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!

 

There’s gold in that furrow!

Driving up a dusty dirt road, at the edge of a vineyard in Lodi, you could see the history in the vines.  These gnarled old beasts were baking in the late spring heat, and you could just feel the struggle as they worked to survive the turbulent weather.

This was Rauser Vineyard, planted with old vine Carignane and Zinfandel.  Our guide, Mike Mike McCay, was enthusiastically giving us an oral history of the last 20 years, while digging in the dry, crumbling dirt of the vineyard.  Mike is an innovator, something that is more common in Lodi than you would expect.  Not satisfied to go with the status quo, he is always looking for new ways to survive the ever persistent drought, and to produce some amazing wines.

His winemaking style centers around the terroir of Lodi, and specifically this patch of land.  Using Native yeasts while concentrating on Zinfandel and Rhône varietals, he has brought out the true expression of htis small AVA in the region.

Tiptoeing through the high furrows of dusty red soil, Mike poured us his ClIMG_0653ements Hills Viognier.  This mineral driven white enjoyed a long, warm growing season, which resulting in ripe pears and stone fruit, followed by rich floral aromas.  It was just the thing to whet our palates on the hot and dusty day.

After learning a bit of history of this piece of land, we met up with Mike’s family at his house for a down home Lodi style BBQ.  Quite the chef, Mike McCay fired up the vine driven barrel barbeque and quickly got to work making a feast – perfectly designed to showcase his wines.

 

Mike pulled out all the stops, retrieving some beautiful examples of Lodi’s Rhône style wines from his cellar, plus, by special request Cabernet Franc.  One might not expect either Cab Sav or Cab Franc to be successful in what amounts to a high desert climate, however, with the varied terrain and terroir of the larger Lodi growing region, it did beautifully.IMG_0655

 

 

McCay Cellars specializes in Rhône varietals, and also has a beautiful Cabernet Franc and is working with old vine Zin.  Growing slowly and steadily, Mike has witness major changes in Lodi over the last 20 years.  Industrial grape production has made way for artisan, small lot producers, and the wine tourism business has seen growth in Lodi tourism and the affiliated business.
The careful attention McCay pays to his vineyards and his winemaking are evident in the beautiful wines he produces.  But don’t take my word for it!  Stop by and visit when you’re in town.  McCay Cellars has a tasting room in Lodi, open no weekends (Thursday-Sunday) from 11-5.
The next time you’re in Lodi, be sure to experience the Rhône varetals from McCay Cellars!  If Mike’s int he tasting room, you’re sure to get a history lesson along with your Grenache.

Say it ain’t Cinsault

IMG_0631Cruising along on a breezy but warm spring morning in Lodi, we were off on Day 2 of our adventures of “Anything but Zin”.  Today, our first stop was Lodi’s oldest vineyard, the some
120+ year old Bechthold Vineyard.

Bechthold Vineyard was planted over a century ago by Joseph Spenker.  Back in 1886, Cinsault was more commonly referred to as Black Malvoisie.  Today, many people might know that Cinsault is one of the parents of Pinotage, the other being Pinot Noir.  It is also a workhorse grape in the south of France, and is also widely planted in northern Africa.

So why is Bechthold Vineyard so special?  First, having a piece of land that is planted, on the original rootstock, with the original varietals, and has been essentially untouched for over 100 years is and impressive feat.  For 130 years is damned year unheard of.  But perhaps more importantly, the Bechthold property is also family owned, and continuously operated by that family for those 130 years.

These twenty-five acres of genius is still highly sought after and productive, and has pulled itself out of obscurity with a renewed interested in ancient vines and historical varietals.   As part of the larger Spenker Vineyard property, the vineyard is currently managed by Phillips Farms (part of the Michael-David Winery) and is steadfastly guarded by a strong family tradition and history.  Today, this vineyard provides fruit for Bonny Doon, Turley, and Michael-David, not to mention Onesta, and has a long waiting list.

Cinsault is a special thing.  A thick skinned, ornery beast, it can form the backbone of some strong red blends.  On it’s own however, it is sneaky, and has a ridge of acid that will wake you up.  Create a rose from that wake up call, and you’ll be drinking wine at 10:30am withIMG_0292 the best of us.

As we traipsed through the soft, tall furrrows of soil on this sunny and breezy morning, we were joined by Jillian Johnson, owner and winemaker of Onesta Winery, and David Phillips of Michael-David Winery.

