Now for the WBC10 experience. It’s hard to know where to start so I thought I’d put it in diary form to try to capture the essence and experience. Please keep in mind that while I took notes, I found that my early morning notes tended to be a little more detailed and legible than those taken later in the evening.
Thursday, June 24
The moment I’ve been waiting for – I’m here. I’ve survived the wine bloggers road trip and the confused GPS due to a newly-opened highway. We have reached the Marcus Whitman Hotel. It’s historic and lovely. We were greeted in the lobby by William with an open bottle of wine and Riedel glasses. I think I’m going to like this place.
After trying to figure out which pre-party to attend, several of us made our way to Basel Cellars where several wine makers including Reininger Winery were pouring some excellent wines. My favorite wine from Basel Cellars was the 06 Basel Cellars Inspired, which was made in a traditional Bordeaux style blend. It was a well balanced wine with stone fruit and spice. My favorite wines from Reininger included the Helix Red 05 with big raspberry, oakiness, blueberry, plum and black currant as well the 07 Cabernet Sauvignon.
We received a tour and were shown the “man cave”. This is the ultimate finger in the air room to the divorced wife. When we jokingly asked about the stripper pole, we quickly found out that it had been removed just for our visit.
So we just call this photo, “Bloggers Gone Wild.”
Friday, June 25
I thought I’d start the conference out on a good note and went for a run though the town of Walla Walla. Never before have I been to a conference where registration opened at 10 a.m. and there was wine served freely in the registration area. Liza (my roomie) and I decided to take a quick walk through town in an attempt to not overindulge this early. I found that we were definitely a curiosity to the locals. We were asked many times about how we made a living by blogging. I think we dashed many hopes when we explained that most of us just had a passion for wine and did this on our own time and funds.
The conference opened with a taco truck tasting lunch. Very humorous to see the décor of what looked to be a Texas BBQ but featured chicken, Walla Walla beef and beef tacos. With a big syrah, I have to say that they rocked.
So, it’s now 2 p.m. and the conference officially begins (my kind of start time). We kicked it off with the wine blogger awards and I attended the Advanced Wine Blogging session with Joe Roberts, Jeff Lefevere and RJ Hilgers. I admire and respect these guys and they had some great advice for someone who aspires to be a better writer, increase my readership and make Dallas Wine Chick a top wine experience destination. As expected, I have a long way to go, but thanks to them I have a great foundation to get there.
We then experienced speed dating for wine. Picture 300 bloggers at 60 tables with computers, iPads, iPhones, Blackberries and every other technology device known to man. Imagine 60 wine makers, who are given 5 minutes per wine to pour, describe and answer questions. And then…. switch. Our table tasted 12 wines – a mix of everything from high end to box wine. This was a great way to get to know a variety of different wines and wine makers. Obviously spitting was mandatory and it was funny to see the very honest comments on the big screen Tweetup.
After dinner, we advanced to the Walla Walla Walkabout with the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance or as we called it the WWWWWVWA. Basically it was a progressive tasting room party that allowed us to get a feel for the wines of the region. We ended up at the Charles Shaw party where they served rock star wines out of plastic cups since we missed the library tasting earlier. It was quite the burlesque show, but when the dancers’ pasties started to flame, I realized I was a little …. old. Judging from the amount of bloggers that stayed out until after 4 a.m., I missed quite the party.
Liza and I found an open tasting room and proceeded to be amused by a really drunk couple. When the man left for the bathroom we watched the woman pop no less than ten huge chocolate covered strawberries into her mouth. I can’t imagine the sugar and alcohol induced highs and lows that she must have experienced later.
Saturday, June 26
You couldn’t have attended this conference without hearing through the grapevine it was my birthday. Not because I was obnoxious about letting everyone know, but because my friends broadcast it everywhere I went – by mouth, by Facebook, by Twitter. I’m jumping ahead a bit, but it was such an awesome surprise to be invited by Margot and Dave over for a glass of wine and find an awesome chocolate cake with my name on it! The bottles of wine that I received as birthday gifts were absolutely amazing and everyone’s generosity continued all day – from bloggers, wineries and distributors. Thank you, thank you, thank you all for making a birthday that was spent away from my family one that I will remember forever. It really was nice to coincide #wbc10 with #mbc10 (melanie’s birthday conference).
