Jul 092014
 

Wine Bloggers Conference

This week, the Wine Bloggers Conference (#WBC14) returns to California for the first time in five years. The 7th annual conference will take place in Santa Barbara County July 10 to July 12.

I’ve been to all but one of the past conferences. I missed the 2011 conference because my sister was getting married. I asked her to move the wedding, but she didn’t go for it for some reason. That year has become legend for the hot weather they saw, so I’m not too terribly disappointed I missed it.

I always look forward to the Wine Bloggers Conference, as it’s an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and make new ones. I’ve been involved in the wine blogging community from the very start. There were very few of us at that first conference in Sonoma oh so many years ago. Boy, how things have changed. My list of active wine blog contacts now exceeds 800 individuals, and probably 300-400 of them will be at this year’s WBC. That’s a huge group of like-minded wine enthusiasts who, as individuals, don’t have a lot of influence, but in aggregate, definitely can move the needle for wineries.

The fact that its back in California should have an impact on the attention that many of the sponsors receive. Most of the wine produced in this country is from California. And, in fact, the population of wine bloggers in California is much bigger than other areas, so it’s more convenient for many to attend.

I’ve been through Santa Barbara wine country before, and was impressed by what I saw and experienced. I can’t wait to see what the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association and Visit Santa Barbara (both Elite Sponsors) have to offer as they pull out all the stops to impress this group of influential bloggers.

I honestly don’t learn much from the sessions at the Wine Bloggers Conference much anymore, so it really is all about the people and the wines. See you in Santa Barbara!

Jul 262013
 
Creating Compelling Content

Photo Credit: Wine Predator

One of the major goals of this blog is to create articles that we think people will want to read. In other words, we try to create compelling content. When I attended the Wine Bloggers Conference in Okanagan last month, I had the privilege of participating on a panel with Jeannette Montgomery from The Third Glass and Okanagan Writing and Marcy Gordon from Come for the Wine. Together, we attempted to share some wisdom based on our backgrounds in writing. I’ve been writing for 20 years and have learned many lessons (some hard) along the way.

So, what is compelling content?

Simply put, it’s something that is convincing or demands attention. In other words, compelling content is something that grabs the reader’s attention and doesn’t let go. We want to make sure that the reader actually reads the whole article, and hopefully comes back to read more at a later date.

Why write it?

Because we want people to read our blog. The more compelling the content, the more interested the reader.

What’s the benefit?

Increased traffic, increased engagement, and possible increased revenue.

So, where do we start?

Some writers have great success sitting at a keyboard and just starting to spew forth the most interesting drivel. The rest of us, however, may need to prime the pump a bit.

Know the audience.

Who are we writing for? Who is reading our blog? Other bloggers? Trade? Consumers? What kind of consumer? The connoisseur, the novice, or somewhere in between? How do we figure this out? We make a model of who our ideal reader is. We include examples of what we think they might want to read.

Here’s the rub: WE ARE NOT OUR AUDIENCE. If our audience was like us, they’d be writing their own blogs (some may). We try never lose site of that.

Until we know who we are writing for, we can’t make our content compelling.

Pick the subject.

What kind of article will we write? Will it be an editorial piece (opinion), news piece (fair-and-balanced), review piece (expertise), or something else? Once we determine that, we set the tone of the article.

Do homework.

To most, this will be the most important step in the writing process. Chances are that we don’t know everything or anything about the subject on which we intend to write. Which means, we need to do our homework.

Where are we going to look?

  • The Internet – Because everything is true on the internet, right?
  • Wikipedia – Um, yea. Relies on their community of “experts.”
  • Technical notes – Because everyone wants to know about TA and Malo-Lactic fermentation, right?

No! We talk to people and try to be original.

We contact a PR Manager or agency.
We contact a regional associations (Napa Valley Vintners, Wine Walla Walla, etc.)
We contact a winemaker.
We visit the wineries or regions.

We have questions prepared. Better yet, we have INTERESTING questions to ask. Again, we think of our audience, and what THEY would want to read.

We try not to get too wrapped up in the experience that we lose our objectivity.

Build a narrative, tell a story.

Wine writing today tends to be like a scientific journal. It’s all about breaking down the wine into its component parts (aromas, mouthfeel, tannin, technical, etc.). On top of that, the various rating scales have broken it down further. Does it tell you ANYTHING about the wine or the winery?

NO.

Wine is an aspirational product. Wine drinkers imbibe to feel better about themselves and impress their friends. If they didn’t care about that, they’d just drink beer or whisky. What they want, is to drink a glass of wine and be transported somewhere else. That somewhere else is rarely going to involve malolactic fermentation. It does involve the place the wine is made, the people who made it, and the blogger who experienced it. they want to know what the story is behind the wine and to live vicariously through us.

Three take aways.

In the end, the three main things that separate the great bloggers from the rest is:

1. They know their audience
2. They do their homework
3. They tell a story

Creating compelling content is really just that simple.