 

 

 

 

 

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2014 Onesta Cinsault Rosè

Released with a year of bottle age, and fermented on 20% neutral and stainless steel, the juice is 50% saignee from the red Cinsault and 50% purpose pressed.  The 80% that was aged in wood had a lot of contact with the lees resulting in a rich ruby red grapefruit flavor with hints of blood orange, coriander, lavender and dried herbs.  This wine will wake you up and make you say hello!  $22

2012 Onesta Cinsault

With extended maceration and 9 months in neutral oak, this beauty is a berry pie with a topper of pomegranate juice.  A lighter style of Cinsault, the delicate wine is luscious and fruit forward, yet full of baking spice and acid.  This is the perfect wine to please both a Pinot and a Zin lover.   $29
IMG_0635In contrast, the 2014 Michael-David Ancient Vine Cinsault is denser and more lush than the Onesta.  Baked blue and black fruit, black pepper and savory herbs dance on my tongue with the silky elegance of an Hermes scarf.  Bing cherries and ripe strawberries come out on the finish, and this would be perfect with roasted pork.  $25
Other producers to try from this vineyard:  Turley Wine Cellars, Estate Crush.

Thank you Jillian and David for the great history lesson and tour of one of the best vineyards in the country!  I am looking forward to the Wine Bloggers Conference and more delicious Lodi Wine in August!

Everything’s Coming up Roses! (Wine & Roses)

After a full day of exploring some of Lodi’s diverse wines and terroir, we settled in at our host hotel, Wine & Roses.  This resort style hotel has a beautifully relaxing interior courtyard, and situated on one side is the hotel’s restaurant, the Towne House.

Chef John Hitchcock, a Lark Creek Group alumnus, masterfully prepared a 7 course menu to go with the intriguing wines that Sue Tipton, owner of Acquiesce Winery & Vineyards had brought to share with us.

I had personally become acquainted with the wines of Acquiesce several years ago, and had always enjoyed the light, elegant style of Rhône style wines that owner and winemaker Sue Tipton produces.  As we were meandering through Lodi exploring “everything but Zin” I was excited to get the opportunity to taste these wines again.

IMG_0612The deck of the restaurant overlooks the interior courtyard of the hotel, and as the sun went down, the temperature had cooled off enough to be comfortable outside in the relaxing environment.  Chef John was about to amaze us with the beautiful pairings, and while I wan’t quite hungry yet due to the amazing and large lunch at Pietro’s earlier, the menu looked amazing.

IMG_0614First up, we kicked things off with these gorgeous Blue Point Oysters, served with Yuzu pearls.  Blue Points are particularly large and meaty oysters, so I wasn’t sure how they would pair with the delicate Picpoul Blanc, but they were perfect.  The salinity and minerality of the shuckers  played delightfully off the wet river rocks, crushed shells, and freshly zested citrus in the wine.  With just a hint of floral notes on the edge of this wine, it was a natural and delicious pairing.  The true test of an oyster pairing to me is if I can actually use the wine as a mignonette – pour a touch of the
wine in to the oyster and slurp it down.  In this case, it was a palate sensation, and just confirmed my earlier delight.

 

 

IMG_0618Next, Pan Seared Foie Gras (thank you California for bringing back the Foie!  Feel free to judge me now) with poached pears, pear geleè, and house made brioche – paired with the 2014 Roussanne.  With juicy pears and apricots, drenched in fresh cream dancing across my tongue, the richness of the Roussanne worked well with the creamy richness of foie.  One of my favorite things about Roussanne in particular is the acidity that sneaks up behind the juicy and rich mouthfeel.  This is no exception, and the Acquiesce was perfect with the classic foie pairing.

 

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The third course was intended to be tuna tartare, but Chef John was able to sub out salmon on the fly due to an allergy.  This was no little ask, as the pairings were tested and created well in advance, but he did a masterful job at thinking of a pairing and creating it on the fly with perfect timing.  Paired with the 2015 Grenache Blanc, and served with avocado, wakame, wasabi vinaigrette, wasabi foam and a lotus chip, one would never know that the brilliant copper of the salmon was not intended for this dish.  The Grenache Blanc is a fresh and playful white wine with bright green apple notes and the minerality of a beach that has been freshly washed with shells and stones.  The coolness of the wine cut through the wasabi and creaminess of the salmon brilliantly.

 

IMG_0622As an intermezzo, Blli Bi, a saffron infused cream soup brimming with muscles was paired with the 2015 Viognier.  While we were starting to get full, we couldn’t pass up on the savory richness of this cream soup that had more mussels than a gym on New Year’s.  The Viognier has a richness of honey soaked apricot, ripe satsumas and summer peaches with classic floral notes that played off of the saffron.

 

 

Finally, as we tried to find even a tiny spare slot IMG_0626in our very full stomachs, grilled quail with King Trumpet risotto, and porcini mushroom broth was paired with Grenache Rosé.  While you would think the richness of the game animal and mushrooms would overpower the rosé, the pairing was elegant and restrained.

