Day 1 – Summary
First and foremost let me say that I have been to a good number of conferences (academic and professional), but this one is really packed with value – events, food, speakers, sponsors and goodies like a conference tote, trips and vineyard walks. Logistically, this event has been doing very well with minimal delays and glitches (none of the latter, actually).
It was a busy day, today. We arrived at 2:30 and hit the ground running. Grip and grins were interspersed with scheduled business. We missed the Kick Ranch Vineyard tasting and lunch. Our plans did not allow us to arrive earlier.
We did get to check out the Tetra Pak table in the registration room. I have been familiar with this packaging system since my days in Europe in the mid-90′s. Then, it was juice and milk, but the container can protect any liquid. At the end of the evening, I tried these wines (we received as samples) in my room. The 2006 “Bandit” California Chardonnay is far better than the 2006 “French Rabbit” merlot-cabernet sauvignon blend. The chard is a tad bit off and the red is just plain raisiny. This, most likely, had nothing to do with the packaging, though, but everything to do with the liquid inside. It is a matter of wine making. I would really like to see better made (and grown) wines in this packaging. I have not seen a comparison of this packaging versus lightweight glass but it may bring down the consumer cost of bargain wines. Are you listening, Fred Franzia?
We started out the formal schedule with a few introductory notes and launched into the Live Blogging (see previous posts). I posted a series of nine short posts (tasting notes, really) during this event – which pushed my comfort zone.
Things transitioned to a tasting challenge. I am proud to report that I made it through the first five rounds and into the semi-finals. The idea was (at least for the first five rounds) for each blogger to identify each variety and possibly the region or the vintage. Varieties are pretty easy to identify. The problem is identifying the region and vintage. This is a matter of recognition. If you are not familiar with the wines of a particular regions and across vintages, you will have trouble guessing this.
The final round required each of us six semi-finalists to offer tasting notes on two wines. Identifying the varieties was not so difficult, although the first wine (a Gallo Sonoma pinot noir) was pale, light and earthy and seemed not clean. I understood the direction to mean that we were to write the tasting notes to sound like the kind of promotional language one would see on a back label. My write up of the two wines presented did not make the grade. Such is life. I would be deceiving myself and my readers if I chalked this up to my bad, doctotr’s handwriting. The real reason is, that I departed from the way I normally assess and describe wines.
The way to get through this kind of tasting successfully is to follow Doug Cook’s (Able Grape) approach: he was systematic, structured and deductive. But then this is what I tend to preach: anyone can learn wine assessment as long as they use their higher brain functions and follow a process. He absolutely deserved to win.
A New Zealand wine tasting followed. This presented an extensive selection of sauvignon blancs, chardonnays, rieslings and pinot gris as well as pinot noir, syrah, merlot, merlot and cabernet based blends and one sensational zinfandel. This was a self-paced (and self-poured event) which allowed people to browse, chat, socialize and exchange impressions of the wines. At the end of it, my right index finger looks like I just finished voting in an Iraqi election. Beyond that, I can relate that, in general, there was considerable variation in the style and quality of sauvignon blancs, rieslings and pinot gris with a few of the latter two displaying a stunning aroma similar to Juicy Fruit Gum (which Dan Berger seemed convinced was a yeast-generated terpene which and Alder Yarrow contended is linalool). The Central Otago pinot noirs fared better than the Marlborough and Martinborough offerings. There were half a dozen or so syrahs which displayed cool climate stylings, aromatically, with tons of white pepper but were leaner in body than California wines. Three of the varietal merlots were bretty, but the Man O War Ironclad Cabernet Franc Wiaheke 2007 was quite interesting. There was one Zinfandel, from Kemblefield, The 2005 “Distinction”, made by John Kemble, originally from California. While it had no competition, this was clearly a very good wine with nice fruit and acidity.
A dinner with a flight of Dry creek Valley wines followed, with Gary Vaynerchuk as keynote speaker. The 2007 Dry Creek Vineyard Fume Blanc was light, with gooseberry backed by grapefruit notes. A hint of residual sugar in the mouth boosted its body and lime on the finish gave it a nice rhythm. It was not my ideal pairing with the fish served (cod?). It was just “there” but did not offer much synergy with the food. Next, we had the 2006 Quivira Grenache. This was a rich and opulent wine, a bit over the top and too oaky for my tastes. Chocolate and vanilla aromas oozed over fleshy berry characteristics. In the mouth it was sweet and a bit hot but it went well with the steak. The 2006 Truett-Hurst Red Rooster Zinfandel was perfumy, with distinct but proportionate vanilla oak and brairy berries. It had good acidity and went nicely with the steak. The 2004 Michael-Schlumberger Estate Cabernet Sauvignon started with cedar and graphite aromas over lighter black currants. It was consistent from start to finish with supple tannins and went well with the steak. For dessert, creme brulee was paired with a 2003 Pedroncelli Winery “Four Grapes” Vintage Port (tinta madeira, tinta cao, touriga and souzao done in a ruby port style). The port was dominated by by a strong sherry aroma over tobacco pouch, cherry and caramel notes. It was rich and smooth and went nicely with the creme brulee. I would have liked to try it with bittersweet chocolate.
I don’t think Gary Vaynerchuk understood my question about his assessment of wine blogging as an industry. No matter. He is a good consultant and if you have 5 minutes of his undivided attention, make sure your question is clear and well prepared. He may come to resent this endorsement, but the guy should do some consulting. Still, I have learned over the years that you listen carefully to those that seem to be doing something right – as Gary is.
All in all, Gary talked about building businesses, and businesses make up and industry. I am just not sure how prepared and willing those in attendance are to do what it takes to build a business and build a brand. Business may just be incompatible with some ideals inherent in blogging and some bloggers may not be interested in building a business.
It’s important to remember that while to some this conference is a great opportunity to get together with other bloggers, this is a business meeting. In many ways, it is a press junket – we get wined and dined, get presented samples, goodies, promotional items and we get tons of information and marketing copy. The only difference between this aspect of the conference and a press junket is, according to Brown-Forman’s Jim Caudill, that there is no reliable way to track the ROI. That is not to say that people like Caudill don’t believe in the potential bloggers represent. He intuitively believes that there is, in fact, a positive ROI here. And Jim spends a considerable amount of time collecting all citations of B-F wines by bloggers and other writers. Jim endorses the blogging community and has always treated bloggers on par with traditional media.
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