Sunday, June 27, 2010

Random Thoughts: On the Wine Bloggers' Conference

When I told my friends I was going to a wine bloggers' conference, they looked at me skeptically and then asked, "What are you going to do there?" No doubt they pictured a lot of intense people sitting through seminars with intriguing titles like, "Distinguishing funkiness: forest floor vs. barnyard" or "101 ways to describe tannins." Honestly, I wasn't sure what to expect, either, having only attended academic conferences to that point.

Part of a successful conference is the venue, but my friends' and colleagues' (at least the ones who don't know much about wine) reactions toward Walla Walla was one of scorn for this adorable little town. It's a great place for two reasons:

1. The plethora of wine tasting rooms within easy walking distance of my hotel.

2. The lack of humidity and pleasant temperature. We left HOT AND HUMID AS HELL Atlanta on Thursday. Warm and not humid? Really nice.

Keep that in mind if you're one of the bloggers complaining about Virginia next year -- every place has its charm, and Charlottesville has it in spades. I've liked Walla Walla since the first time I went there in 2007, but for some reason it gets a bad rap.

Back to the conference itself... The highlights for me pointed out some lessons that I had forgotten or that I needed to learn:

1. Wine tasting means wine spitting. Yes, this sounds silly, but the biggest surprise for me was how much wine I actually drank while at the conference. Admittedly, I'm not big on spitting. I just can't figure out how to do it gracefully. I did spit, though, at Woodward Canyon's vineyards because, hey, it was 9:00 in the morning, and it was a little too early for even me to start sipping. I did feel badly, particularly because the wine was good, and Rick Small, who is the fifth generation to farm the land (although the first to make wine) was so proud and passionate of the wines they make.

Speaking of crazy wine consumption, you may have seen my blog posts on the speed tastings. Trust me, I don't envy anyone who has subjected themselves to speed dating, although it may go better with a little wine. I poured a lot of good stuff out because there was no way to finish it before the next tasty bottle arrived with harried wine maker/representative/pimp. As for how badly it fried my palate… Let's just say it was so fried it could've been served up with hush puppies and slaw. That was a reminder how important it is to have adequate neutral-flavored munchies between tastes. Btw, mad props to Molly Dooker for bringing the wine with the pettable label:

Oh, and check out this post by Josh Wade at his Drink Nectar blog. He envisions the future of speed wine blogging as a sport. Watch out, Iron Chef!

2. While a love of writing is good, it's passion that will sustain. I felt lucky to witness the following examples of passion:

- Seeing Hardy Wallace speak on Sunday morning's panel. I may not entirely agree with him, seeing myself as a writer who happens to write about wine and not a "content pusher," but I admire his enthusiasm.

- Hearing Tertullia Cellars winemaker Quentin Mylet speak so lovingly of his Viognier, which was his first effort as a fledgling winemaker (and a darn good one). He described it as his "baby."

- Talking to David Honig of Palate Press. He thoroughly believes in what he's doing. He originally approached me about the ad network, but Palate Press also recruits writers. I'd've bitten much sooner if he'd mentioned that.

- Witnessing the efforts of the ladies from Okanagan Valley to start the movement to have the 2012 conference in Canada. Yay for Canadian wine! Boo for Canadian export difficulties!

- Hearing Nicky Vallee sing (@VinoChick75 on Twitter). For those who don’t know her, she is in the process of a reinvention, but one of her core loves is music. I was lucky to be on the bus with her for Saturday's excursion, and she got up and sang with the musicians at lunch. You can see the video here (the risk of hanging out with a bunch of bloggers – good equipment and immediate posting capabilities).

During this conference, I realized that, once I split the fiction off, I lost some of my passion for the Random Oenophile. For me, blog-post writing and fiction writing overlap a lot, and the conference helped me clarify how the skill-set is essentially the same (more about that on a post at Cecilia's Random Writings). I also realized that this split personality thing I have going on is not working for me because I feel too fragmented with the professional/personal dichotomy, and then splitting the fun part into wine and writing. I need to figure out how to give more reign to my creative part and let my other expertise shine through. I'm working on that.

3. Wine is a condiment. This is something the Montaluce guys profess strongly, and I agree. One of the most fun parts of the conference was Chef Jeffrey Saad's lecture on wine and food pairing as well as the actual pairings for lunch afterward by Chef Bear of the Marcus Whitman Hotel. When I'm out wine tasting, it's usually wine in isolation. This was a reminder of how flavors play together. The highlights of the pairing session were:

2009 Tilia Torrontes (Mendoza, Argentina) with Phyllo Bouchee with Monteillet Chevre, Pistachio, and Chestnut Honey
The Torrontes smoothed out the funkiness of the Chevre, while the honey brought out the minerality of the wine. Perfect!

2009 Clean Slate Riesling (Mosel, Germany) with Ahi Poke White Soy on Apricot Namasu (served in mini Chinese takeout containers with chopsticks – too cute!)
The off-dry Riesling and White Soy played so well together we can't wait to try something like this at home.

2004 Rioja Vega Reserva (La Rioja, Spain) with Pork Belly and Pea Vines with Saffron Scented Stock
Fatty Pork Belly and acidic Rioja tamed each other nicely.

2008 Terranoble Grand Reserva Carmenere (Colchagua Valley, Chile) with Oven Dried San Marzano Tomato and Andouille Flat Bread
Okay, this was essentially pizza and red wine, but rich pizza and a big, luscious red. It worked.

The other pairings were good, too. These were my favorites, and I liked them enough that I'll try them at home. Maybe I'll even write about them.

So there you have it, from the mundane to the lofty lessons. I'll do another post on the Saturday excursion, which deserves one of its own, as well as our post-conference wine tasting adventures. I'm still traveling, so free internet is hit or miss, but I'll post as I can.

Oh, and I should mention I'm drinking a beer as I wrote this. There's a saying that it takes a lot of beer to make good wine. It may also take some to recover from a Wine Bloggers Conference.

1 comment:

Asheville Foodie said...

No one that doesn't do a lot of tastings realizes that it actually can be work. Spitting is a must, no matter how tempted you are when you're at an event like that . . . but sometimes you just have to drink some of those great wines. Thanks for the post and the wine descriptions.