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Cats and Dogs Blogging Together

There are two species of wine bloggers. Within each species, there are many breeds—reporter, diarist, taster, storyteller, etc.—which have analogs in the other. But the two species are very different animals.

The Dogs BedFor one species, wine blogging is part of a career in or around the wine industry. Their involvement with wine may not pay all the bills yet, but they seriously intend to make that happen. For the other, wine blogging is, and always will be, a hobby. They might hope to cover some costs and receive wine samples, but their blogging is really a pastime, a creative outlet, a way of sharing their experiences.

I’m not saying one species of blogger is better than the other, just that they are distinct. Their goals, outlooks, interests and approaches to blogging contrast clearly. The Wine Bloggers’ Conference has always tried to serve both species. Each is addressed by certain activities within the programs. But the target audiences for seminars aren't overtly identified. Content doesn't give the impression of having been fine-tuned for either segment.

In retrospect, this is at the root of my frustrations with the conference and, I suspect, those of numerous "career bloggers" who have attended. We feel uncomfortable with multiple aspects of WBC that happen to have great appeal to hobbyists. And many careerists feel WBC doesn’t offer them enough unique value to justify their time and travel expense.

My favorite non-tasting seminar at this past conference was Michael Larner’s presentation on Terroir of Santa Barbara County. He was thorough, authoritative, focused and occasionally showed his dry humor. I found the session was very informative and time well spent. Unfortunately, there weren’t more than 25 bloggers in the tent.

Why, in a conference taking place in Santa Barbara County, were there not more people eager to learn about Santa Barbara County? First, the career group, which has much greater interest in the details of soil, climate and geological history, is, at best, 20% the size of the hobbyist camp. Second, Michael’s session was concurrent with two others, each having a title starting with “The Business of.” If you’re a career blogger, all three sessions have appeal. Which do you attend? If you’re a hobbyist, none are particularly exciting. Do you grudgingly attend one or do you sleep in?

My favorite tasting seminar of the conference was “Syrah Territory: Ballard Canyon.” It was instructive, allowed winemakers to address the audience directly and the wines were tremendous. The tasting seminar called “Dig In: Sta. Rita Hills” might have been even better. I’ll never know. These two core seminars on Santa Barbara wine were presented simultaneously.

Many people enjoyed the panel discussion entitled “How the Pros Taste.” I like and respect each of the panelists: Patrick Comiskey, Steve Heimoff and Joe Roberts. Much of the crowd enjoyed these gentlemen’s interplay, stories, enthusiasm for particular wines and occasional nuggets about their tasting habits. But I and a few careerists sitting around me, writhed in frustration, wondering when Steve, Joe and Patrick would tell us how they actually approach tasting: their process, how they characterize tannins, how they weigh various criteria to reach an overall quality assessment, etc. That never happened, but the majority of attendees—the hobbyists—were entertained and left happy.

And then there’s “live blogging.” I loathe it. I understand a winery’s desire for face-to-face time with many small sets of bloggers adn the benefit of having their brand trending on Twitter. I grok the revenue model for Zephyr. I can relate to the happiness and invigoration bloggers experience when learning and tasting so many new things in rapid-fire succession, and having to write/tweet about it under the pressure of 5-minute deadlines.

But I feel badly for the winemakers who can barely make themselves heard in a hall with hundreds of people talking at once. I wonder who, reading at home, can keep up with and benefit from the tidal wave of 80 character (plus multiple hashtags) “reviews.” I mourn for my palate which is required to first taste a fortified wine, then a delicate white, then a pungent Sauvignon Blanc, then a neutral white from a box. Thank Dionysus for the occasional palate-resetting bubbly!

In Tuesday’s article, I’ll offer ideas for restructuring the conference to better serve both hobbyist and career bloggers.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Petteri Sulonen. All rights reserved.

A Tale of Two Conferences

Computer keyboard

In my last article, Cats and Dogs Blogging Together, I said there are two species of blogger: career bloggers and hobbyist bloggers. The North American Wine Bloggers’ Conferences could serve each type of blogger better by acknowledging the differences and playing to those differences rather than continuing the current “one size fits all” strategy. Below are my specific proposals. I welcome your comments on them.

WBC currently has two classes of attendee: Citizen Blogger ($95 fee) and Industry Blogger ($295). Like Career Bloggers, Industry Bloggers make their living through the wine industry. However, most Industry Bloggers are employed by a particular winery or reseller so their focus is on promoting that employer rather than exploring and writing about a wide range of wineries and topics. I suggest creating a new category, specifically for Career Bloggers, with a $195 fee and maximum attendance of 50.

