Virginia, You Really Rolled Out The Red Carpet – WBC’11

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

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.

Monticello, Virginia

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.

WBC’11 – Drinking Local

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

First, let me say – great job so far to the conference organizers.  The first day of WBC’11 went off without a hitch, the sessions were all good, discussion was lively and interesting, and, despite the heat, dinner and the Virginia wine tasting at Monticello was tremendous.

Not surprisingly the breakout session that really drew me was the Drink Local panel featuring Lenn Thompson of the New York Cork Report and, we learned yesterday, a new board member of DrinkLocalWine.com; Rémy Charest from Quebec, who blogs at The Wine Case, and Frank Martin, wine writer for The Washington Post and founder of DrinkLocalWine.com.

The panel quickly turned into a group discussion with the full room with two topics generating the most discussion, the price of local wines, which to many consumers often feel quite expensive being in the $15-$30 range, and the locapour/locavore issue, in particular why more chefs and restaurants who say they are committed to use of local ingredients don’t also include local wines in their restaurants.

The thoughts and ideas were varied.  The panelists pointed out that too often chefs don’t go out to the wineries to source local wines, and the winemakers don’t visit the restaurants to try to place their wines.    It was also noted that many local wineries don’t produce enough volume to distribute widely in restaurants and that often in smaller markets you’ll find local restaurants serving local wines because the restaurant and the winery are both part of the same community.

Lenn Thompson pointed out that people who enjoy local wines need to be more vocal about asking for local wines when they are in restaurants.   I agree.

However, are there enough of us who truly embrace the Locapour philosophy to make a difference?   How many bloggers attending this year’s conference have featured local wines in their blog this year?   Probably more than I anticipate, but far less than should.

Should we be spending more time and energy building the Locapour movement among our neighbors – and let the restaurants follow?  Having a local wine on the menu is great, but not if I’m one of only a few people who might select it each year.

When I moved to Connecticut about 4 1/2 years ago and started down this journey of exploring my new home one winery at a time, I was absolutely amazed at how many of my colleagues at work, who had lived their entire lives in Connecticut, had no idea that Connecticut had any wineries, no less a very vibrant and thriving local wine community.  Or, if they were aware of Connecticut wine, they either thought it was all crap, or all fruit wine, or it was just Ballet of Angels, the one wine that has a fairly wide distribution across Connecticut.  They had no clue that there were over 30 wineries in all areas of the state, that several of them were no more than 30-45 minutes away, and all of them were well within a 2-hour drive from their homes.

Some of my more open-minded, adventurous friends soon joined me on the wine trail and began to experience for themselves the range of wines available throughout the state.   They began to expand their palates, learning they liked a wider range of wines and grapes than they had believed, and while not all the wines were great, they found some new favorite wines right in their own backyards.

Best of all, they enjoyed the experience and the wines so much that they began planning their own trips with husbands, friends, and relatives, and now when we get together, people are including as part of their regular conversations new wineries they’ve visited, trading notes on the new wines they’ve discovered, and generally encouraging others to hit the trail.

This was the piece of the puzzle that I felt we missed at the Drinking Local Wine panel yesterday.   With all the talk of encouraging local wines into restaurants, of confronting the often long-standing mis-impressions of local wines as being bad, of encouraging state tourism boards to better promote their local wine culture, and of better marketing local wine regions to those outside the region, I didn’t hear much discussion on how we foster a local Locapour community.

I would argue that people like Gretchen or me – or indeed, many of the people attending yesterday’s panel – are the vanguard not the target audience for Locapour efforts.  Just speaking for myself, I’m already very committed to the Locapour philosophy and at any given time you’ll find 50-75% of the wines in my house are from local vineyards that I have personally visited.   I am curious about other regions and am regularly searching both the internet and the library for information about different wine regions, local wineries, reviews of local wines, blogs, etc.   And whenever and wherever I travel, I try to find time to include a visit to at least one local winery on the agenda.   And yes, I go into wine shops and restaurants and ask if they offer local wines.

