The 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference exceeded my expectations. Being a conference newcomer, I can’t say that my expectations were all that well-formed, but I overheard many a conference veteran also commenting on how impressed they were with this year’s conference.
Having now arrived home, shaken the dust from my feet and begun the process of trying to get the red wine stains out of my shirts, I thought it worth taking a moment to reflect on what I took away from the conference.
First and foremost, Virginia’s wine culture is alive and thriving and producing some very nice wine.
Second, both the Commonwealth of Virginia and the City of Charlottesville know how to welcome people in style – from the welcome signs in many shop windows in downtown Charlottesville to the warm welcome and graciousness of the winemakers and wineries, throughout the entire weekend it was clear that both Charlottesville and Virginia were really glad to host the conference. There was even a video-taped message from the governor shown at Saturday night’s dinner. Now, I’ve been to many conferences over the years, including ASTD’s National Conference which has several thousand participants – talk about a quick-hit tourism boom to the local economy when they show up! And yet this is the first conference where politicians and leaders of the tourism boards as well as local industry representatives showed up. Needless to say, I was impressed.
WBC'11 Wine Reception at Monticello
The overall highlight of the conference for me was the connection to the local community and the local wines. Friday’s dinner and wine reception at Monticello was great fun – good food, a chance to sample wines from 32 Virigina wineries (although I didn’t even come close…) and the opportunity to tour the house and grounds of Virginia’s, and America’s, patron saint of wine, Thomas Jefferson. Between the history and the wine I was in heaven.
The focus on Virignia wines continued into Saturday with trips to several local wineries. We were told to get on a bus – any bus – and we wouldn’t find out where we were going until after the bus left the hotel. As much as Gretchen and I wanted to spend the day together, we decided to split up so between us we could cover twice as many wineries. My bus stayed fairly close to Charlottesville in Southeastern Albermarle County, visiting the Virgina WineWorks (Michael Shaps’s winery), First Colony Winery, and finished with a fairly leisurely lunch at Blenheim Winery, owned by Dave Matthews. No, Dave wasn’t there that day, but we did get a chance to meet Blenheim’s winemaker Kirsty Harmon as well as being treated to a surprise visit from and chance to chat with Gabriele Rausse, one of Virginia’s premier winemakers. But more to come on the wineries and the wines in upcoming posts.
My weekend ended with Saturday evening’s dinner, a pairing of local food and wine, as I was scheduled to leave first thing Sunday morning. Having the chance to sit down, enjoy the wine in a slightly more leisurely fashion and paired with food made for a truly satisfying experience. And having a number of Virignia winemakers join us at the dinner to chat about their wines and Virginia wines in general was an added bonus.
My favorites of the dinner included the Afton Mountain Vineyards 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon which I found fruity, smooth and lush, and the Michael Shaps 2007 Meritage, a lovely, well structured red wine, both of which paired very well with the rib-eyes and grilled vegetables served as the main course; Horton Vineyard’s Sparkling Viognier, whose light citrus notes and effervescence were a lovely complement to the Duck Paté which started the meal, and the Gray Ghost Vineyards 2010 Adieu, a late harvest Vidal Blanc that was mellow, lush and not overly sweet in the mouth.
WBC’12 and ’13
As I hit the road Sunday morning for the drive back to Connecticut, the Twitter feed was already buzzing with the news that WBC’12 would be held in Oregon and WBC’13 in Vancouver (!). Both great wine regions with lots to offer – and I’m confident they’ll both be great conferences.
But as the conference organizers start thinking beyond 2013, I hope our experience in Virginia will encourage them to look east again. And to help with the planning, I offer the following suggestions for potential sites for WBC’14 and beyond…
- North Carolina – gorgeous countryside, a strong up and coming wine region, and as the centerpiece, the Biltmore Estate, which like Monticello is not only a great local landmark for an outdoor wine reception/dinner, but also boasts their own vineyard and produces some rather interesting wines themselves.
- New York – in some ways this is the easy one. With several great wine regions to choose from, Finger Lakes, Long Island or the Hudson River Valley, how could you go wrong with New York? And with three-time Wine Blog Award winner Lenn Thompson and the team of the New York Cork Report on hand, I’m sure they could provide us with some great suggestions for winery visits and featured wines.
- The Niagara Region in Ontario – personally this is one of my favorite wine regions in the Northeast.
- And last, and perhaps more of a stretch than the others, may I also suggest Southeastern New England? With Newport as the center, it could be a very interesting conference spanning the wines of three states, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Newport is a great town and summer playground and much easier to navigate than Cape Cod. There are three wineries in the vicinity of Newport and the wineries of southeastern Connecticut and southeastern Massachusetts are only an hour away. Newport is also home to Nancy Knowles Parker, founder and editor of the New England Wine Gazette. A little local expertise can always come in handy…
So I throw these out as potential suggestions for the future, and in the meantime look forward to whatever the conference organizers have in store for WBC’12.
And Virginia, your southern hospitality has charmed this Yankee girl; I’ll be back … and soon.