The higher fee will do three things. It will discourage Citizen Bloggers from signing up under that category. It will make them feel a little better about the exclusivity of Career Blogger activities. It will also subsidize those activities, allowing certain aspects to be upgraded, enabling a lower fee structure that might allow small producers to participate, and/or paying an honorarium to one or two speakers. Careful vetting of Career Blogger registrants will help ensure people sign up in the appropriate category.

Limiting the number of Career Blogger tickets will allow for quieter, more focused sessions, use of smaller rooms/wineries, easier transport for off-site events, and pouring lower production and/or more expensive wines. It will make networking between like-minded bloggers easier. Grouping attendees in this way may also introduce new sponsorship opportunities.

Attendee badges would be color-coded to easily differentiate between categories. There should still be events which all bloggers attend jointly, but several each day would be designated for Career Bloggers only. Industry Bloggers could attend those events but, for planning purposes, would need to register for each such event prior to the conference.

Career Bloggers should leave WBC with deep knowledge of the host area’s terroir, history, wine styles and place in the market. This would be achieved through detailed seminars, extensive tastings and multiple excursions. Seminars should be focused, deliver on their title’s promise and emphasize education over entertainment. Q&A with winemakers and growers is essential.

No regional seminars or AVA-wide tastings should be held concurrently with each other. Some excursions might. Details on excursions should be disclosed well before the conference though, and attendees given the opportunity to choose their destinations—no mystery tours.

Seminars, workshops and tastings not focused on the host region are also important. Topics might be very similar to those already offered, such as consumer research, the business of blogging, writing workshops, tasting techniques and tutorials on media, web tools, etc. Tastings from non-host regions should deliver educationally and feature high-quality—or, at least, very representative—wines. All sessions should be led by very well-prepared moderators and panelists. Most sessions ought to be interactive. There shouldn’t be more than two such seminars running concurrently.

There should be no tasting of wines that come in bags, boxes or “paks.” Ideally, unless it’s a truly amazing value, there should be no tasting of wine that retails for less than $10. There could still be sessions where winemakers move from one small group of bloggers to the next. But each segment should be 10 minutes long, to allow for questions, and the groups of bloggers ought to be well separated so noise isn’t an issue. If sweet or fortified wines will be poured, each blogger needs two glasses so that one wine doesn’t color the next.

Removing some of the detailed and/or career-oriented components from the main WBC curriculum will allow for more events that Hobbyist Bloggers really enjoy. Add a third Live Blogging session. Add sessions where Hobbyist Bloggers interact with each other more, perhaps talking about what’s going on in their home regions.

I realize pulling all this off successfully will require more work. And I’d also recommend having a separate advisory board just for the Career Blogger segment. In the end though, I think WBC will be better for the new structure and might recapture some of those career bloggers who are abandoning it.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to Copyright 2014. The Wine Bloggers Conference logo is the property of Zephyr Adventures. The photo of typing is in the public domain. All rights reserved.

Video Highlights of the Jancis Robinson Keynote - 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference

Jancis Robinson delivered the keynote address at the 2011 North American Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia on July 22. I have to compliment the organizers of #WBC11 for having landed her. It’s hard to think of a more broadly respected wine writer, a more authoritative voice or someone who has been more successful at incorporating wine blogging, tweeting and site hosting into their repertoire of traditional media. For many bloggers in attendance, Jancis Robinson is a personal role model.

Jancis Robinson after her keynote at the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference.

So it was that Ms. Robinson took the podium to the enthusiastic applause of 250+ attentive bloggers. (Getting that many bloggers to be attentive is a feat in itself.) After warning the audience her talk would probably not live up to the expectations we’d all built, Ms. Robinson went on to say her focus would be on topics she’d been given ahead of time. These had been taken from bloggers who sent questions ahead to the organizers.

Ms. Robinson provided her insights on a number of areas of interest to wine bloggers, sometimes getting laughs and frequently claps of approval, but always made tangible with personal anecdotes. One thing she did not do was take controversial stands or be strongly critical. She emphasized the importance of being friendly and inclusive if one wants to build and audience. Later she also mentioned that, in these days when everyone has a portable video camera, it doesn’t pay to be too loose with one’s words.

Speaking of portable video cameras, I recorded the entire session. Below, I’ve embedded eight video segments that I thought to be particularly interesting. I have not edited the segments, merely extracted them from the full-length recording to make it more convenient for you and to eliminate various moments of dead air, etc. I have also re-ordered them by topic.

Jancis Robinson was one of the first women, and the very first person outside "the trade," to become a Master of Wine. She also says she was the first person to host a television series about wine. It shouldn’t be  much of a surprise that, with, she was one of the first prominent wine authorities to establish an online presence. In this clip, Ms. Robinson explains how that came about. is near the top on a very short list of the most extensive, interesting and useful wine sites on the web. I suspect her Purple Pages is also among the most highly subscribed. At the end of the session, I asked her how many staff people it takes to maintain her site and what her biggest challenge is with it.

