Wine Blogging & Content Creation: It’s all about engagement

Connections.  Networking.  Friendship.  Community.  These are some of the top reasons that people attend the Wine Bloggers Conference, year after year.  As we approach the 10th anniversary event in Sonoma next year, I have to reflect on how this event has grown and changed over the last 9 years.

Beginning in 2008, when there were a scant 100 of us gathered at the Flamingo in Santa Rosa, we all knew each other (or at least knew of each other).   It was a tight knight community of online writers, and we were all learning about the new platform for sharing our stories.  There were, indeed, a few standout stars already emerging, however the playing field was level.  Twitter was in it’s infancy, and there was very little video out there specific to wine.

Moving through the years to this year’s conference in Lodi, a lot has changed.  And yet, very little has changed.  Building a strong network of influence is still about seeking connections.  The primary difference today, is that where you find these connections has changed.

In 2008, we found these connections at the conference, on Wine 2.0 (a now defunct social network for wine lovers and writers), at wine events, and on twitter.  Today, those networks have expanded to include video channels such as YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and more.  And yet, the process of searching, connecting, and engaging is still the same.

As a professional consultant, I network every day.  That is the key to building my brand and my business.  Translating those skills to my blog, I shift my connections from technology and potential clients to wineries, regional associations, and individuals that I would like to connect with.

When you are finding people to build connections with, ask yourself:  What can I offer them with my wine blogging (content creation)?  What problem can I help solve?  How am I benefiting them with my wine blogging?  How am I working on improving my wine blogging?   In terms of the Wine Bloggers Conference, I can offer 9 years of experience watching the conference and the blogging world grow and develop.  In the wine industry, what can you offer?  Do you have a unique angle?  Is your audience something they should target?

As a wine blogger, content creator, digital wine writer, however you want to describe it, I look for these connections.  As Andrea Robinson said during her keynote this year, how do you add personal value?  What are you doing to create value in yourself?  By seeking, building connections, and acting on these connections, you are building your personal value.

But how do you get to engagement?  You’ve done the hard part, you’ve built your connections by going to WBC.  You’ve met dozens of people in person that you only knew online, or didn’t know at all.  Now, you need to act on those connections.  Today, engagement means more than it did in 2008.  At the first WBC, we had interactive blogs and monthly wine blogging writing challenges.  In 2016, we have live video streaming, twitter tastings, and other collaborative platforms to share our wine blogs and create collaborative content.

Furthermore, engagement means sharing and spreading content that you like.  It’s not enough to like a post on Facebook or on Instagram.  Today’s challenging social media culture requires you to engage with these platforms and share other people’s content.  By building engagement with others’, you are attracting other people to your content.

The most successful people in business, and the most successful bloggers, have strong networks and connections.  As a community, wine bloggers and content creators are very open and engaged.  Expanding that engagement and practicing those skills will net you rewards that are unexpected, and enriching.connect

So what are the key takeaways from this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference?

  • Network, network, network.  This is how you build your connections.  This doesn’t mean acting entitled and expecting everything to be handed to you, this is the hard work part.  Attend a local wine festival, go wine tasting, buy wine.
  • Keep in mind, it takes time to build a network.  Don’t expect this to happen overnight.  Just like business, building a network of wineries, associations and PR professionals is driven by your content, longevity, and professionalism.
  • With dozens of social networks, choose the 2-3 that you can focus on and pay focus on.  It’s better to do more with less than to do less with more.  This goes hand in hand with knowing your audience.  Where do they hang out?
  • Know your audience.  Spend a little time finding out where they are, what they are reading, and how you can tailor your content for them.  That doesn’t mean sacrificing what you want to write about, but rather finding new and interesting things for your audience to read.
  • Keywords are your friends.  By doing a little research, you can get big rewards.  What are people looking for?  What value can you add?  What wines do you have in your rack that people want to know about?
  • Search, connect, engage.  Engage in your community.
  • Don’t focus on monetizing your blog.  Monetize yourself (more on this later).  What value can you add?
  • Educate yourself.  Are there classes or certifications you can pursue that will help you?
  • Content is king, both at the conference and on your blog.  Every year, there is some of the same content and a lot of new content at the conference.  But even old dogs can learn new tricks.
  • Don’t be stagnant.  What can you learn?  What can you change?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  The platforms might have changed, but the core values have not.  Have fun, have wine, learn new things, and meet new people!

 

Tips from the Trenches: How to #WBC16

Two weeks from today, the 9th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference kicks off in downtown Lodi.  I can’t believe we’ve been running this show for nine years, and that some of us who were there in the beginning, what a long, strange, trip it’s been!

Like everything, the blogging and the career have changed a lot over that time period.  You may have noticed it’s been pretty quiet around here; things are working in the background, the the Wizard of Oz, changing, moving, growing.

One of those things is the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund.  This passion project takes up an inordinate amount of time, particularly the few months leading up to the conference, and tends to take over.  Add on top of the my day job (jobs really), and something suffers.  Sadly, it’s this blog.

That said, I’m very much looking forward to Lodi, and as you can see from my series on Lodi wines there is a lot to look forward to.  As I do every year, I write my advice column to both veteran attendees as well as newbies.  There is so much to do, see, and learn at the conference, as well as networking opportunities and camaraderie.

Each attendee has a unique perspective, but for me, as a 9 year attendees (one of only 5), Advisory Board Member, Scholarship co-founder and Director, and wine industry worker, this is mine.

Practical

  • Wear comfortable shoes.  you never know when we’ll be hiking up a hill in a vineyard
  • Wear comfortable business casual / wine country casual clothes with layers.  This is not a lawyers convention!  It can get chilly at night with fog coming in, so bring a sweater.  Wear layers.  It is HOT in Lodi during the day, however it can cool off significantly at night due to the Delta breezes, and hotel AC can be brutal.
  • Bring multiple devices.  There are often times when a laptop isn’t practical (in the vineyard) and your phone doesn’t have reception.  Brnig multiple devices.
  • Bring your own power source.  Power packs, instant chargers and mini power strips are all critical.  There is often a battle to get a slot in the power wall, so bringing a strip will allow you to share the love.  I love this one as it folds, has USB ports and 4 power slots.  I also love a great power squid.
  • If you have a MiFi bring it.  Wifi resources are taxed beyond belief and are not made for 350 people online all day, with multiple devices.   For extra points, give some karma and open your mifi up for others (your billing terms will dictate this, but if you have unlimited or the budget, be kind and share)
  • Bring business cards.  Yes it may seem archaic, but it’s the best way to quickly introduce yourself with a memorable item.  The stacks of cards collected are reminders when we get home to follow, tweet, and read other peoples information.
  • Hydrate.  Lodi is HOT!  There will be a lot of wine.  Water, water water.  If you have a metal / plastic water bottle, bring one.  They come in VERY handy!

Conference Etitquette

  • Be professional.  While we’re there to have fun and learn, no one likes a party animal that gives bloggers a bad name.  We all remember some years where people were not responsible and made the local community dislike bloggers in general.  Please don’t’ be that person.  This is a business conference.  We want Lodi to LOVE us and invite us back!  Act like your grandmother is in the room.
  • Attend the keynote.  Andrea Robinson is incredibly knowledgeable, and is very open to meeting & talking to bloggers.  She spoke in Walla Walla, and is a great resource (and person to know).  She will have an amazing keynote!
  • Attend the breakouts that are important to you.  We are all adults, and we are all well aware that not every session will speak to you.  However, this is a conference, not a frat party.  We’re hear to learn and share, so get ye to the breakouts!
  • Get to know your sponsors.  We have a few hours on Thursday at the Registration, Expo, Gift Suite, and Opening Wine Reception to to say hi and learn who made this conference possible.
  • Attend the Opening Reception and Expo – if you are arriving on Thursday, be sure to attend the opening reception.  This is your first chance to meet the Lodi locals, and meet your sponsors.  There is plenty of time to stop by and still go out and enjoy the evening.
  • Attend the Friday Expo & lunch.  Here, you and meet additional sponsors, mingle with your fellow attendees, and support the Scholarship.
  • Spit spit spit.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Yes, there are moments (dinner, after hours parties) where I don’t spit and enjoy myself, but you are representing bloggers as a whole, and should have some decorum.  It’s a business conference at the core, disguised as a party.  Present yourself accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to sleep!  There are always many after hours events and parties.  While going to these is fun and a great way to meet people, don’t overdo it.  Sleep is critical during this busy weekend of events.
  • I repeat:  Hydrate.  Lodi is HOT!  There will be a lot of wine.  Water, water water.