All of Sue’s wines are priced at under $25, which makes them even more enjoyable, and affordable.  The next time you are looking for a refreshing white for summer, look over to Lodi’s Rhône renegade!

Thank you to Wine & Roses, Towne Hall and Chef John for creating these wonderful dishes that paired so well with the wines of Acquiesce.  Fresh seafood, fruit, and vegetables are perfect for these light and fresh wines.

 

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A trip to Iberia within reach

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Markus Bokisch was raised in California, but has a long history of ties to Spain.  As a child, Markus spent his summers there, and as is the norm in European tradition, water & wine were served at meals.

With this pre-disposition to love the rich wines of Spain, Markus moved to Spain with his wife Lisa and worked his way up in the Spanish wine industry.  With endeavors in Raimat and Penedes, he became and expert at the cultivation of these special varietals.  When he moved back to California, he knew that Lodi had something special – hidden behind 100 years of old Italian field blends and Zinfandel, and that it was the perfect location to begin his endeavor with Iberian varietals.

The Terra Alta Vineyard in Clements Hills was the first property they purchased, whereCapturethey imported Spanish budwood to firmly root Bokisch as the go to resource for these plantings.  In 1999, they planted Las Cerezas Vineyard, which is the motherblock, planted to Tempranillo, Albarino, and Graciano – classic Spanish grapes.  Two years later, the first vintage of Bokisch Vineyards wine was released.

Today, Bokisch grows over 2500 acres under vine, and works with wineries all over California in addition to producing their own wine.  With a careful consideration for the environment and sustainability, they are making a mark on how viticulture can be beneficial for the land as well as the economy.

I first tasted Bokisch wine shortly after that initial release, when I was part of the now (sadly) defunct Wine Q wine service.  I knew immediately, even though my palate was still developing in those early years of my wine career, that I would love what was to come.

Here we are, 8 years later, and I am lucky enough to taste the current releases of Bokisch frequently through a variety of tastings.  On this day, we enjoyed two different Albarinios – the first being from the Terra Alta Vineyard, where the tasting room is located, and the second from Las Cerezas, that motherblock planted in 1999.  While they were both welcome refreshers on this warm day, the Las Cerezas edged out the Terra Alta, with intensely tropical notes, and juicy fruit with lime zest and firm minerality on the finish.

Next, the Garnacha Blanca – a personal passion of mine – was a clear expression of how terroir impacts the finished product.  The medium body was full of fresh stone fruit, oranges, and pungent green herbs.  The creamy finish is perfect for cheese, hearty fish dishes, and just plain summer sipping.  Stylistically, Garnacha Blanca tends to be bolder than it’s cousin Grenache Blanc, and I appreciate the weight and texture.

The last of the whites, the age old question of Verdelho vs. Verdejo.  Often confused as the same grape, Verdelho has roots in Portugal and is used widely in Madeira.   In contrast, Verdejo is a Spanish white grape, which has been traced back to North Africa, and is now widely grown in Rueda.  Confused?  Well, taste them side by side and you can see the differences.

 Moving on to the reds, Garnacha (once again) holds a special place in my heart.  Whether it’s Grenache, Garnacha, or GSM, the varsity of styles it can be made in – let alone Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, and Grenache Noir (or Tinto), the diversity is delicious.  Tracing its origigans to the Aragon region of Spain, the Bokisch Garnacha fils your mouth with blackberries, boysenberries, and dark red fruit.  A finishing touch of blood orange and forest spices tease the palate as vanilla vapors envelop your senses.  I love to serve Garnacha with a slight chill, and of course, anything is better with fresh Manchego cheese.
IMG_0267A bolder red wine, Graciano is one of the grapes commonly used as a blending component in parts of Rioja.  It’s also thought to be the oldest variety commercially grown in Spain.  A deeply purple black wine in the glass, bittersweet chocolate, Mission figs and cherries, with a hint of fresh violets tempt you, while tobacco and old saddle leather round out the palate.  Graciano is a meaty grape, and this is a fantastic wine for steak and a classic Rioja cookout.
And now:  Mourvedre.  Mataro.  Monastrell!  Depending on where you are in the world, this blue hued grape is called different things.  In France, Mourvedre.  In Spain, it can be either Mataro, particularly in the Catalan dialect, or Monastrell.  The 2013 Belle Collne Vineyard Monastrell is classically blueberry, bergamot, and baking spices.
The passion and dedication of Markus and Liz are infectious.  His single focus of making Lodi a top wine destination of distinction, and their dedication to sustainability is second to none.  Keeping these wines affordable is also of critical importance, and with prices between $18-32, the QPR on these wines is outstanding.
If you are in Lodi, a stop at Bokisch is a must do ! The sweeping view from the picnic tables to the seven oak tress in the gently rolling hills is bliss, and it is less than two hours from the Bay Area.
Cheers!

