The week before last, about 300 hundred wine bloggers and other professionals in the trade convened in Santa Rosa, California for the tenth annual Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC17). From the title, some might conclude that event is laden with over-indulgence, self-indulgence and downright snobbery. While there was some of that, we were surprised – as first time attendees – how much we got out of the event both in terms of networking and meaningful education about wine. We left WBC17 with quite a bit of new information and knowledge, much more than we got out of 15 weeks of a Wines of the World class at a local college.
Not including some pre-conference excursions to local wineries, the conference started in earnest on Thursday November 9th with what was billed as an Expo featuring Wines of the World. In the course of our work (both importing/selling wine and blogging), we taste a lot of wine and often the prospect of tasting more of the same can be a turn off. We know, we know – First World Problems. At the WBC17 Expo, though, there were some unique and intriguing wines being poured, all of the wineries and even some of the wine regions were brand-new to us. In addition to sipping wines from literally all over the world, we had the chance to make new friends and touch base with some old ones.
For the next two days of WBC17, the day was structured somewhat like a university day, with the first “class” starting at 9 a.m. or so and formal classes ending late afternoon. Depending on how you spent your time in college, the amount of drinking we did during the day may be more or less than your collegiate experience. Generally, our official drinking started in the sessions after lunch. We were impressed with the usefulness of the information such as Day 1’s first session entitled “Professional Wine Writing Tips.” Who can’t benefit from writing tips, right? We took a lot of notes and will be incorporating them into our wine and winery visits going forward.
Okay, I said the drinking normally started after lunch, but that isn’t true. During lunch on the first day we had 23 vintners from the El Dorado wine region farther north in California. We are pretty sure we never had a wine from any winery in El Dorado and were not sure what to expect. However, we found the story of this wine region compelling – vines were planted their in the mid-1800’s – and were pleasantly surprised with the quality of many of the wines.
Like most of the tasting opportunities at WBC17, wines were poured fast and furiously; in the case of the El Dorado lunch, vintners rotated tables every few minutes so they could pour wines for as many different people as possible.
For those that are not aware, El Dorado wine country is about 2 1/2 hours from San Francisco, and about halfway between downtown Sacramento and Lake Tahoe. Unlike many Northern California wine regions, El Dorado’s vineyards are located on mainly steep slopes at elevations that can reach 2,500 feet.
The motto of the El Dorado Winery Association is “Right Grape, Right Place,” and we have to say they grow quite a few distinct varietals in the region. Here is a snapshot of the over 70 varietals (and concentration of vines) in El Dorado:
It was great fun having wine makers and vintners running from table to table and speed-tasting their wine and meeting some new faces along the way.
We were impressed enough with the El Dorado wines we tasted that we’ve resolved to visit in the near future for a day or two of winery visits.
For anyone wanting more information on El Dorado wines, here is a link to their presentation. El Dorado Wines
When lunch was over we proceeded to our next session which involved – you guessed it – more wine information and tasting. Actually, there were two sessions at the same time, each focusing on a different international wine region – Consorzio Tutela Lugana in Italy, and Cariñena in Spain. We attended the session on the Spanish wine region and learned something about one of the up-and-coming regions for quality and affordable wines.
Cariñena is located in the province of Zaragoza and is home to some of the oldest vines in all of Spain. Here is a map of the region with a few key facts, courtesy of VinePair:
We tasted six wines in total, ranging from a “Joven” – which means bottled without any aging – to a Reserva, which spends significant time in barrel and bottle. Most of the wines in the region of Cariñena have 100% or some blend of Garnacha in them. For those that are not aware, Garnacha is an indigenous Spanish grape that the French call “Grenache.” All of the wines were super-aromatic and tasty, including the “Joven,” although we really enjoyed the depth and sophistication of the wine from 100-year-old vines. Because it is a lesser-known wine region in Spain, Cariñena wines tend to be less expensive than their Rioja, Penedés and Ribera del Duero. Some of the wines we tasted sell in the United States for less than $10; even the Garnacha from old-vines was less than $30. We will keep our eye out for wines from Cariñena and have added it to our list of spots we want to visit on our next Spain wine tour.
As the end of our day started to draw to a close, we saw something on the agenda called “Live Wine Blogging.” We were not sure what this meant and assumed it was similar to our typical blogging, which always involves a glass of wine or three. In this case, it was not a glass of wine . . . or three . . . or even ten. In approximately one hour, we tasted many white wines and a few sparkling wines and our objective was to send out live updates about the experience. In the spirit of live blogging, one of us actually composed mini-blog posts for each wine, or at least as many as possible until it was too overwhelming to keep up. The other of us sent real-time tweets about the wines which was slightly easier but pretty exhausting as well.
It ended after an hour, a bit frenetic but really fun and the time flew by. It was a really useful way to meet quite a few new winery labels and wine makers.
Officially Day 1 was over, except of course for dinner and more wine drinking. We enjoyed a nice Italian dinner out with our friends Amber and Dave, better known as the Brit & The California Girl, the duo behind the fantastic blog Napa Food and Vine. Day 2 started much the same way as Day 1 with some information content and also ended the same way with Live Wine Blogging – but red wines on Day 2. There were also some interesting sessions on international wine regions – Alsace’s Pinot Gris wines and Rias Baixas in Spain.
But by far our favorite session of Day 2 focused on the recent fires that swept through Napa and Sonoma counties and caused so much devastation to homes and businesses. This session began with an overview and timeline of the fires, something that was eerie and sobering for everyone but especially for those of us in wine country that lived through that hellish week. In a sea of confusion and often inaccurate information, this session provided all of us with some important facts: although there was significant damage in Napa Valley, the number of wineries impacted was very low. Further, while much acreage was consumed by the fires, very little of it was vineyards. Fortuitously, most of Napa Valley’s fruit had been harvested and expectations are for a strong 2017 harvest. For anyone considering coming to Napa Valley, the message was clear: come! And for those with reservations that might have considered cancelling: do not! All of our roads are open, wineries are open for business, hotels have great deals, and the wine is as good as ever.
After the red wine “speed dating” – aka Live Blogging – they announced that next year’s Wine Bloggers Conference will be held in Washington wine country (Walla Walla). We are super excited about that as we have been trying to find the time to explore this wine region that is producing wonderful wines and quickly becoming a major player on the U.S. wine scene.
John & Irene Ingersoll
November 21, 2017