Time Management

  • Don’t worry about blogging DURING the conference.  Time is precious and you will stress yourself out and miss content if you try to blog during the event.  Write your thoughts down and save the blogging for when you get home.
  • Attend the break outs.  Too many people don’t attend the core of the conference and they miss out.  While You Need to choose which bits are important to you as a blogger, please don’t be the person that doesn’t attend any of the sessions (that just makes us ALL look bad)
  • Go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed.  While content is king, if there is a session that isn’t’ interesting to you, use the time to blog, hang out with your fellow attendees, or just chill.
  • Be prepared to want to do more than one thing at once – at the same time, there are often two sessions running at the same time that you might want to go to.  There is no wrong choice, and you can’t do it all so don’t try to.

 

Other Things

  • Don’t be shy – reach out and touch someone.  Ok maybe not literally, but turn to the person sitting next to yourself and introduce yourself.  We don’t bite and we want to get to know you!
  • Find a WBC Scholarship committee member, and get your swag on!  Rodney Strong #wineloveragainstcancer bags are available at the scholarship table, and If you’re super cool, donate to the Scholarship or buy a souvenir stemless glass ($5 to buy one, 2 free with a $50 donation), capabungas, and other awesome swag.  All proceeds go to next year’s scholarship
  • Get some Blogger Bling (namebadge ribbons) at the WBC Scholarship table on Friday!  They are great icebreakers and support the Scholarship.
  • Say hi to the donors & scholarship winners!
  • There are many after hours parties.  These are not private hidden events, but you do need to keep your ears open.  Most are word of mouth.
  • Twitter is the tool of choice.  The #wbc16 hashtag trends every year.  Other platforms that are popular are Instagram and Twitter.
  • Have an open mind.  You never know if there are wines you wouldn’t normally try, that you will love!
  • Bring something from home that represents your region, style, and / or personality.  This could be wine, but it could also be food, a book, or a t-shirt.

Here’s what I think I’ll be doing:

  • Welcome Reception
  • Andrew Robinson Keynote.  
  • History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi – this is your best chance for an in depth look at the local area.
  • The Truth About Viticulture – a fascinating look at marketing fact and fiction in wine
  • Expo – come see me at the Scholarshp table and get some swag!
  • Wine Discovery Session:   Wine Educator Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET presents From Prosecco to Amarone: The varied and delicious wines of Italy’s Veneto, sponsored by Consorzio Italia di Vini & Sapori.
  • Live Blogging
  • Friday evening excursions to wine country
  • Saturday Breakout sessions:
    • Wine Samples – this is a hot topic amongst experienced media.  Come join the discussion!

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten.  As you can see, there are some sessions not on my personal agenda. It’s not that I don’t find them valuable; it’s just that I don’t think I will be personally interested in them.  In leaving them off my “must do” list, I create some free flow, where I can catch up with my blogger friends, experience some of the local restaurants, join an off the grid get together, or just chill.

I will see everyone in 2 weeks!

 

Kaena & Beckmen: One winemaker, two stories

_MG_2565 After #GoingRogue with Tercero, it was time to meander down the road a bit to Beckmen Vineyards, were the #QBP had a barrel tasting arranged with Keana and Beckman winemaker, Mikel Sigouin

I first met Mikel last year at Rhone Rangers in San Francisco, and when I mentioned that some wine bloggers were going to be in his neighborhood, he eagerly invited us to taste through his wines. Mikael, a native of Hawaii, makes wines for Beckmen Vineyards by day, and Kaena Wines by night, so I knew this would be a golden opportunity to taste some world class Grenache.

Little did I know that we would taste through more wines than I thought possible, each one more unique and delicious than the last!

But before we started this barrel adventure, we had to make our way out of Los Olivos, and down the road to Beckmen.  As I attempted to corral the #QPB out of the door of Tercero, what would appear to our wandering eyes but Frank Morgan – the erstwhile Drink What You Like Virginian.  If you are not familiar with this breed of wine blogger, it is a unique one; this breed mysteriously appears when least expected and is amiable to almost any activity.

_MG_2474

Kaena’s Mikhael Sigouin

Since we were a posse of all girls, Melanie and I shouted out the car window for Frank to get in the car.  A few hollers later, some coming from the mobile command center of Brix Chicks Liza, the unwitting Frank hopped in the car.  It was clear from the look on his face that he was wondering how the wine mafia had tracked him to tiny Los Olivos.  Was it an ex-girlfriend?  Someone who didn’t appreciate his reviews?  No, it was just the #QBP, wine-napping him for an afternoon of delights.

A few miles later, we met back up at the winery and began tasting our way through the barrels.  Here in the expansive barrel room, it’s hard to tell where Beckmen ends and Keana starts, a clear marker of how there is little separation in this extended family.

When the Kaena brand was launched in 2001, it was to express Mikael’s passion for Grenache.  The name itself, Kaena, shows his spirit, with it’s meaning of “potential for greatness” and brings back Mikael’s Hawaiian culture.  Honing in on his obsession with Grenache, he has made a name for himself as the Grenache King, but hasn’t limited his style and influence on the other wines of Keana.

While Grenache is certainly one of my favorites, I cannot slight the other wines that he had his hand in.  As we meandered the barrel room, tasting a bit of this and a bit of that, it was difficult to tell any favorites since they were all so good.  As they age in the barrels for the next year or two, I look forward to a return visit to see how they are developing.

On this trip, I was intoxicated at the vastness of the selection, and focused on the nuances of barrel toast and vineyard blocks.  Admittedly, I didn’t take as many detailed notes as I normally do, and that I regret.

Revisiting the bottled wines a few days later, there were certainly some that stood out to me.  Of coure, that didnt’ stop me from filling my case box up and takeing these and more home!

Beckmen Cuvee le Bec – a GSM with a dash of Counoise, a brilliant expression of Rhone style wines in California.

Beckmen Grenache Rose – a deep rose, rich and bold but still a bright expression of rose on a hot day.

Kaena Grenache Rosé – light, bright, rose petals and necterines.  The perfect thing to quench your thirst and quite the opposite of the Beckmen.

Kaena Larner Vineyard Grenache – highly aromatic and floral, with dried herbs and banking spices wrapped around bright cherries and raspberries.

Kaena Tiera Alta Syrah – Luscious blackberries, cassis and grilled meat, bacon fat and gingerbread

_MG_2574

Thank you for such a great visit!  If you find yourself in Los Olivos, be sure to stop in and taste both Beckmen and Kaena. You won’t be sorry!

Google

Advice from a Veteran Blogger: WBC do’s and don’t

Wine Bloggers Conference

It’s hard to believe that in 35 days, the 8th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference will be here.  Eight years?  Eight locations?  Eight conferences?  Almost eight years of blogging?  It’s pretty amazing when you think about it.  My blog, much like life in general, has gone through many changes in those 8 years, and so has the WBC.  As one of a very small handful of bloggers that have been in attendance at every conference since 2008, I’ve learned a lot, been a speaker, and helped to influence the shape and content of the conference as an advisory board member.

What does this mean to you?  As newbies and experienced conference attenders alike, there are always some rules of engagement that you should remember, and some advice that us veterans have learned about how to approach the conference.

Some of my key observations and advice on how to best enjoy the conference are outlined below.  Obviously, to each their own but if you want to earn the respect of your fellow bloggers and industry attendees, these tips are essential – and common sense.