But I also have almost daily conversations with neighbors and colleagues who believe the only good wines come from the West Coast, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and South America.    Pointing out that even 10-12 years ago people were not embracing wines from South Africa they way they do today, or unless you were a serious wine drinker had never heard of Malbec or Tempranillo and now even the most basic restaurant wine list carries them, usually gets me a “but that’s different” response.

Really?  How is that different?  Why, if the wine comes from an emerging wine region overseas is that “different?”  Why if you’d never heard of Malbec or Tempranillo grapes before everyone seemed to be talking about them is that any different than trying a St. Croix or Marechal Foch from your local winery?

Is the real answer, my cynical side asks, because “everyone was talking about” the Malbecs and Tempranillos and few, if any, are talking about local wines?  Is it because we are snobs – even if we won’t admit it – pooh-poohing anything local because it’s familiar, and the familiar often doesn’t have the same caché as a far-off quasi-exotic location?

And is it because we are lemmings, again however much we won’t admit it, and if the wine press, the wine bloggers, and the wine “buzz” isn’t talking about wines from the “Other 46” it must be because they aren’t worth talking about?

And if that is the answer, then should we focus more time and energy on building a wine region’s buzz from within?  How do we get our neighbors, colleagues, families out on the wine trails?  How do we engage more of the bloggers?  How do we publicize the local wine community to the local community?  And then how do we get the mainstream wine community to notice?

I don’t have all the answers, but I am certainly interested in the discussion.

 

 

WBC’11 Speed Blogging – Tabarrini Winery

Marguerite Barrett

2008 Adarmando

100% Trebbiano Spoletino, from 70 year old vines.

Region: Umbria

Aged in stainless steel; no oaking

Nose: very interesting; there’s a depth to the nose without a single really strong discernible note – I picked up a bit of green pepper; Gretchen picked up honey.  The interesting thing is it changes with each breath.

Palate: Crisp, dry, with notes of grass and a hint of acidity on the finish.   Very interesting wine.

Price point: $17.00 – $22.00

Distribution across the United States; lowest price is on tabarrini.us

 

WBC’11 Speed Blogging – Barboursville Vineyards

Marguerite Barrett

2009 Virginia Vioginier Reserve

An Italian winery that has moved into Virginia.

Nose is lightly fruity with notes of melon.

Palate has more citrus with notes of pineapple and a touch of grapefruit.  Crisp and refreshing, the wine is very well balanced with a clean mouth feel, and a slight creaminess.

Price point is $20 – $22.

Currently distributed in mid-Atlantic and starting to distribute more widely.

All Roads Lead to Virginia

Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

To be honest, Gretchen, I hadn’t even started thinking about my route yet.  But since you’ve asked…

Like you I have a couple of different options, both of which hover around 9 hours of driving time (that’s NOT counting New York/New Jersey/DC traffic) – definitely do-able in a single day, but I will likely split up the drive both days for some stops along the way.

The first and most direct route is I-95 which, after skirting Manhattan, will take me down through Jersey, past Philadephia,  through “Baltimore and DC now” (hmm… are you hearing Martha and the Vandellas, too – “don’t forget the Motor City…”  Oh wait, that’s the previous weekend), and then a quick jog west to Charlottesville.

This route takes me through the southern New Jersey wine country which is home to 17 wineries in the area south and east of Philly, four of which appear close to I-95 according to the Garden State Winegrowers Association map.

 

The alternate route bypasses Philadelphia and DC, cutting west across New Jersey on I78 to Pennsyvlania and then picking up I81 to head south into Charlottesville.   The attraction to this route (other than missing the Jersey and DC traffic)?  Gettysburg.  Not only have I never visited the battlefield, but what better tie in with the War and Wine series I hope to kick off with this trip?   And there are also two wineries in close proximity to the park.

