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Postscript Thoughts on the Wine Blogging Conference

I had the pleasure of attending the Wine Blogger Conference that took place October 24th – 26th in Santa Rosa, CA.

The first thing that jumps out to me about the conference is how organized of an affair it was.  Frankly, my expectations were a lot lower and Allan from Zephyr Adventures and Joel from the Open Wine Consortium over-delivered, particularly on value for my measly $95 out of pocket expense.

The value started with the speed dating-like live wine blogging in which groups of vintners had five minutes to pour and give their story and it ended with the Saturday night keynote at Sebastiani with Alice Feiring. 

The vineyard walk Saturday morning at Quivera, by itself, was worth $75 to me.  How often do you get a 3-hour pragmatic discourse from a biodynamic practitioner along with three course wine-paired lunch?  Not often enough for me. 

The grand tasting of New Zealand and Sonoma wines was another very nice touch. 

The whole event was a treat and I have not even begun to talk about the surreal pleasure of meeting online friends for the first time. 

Net-net, if there is a second Wine Blogger Conference, I would highly encourage anybody associated with social media and wine to sign-up.

Some other thoughts that struck me over the course of three days:

• On this blog I have off-handedly questioned both Gary Vaynerchuk and Alice Feiring, the events two keynote speakers – both people proved to be genuinely warm, assured, benevolent lovers of wine and I’m somewhat regretful I have criticized both.  Gary is just fine without me, but my make-good for Alice is to finish reading her book.

• I was fearful of talking to Erika Strum because I have really taken her dad, founder of Wine Enthusiast, to task before – call me a wimp, if you will …

• I wish I were friends with Josh from pinotblogger in college; we would have had a lot of fun together … and created some havoc, though he already has his jail story.

•    Doug Cook from AbleGrape has a very able palate, winning the blind tasting challenge

• It’s an interesting dynamic when, unbeknownst to me, I find myself talking with a person who has disagreed with me on my site

• It dawned on me that I know more about and have more inherent trust in many wine bloggers than I do with many people I have worked with professionally for years

• For an Indiana boy where figs never make the produce aisle, eating perfectly ripe figs from the tree, in a biodynamic vineyard (Quivera) where you know no pesticides are used, is an exceptional treat.

• For an Indiana boy where we’re culturally literate, but not always progressive, eating house made salumi at Quivera was also a nice treat

• As an avowed non-participant in Twitter, I realized I am missing the boat

• What started as Blogging is fragmenting into three camps – social networks, bloggers and Twitter.  Of course, you still have the old guard on the message boards, too along with the tasting note sites … those five constituencies will continue to bedevil wineries trying to harness influence

• Social networking relationships are friendly and open, but there is an undercurrent of cliquishness

• Large wine companies, who attended the conference in abundance, are still trying to figure out how to get their arms around blogging and social media

• To a large extent, blogging has a reached a saturation point regarding how much we can sniff each others exhaust.  In order to grow the medium, consumers need to come to wine blogs in larger numbers.  Depressing statistics about RSS usage (10-15%) means we might be at an inflection point for how to grow the influence portion of blogging

• On the heels of “RockawayGate” and my participation on a panel about wine industry and blogger interaction, I get the sense that whomever tries to monetize wine blogging around anything other than straight advertising is in for a long fight and potential pariah status

• Robert Larsen from Rodney Strong and Rockaway bought my lunch on Friday.  I was not going to allow him to do so until he noted that Steve Heimoff has taken a free lunch, as well.

• On a macro-level, the whole wine blogging conference could be considered an influencing junket – I walked away with a greater appreciation for individual wineries, Sonoma wines, Zephyr Adventures, and BioD.  I am okay with this. 

• My favorite wines from the live blogging tasting, in no certain order are:  4 Bear Winery, Bonterra, Clos La Chance and delicious dry Muscat Blanc from James David, and Twisted Oak.

• I’m all for progressiveness, yet I’m still trying hard to find the romance and intrigue in wine packaged in tetra paks, logic tells this is better than glass, yet I’m still down for a glass bottle.

• Biodynamics is nothing more and nothing less than a religious debate; since I’m an “all God’s creatures” kind of guy, I’m totally open to hearing about BioD from a practitioner like Steven Canter at Quivera

• That said about BioD, I do have to arch an eyebrow when I am told there is a BioD consultant in Oregon who installs small dwellings in vineyards for Gnomes.  It is one thing to bury a horn with dung at the equinox and another to build housing for mystical little people.

• There is a slight disconnect between Quivera’s BioD practices and the very ripe, high alcohol California-like wines they produce.  I chalk this up to ownership palate preferences, but there is still something incongruent …

• If Napa Valley has the reputation then Sonoma has the mojo

*Ed Note* to view a couple of the panel discussions, including the one that I was on, go to Caveman Wines.  Michael is also doing a nice job of re-capping the event, as well.


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Vin de Napkin - Wine Bloggers Conference

As Mark Twain famously said, ““The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

So it goes with blogging, as well.

Many in the mainstream media have a certain schadenfreude about the state of blogging with many reporting its death.  Undoubtedly, these are the same journalists who have assailed blogging as being a bunch of amateur hacks for the last couple of years.

If anything blogging, particularly in niches like wine, will only continue to grow stronger as the quality increases.  Celebrity gossip, politics, technology, yeah, that game may be over, but for virtually every other niche, blogging is here to stay.

I’m out at the Wine Blogger Conference in Santa Rosa this weekend and looking forward to meeting up with many of my peers who I have known through email and their blogs for the last couple of years.

Oh, yeah, and there will be an abundance of good wine, too.  Little things ...