  • Wear comfortable shoes.  you never know when we’ll be hiking up a hill in a vineyard
  • Wear comfortable business casual / wine country casual clothes with layers.  This is not a lawyers convention!  It can get chilly at night with fog coming in, so bring a sweater.  Wear layers.
  • Be professional.  While we’re there to have fun and learn, no one likes a party animal that gives bloggers a bad name.  We all remember some years where people were not responsible and made the local community dislike bloggers in general.  Please don’t’ be that person.
  • Get to know your sponsors.  We have a few hours on Thursday at the Registration, Expo, Gift Suite, and Opening Wine Reception to to say hi and learn who made this conference possible.
  • Mix and mingle – the first mingling event is the after hours tasting sponsored by the Santa Ynez Winery Association, right after the Expo hours.  This is your chance to walk up and say hi to someone you don’t know, meet new wineries, and meet other attendees.
  • Don’t be shy – reach out and touch someone.  Ok maybe not literally, but turn to the person sitting next to yourself and introduce yourself.  We don’t bite and we want to get to know you!
  • Attend the keynotes.  These sessions are great kick starters and will get you in to the groove.
  • Go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed.  While content is king, if there is a session that isn’t’ interesting to you, use the time to blog, hang out with your fellow attendees, or just chill.
  • Be prepared to want to do more than one thing at once – at the same time, there are often two sessions running at the same time that you might want to go to.  There is no wrong choice, and you can’t do it all so don’t try to.
  • Spit spit spit.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Yes, there are moments (dinner, after hours parties) where I don’t spit and enjoy myself, but you are representing bloggers as a whole, and should have some decorum.  It’s a business conference at the core, disguised as a party.  Present yourself accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to sleep!  There are always many after hours events and parties.  While going to these is fun and a great way to meet people, don’t overdo it.  Sleep is critical during this busy weekend of events.
  • Don’t have any party invites?  Don’t worry!  Stay tuned to the #WBC14 twitter stream, talk to people, and mingle.  You’ll get plenty!
  • Have an open mind.  You never know if there are wines you wouldn’t normally try, that you will love!
  • Bring something from home that represents your region, style, and / or personality.  This could be wine, but it could also be food, a book, or a t-shirt.
  • Bring business cards.  Yes it may seem archaic, but it’s the best way to quickly introduce yourself with a memorable item.  The stacks of cards collected are reminders when we get home to follow, tweet, and read other peoples information.
  • Don’t worry about blogging DURING the conference.  Time is precious and you will stress yourself out and miss content if you try to blog during the event.  Write your thoughts down and save the blogging for when you get home.
  • Attend the break outs.  Too many people don’t attend the core of the conference and they miss out.  While You Need to choose which bits are important to you as a blogger, just to pull the meat out.
  • Find a WBC Scholarship committee member, and get your free Hello Vino GoVino souvenir glass!  If you’re super cool, donate to the Scholarship or buy a Rodney Strong souvenir stemless glass ($5 to buy one, 2 free with a $50 donation)!   It will serve you well for the event and beyond!
  • Get some Blogger Bling (namebadge ribbons) at the WBC Scholarship table on Thursday evening!  They are great icebreakers and support the Scholarship.
  • Say hi to the donors & Scholarship winners!

Here’s what I think I’ll be doing:

  • Keynotes, of course!  I cannot underestimate the importance of these opening sessions, as they set the tone for the day and really give you a peek in to how other professionals, wine writers, and tech luminaries view blogging.
  • Panel of Santa Barbara County Winemakers
  • Live Wine Blogging: Red and White – Also known as Speed Tasting, Speed Dating, or Insanity, I get a kick of out fast first impression tastes and the twitter storm that occurs.  You can tweet or blog, or take notes to blog later.  I suggest tweeting, as it’s the fastest way to keep up with the tasting.
  • Friday evening excursions to wine country – this is one of the best experiences at WBC.  Small groups are sent on mystery buses to various area wineries, where you get a deep dive in to the wine, winemaking philosophy, styles, and terroir of several area wineries.  The fun is that you don’t know where you’re going tile you get there!  No cheating now 😉
  • Saturday Breakout sessions:
    • Wine Discovery Breakout Sessions or maybe the Veteran Wine Bloggers Panel since I am one
  • Santa Barbara Vintners Association Lunch
  • Wine Discovery Breakout sessions – these are great, since they are opportunities for you to do a focal tasting for a specific region.
  • And more!  Details are still being sorted out, so I will update my plans as we find out more information about the schedule.

As you can see, there are some sessions not on my personal agenda. It’s not that I don’t find them valuable; it’s just that I don’t think I will be personally interested in them.  In leaving them off my “must do” list, I create some free flow, where I can catch up with my blogger friends, experience some of the local restaurants, join an off the grid get together, or just chill.

I will see you in 35 days and can’t wait to report this year’s news!

Google

 

And away we go…

WBC13.pngHere we are, on the first full day of June, and the impending Wine Bloggers Conference begins next week.  This year marks the sixth annual event, and it’s hard to believe that my little old Luscious Lushes has been up and running for that long as well!

As I sit here and wait with anticipation for my flight to Kelowna, BC, I am getting excited about the time I will have to explore more of the Okanagan.  Last year, I was able to travel around the northern end of the lake, experiencing Kelowna and the wineries surrounding it, and this year, before the conference I will do more exploring down near Penticton, where the conference is actually occurring.

Flying in to Kelowna, the larger of the two regional airports, is a breeze from my home base in San Francisco.  One hop to Seattle, and another hop to Kelowna.  A few short hours, and I’m in the spectacular lakeside region, full of wine, summer sports, and scenery.

As I’m flying in a day early, I’m excited to check out some places that I didn’t see on my trip last spring.   There are so many spectacular wineries to visit, I’ll have a hard time choosing!

With some help from the local tourism folks at Tourism Penticton and Thompson ‎Okanagan Travel, as well some very welcoming local businesses, I look forward to setting out to explore the Westside Wine Trail, Bottleneck Drive, and some places in Penticton I

won’t see during the conference.

The excitement is infectious as Penticton has been rolling out the red carpert, declaring June 6th Wine Bloggers Day in the city.  What odes that mean?  That means every business, from coffee shops to our host hotel, has been tweeting, Facebooking and smoke-signalling their welcome to the 200 or so strangers that are invading their town.

You just can’t buy that kind of hospitality.  I will be driving down the lakeshore from Kelowna to Penticton, stopping at local wineries, spending some pretty colored money, and taking in the spectacular scenery at a couple of wineries before meeting up with some locals in town for dinner.

Settling in for the night at Gods Mountain Estate.  This 115 acre estate is a Mediterranean style B&B escape, with views of Skaha Lake, vineyards and mountains.  This sounds like a place I need to come back to!

On Wine Bloggers Day, I will be visiting some beautiful, small production wineries that we won’t visit on our excursions on Friday, exploring what local really means.  With wineries that have been in families for generations, and a few rebels thrown in, I am looking forward to tasting Okanagan!

Stay tuned for more updates from the road, but in the meantime, a few more tidbids from Istria.

 

The View from the Top

Sasha Kadey

Christopher Watkins

Ed Thralls

I’ve often said that relationships will get you farther than anything in this world.  Whether that is a romantic relationship, a business relationship or a platonic relationship, it is that connection and interaction that forms the road to future endeavors.

Recently, at the Wine Bloggers Conference, three winery representatives formed a panel to discuss the winery view of bloggers.  Hot on the heels of How Bloggers Influence the Wine World, this session was a lively conversation between the established media, digital media, and three winery employees.

Ed Thralls is a wine blogger who is now working at the Windsor family of wineries in social media marketing.  Christopher Watkins is the manager of retails sales & hospitality at the Monte Bello tasting room for Ridge Vineyards, and also the author of 4488:  A Ridge Blog.  Finally, Sasha Kadey is the Director of Marketing for King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon and is active in social media.

Here, with three very different examples of winery views, as well as bloggers, we discussed how winery work with bloggers, how bloggers can make themselves more visible to wineries, and what they look for in a partnership.  These three are some of the biggest fans of social media and bloggers, and work hard to ensure that they are engaged with the blogging community and that bloggers are engaged with them.

Bloggers, and digital media in general, has the unique ability to be agile and fast.  There are very few mediums as flexible as the online writer has access to.  Gone are the days of paper galleys that go for approval, and are they print in large batches.  Today, we have the ability to not only write on the fly, but also edit that on the fly.  Change your thoughts on a topic, and it is a simple process to edit and add a note to a post after the fact, and call attention to that.  Digital media, according to Watkins, affords the writer flexibility and leverage that cannot be accomplished in other environments.  Digital writers can maximize, and should maximize the tools they have access to, since they cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Thralls, who began his wine career and social media campaign as a blogger himself, now runs the social media marketing efforts or a large winery family of brands.  He goes on to state that the relationship with bloggers and writers is different today than it has been with traditional PR and writers.  Because of this, it’s necessary to pitch them differently.  Gone are the the days of email blasts to the bloggers on his list; bloggers and online media require a different approach and different engagement.

Conversely, bloggers who are pitching wineries also need a different tactic.  Bloggers should not be intimidated about approaching wineries.  As we discussed in the Are Bloggers Influential session, as an online writer, we need to go out and make it happen.  But that doesn’t mean that the thousands of wine bloggers should all pitch the same winery or brand in the same way.  How are you unique?  How do you stand out?  The opportunities are endless as wineries are flattered any time a blogger reaches out and expresses interest in covering your brand in any way.