 

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Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again

   Just about a year ago
I set out on the road
Seekin’ my fame and fortune
Lookin’ for a pot of gold
Thing got bad and things got worse
I guess you know the tune
Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again

Credence Clearwater Revival made the song, and the town, famous in 1969.  At the time, the small town of Lodi was a bit of backwater, located somewhere between Stockton and Sacramento, and was a thriving farming community.

Fast forward 50 years, and it is still a thriving farming community, but today, most of the agricultural pursuits center around wine.  In the 70s and 80s, and to some extent today, large production facilitates that focused on both bulk wine and zinfandel made the wine of the region famous.  Lodi is still the self-proclaimed capital of Zinfandel, and over 40% of premium Zin from California is produced here.

In addition to a strong heritage of Zinfandel, Lodi has also been home to many other varietals. With the 4th and 5th generation wine families, you can find Iberian, Rhone, Austrian and German grape varietals all thriving.

This year, the annual Wine Bloggers Conference is headed to Lodi in August.  Ahead of the storm, I was invited by the Lodi Wine Commission to a whirlwind tour of Lodi – focusing on “anything but zin” – my specific request to showcase the lesser known grapes that thrive in this region.

A short 90 minute (just don’t leave at rush hour!) drive from the Bay Area, Lodi is a hidden IMG_0238goldmine of delicious and living history.  One such vineyard is Mokelumne Glen Vineyard, which specializes in German and Austrian varietals.

With strong ties to Germany, the Koth family has over 40 varietals of both obscure and more common grapes planted here, in a hidden spot where the river dips and a natural “glen” is formed.

Originally planted to Zinfandel vines, as so much of Lodi was, Bob Koth (right) had a natural curiosity about viticulture and started researching what other grapes would do well there.  Today, that has culminated in the German Collection Vineyard, an experimental block next to their house, where 35 of the 41 varietals are planted.  With just a row or two of most, it is a true experimental vineyard.  If you’re lucky enough to get a bit of this fruit, it is true gold.

After touring the property, we went in to town and sat down for lunch at Pietro’s, where we tasted some lovely wines from Bob’s fruit.

IMG_0579 Sidebar Kerner – This aromatic white is a cross between Trollinger and Riesling, and is common in Germany, but unsual outside oft hat region.  This was a nice refreshing white, with a medium body and delicious saline and mineral finish, with rich apricot notes.
IMG_0582 Markus Wine Co Nativo white blend – The Markus Wine Company is a coop between winemaker Markus Niggli and Borra vineyards, where Swiss born Niggli can play a bit with styles and structure.  The Nativo is a fresh and fun light white, that is 53% Kerner and 28% Riesling, with a 15% dollop of Bacchus.  Bacchus, as it turns out, is another blended grape – developed as a cross between Silvaner and Riesling, and then that result crossed with Muller-Thurgau.  Does everyone have their family tree ready to fill out?  The intensity of the grapefruit note was brilliant, with bright acid and fresh cut herbs, floating in a field of flowers.  This was the perfect white wine for a warm lunch al fresco!
IMG_0589 Forlorn Hope’s Gemischter Satz is a true chorus of voices, which is a clear representation of Mokelumne Glen‘s Germany Block project.  With 5-7 vines of each varietal (final blend is a well kept secret), it dances with white jasmine and spring flowers, and refreshing citrus on a foggy day.
IMG_0593 One of my favorites of the afternoon was the Borra Vineyards Vermentino, a delightfully light, crisp, and citrus driven white.  I have loved Vermentino since my first trip to Italy, where the fruit forward dry white is an easy sipper, as the mineral core keeps the sweetness of the ripe citrus at bay.
IMG_0594 Who doesn’t love a rose?  On a warm day, I would drink rose…all day.  The Borra Vineyards Rosé Members Reserve is no exception, and is a classic Provencale recipe for happiness:  63% Syrah, 37% Carignane, and 100% love.  Bright wild strawberries, watermelon, and earthy hints of Tuscan melon and dried figs.  I could, and did, drink this glass, and another, and another.

 

One key point to note about all of these wines is the absolutely stunning QPR.  With an average price of $20 or under, these are luxuries you can afford every day!

 Thank you to the Koth’s for their generous hospitality and pioneering spirit!  There is so much more to come from this vineyard and these winemakers.  Head to Lodi and find out what!

There is so much more to say about Borra and Markus wines, such as the intriguingly acid driven Petite Sirah, and the blends.  But that, is for another day of discovery.