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The Wine Consumer Speaks

Indiana consumers couldn’t buy wine directly from wineries.  Then some half-baked legislation passed that said you could provided that you signed up to do so face-to-face at the winery.  Then, consumers were given the right to buy winery direct, but no wineries signed up because it seemed like the winds were still swirling and the permit fees were a couple of hundred bucks with no certain return on the money spent.  Finally, the ability to buy wine direct from a winery was pulled back—all in the span of three years.

It’s enough to give you a headache.  There are folks in Indiana that are fighting the good fight.  Below is a narrative from Allen Olson who represented consumers to a legislative committee on the 15th.

Reprinted with permission

By Allen “Ole” Olson for the Story Inn

Making history is never easy, and a long, intense October 15 afternoon before the Interim Legislative Committee on Alcoholic Beverages confirmed that. For the first time ever, wine consumers, represented by VinSense, Inc., appeared before a major legislative committee with just one request: please eliminate the requirement that a consumer wishing to buy wine by phone, fax, mail, or the internet must first visit the winery from which he or she is ordering.

Six state senators and six state representatives from both parties listened attentively, took notes and asked questions, even as the hour was late and they had already heard passionate appeals from the Wine and Spirit Wholesalers, the Beverage Alliance, Monarch Beverage Company, the Association of Beverage Retailers, and the Chairman of the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, all urging the committee to retain the current three-tier system for selling alcoholic beverages in the state and, above, all, never allow consumers to buy their wines directly from the producers.

These defenders of the status quo presented results of a survey they had commissioned showing that a majority of those polled preferred not opening more access to the purchase of alcohol. Polls of this kind call to mind the pollster’s trick question: “Is it all right to smoke while praying” evokes a different response than “Is it all right to pray while smoking?”

The president of Monarch Beverage tried to convince the committee that wine buyers have plenty of choice in Indiana, explaining that shelves are lined with bottles bearing labels of all kinds of critters, leaving us to infer that there are no other labels to consider.

VinSense did not attack or criticize the wholesaler position. VinSense merely pointed out that no wholesaler and no retailer could possibly stock all the wines in the market place. “We want,” they said, “access to wines not carried by wholesalers and the right to order them directly.” VinSense admitted that direct shipment is allowed in Indiana but only after the buyer has made a personal visit to the winery to complete identification information, whether the winery is in Oregon or Indianapolis. The VinSense testimony pointed out that the BAT has also imposed rather cumbersome requirements on out-of-state wineries wanting to ship to Indiana consumers, causing them to be reluctant to bother with the Indiana market.

One senator asked how we could be sure appropriate taxes would be collected; VinSense referred to the procedures laid out in the VinSense draft legislation. A representative asked if it’s the VinSense position that current law was influenced by sizeable campaign contributions. VinSense refused to characterize it quite that way but allowed that contributions certainly do have influence and that the current law was acted on in haste. Two representatives expressed concern that granting the VinSense request might open the way for “super stores” to get direct shipping. VinSense admitted that couldn’t be predicted but that free market forces should be allowed to work in keeping with the Commerce Clause which always trumps the 21st Amendment when the two are in conflict.

The working draft of the VinSense legislation is titled “Direct Wine Sales Proposal,” and readers are invited to write committee members to support that proposal at this address:

Chair, Interim Study Committee on Alcoholic Beverages, Legislative Services Agency, 200 West Washington Street – Suite 301, Indianapolis, IN 46204.

To provide additional information on the direct sales issue, VinSense has posted a detailed Primer on Direct Wine Sales on its website: www.vinsense.org.

It’s finally fair to say that the idea of direct wine sales has got the attention of key legislators, and that it’s now up to all of us consumers to get our elected officials behind the VinSense initiative. Call or write to your own legislators referencing the VinSense proposal sent to the committee. VinSense also plans to send a copy to every legislator.


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Your Write in Candidate for President

Thanks to a tremendous amount of support from readers of this blog, a groundswell of support has started for me as a write-in candidate for president.

Economy-schonomy, I’m working on a platform for the effective execution of Granholm.  I’ll worry about global politics and the economy after all 50 states can easily buy wine.  Please vote with your conscious.   

Here’s a news package from our local affiliate.


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Dry Creek Vineyard Goes Accountable and Authentic

I like Dry Creek Vineyard.  I like their wines, I like their labels, I like their tasting room and their “wine personality.”  I’ve been a fan for just about a decade.  And, I also like that they seem to “get” technology and are willing to take a couple of risks.

Aside from Kim Stare Wallace’ blog, another case in point is the incorporation of user ratings on their website.

This is in the point in the post where I give the obligatory blogging disclaimer:  “I normally ignore press releases, but this was interesting.”

When I received word from DCV Communications Director, Bill Smart, that Dry Creek was incorporating user reviews on their web site, I agreed with the refreshingly non-fluffy press release that noted,

“This is cutting edge stuff for wineries,” says second generation owner and Vice President, Kim Stare Wallace. “Most of our brethren wait around for the latest, greatest review in order to sell their wine. With customer testimonials, it’s the real deal. We’re posting first hand experiences with our wines. We might be extending our necks a bit for some potential criticism, but we’re willing to take that risk. We’re confident that our wines will win out.”

The fact is that peer reviews are predominant on the Internet.  Heck, I won’t buy a book on Amazon.com if it gets panned by one or two people.  Yelp.com can break a restaurant opening in San Francisco.  I have skipped hotels based on reviews at Tripadvisor.com.  Scads of people are using wine review sites like CellarTracker and some of the plentiful social networks.  Why not a winery?

Kudos to Dry Creek for embracing the opportunity—the good, the bad and the potentially ugly.  And, the real kudos goes to them for being proactive and risky—that’s a characteristic that is uncommon amongst wineries and a bit of fresh air; their Chenin Blanc is pretty fresh, as well.  4 out of 5 stars on the user reviews, too.


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