As a blogger, it’s important to build relationships with wineries and wine tourism, but you need to have a pitch in mind.  It’s far easier to write about a wine that you are having for dinner, but what can you do to stand out?  It’s harvest season right now; that means wineries are a hive of activity, and a wealth of information.  Have you approached your local winery or region about staying in a guest house so you can be the first one up at the early light of dawn, to watch the grapes come in?  We have the unique ability to dig around behind the scenes and learn details about an operation.

As a blogger, we are one of the many.  There are literally thousands of “wine blogs” in the US today, and many thousands moire around the world.  How can we stand out at a winery and make them take notice of us?  This actually isn’t very complicated – it’s all about expressing interest.  We can do that by being active, writing regularly, being passionate, and engaging with the blogging and wine business community.  This is more important, according to the panel, than maintaining a narrow focus of content on our blogs.

One method that wineries use to measure this interaction and passion is the relative activity level in social media.  with Klout being a hallmark (more on that later) of social engagement these days, it is one method to gauge how active a writer is in the greater online community.  Unfortunately, Klout has changed some measurements of social influence and is no longer the best method for measuring these things.  Smart winery markets know this and also look at engagement on tools such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and blog commentary.  It’s all about engagement.  All three of the panelists agree that the full cycle of engaging with the community is much more important than someone who blogs frequently.

Another factor that wineries are looking for is a clear and individual voice.  When developing your blog style, it’s critical to use your own voice and maintain that clearly and consistently.  your voice is your key.  That said, each brand is looking for different people.  While you might be appropriate for Big Label with an Animal, you might not be appropriate for Small Winery on a Mountain Top.

In the end, i’ts about being authentic and staying true to who you are.  There is an attraction to your uniqueness that wineries will flock to.  Doin’t blog, just for the sake of blogging; make sure you have something to say, and even better, something to say that is unique.  quality is better than quantity.  Engagement is better than one directional conversation.

When you are fully engaged in social media, you are active on multiple platforms, and engaging on multiple levels.  Evidence of this engagement, whether it’s using Alexa, Kred, or Klout as a baseline, is more important than large amounts of followers or frequent posts.  To engage your audience is to build your audience and build your credibility.

While there have been a few examples of bad blogger politics, whereas the offenders are clearly digging for free tastings, samples, or experiences, the vast majority of bloggers are honest and integrous people who are looking to learn and share their experiences.  Relationships with bloggers build the long tail consumer business that a winery thrives on.  If you build a relationship you build a customer for life; conversely, if you sell a bottle of wine, you sell a bottle of wine.

So, where will you go from here?

 

Are wine bloggers and writers influential? Should we be?

There is a lot of conversation going around the blogging world about how, if at all, bloggers and online wine writers influence the wine world.  Do we?  Do we have an impact?  Do we influence consumers?  Do we just read each other’s blogs?  Those are all valuable questions that spawned a lively debate at the Wine Bloggers Conference earlier this month.

One of the key questions that came up was was how do we, and online writers of content, move beyond having an audience made up solely of other online writers.  This naval gazing has been a sore point since the beginning of wine blogging, and while to a certain extent it is true, I think that that is a shortsighted view point.

Yes, many wine bloggers read wine blogs.  In fact, most wine bloggers read more wine blogs than the average consumer.  That said, as wine bloggers are wine consumers, and typically a more educated wine consumer, where is the problem with this?  One thing that is missing in the conversation about influence is that we, as bloggers, are wine consumer as well.  In fact, we are primarily a picky crowd of wine consumers.  So, if you audience is primary wine bloggers, you might actually be targeting the right crowd – typical wine bloggers have more disposable income and spend more of that on wine than most readers.

The counter argument to this is that the wine world is not just consumers and readers of the blogs.  The wine world is also producers, distributors, retailers, and the PR people that help them sell their products.

So, how much influence does blogging have on this collective audience?  Whether blogging as an individual or as a group (like Palate Press), how does the gestalt of wine blogging (online wine writing) impact the industry?  Blogs, and other e-media are, by their very nature, unique.  Blogs are a conversation starter, and the seed to a further discussion and further discovery by the reader.  When you write a post, or read a post, it’s often just the jumping off point for a longer conversation that may or may not occur on the blog post itself.

Case in point:  most of the conversations that happen as a result of my posts are on Facebook and Twitter.  Whether that is on my page on Facebook, in a group that I am a member of, or on twitter is somewhat immaterial.  The very nature of social media means that the comment as a means of feedback is not necessarily the most accurate measurement of the social impact of that writer – and by extension that bloggers’s audience.  Unfortunately, while comments appear to be on life support, they are an easy way of measuring value and interaction.  Until social media monitoring tools can read cross platform transactions and measure tools like Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter, comments need to be taken with a grain of salt.  Likewise, measuring tools like Alexa are misleading as they only measure direct traffic to your blog and do not include RSS feed readers and other social media interaction.

E-media and social media specifically offers agility and speed, and the ability to be unique, whether you are a winery, wine business, or writer.  Bloggers can respond quickly and create follow up posts with an agility that no other media has.  You have the power to create direct and powerful collaborative relationships with your readers.  However the conversation gets started, as an online writer, you need to join a crowd that has them come to you so you can grow your wings & fly.  It’s up to you to go out and make that happen.

The under 30 crowd is becoming hugely influential in the wine world.  There is, however, an unfortunate tendency to hyper focus on the Millennial and their obsession with technology.  This obsession with tech toys and the internet is not limited to the Millennials, as the vast majority of Generation Xers grew up with technology and are now the young-middle aged crowd with the disposable income to spend on wine.  As one of these Gen Xers, I do get somewhat offended to be boxed in with the Baby Boomers who might not have grown up around technology.  Yes, I live in a bubble here in the Bay Area, however, the majority of my generation are smart phone carrying, educated consumers that are empowered to make decisions based on information that is more easily accessible.

Another important point to review is that wine is a long tail business.  If someone walks in to a winery or wine shop and buys a bottle of wine, you have a sale.  If you build a relationship with that person, you have a customer.  I think this gets lost in a lot of the conversation about how we influence buying habits; my primary goal is not to have a reader buy a bottle of wine I recommended, however that is often a side effect.  My goal in writing about wine is to expose my readers to new producers and wines they might not already know.  Hopefully, they influences them to seek out these wines, and quite possibly try other wines from these producers.

Wine bloggers are as much publishers as they are writers.  This has been a steady message for several years, and Tom Wark continues to drive the point home.  As such, finding topics of interest that last over the long haul, that gather steam and have direction, will increase our influence.  Examples of this as the noiw somewhat defunct Wine Blogging Wednesday.  The collective posting of a general topic, say Malbec, or Pinot Noir from Oregon, or wines that go with football, not only inspire us to think in new ways, but they create a web ring of posts for readers to follow with a single wrap up post as a jumping off point.

While some find this to be “telling us what to write”, I believe the opposite.  Who doesn’t need inspiration sometimes?   Creating themes that are broad enough to allow us to maintain creative control is the key to a successful Wine Blogging Wednesday or any other themed group posting effort.  However, these efforts have to be regular and consistent or they will fail, as it the case of WBW.

So with all of that, what does the word influence mean in the blogging universe?  Blogger, or online wine writer, influence helps to drive demand for wine in general, and perhaps specific wines in particular.  Even if you cannot locate a wine that I write about locally, you can still go out and find a similar wine.  Online wine conversations get people talking about wine, and this is a primary goal of the wine industry.  Whether or not the wine is in the shop on the corner is somewhat immaterial; the important thing is that we are spreading the wine love and we are educating about wine.  No, I don’t mean that we are teaching you the WSET Advanced Course, but with 90% of wine consumers being the Average Joe, giving a flavor profile in a wine we like can educate a consumer enough to build the confidence to make their own choices at the local market.

Online wine writers need to define themselves clearly enough so that readers can know what to expect.  I am guilty of not doing this well enough, and I tend to morph in and out of themes; however, my specific goal is to write about the little guy, write about the story, and write about what’s going on in my local wine business.  If you write wine reviews, great!  However, you should have some framework for your writing.  With intention and content, influence will follow.

Lessons on being a better blogger…writer…or whatever

Wine:  The final frontier

These are the voyages of the Wine Brat, Thea.
Its 5 year mission (yep, it’s true.  I’ve been blogging for five years!)
To explore strange new wines
To seek out new bottles and new producers
To boldly go where no wine blogger has gone before.

These are the voyages of a wine bloggers writer and lover, trying to discover more about herself and her passion for the grape.

Recently back from a weekend in Virginia at the Wine Bloggers Conference, where both New York Times wine critfc Eric Asimov and London Financial Times wine writer Jancis Robinson gave a key note speeches, my thoughts are jumbled and varied as I think about how to be a better blogger.