Jun 142013
 

My first visit to Okanagan Valley wine country was a surprise in many ways. For starters, I had no idea it was as big and spread out as it is. It essentially spans a distance of roughly 110 miles from north to south. That’s basically about the same distance as San Jose to Calistoga in California or Baltimore to Philadelphia for you east coasters. Needless to say, we couldn’t see all of it. Also, while not technically official, the area has seven distinct growing regions:  Kelowna-North Okanagan, Kelowna-Mount Boucherie, Summerland-Peachland, Penticton-Naramata, Okanagan Falls, Oliver/Golden Mile and Black Sage/Osoyoos. The last two sit on two prominent benches (long, relatively narrow strips of relatively level or gently inclined land that is bounded by distinctly steeper slopes above and below it). The wineries from these two benches have formed Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association.

Oliver Osoyoos Vineyards

A view across the valley in the Oliver area.

What makes these areas unique, other than the aforementioned benchland, is that they are the furthest south of the Okanagan appellations, and therefore the warmest. Their Uncork the Sun (#uncorkthesun) marketing campaign illustrates that quite pointedly. In addition, it sits at the most northern tip of the Great Basin Desert, so is reasonably dry. All of these conditions make the area ideal for growing wine grapes, especially red ones. In addition, the area is steeped in history and tradition, with First Nation peoples residing here for thousands of years. In fact, today the region is home to North America’s first native owned and operated winery – Nk’Mip Cellars.

Road 13

Road 13 showing two definitely distinct architectural styles.

Several wineries from the Oliver Osoyoos area hosted the attendees of the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. We began our visit at Road 13 Vineyards, where several other wineries were also present to pour their wines. The winery itself won the “most unique architecture” award in my book. It was bizarre blend of Disneyland-kitsch and modern grace. The first in the form of crenelated walls and drawbridge, the second with a sleek building with contemporary lines and plenty of windows. I was told that the castle-like portion was a legacy of the previous owner, so I could look past it. The views from the winery, however, were stunning.

I tried several wines at Road 13, but the three that stood out were the following:

Road 13 2009 Home Vineyard Sparkling Chenin Blanc – Originally names Golden Mile Cellars, Road 13 is located on… wait for it… Road 13 in Oliver, BC. It’s owned by Pam and Mick Luckhurst. Mick is a rough-and-tumble sort. A man of few words, he apparently let’s his wine’s speak for themselves. This one in particular was quite amazing in it’s freshness and complexity. I could have drunk it all day. Bonus: it’s sealed with a crown cap, which lends it a few points of coolness in my book. http://road13vineyards.com

Maverick Estate Winery 2011 Sauvignon Blanc – I met winemaker Bertus Albertyn as he was pouring his Sauvignon Blanc for us bloggers. A South African by birth (awesome accent, by the way), he moved to BC in 2009, He’s made wine in South Africa, France, California, and Italy. I could tell. His SB was everything an SB should be. It was graceful and elegant, with nicely floral aromatics. Everything was in harmony. Definitely a highlight wine for me. https://secure2.shadowfax.bc.ca/maverick/scms.asp

Hidden Chapel Winery 2012 Blushing Bride Rose – The winery was named after a “fairy-like, made-to-scale miniature chapel” in the back of the winery property that was built by the former owner’s son-in-law. The winery was started by Lanny Kinrade and Deborah Wilde, and appears to be a family affair. The wine was fruity, off-dry, and under $20, which means that it would be a crowd pleaser. http://www.hiddenchapelwinery.com

tinhorn creek

Bloggers were greeted with more wine at Tinhorn Creek.

While we enjoyed our time here, it was off to Tinhorn Creek (which was supposed to be a surprise, but someone let the cat out of the bag) for dinner, and of course, more wine.

Tinhorn Creek was started by Kenn Oldfield and Bob Shaunessy in 1993, and is still run today by Kenn and his wife Sandra. They have two vineyards, one on the Golden Mile where the winery is, and one on Black Sage Bench called Diamondback Vineyard (one guess why they named it that). In addition to the winery, there is a restaurant called Miradoro on the property (where we ate dinner that night). It seems that there are several wineries who also have restaurants. a la Europa style. Executive Chef Jeff Van Geest served us a chilled cucumber gazpacho, mixed paella, and hot chocolate with churros. All in all, a very good meal.

The wines poured at the dinner included the following:

  • Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Rose
  • Tinhorn Creek Oldfield Series 2Bench Red (standout)
  • Covert Family Estate Rose and Amicita
  • Rustico Farm & Cellars Zinfandel (standout)
  • Castoro de Oro Viognier
  • Church & State Viognier
  • Platinum Bench Gamay (standout)
  • River Stone Pinot Gris

I’ll be honest, by this time, it was all starting to become a blur and the day wasn’t over by a long shot. What I can say, without reservation, is that Sandra and Kenn Oldfield are some of the best people and hosts I’ve ever met. Granted, Kenn had to watch the shop most of the time, while Sandra was off playing nanny to a bunch of bloggers, but it was a definite highlight of the weekend. Oh yea, and her wines aren’t bad either. I pretty much liked everything they poured.

