Thank goodness I upgraded my power cord-dependent laptop to a fully mobile one earlier this year, because scribbling in my Moleskine journal would have had me ousted from the Wine Bloggers’ Conference held here two weekends ago. Anyone peeking into the Omni ballroom might have guessed it was a technology conference with most of the 350 attendees double-fisting mobile devices and glasses of wine. In fact, even though the conference’s devoted Twitter feed (#wbc11) was fueled by wine-soaked bloggers pledging detoxes come Monday, there were moments when the word “Wine” could have easily been replaced with, say, “Beer”—blogging was definitely the focus.
Still, Charlottesville’s ability to land the fourth conference (and the first on the East Coast), shows how far our rapidly growing wine industry (we’re now the fifth-largest wine-producing state) has come in the past decade. The town went full frontal for a nationwide mass media sector that now comprises the largest voice in the wine world. An estimated 1,000 wine blogs give consumers more options for guidance than they ever had when Wine Spectator and Robert Parker shared the pulpit. During one of Friday’s sessions, a show of hands revealed that half of the attendees had tried their first Virginia wine just that morning. So, what did they think of our goods?
While 32 of our wineries poured at Friday night’s reception at Monticello, it was during the Live Wine Blogging sessions that I got the real dish on what the bloggers thought of our local wines. Winemakers had five minutes to pour wine and answer questions at 12 tables of eight, while the bloggers tasted and tweeted all about it (think speed dating for wine). I diligently monitored the screen-projected Twitter feed for instant impressions of the juice from Afton Mountain, Barboursville, Barren Ridge, Boxwood, Château Morrisette, Jefferson, Keswick, Lovingston, Michael Shaps, Mountfair, Rappahannock, Tarara, Veritas and Williamsburg. Our whites and rosés wowed ’em, with viognier getting the most mentions (well-deserved as Virginia’s recently named signature grape) and petit verdot seducing tasters with its silky tannins and jam-like fruit. A few winemakers were even singled out for their great hair, cute looks and charming accents. They love us! They really love us!
Jancis Robinson, a world-renowned wine writer who now spends more time maintaining her own website and blog than anything else, gave the keynote speech on Friday. She finds Twitter “compulsively addictive” because of the speed at which you get a response, and she’s just 700 shy of having 10,000 followers. Robinson calls the online platform “perfect for control freaks” because there’s no waiting on editors or publishers. She urged bloggers to continually hone their writing skills, encouraged humility and warned against “silly little typos which diminish your product.” Ultimately, though, she feels that the multiplicity of voices will further democratize the wine world. She also hopes that someday bloggers will simply be known as people.
And colorful people they are. During Saturday’s keynote speech delivered by New York Times wine columnist Eric Asimov, I sat at a table with Robinson on one side of me and a Yorkie-toting woman in flowered pants on the other. Flower Pants gave doggie some baguette and a few sips of ice water from her glass before excusing herself when little precious wouldn’t stop whimpering. When I was finally able to concentrate on Asimov, I found him delightful and refreshing, reminding his audience of wine’s emotional connection and pointing out the difference between tasting wine and drinking it with food and company. He stressed how critical it is to drink a lot of wine. Cheers to that.
Bloggers also visited three of our area’s 16 participating wineries for catered lunches, tours and tastings. The effect that this kind of exposure will have on the distribution and sales of Virginia wine is yet to be seen (and can’t be accurately measured), but if last year’s conference location (Walla Walla, Washington) serves as precedent, it could be in the range of $1 million, according to other media sources.
I opted out of the farewell dinner in order to conduct some liquid research at a local restaurant for a future column. A few bloggers were there, and I was pleased to hear them echo my sentiments that “this” (sharing wine with people in the flesh) is what wine is all about. I felt more myself at the table, taking notes with a clicky pen and seemingly escaping ridicule—until I pulled out my dumb phone. A blogger a decade my senior squawked, “Can you even text on that thing?!”