Both Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov challenge the word, and somewhat the concept – of blogger.  Is "blogger" still really a valid term?  Bloggers are wine writers who chose to publish on line.  Traditional print media authors choose to publish on paper.  Writing is what brings us all together, today.  Love, true love (of the vine).  I am still getting used to this idea.  I am a proud blogger and I like to refer to myself that way, because if I call myself a wine writer, the mass public naturally assumes that I write for a publication.  Perhaps we should be called "online wine writers".

As wine writers, Jancis challenged us to do more investigative research before we blog.  Er write.  While the core value of this makes sense, I question the validity of her challenge; I am not a journalist, nor do i wish to be one.  While the most successful wine bloggers (not in terms of making money but in readership) have similar core writing styles, none of them assume or claim to be journalists.  Nor do I.  I try to be accurate and truthful in my writing, but in the end – my blog is just my blog, and musings of what I feel like talking about.  one of the major reasons that I decided not to pursue writing with an online wine magazine was because I didn’t want to be subject to the editorial rules that come with being a professional writer.  I write this blog so I can express my  thoughts in a meaningful way, and I hope that you enjoy reading it, and share with others.

One vital point that Jancis made during her speech was that writers, print or otherwise, need to sit up and take notice that while the book is not dead, the delivery method of the written word is changing.  Online, kindle, ebook readers, print, newspapers, magazine.  Essentially, they are all the same thing – but the delivery method is different.  I have an ipad, but most of my books are just that – books.  That said, the Kindle / iPad / Nook market allows you to give readers the option of how they will choose to accept delivery of your material.  I read blogs primary via an RSS reader.  Some people read blogs via the web or on their phone.  The point here, is that you must make your material available and readable for all sorts of platforms, as well as an international audience.  Don’t localize too much or you are putting yourself in a box; I write primarily about American wines, but just one click on Google Analytics, and I know that I have international readers.  The balance is maintaining my wit and style, while limiting colloquialism that would be lost on an international readership.

A key point that both Robinson and Asimov were keen to make is that if you are an online writer, you are also your own editor and publisher, and you need to understand what this means.  My task is to digest these nuggets with a blogger’s mindset, and interpreted to suit your needs.  Jancis further implored us, as wine writers in an online world, to hone our writing skills.  I work at this every day and in every post; but there are, sadly, too many blogs that use poor grammar or just don’t make sense.  If you are a blogger online wine writer, you should ensure that you are taking the time to digest your thoughts, and work & rework your written words.  Writers of all sorts go through multiple iterations before their words are put to print.  I think we should do the same.  Posting things that are not well thought out just add ot the misconception that bloggers online wine writers are hacks that don’t know what they are talking about.  While I don’t think I need an editor to write a blog, I DO think I need to self edit – even if it’s at the most basic level of spelling.  I believe I need to understand how to structure a sentence so that it makes sense and expresses my thought coherently; I also believe that to write a piece for a n audience that won’t hear my inflection and comedic wit, that i need to think about how it looks on the page, and not how I sound when I say it out loud.

Occasionally, writers suffer from a thought block or an uninspired lull.  I am not immune to this but I have found that reading other blogs and using tools like Creative Whack Packs can help blast me out of lull.  Another key trait of a good writer is admitting that you don’t know something.  I hope that you see that in my writing; I don’t know a lot of things, and I’d rather admit that, than make something up.  There shouldn’t be any fear in admitting the unknown.  One of the keys in being to be open an honest in this is fostering a community, both of readers, and other writers, who you can uses as a resource.  Encourage new readers to be engaged.  Wine can be a scary subject for someone just starting to enjoy it, and when you get too esoterica and off on tangents, you will alienate some readers.

The following day, Eric Asimov, author of the New York Times column formerly known as The Pour (now incorporated in the Diner’s Journal), shook up the room my telling us that we shouldn’t write tasting notes.  I emphatically disagree with this statement -0 and even though I think it was really meant rather flippantly, I think many in attendance are taking it too literally.  I am spinning this with my bloggers mindset, and ensuring that my tasting notes have a place within the story of the wine at the focus of the post.  We are, after all, wine bloggers (wine writers wine writers wine writers.  I will get this down eventually!).  To not write a wine review or tasting note for a year, if I take Asimov at his word, would cut out a large amount of wine blogs who are talking about the wine.

In fact, in a simple poll that I did on Facebook, I asked my blog readers if I should write more reviews, less reviews, or something entirely different.  While the majority of respondents said they wanted me to write more about the winery, location, or the STORY, they also indicated that they wanted the tasting notes in context.  So, for my part, I will try to make sure I write about why I like or dislike a wine, what emotions it evokes in me, and why I think you should try it, and try to stay away from triple berry crunch descriptors.  After all, my schnozzberry might be your razzleberry.

The key takeaway I have from Eric’s speech (which I might add, I read on twitter, and watched online after the event – since I was suffering the creeping crud at the time) is that in order to write about wine, you need to learn about wine.  Tasting wine is not enough.  You need to experience wine.  How do you do that? You drink a lot of wine, you explore wine, you read about wine, you learn about wine, you experiment with pairing wine with food.  Why this is important is that it can give you the perspective to be able to think about situations in a new light.  I knew, before going to Virginia, that the VA wines that I had tasted were probably not the best examples of what the state has to offer.  I didn’t like VA wine.  But, I went to VA with an open mind.  I decided, before I went, that I was going to taste VA wines and yes, they might suck, but, then again – they might not.  And, I’m happy to report, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the wines I tried.  This changed my pre-concived notion about wines from the area, and I’m more apt to try a wine from someone off beat as a result.

So go forth, and learn.  I am my own worst critic and I often question if I write well, or if I know anything about wine, so I am ever striving to learn more and do better.  The secret to success in most things is to be on a continuous journey of education.  I know what I like, and I chose to write about that because that’s what I know.  The unconformable challenge, is to learn about what I don’t know, and to share that journey with you.

Wine blogging has evolved.  Even if you write your blog out of passion, as I do, writing with professionalism and knowledge is key to being heard.  That doesn’t mean your blog shouldn’t express your voice, but it does mean:

  • Learn your subject matter
  • Dive in to your material, and don’t be afraid to dig deeper
  • Be honest
  • Ask questions
  • Be inquisitive
  • Be welcoming and gracious

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

 

WBC here I come!

It’s less than 2 weeks before the annual Wine Bloggers Conference, and I’m finally getting a little jazzed with it.  life has been busy these days, with my day job, the WBC Scholarship, and, well, STUFF but I’m looking forward to a few days off spent with my 300 closest friends in the sweaty summer weather in Virginia. As a 4 year veteran, some things that I’ve learned on the road to blogging:

  • Get to know your sponsors.  We have a few hours on Friday to learn who has made the event possible; stop by and say hi!  You never know what relationships might form.
  • Attend the keynotes with Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov.  These sessions are great kick starters and will get you in to the groove.
  • Go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed.
  • Be prepared to want to do more than one thing at once
  • have FUN!
  • Don’t be overly structured
  • Spit spit spit.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Yes, there are moments (dinner, after hours parties) where I don’t spit and enjoy myself, but you are representing bloggers as a whole, and should have some decorum.  It’s a business conference at the core, disguised as a party.  Present yourself accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to sleep!
  • Engage in the “Anti-Conference” spontaneous events; these are the best way to network with your fellow bloggers, writers, and industry professionals.
  • Participate in the Unconference sessions.  These informal discussion panels let you get involved.
  • Have an open mind.  You never know if there are wines you wouldn’t normally try, that you will love!
  • Bring something from home that represents your region, style, and / or personality.  This could be wine, but it could also be food, a book, or a t-shirt.
  • Bring business cards.  yes it may seem archaic, but it’s the best way to quickly introduce yourself with a memorable item.  The stacks of cards collected are reminders when we get home to follow, tweet, and read otehr peoples information.
  • Follow the #wbc11 twitter stream.  Make sure you are not protected (my main account is, but I tweet under @luscious_lushes for public consumption).  We want to hear your thoughts!
  • Find time to post a few quick blog posts with your thoughts BEFORE, DRUING, and AFTER the conference.  First impressions are great conversation starters.
  • Spend some time on Friday morning meeting the sponsors.  They are the reason we are all able to attend this event, and they want to know the bloggers are much as we want to know them.
  • Participate, however briefly in the after hours events such as the Other 46 Tasting and the International Wine Night.  While there will undoubtedly be parties at the time time, it’s a great way to get to know other people.
  • Find a party to attend!  This is a great way to get ot know people on a personal level.  Sponsors, wineries, and bloggers all host formal and informal parties during the event.
  • Attend the break outs.  Too many people don’t attend the core of the conference and they miss out.  While You Need to choose which bits are important to you as a blogger, just to pull the meat out.
  • am Content
Here’s what I thnk I”ll be doing: 