We started the conference that day early with a departure before 9 a.m. We randomly picked a bus as no destinations were given and I was thrilled to find Kevin Pogue, a renowned geologist whose talk I missed that morning while I was in the gym, was our leader. Our first stop was Waters Winery, which was founded in 2005. We stopped at the Forgotten Hills vineyard and learned about Jamie Brown’s approach of celebrating the land by making distinct, “old world” wines that express the “time and place.” We tried the 09 Rose ($18) and the 08 Forgotten Hills Syrah ($40). The syrah was a big boy with earthiness, truffles, pepper and mushroom.
We had a little time to kill, so we stopped by Cayuse Vineyards, a miracle started by a French winemaker that fell in love with a few acres of farmland that was covered in stones. Fast forward a few years and Cayuse is one of the most acclaimed wineries in Washington. While we didn’t get to try their wines, I am absolutely intrigued with the terroir and what they are able to produce from the land.
Our next stop was my favorite – Leonetti Cellars where we had the great opportunity to try two other wines. Tom Schafer from aMaurice poured Sparrow Viognier, which is made by his daughter, Anna. The wine tasted of big peach, citrus and other stone fruits with almond on the nose. I really liked this, but with only 37 cases produced, it is long gone. Winemaker Ken Hart from Tulpen Cellars poured his Dryland Cabernet Sauvignon. It needed some more time in the bottle, but it had nice balance and a big berry/currant taste. Then we hit the mecca – Leonetti Reserva 05. I described it in my tasting notes as a “symphony in a glass.” Big blend of morels, clove, blueberry and cinnamon that could age for another 20 years.
We then ventured to Cougar Crest Winery where they had a nice lunch for us and we were able to taste a variety of their wines. I loved that Cougar Crest sold wine for “medicinal purposes” throughout Prohibition. My favorite wine there was the award-winning 05 Reserve Syrah that was spicy with big fruit.
Then back to the conference. I attended a great session given by Andrea Robinson, Barbara Evans and David Honig about growing your audience from other bloggers to consumers and got some great advice from some talented and successful bloggers.
It was then that I rebelled when I found out the “unconference” was occurring on the patio outside. I went to my room and proudly got my bottle of Turley 05 Petite Syrah from Haynes Vineyard. And, that’s when I found out I was an amateur. We had vintage Bordeauxs, expensive champagnes, big California cult cabernets and everything in between along with conversation, laughter and one blogger with a cigar.
We ended the afternoon with live wine blogging with a focus on red wines. Lesson from that – be sure to bring the package of Wine Wipes to keep your teeth from turning purple. Our dinner that night was sponsored by the Washington Wine Commission with a keynote from Lettie Teague of the New York Times. The food was awesome, the wines at our table were delicious and Lettie’s insight about the wine industry was spot on. We adjourned to an after hours party hosted by Rias Baixas Albarino and wines from Spain where we tasted a multitude of albarino wines. We were then whisked away by Reininger for a midnight party. I continued my enjoyment of the Helix Red and tried a secret spooky wine that I loved but can’t tell you any more detail. Sorry — what happens at Reininger stays at Reininger. It’s the rules of fight club.
Sunday, June 27
The next morning came quickly, but the morning session with Andrew Lazorchak, fellow Texan Ben Simons and Joe Herrig entitled “Top Gun Blogging,” was well worth the time. The highlight of the day was a wine/food pairing seminar with Chef Jeffrey Saad, who was smart, entertaining, well spoken and discussed some great overall trends about wine, cheese, meats and other new/old pairings. We then had a fabulous lunch that the Click Wine Group and Chef “Bear” Ullman hosted with a variety of well-paired white and red wines with everything from sliders to tuna tartar to a goat cheese tart that I still think about.
Unless you are not following the Wine Bloggers Conference or you slept in that day, you know about the announcement that the Wine Bloggers Conference 2011will be held in Charlottesville, Virginia. A controversial, yet interesting choice. Aside from my initial reaction from my Virginia wine tasting last month, I think I’ll reserve my judgment until I’ve researched more about what Virginia wines have to offer. At a minimum, I’ll have a great time seeing the wine blogging mafia next July.