and some showed enough to move on. Regardless, trying to evaluate after one “song” was a challenge indeed. The first day we evaluated whites, reds the next day. In order to Survive these sessions, you need to be a pro-spitter (glad I practiced!) but even all the spitting couldn’t save my tongue from the perils of too many tannins.
We learned about how the pros taste with Steve Heimoff, Patrick Comiskey, and Joe Roberts. This was a fun session. I wish we’d had more time to delve in deeper, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I loved Patrick Comiskey’s idea of looking for purity in his wines, at Riesling in terms of quality of light. I guess that part differed from most reality shows. We tasted three wines, one chosen by each panel member and a “mystery” wine. I guessed Italian, as did the panel, so I didn’t feel too bad when it was a Grenache from Australia. (Huh?) I guess I failed the quick-fire challenge.
This is where we entered the Amazing Race zone. Ten busses, ten different excursions, ten mysteries. It was starting to get a little “Lord of the Flies” meets “Titanic” in front of the hotel. Grown men and women shuffling and pressing to get on certain busses. At first I tried to follow my new-found friends, but decided I’d just embrace the unknown. Talk-a-Vino and I paired up and got on a later bus. Again, more at a later date.
If Wines of Portugal was the timid girl belting out a new take on an old hymn, Syrah of Ballard County was the farm boy who stands up and performs an aria that makes you weep. AMAZING wines. The soil, the topography, and the dedication of these growers and producers combine to create unforgettable wines. For a full review of this session, I recommend reading SoloSyrah’s take. Who better to critique? Reruns, please.
The Professional Wine Writers session was filled with good information, inspiration, and more than a few catty comments. Steve Heimoff, Mike Dunne, and James Conaway shared insights into good writing, journalism, and interview techniques. There were some great insights and some comments that left more than a few in attendance scratching their heads. At times it felt like there was a gap in the realm of teacher/student. It was kind of like Cat Stevens coaching Eminem on storytelling in music. Both are great at storytelling, but the motivation and the audience differ greatly. There can still be a lot of good information gleaned, but you need to respect one another to do your best learning. Take what applies, question your motivations, move forward.
Taylor Eason may be the next Ryan Seacrest. When tensions got high on the panel, she knew how to diffuse. A smile, some redirection, and order was restored. And, boy, can the girl throw a party! Still, there were moments that felt like watching any panel that Simon Cowell is a part of. It may get uncomfortable but he is great at pushing performers past their comfort levels and isn’t afraid to speak his mind. You may leave feeling intimidated, but it will likely make you a better writer/performer.
Officially the conference ended as any good reality show does: a few awards, some dirty jokes, and a big announcement. Congratulations to all of the winners and to my home state of New York for snagging next year’s conference! We had already planned a trip north next summer so I know that I plan on being there.
No program is possible without the hard work of all the behind the scenes producers, sponsors, and casting. Being a Scholarship Recipient was kind of like getting one of the 10 final roses so I need to thank all of you that made it possible.
Vincent Group Consulting
Thea Dwelle – Co -Founder / Scholarship Chair / Ambassador
Megan Kenney – Co-Founder, Committee Member
Cindy Rynning - Committee Member
Becca Yeamans – The Academic Wino
Shawn Burgert – A Wandering Wino
Melanie Ofenloch – Dallas Wine Chick
The Scholarship Sponsors**:
Rodney Strong Vineyards
**For a Full List of Event Sponsors see the Wine Blogger Conference Website.