  • Keynotes, of course
  • Breakout 1 – Online Technologies and Wine. I am really looking forward to hearing more about current online technologies and how they relate to blogging and the wine world.  Hey, I work in IT.  Once a geek, always a geek.  This stuff fascinates me.
  • Live Wine Blogging: Red and White – Also known as Speed Tasting, Speed DSating, or Insanity, I get a kick of out fast first impression tastes and the twitter storm that occurs.  you can tweet or blog, or take notes to blog later.  I suggest tweeting, as it’s the fastest way to keep up with the tasting.
  • The Other 46 Tasting – I’m the first to admit, I’m a snob when it comes to wines being made in other states.  But, in keeping with my belief that you need to go with an open mind, I’ll show up to taste wines from Texas, Indiana, and other states (spit cup in hand).  Who knows!  I might find something I like!
  • Saturday Morning Wine Country Visit – one of the core events of every WBC is visiting a local winery or two and learning about the local wine culture.
  • Vibrant Rioja After Hours Party – I like Rioja, and what’s NOT to like about a wine and food crawl?
  • Unconference Blogger-Led Discussions – This was one of my favorite events at the first WBC, and I’m pleased to see it has finally made it back.  Part of the inspiration for me, is hearing what other bloggers think on topics.  This format allows us all to have a structured but informal conversation on topics we all want to hear about.
  • Ignite Wine! – Five minute mini presentations on all sorts of topics.  How much can YOU distill in 5 minutes?
As you can see, there are some sessions not on my personal agenda. It’s not that I don’t find them valuable, it’s just that I don’t think I will be personally interested in them.  In leaving them off my “must do” list, I create some free flow, where I can catch up with my blogger friends, experience some of the local restaurants, write some posts, join an off the grid get together, or just chill.
I will see you in 10 days and can’t wait to report this year’s news!

Why RSS feeds are my FrienEmy

I”m a blogger.  I blog.  That means I read blogs.  Hundreds of them.  It’s impossible for me to keep up every day, but when I find a few spare minutes, I can be found on Google Reader or on my smartphone, iPad or other device that lets me read RSS feeds catching up on the news of the day.

What’s the problem with this?  RSS feeds.  I used to think that feeds were awesome, and made my life streamlined and cozy.  However, as I gather more and more blogs to read, and information that I find useful, I am beginning to hate feeds, and more so – blogs in general.  Why?  Because of the partial post feed.  A partial post feed is essential a teaser; a blip from the full article on the blog that catches you attention, and hopefully forces you to click through to the actually blog page – thereby forcing you to be counted amongst the “readers” on the blog.  THe problem I have with this is that I, like many felling media junkies, are not going click through to 500 individual blogs – let alone blog posts – on any sort of regular basis.

With the advent of smart devices to aggregate reads, and thee fastest selling download apps being RSS readers and magazine syndication posts for these feeds, the snipped post is obsolete.  What is a girl to do if she wants to maintain a somewhat accurate count of the number of “readers” she has?  A combination of feed subscribers and unique visitors will give you a fairly decent high level view of this.  As someone put in a response to my Facebook post about this though – subscribers do not equal readers.  That might be true, but what defines a “READER”?  If you incorporate page views vs unique visitors, add in returning visitors, and divide by the sum total length of each page view, yo might if you are lucky get a number something like pi.  NOT particularly useful in the real world.

Since numbers are primarily a game, and the BEST (well ok most popular really because who defines “best”) blogs have guesstamates of accurate readership, why all the fuss and scardy cat behavior in using partial posts?  I’m not convinced there is a logical reason for it unless you are really trying to hide (a valid reason), track someone down (another valid reason), or stick it to the man.

Fortunately there ARE tools out there that give you a well rounded picture.  Most blog feeds are on Feedburner, a google underling.  Currently, you can use Google Analytics to track most blog traffic, and also log in to Feedburner to view RSS traffic.  After doing some digging, since it’s a pain for me, I found a few possible solutions.  On possible solution includes hiding some code in your RSS feed so you can track it separate in Analytics.  I’m still working on that one.  There are some additional ways to get the results, but i’m still trying to decypher them since it appears they were written by Russian hackers.

The debate over full versus partial feeds rages on in the geek community – I’ve uncovered some pretty interesting conversations on the subject; for the most part, blogs with a large subscription base and a lot of content have  made the switch to full feeds.  IN many cases, subscribers have gone up significantly after that jump.  Personally, I subscribe to a lot of blogs via the Google Chrome RSS doohicky, a one click plug in.  That aid, when I go comb through my reader, I subsequently ditch a lot of feeds that are header only (instead delete) and partial feeds (read first, then ditch).  While there are a small number of readers who do prefer partial feeds – I find that the majority of readers prefer a full feed and that as a result most who provide them notice an upswing in subscriber numbers. Of course there are downsides in full feeds (for one they become more attractive to scraper sites) so make your decision carefully – but if it’s subscriber numbers that you’re after full feeds will be something to consider.

I did however, recently discover a tool for google reader (on Chrome only) that allows you to turn a partial feed in to a full feed.  But what if I am reading on my iPad?  Bloggers need to understand that readers are expanding from the web interface to other forms of reading.  Yes, I realize that footprints on your blog are important – as is foot traffic in a retail store environment; however, if you take the analogy of retail stores email me specials, deals, info and turn that in to bloggers making content available to me – is that not the same?  Why or why not?  In a business environment, we are moving to a mobile tablet environment.  Our sales reps will soon be equipped with iPads and not issued laptops for business purposes.  Yes, we are a google apps shop – but that really doesn’t matter since you can get enterprise apps for iPads and other tablets that allow you to function effectively with mobile devices.  If Salesforce and Microsoft, and Google can create apps that are business friendly for mobile devices, why can’t bloggers create an environment that is to reading RSS feeds?

Given that foot traffic is so critical, there are a number of ways to track this.  My little friend Google informs me that there are ways to integrate Google Analytics with RSS feeds.  you don’t HAVE to use Feedburner.  A little bit of know how will allow you to actually track the clicks and therefore the subscribers.  I’m going to work on this for myself, since I’m interested to see the outcome; I struggle with the Feedreader / Analytics stats because I wonder how accurate they are; what other tools have better stat tracking?  I’m a bit stuck on that so if you have a great tracking tool please share.

And people, please make it easier on me!  Put your subscribe link on the top of the page, above the fold.  For those less technically inclined, offer a subscribe by email option.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, concludes my tech lesson of today.

What do YOU think?  Why do you have clipped feeds?  Why do you care?  Speaking more to the citizen blogger out there, and even industry folks, how do you encourage readership?  Discuss!

Feast on THIS!

I first found out about Cana’s Feast Winery when touring around the WIllamette Valley last fall.  I didn’t pay it much attention, as we drove by on our way to a Pinot Pit Stop, primarily because they made other wines that weren’t on my hit list.  Bu also because I was overwhelmed with other deliciousness.  I finally woke up when my friend and fellow wine blogger started working there.  Well!  Fortunately for me, Tamara was able to send me samples as part of her marketing job, and I received a bottle of the 2008 Meredith Mitchell Pinot Noir.

 

I wasn’t very happy with this wine at first, because it was very woody, and suffered from a bitter quinine aftertaste that just didn’t sit right with me for an Oregon Pinot.  There was some burnt sugar and earth, and it was overwhelmed with dusty baking spice.  Where was the fruit?  Where was the PINOT in this Pinot?

Well, far be it for me to throw away wine.  It’s just not in my making to dump Pinot!  So I left it, for about an hour, corked but not completely closed.  When I came back to it, it was beginning to wake up but there really wasn’t any THERE there if you know what I mean.  Oh well.  Fortunately, the next night, since I already had two open bottles of Pinot, both from Willamette, I was able to re-taste it.  What a different a day makes!  Now, I tasted bright cherries, pomegranate, cranberry.  There was my red fruit!  There was my acid!   It really opened up nicely, and turned in to a wine that I very much enjoyed.  The lesson here is DECANT DECANT DECANT!  It needs some serious air to show her true colors.  I’d also cellar this for at LEAST 2 years to get the full benefit.