I still need to build out an actual itinerary, but right now I’m trending towards the I78/I81 route on the way down with a stop in Gettysburg the first day to visit the local wineries as well as the park.  The park itself is open until 10 pm, so if I time it right, I should be able to make it to the area in time for lunch, visit the wineries and then make my way over to the park before the visitor’s center and museum closes and still have some time to drive around the battlefield in the evening.  The next morning would then be a leisurely 3-hour drive to Charlottesville.

Then I’m thinking it’s the I95 route home; hopefully if I leave early enough I’d miss the worst of the DC traffic.   My thoughts right now are to stop outside of Philly, spend the afternoon touring some of southern Jersey’s local wineries, then dinner and a relaxing evening in Philadelphia, before heading home the next morning.

Those are pretty full agendas, so I need to do some work on the itineraries – this is supposed to be a vacation after all, not an endurance test!

 

Visiting a Winery

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Yes, I realize that this is much later in the day than I usually post, but it has been a crazy busy week and I wanted to start this next series. Hard core wine lovers have almost always have gone to visit a winery before. But if you don’t get to travel much and don’t realize that there are wineries in your area you might not be familiar with what it is like. Wollersheim Winery in Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin was on my way home from the Wine Bloggers’ Conference and therefore the perfect last stop before I got home later that day. The winery at Wollersheim was established in the 1840s by Agoston Haraszathy, better known to wine lovers as the “Father of California Viticulture” and the founder of Buena Vista Vineyards. Before he made it to Napa, he stopped for several years in Wisconsin, where he established the oldest incorporated village in the state, Prairie du Sac. The winery is still in operation to this day and this is from the tour when I visited at the end of June. Enjoy.

Wollersheim Winery
7876 Wisconsin 188
Prairie du Sac, WI 53578
1-800-VIP-WINE (847-9463)

Whitman Cellars

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Our next stop at the WBC’10 was to head to lunch at Whitman Cellars in Walla Walla. We listened to Gordy Vennari of Walla Walla Vintners and Stephen Lessard of Whitman Cellars.

Whitman Cellars
1015 West Pine Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362-1756
(509) 529-1142

Walla Walla Vintners
225 Vineyard Ln
Walla Walla, WA 99362-8404
(509) 525-4724

WBC’10 – Beresan Winery

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Has it really been a week since I posted last? I have finally crawled out from beneath the giant pile of work that fell on me after I returned from Walla Walla in order to put together this video. The order of these videos might be coming to you out of order because I am just like that. The important part is that you can see what it is like visiting the vineyards!

WBC’10 Wine Blog Awards

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

This year’s Wine Blog Awards were given out at the Conference. The event was hosted by Alan Kropf of the Wine Mutineer Magazine, who gave the presentation that we won’t soon forget! Thanks to Laura and Lisa from Jordan Winery for video taping the experience. I was certainly not expecting the type of presentation (though I have added some of my photos of the event for additional color.

And clearly, you can see the ceremony needed more color!


Congratulations to the winners!

Best Wine Blog Graphics, Photography, & Presentation: Good Grape
Best Industry/Business Wine Blog: Criteria: Good Grape
Best Wine Reviews on a Wine Blog: Bigger Than Your Head
Best Single Subject Wine Blog: Criteria: New York Cork Report
Best Winery Blog: Criteria: Been Doon So Long
Best Writing On a Wine Blog: Catavino
Best New Wine Blog: Criteria: Swirl, Smell Slurp
Best Overall Wine Blog: Criteria: 1 Wine Dude

WBC’10 Meet The Sponsors

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Now that I have returned from my cross-country trek and my holiday weekend trek I am beginning to run through my photos and video. Where to start… at the beginning I guess.

For those of you who want to know what a wine blogging conference is like, here is a sneak peak!

If you guessed that we would be chatting and tasting the wines of the sponsors, then you were right! If you guessed drunken debauchery… well, sorry to disappoint you. Maybe next year!