Wine Bloggers Conference wrapup

What a weekend. I spat out more good wine in those three days than I’ve drunk in three years, and that’s really saying something. My taste buds were nearly dead by Sunday. I learned a lot, made quite a few new friends (especially Bay Area wine lovers, which is great because so few of my friends here are into wine), and came home with plenty of ideas for future posts.

I know wine blogging is somewhat controversial. Some — such as those in the traditional wine media, of whom Robert Parker is the most prominent example — see it as the domain of unprincipled amateurs. I’m sure there are a few who fit that description; there always are, no matter what the subject matter is. But while I and many others are happy to embrace the “amateur” label, I don’t think it’s fair to label wine bloggers as a group unprincipled — especially those who clearly disclose when the wine they’re reviewing is a sample. Same goes for bloggers who write about cosmetics, books, electronics or any other subject. And I think most bloggers don’t get samples or special access. The wine bloggers I met this weekend are people who are truly passionate about wine, who love learning more about it, who want to share their enthusiasm with the world. Very few of them (if any) make money from their blogs, and I think most of them blog about wines they paid for out of their own pockets. By and large, they’re in it because they love it. That’s the impression I came away with. I know it’s why I’m here.

Enough with the Deep Thoughts. On to the good, the bad and the ugly. Let’s start with the highlights.

Conn Creek AVA Room: In a weekend filled with terrific experiences, this one was the best. I’d read about this a few months ago and really wanted to try it, so I was thrilled when we ended up here for dinner. I’m happy to say that Cuvée Liz is fabulous. Hey, until I get it bottled, you’ll have to take my word for it.
Portuguese wine tasting: I’m a fan of Portuguese wines, but they can be hard to find, especially by the glass, and I’m not on the kind of budget that can absorb a $15 bottle of wine a few times a week. This tasting opened my eyes to a lot of red wines that are not easy to obtain in the American market — mostly reds, because I’m already all over the whites (hint: it’s hard to go wrong with Vinho Verde at a summer party). Unfortunately, there were like 50 of them, so you’ll only get tasting notes about a few. (Hey, there was hardly space to write. Trust me, I kept track of the awesome wines.)
Sonoma wine tasting: This event felt small, intimate and casual, but my favorite thing about it was that so many of the wineries in attendance don’t have tasting rooms — it was great to sample lesser-known wines and meet the people who make them.
Napa wine tasting: This one (at the gorgeous Quintessa winery off Silverado Trail) was a bit overwhelming, to be honest, but there were some true standouts and a number of very solid offerings. There were far too many winemakers there to sample them all, though — I think I got through maybe half of the wines on offer, if that. Wish we’d had a bit more time to check them out.
Meeting the people behind the wine: I always love talking with winemakers and viticulturists because they can tell me the story behind what’s in my glass. I enjoy hearing their perspectives, especially when they head up small wineries — those perspectives are harder to find.

The downsides:

Much as I enjoyed the vineyard walk at Michel Schlumberger, oh my God was it hot out there. We were baking, and there wasn’t much shade to be found. I enjoyed seeing how the soils changed from block to block, but mostly I was focused on not passing out. (What? I live in San Francisco. I often forget the sun exists. We don’t do heat here.) When we did a rather rushed wine tasting at the end, I was too wiped out to get into it, although taste-bud fatigue after a weekend full of wine probably had something to do with that. And nobody’s to blame for the heat. Still, I wish we’d had more time there to explore the wines.
I got a lot out of the wine business panel I attended on Saturday — representatives from four wineries of wildly different sizes discussed the challenges and opportunities they face because of their production capacity — but it would have been nice to taste the wines they were talking about.
Internet difficulties persisted at the hotel all weekend. It was especially bad during what was supposed to be a group liveblogging session at which nobody could get reliable Wi-Fi access; I wrote my tasting notes in Word and pasted them in for later posting. Not sure if this was the hotel’s fault, but I hope the hotel hosting next year’s conference is better prepared to handle the traffic.

The downright ugly:

I quickly learned that it was easier to carry my own spit cup so I wouldn’t have to elbow people out of the way to spit into the bucket (and the splashback from the bucket was no picnic, especially for someone wearing glasses). However, it was perhaps inevitable that at one point I forgot which hand held which cup. I took a sip, thought, “This is a really weird blend, what the hell?” and then realized my mistake. Well, at least it was all my spit.

All in all, if a mistaken swig from a spit cup was the worst mishap of the weekend, I figure I got off easy (especially since I didn’t get a hangover — good Lord, did I spit out a lot of wine).

I’m seriously considering the European Wine Bloggers Conference in Lisbon in October. And I’m happy to say I’ve already signed up for the June 2010 conference in Walla Walla, Wash. Bring it!