Which brings up an interesting point.  When I was poking around in September, I really didn’t like the 08 Pinots coming out of Willamette. They were just too ripe, too big, too Russian River, bordering on Sta Rita Hills.  Gasp!  Shock!  Horror!  That wasn’t what Oregon was supposed to be!  WHere was my Burgundy?  Where was my restrained style and light body?  I was sadly disappointed.  That said, here were are 6 months later; I’ve been tasting several of the 08s, as they are the current release for the most part.  My my my what a little bottle age will do!  They are improving, slowly but surely.  I think 2008 might not be such a bad year after all…

This bottle of Oregon Crack was supplied by my dealer at Cana’s Fest.  Thanks guys!

 

Loosey goosey Dusi!

It’s raining cats and dogs, and we’re driving around in the mud, trying to find Dusi Vineyards.  As it happens, J Dusi Wines is tucked away in the family home in the middle of a vineyard just outside of Paso Robles, and is hidden in the 80 year vines of the vineyard.  This is like stepping back in time, to an era when there were more cows in Paso Robles than wine; to an era of farming, of family, and of community.

As we enter the house, Janell and her mom greet us with coffee, which was welcome at 9:30 on a chilly wet day.  Mom was in the kitchen cooking up a storm for the wine club party that night, and Janell sat down with us at the table to tell us the story of her wine, and the family tradition.  Janell Dusi is turning her family business on its head, becoming the first Dusi to make wine and not just grow it.  Her great grandparents, Sylvester and Caterina Dusi began farming this land in the early 1920s, and started  business after business, including vineyards, farms, restaurants, and the now defunct Dusi Winery.  She was born on this vineyard, and raised among the vines that her grandfather Dante planted with his two brothers, the sons of Sylvester.  In 1945, vineyards were few and far between in Paso, since it was a large rural farming community.  With the farm, came the Italians, and the rich tradition of Zinfandel and field blends.  Th brothers planted a classic field blend, and head trained the vines, with no irrigation.  65 years later, the traditions remain the same.

This fourth generation winemaker hand picks during harvest, and enlists the entire family to help – including her nieces and nephews, who are young sprouts in the field.  This family tradition is dying in California, and it’s refreshing to see a tried and true farm family, albeit farmign wine. Growing up int he vines, Janell learned all she could about grape farming, but she always wanted her Grandfather Dante to teach her how to make wine.  When she was 16, she made her first wine, and continued making an Italian style zinfandel every year after that.  Each vintage asked and answered a different question in winemaking, and Janell learned by doing, under the careful gaze of Grandpa..

Now, she’s in her 3rd vintage of J Dusi wines. The two original vineyards are about 1/4 mile away from the family house; the first is 40 acres, that was planted in 1943 with an Italian field blend of Carignane, Alicante Bouchet, Petite Sirah, and who knows what else.  in 1945 a second parcel was purchased nearby.  In the beginning, the family sold their grapes to surrounding wineries, but as the grape market fell in the 1950s, the Dusis ventured in to winemaking to make their way through the grape glut.  Their first foray in to finished wine was about 8-9 years under the label Dusi Winery, and when the grape prices came back up, they stopped making wine and started selling grapes again.

One of the unique properties of this area is the large diurnal temperature swing during the course of day.  This vineyard in particular can go from 99+ degrees on a hot summer day, to below  at night on that same day.  This gives the fruit some unique character.  That, combined with dry farming, give the vines some vigor as they are forced to struggle a bit – classically, this makes a lovely wine.  First up, the 2008 Dante Dusi Ranch Zinfandel.  This was bright raspberry with white pepper, bold blackberry juice and hints of other spice box flavors.  I found it to be viscous and lingering (in a good way).  Only 850 cases were made, and since 90% of the home ranch fruit is sold to other wineries, this is a rare gem.  Janelle really wants to showcase the whole ranch in one bottle and not segment the wine out.  These wines are Representative of the terroir of the property as a whole, and this zin in particular showed a lot of juicy red fruit, with just a hint of oak, followed by a lot of cherry cola.

The 900 cases of the 2009 Zinfandel was just released.  This was a totally different wine – and rather unexpected in the zone of big, jammy, raisiny Paso zins.  The herbaceousness really struck me, and while it might have been a bit closed, it was herbal with bay leaf , dusty black pepper, a hint of red raspberry coming out under tobacco and leather.  There were chewy bark lots of spice.  

Finally, the 2009 Fiorento which was recently bottled.  This blend of 50% Zin, 25% Carignane, and 25% Syrah showed dusty blue fruit, and was lean and racy but refined, with dusty blue fruit, and strong chewy notes from the Syrah.  With only 50-60 Carignane vines on the property, they are hand picked to ripeness to make sure that the perfect fruit is selected.

 

We could have stayed and talked to the Dusi family for hours – about dry farming, about old vine zin, about restrained California Zinfandels, about Paso Robles’ best changes at Rhone.  But alas, another appointment was calling.  I did however not leave empty handed!  I brought home some Zinfandel to share with my friends, and am looking forward to trying the 09 again after it settles down a bit.

Thanks for such a great visit Janell!

Clang clang clang went the…

Ding, ding, ding went the bell
Zing, zing, zing went my heartstrings as we started for Huntington Dell.

The iconic sounds of Judy Garland in Meet Me In St. Louis.
Ah the images of a red trolly, rambling down the street.  we’re lucky here in San Francisco, we have vintage streetcars from around the world on parade.  We’re also lucky because we live so close to Red Car Winery.   Red Car Winery was founded by Carroll Kemp and Mark Estrin way back in 2000, with only 50 cases of syrah.  Now, 11 years later, there are four Red Car wines, and two other labels – Trolley and Reserve.

With a flair for the dramatic, Hollywood producer Carroll and screenwriter Mark bring us great grapes and great wine.  Today I opened the 2009 Trolly Pinot Noir.  2009 was an interesting year, and I was a little aprehensive when I opened the bottle.  That said, several of my

blogging friends (NorCal Wine) have been up to the winery or to a winemaker dinner (yes YOU Dallas Wine Chick Melly!) and they were all  h the wines.  i must say, I am really enjoying this pinot myself.

Bright and bold without being over extracted, this Pinot Noir is great on it’s own or with food.  Tons of bright cherry and cranberry, with a hint of raspberry, and strawberry on the back end, the spice box nutmeg and tannins also fill out the back of the palate.  There is a touch fo brown sugar with tons of spice as well.  This is my kind of Pinot Noir!  The grapes are sourced from the cool coastal vineyards, and they show the high acidity of the Sonoma Coast fruit.  That balances out nicely with huge black Cherry flavors, followed by floral notes of rose petals.  An hour after opening, it is really developing nicely in the glass and the earthy mushroom characteristics come otu to play.  This is clearly a Sonoma Pinot Noir, with rich cherry and dark red fruit, as well as plum flavors; it’s rich but not overblown, and I really like it!

At $48, it’s not exactly budget, but it’s a lovely wine and if you should see it on the market, you should BUY it.

Happy Tasting!

 

These wines were brought to be on a bus by Malm Communications.  I think we need to get Mia a trolley!

We didn't go for the almonds but…

Jordan Winery is a hidden gem in Alexander Valley.  Up a winding driveway, through the woods, and yes – even over a creek, you meander up to the upper vineyard of the winery, where the French inspired chateau winery sits.  It was founded in 1972, coincidentally the same year both I and our host john jordan, were born – based on the dream of creating world class Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in Sonoma.  I’d say that they have accomplished that dream quite nicely.

John Jordan, CEO

Tom Jordan began the winery in 1972, when he signed the deed the day John, his son, was born; the first blocks in the lower vineyard were purchased then, and in 1974 the property was expanded to incorporate the upper ranch of the vineyards.  Construction began on the winery in 1976, and the first Cabernet Sauvignon was released in 1980.  Fast forward 25 years, and John, the prodigal son returned to the home ranch where he grew up, to take over.  John Jordan, the current CEO, took over operations in 2005 after a successful career in law.  In fact, he STILL works in law, which is rather amazing considering what it takes to run a place like Jordan well.  When he took over, John strived to find the best of old world techniques and new world know how, including sustainable farming techniques and a unique focus on a welcoming hospitality center which includes a private library tasting room as well as Michelin star worthy dining experience.

