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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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. Photo: Wikimedia Commons: Petteri Sulonen. All rights reserved.

Comments   

Bung R. Cooper
#1 Bung R. Cooper 2014-07-28 18:29
The Santa Rita Hills seminar was very low-key, but very enlightening, especially for those of us who enjoy hearing about the evolution of a region and about the vagaries of soils, climates, etc. We were fortunate to be able to taste a flight of SRH wines - adding a sensory learning experience to go with the brain food.

It would have been nice if the two core seminars were not scheduled in the same time slot.
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Jen Massey
#2 Jen Massey 2014-07-28 18:44
Fred, Well written and agree with your your thoughts and frustrations, especially the "which session to attend?" timing options. While I am presently a hobbyist blogger, I find myself preferring to attend the sessions career bloggers might prefer as I hope to someday transition. So, for example, your comments about "How the Pros Taste," I too was disappointed with the content as I wanted to hear how they approach wine tasting. And I, like so many other bloggers, do wish for a restructured conference. I'm there to learn as well as absorb everything I can about the region, go home and hopefully inspire my followers.
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Frank
#3 Frank 2014-07-28 19:55
Good points here, Fred. Like the analogy. I think I'm a hybrid, which makes me a 'mutt' ? Oy ;).

I'm with you, Michael Larner's presentation on Terroir of Santa Barbara County rocked! Straight-up informative.

As much as I dislike the speed blogging/speed tasting, I do participate and each year I do find one or two new cool wines that I would not (likely) have otherwise tasted. And, again, as much as I dislike the format and feel bad for the winemakers (who are aware of the format), I will be sitting in one of the chairs next year too. The 'new finds' outweigh my dislike.

I would like to see the 'How the Pros Taste' panel (or one very similar) return next year. The concept is great. Maybe with a different title, like your 'How the Critics Taste,' based on your series with you as a panelist.

Look forward to your article tomorrow. Providing a two-and-half day conference that hits the sweet spot for all the 'breads of species' is exponentially harder to execute than write about.

Blogger high five to you my friend! :)
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Richard Jennings
#4 Richard Jennings 2014-07-28 21:21
Great analysis Fred. And one did hear a lot of grousing this year about seminars seemingly aimed at the same audiences sharing the same time slot.
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Fred Swan
#5 Fred Swan 2014-07-29 06:19
Thank you all for your comments.

Frank, you're a career blogger who's too smart and responsible to give up the day job :-)

I'd like to do a seminar on "how the pros taste." There are a number of way to look at it too. There's the way a critic tastes for review purposes, the way a somm/buyer tastes when considering wines for resale, the way somms/WSET people do blind tasting and yet a different way that winemakers taste when evaluating their wines or those of their colleagues.
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Alana Gentry
#6 Alana Gentry 2014-07-30 02:00
I agree with everything you have written here. I suspect the reason only 20% of the attendees are "career" bloggers is we have stopped attending WBC. Look forward to the next article.
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