Spirit Ridge

View from the rooftop at Spirit Ridge.

We ended the evening with a lovely rooftop reception at Spirit Ridge Vineyard Resort & Spa. It’s a joint venture between Bellstar Hotels & Resorts and the Osoyoos Indian Band. It’s also the home of Nk’Mip Cellars, mentioned above, which is a joint venture between the same band and Constellation Brands. You could really see the desert here and the views from the rooftop were stunning. We enjoyed more wines from the Oliver Osoyoos Winery Association while we kicked back and enjoyed the scenery and the company of our compadres.

All in all, the wines of Oliver Osoyoos delivered hard on quality. While I didn’t get to try all the wines from the area, the wines I did try were either totally solid or rocked my world (have I used that expression already?). Now, if I could only figure out how to get them in the States…

Jun 122013
 
Wine Bloggers Conference reception at See Ya Later Ranch

Wine Bloggers enjoying the opening reception at See Ya Later Ranch during #wbc13.

Today, an earlier article I wrote prior to the Wine Bloggers Conference in Penticton last week was quoted in an article by Steve Woods, Business Editor at Technorati. Wood’s article is about how the field of wine blogging has matured and grown in significance.

“Wine bloggers are far more than individuals who toss one back then bandy about terms like “oaky” or “buttery”, “grassy” or “mellow” for the rest of us to decipher. They truly want to broaden the wine-tasting experiences of their readers, trying out perhaps lesser-known wines from around the globe, in search of unique flavors that vintners have brought forth through a variety of secretive techniques,” writes Woods.

From my personal experience, I couldn’t agree more. There is a true passion among most wine bloggers that is infectious.

My own little piece of the article includes the following from Woods: “Those that share their love of wine through the written word are also asking the same question as others who have labored for years online: Are blogs dead? Wine blogger Michael Wangbickler, who shares secrets and insights about the wine industry as a whole, writes in his blog Through The Bunghole,” writes Woods.

“…from Wangbickler’s thoughtful commentary, many wine bloggers are insightfully aware of far more than just what’s in the glass in front of them. Wine bloggers, like successful bloggers in any area of endeavor, are taking advantage of social’s tools to take the conversations directly to their audience in a far more responsive manner,” concludes woods.

I’m flattered that Mr. Woods found my comments worthy of sharing and look forward to reading everyone else’s articles about the Wine Bloggers Conference and wine blogging over the next several weeks.

Jun 112013
 

I returned this week from a visit to Penticton, British Columbia, which was the location of the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference. Penticton is at the heart of the Okanagan Valley Wine country. As noted in an earlier post, I’d never been to this particular area and knew very little about it. But, wow, what an amazing place.

Okanagan Valley Wine: View from Tinhorn Creek

Having grown up outside of Detroit, I’ve had a lot of, um, exposure to Canada and Canadians. Since the drinking age in Canada is 19, Windsor was calling my name long before I could legally imbibe in this silly country. In addition, I’ve recently discovered that the Canadian influence over the dialect of my home town is more profound than I knew, eh. It’s also probably why I like gravy on my fries (which I recently discovered, when you add cheese curds is a traditional dish called a poutine). And the people are the loveliest, most polite, and friendliest bunch you will ever meet.

Okanagan Valley Wine: View from Penticton Lakeside ResortTo be frank, however, I had rather low expectations before the conference. I don’t know, I’d only tried Okanagan Valley wine a few times since the stuff is so damn hard to come by in the States (more on that in a later post). What I had previously sampled was okay, but nothing special. And not knowing anything about the region, I figured it was some backwater that happened to have some vineyards. Boy, was I wrong.

The sheer beauty of the place was enough to make me stand up and take notice. Nestled against a series of very deep, and very blue lakes, Okanagan Valley wine country is the stuff of which postcards are made. The vineyards rest on benches, terraces, and steep slopes at the foot of the mountains that surround the valley. Crystal clear air and water abound. We stayed at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, which was easily the prettiest place that has ever held a Wine Bloggers Conference. In fact, Okanagan Valley is one of the most beautiful areas I’ve been.

Okanagan Valley Wine: First Nation DancerThe history and culture of the Okanagan Valley is quite rich. The valley is the traditional home to the Okanagan First Nations people, an interior Salish people who lived in an area that ranged from the head of Okanagan Lake down into Washington. Various bands still call the area home. They appear to live well together with the non-native Canadians, and there seems to be a mutual respect that has developed. First Nation land includes not only casinos, but vineyards as well.

The winemakers somehow capture this beauty and culture  in their wines. They a stunningly clean and fresh, with just a touch of desert terroir minerality. Regardless of the variety (or varietal), the wines have a pureness that is both compelling and comforting. All but a few of the wines I tried from the area were either solid or rocked my world. There wasn’t a stinker in the bunch.

There is so much to cover, that it isn’t possible for me to cover everything in one post. I’ll be breaking it up into multiple posts for readability and suspense. Stay tuned for more from Okanagan Valley.