On our arrival to the winery, we were greeted by John, Lisa Mattson (@jordanwinery) – my friend and Jordon’s Communications Director, as well as a great video blogger-, Brent Young – the viticulturist, and hors d’oeuvres by Chef Todd Knoll who was tucked away in the kitchen preparing our nosh.  The 2008 Russian River Chardonnay that was paired with the tidbids was not at all what I was expecting and absolutely delightful.  I found lively citrus, stone fruit and a creamy mineral finish, while being subtle and not at all over oaked or overly full of buttery malolactic fermentation.  The lemonade flavors gave way to baking spices, green apples, and Asian pears.  this wine is treated with only 55% new French Oak, while the rest is in 1-2 year old barres; a full 25% is stainless steel fermented, which allows the fruit to shine through.  The 75% of barrel fermented wine balances out the stainless steel and the 28% malolactic fermentation rounds out the wine while retaining the crisp refreshing chard that even this ABC curmudgeon would love.  This wine was literally just released (May 1st) and at $29 I would recommend it for summer sipping.

After our chardonnay, we stepped in tot he dining room which is in the end of one wing of the tank room.  And by tank room, I don’t mean large steel drums.  I mean beautiful, hand built oak tanks, which look as if they should sing to you.  In the dining room, our tables were set with beautifully hand calligraphered corks with our names, as well as a menu card (which clearly I could not see well as it’s blurry here).

We began lunch with 3 chardonnays – the 2005, 2007, and some more of the 2008 we tasted outside.  The 2005 Chardonnay had a bit of age on it, which I found to show a touch of petrol, with creamy lemon curd and richer earthy bold profile.  37% was fermented in new french oak, with extended sur lie contact to round out the palate.  Again, the malolactic fermentation was limited to 76%, which preserved the green apple and lime zest flavors.  For me, this was my least favorite of the three whites – but if you enjoy a creamier chardonnay do try it.  the 2007 Chardonnay showed more grapefruit than the 2008, and 48% was fermented in new French Oak.  This year had more ofa spiced pear favor to it, and I can imagine it going quite well with fish dishes and apple pie.  All in all, I really identify with Jordan’s style of chardonnay, and I am still learning to love new wines that are made in the Burgundian tradition, with less oak and subtle maloactic fermention which lets the fruit speak for itself.
Next, we moved on the to Cabs.  We were treated to a lineup that is jealousy inducing, with a 1999, 2005, and 2006 cabernet Sauvgnon.  The 1999 was soft and supple, and simple a luxuriously plush wine.  The velvety black and dark red fruit showed plums, blackberries, and juicy raspberries with a touch of chocolate cherry on top.  1999 was the first harvest from the newly acquired upper vineyard, and the wine has 23.2% merlot, which adds to the soft fruti flavors.    It was aged for a year in oak barrels, but also for an additional 6 months in American Oak tanks, which produce less contact with the wine and therefore more subtle oak flavors.  Yum!  I adored this wine, and found that it went with my duck quite well (everyone else had lamb).  The 2005 has 5% of Petite Verdot bleed in, and I could really taste even that small addition.  It was earthy and robust, and much more of a masculine wine than the 1999.  I found smokey tobacco leaf, coffee and cola, with black walnuts and figs followed by a touch of anise.  With a year in oak (64% French) , it was tasty but I think it would be better over time.  The 2006 is a baby, and really needs to lay down for a while.  It was just released, and has 4.5% Petite Verdot as well as 19.5% Merlot.  It is a young wine, full of cherries and cassis, but just isn’t ready yet.
After lunch we took a little hike in the vineyard and then had dessert on the terrace with a sip of the very rare Jordan Sauterne style late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.  But, I can’t tell you about that, or I’d have to kill you.  And, given the caliber of wines being poured, and the fact that I had a sutie at the guest house fit for a queen, I did my Thirsty Girl best to NOT spit the good s*!t, and enjoyed most of my sips.
Please take a moment to stop by, by appointment only, and taste for yourself.  If you can’t make it up to the winery, check out the terrific blog!
Special thanks to everyone at Jordan for such a great day, which yes FCC folks, was gratis, and to all my blogger buddies for making the trip out!

On top of the world, looking down on…

Silicon Valley?  Yes Virginia, there is wine in the South Bay, high above the muck of Cupertino, on Monte Bello ridge.  Long before the computer chip was invented, the Monte Bello winery was started on this ridge.  At 2600 feet, the winery is located at the apex of the hill, where the upper most vineyards are.  Winding our way past the gravel trucks and up the mountain, there were precarious hairpin turns and road closures, but nothing was goign to stop me from getting to the good stuff at the top of that hill.

On one particularly gorgeous day recently, I was invited to attend a private tasting at Ridge’s Monte Bello property.  Although I adore Ridge wines, I often find myself avoiding the mayhem on holiday and special event weekends as it can get to be quite crowded.  It’s a long drive up the mountain, but the reward at the top is a sweeping view of the Bay Area, including a hazy glimpse of San Francisco in the distance.  Upon arriving at the tasting room, we were greeted by our host Christopher Watkins, the tasting room manager.  Here, we started with a glass of the Santa Cruz Mountains chardonnay as we wandering the garden, waiting for the rest of our crew to arrive.

Once we were assembled, we started our journey with the 2008 Jimsomore Chardonnay.   Not being a huge chard drinker, I really didn’t have that many expectation of the starter, but  this vineyard is dry farmed and head trained, and the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation with native years.  I found it quite floral, with note of honey tangerine and cream caramel.  It was rich and viscous, with a hint of lemon curd.  this limited release only has 200 cases, and the vineyard lies below the fog line with hot summer days and cool nights, making for some great chard.

Next up the 2008 Santa Cruz Mountain Chardonnay.  this is a parcel selection, and is intended for longevity and complexity.  It is more vibrant than the Jimsomore, and has a bright acidity and is refreshingly ful of stone fruit and Meyer lemons, with some tropical influences.

Now we delve in to the zin, which is how I fell in love with Ridge.  First the 2008 East Bench Zinfandel, which is the youngest area designated benchland between Dry Creek and Alexander valleys.  The cuttings here are 120 years old, and this pre-release wine was spicy cherries with black pepper, soft berry jam, figs, beef jerky and a mellow soft medium bodied zin that is perfect with food.  We also tried the 2006 East Bench, which I found to have more fruit forward flavors of strawberry, cherry, smoke and tobacco.  This was a very cool year in Sonoma County, which made for a leaner wine.  It was a bright zin, and was the first vintage from the then 8 year old vines.  This was a terrific example of a complex zin that would pair well with food without being overpowering and jam packed with berries.

The 2008 Geyserville is a blend of 72% zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 6% Petite Sirah, and 2% Mataro (Mouvedre).  it had a sweeter edge of big blackberries with a smoky backbone that I attribute to the Mataro, with flavors of raspberries and figs blended in a brambly pie with a faint hint of cedear.  The 2007 vintage, which is the current release, is 58% Zinfandel, 22% Carignane, 18% Petite Sirah and 2% Mataro, which made for a chocolate blackberry pie with brandied blackberries and coffee, followed by molasses and bittersweet cocoa over stewed fruit.  Each one of these blends is hand selected from a field blend, parcel by parcel, and depending on the best of the crop for a given vintage, the blend can change significantly.  Wine after all is half science, half dream, and half magic.

Lytton Springs, which is next door to Geyserville, showed less fruit and more structure in the 2008 blend of 74% Zinfandel, 21% Petite Sirah, 5% Carignane.  It was quite spicy with raspberries, strawberries, and blackberries.  The 2007 was much jammier, with black fruit, dried figs, and earth.  I found it a touch hot, but that soon blew off.  The 2007 blend was 71% Zin, 22% Petite Sirah, and 7% Carignane.

After meandering through the zinfandel country, it was time to get to the big boys of cab, which started it all for Monte Bello.  First, the 2007 Santa Cruz Mountains Estate Cab, which is a blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon and 42% Merlot.  It is not yet released, and was quite chewy and dense with scents of lavender and leather.  The 2006 is 56% Cabernet, 42% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot, and had coffee notes adn an herbaceousness that the 2007 did not.

Finally we worked through several of the Monte Bello Cabs.  Two of my favorites were the 2006, wtih 68% Cabernet Sauvigon, 20% Merlot, 10% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  I found chocolate coverted cherreis, bright fruit, and dusty cocoa and really enjoyed it.  The 2005 was also a favorite, with 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, 6% Petite Verdot, and 2% Cab Franc.  It had a dusty earth cover, with blueberreis and blackberries, covered with instant coffee.  It was a very low yield in 2005, and this wine was muscular and lean.

As you can see, we did some serious damage to the Monte Bello libarry and I would like to thank Christopher for his hospitality and humor as we tasted some of these amazing wines!  Next up…who knows?

1 2