Jancis Robinson is widely followed on Twitter as well. Shortly after the conference, she reached 100,000 followers. Here is what Jancis Robinson had to say about Twitter.

Ms. Robinson discussed the state of wine blogs as she sees it, their place relative to other media and their future.

She expanded on her discussion of wine blogs, explaining how bloggers can benefit from getting their work in print and by leveraging video.

Despite the explosion of wine blogs and forums, with their ease of publishing and ability to provide up-to-the-minute information, Jancis Robinson believes there is still a place for wine books. She’s presently working on five. No, really. Five. Here are her thoughts on the future of wine books.

In response to a comment from Jancis Robinson regarding a lack of deep, investigative reporting on blogs, someone asked her which topics in the wine world most deserve such treatment.

There is so much blogging about wine and whining about blogging these days, it’s impossible for anyone to standup and talk for an hour about either without spending time on a few well-worn paths. However, Jancis Robinson has achieved so much and her work is so respected that she adds new import to old topics. And she has the ability to declare some discussions over. To me, one such discussion is the notion of bloggers being a distinct breed of writer.

While early bloggers may have been virtual napkin scrawlers or personal online diarists, most wine bloggers today are much more. And if Jancis Robinson calls herself, among other things, a blogger, then the time for pigeon-holing, let alone denigrating, bloggers as a group is over. Everyone (including themselves) should simply call them writers. Now it’s up to each of them to become the best and most responsible writer they can be.

For additional information on Jancis Robinson and coverage of her keynote, please read today’s article by Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post, “When it comes to wine writing, more is more.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Wine Bloggers in Action at the North American Wine Bloggers Conference

I'll provide my thoughts on the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference in a separate article soon, as well as separate articles on my perceptions of the Virginia wine world and Charlottesville, VA as I experienced them. But for now, please enjoy a few photos of wine bloggers in action at the conference.


Wine blogger and social media master turned winemaker Hardy Wallace (Dirty South Wine, @dirtysouthwine, @dirtyandrowdy) at the opening of the 2011 North American Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville Virginia.

Was Hardy a) shocked that I had a camera, b) shocked that I didn't have a wine glass, c) hoping someone would squirt wine into his mouth from a boda bag or d) just being Hardy? I'm thinking all of the above. :-)


Wine writer, wine critic, wine blogger and overall font of wine knowledge Jancis Robinson MW (, @jancisrobinson) takes notes during a session detailing the terroir of Virginia's wine country. Jancis has been not just an educator but an inspiration to countless people serious about wine. It was great to have her there.


Wine and Spirits magazine associate editor Luke Sykora shows more focus than my camera during the session on Virginia terroir at the 2011 Wine Bloggers Conference.


Luiz Alberto (The Wine Hub, @thewinehub) was illuminated by his screen and fueled by coffee Saturday morning while posting highlights from the Virginia terroir session on Twitter.


Co-organizer Joel Vincent (@joelvincent) tells us what's what before break-out sessions began on Friday in Charlottesville, Virginia. Always listen to people with halos.


Blogger Joe Herrig (Suburban Wino, @suburbanwino) captured the color of Cabernet Franc at Jefferson Vineyards outside Charlottesville, Virginia.


A bevy of bloggers and one giant head try to remain calm in the face of empty Riedel glasses at Jefferson Vineyards while winemaker Andy Reagan (far right) slowly backs away from the wineless writers.


Double Wine Blog Awards nominee Richard Jennings (RJonWine, @RJonWine) gladly accepts property from a wine thief in the barrel room at Pollak Vineyards in Greenwood, Virginia. Nick Dovel of Pollack aids and abets.

Richard's thorough, honest and provocative article on this most recent wine bloggers conference is an important read for those who attended this conference or have thoughts on attending those in the future. Through honest appraisals and the ensuing discussions we can help guide future conferences.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

And Then There’s This Blog

There are many different types of wine blogs. Some people write very personal blogs. They share not just their experiences, but their emotions. Others weigh in on industry controversies, or try to start them. Some offer witty commentary on news of the day while others spend weeks doing investigative research.

But there’s another approach. Put 12 off-shore ‘“SEO specialists” with no subject matter expertise whatsoever in a room with a keyword generator and a web-translator. Tell them to write “unique content” in hopes of getting Google results that drive ad views. Sadly, the page quoted below came up in a search I did. So, I guess the strategy works.

Here are some insights on white wine from a site that shall not be named:

”Grapes are personally selected through the obstruct – thus the name. Grapes were relocated through the vehicle into your crusher-stemmer with a long handled fork. Grapes were smashed, constrained and chilly settled prior to becoming racked into fairly neutral French Wine red walnut drums.”

I think the “red walnut drum” thing may start a trend. But will it be in winemaking or lounge music?


Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to Copyright 2011NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.